Best Shots Review: ALL-NEW X-MEN ANNUAL #1 'A Human Drama As Much As A Mutant Drama'

"All-New X-Men Annual #1" preview
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New X-Men Annual #1
Written by Sina Grace and Rex Ogle
Art by Cory Smith, Andres Mossa, Andrea Broccardo, and Rachelle Rosenberg
Letters by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Credit: Marvel Comics

Mutant action and derring-do take a backseat to affecting emotions in All-New X-Men Annual #1. Focusing on two specific X-Men, Idie Okonkwo and Dani Moonstar, writers Sina Grace and Rex Ogle deliver two pathos filled stories about escape, acceptance and anxiety, tying both stories closely into the current M-Pox threat plaguing the X-Men line.

Giving this annual a smoothly similar style are artists Cory Smith and Andrea Broccardo, along with colorists Andres Mossa and Rachelle Rosenberg. Much like the similar thematic tracks the scripts take, both art teams meld the stories together with rich colors and engaging line work that makes this annual look more like a focused anthology, instead of a flashy artist’s showcase. Employing engaging artwork and all-too-real emotions, All-New X-Men Annual #1 makes the most of the format while keeping the action focused on character and contained to the current ongoing narrative.

Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Men stories always work best when tied closely to some sort of dramatic through-line, and thankfully both Sina Grace and Rex Ogle understand and make great use of this tactic. Starting with the relatable “Idie Goes on a Date,” Grace explores Idie’s tumultuous mindset as her team takes a pit stop at a local San Jose mall where she is asked out on a date by a handsome boy who, naturally, is more than he seems. Keeping with the theme of self-reflection, Rex Ogle’s story, “The Last of Us, The Last of X,” also delves into the deep fear and anxiety Dani experiences every day as she tracks down an established X-Men antagonist nearing death due to M-Pox infection.

There are some fantastic bits of character work at play in this annual, like Idie’s preferring pens and notebooks instead of tablets and the wonderfully endearing relationship between Dani and Magik, but it is Grace and Ogle’s exploration of themes like mortality, acceptance, and human connection that makes this annual a fine example of how X-Men could and should be used to tell human stories between the displays of powers. Both Grace and Ogle, by focusing on specific characters, find a compelling common thread between the women and use that thread as a platform to present ideas that will be instantly recognizable to readers, making this a human drama just as much as it a mutant drama. X-stories are always better with a bit of tasteful soap opera thrown in, and thanks to Grace and Ogle, All-New X-Men Annual #1 is a prime example of just how well that approach can work.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Also deploying a similarly effective track are the art teams of Cory Smith, Andres Mossa, Andrea Broccardo, and Rachelle Rosenberg. While Smith’s style is a bit more sketch inspired than the smoothly rounded pencils of Broccardo, both art teams work to keep this annual solidly within a corresponding visual language with only slight changes. The best possible example I can give is that the two stories were handled by the same director, but a different director of photography, making the first story look like a confident but slightly rough-around-the-edges indie film and the second like a intimate prestige drama.

Keeping with the film metaphors, All-New X-Men Annual #1 is armed with two fantastic lighting directors in the form of colorists Andrea Broccardo and Rachelle Rosenberg. Though the pencils have a similar look, the color schemes and lighting for the two stories couldn’t be more different. Broccardo fully leans into the warm colors of San Jose, allowing Idie’s first date to radiate with optimism and hope. On the other side of the coin, Rosenberg’s colors evoke the feeling of a dingy thriller punctuated with spikes of hallucinatory neon and flickering nightclub lighting.

Though annuals are sometimes known for flashy theatrical storytelling, All-New X-Men Annual #1 succeeds by aiming for the heart rather than the big action fireworks. Sina Grace and Rex Ogle both delve deep into characters deserving of center stage, but instead of trying to make them superstars, they make them real people with relatable fears and emotions, showing readers new compelling aspects to their lives as X-Men during the M-Pox crisis. This annual also soars thanks to cinematic artwork and full-bodied colors from two art teams that lean into the grounded stories presented. While mutants thrive as a group, All-New X-Men Annual #1 scores by going small.

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