Angel: Revelations, 2008: I missed this mini-series when it first came out. I was intrigued by the stylish Adam Pollina art but I was skeptical about an Angel origin story. My first impression was wrong. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa pens a compelling tale of Angel’s prep school days before he becomes an X-Man. Angel is an intriguing character. He’s the rich kid who has every excuse in the world to be a snob. But he has a good heart and soon finds himself siding with outcasts against the people who should be his peers. The X-Men have often served as a metaphor for teenage angst- the feeling that you don’t really belong in this world and Aguirre-Sacasa does a great job of bringing that to the fore. And, yes, the stylish Adam Pollina art is a lot of fun, though it may not work for everyone.
Dark X-Men: The Beginning, 2009: I’m not a fan of the Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men crossover Utopia. For one thing, I didn’t like the long-lasting story in which Norman Osborn was in charge of American superhero affairs. For another thing, I didn’t like the idea of having the X-Men retreat from their new headquarters on the Marin Headlands to an island off the U.S. coast. It hadn’t been that long since they’d destroyed Cable’s own island of Providence. Plus, it further isolated them from both humanity and Xavier’s dream of peaceful coexistence. Yet, despite my antipathy for the general concept, the crossover yielded a couple of surprisingly good stories. The first comes in this prequel anthology, Dark X-Men: The Beginning. It’s a very simple premise. Norman Osborn recruits a new team of X-Men to help him against the real thing. In each story, Osborn approaches a different character- Mimic, Dark Beast, Cloak & Dagger, etc.- and offers them a place on the team. I admired the way Osborn used a different approach for each character. He tried bribes, coercion, threats and promises. Plus, there was a great story at the end with Aurora called “The One that Got Away.” This mini-series is an excellent example of a putting-the-team-together tale and I admire the craftsmanship even though it’s part of an otherwise unlikable scenario.
Utopia Tie-In, X-Men Legacy 226-227, 2009: This is the other Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men story. However, this particular piece took place on the periphery of the main crossover. Rogue and Gambit have recently intervened in a conflict between Professor Xavier and Danger and now they’re returning to the X-Men. Unfortunately, they arrive right in the middle of a big fight with Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers. The two heroes quickly focus on protecting the students, such as Indra and Trance. That leads them into conflict with the Dark Avengers and each issue features a classic fight- first Rogue vs. the current Ms. Marvel (actually Moonstone in disguise), then Rogue vs. Ares. Mike Carey does a great job of showcasing Rogue’s powers. He also provides a strong emotional hook. Fighting someone in a Ms. Marvel costume reminds Rogue of her old days as a super-villain. This is just a great fight with a strong premise- save the kids from the bad guys.
Pixie Strikes Back, 2010: Pixie has been one of my favorite characters since she starred in the 2008 Free Comic Book Day one-shot. Kathryn Immonen and Sara Pichelli bring us a fun and inventive mini-series that’s more of a gal-pal tale than it is a solo story. Pixie is joined by fellow teenagers Armor, Blindfold, Mercury and X-23. They’re caught in some sort of dreamscape where they’re normal high school kids, albeit in a high school populated with demons. Anole and Rockslide discover that the girls are missing and call the X-Men in to help. Meanwhile, Pixie’s mom launches a rescue of her own with the Mastermind sisters as allies. There are some fun mind twists as the characters try to figure out what is real and what is not. There are some surprising revelations as Pixie learns about her origins, her connection to this demon dimension and the Masterminds. Yet, best of all, there are some great character moments between the teenage “besties.”
To Serve & Protect, X-Men 7-10, 2011: I didn’t realize it at first but the new X-Men series was designed as an X-Men team-up title. This second tale features a classic team-up with none other than Spider-Man. The X-Men discover a rash of disappearances in New York City and decide to investigate. Spider-Man is working the case as well and they decide to join forces. The initial clues point to the Lizard but there’s a good twist halfway through the story in which we learn that the Dark Beast has actually imprisoned the Lizard as well. Author Victor Gischler plays with timeless X-Men themes like social ostracism and teenage angst. And he does a great job with the wordplay between Spidey and the X-Men. The good-natured insults between Spidey and Wolverine are especially fun and show how those two characters have really meshed since joining the Avengers together. Of course, the real highlight is the Chris Bachalo art. Bachalo is a classic X-Men artist who had recently drawn a Spidey-Wolverine team-up and a Lizard story for Amazing Spider-Man. This story, with its wacky setting and fun set-up is right in Bachalo’s wheelhouse.
You might think I’ve written about every good X-Men story from the past four years. You’d be wrong. I have a few more honorable mentions to go in the last installment of this series. Join me again (please!) for one more (I promise!).