Written by Chad Bowers and Chris Sims, Illustrated by Scott Koblish, Marvel Comics, March 22, 2016, Softcover,
128 pages, $16.99
On Halloween night 1992, Fox premiered the X-Men animated series. The X-Men were already the most popular Marvel Comics property after Spider-Man by that point, but the series would elevate them into mainstream super stardom. For five years, the show would go on to be a critical and commercial success. Yet time hasn’t been too kind as numerous X-Men shows followed alongside the popular film series, leaving the pioneering program to collect dust in the closet. But then something happened recently. As part of the Secret Wars event, where numerous alternate universe stories were given the chance at new life, the animated series was reborn in the from of a new comic book series titled X-Men ’92.
Vol. 0: Warzones! collects the initial eight issue run of the series. For several months, there has been relative peace in Westchester between humans and mutants. So much so that the X-Men begin to wonder if there is any purpose for their being around any longer now that there is such little threat that they spend most of their training time doing laser tag. But following the sudden appearance of rogue Sentinels, they overhear a facility called Clear Mountain. Run by the mysterious Cassandra Nova, it supposedly rehabilitates dangerous mutants. Suspicious, the team heads over to investigate and find themselves getting involved in a lot more than just questionable methods of reconditioning people against their will. They will have to face their own personal fears while trying to prevent an assassination that could reignite tensions between humans and mutants to a more volatile degree.
The primary question to ask is whether or not X-Men ’92 is a faithful continuation of the animated series. The answer is yes. This is the X-Men as you know them from the show. They’re not dark and brooding, and yet they also understand that not everything is all roses and fireworks. Cyclops is the exasperated leader, while well meaning, is strict and stuck up. Jean Grey is his beloved wife playing mother to everyone. Wolverine is the loner who will relent and be a team-player when the going gets tough. Gambit and Rogue flirt just enough to keep from physically touching due to her powers. Storm is a worthy successor to take command when needed. Beast displays an intellectual vocabulary too great for any one to understand. And Jubilee is the teenager having the time of her life being part of the team. Even their dialogue is in character, not straying too far from how they talk on the show while allowing them opportunities here and there to play around after being dormant for less than twenty years.
Visually, the book looks pretty good. Illustrator Scott Koblish keeps with the style of the animated series while injecting some touches here and there to really play up the Jim Lee influence. The colors are bright, but not too much so as to be distracting. And there is a nice sense of fluidity at times so that the characters do not appear too stiff or rigid. This adds to the nostalgic feeling of the animated series as it evokes movement despite being still drawings. The action sequences are as spectacular as one would expect from the X-Men and is in line with how they look in the show. From the opening Sentinel attack to some pretty cool battles building up to the climatic showdown, they are presented with great affection for what fans fondly remember. It helps that there is a consideration for pacing so that the action is not splashed together for the sake of being there. But while the look, the characters, and the action recapture of the spirit of the show, they’re almost wasted by one thing. The story.
X-Men ’92 is going to confuse pretty much every reader. Regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of the animated series, there will be some thing in the book that will be bewildering to read. Be it the uncertainty of where exactly the story picks up chronologically or the obligatory Secret Wars tie-ins that are more distracting than subtle or characterizations that don’t fit with how the X-Men have otherwise been portrayed in comic books over the last two decades. There’s even strange instances where a character’s original dialogue bubble is crossed out and the “appropriate replacement” is pointed out. This is presumably a play on how the storytelling on the show seemed censored compared to how they were originally published in the books. But it is as much a head-scratcher to most as it is somewhat humorous to others. And yet for some twisted reason, this fits with the book’s clear love for the 1990s. Which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
The main narrative by Chad Bowers and Chris Sims is not going to be a simple read. I doubt even long-time comic book fans will be able to make heads or tails with the full spectrum of what is going on in the book. Sure you may have an idea of events that happen in the book, but it’s difficult to understand why it happens and how they’re connected together in a cohesive manner. Just like a good many of X-Men stories, both comic book and animated, from the 1990s. There’s no real logical reason for an X-Force team, who have never been seen as such before in the animated series, to suddenly appear. They just do. Trying to figure out why the antagonist does what they do in leading up to their ultimate goal? Don’t expect to know how it is supposed to work. There really isn’t much in the ways of continuity, not when there’s a great deal of fan-servicing going on. It’s almost as though Bowers and Sims only had one shot to cram as many references to the X-Men comics from the 1990s as they could in eight issues, not knowing the book would get picked up to be a full on-going series later.
Probably the best way to describe X-Men ’92 is that it’s like a typical Michael Bay film. It’s less about the storytelling and all about the visuals. On the one hand, the book does fit in being some form of a continuation to the animated series. The characters are as they were and the action sequences are quite spectacular to see. On the other hand, it’s a book that is confusing as one would expect from the 1990s. There really isn’t a rhyme or reason for what is happening in the book, they just do. Throw in elements that contradict one another, be it the Secret Wars tie-ins or the how different everything is from the main comic book universe, and this is a book that no fan will have an easy time digesting. And yet I can’t deny the joy of seeing its love for the 1990s on display, both good and bad. I can’t recommend it because it’s such a confusing book to read, but there were bits and pieces that made me smile nonetheless.