Review by Frank Plowright
A second volume of Ed Piskor’s exhaustive narrative history of the X-Men reaches the stage where the original team were replaced by a new bunch of characters. This was 1975 in the real world.
For Second Genesis Piskor applies the same deep research into laying out a cohesive history of cast and focal points as he did in the first Grand Design, and the same skill to the art, but it’s a slight case of diminishing returns. It’s still excellent, remaining a labour of love, but over the first volume Piskor was able to take elements from the X-Men’s later continuity and weave them into the history of the original team. He also sprinkled a few of his own additions giving formerly random events greater logic. There’s less opportunity for that here, so less feeling of machinations long in the planning, resulting in a more straightforward narrative history.
It’s also apparent that Piskor only encompasses what was originally related in X-Men comics. There’s no explanation, for instance, of how the Beast of the first volume is now a blue-furred being. Nor is Wolverine’s origin included, and Wolverine exemplifies a problem with just dropping in on the highlights. In the original comics his surly attitude was gradually softened as he lowered his defences among people he considered friends, but here his personality swings are vast. Other lapses occur, such as there being no explanation for hero Ms Marvel assassinating a senator (it was the shapeshifting Mystique), although X-Tinction does supply the reason.
The one improvement on the opening volume is the better use of bright white colouring for dramatic effect. It doesn’t seem used on as many pages, and when it appears, it’s in smaller doses, so more nuanced. That apart, Piskor is extremely successful in blending superheroes with a style of art that edges toward underground. It’s not technical perfection, but carefully designed, every page featuring nice touches (the Converse shoes on the sample art) and a lot of effort put into presenting scenes from different angles and viewpoints rather than just copying old panels, which would have worked.
Second Genesis ends by re-presenting the original ‘Second Genesis’ in which the new X-Men were introduced, but as recoloured by Piskor to match his other pages. It’s a nice extra, and as before, nice to see the pages more or less as originally coloured for pulp paper printing, but Piskor is unnaturally fond of the colour purple, and given his lurid variation no-wonder he wears shades on his author photo.
With a few reservations this is still great fun, and continues with X-Tinction. Alternatively, all three volumes are combined as the Grand Design Omnibus, but the novelty of the treasury format used for the original versions counts for a lot, and they’re already oversized.