Best Shots Reviews: POWERS OF X #1, PAPER GIRLS #30

Image Comics July 2019 cover
Credit: Image Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Powers of X #1
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by R.B. Silva, Andriano Di Benedetto and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Powers of X #1 takes a long view of history. While the story of Charles Xavier’s dream has been about mutants finding peace in the current day, the long shadow of the future been cast over the X-Men. The fights of the present lead to the failures and deaths of the future. That’s been the underlying themes of many X-Men stories, but those themes have always been explored in terms of their contrasts to the present. Jonathan Hickman, R.B. Silva and Marte Gracia launch a story exploring four time periods over millennia, beginning with a dream and crossing time 1,000 years to the future built upon it. If House of X was the dawning of a new age of X, Powers of X #1 catapults us into the story of that age, built on a house but transformed into an unrecognizable state from our limited vantage point.

On the first page of this issue, Hickman and Silva define the cycle of this age of mutantkind; the Dream, the World, the War, and Ascension. These are the periods covered over this story, with three of the periods covering only the first hundred years before jumping to year One Thousand of the mutant age. The dream begins familiarly enough, with Charles Xavier having a revelation, and he’s quite pleased about it. Perhaps a bit sneakily, Hickman and Silva don’t reveal what that dream is. Is it the usual one about humans and mutants living peacefully together or is it something more sinister, like what we saw in last week’s House of X #1? There we saw three outlaw mutants on a mission against the world of man. But in the future, during the age of War, we see almost a repeat of that mission, as four future mutants venture into the world of man on a mission of recovery and rescue.

Silva’s crisp storytelling, spending over half of the issue with new characters and settings, builds on the dystopian futures that are part and parcel for the X-Men. With these new mutants, built and bred on the DNA of the old mutants, Silva gets to chart a new future with Hickman. While some of the names and faces may have changed a bit, Silva’s artwork guides us through these unfamiliar times with a swashbuckling flair and confidence. As Hickman probably has this future catalogued down to the day and hour of events, Silva has to tie these periods together visually, defining a unity in this story that’s about the march of time. Creating this visual continuum, Silva captures the hope, scheming, desperation and acceptance of his characters, revealing so much about their experiences in so short of a time. Compared to the lengthy exploration of the new status quo of mutants in House of X #1 that artist Pepe Larraz had, Silva has to jump all over time, creating these distinct moments in time that have to link together to tell one story.

As the future has been tied to the present of Marvel’s mutants ever since Claremont and Byrne’s “Days of Future Past,” that future is often just taken as an inevitability. It’s going to happen one way or another. Hickman and Silva’s visions of the future is built off of the actions of the past, shaping a story that is character driven even as Hickman writes this epically grand story that may end up being bigger than anything that has come before it. In all of these futures, the X-Men never appear to “win” the day. Whether it’s 10 years or 100 years into the future, they’re fighting for their rights. What does it say about the dreams of Xavier if those dreams never become a reality? That’s probably the continuing metaphor of the X-Men, whether you read their story as being about the persecution of race, sexuality, or even religion or politics. The fight never ends, and that’s sadly true as we see evidence of it in the headlines and talking heads of today.

As it ties more into the overall structures of past futuristic X-Men stories, Powers of X #1 doesn’t read as radical or rebellious as House of X #1 does. The dream of peace is still there, as well as the oppression of the different. This is another possible future timeline among hundreds of possible future timelines. It’s another future of fear and hatred. As he’s writing this story, Hickman recognizes the traditions of these stories as a core part of the X-Men myth, but tying it into his House of X, he’s showing that these fights are not going to be easy, quick or even peaceful. As the amalgamated mutant Rasputin, made up of DNA from Kitty Pryde, Quentin Quire, and Peter Rasputin among others, fights to save one of her comrades-in-arms, her words, actions and spirit aren’t that much removed from the heroes of today that we know and love. This is a future that’s quite literally built on the DNA of the present, establishing a long reach of this story.

It’s still early to understand what game Hickman and his cohorts are trying to pull off here. But it is exciting to be caught up in the familiar conflicts of the X-Men even as they are being reimagined. Teaming up with R.B. Silva in Powers of X #1, Hickman shows us that this is going to be a story that transverses time and space. Charles Xavier had a dream, and that dream changed everything. And as Hickman shows the dream in the current day mutating into something different, maybe that means that the future of the X-Men will become something different than the oppressive dystopias that it usually becomes. Or maybe all of this is fated and we’re powerless to change it no matter how much we fight it. Hickman and Silva’s comic book offers the hope and despair of a future that we’re fighting for here and now.

Credit: Image Comics

Paper Girls #30
Written by Bryan K. Vaughan
Art by Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Image Comics
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Don’t be deceived, Paper Girls isn’t a nostalgic trip down memory lane. It’s actually the complete opposite. It uses time travel to tell a story about growing up. This all comes to a head in the series’ last issue as the girls finally return to their respective time and must face their own reality. Paper Girls #30 is the perfect ending to this coming of age story as it gives one last analysis on childhood friendship.

Even though this is Paper Girls’ grand finale, it’s actually one of the most somber issues of the whole series, allowing artist Cliff Chiang to focus on the emotional impact on the girls instead of other worldly creatures. Visually, there are a plethora of homages to the first issue, from Mac on her bike listening to her Walkman to Erin stumbling out of bed to start her first day as a paper girl… but all these scenes have somewhat changed because so have the girls. They’ve grown because of their adventures together. They helped shape each other, just like any good friendship.

The final “big boss” is not with the likes of Jahpo or the Elders, but instead the girls subconsciously fighting for their friendship. Throughout the series, they were all destined to not be friends after that Halloween night. They all went their separate directions, and grew up to be versions of themselves that their younger counterparts weren’t thrilled to see. It ends with the girls riding towards Matt Wilson’s perfectly lit sunset. There’s no further commentary — it’s up to the reader where the Paper Girls go from here. For a book about time travel, it ends on a message about living in the present.

There’s not even an author’s note at the end, which actually is a breath of fresh air. The story speaks for itself. Paper Girls focuses so much on how technology affects our relationship with each other, and if Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang decide to talk more about their story, then the conversation can continue on the Internet. But on paper this is where it ends, and it’s up to the reader to make their own interpretation on what the story meant to them and where the characters could go from here.

Paper Girls #30’s biggest strength is how Vaughan and Chiang wraps the four girls’ stories so seamlessly. Erin isn’t afraid to make friends, KJ and Mac both accept their sexuality, and Tiffany finally puts the video game controller down. Even though Paper Girls is over, this is a book I will go back to time and time again, because there will always be new aspects to uncover.

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