Dawn of X: Year-in-Review

There are spoilers for a mega-ton amount of comics. Basically, if there’s a Dawn of X comic that’s come out since June 2019, it’s probably gonna get spoiled. Some more than others. Video version here.

Its been little over a year since Jonathan Hickman’s House of X ended and the new Dawn of X era started. It’s been a wild ride, and amounting to one of, if not my favorite comic era of all time. 

This must be what it was like to have been reading X-Men when Chris Claremont was in charge of everything. There are so many great book all connecting with each other to tell a story. It’s something only comics can and will ever achieve.

Sure, there have been low points, some issues are dull in quality, but that’s always going to happen. There have been even a few issues that have created some timeline confusion. Though, in the time of COVID its actually amazing how this problem didn’t become worse.

So that brings us to the conceit that anyone must be thinking, how does it all stack up? Which X-Men stories are the best of Dawn of X and which can you skip? I’m talking about Dawn of X’s first wave of 6 comics, 5 of which are still ongoing a year later.

That’s what we, and by that I mean me, are here to do, rank and give a general review of the Dawn of X. I don’t want to go too deep into spoilers too much, but it will happen. 

Unlike most reviews, I expect that the people watching this have not read all the comics I’m talking about.

Number #6: Fallen Angels, written by Bryan Edward Hill and illustrated by Szymon Kudranski

Fallen Angels from Dawn of X.

I think its best to start with the worst of the bunch in my opinion. Even though I would say this is the worst, its still pretty good.

Unlike the other titles, this is the only one of the six whose art style has never changed. I think that’s part of the reason why it ranks so low.

I’m honestly not a fan of the 3D graphics looking style we get from Kudranski’s art. It’s highly artistic, making this easily the book people would point as high art among the six series. For me though, at times the art makes the story harder to understand than it should be.

Fallen Angels is kind of like Hellions before the Hellions comic started, which ironically also has Kwannon Psylocke leading it. It’s about Psylocke, young Cable, and my favorite superhero ever, Laura Kinney, Wolverine. It’s about them just trying to find a purpose on an island of peace. 

This is a Psylocke post separation from Betty Braddock. Marvel is finally giving Kwannon, the body’s true owner, the chance to take control of the name she’s known by. It creates a compelling introspection into a character who derives deeper storytelling about trauma, lost of autonomy, and being a soldier in a time of peace. 

Previously a child soldier/assassin for the organization called the Hand, she, much like the apocalypse survivor Cable, and ex-child-assassin X-23, finds it hard to be apart of the happy lives others have found on Krakoa. She needs a purpose, and all she knows is violence. 

It makes the idea of a wraith-like techno-god named Apoth, the perfect foil for her and her small team. He’s abstract much like her struggles, and makes the struggle to overcome him as abstract most of the time. It quickly connects her to her teammates in quick and meaningful ways, while bringing depth to this Psylocke’s experience.

It feels natural to see her team fight to save and protect children, human and mutant. Each of the team’s members lost their childhood to something horrific. This conflict connects to Psylocke more than others through a daughter she had given up when she was an assassin.

This is a deep books, but the art’s abstract nature makes a bit difficult to follow and read to its own detriment. I feel as if I didn’t understand its nuances until months after first reading it. Bryan Edward Hill did a good job, but a mix of two artists for what was ultimately a 6-issue miniseries would have made this book a more enjoyable, and less stressful read.

The only thing I do think is a major dock for me is X-23’s characterization. She’s my favorite comic book character so I have high expectations that Hill didn’t meet. When Hill tries to dive deeper into her, he’s looking at her as if she didn’t have any character growth in the last five years. Tom Taylor’s All-New Wolverine run says hello.

Though, at the very least he didn’t do her dirty like Hickman does after this book is over.

This series may come back Hill said, but this first arc is over. I wouldn’t wait around, expecting another Fallen Angels series. If it does, it won’t be a strict continuation since Psylocke is in Hellions. That said, that makes this easier to read all the way through. Hopefully, that should negate some pretense against it from those impeded by its art style like I was.

Number #5: Excalibur, written by Tini Howard and illustrated by Marcus To

Excalibur in Dawn of X.

Next, in the rankings, is Dawn of X’s reboot of Excalibur.

First things first, Marcus To’s art style is why this book just edges out Fallen Angels for me. It’s beyond expressive for one. The way he captures the thoughts inside the characters heads while making sure they’re each distinctive should be applauded. Of all the team rosters, this one might be my favorite. With Betty Braddock, post separation from Psylocke as Captain Britain leading classics like Rogue, Gambit, and Jubilee, forgotten favorite Rictor, and a wild card in Apocalypse, it couldn’t not be interesting. 

With the best roster, Tini Howard is able to capture and develop their dynamics to perfection. She captures the family drama of the Braddock family, the nasty spite between Gambit and Apocalypse, with all the humor their swords & sorcery setting brings. The writing in its dialogue and character interactions is on point, and worth the price of admission.

But don’t expect the same to be said for the plot. 

The first arc is entertaining enough, but nothing particularly special. It leads to several amazing panels and moments like Rogue absorbing Apocalypse’s power being a stand out. At the same time, it relies on fantasy tropes of having mentor and magical characters telling the team what to do, and the team following their orders because they don’t know what else to do. It leaves the plot feeling a bit bland and nonsensical, making the otherwise loyal characterizations feel a bit out of character.

Tini Howard knows these characters, but its seems like she’s hamstrung into what she can do with them. Excalibur currently deals with the team venturing into another dimension that resembles Camelot, but it feels like much more than that. You would think that this would give Howard the freedom to do whatever she wants. I thought this meant she wouldn’t have to worry about the other X-Men books, but I was wrong. She’s doing most of, if not all of the legwork for the upcoming X of Swords event that will spill over into every other book. *Editor’s note: this was written before X of Swords which turned out great.

As much as I love what Howard does with Apocalypse in this book, the plot suffers from him being the impetus for the first X-Men crossover of Dawn of X.

This is worth the read, but not for any engrossing plot. You’ll want to come to see X-Men favorites follow Apocalypse through a beautifully drawn swords & sorcery world in the vein of King Arthur.

Number #4: New Mutants, first written by Jonathan Hickman, with Ed Brisson taking over afterward, and illustrated by Rod Reis

New Mutants from Dawn of X.

New Mutants ranks much higher with its first arc written by Jonathan Hickman himself with artist Rod Reis, then with Ed Brisson taking over writing duties for a B-plot with rotating artists.

This book could have ranked lower or higher if we were comparing individual issues. Editorial really took a risk with this book. Its first arc was truly classic New Mutants, before it became Generation X (from tone less than characters). It has become not a book about the New Mutants you know and love, but every mutant whose ever been on the team. It’s telling stories about different generations of New Mutants in one. It’s like this book is building up its own many crossovers and spin-offs with how much it does and how many characters it deals with.

The first arc by Jonathan Hickman is probably the wackiest and arguably the best. Between Hickman’s spot on characterization, lackadaisical tone, and Rod Reis jaw dropping art, it’s a must-read.

It’s starts with the classic New Mutants to space with the Starjammers and the Shi’ar Empire for several issues. Then it bounces back to earth with a new writer, artist, and team of young mutants to tell a down to earth story of what prejudice and violence against minorities looks like through the eyes of the youth.

Jonathan Hickman tells the funnest story with Sunspot, Roberto De Costa, carelessly dragging his friends on a trip to find his best friend Cannonball, Samuel Guthrie, and bring him back home. It’s a story that doesn’t take itself seriously to the best degree. Even up until the very end, where Sunspot finds his best friend, tells him how much he misses him, only to learn that his friend isn’t coming home.

It takes an innocently immature Sunspot, and tries to teach him lesson about growing up. It’s even harder after your friends already have, but then the story turns on its head. Upon hearing that Cannonball has a wife and son in space that he’s obviously going to stay with, Sunspot decides he’s going to stay too. Being a billionaire with contracts in space, Roberto buys a home right next to theirs. It all adds an innocently immature twist to the lesson we all know he should have learned but didn’t.

You’d think this book would rank higher, but after this arc, the creative team and cast changes. It turns into a topical, yet, annoyingly slow comic about the rest of the young mutants coming into their own, taking social justice into their own hands. 

It becomes a book for anyone, to a book for young people trying to take back the world. There’s a lot of whiplash, which I don’t think produces a bad story arc, but a story arc not as enjoyable as the one before it. 

It has led to many forgotten characters getting their due, Blob especially. Blob was a mutant raised by a mutant-hating father who taught him to hate himself. Now he’s coming to terms with that. It needs to get to the important lessons a bit faster and with a bit less action interrupting the story. That being said, I see this book getting back to the highest highs pretty soon.

Number #3: X-Force, written by Benjamin Percy and illustrated by Joshua Cassara

Now as we enter the top three, we get into the most consistent of the books in terms of quality. I have to admit something first, I did not originally give Benjamin Percy’s X-Force a solid chance. It was the only book I wasn’t reading in this relaunch, and it was quick to make me regret it.

This was the book that started poking holes into the situation at Krakoa. It’s the first to show the mutants as imperfect beings in a serious manner, with the creation of what is essentially the mutant CIA. 

I didn’t originally want to read it because the X-Force team has always been a bit too… extra for my tastes. It’s always seemed like action and violence for the sake of action and violence. Quickly, this book becomes about the dangers and necessity of protecting one’s nation through proactive and lethal force. If you do, you end being what you fight against, and if you don’t your people get hurt. 

It’s an age old tale that’s given new life through X-Force’s struggle against new racist groups aiming to attack Krakoa. This threat leads to certain X-Men having to go down a dark path to keep Krakoa safe. 

But more so than any of the other books, X-Force takes the time to dive into what this does to its characters. It spotlights on those a part of the X-Force and those who are the victims of their enemies. The way it deals with PTSD through Colossus’s attempts at peace, vs Domino’s fight to forget is authentic. There’s something tranquil and hopeful seeing one of them succeed, and disheartening seeing the other one fail. At the same time, this book gives fair warning to how one fails by forgetting what has happened to them. 

Then there’s the actual team who struggle to choose to be better than enemies, and those who don’t. 

Wolverine is a mainstay who keeps everyone grounded, ironically. He reminds everyone why this team has always existed, but also where the line is. He has more experience than anyone else crossing it. 

Jean Grey is the heart. She struggles with the methods of X-Force that leave innocent people suffering in their wake. She challenges not necessarily why the team exists, but if it should if it means giving up their souls.

And Beast… Beast’s character arc and characterization has been the most controversial part of this book. He’s the one who descends into the darkness, who lets fear, paranoia, and the past drive him. He proactively counters any attack on Krakoa, indirectly sacrifices humans, but most importantly, sacrifices his humanity to keep other mutants safe. He goes so far as to embody McCarthyism and the Red Scare in his efforts.

This book defied my expectations, and I didn’t even touch on the art that’s consistently good. Joshua Cassara expertly captures emotion and violence. I’m sorry I’m not saying more about the art. Of all of these books, Cassara’s art is the only one that never particularly stands out to me. It does what it should and what it needs to well, but it doesn’t leave a huge impact like other art styles.

Number #2: The X-Men written by Hickman and illustrated by Leinil Francis Yu

My second favorite, what many will consider the best is the mainline X-Men book written by Jonathan Hickman himself.

This book does something fascinating. It may be called X-Men, but it is very much a book about mutantdom. Each issue, with a two-issue arc here and there, is mostly an anthology. This has created a plot that always moves forward on the timeline. Rarely is it without Cyclops either as the center or a witness. This has allowed Hickman to continue building a new status quo for the books around him, and give more mutants their due.

Any X-Men characters can appear in this one to have a moment to themselves, and not one who hasn’t shined. Hickman has somehow taken the time to flesh out X-Men I can’t even name. He’s given them each a personality that’s different from the last, and always gets to the core of longstanding characters.

But truthfully, it would be sinful of me not to mention Leinil Francis Yu’s art. It’s easily the best of the comics here, easily. He gives DC’s Gary Frank a run for his money. He’s created a realistically detailed world without ever passing into the uncanny valley. Every panel feels like it should be hung on my wall.

Truly, Yu is an artist who matches Hickman’s ability to write a story. I believe that they’ve worked together before, but I hope they continue to work together for many years to come.

It’s hard to properly review this book because the book is basically an anthology. The only place to start is how Cyclops has been made the main character of the X-Men. 

Cyclops is a controversial character nowadays. He’s really taken a dive after the character assassination attempts made against him since Schism, Avengers vs X-Men, and beyond. 

Cyclops is the Captain America of mutantdom, he’s not the most powerful, but he is the best leader they have. He understands mutant struggles, on a wide and personal scale. He knows what its like to lose something because of his powers. There’s a cost to always needing to wear a visor where even Rogue has ways to touch people without hurting them. Cyclops knows how to appeal to people, to play politics in and out of combat.

He’s the leader the X-Men needs. He’s not the terrorist Cyclops post Avengers vs X-Men, but the classic Cyclops who knows his team inside and out. This guy can combine and utilize their abilities better than any other team captain, that’s a fact. This guy stands up for the downtrodden truly, and he does it without hesitation, with the healthy amount of confidence and self-doubt a good leader needs.

And thank god, he’s finally realized that being in a thruple is better than being in a love triangle. Now we get to see him with Emma Frost and Jean Grey, while Jean Grey, him, and Wolverine all share rooms.

Okay, that was just a funny background thing, but I appreciate it.

Number #1: Marauders, written by Gerry Duggan and illustrated by Matteo Lolli 

Last but not least though, is my absolute favorite comic not only of Dawn of X, but of last year.

She’s not Kitty Pryde any longer, she’s Kate, and she’s finally taken her place as the X-Men’s resident badass. This book centers around one of our fan-favorite mutants whose finally grown up only to be rejected by Krakoa. 

The girl who walks through walls has become a pirate who spends her time rescuing mutants seeking asylum, bringing life saving drugs to people in need, and, as I repeat, all while serving as the best swashbuckling pirate since Captain Jack Sparrow. 

I love this evolution for her. She’s a boss who’s finally figured out that she should stop holding back. She’s everything she can be and does what she can do to give those who deserve it a good ass-kicking. 

As her and her crew of Storm, Iceman, Bishop, Pyro and many guest stars, venture across the seven seas, we get looks into the classic social commentary the X-Men are known for, and it’s as deep as ever while being fun too. 

Then there’s the business of being the Red Queen of the Hellfire Trading Company. Somebody finally decided to make Kate and the almost equally delightful Emma Frost best friends. Now they’ve become the baddest ladies on the island. 

The way these two stomp all over Sebastian Shaw in his attempt to take control of the Hellfire Trading Company is gripping and laugh out loud funny. They control Krakoa’s most profitable export, and they ain’t giving it up to any jerkoff. That doesn’t stop Shaw from being a formidable and delectably evil villain who gives them a good challenge.

And the way Matteo Lolli has reenvisioned Kate as a pirate with a perpetual black eye, a cutlass and pirate jacket exemplifies everything about this book that I love. 

The only downside to this book is how the artist has changed recently and I really hope it isn’t permanent. Do that, and this book will remain the definition of quality fun for years to come.

Desired Titles (Moira X, All-New Wolverine)

And that official sums up my current thoughts on Wave 1 of Dawn of X’s new era for the X-Men. This an era we can feel comfortable saying is here to stay. 

As for comics I want to see in this new X-Men status quo, I really only have two demands. 

Please don’t let that rumored Moira X book stay cancelled, Jonathan Hickman, even if its just a mini-series. A book dealing with Moira as a reincarnating mutant, dealing with her many lives sounds more captivating than any other solo book in the X-Men line right now. I want to know what she did. I want to know what she’s doing in that tower. And I want to know why only Professor X and Magneto know about it. 

Truly, this will be one of the worst things COVID has done to comics, at least for me, if Hickman truly forgoes his plans to detail what Moira X has been doing since House of X ended last year.

And then of course, I want more of Laura Kinney as Wolverine. I’m still pretty livid Hickman fixed what Fallen Angels did to her by making her Wolverine again, only to take her off the board by trapping her in a vault. I could go for a solo book beyond anything, but honestly, I could enjoy her in any team book right now. 

She’d have a perfect place as a senior member of the New Mutants, with her brother on X-Factor, or even with her father in his solo book or X-Force. Just bring Laura Kinney back, we need the best Wolverine.

In Conclusion – Reviewing Reign of X In The Future

But angry demands notwithstanding, I’m excited for what the future holds. I’m not sure what comics are coming next, but it might be worth going over the midpoint Wave of X-comics. I’m reading X-Factor and Wolverine right now. I finding them both to be amazing, but I’m not reading Hellions or Cable. Might have to read Hellions, but I really can’t stand this young Cable crap. 

I may just review the first arcs of Wolverine and X-Factor separately, or maybe I’ll bite the bullet, so look out for those videos in the future.

In the meantime, I wanna know what’s your favorite comic from Dawn of X, and what you want to see.

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