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X-Men: First Class Vol. 2

The early days of mutant fun returns! Unfortunately, the X-Men are a male-dominated group in this early time. Concerned that star pupil Marvel Girl could use a role model, Professor Xavier enlists the world's top female hero - Sue Storm, The Invisible Girl!

Filling the gap between the X-Men: First Class miniseries and next month's ongoing title, we have the X-Men: First Class Special.

At first glance, this issue is nothing more than First Class #9. But in fact, that's not entirely fair. On this collection of short stories, writer Jeff Parker is joined by a range of different artists. There's also a subtle difference in tone. This issue doesn't feel like an ersatz Marvel Adventures title in quite the same way as First Class did - perhaps inevitable, when you've got a story drawn by the spiky Kevin Nowlan, and another where Nick Dragotta and Mike Allred are being vaguely psychedelic.

Nowlan's story, "The Museum of Oddities", is a fairly standard First Class piece - the X-Men investigate something, there's a mutant angle to it, and everything works out happily in the end. It's only five pages, and it's straightforward, but Nowlan's art sells it.

"The Soul of a Poet" is a stranger proposition, as it attempts to update Bernard the Poet. Bernard appeared in a handful of issues in the 1960s, rarely interacting with the team, but readers of a certain age tend to remember him because, as a character with a name, he got listed in the X-Men Index. Since the beat poetry scene was on its last legs even when Lee and Kirby created the character, Bernard takes an awful lot of updating, and becomes a pretentious spoken word artist.

The story also gives Bernard mutant powers, in a way that's rather hard to square with any of his original appearances. The relationship between First Class and established continuity has always been a little strained, but this really is pushing it. (And since the final story has a present-day framing sequence, there's a real sense of the book having its cake and eating it.) But it's a fun little story, and Dragotta and Allred work wonders with the visuals.

"A Girl and her Dragon" attempts to gives us a relationship between Marvel Girl and, of all things, Dragon Man. This doesn't really work. It feels like an awkward exercise in manufacturing a parallel with Kitty and Lockheed, for no obvious purpose. But it's got art by Paul Smith, which is always something.

Colleen Coover also contributes art for three single-page comedy strips, which are very cute, but to be honest, probably not quite as funny as they really need to be.

On the whole, though, it's a decent package, and an encouraging sign that First Class is going to broaden out from its rather restrictive format, without losing sight of its broad appeal.

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