Starting with issue #260.1, Christos Gage took over X-Men Legacy from the title’s long-serving writer Mike Carey, who has probably done more for the franchise than anyone since Grant Morrison exited New X-Men back in 2004. Gage’s first issue suffered from a few problems: the need to establish the cast of characters he’ll be using going forward got in the way of the story’s structure to some extent, the writing occasionally lapsed into cliche, and at times it felt as though he was trying a little too hard to make an impression. However, three issues in and he’s definitely found his voice. If Uncanny X-Men is a traditional superhero comic and Wolverine and the X-Men is overblown fun, X-Men Legacy looks set to be the soap opera book, following on in the grand tradition established by Chris Claremont, and that’s as good a function as any for it to serve in an already crowded line.
The current storyline sees the team pitched against Exodus, who – like many superhero villains – has been defeated so often and so decisively that it’s difficult to take the declarations of his supposedly unstoppable power seriously. As tends to be the case when he appears, he plays the role of self-anointed mutant saviour (despite the fact that he’s never done one thing to actually help the species), and Gage does a good job of rehabilitating him, making him interesting to old and new readers alike. On art, David Baldeon is well suited to the material; his facial expressions could benefit from a little more emotion and variety, but he’s certainly one to watch. The buzz around this one is growing, and I’m only too happy to validate it.
X-Factor has for years now been Peter David’s corner of the X-universe, with the writer (almost) free to do as he pleases, consistently taking unpromising characters and making the reader care about them. His stint on the title has had its ups and downs, with some story arcs more successful than others, but he’s built up a loyal audience, which is why X-Factor has avoided cancellation despite being a low seller. When the X-Men brand undergoes one of its frequent relaunches/reshuffles, David generally pays lip service to it, and that was certainly the case in They Keep Killing Madrox, the tale running through issues #229 to #232. Unfortunately, the arc fell a little flat, despite having such a wonderful name.
The positives: well, Emanuela Lupacchino is a spectacular superhero artist, and will propel herself to the A-list sooner or later if she maintains the high standard of these issues. On the writing side, by this point David has full command of his characters, and has worked hard to develop a unique voice for each and every one. That sense of identity is really beneficial in a team book setting, where even the best writers can sometimes struggle to differentiate the voices of each individual. On the downside, in this arc his pacing and structure isn’t always effective. Issue #230 is the only one that features all of the book’s extended cast, and yet barely features Madrox at all; when read in one go, the effect is particularly jarring, as the flow of the main story grinds to a halt so that the other characters can stand around and argue a lot, before the final page then introduces two major new additions who don’t feature at all in #231 and #232. It’s possible that the Regenesis initiative interrupted David’s intended narrative to some extent, and the work that eventually surfaced was subject to a few last minute changes. Even so, at four issues the story feels overlong and inconsequential, as though the book is treading water ahead of whatever comes next. That will be the real test for X-Factor, and it will need to justify its place in the line once more.
And finally, there is Uncanny X-Force. Disappointingly, I appear to have jumped on at the wrong time. Issue #19 was essentially a postscript to the critically acclaimed Dark Angel Saga, and in the last three issues Rick Remender has been telling the story of Otherworld, a magical realm based on Celtic and Welsh mythology. The mix of this fantastical element and the title’s modus operandi of grim and gritty, violent antics has proven interesting but ultimately unsuccessful, and a large part of the problem has been Greg Tocchini’s art. To be charitable, his work could be described as an acquired taste; his influences are clearly more interesting that your average comicbook artist, touching upon impressionism and other staples of art history. Taking a less generous stance, one could argue that the work featured in issues #20 and #21 had no business being published, given its lack of clarity and detail. Issue #22 is fortunately a vast improvement, and if he could raise the bar just a little and then operate at that standard consistently, he’d be one hell of a talent. He was presumably chosen for this story arc because of the almost dream-like qualities Otherworld is supposed to evoke. However, when he’s called upon to deliver a particularly gory scene in issue #22 (spoiler: one of the characters loses their face) he can’t pull it off. His style simply doesn’t suit the hyperviolence that is supposed to be a part of the book’s high concept.
As for the story? Well, it has been underwhelming so far, to be honest. The setting and stakes aren’t particularly interesting; Otherworld rarely crops up in the Marvel universe, and most of the individuals who inhabit it are so minor it’s hard to care about their fates, or else they’re C-level superheroes that, regardless of the outcome, will crop up in someone else’s story in a few months time, ostensibly unchanged by the events of this tale. Like X-Factor, Uncanny X-Force seems to be killing time, and hopefully the next arc will be a return to form.
So in summary: X-Men Legacy stands out as the best of the satellite titles; it doesn’t quite achieve the same level of quality as Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men, but it’s up there. As for X-Factor and Uncanny X-Force, wait and see: the talent involved with both titles have delivered in the past, and hopefully the next storylines will be an improvement over the current ones.