(Panini Books) The premise of the MK imprint appears to be to offer independent creators the chance to play in the Marvel sandbox with few concerns about existing continuity, although it might be argued that its actually a format devised to provide this opportunity, rather than exploit it. Whereas the recent Marvel Knights Spider-Man book was an exercise in psychotropic surrealism (reviewed here), the X-Mens contribution is actually something of a nostalgia trip back to the golden days of the Chris Claremont era, despite references to recent developments in mutant continuity. Written and illustrated by Brahm Revel, creator of Guerrillas, an unusual book about specially-trained chimpanzee soldiers, its a much more straight-forward story than its staple-mate, and is stronger as a result. On the hunt for two new mutants detected in a backwoods town in Western Virginia, Wolverine, Kitty Pryde and Rogue encounter bigotry, exploitation and a weird mutant-worshipping cult, and thats only scratching the surface. One of their mutant targets can bring peoples memories to life, which is controllable when shes in the vicinity of a bunch of hicks, but much harder when she has the recollections of the X-Men to keep in check. Cue cameo appearances from a wealth of guest stars, including the likes of Sabretooth, Juggernaut and Nightcrawler, plucked out of the mutants memories and given life of their own. And because Revel is celebrating a particular point in the characters history, the costumes and personalities of these characters seem to be plucked from the 1980s and 1990s, which works to differentiate them from their real-life contemporary counterparts. Throw in a corrupt sheriff, a sect of mutant-obsessed survivalists, and personal problems within the ranks of the X-Men themselves, and as the chaos starts to build its not a question of if this powder-keg will explode, just a matter of when. The sketchy, thick black lines of the artwork give the story a frantic and claustrophobic feel, and the focus remains strongly on Revels narrative rather than becoming a visual whos who of mutant characters. Usually these sort of series are little more than a throwaway exercise in bleeding more money out of a successful franchise, but MK: X-Men is just the opposite, instead telling an engrossing and character-rich X-Men story which should have had a place in the main title, rather than hidden away in the fringes. Revels grasp on the team is first-rate, and certainly stronger than current writer Brian Michael Bendis, so the sooner he is given a permanent X-book of his own the better.