I’m just going to go ahead and say it: I think X-Men: Misfits Vol. 1 (Del Rey Manga) is the single best X-Men story I’ve experienced since Grant Morrison brought his run on New X-Men to a close.
Writers Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman and artist Anzu have a lot of definite advantages over the creators toiling away in Marvel Comics’ X-Men mines, of course—they’re not beholden to decades worth of continuity or the designs and characterizations of other creators, and they don’t have to line-up what they’re doing with what, say, the people over in the Avengers office are up to that month.
In this manga-style “remix” of the X-Men (to use the back of the book’s own word for this particular sort of reimagining), the creators are free to take whatever core concepts they think work best, and rebuild the X-Men franchise from the ground up as they see fit. They do an incredible job, and it was downright uncanny how they managed to make the X-Men into something that seemed completely new while still retaining much of their essential je ne X quoi.
Telgemeir and Roman retain the deep adolescent appeal of the mutants as stand-ins for kids who feel awkward, persecuted or alone (but, it turns out, are actually much more special than anyone else), and, if anything, broaden the appeal beyond the normal metaphors and make it feel a little more universal.
They also retain basic elements that worked well from throughout the various eras of the comics: Xavier and Magneto’s differing views on on how humans and mutants relate, school-as-superhero team, Kitty Pryde as point-of-view character, and so on.
One day 15-year-old Chicago teenager Kitty Pryde comes home to find handsome stranger Mr. Lehnsherr talking with her parents, and offering her a scholarship to “a private school in Westchester, New York for kids with…special gifts.”
Once she arrives, the expected “these mutants are crazy!” hijinx ensue, but the school Kitty attends is much more of a school-school than the Xavier Institute usually seems. They wear school uniforms (this is supposed to be manga, after all!), go to class, eat in a cafeteria, have teachers and so on.
Kitty finds she’s even more out of place here then she was at her own school, however, as she’s the first female student to attend Xavier’s. That brings her a lot of attention from the boys at school, almost all of whom are super cute (and drawn by Anzu with sharp, wispy features, wide, luminous eyes, delicate fingers and highly styled hair).
Kitty gets the cold shoulder from ice prince Bobby, and fits in best with the outcasts at school like the corpulent Fred, the teleporter with a tail and monstrous feet Kurt, and straight-edge, vegan stick-in-the-mud Scott, but she is almost instantly recruited into the fold of the school’s Hellfire Club.
These are the school’s most popular, privileged and best-looking students…who are also its resident bad boys: Angel, Forge, Quicksilver, Havoc, Longshot and Pyro, who becomes Kitty’s boyfriend.
I read this book with two sets of eyes, as I assume a lot of readers will, given that this is hardly the first time anyone who picks it up is likely to have heard of the characters.
Part of me was reading and enjoying it on its own terms as a winning teen melodrama with bursts of humor and action, while another part of me was ticking off the various characters and the creative team’s interpretations of them, and noting how unique so many of them are to this work than any of the other dozen or so popular versions there are.
For example, the teaching staff includes Colossus, who looks a bit like Joe Stalin and armors up into what looks like Oz’ Tik-Tok (metal mustache and all); Beast, who is a big fuzzy tanuki with eye glasses and a tie; and Storm, in her punk, mohawk-rocking look.
The book follows Kitty’s first semester at school, as she feels the tug between the two “sides” of the school, without quite realizing the sides even exist yet, and begins to find her place. Lines are drawn by the climax, a fight between the Hellfire Club and the good kids over how to treat human beings, but evaporate with the end of the semester.
The fan of manga in me absolutely loved it, and the fan of Marvel Comics in me loved seeing this particular wheel reinvented in such an unusual way.
I honestly can’t wait for Volume 2.