Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The History of the X-Men in August

There is no comic I own more issues of—single and collected—and have read more consistently than Uncanny X-Men. I picked it up as a kid, got back into comics with it as a college student, have remained a loyal reader since then and also filled in gaps with Essential trades and missing issues sought out online along the way.

Since I have in some form or another experienced just about every twist and turn of the X-Men since they became all-new and all-different (prior to that, I’ve read the first Masterworks plus a random Neal Adams-illustrated yarn or two, but not much else), I thought it might be fun to fire up the way back machine and give my thoughts on where the book, team and franchise has been at various stages throughout its history, beginning with the month of August.

Let’s find out how wrong I am together!

UNCANNY X-MEN #487 (2007)
This was mere months before I started at Marvel, thus I read it while I was still at Wizard and on the Marvel beat. Ed Brubaker was writing the book and had just wrapped his year-long cosmic storyline with Vulcan and the Sh’iar. This was in the midst of an arc involving the Morlocks and guest starring the Fantastic Four, of which Storm was a member at the time post-Civil War, so this marked her first X-Men appearance in a bit. I was excited because Salvador Larroca had just jumped over from adjectiveless X-Men and I was a huge Larroca mark from his X-Treme X-Men days, so I just dug seeing him draw different mutants. In my capacity as a reporter covering Marvel, I was a few months ahead in knowing what was going to happen and we were all gearing up for Messiah Complex, so this story kind of slipped in the cracks, but I still recall neat bits like Skids being a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.

On an interesting note, if you consider much of the last five years of X-Men one mega story that has in large part centered around Hope and began with Messiah Complex—and X-Men editor Nick Lowe does see it that way if he’s in the proper mood—this is kind of the last X-Men story of an era, which is neat.

UNCANNY X-MEN #407 (2002)
I’ve written about it before, but when I returned to comics following a hiatus of a few years and picked up Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, I didn’t care for it at all because of how different it was from the stuff that felt familiar to me (90’s animated series, X-Cutioner’s song, crazy colored costumes, ill-defined powers, etc.). Strangely enough, even though Joe Casey’s Uncanny X-Men was really even further afield, I kinda dug it. I enjoyed Archangel as a hero who fought battles with his checkbook, Nightcrawler having serious crises of faith, Chamber struggling as an X-Man and all that jazz. I think because Uncanny featured characters I was mostly less familiar with (I never cared much about Archangel when I was a kid, Nightcrawler was in Excalibur and Chamber didn’t exist yet, to say nothing of Stacy X), I gave Casey more leeway than I did Morrison, who was monkeying with Cyclops, Beast, Jean Grey and Wolverine (the exception would be that Iceman, my favorite X-Man, was in Uncanny, but I was happy to just see him featured, so I didn’t care really what the take was). I was also initially drawn to Ian Churchill’s art because it was quite reminiscent of the bright, bold stuff I grew up with, but even after he was succeeded by Sean Phillips in what could not have been more of a 180 in terms of style, I still dug it.

So yeah, Joe Casey’s Uncanny X-Men: Pretty much the last thing you’d expect I would have liked based on my previously expressed tastes, but I did, so there you go.

That said, I remember next to nothing about this issue other than that it was the epilogue to the arc where they fought Banshee and the X-Corps and Nightcrawler and Chamber got marooned in the snow somewhere.

UNCANNY X-MEN #346 (1997)
I more or less dropped out of comics around the time of Onslaught and wasn’t friends with anybody who kept reading, so I’m not sure how I still knew what Operation: Zero Tolerance was, but I did. It may have been I had campers who still read at the summer camp I worked at and snuck their copies. Was there an Internet in 1997? I dunno. Regardless, to this day I’ve never read the entire O: ZT saga (now available in one collection), but I did pick up some of the issues, including this one and the ones where Iceman was totally awesome. It has a special place in my heart mostly because Iceman was totally awesome.

I dug this issue for two reasons. Firstly, you had J. Jonah Jameson being portrayed as a stand up dude when contrasted against real crazies like Bastion; yes, he hated Spider-Man and most super heroes, but he still had a journalist’s integrity, dammit, and he wasn’t going to consign a whole race of people like mutants to genocide just because some government stooge told him they were dangerous. JJJ is a pompous ass, and we love him for it, but at the core of the character is a very ethical man, so it’s nice to be reminded once in awhile.

Secondly, I enjoyed Marrow in her role as terrorist-turned-reluctant good guy trying to learn how to simply not kill every human she saw, let alone fit in with the X-Men. Her team-up with Spider-Man here is fun as he really has no idea what to make of her and she has no patience for him. Marrow definitely got shortchanged of a long run as the successor to Jubilee (who was the successor to Kitty Pryde) as a POV character for a new (angry) generation.

UNCANNY X-MEN #291 (1992)
I…have never read this issue. Truth be told, I found the Gold Team kinda boring, so I’ve only got the stuff where Bishop joins up and then my collection jumps straight to X-Cutioner’s Song, after which the strike forces stopped being so separate. A gap to be filled!

UNCANNY X-MEN #220 (1987)
This is part of the buildup to Fall of the Mutants and features everybody’s least favorite X-Man, Forge, doing what he does best: being terrible!

Ok, Forge doesn’t actually appear in the issue itself, but the main thrust of the plot is Storm going to confront Forge about getting her powers back, which she lost because he’s an idiot, and ending up on a holographic tour through his house of all his failures, from getting his entire squad killed in Vietnam from screwing up their romance because he’s the worst. It’s actually all orchestrated by The Adversary, a powerful demon let loose on the world by—you guessed it—Forge who is posing as his old mentor, Naze, and who easily convinces Storm that Forge is the bad guy because it’s easy to believe the worst about him.

This is a fairly early Chris Claremont/Marc Silvestri jam, so it’s pretty great even without the fact it’s more or less 22 pages of Forge bashing—but that’s the icing on the cake!

UNCANNY X-MEN #160 (1982)
Another classic, this one by Claremont and Brent Anderson, though this one is great not because it treats a character I don’t care for like a punching bag, but because it’s quite a good story with stellar art and tells the pivotal origin of Magik.

Belasco makes his first appearance as an X-Men foe—I think he fought Ka-Zar a time or two prior to this—and kidnaps Kitty and Illyana Rasputin, still a little kid at this point, into Limbo, where the X-Men give chase. It’s a spooky introduction to the weirdness of Limbo, with, again, Anderson doing a great job creating a visual maze to accompany Claremont’s creepy riddle of a story. There are all sorts of time lapse shenanigans as the current X-Men encounters older or dead versions of themselves who got stuck in Limbo and botched the rescue, including a perverse Nightcrawler and sorceress Storm. In the end, the good guys win, but Illyana ends up as a teenager—the full depths of her terrible time in Limbo to be explored later in her limited series as well as New Mutants—and the story closes on an eerie hint that all is not well.

X-MEN #106 (1977)
Only a dozen or so issues into the all-new all-different era, the then-current team seemingly battle the original X-Men—which they had just done six issues earlier in X-Men #100. I’m not harping, because it’s always a fun plot device, and Claremont and Dave Cockrum had to work hard to do wrong, it’s just funny that the two stories took place this close together.

In the original case, it was Sentinels disguised as the original team; here it’s Professor X’s dark side running wild creating psychic projections. This would end up being loosely adapted into part of the Phoenix Saga from the 90’s cartoon in an episode I recall because Professor X’s evil self had a crazy cackle and may have worn a cape.

Anyway, the teams face off, Wolverine fights Iceman—which he seemed to really like to do a lot in the old days—Angel swipes Cyclops’ visor like on the cover, then Professor X regains control of himself and gets things under control.

Honestly, it’s Claremont/Cockrum X-Men—that’s all you need to know.