Review by Ian Keogh
Nation X is two separate graphic novels awkwardly fused together. Two-thirds of the content is a succession of X-Men stories by Matt Fraction, and the remainder are short stories by assorted creators. Fraction begins with the events of Utopia having caused a significant shift in the X-Men’s status, re-establishing their outlaw status in the eyes of the authorities. They’re now located on an island in the San Francisco Bay.
While Fraction’s smart plots pull together, too many are drawn by Greg Land, whose sample art has even the mayor of San Francisco casting porn star poses and expressions. Because drawing head and shoulders shots and expressions is what Land considers his strong point, he relies on that, and there are occasions during Nation X where it really impacts negatively on the story. Early on we’re introduced to creatures known as Predator X, ultra-feral dinosaurs. The X-Men barely survived an encounter with one, and now four are heading toward their island from the sea. While some individual illustrations are fine, if a little static, what should be a greater tension is diminished by the way Land tells the story.
Fraction’s plots are all enjoyable, character-driven, yet never short on action, and the way they build on each other is clever, as are the surprises. When illustrated by the more imaginative and less constricted Terry Dodson (sample right) their value is drawn out, although there can be an occasional off note in the dialogue, a feeling that perhaps a character wouldn’t actually speak that way. It’s also notable that Fraction continues to expand the cast with both Fantomex and Magneto having meaty parts and an even more surprising return in his remarkable final chapter.
As has been Marvel’s way for a long time, stories tying in to events are handed out as tryouts, although there was the eventual realisation it was better to pair a new writer with an established artist or vice versa. That’s the pattern followed for the sixteen shorts here, although it may not now seem that way as a higher than usual percentage of the creators did forge careers, and the editors supplied a huge variety of approaches, both in story terms and style. Picking two artists, Harvey Tolibao’s more realistic pages are exemplary and while Gabriel Hernandez Walta was established in Europe, he was almost unknown in North America, and his art for what’s a standard battle between Armor and Danger is remarkable. John Barber, one of the lesser known writers, really stands out with a smart Quentin Quire spotlight, and there’ll surely be joy at the X-Statix team of Peter Milligan and Michael Allred reunited over eight pages. In some cases enthusiasm outweighs skill, and several stories are just page fillers, but there’s enough variety and insight featuring a broad range of characters. While perhaps not recommendable separately, neither do these stories drag the overall rating down too far.
If your preference is just for Fraction’s content, all bar the final two chapters are also found in the similar sized paperback Uncanny X-Men: The Complete Collection by Matt Fraction Volume 2. That replaces the short stories with a selection of other associated material by Fraction. From here the X-Men continuity heads into another massive crossover event, Second Coming.