An Old School History Of The X-Men: Reviewing X-Men: Grand Design #2

by Oliver MacNamee

If you’ve even had the pleasure of reading Ed Piskor’s Hip Hop Family Tree, then you’ll know what to expect from this retelling of the Uncanny X-Men’s Silver Age history. If not, then what are you waiting for? It’s a great, old-school style recount that concisely creates a potted history of Professor X and his students. In this second issue, we focus on the original X-Men’s debut from X-Men #1 (naturally) right up to the last few comics before Wolverine and some other interlopers came to crash the party. But for now, this is all about the original fab five and their somewhat goofy adventures through the 1960s.

As for the grand design? I think it must surely be the ever-present narrative thread dealing with the oncoming Phoenix Force that Piskor places at the centre of this retelling giving it a narrative cohesion when the early Lee and Kirby stories were not always joined up. But that was the beauty of the Silver Age, a memorable time of cracking good yarns and Kirby crackling too! The rise of the Sentinels, Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Unus the Untouchable and many, many more are all recounted in this comic.

Piskor’s style of art is evocative of the underground comics of the past, and the sepia coloured pages mimic what he did in the aforementioned Hip Hop Family Tree books, too. He has a beautiful way of adding textures through the kind of dainty line work he adds to his characters and settings that, for me, is reminiscent of Robert Crumb and his ilk, and it’s great to see this differing style brought to Marvel. Hell, I’d consider getting a few more indie artists onboard with other titles and see what happens, given how this works.

It’s a read for all ages and a great way to introduce anyone, comic book lovers or otherwise, to the convoluted history of this classic line-up. And, it doesn’t try to update any of it either. It’s all presented not as a hip remix (urgh, anyone remember John Byrne’s Spider-Man relaunch, or have we all scoured it from our collective minds?) but along the same timelines as the original publications. While they do not make mention of specific dates, the clothes, the sepia-styled paper, and the art all combine to give this book a sense of the past.

Unlike the first issue, this one deals more with the comics that were published in the 60’s and early 70’s, without having to combine later retrofits and retcons from such titles as the 80’s Classic X-Men. The handy index at the back of this issue helps identify which comics were sourced and used in this series. And at 40 pages, its a great, satisfying read. Shame I have to wait until later this year for a third issue and the introduction of the All New X-Men! Still, patience is a virtue, or so I’m told.

X-Men Grand Design #2 is out now from Marvel.