Amazing X-Men #1
By Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness
Reader Appeal/Publisher Rating: T+ (ages 15 and older)
"Once upon a time there was a mutant named Nightcrawler... But then one one day... Nightcrawler died... The end."
You have to admire a story—any story—that has the audacity to begin that way. When it introduces the first page of a comic book like Amazing X-Men #1, it's just incredibly fun. After all, everybody knows that death is reversible in the Marvel Universe, and so this unexpected opening becomes a wonderful teaser to the adventure that's about to begin.
Plus, as part one in a five-part mini-series, Amazing X-Men #1 is just a kick to read—a welcome respite from some of the more bleak, serious-minded comics that try to pass for "literature" these days. Here's the basic story:
Mutant fan-favorite, Nightcrawler (also know as Kurt Wagner, and formerly of the Uncanny X-Men) has, well, died.
But fret not, dear reader, Young Kurt is a devout Catholic and his death is rewarded with an eternity in heaven. Of course, Marvel Comics' heaven only vaguely resembles the realities of Catholic theology, so there may be some 'splainin' to do if your family is one of faith. Still, in this comic-book pseudo-heaven, anything is possible and that makes an exciting setting for unexpected things to happen. But I digress...
Here in this isolated "heaven," Kurt finds himself generally alone (we might even say bored—which is a common theme in heaven-fiction written by those who don't really believe in it). He's staring out at the edges of paradise, longing for a little bit of the adventurous hell he left on earth. Apparently God is sympathetic to his longing, because only moments later, there's a rip in the fabric of eternity and bamf! Adventure begins!
The devilishly evil Azazel (a humanoid mutant of demonic descent) and his awful hordes invade Nightcrawler's corner of eternity. Azazel is Nightcrawler's father and, like him, wields the power to teleport at will. Now he's managed to teleport all manner of evil minions into the fringes of heaven. As you can guess, Azazel intends to overthrow God and his angels and capture eternity for himself. And, as expected, Nightcrawler objects. Thus the battle begins!
This first skirmish ends in something of a stalemate, but it's clear that a future all-out war in the heavens is unavoidable. So what's a dead X-man to do?
Well, he's got to find some way to get help, because (and I say this facetiously) apparently God and his angels are no match for Azazel. Yes, the theology here is stupidly bad, but if you can overlook that flaw, it's still a great set-up for this story.
So Nightcrawler turns his attention to his friends back on earth, the X-Men he left behind at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning. But will he be able to contact them from the beyond—and in time? And if he does, will they be able to help? And what about Azazel? When will he reappear in heaven bringing hell in his hands? The answer, friends, is destined to be...amazing.
As you can guess, I really enjoyed this comic. I loved the inventiveness of writer Jason Aaron in setting up a psuedo-spiritual adventure with physical ramifications. Aaron also keeps the plot moving—and the reader guessing—with steady action and light humor. Some of the throwaway lines in the hallway at the Jean Grey School are priceless, and make you want to be sure you don't miss anything in the back-panels later. The creativity of the setting is special, with a Garden-of-Eden style heaven suddenly overrun by demon pirates and (yes!) a full-on 18th-century pirate ship as well. The set-up in this first issue promises a lot of fun to come in the series, and even has time to tease out some relationship conflicts as background. I hadn't read a Jason Aaron comic before this one, but you can bet I'll be looking for his name again in the future.
Ed McGuiness as the penciller is also great fun to watch. McGuiness is a consummate pro at comic book illustration (Superman, Hulk, Deadpool) and his images remind of a new-school Jack Kirby. Motion is important and nuanced, leaving nothing to bore the eyes. Faces are clean and expressive, and up/down perspectives are varied and interesting. Very nice work.
Parents should be aware that Marvel has rated Amazing X-Men #1 as "T+," meaning it contains content that some would find inappropriate for children. While this is true, I found this comic to be a pretty tame "T+" compared to others on the racks at your local comic book shop. Some younger kids may be frightened by the red-devil-flashing-yellow-eyes of Azazel and his minions, but honestly there's not much here that you wouldn't find in a Saturday morning cartoon. There are a few mild profanities (hey, Wolverine is in this story), so that may also contribute to the rating. Still, generally speaking, despite the T+ label I'd think most kids 10 and up wouldn't have a problem with this book. HOWEVER, as always, it's best for parents to read Amazing X-Men #1 themselves to judge whether or not it's appropriate for their own children.
One unique aspect of this particular comic is the religious allusions that are incorporated as essential parts of the plot. As I mentioned before, Marvel Comics' theology is not orthodox, nor even consistent. It's simply a fiction made up and manipulated for storytelling purposes. Be that as it may, for parents of faith, Amazing X-Men #1 presents a very cool, non-threatening opportunity to talk about things like heaven and hell and truth and forgiveness and other religious topics that are sometimes hard to discuss without delivering a sermon. So, if members of your family are X-Men fans, go ahead and take the time to read this comic and afterward to talk about the spiritual ideas presented within its pages. Who knows, you might just enjoy the conversation!
In all, I was pleasantly surprised with Amazing X-Men #1. It's an entertaining book that could be fun to share with likeminded kids in your family.
Note: All product-related graphics in this article are standard publicity/promotional shots and are owned by their respective publisher.