Victory in every conflict comes at a price, but sometimes the price is secondary to the situation. For the X-men, the situation tends to be convoluted in detail, but simple in substance. Either they achieve victory or they go extinct. There’s very little gray area in between. Those are the stakes that play out in Inhumans vs. X-men. Those are the stakes that drive the X-men’s overall narrative as a series.
Now, with the conclusion of Inhumans vs. X-men, the situation is ready to evolve. The X-men once again have a chance to do more than just fight for their right to exist, which has been at the heart of nearly every major conflict since House of M. It’s a chance they can’t afford to squander. Stories involving sterilization and extinction are rapidly losing their ability to generate dramatic weight. More than any other ongoing series, the X-men need a new conflict with new stakes.
That’s exactly what X-men Prime #1 sets out to do. Under the pen of Marc Guggenheim, Greg Pak, and Cullen Bunn, and a couple other top-tier artists, the X-men’s story finally moves forward from yet another extinction/sterilization plot. It is, effectively, a bridge from one era to another. It helps settle the dust of one conflict while preparing the X-men for another.
The conflict itself is still secondary compared to the situation. Compared to the X-men’s situation after Secret Wars, it doesn’t take much to improve their predicament. In essence, this is one situation where over-achievement is necessary to elicit the necessary impact. It’s a challenge and not just because impacting the X-men usually requires killer robots. He’s tasked with essentially molding a new situation for the X-men to navigate. What he ends up crafting is as polished as it is compelling.
There are no killer robots. There are no poison gas clouds, time-traveling assassins, or clone army. X-men Prime #1 isn’t structured for those kinds of fireworks. It’s very much an epilogue and a prelude for the X-men as a whole. It unfolds primarily through the eyes of Kitty Pryde, who was lucky enough to have avoided the whole sterilization/poison gas cloud/war with the Inhumans. In many respects, that makes her uniquely qualified to take in this new status quo.
Kitty, having spent much of her time guarding the galaxy with her ex-fiance and a talking raccoon, returns to the world of X-men that wants to change. From Storm to the time-displaced X-men, Guggenheim, Pak, and Bunn create this prevailing sentiment that the way they’re doing things has to change. Their current way put them at war with the Inhumans and forced them to live in a demon-infested realm. With or without mutant powers, any system that puts anyone into proximity with demons is a system in need of revision.
This makes for some very personal moments between Kitty Pryde and several characters who have been deeply affected by recent events, some of which don’t even involve demons. Most of those moments involve Storm, who presents herself as a relic of the old system, in a sense.
She accepts responsibility for the decisions that led to the X-men’s war with the Inhumans. She makes clear and gives some fairly understandable reasons why she doesn’t feel inclined to lead anymore. Again, the X-men ended up living in a demon-infested realm under her leadership. She realizes on some levels that there’s room for improvement.
Not every moment is as personal, though. Kitty does get a chance to meet up with Colossus, which is understandably awkward — and promptly avoided. She also gets a chance to meet up with the time-displaced X-men, albeit indirectly. These moments aren’t quite as dramatic, but they do serve a purpose in that they show how portions of the X-men are going in different directions. Kitty can only do so much to influence them, but she’s in a position to do more for the X-men than most. At this point, any direction that doesn’t involve proximity to demons counts as an upgrade.
X-men Prime #1 doesn’t just succeed in using these personal moments with Kitty to move the X-men forward, it also succeeds in making the story dramatic and sincere. Being able to do this without killer robots or sterilization plots counts as an accomplishment these days. Through Kitty Pryde, he’s able to convey a sense of hope and determination, two of the most important elements in any era of X-men.
As good as these moments are, there are a few that don’t feel quite as dramatic. Kitty’s interaction with Colossus is relatively minor and doesn’t get too personal. A side-plot involving Lady Deathstrike and Weapon X feels disconnected and unnecessary to the overall story. While the moment with the time-displaced X-men offers a nice twist, it doesn’t have many specifics. Some elements are left a bit vague, but it’s never convoluted. In a series with clones and time-displaced characters, that still counts for something.
In terms of setting the stage for a new era of X-men, X-men Prime #1 checks nearly every box. Guggenheim, Pak, and Bunn establish a direction for the team. He takes the X-men out of the demon-infested and into a more promising situation. Considering how grim and dire the X-men’s condition has been since the conclusion of Secret Wars, it’s downright refreshing.
Sure, there are bound to be more attacks by killer robots. Sure, it’s very likely that more clones and time travelers will enter the mix and frustrate the X-men. Like Wolverine and beer, certain elements are inescapably linked. The challenge is making the narrative behind these links compelling. In that sense, X-men Prime #1 rises to the challenge. For now, there’s hope for the world of the X-men and, provided nobody ends up sterilized, that hope holds a great deal of promise and potential.