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‘X-Men: Grand Design’ #1 & #2 (review)

X-Men: Grand Design #1 & #2
Written and Illustrated by Ed Piskor
Published by Marvel Comics / $5.99
#1 Released 12/20/17 / #2 Released 1/3/18

I have often thought of going through all the Silver Age Superman stories and piecing together a narrative of Krypton during its last few months, attempting to rationalize the disparate bits of continuity and continuity implants that had Lois, Jimmy, Mon-El, Batman, Luthor, and even Superman himself—sometimes only as an apparition—visiting Jor-El and Lara in their last days.

To date, though, I’ve never found the time nor the necessary levels of obsessiveness to complete such a daunting task.

Ed Piskor, however, although going in a completely different direction, clearly DOES have impressive levels of obsessiveness, and has channeled them toward his own Grand Design!

Not long ago, I transcribed an interview that someone had done recently with Ed Piskor. I had only ever heard the name and knew nothing about him. Initially, he seemed like a typical fanboy turned pro, with a dash of hipster thrown in. But the more he talked, the more intrigued I became, especially about X-Men: Grand Design.

Now I’m an X-Men fan from waaaaay back! The comic book that helped me learn to read—the FIRST comic book I ever remember having that didn’t star a child ghost or a little red devil—was Marvel’s X-Men #11. I carried that comic book with me everywhere and reasoned out the story while getting my mother to help me learn some of the words. I was in Kindergarten. By the time I hit first grade, I could already read fairly well, and all because I wanted to find out what was happening in that X-Men comic!

When I started actually collecting comic books—after Batman premiered nearly a year later—I somehow didn’t pick up another X-Men until months down the line. When I did, though, I stuck with the title through its lean years and into Steranko and Adams. When even those powerhouse creators couldn’t save the book in terms of sales, it went away.

We all know what happened next. After a handful of admittedly pointless cameos in other titles and edited reprints in their own revived comic, the NEW X-Men finally popped up from Len Wein and Dave Cockrum, with Chris Claremont and John Byrne taking the ball and running with it to make X-Men one of the most popular comics of all time.

This was the X-Men Ed Piskor grew up with. Instead of the Mimic, Factor Three and Frankenstein’s monster, Ed had the Shi’ar, Genosha and, of course, the Phoenix Force.

But Ed, in the classic tradition of fandom, envisioned a continuity that connected nearly every little thing in the X-Men’s increasingly convoluted world in a fashion that not only worked but that explained things along the way.

Thus was born Ed Piskor’s X-Men: Grand Design. To say it’s a labor of love is putting it mildly. The detail he goes into is mind-boggling at times and even minute, seemingly throwaway moments often tie in to something somehow.

But the real question about a project like this always has to be—Does it work? And the usual answer for a project like this is—yes, and no.

It’s very likely that the task simply can’t be accomplished, no matter how enthusiastic the creator. Marvel’s X-continuity involves too many aspects that simply cannot rationally co-exist. When Claremont retconned something in, say, 1983, it may have only worked by choosing to ignore aspects of some of the earlier, simpler continuity. While Piskor does a fairly thorough job of hammering most of the different puzzle pieces together to make one big picture, no matter how hard he tries, a few still feel really out of place and there are a handful of pieces left over.

Warning! Some spoilers inevitably follow.

First, I think Ed makes a grave mistake by essentially blaming the mutant hatred on Prince Namor—retconned into being Marvel’s first mutant—and his early ‘40s destruction of New York City in Marvel Mystery Comics. The ripples that this makes down through Marvel history would be staggering if one thinks about it. It makes sense that Piskor, viewing it in today’s more realistic terms, might use that as a starting point, but then we’re stuck with a world that would never trust Namor again.

We know that didn’t happen as, in canon, he becomes a trusted member of the Invaders, the Roy Thomas retconned supergroup, as well as a major hero in several runs of his own book, and a long stint with Dr. Strange and the Hulk as the Defenders. To say nothing of his membership in the Marvel Universe superhero Illuminati, as introduced in Civil War!

But Ed depicts him as just a waterlogged super-terrorist, who then vanished, only to turn up again when a random goon tosses the bearded, amnesia-ridden, but somehow still amazingly buff Namor into the water. That’s right. A random goon. NOT Johnny Storm’s Human Torch.

That’s one of a number of changes that feel arbitrary. Marvel Girl for example, helps rescue Hank McCoy before he becomes an X-Man. And yet, the very first X-Men story shows Jean arriving at Professor Xavier’s school and meeting all of her classmates, including the already present Beast.

There’s a humorous reference to Galactus that appears before what seems later to be the big G’s first appearance on Earth.

Magneto’s backstory is given some boost but then we lose all of his appearances in X-Men and Avengers between the Stranger taking him away and him turning up in the Savage Land.

And, of course, there’s always the problem of time periods and aging in the Marvel Universe. Magneto, for example, is now firmly tied to World War II so when was the rest of all this taking place?

With so much to tell and so much to work in, page after page of Grand Design sees X-events gets relegated to single panels such as the major, multi-issue battle with the Avengers from the late ‘60s

There are quite a few things that I DO like about the books, though: The way Charles is handled, throughout; the depiction of the younger Bobby Drake as a walking human shaped lump of ice; the lovely scene with the Professor meeting young Jean in another dimension and convincing her to come home; insanely small details like the resurrection of Scott’s “Slim” nickname; the incorporation of much of the material from the Origins back up series that ran in the ‘60s; and Piskor’s quirky, modern style of art, on the surface seemingly unsuited to superhero stories, adds an odd but somehow appropriate touch to it all.

The unique, yellowing look to the book’s pages is, of course, designed to evoke an “old comics” feel. In the interview I transcribed, the artist said that he literally created his blank, yellowing pages from the corner of a page from a fading early ‘60s Hawkman comic! Now, THAT, my friend, is a dedication to authenticity!

For new readers, though, these two issues of X-Men: Grand Design would seem to offer much confusion and little clarification. For old guys like me, it was a fun, nostalgic, but frustrating read. In the end, I appreciated the effort and the style more than the final result. If anyone could have made this project actually, completely work, I really do think it would have been Ed Piskor. He made a valiant attempt and I hope he goes on from here to cover the New X-Men era.

Booksteve Recommends in spite of its flaws.

 

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Bill Murray

    January 5, 2018 at 4:05 pm

    At the risk of being called a prude, was it really necessary to show Jean sleeping with Ted? Personally, I don’t care about Jean’s sleeping habits, but this comic could have been a good jumping on point for younger readers – a quick and simple way to get caught up on the whole backstory of the X-men. Now, I couldn’t recommend it for younger readers.

  2. Gardner Broome

    February 5, 2018 at 11:36 am

    I just read both issues of the series and searched for someone who could summarize my feelings. Thank you for doing just that. While Piskor clearly put a lot of time into this project, I too was really bothered by all of the unnecessary changes to established continuity. Things like the early Galactus reference by a very young Alex Summers and changing the iconic scene where Johnny Storm drops Namor into the ocean from FF #4 made no sense. On the other hand, making the coming of the Phoenix Force a link that tied the entire history of the team together was an interesting idea. As someone extremely familiar with the X-Men’s history, I imagine my perspective is vastly different than the typical reader of this series. Some of the online reviewers don’t even seem aware that Piskor changed so much established history and believe this is some kind of new “X-Men bible”. I’m fine looking at it as a quirky fan project that might be ultimately assigned to some alternate Earth.

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