In this week’s Marvel Rundown, the crew (D. Morris, Lucia Iannone, Tim Rooney, and Cy Beltran) convenes for a discussion on Ultimate X-Men #1, the latest in the revamped Ultimate Universe.

What did you think of this week’s batch of fresh Marvel Comics, True Believers? The Beat wants to hear from you! Give us a shout-out, here in the comment section or over on social media @comicsbeat, and let us know what you’re thinking.

Content warning: This issue and the roundtable below discusses suicide frankly. Please feel free to skip this edition if this is a difficult subject for you.
Ultimate X-Men #1

Ultimate X-Men #1

Writer & Artist: Peach Momoko
Script Adaptation: Zack Davisson
Letterer: VC’s Travis Lanham
Cover Artist: Peach Momoko

Cy Beltran: Welcome back to the Marvel Rundown, and our third and final roundtable in our initial series covering the Ultimate relaunch! We’ll be rounding out our coverage with this week’s Ultimate X-Men #1. So, what’d we all think?

D. Morris: There’s no Nightcrawler, so hard pass. I kid. I actually was really surprised by this first issue. Of all the Ultimate books in this relaunch, this was the one I anticipated the most. X-Men got me into comics and Peach Momoko is one of the most unique artists in Marvel’s stable at the moment. The previews gave hints of swerving hard into body horror, which as a David Cronenberg fan, made me very excited. 

Instead we got a very down to earth story of a young woman haunted both literally and metaphorically. It owed much to Japanese horror. I have to say, I’m really eager to see how this turns into an X-Men story and updates that for the 21st century.

Lucia Iannone: I found the lack of Nightcrawler (and by extension, most anything superheroic) incredibly refreshing. This kind of story honestly feels more at home in a short horror manga anthology than a Marvel floppy issue, and I adore that. This is a delicious glass of fresh water with something very dark and gooey at the center, and I enjoy it.

Tim Rooney: This was a surprising delight. Nothing of what I expected and everything I hoped—just a totally unique, creator-driven spin on the Marvel Universe. We don’t get much about how mutants work in the new Ultimate Universe or even if there are others but it doesn’t matter—this is not about the “universe” it’s about Hisako and her personal (literal?) demons. This was a beautifully rendered first chapter of a coming of age story that felt equal parts Studio Ghibli and FLCL. Peach Momoko is an incredible storyteller. 

CB: Agreed, agreed, agreed. This is a bold step into the future of what Marvel can be doing, and while I think Momoko’s Demon Days minis took that first leap, this being a part of a shared universe is a fascinating experiment that I am eager to follow. I will also say, as an X-Men fanatic, that this could upend what mutantdom means in more interesting ways than House of X/Powers of X, no matter how sacreligious that may sound.

DM: Cy, I’m in agreement with you that as bold as House of X/Powers of X seemed, it was mostly an X-Men comic about X-Men comics. That got old quickly for me. This honestly is someone taking the blocks of X-Men and instead of using them to build a tower or building, they make a robot. There’s pieces of what we know but this feels like something new that’s much needed. And not just for X-Men but Marvel Comics as a whole.

TR: I feel the same way. For all that X-Men has transformed into an allegory for oppression and the feeling of being an “outsider,” the franchise has rarely been shepherded by anyone other than straight white men. Momoko offers something radically different by starting so small, with only the barest hint of what we expect an X-Men story to be. Ultimate Spider-Man built upon a foundation of years of stories and upending our expectations. Ultimate Black Panther felt like a repackaging of the movies. This first issue of Ultimate X-Men is a completely new introduction to Marvel’s merry mutants. 

LI: HoX/PoX feels to me much more like a logical exploration/conclusion to the storyline/premise that we’ve known for a while, whereas this is a much more genuinely unexpected direction.

CB: Speaking of, what did we think of said storyline here? We touched on a bit of the horror, but how did we feel about Hisako Ichiki’s introduction?

TR: It took me back to my own adolescence when I was big into anime, honestly. There is a familiar sense of wonder and mystery of many of the classic anime/manga that deal with young characters thrust into the paranormal. Momoko captures that sense of possibility and discovery of growing up–and all the anxieties that go with it. I immediately cared about Hisako and her grief. It’s as much through the art as anything. The water color art gave this issue a softness that contrasted it with the other Ultimate titles which are more traditionally superhero. It emphasizes the vulnerability of the character as she struggles to find her place in the world. The big samurai armor enveloping the very childish depiction of the teen Hisako makes that contrast even starker. 

LI: To be honest, I think it gave Hisako more of a defined character with actual traits than we’ve seen from her in a long, long time. I always had a hard time figuring out what any defining characteristics of her personality were, but this time it was much clearer. 

DM: I appreciated that Momoko built them from the ground up and didn’t rehash a character we already know. I don’t know if this take on character is entirely unique given they seem straight out of a Japanese horror or even a girl’s (shojo) comic you might read. BUT that character type is so unique to the world of American comics. 

LI: I have to disagree with the shojo comic protagonist comment. Usagi Tsukino and Tooru Honda are nothing like Hisako here to me.

DM: That’s fair, I think it’s a much darker take. I do think that there are hints of those characters in this version of Hisako. I think a good case could be made for this being a horror take on magical girl stories (which at their core are a kind of superhero comic).

LI: I haven’t read enough magical girl manga to really agree or disagree there, but when I think of horror takes on magical girls, my mind immediately goes to Puella Magi Madoka Magica, which is a much clearer derivative. But I can see some of that here too, though I do think the way Hisako’s powers come out is very much in line with classic mutant power stories–sudden trauma, and then power.

DM: Hisako does form a contract of sorts in this issue…

LI: Either way, it’s clear that Peach Momoko has read more than just American superhero comics, and I love that varied base of knowledge and how it shows up here.

CB: To me, this is clearest in the art, and the way Momoko manipulates time and space to tell her story. The use of colors (and lack thereof on certain pages) is key to this title, and does a phenomenal job of conveying the difficult subject matter (which also made this a hard read!).

LI: Personally, I was kind of shocked to see they didn’t tiptoe around the subject of suicide. 

DM: Yeah, this is pretty blunt in what happens to her friend and Momoko doesn’t really pull her punches. Their use of greytones as a visual element to convey that plot point really works well.

TR: This is where it feels most authentically X-Men to me. The script plays up Hisako’s isolation and feelings of being an outsider. That’s really the root of the X-Men’s appeal, and why so many different people latch onto it. The art captures that in the ways you mention with the colors but also in the layouts. Hisako rarely shares a panel with another person, and when she does it is primarily in flashback before her friend’s death or she is far in the background from the other people.  

LI: To be honest, I’m not sure I want that much X-Men here. Is that going to get me in trouble if I say that? Like, if someone shows up and tries to get Hisako to go to a school, I’ll be disappointed as hell. I have a hard time seeing something like that not cheapening this. 

DM: Yeah, the outsider status AND knowing your an outsider, that something’s different about you was the most authentically X-Men element of this. And Momoko just nails that visually by rarely if ever having Hisako in the frame with another person.

To answer Lucia’s comment, I don’t think that’s an entirely out of place criticism to have. I agree that given the seriousness of the subject matter a magical school for misfits is out of place. A place that solves all of your deep psychological trauma would be inappropriate.

But I think the strongest thing about X-Men and the reason this concept has resonated so strongly with people since the Claremont run, is that the team is a found family. They are people who help each other out through those trials. I have faith we’re going to see a new take on a found family which might not necessarily be tied to a traditional superhero team. 

CB: On that note, what would our verdicts be for this issue, both as an X-Men comic and as something that stands alone?

LI: As an X-Men comic, I’m going to say STRONG BROWSE simply because I’m not sure where it’ll go from here. As a standalone, I have to say it’s a BUY–it’s a beautiful introduction into what Marvel could (and arguably should) be doing. 

TR: This is going to be the strongest BUY I’ve given since joining these Marvel chats. It’s the kind of unique, creator driven work I’ve been wanting to see more of from the publisher. I could gush about it all night long. I’m not a diehard X-fan so I don’t feel beholden to any particular take but I have a hard time imagining that people who love this franchise for its themes would not enjoy this.

DM: This is a strong buy on both fronts for me. I’m an old school X-Men fan but I’ve been long bored with the various modern takes on the characters (sorry Krakoa era fans). Here is something new to me. Peach Momoko’s art is so unique for a publisher desperately in need of artists with individual styles. This truly feels like a serious reinvention of the concept of X-Men. It’s a teenager already feeling weird and now gets to deal with superhuman abilities. That Momoko went with Armor as our first mutant is such an inspired visual metaphor for their isolation. Also we get to have to some spooky horror. I really want to dig into this world more.

CB: I’m with everyone else, I think this is a definite BUY as a standalone, and I would also say as an X-Men comic. The X-Men have always been about evolution amidst a changing world, and what better way to celebrate that than having the concept flipped entirely on its head. Thanks for a great roundtable tonight, we’ll be back with this series in June as Ultimates #1 launches, but stay tuned for more Rundown Roundtables in the meantime!

Next week: Black Widow & Hawkeye launches alongside Symbiote Spider-Man 2099!