Monday, June 4, 2012

First Impressions: X-Men

A little while back, I talked about how one random issue of Avengers read out of context as a kid made me averse to the franchise for years; this time around, I’m going to give an example of the opposite.

The first X-Men comic I ever read was Uncanny X-Men #229, which came out in mid-1988 when I was six, but that I most likely read a couple years later. As with that Avengers issue I referred to earlier, I’m fairly sure this came from a combo back my dad picked me up from a supermarket or somewhere (I mentioned this to him the other day thinking he wouldn’t remember and he definitely did; he remembered getting me my first issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated, with a WWF vs WCW face-off feature and Kerry Von Erich poster—my dad is awesome).

I know now that this was the first issue of Uncanny X-Men (aside from a fill-in standalone story) set after the Fall of the Mutants event, which I now own years later in trade paperback and—more importantly—at the end of which the X-Men “died.” The use of quotation marks there was to denote that while the X-Men did sacrifice their lives to stop The Adversary, Roma resurrected them by using the Siege Perilous and they elected to allow the world at large to continue thinking them dead so they could operate in secret.

Had Uncanny X-Men #227 been the first issue I had read, there’s likely an equal chance I would have said “Huh? I’m out” as “What? I’m in.” I’m honestly not sure if I’d have been put off by such a crazy, continuity-mired capper involving so many weird mystic elements or if it would have spurred me on to want to know more because I’ve had both experiences with comics (off the top of my head I can remember being fascinated by the complicated layers of Legion of Super-Heroes lore and at the same time uninterested in how established and pat the relationships were in Fantastic Four as a kid).

But I didn’t read issue #227 first, I read #229, and it was maybe the best jumping on point for any comic I could have asked for.

Before I go any further, I should note that both issues in question and the entire era of X-Men surrounding them were written by Chris Claremont with this specific period being drawn by Marc Silvestri. Claremont is capable of massively intricate years-long storylines that only his hardcore readers can appreciate, but I think over time people have also forgotten how good he was at remembering every comic was somebody’s first and making sure you always got a sense of the characters right off the bat. Silvestri was still coming into his own, but his art was so scratchy and energetic I couldn’t take my young eyes off it (I always thought he drew a great Colossus in particular and also made Dazzler seem cooler then I’m ever found her since—sorry, Jim).

So Uncanny X-Men #229 opens in Singapore with a gang of cyborg thugs we would later to come to know as the Reavers robbing a bank, causing some mayhem and kidnapping a young lady who would later become Tyger Tiger. They head back to their base in the Australian Outback via the teleportation powers of their mute and unwilling accomplice, Gateway. Around the same time, the X-Men—led by Storm and consisting of Wolverine, Colossus, Rogue, Havok, Psylocke, Longshot and Dazzler along with Madelyne Pryor—turn up, kick the Reavers’ collective ass in awesome fashion, evict them from their hideout and claim them from their own, save the girl, liberate Gateway, and set up camp.

Roma puts in a cameo at the very end to give the X-Men the Siege Perilous for future use and vaguely summarize the Fall of the Mutants stuff I talked about before, which I didn’t really get, but also didn’t really care about and understood enough for it to frame the story.

The important stuff was I read a story that began with really nasty and vulgar villains being jerks, had the heroes coming in the second act as a totally bad ass cavalry, featured an awesome fight where the bad guys got in just enough offense to keep it interesting but where the good guys really got showcased in all their coolness in a very “appeals to kids” way (Wolverine has claws! Storm shoots lightning! Colossus is made of metal! Havok’s power looks crazy!), then wrapped up nicely with the clear implication that more was to come but a sense of reader satisfaction with what I’d just gotten.

You hold this up against the Avengers issue I read where the heroes were wearing suits and ties and got beat up by a tiny lady-turned-sea monster while a bunch of subplots reached their midpoint in the background and you can see why I latched onto one and not the other. The X-Men absolutely seemed like the people I wanted to hang out with, tearing into a strange town Clint Eastwood style, cleaning it up, and putting the cherry on top by stealing the jerks’ own clubhouse for themselves; they were the cool older kids you always hoped would show up when you were getting picked on to bully the bullies and send them home crying.

When I got into comics for real a few years later, I immediately gravitated toward the X-Men. Yes, it helped that guys like Jim Lee and Andy Kubert were drawing the book and it was like visual crack to me; yes it helped that crossovers like X-Cutioner’s Song (the greatest comic ever told) were at the height of their popularity and really appealed to me; and yes, it helped that they had an awesome cartoon. But at the end of the day, it was that first impression that not only hooked me there, but made me a fan for life. Every time I’d step away from comics, it would be the X-Men who I wouldn’t be able to resist checking in with and who brought me back, whether it was Onslaught and Joe Madureira in high school, Grant Morrison and Joe Casey (and X-Treme X-Men) in college or so on.

If you know me or have read this blog for any length of time you know I’m a pretty big fan of super hero teams in particular and there aren’t many I don’t have affection for, but there were a lot I had to “grow into.” The Fantastic Four were too domestic until I got to Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s stuff; the Justice League was too stodgy and by-the-book until I got to Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s stuff; the Avengers were the nerds in suits until I got to Kurt Busiek and George Perez’s stuff; even the Legion were fascinating from afar but too heavy until post-Zero Hour. I would later go back and appreciate the goodness that I missed like the Lee/Kirby or Byrne FF, the Satellite Era or Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League, the Stern/Buscema Avengers and the Levitz Legion.

But I never had to be convinced when it came to the X-Men. Claremont and Silvestri got me hook, line a sinker with Uncanny #229. It really is all about timing and luck sometimes, and that was the perfect issue to come into my possession at a formative age and make me an X-Men fan for life.


Andrew Brown said...

Awesome! I thought i was the only one who came into the x-men during the Australian years. My LCS owner thinks its no end of weird that i think of longshot and dazzler as 'classic' x-men.

Jim McCann said...

Yes, Dazzler was amazing during this time, but the coolest ever? You must be forgetting a certain Necrosha fall-out one-shot...

Ben Morse said...

I said this is when she LOOKED her best. She has never ever been written better than during that one-shot. Perhaps no character ever has been,

Jim McCann said...

I DO love the blue Olivia Newton-John "Physical" era look.

And I approve of your validation.

Anonymous said...

My first was 272. The Xtinction agenda. And it was love at first site. I read that and imediatley went and found every other xtinction agenda leading into that story. When it concluded I went all the way back to the 200s and worked my way back forward. Chris Clairmont is a legand, and the X-men will bever be what they were in those amazing days.
And at 33 years old, a CGC copy of 272sits on the shelf above my desk at work.