Fallen Angels #1
Written by Bryan Edward Hill
Art by Szymon Kudranski and Frank D’Armata
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
The last of Marvel’s X-Men relaunch debuts this week with Fallen Angels #1, a series that transcends a thin high concept and some inconsistent artwork thanks to a sterling protagonist and some strong execution from writer Bryan Edward Hill. Starring a post-possession Psylocke - you might recognize her as the assassin Kwannon - Fallen Angels doesn’t quite stick the landing just yet, but the potential is there for something special.
In many ways, the dark and gritty tone of Fallen Angels almost feels more like an X-Force series than the actual X-Force book does - whereas the other X-Men books have traded in hard sci-fi and geopolitics, Hill’s story is largely removed from the greater mutant drama, instead dealing with a murderous underworld of drugs and questions of whether or not there is a place for killers in this new Krakoan paradise. Fans of his work on Michael Cray and Killmonger will love the moral ambiguity of this series - Kwannon is a great character for Hill’s lyrical style, particularly the way she sees balance being achieved only through violence. Given the utopian bent of much of the X-Men line, seeing this world through the eyes of an assassin makes for a really interesting protagonist.
That said, while Hill’s overarching execution is always a joy to read, Psylocke still feels a bit like a hero searching for a story and a team. While Hill gives Kwannon a personal angle for investigating the threat of Apoth, the threat doesn’t quite bridge the human-technological gap in as compelling a way as, say, Jonathan Hickman’s Powers of X. The other problem is that while Kwannon is a thrilling character to follow, her comrades feel a little bit more shoehorned in, in the vein of previous X-Force series - X-23 and Cable may have violent pasts, but they each read as a little green compared to Kwannon’s icy cold competency.
Ultimately, I think the most acquired taste for Fallen Angels is likely Szymon Kudranski’s art style. On the one hand, his shadowy pages feel like the right tone for Hill’s morally gray storytelling - but he also brings a lack of consistency to his characters that may take readers out of the story. Kwannon’s anatomy shifts from page to page, sometimes panel to panel - and by the time X-23 shows up, the characters start to blur together, forcing Hill to use dialogue cues to distinguish the two. Colorist Frank D’Armata adds in some nice doses of Psylocke’s signature purple in order to differentiate the flashback scenes, but ultimately that doesn’t make up for bits where the imagery feels repetitive or the action sequences feel stilted.
That said, perhaps it’s appropriate for Fallen Angels to be an imperfect work about imperfect people. Even if the status quo he’s been handed isn’t necessarily the strongest of this new X-Men line, Bryan Edward Hill still delivers some of the best dialogue in the Big Two today, and some readers will vibe with Szymon Kudranski’s moody and atmospheric style, despite the wonkiness in execution. Depending on what other characters Hill adds to the mix, Fallen Angels could take flight, or it could crash and burn on a butterfly’s wings.