While the subtitle of Demon Days: X-Men #1 (opens in new tab) might suggest that Peach Momoko is only handling a particular corner of the Marvel Universe, she is actually casting a broader net in terms of the characters which are being adapted into the milieu of Japanese folklore.
Story and Art by Peach Momoko
English Adaptation by Zack Davisson
Lettered by Ariana Maher
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
This all-encompassing approach is made clear by the first page - a single image that helps to set the stage for the issue about to unfold. Her style cannot just be considered painterly because that is too broad a definition; more specifically it has a watercolor look, as if this were actually a tale captured 'once upon a time' and preserved until now. Where it differs from the covers that have been her primary claim to fame until now (this is her Marvel interior art debut) is that it is far busier than many of those as it squeezes in the major characters set to unfold in the following pages.(opens in new tab)
Humans once co-existed with elemental spirits called Yokai, the relative harmony existing because both groups stuck to their own territory. Only this fractured when the former, fuelled by the greed of expansion, started cutting into the land of the latter, who in turn retaliated in order to reclaim the resources they need for survival. Now the two are at war.
A few narration boxes help to fill in some contextual factors, the prose by way of Zack Davisson's translation. Ariana Maher also chooses to depict these boxes as if they were old pieces of paper, with their edges slightly torn and worn away as if they were written down years ago. These design choices, coupled with the conflict being grounded in environmental concern, strike up the air of a fairy-tale and while the issue ends up being more surface than substance when it comes to digging into this, it is still quite a surface to admire.
While the full series seems like it will have a larger scope, Demon Days: X-Men #1 is largely based in a village that finds itself constantly being raided by an oni, a yokai with an ogre-like stature and demon-like appearance that somewhat resembled the Red Hulk. In the aftermath of one such raid, a wandering sword-for-hire named Sai (an analog for Psylocke) arrives with her wolf Logan in tow. She needs a place to rest, the village needs someone to handle the yokai and another pressing problem, and so there's mutual benefit to be had from the arrangement.
Despite the rather simplistic set-up, Momoko's pacing on a page-to-page basis is careful and deliberate in how it builds. Considering that this is longer than most single issues traditionally are – not to mention capped off with some backmatter that provides further detail about the series' inspirations in Japanese culture and history – it allows greater opportunity to further luxuriate in the atmosphere being created through her work. After the busyness of the opening page, early instances where she drops out the background of panels stand out. These instances played against the white backdrop of the page allow her to emphasize the rich expression and emotion of her character acting.
For the most part though, the locations those characters find themselves situated in are a big focal point within the images. The exteriors of the village are completed by the lush surrounding area made up of rolling hills captured with a soft green palette, much like another scene set in a forest later on. The idyllic nature of these natural settings suggests the peace that once was, and that could be once again.
That said, when the time for action comes, the energy and momentum increase. Momoko accomplishes this with such a fluid sense of movement that you'd almost assume she's been doing sequential work for years already. The panel density in these sequences – like an early one at night in the village – increases and as she moves between close-ups and wide-shots, the scale of the situation for both of its participants is clear throughout. Meanwhile, the climax has more moving parts involved but there is a high degree of grace that ensures each has its own space within the scene and that care in composition prevents proceedings from becoming overwhelming or incomprehensible.
Demon Days: X-Men #1 is most enjoyable when simply being looked at and taking in the strength of Momoko's designs being translated to interior artwork with ease. Her style has not sacrificed its character in that jump from working primarily on covers and that makes for a strong enough starting point for the limited series. There's always a chance that the thematic suggestions made here will be expanded upon in later issues as the world further opens up, but if not, it'll still look impressive regardless.
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