Writers: Jeph York, Daron Jensen, Ed Piskor
Penciler: Ed Piskor
Inker: Ed Piskor (again)
Colorist: Ed Piskor (for real)
Letterer: Ed Piskor (no really)
Cover Artist: Ed Piskor (just stop)
Editor: Christopher Robinson
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Some of the best stories in comics take decades to tell. They’re the stories you only know if you’ve stuck with a book from the start, through reboots and retcons and red-herrings. The macro-stories a single issue can’t capture.
That’s the story Ed Piskor is here to tell.
I’ll give away my opinion up front. I love this project. It’s one of my favorite things Marvel has done in this decade.
In 2017, Ed Piskor set out to retell X-Men history in his Grand Design series. Any X-fan will realize the magnitude of this feat. Through the decades, X-men has turned the retcon into an art form. Where other stories suffer, X-Men finds its own bizarre flavor: bombastic, colorful, and complicated. And Piskor leans right into it.
X-Man Grand Design: X-Tinction #1 bursts with clones, demons, and dream-journeys. This penultimate issue of Piskor’s six-issue project retells the late 1980’s of X-Men history, starting with the Marauders and the “mutant massacre.”
Grand Design is like nothing else on the shelf. Don’t just grab this on digital. Buy the floppy. Piskor has created a tactile experience. You don’t just read this comic; you feel it. You even smell it (it sounds weird, but you know what I mean). The book itself is a work of art. It’s a pleasure just to flip through.
In this series, Marvel puts art and craft first. The fingerprints of corporate storytelling are surprisingly absent. The book isn’t interrupted with a single advertisement. Piskor himself pencils, colors, letters, and co-writes — producing a much more singular vision than you’ll usually find from a major publisher. Despite the big-name heroes, the book carries the ethos of an indie comic.
Piskor’s art takes the spotlight. Some might initially dismiss it as a “throwback style.” But it’s much more. From foreground to background, he packs his panels with detail and emotion. He summarizes a whole plot-line with a single panel, knowing just where to capture the action and energy.
That artistic depth makes this project possible. It lets Piskor “zoom out” to summarize large story chunks, but it also lets him “zoom in” to catch the little moments that make the story real.
With a series like X-Men spanning so many years, this macro-level perspective offers something truly new. Piskor can weave the heavily-retconned history of X-men into a coherent whole.
Admittedly, this was most impressive in the first two issues of Grand Design, which combine materials from literal decades of comicbook history to reconstruct the early history of the X-Men. Those initial installments connected dots which previous X-books had never bothered to connect. In them, Piskor crafted his own “grand design” to make sense of X-history.
But now, Piskor’s retelling focuses in on the massive X-Men run from writer Chris Claremont. What’s on display here isn’t Piskor’s grand design, but Claremont’s own grand design. Piskor simply zooms out far enough for us to see it. Claremont unraveled his vision across 17 years and multiple titles. Piskor boils it down into one pithy tale. Another creator could easily have turned this into a cliff-notes version of Claremont. But Piskor’s craft gives the tale new life.
The story does become over-complicated in parts, more so than in previous issues. Of course, that comes with the territory of X-Men. But several times I found myself flipping back just to make sure I hadn’t missed an important detail. The middle of the issue drags a bit in this way, but it quickly regains footing for an emotional ending.
With one issue left to go, it’s hard to tell where Piskor plans to land this plane. Where, in this tangled history, will he find a conclusion that doesn’t feel arbitrary? But Piskor has earned my trust. I’m along for the ride.