Jeff Parker's script is action-packed but light and humorous as the original five X-Men (sans masks in this issue, which is a plus for showing off their quirky expressions in Roger Cruz's vivid art) hunt down the Incredible Hulk in what would be, if we were really keeping track, a retcon of the first encounter between the World's Strangest Teens and the Green Goliath. As far as I can see, the real first "canon" encounter between the X-Men and the Hulk occurred in their original series issue #66 (1970), the last single issue before they became a reprint book for several years. Hardcore marvel fanbulls (like me!) might remember that an earlier meeting was later retconned into both's history in the black-and-white magazine The Rampaging Hulk #2, but that was later revealed (re-retconned?) to be simply a Krylorian soap opera. (Trust me, you don't really wanna know.) X-Men: First Class #5 takes a simpler, more primal approach: the Hulk's on the rampage; the X-Men track him down while Professor X guides the team from a secret army base in Colorado.
As with previous issues in the First Class series, Parker spins a cheerful mix of light humor, realistic dialogue, and solid action; every X-Man (and Rick Jones) has a moment to shine and to make uniquely theirs. There's a lovely little spin on the usual cliché of Professor X saving the day with his mental powers: he's so distracted and hampered by the bellowing of General "Thunderbolt" Ross that he can't mentally attack the Hulk head-on. I especially liked of Professor's X's conclusion once he realized the truth of the matter: the military seeking to use the Hulk as a weapon is no better than humanity seeking to control and eliminate mutants, so in the end it's "live and let live." That's quite a change from all the World Warring goin' on in the regular Marvel Universe, which makes this an excellent X-Men book for the casual , first-time, or younger reader.
I've commented in the past how much I've enjoyed this book's stance that the X-Men do not exist simply to pound their enemies into the ground: most of the stories, this one included, feature plenty of battle action but end with an understanding and détente with their antagonist rather than physical defeat. Still, this is one of several times we've seen this same story in this series, and like those casual but frequent morals over in the Justice League Unlimited comic, it has the potential to get old pretty fast. I like the X-Men as Star Trek-like explorers more intent on solving a problem than destroying it, but don't be afraid to toss a few more direct X-Men versus villain stories in this series once in a while, please, Mister Parker. The two-parter with Mastermind a few issues back was a nice break; give us those once in a while.
Of course, I can't neglect one of the main reasons First Class has become a great favorite of mine: another wonderful whimsical two-page back-up by Parker and Colleen Coover (one of my very favorite artists, and that was even more I got a chance to meet her at San Diego Comic-Con!) This story's perfectly timed as Marvel Girl plays a spooky Halloween trick on the boys:
...but the joke's on her in the end! I shan't spoil the surprise but it made me laugh out loud and was a fine and welcome twist on a specific X-Man's character that I can't help but applaud. Not only is this story itself fun, but it's clear the creators are having a ball as well, and most important, the characters are wonderfully joyful as well. There's very little soap opera and angst in these pages; what you get instead is teenagers clearly having fun with their powers and each other while learning to step up to the plate of being heroes. That's a rare thing in a superhero comic these days: the joy and wonder of having superpowers, and the delight one can take from them. It's interesting that the Marvel comics that best show this trait offFirst Class, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, Marvel Adventures: The Avengers, Franklin Richardsare all specifically removed from the mainstream Marvel Universe and probably not "canon" in any way. Which some might say is a pity, but I say "hoorah!" There's no need for the darkness of Civil War and Front Line and Messiah Complex to intrude upon these alternate universes. If you want to be pedantic you might want to sit down, scratch your head, and determine that this here universe in First Class is really Earth-617, or maybe it's called Earth-2006, or possible Earth-XFC. Me? I just call it Earth-Fun.