By Tony Thornley
Say what you will about the franchise–the X-Men have the most passionate fanbase in comics. That’s why, to this day, the X-office is still one of most prolific editorial groups at Marvel Comics. Without a doubt, without that fanbase, projects like X-Men Grand Design wouldn’t exist. Thank goodness it does, though.
Grand Design is a trio of two issue miniseries chronicling the history of the X-Men, created entirely by cartoonist Ed Piskor. These first two chapters chronicle the formative years of the individuals on the team—the history of the Xavier family, the basis of anti-mutant sentiment, Magneto’s upbringing in the Holocaust, and the individual histories of the original X-Men and the first group of the Brotherhood.
Piskor does more than just recount what we already know though, giving each character a fully realized and much richer backstory, from Cyclops being recruited as a petty criminal before being found by Charles, to Angel briefly acting as a costumed hero. The second chapter chronicles the first battle of the team with Magneto through their initial adventures, up to just before the infamous Second Genesis story.
I heard this story described as “the best Wikipedia entry you’ll ever read”. Though not entirely inaccurate, it’s not a good description by any means. This is a thoughtfully plotted, and wonderfully crafted love letter to the history of the X-Men. Piskor takes the first five or so years of the series and gives it a depth and intricacy that it simply didn’t have before. Minor or forgotten plot points now are tied into the larger story, and it works.
Beyond that, it looks GREAT. Piskor’s style is far from any artist who have ever worked in the X-franchise, but it works so well. He makes it feel like a blend between classic Silver Age art and an indie book. His colors and letters add to that feel, with colors straight out of the 70’s and letting that would feel at home in a volume of TMNT Black and White Classics.
That’s only talking about the main story, but you can’t look at a volume like this without talking about the backmatter. Usually in a hardcover like this, backmatter consists of scripts, designs and sketches. In this volume, it’s Piskor’s history with the X-Men—sketches he did with his mom of X-Men characters. Two nine-page comics that he drew as a kid. Sketches and pin-ups he drew as a teenager and an art student. It’s a love letter to the franchise, pure and simple.
In all, this comes together as one of the BEST X-Men volumes that Marvel has ever put together. I can’t recommend this highly enough.
X-Men: Grand Design Vol. 1 is currently available from Marvel Comics.