I must admit that when I first picked up X-Men Annual #1 to review it, I really did not expect to like it, let alone be as impressed as I am. Taking place right smack in the middle of Marvel’s current summer event, “Contest of Chaos”, the annual presents us with a fight between Captain Marvel and Cyclops, both mysteriously transported to a random Icelandic fishing village, and under control of some manner of Marvel mysticism, compelled to fight each other for no discernable reason. And for anyone confused as to what exactly the “Contest of Chaos” branding means and why Marvel is only running an event in annuals (in the year of 2023 no less…), to that I don’t really have any answers! It seems to be connected to some Scarlet Witch/Agatha trickery (“chaos” being the key word here), but to be totally transparent, the good qualities of this issue are the ones which all but ignore the event, so really don’t worry about it. While the setup for this issue is so cliche it is borderlining on some weird self-parody of superhero comics, writer Paul Allor and artist Alessandro Miracolo turn it around for some really solid, and classic, comic fun, grounded by a really compelling character study of Cyclops.
I think the highlight of the story for me is really Miracolo’s art, which gives the whole book a sense of cartoony fun. The battles are intense, violent, and feel real, but at the same time Miracolo infuses it with such joy in each of her lines, the characters are so expressive and alive. This is, of course, also complimented heavily by coloring choices of Annalisa Leoni who chooses bright, playful colors which jump out of the page and truly look gorgeous on top of Miracolo’s lines. Cyclops and Captain Marvel are the clear stars of the issue, with all other background elements not quite mattering, which is also effectively reflected in the art. The characters clearly pop out and seem to be on a different layer than the background, adding a sense of interesting dimension.
While I am typically turned off by cape books that are just two people fighting for no real reason, Allor’s very engaging character work, done mostly with internal narration on the part of Cyclops, makes for a really interesting read. Scott Summers is such a conflicted person, with internal tension baked into each aspect of his storied and convoluted history. Few writers have ever really delved into the inherent conflict within him, at least not to great success within a single issue, but I think Allor really pulls it off here. While there are some confusing bits here about Scott’s friendship with Carol, it does still seem very internally consistent with the character and builds an interesting conflict for him. Does he give into his soldier ways, succumb to the training forced upon him by Xavier and simply fight to solve all problems, or adapt to the situation and attempt to talk it out before getting into a bloody brawl? It is this internal struggle which really seems to drive all the choices Cyclops has been making in the recent X-Comics, when to fight and when to talk, and we see those two sides distilled in this story.
Without spoiling too much, the fight does get somewhat oddly intense, and both of our heroes use their powers to their absolute limits, which makes for some really cool panels and fun scenes. Overall, while X-Men Annual #1 certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel or do anything particularly extraordinary, it is a solid one-shot story with some well written character moments and beautifully rendered fights. It makes for a really fun read, and sometimes that is all a superhero comic should be.