Ultimate X-Men #66-71 (Marvel Comics)

From Brian K. Vaughan to Robert Kirkman, how does the new guy hold up the momentum of a barreling Ultimate X-Men?

(Click here to read the PLAYBACK:stl interview with Robert Kirkman from our December 2005 issue) 

(Marvel; 32 pgs FC each; $2.99)
(W: Robert Kirkman; P: Tom Raney; I: Scott Hanna)

When Brian K. Vaughan handed the reins of Ultimate X-Men to Robert Kirkman—the writer behind Image Comics’ Invincible and Walking Dead and the recent surprise hit Marvel Zombies—Kirkman had to contend with a new position—the jenga piece that could topple the Ultimate X-Men tower.

Up until now, Kirkman had only danced around the X-Men, with a Jubilee miniseries and a few Wolverine appearances in Marvel Team-Up, but never really sank his teeth in. And would he be able to? The answer is yes. Beginning with the Date Night arc, Kirkman maintains continuity with many of the lead characters. Blue-furred teleporter Nightcrawler is still uncomfortable around Colossus and his homosexuality (thank you Marvel for having the balls to at least include another gay character in your universe). Rogue is still her aggressive, yet vulnerable, self, and Bobby "Iceman" Drake manages to patch their relationship up in proper teenage fashion. Storm and Wolverine have their night on the town, and Jean Grey confronts Cyclops about the predictability of their romance. Apparently for Kirkman, who has relationships on the brain, downtime for the mutants opens up a whole new avenue of potential conflict.

In the Phoenix arc, Kirkman revives the Shi’ar from X-Men of old, this time as an ancient society, a church of enlightenment, instead of an intergalactic empire. Kirkman’s deft negotiations of storyline are proven by Nightcrawler’s intimate talk with the comatose Dazzler, the integration of Magician into the team, and the possibility of Jean Gray harboring an intergalactic force that can "unmake the world." The human aspects of these characters, what some writers would sacrifice for the sake of plot progression, Kirkman manages to salvage, and not only that, but emphasize.

The phoenix phenomenon, however, provides Kirkman with his most difficult challenge: how to do justice to the previous incarnation’s tightly written storyline. Improbabilities in the background of Jean Gray (her parents as members of the Shi’ar Church of Enlightenment to begin with) among the unlikely number of mutant school benefactors, and some unfortunately hokey you-do-not-know-the-powers-you-meddle-with dialogue have certainly set him back. Yet Marvel, and, it would seem, the fans have not lost confidence in his abilities. With two more arcs still forthcoming, and no limit set to his run, barring any unforeseeable medical ailments or departures from level-headed writing, it would seem Kirkman has a bright future with Ultimate X-Men.


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