Marvel loves its mutant anthology mini-series, doesn't it? Every time there's a new status quo these days (The X-Men have disbanded! The X-Men are moving to San Francisco! The X-Men are all buying ice cream!), another one of these mini-series trots out to show what some of the supporting cast and discarded characters are getting up to. Don't get me wrong, there's always a handful of creators who get some work as a result that makes them worth it -- I'm psyched to see Tim Fish getting more Marvel work in the next issue, and any new art from Michael Allred is reason to celebrate -- but, like almost all anthologies, these mini-series always end up a mixed bag at best.
"Nation X" #1 is curiously average when the dust settles. There aren't any particular highs, but there also aren't any dreadful lows. What struck me as particularly strange, though, is that unlike past mini-series, none of the stories in this first issue felt quite right. Maybe it's because Matt Fraction and Mike Carey have distinctive writing styles on their two "X-Men" titles, but they've carved out a tone that no one else manages to completely hit.
Simon Spurrier and Leonard Kirk's "The Ghost of Asteroid M" is an example of a perfectly average story, letting Magneto and some of the old "New X-Men" students look for a missing classmate in the depths of Magneto's old base. The story feels a little too pat, and Magneto seems a lot more vigorous than we've been seeing him lately. On the bright side, Leonard Kirk's pencils look nice, it's definitely one of the more attractive stories in "Nation X" #1. The best-looking one, though, is "Road Trip!" from James Asmus and Michael Allred. It's hard to beat Allred's clean, slick art; I don't think I've ever been disappointed by him in that regard. Asmus' story is actually little more than an extended conversation between Nightcrawler and Wolverine with moving scenery, but it actually works. Asmus doesn't overstay his welcome, and Allred keeps it lively with some funny, energetic pages of art. It's easily the high point of this issue.
On the other hand, Chris Yost and Michele Bertilorenzi's "Cold Shoulder" is an example of a story that goes on just a tiny bit longer than it should. At its core there's some solid ideas. Iceman as prankster works well, and the breakdown of how Iceman is keeping the others entertained works well. Unfortunately, once the joke is no longer fresh, Yost extends it just a bit too much even when the drama portion of the story is already set in motion. With a little trimming, this would have been better (although I do like Bertilorenzi's blocky art that reminds me a lot of Ron Garney's pencils), but it's at least not bad.
Scott Snyder, David Lopez, and Alvaro Lopez close out "Nation X" #1 with "Testament," which goes the traditional route of a depressing story by beating up on Colossus. Is there a character in the X-Men who has had more angst over losing loved ones than Colossus? I understand that the idea of a tortured artist X-Man is an attractive one, but this just ends up being a bit of a groaner. As it shifts from artist to teacher to artist again, I found myself actively hoping that Colossus would die again so that he'd be put out of his misery, but somehow I think that's not what Snyder had hoped for.
"Nation X" #1 is a surprisingly average first issue; hopefully there's some more oomph in the remaining three installments. I like the idea of these mini-series letting some other creators tackle the B- and C-grade characters from the X-Men, but if there isn't a more consistent wow factor in the remaining issues, maybe it's time to retire the concept before it wears out? You've got three more chances to justify these mini-series, Marvel. Let's see some wow.