X-Men: Grand Design: Second Genesis #2 // Review
Ed Piskor’s combination of cliff notes and work of art continues through the history of the X-Men line, as X-Men - Grand Design: Second Genesis returns for issue two.
For those who are just coming in with this review, cartoonist Ed Piskor has been working his way through the first 30 years of X-Men. Each issue covers a mind-boggling amount of published content, all recontextualized and condensed into a coherent narrative. With his own cartooning style, Piskor has a knack for trimming retcons and cutting content down to an incredibly streamlined and visually stunning format. The first volume, simply titled Grand Design, covered the classic 1960s stories by some of Marvel’s greats up through the final story of the original five X-Men. The previous issue of Grand Design: Second Genesis covered Chris Claremont’s resurrection of the X-Men, speeding from Uncanny X-Men 94 through the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga in Uncanny 138. Luckily, Marvel has been giving Piskor double-sized issues to work with, or else this could feel rushed.
Issue two of Second Genesis covers Uncanny X-Men 139-186, featuring memorable events like the Brood Saga, Days of Future Past, and Cyclops’ whirlwind relationship with Madelyne Pryor. Not content with just covering the X-Men, though, Ed also works in the 1970s Ms. Marvel comics in order to bring more focus to Rogue before she abruptly appeared in the comics under Claremont. While the comic does move at a breakneck pace, none of it feels careless. Major events like the aforementioned Brood Saga are compressed, but in a way that doesn’t require dozens of pages to work through while still keeping the core content. Even the beautiful Uncanny X-Men 186, “Lifedeath: A Love Story,” is included, albeit at a reduced single page of content.
What makes this book truly magical are all the callbacks to Marvel continuity in general. The core reason for Mankind’s hatred of Mutants is the drowning of New York during the Golden Age of comics by Namor the Submariner, as established in the first issue of Grand Design. It helps explain why Mutant hatred is so virulent, and is repeatedly called back upon by well-meaning characters like Senator Kelly. Another lovely note is Cyclops still being forced into the golden chest-octopus outfit from Uncanny 149 when Magneto rescues him from the sea and gives him the outfit just to mess with him.
Some changes, however, may grate on an X-fan or two. One of the bigger changes is rolling the character of Lee Forrester, Cyclops’ first after-Jean romance, with Madelyne Pryor. While it works well for compression and ease of storytelling, it also removes a surprisingly good character from the story. Luckily, the comic does come with an appendix in the back by Daron Jensen and Jeph York, covering the materials referenced and even admitting when things were changed in Piskor’s work.
When it comes to art, Ed Piskor is hard to beat. Characters, while cartoonishly exaggerated, also feel realistic. No one is overly pretty or ugly (aside from the Morlocks), and everyone is very easily identifiable without needing a text box or relying on context clues. The entire comic has this delightful pulp era feel, using sepia tones on the page itself before applying a dated color palette and page grain to make the comic look older. It’s a wonderful execution of a series of clever concepts, and makes the entire work feel timeless while also dating it alongside the originally published materials Piskor draws from.
In short, if you’re an X-Men fan, or even just acquainted with the characters through cartoons or movies, you need to pick up this series. The Grand Design line has, so far, condensed over 20 years of X-Men comics into 4 issues of content, and it doesn’t disappoint. Even if you’ve read all the issues Ed has covered so far, the entire experience is well worth your dollar just from his art and the beauty of seeing all this content collected into a straight span of time alone.
Indeed, the only problem is that fans now must wait to experience the third volume of Grand Design. The X-tinction comes, in 2019.