Marvel’s Xavier Institute: First Team Review

Amazon.com: First Team: A Marvel: Xavier's Institute Novel (9781839080623):  MacNiven, Robbie: Books
Cover owned by Aconyte and Marvel

Note: I received this as a free Advanced Review Copy via Aconyte Books and Marvel for an honest, spoiler-free review through NetGalley. Many thanks to the people at Aconyte and Marvel.

I will start this off with a confession, something that will stun you all:

I’ve been reading comics for years. I love YouTube channels like Comic Drake, Variant, and Comics Explained. But the X-Men? I couldn’t really get into them. It was something about the whole saga, how X-Men ruled the 90s comic landscape and changed everything. I couldn’t really get into the movies, I loved Evan Peters as Quicksilver, and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, but I just couldn’t understand the whole idea of mutantkind, or the time-travel shenanigans, the deaths and the resurrections, or… Deadpool. Comic-fan blasphemy, I know! I just couldn’t get into Deadpool for the life of me!

I needed something that was a palate cleanser, an introduction that was easy to follow, easy to know. The idea of Xavier’s Institute is such a cool one, it’s like Harry Potter; a school full of powered individuals, with powerful teachers, learning how to hone their skills to be helpful in the rest of the world. First Team by Robbie MacNiven fulfills that desire and need.

We follow Victor Borkowski, a mutant with Lizard abilities. His hero alter-ego? Anole. With scaly skin, an expandable tongue, camouflage abilities, and wall climbing similar to Spider-Man, Anole wants to join the ranks of the X-Men, and he’s already one step ahead by attending Xavier’s Institute for Gifted Youngsters.

Victor is obviously a step out of normal, thanks in part to his green skin and the fact that his parents are bother middle class, working, powerless humans. So, when the Purifiers – a cultist group bent on eradicating mutant-kind – attempt to subdue Anole, kidnapping his father in the process, Victor must figure out how to put a stop to this, all the while working with his friends Cipher and Graymalkin, fellow mutants while he travels to take down the Purifiers and rescue his father.

I have to say, I loved this story. It was a quick read, simply because the style and pacing was amazing. MacNiven really understands these characters, and when we jump from perspectives, it is seamless as the powers are set, they’re never really augmented to fit the standards, and we get a good feel of what these characters feel. Even in prose, a comic novel reads like a comic, and that is, in no way, a bad thing. Comics are GREAT with dialogue, and the great things about comics is the writer typically does this thing where the character’s thoughts are shown in a little thought bubble. Here, however, those thoughts are told in an energetic, quick way. It doesn’t intrude or interrupt on action or dialogue, it’s naturally said.

I honestly think that’s why it was such a fun read. It was engaging and to the point, and the perspective changes kept the suspense up, as we may learn the villain’s motives in one chapter, and in the next we have Victor trying to track him down, or Cipher trying to help a character in the Institute. It keeps you on your toes.

This feels like Harry Potter, Superheroes, and the road-trip excitement of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” wrapped into one, and man was it engaging. I couldn’t put it down when I really got into the thick of it!

That’s the issue I have, however. The pacing was really good, but it had a slower start than normal in the beginning. Of course, I’m glad it was a lot more character-driven, and we got a feel of Vic and his friends, his family, and the looming threat of the Purifiers, but around the forty percent mark it started to get exciting, and didn’t really slow down in it’s pacing until the end. I like comics (and now prose based around superheroes… maybe more than comics itself) because you can go one minute with character-expanding dialogue, and the next is an epic battle. I just was left wondering when it would happen, and I felt a little on edge waiting for it as I flipped from page-to-page.

And my-oh-my am I left with questions about what universe this is supposed to be! As a comic geek, placing the correct universe something is in is important to me. Anole has been a staple of X-Men comics since his first appearance in “New Mutants” back in 2003. So, is this story in the main marvel universe (Earth-616)? Or does the Aconyte set of novels have it’s own, separate universe with all of their different superhero novels, such as The Harrowing of Doom and Domino: Strays to, most recently, this and Elsa Bloodstone: Bequest? It keeps me thinking, but man, is this version of the Marvel Universe interesting! There’s minor references here that I’m sure fans will get a kick out of, and I’m not going to spoil any of them, but the keen reading eye will surely have no trouble catching them.

I think the villain is an interesting one, I’ve loved “evil bloodlust cult” as a main antagonist since Far Cry 5’s Joseph Seed and the Project at Eden’s Gate, and Xodus and his crew is a really engaging group that I want to know more about.

All-in-all, I think besides the pacing issues at the beginning with the whole buildup of the conflict, this novel is a 4 stars out of 5 in my book. I REALLY Recommend this as an introduction to what the X-Men is as a group. It was what I needed, especially with the rumors of them eventually entering the Marvel Cinematic Universe soon.

Check it out at First Team on Amazon

Once again, SPECIAL THANKS to the people at Aconyte and Marvel for giving me a copy of this! It was truly a joy.

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