In 2013, fans were ecstatic when old-school X-Men writer Brian Wood returned to the X-fold to pen a new, all-female, cast of X-Men. It was an unusual launch, full of promise, but sadly it didn’t quite live up to people’s expectations.
INTRODUCTION To Brian Wood’s X-Men
In many ways, Brian Wood’s return to the X-Men franchise began in 2011, when he penned the successful ‘Wolverine and the X-Men’ spin-off, ‘Alpha and Omega’. The three issues played up to Wood’s strengths, bringing the powerful teenager Quentin Quire into head-on collision with Wolverine, and also featuring the popular Joss Whedon-created character Armor. When, in 2013, Marvel announced Wood’s return to the X-franchise, old-school fans were excited – and newer readers cast their eyes to ‘Alpha and Omega’, and approached the book with a sense of thrilled expectation.
When the cast was announced, fan reaction was mixed; the idea of an all-female team just felt a bit too much of a gimmick. And yet, Wood spun it well; his rationale was simply that the X-Men have a history of strong female characters, and you get the feeling he simply picked the ones he wanted to write. Rather than forced, the all-female cast simply felt refreshingly natural. And meanwhile, counterpointing this with the development of a new Sisterhood, Wood was clearly playing the long-game – interviews hint at years’ worth of plots.
Unfortunately for Wood, crossover and editorial mandate intervened. His two ‘Battle of the Atom’ issues are excellent, but the speed with which the other writers dropped his plot-points – such as the hurried shelving of Jubilee – showed the awkwardness of Wood’s fit in the current range. Worse still, ‘Battle of the Atom’ ended with Kitty Pryde leaving the Jean Grey School, and thus Wood’s cast; and events in ‘Uncanny Avengers’ also resulted in Rogue being taken out of his hands. Issues after that crossover were generally disappointing, and sales dropped. Ultimately, Wood and Marvel made a mutual decision that it was time for Wood to move on.
The most obvious theme is that of generations; in his first arc, Wood turns Jubilee into an adoptive mother, and in ‘Battle of the Atom’ she meets the man her son will one day become. Ultimately, in ‘Bloodlines’ Jubilee must battle for the right to keep Shogo.
The same generational theme is prominent in ‘X-Men #4’, a beautifully low-key issue celebrating the long-standing friendship between Jubilee and her mentor Wolverine (the issue was really ‘filler’, as Wood couldn’t start his next arc until after ‘Battle of the Atom’, but it’s rather well done). Supporting this theme, with #12 Wood began a short series of back-up stories featuring younger X-Men characters who have traditionally been overlooked; these drew strong fan-reactions, but were fairly irrelevant to the main storyline, and showed little character development.
Wood was particularly notable for his use of classic X-Men characters, and he used his new villain Arkea to reintroduce John Sublime (in an odd relationship with Rachel Grey), and to resurrect both Selene and Madelyne Pryor. This alone makes his run of note, as he essentially brought some major pieces back to the board.
- ‘X-Men #1-4’: ‘Primer’ – The X-Men’s old enemy John Sublime approaches the X-Men seeking help; his sister Arkea has arrived, and threatens the world. The new ‘team’ then try to work together, while Jubilee visits her old home area with Wolverine.
- ‘X-Men #5-6’: ‘Battle of the Atom’ – Two issues that form part of the ‘Battle of the Atom’ crossover.
- ‘X-Men #7-12’ – ‘The Sisterhood’ – Arkea forms a new Sisterhood, resurrecting old enemies of the X-Men to campaign against her new enemies.
- ‘X-Men #13-17’: ‘Bloodline’ – Shogo’s paternal father, The Future, wants his son back – and wages war against the X-Men to get him.
All of these are available in graphic novel format.
It’s undeniable that Jubilee is the star of Wood’s run. He faces Jubilee with a situation where she must grow in ways no reader could have anticipated – she’s become a mother. Wood shows his wonderful familiarity with the character in #4, and ultimately forces her to fight for her son in ‘Bloodlines’.
Wood’s Jubilee is a much more balanced and nuanced character than had been seen to this point. He saw Jubilee as a ‘mutant vampire’, but her primary identity was still grounded in the mutant community, and in the sense of family that she found in the X-Men. It makes for an interesting read, as you realise that the Mall Rat has grown up.
Other characters are consistently well-drawn, but none have any real ‘arcs’; Wood draws a somewhat artificial conflict between Rachel and Storm over team leadership (instantly dropped by his replacement Guggenheim), and also set up a rather ill-received romance between Rachel and long-term X-Men foe John Sublime. Wood himself quickly broke that off.
In truth, Wood’s run is a perfect example of what can go wrong with an event; when an event forces particular changes to the status quo, the books sometimes find it difficult to adapt, and are weakened as a result. For Wood, whose run was of good quality up until ‘Battle of the Atom’, the event – and the loss of Rogue – essentially destabilised all his plans. As a result, the resolution of the Sisterhood arc was weak, and sales dropped. I recommend reading the books for good characterisation, and fans of Jubilee find them very satisfying indeed, but the run was ultimately somewhat disappointing.