Once the Novelty Wears Off: “X-Men #3”

When Brian Wood’s new X-Men series was announced, it was groundbreaking. For the first time, it looked like Marvel was putting some genuine effort into an all-female superhero team that would do more than titillate the coveted young male demographic. It sounds like such a novel concept, but it shouldn’t. Marvel has a long list of strong female characters and many of those characters are affiliated with the X-Men. It’s as if Marvel was one of those would-have-been investors with a chance to buy a stake in Google and they just ignored it.

When X-Men #1 was released, it worked in a ways that felt both overdue and satisfying. It succeeded in bringing together a team of X-women to confront a new threat while stirring up good character drama with Jubilee, who is now the adoptive mother of an orphaned baby. But what made the novelty so compelling is that it didn’t feel like a “female” X-Men book. It felt like a regular X-Men book where the characters happened to be female. The challenge for X-Men #3 was how to keep this series compelling once the novelty of its cast wears off? Can it truly thrive without being the X-Men version of the Spice Girls?

Consumers tend towards having a wide range of tastes and this often frustrates marketing departments. However, X-Men #3 doesn’t attempt to push the novelty any further than it needs to go. The same compelling themes that were established in the first issue carry over nicely to this issue, which caps off the end of the first arc beautifully. The details aren’t too dense and there aren’t any major plot twists that will make the readers gasp. It simply tells the story of the X-Men hunting down John Sublime’s vengeful sister, Arkea, and stopping her before she can do more damage than she has already done.

It’s not a fast-paced Arnold Schwarzenegger movie or a cerebral thriller with Morgan Freeman. It has a healthy bit of action and a healthy bit of drama, but it doesn’t go overboard with either. It establishes a solid balance while effectively tying up loose ends. Kitty Pryde and a group of under-used C-list characters confront the damage that Arkea did to the Jean Grey Institute’s computers, albeit in a way that involves a hefty repair bill and higher insurance premiums. The rest of the team follows John Sublime back to Budapest where the story actually began in the first issue. And he leads them to a final battle against Arkea that effectively ends the conflict.

However, this battle is somewhat subdued and involves a few too many horror clichés. Since most of it takes place in a creepy old hospital, there are times it feels like it’s devolving into a World War Z rip-off. Then there’s Arkea herself. Her being John Sublime’s twin sister of sorts was good in concept. Throughout the arc, she attacked the X-Men in unique and elaborate ways. But in this issue, it was somewhat simplified and not necessarily for the best.

At one point in the battle, Arkea delivers a menacing speech to the X-Men that might as well have been plagiarized from every other X-Men villain that ever called mutants “freaks”. Without the novelty of the series as a distraction, it’s much more apparent that Arkea really is a generic villain that lacks the charisma of John Sublime, the Hellfire Club, or Bastion. She really doesn’t say anything to set her apart. She’s just another evil creature intent on wiping out inferior life while getting back at her brother for kicking her off the planet a billion years ago. It basically amounts to Nazi-type evil mixed with a Jerry Springer kind of family feud.

While Arkea may not be getting her own fan club anytime soon, fans of strong female superheroes should be satisfied with how the X-Men handle themselves in this issue. At one point, they have to hold back their attack against Akrea because she hijacked the formerly comatose Karima Shapandar, also known as Omega Sentinel. They have to decide whether or not their friend is beyond saving before they risk delivering the final blow to Arkea. In the end, they don’t have to make that decision. Karima makes it for them. It’s a difficult decision that has been made by X-Men before, going all the way back to Chris Claremont’s original Dark Phoenix Saga. It doesn’t have quite that level of emotional weight, but it adds heart to the story in a way that feels distinctly feminine while not coming off as such.

The novelty may have worn off in X-Men #3, but the end of this first arc successfully laid a foundation for the future of this series. When Jubilee gives the orphaned baby that started this whole story a name, Shogo, it gives the impression that this is the overarching theme of X-Men. It isn’t just about an all-female X-Men team. It’s about a certain group of X-Men dealing with a unique set of issues. And Jubilee being a teenage mother who also happens to be a vampire is something that can’t be found in any other X-Men book. It’s actually somewhat ironic that the X-Men series with the most generic name has something so unique.

Brian Wood’s approach to this book is akin to someone trying to be a good overall athlete and not just good at a particular sport. While a professional sumo wrestler’s athletic skills may be somewhat narrow, a professional athlete can do more and branch out when necessary. X-Men as a series could go in many different directions, but X-Men #3 nicely demonstrates the skills of the characters and the overall theme. Some parts may have been overly generic, but it had a level of refinement that makes this book worth reading and bodes well for the future of this series.

RATING 7 / 10