Matt Fraction’s X-Men run, while generally good, has frequently failed to live up to some fairly lofty expectations. It’s encouraging, then, to see the title on a strong sprint following the end of "Second Coming," as the X-Books finally regain some direction after years of dithering.
As the name suggests, “Five Lights” deals with the emergence of five new mutants, the first (excluding Hope) since M-Day. Naturally, the X-Men are interested. Meanwhile, Hope heads back to Alaska to see if she can get some answers about her ancestry and birth. The latter storyline in particular addresses the long-dangling question of who Hope’s parents were and whether they were “important” in any specific sense, and it’s nice to see a book dealing with these kind of threads so long after they appeared to be forgotten.
In terms of explaining precisely why Hope is important, this issue also delivers a plot beat that part of me suspects should really have occurred during “Second Coming.” This is a major development of her powers and role in the plot, and finally explains exactly why she’s so crucial to the future of mutantkind. It also manages to start the long process of crafting Hope into a distinct character beyond being a simple plot device.
Portacio’s artwork is fine for what it is. It’s hard to stay in the industry this long without some natural talent (and at least he’s not tracing photos) but in all honesty, there’s much about Portacio’s work that could be improved, and it’s hard not to feel like he’s a relic of a previous generation’s tastes. When artists like Fabio Moon, Jamie McKelvie and Steve Sanders combine big action and subtle storytelling so fluidly and cleanly, it’s hard to feel enthusiastic for the stiff poses and blank pouts that artists of Portacio’s pedigree favor.
Although I feel as though Second Coming slowed down a little too much towards the end, it’s good to see that between this issue and last week’s “Heroic Age” one-shot, the core X-Men books seem to be gearing up for some new stories and a new outlook. If anything about this issue can be criticised, it’s that the new character doesn’t get much in the way of definition besides a visual and a slightly too severe attitude change at the issue’s conclusion -– but then, it’s only the first issue and there’s more to come yet, both in this series and the forthcoming “Generation Hope” ongoing, so let’s see how it develops.
As well as the main feature, there’s also a lead-in to “Avengers: Children’s Crusade” which explains Magneto’s presence in that series. Well-drawn, well-written and relevant to “Uncanny X-Men” as much as the series it’s bridging into, this is exactly the sort of backup we could do with more of. Combined with the main story, it makes for one of the better single-issue packages seen for some time.