The Watchtower: X-Men franchise guide pt. 2
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    Starting last week, I thought I’d try to explain the ongoing X-books on the stands, with the exception (for now) of the miniseries, one-shots, and the issues that star individual mutants. Most series can function on their own, with the occasional crossover.

    Uncanny X-Force
    Writer: Rick Remender
    Interior Artist: Jerome Opeña

    Start with: issue #1
    Primary cast: Wolverine, Psylocke, Archangel, Fantomex, Deadpool

    The top-secret, black-ops division of the X-Men (they kill), unknown even to most mutants, features a stellar cast with a history, a wide range of personalities, and, notably, the still-ubiquitous Deadpool. The pacing, art and character work are all pretty spot-on, but the book manages to come off as less gritty than its predecessor. Overall, it maintains a serious but not weighty tone, fulfilling its storytelling goals nicely: action-packed, violent, yet enjoyable X-Men stories that maintain a strong focus on relationships. Fairly accessible, too.

    Astonishing X-Men (vol. 3, 2004 series)
    Writer: Daniel Way (Deadpool; Wolverine: Origins
    Interior Artist: Jason Pearson

    Start with: Astonishing X-Men: Gifted, or #36 for the new team (Feburary 2011).
    Primary cast: Wolverine, Emma Frost, Cyclops, Armor, Storm

    Way and Pearson take over next month, hopefully relieving the book from its history of scheduling woes. Based on Way’s superbly fresh take on Deadpool and a strong sense of characters’ voices, along with the promotional images for the series, it looks like a fun run. Way claims to be refocusing the series on “tight interpersonal relationships using massive exterior conflicts as the backdrop,” as Joss Whedon did when the title first came out. With such a strong cast to work with in an action-horror-monster story, I don’t see Way having much trouble achieving great things.

    New Mutants (vol. 3, 2009)
    Writer: Zeb Wells
    Interior Artist: Leonard Kirk

    Start with: New Mutants: Return of Legion (volume 1 of the series)
    Primary cast: Cannonball, Dani Moonstar, Sunspot, Karma, Magik, Magma, Warlock, Cypher

    I confess to not being entirely caught up on this series. Zeb Wells’ run ends with issue #21 this month, though, making way for the seemingly alternate-reality “Age of X” crossover that will occur across this book and Legacy. It seems consistent, apart from some early art-related hiccups, but with Leonard Kirk having taken over for the present arc, it’s a much better-looking book and pretty much the only place to catch stories starring the third generation of X-Men. Best read with some knowledge of the characters’ history.

    Generation Hope
    Writer: Kieron Gillen
    Interior Artist: Salva Espin

    Start with: #1 (November 2010), or #4 for the new arc (February 2011); also, The Uncanny X-Men: The Birth of Generation Hope
    Primary cast: Hope Summers, Idie, Teon, Kenji, Gabriel, Laurie (no code-names yet)

    This just barely beats out Legacy as my favorite X-book. I went into this last week, but the book follows the “Five Lights,” the newly activated mutants, as Hope Summers leads them on international missions. The book’s fun, modern, well-focused and energetic, and operates in a fascinating playground of ideas. Highly recommended — I can’t wait to see where it goes.

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