Another tenuous X-Men “event” means another excuse for a tenuously-linked X-Men anthology. With so many mutant characters without their own book, so many of whom are fan favourites, it makes some kind of sense, at least – although let’s be honest, the themes are going around in ever-decreasing circles. Following the “leaving Westchester” anthology, and the “Arriving in San Francisco” anthology, this time it’s the “moving to a slightly different part of San Francisco” anthology. If there are really that many stories to tell, one wonders why they don’t just relaunch X-Men Unlimited – well, aside from the fact that it’d sink like Asteroid M in San Francisco Bay. That’s just a little X-Men joke for you there.
Still, let’s not quibble too much over the book’s existence and instead accept it. As far as anthologies go, this issue is actually pretty good – not least because someone manages to hire Becky Cloonan to write and draw a Gambit story. Her contribution is, on every level, masterful. If, like me, you got into X-Men during the 90s, you’ll remember Gambit as being a suave, conflicted badass with a poorly-realised accent, and that was enough. Over time, the character got bogged down with romantic angst, a complex backstory and some guff about being transformed into a Horseman of Apocalypse. Cloonan, to her credit, ignores all of that in favour of writing Gambit as he should be. A suave, conflicted badass with a poorly-realised accent. Worth the cover price alone.
Unusually, the rest of the issue is actually pretty decent too. Anthologies are often variable, so this issue stands out by being almost entirely great. CB Cebulski and Jim McCann’s Jubilee story, guest-featuring the Young New X-Mutants or whatever they’re called these days, roundly accomplishes the task of putting the still-depowered Jubilee back on the fringes of the X-verse. It mercifully does away with the recent mishandling of the character, who was seen to don power-gauntlets, grow several cup sizes and rename herself Boobilee or something, in the universally-derided New Warriors volume 7029. As a story, it doesn’t do a whole lot more than that, but hopefully it’s a sign of more things to come for a sadly-missed member of the X-Men cast.
Elsewhere, there’s yet more to like. Tim Fish’s Northstar story is charming and idiosyncratic, and manages to make the character – previously known for being a complete jackass – actually seem sympathetic, as he tries to manage a long-distance relationship, mutant-style. Even Jon Barber’s rather unlikely Martha Vs. Quentin Quire story works rather well, placing two unlikely foes in an unlikely battle – and, to be honest, I go weak at the knees whenever a writer acknowledges Grant Morrison’s X-Men run. Overall, it’s an unlikely selection of stories that add up to something fun, exciting and interesting. If every X-Men anthology issue was like this, they probably could restart X-Men Unlimited after all.