Best Shots review - Giant-Size X-Men #1: Tribute to Wein and Cockrum "distracted and hollow"

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

There are times when a comic comes across a reviewer's desk and that person needs to remind themselves about the informal rules of comics criticism. These must include a review of the story and the art but also an exploration of why the comic matters. Were this a retrospective review of the original 1975 Giant-Size X-Men issue from Len Wein, Dave Cockrum, Glynis Wein, and John Constanza, there would be little doubt about the significance of the comic. To say 'Deadly Genesis' continues to be one of the greatest impactful comic  books in the entire superhero genre would be stating the obvious when looking at how Wein and Cockrum's collaborative creation exploded onto the scene and irrevocably altered the DNA of Marvel Comics in the decades that followed.

Giant-Size X-Men #1: Tribute to Wein and Cockrum credits

Written by Len Wein
Art by Alex Ross, Kevin Nowlan, Chris Samnee & Matt Wilson, Marcus To & Sunny Gho, Siya Oum, Stephen Segovia & Rain Beredo, Marguerite Sauvage, Carmen Carnero & David Curiel, Bernard Chang & Marcelo Maiolo, Aaron Kuder & Jordie Bellaire, Takeshi Miyazawa & Ian Herring, Juann Cabal & Federico Blee, Gurihiru, Mark Brooks, Kris Anka, Phil Noto, Valerio Schiti & Mattia Iacono, Leinil Francis Yu & Sunny Gho, Matteo Lolli & Ruth Redmond, Ema Lupacchino & David Curiel, Carlos Gomez & Carlos Lopez, Iban Coello & Marte Gracia, R.B. Silva & Jesus Aburtov, and Ramon Rosanas & Marte Gracia
Lettering by VC's Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

But that is not the comic being reviewed today.

Instead, this review focuses on Marvel's attempt to honor the late legends in the form of Giant-Size X-Men #1: Tribute to Wein and Cockrum, and the results are nothing short of distracted and hollow. For readers who grow weary of the continued cinematic retreads of animated movies being re-released in a live-action format, this comic takes that formula to the next level. Unlike some of these live-action reboots that attempt to inject at least a modicum of new material and takes on the old animated classics (to varying degrees of success), this issue follows Wein's script and Cockrum's page and panel composition with painstaking consistency. There are no new attempts at injecting anything new into the story – no new insights into the characters or their interactions that make reading this issue a refreshing experience. As far as the story goes, this tribute makes no attempt at adding anything to the experience.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

One thing that Giant-Size X-Men #1: Tribute to Wein and Cockrum does offer readers is a distracting array of artists, as each team switches out after every single page. The only real consistency occurs with Clayton Cowles as the letterer for the entire 25-page story and occasional reappearance of a few colorists. What makes this doubly frustrating as a reader is when readers encounter an excellent visual representation of a beloved hero only to see that artist change after one page. For example, David Curiel's colors for Wolverine on page 8 offer a warm amber-colored suit only to change out to a more paled yellow from Marcelo Maiolo. It's not that Maiolo did a poor job coloring over Takeshi Miyazawa either. But this serves as but one example of 24 others where the colors and line art on page fail to complement the ones preceding and following it resulting in a nonstop jarring experience. Given the vast number of people involved, it seems rather clear editorial assigned each team one page to work on in isolation of the rest without a mind to how this quilt-work comic would actually translate as a reading experience.

Another aspect that felt especially frustrating with this comic was with the talent. There can't be many fans who wouldn't swoon at the idea of Chris Samnee and Matt Wilson together on a classic X-Men title. Or Aaron Kuder and Jordie Bellaire. Or Kris Anka. Or Mark Brooks. The list can go on, and given the credits page, it does. Clearly, Marvel editorial had this in mind when coming up with their wish list of talent; however, we aren't getting these creators telling stories set in the classic X-Men timeline; instead, we're having them copy Cockrum's work in their own respective style. Instead of handcuffing these modern-day creative powerhouses into a failed exercise of copying Dave Cockrum – as only Dave Cockrum could do Dave Cockrum – this comic book teases at what could be but never delivers something new.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Likewise, Marvel clearly made an attempt to create a list of creators that would draw fans out to see what their take on the classic X-Men of old would be like. Yet, in looking over the list, it's hard not to notice classic X-Men artists who followed Cockrum weren't included. Where is John Byrne? Terry Austin? Paul Smith? Art Adams? John Romita Jr.? Alan Davis? Barry Windsor-Smith? Admittedly, some of these creators may not have been available or willing to participate, but it still raises the question of why at least some of the (near) contemporaries of Wein and Cockrum weren't included in this reprinting of Giant-Size X-Men #1. After all, who better to understand and appreciate the creation of these two giants than those who first began building on the foundation of what we now know and love of X-Men?

One element of this comic that offers some value to fans will no doubt be the retrospective interviews with family members of Len Wein and Dave Cockrum as well as a final thought from Wein's successor, Chris Claremont. These offer readers a chance to hear about these creators' thoughts on the momentous issue and the characters they introduced – or reintroduced – to fans all over the world.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

But after turning the final page of this story, the overwhelming response came to mind that you simply cannot reproduce greatness by copying it. And while some may consider imitation to be the greatest form of flattery, I cannot help but think that this is a poor form of tribute. After all, Wein in Cockrum didn't copy Stan Lee and Jack Kirby when they resurrected the X-Men. Instead, they took the characters off the shelf, brought their own unique and creative perspectives to the table, and told readers a new story that we have yet to forget over 45 years later. If Marvel wants to offer a real tribute, then don't copy the path these creators took – empower today's modern masters to do the same and forge exciting new stories with the characters of old. Anything less … is just a lesser comic. 

If you love Giant-Size X-Men #1 (1975) or have never read it, save the money you would have spent on this tribute issue and do yourself a favor: Go purchase a reprint of the original issue and see why this is one of the greatest comic stories going.

Freelance writer

Dr. Forrest Helvie is a professor by day and both consumer and critic of comic books by night. Prof. Helvie can frequently be found writing comic book reviews for Newsarama, but he has also contributed to a wide range of publications and research presentations. Whether it's through in-depth interviews with writers and artists behind your favorite works, or critical analysis of them through academic essays, Prof. Helvie is always looking to help you better understand and appreciate the comic book that's in your hands.