Sunday, March 3, 2013

The History of the X-Men in February

A couple days late, but here goes…

UNCANNY X-MEN #493 (2008)
We’re knee deep in the Messiah CompleX crossover here, and I’m also a few months into my tenure as a freshly minted Marvel employee, so this is a book I actually worked to promote. The plans for what was going on in X-Men were already pretty pat at this point (I knew the next year or so of stories even when I was back at Wizard) and I was still getting my sea legs as far as, so we didn’t do a whole lot on this—instead getting g ready for what was coming after, working a few months out—but it was cool to be involved. I was particularly enjoying this storyline both as a fan and somebody on the inside because it reminded me a lot of X-Cutioner’s Song and big crossovers of that ilk, where all the teams were involved, various masterminds were working at cross purposes—some villainous, some more shades of gray—and heavy emotional stuff was broken up by big fights, like the one in this issue where the Sentinels placed at the Xavier Institute by the government go haywire. Even though I don’t think any of the writers involved in Messiah CompleX were big X-Cutioner’s Song fans—I believe at the least Ed Brubaker and Mike Carey weren’t that familiar; I could see Chris Yost and Craig Kyle digging it; and of course Peter David actually worked on both stories—editors Nick Lowe and Will Panzo were (and are) big time. I really love David Finch’s cover here and also was a big fan of the New X-Men “kids” like Gentle getting a chance to shine against the Sentinels, as that was another thing I always liked about X-Men crossovers: the characters you didn’t expect to getting their moments.

UNCANNY X-MEN #416 (2003)
Another relatively standalone issue near the beginning of Chuck Austen’s run as Uncanny X-Men writer, and while I really dug both his opening arc and the Northstar story I discussed last time, I think this was the first time he overdosed a little on the soap opera (and this is coming from the world’s biggest Melrose Place fan). One piece of drama that seemed a bit forced was Nightcrawler asking Iceman if he wanted to go to the brothel Stacy X used to work at to help retrieve her belongings and then Bobby going off on Kurt kinda out of nowhere about how the original five X-Men were the only “real” X-Men, despite the fact I’m pretty sure Nightcrawler had logged as much if not more time than him on the various teams at that point. There are also several scenes in the school infirmary focusing on new character Annie, a nurse who has fallen in love with the comatose Havok, having gossipy conversations with Stacy, Northstar and others that come off as belonging somewhere else. There’s a nice subplot with Juggernaut and Sammy the Squid Boy where they bond over how crappy their childhoods were or something, but it wasn’t particularly memorable. I appreciated what Austen was trying to do, as he kind of had a lot of the same melodrama sensibilities I do, but it sometimes felt like he was trying to fit a lot of square pegs into round holes with his subplots and abrupt changes in characters’ personalities. Probably more interesting is seeing Manga artist Kia Asamiya’s take on the team, which was really unique and cool; I dug it even more when he got to open up with more action in the months to come.

UNCANNY X-MEN #352 (1998)
I picked this issue up on eBay sometime around 2004 when I was trying to fill in the holes in my collection, particularly the mid-90’s stuff. I love that it boasts right front and center on the cover “Featuring possibly the most artists ever on one title!” It’s a crazy awesome array of artists who would become big a couple years later like John Cassaday and Tommy Lee Edwards plus folks on the cusp like Terry Dodson and J.H. Williams III rounded out by the likes of Darryl Banks and Cully Hamner. The story is a bit of a throwaway, with Cyclops and Phoenix, who recently left the X-Men, flying back to Alaska and foiling a weird A.I.M. plot; meanwhile, back in Westchester, Archangel gets yelled at for not being around much and Cannonball gets a letter from Meltdown as he’s being budged off the team back to X-Force.

UNCANNY X-MEN #297 (1993)
One of my very favorite issues from when I was a kid that I think still holds up today as this is the epilogue to X-Cutioner’s Song—one of them at least—by Scott Lobdell and a young Brandon Peterson following three stories involving pairs of X-Men in the fallout of all the chaos. First up, Beast and Archangel fix the damages done by Caliban to Harry’s Hideaway, the local bar and restaurant the X-Men are always going to, and reminisce about their formative years at Xavier’s School, including a great bit where Warren remembers how he paid Hank to write one of his papers for him and got screwed when Professor X asked them to deliver the reports telepathically, then Hank admitting he tipped off Xavier—after he cashed the check—leading a stoic Warren to spray him with wood varnish. It’s a nice sentimental bit, and especially neat to see the at-this-time ansgty as all hell Archangel get razzed by his old buddy and smile a bit (they also get caught roughhousing by a cop and use their image inducers to pose as normal construction workers). Second there’s a short but sweet and crucial interlude with Rogue and Gambit where, for the first time, their flirting of the past couple years goes to the next level as she calls him out on the fact that he always teases her knowing they can’t touch, he walks away, then returns with a blanket to keep her warm and they share a tender moment. Last but not least, Jubilee encounters Professor X, who has regained his ability to walk temporarily, and convinces him he should try rollerblading, only to pull off a pier in a playful way (not a “trying to kill him”) way. They have a conversation about how he normally intimidates her but she’s seeing he’s actually pretty normal, which he takes as a compliment. At the end, he starts walking back toward his wheelchair, the lingering effects of the Techno-Organic virus cure wearing off, and when he starts to stumble, after initial reluctance, she helps him in the silent final panels. Since Jubilee came onboard during the period Professor X was away and never really had much of a bond with him, this was a neat idea. This issue was truly Lobdell at his best.

UNCANNY X-MEN #226 (1988)
The penultimate chapter to Fall of the Mutants; I picked it up during that same eBay X-Men run, but it’s back in Boston and just looking at the cover, I honestly can’t recall much about it. I remember more about the actual finale, where Forge screws everything up as usual and the X-Men fly up to where the Adversary is by using a combination of Storm’s winds with Longshot’s hollow bones and good luck powers (Longshot would end up being the big hero at the end of Inferno as well, so I guess Chris Claremont really liked him). Honestly, the thing that stands out most to me about this was that for some reason this issue was double-sized and the last chapter was not; I also liked the subplot with the reporters going into the war zone with the X-Men because they wanted to show the world mutants were ok.

UNCANNY X-MEN #166 (1983)
Another extra-sized issue that was technically only the second to last chapter of a big story, although #167 was really more epilogue anyway. This was the finish proper to the awesome first real Brood epic by Claremont where Paul Smith has taken over on art at this point and is doing a stellar job (just look at that cover). Cyclops gets taken over by the Brood egg inside him, screwing the X-Men big time (and leading to a great Cyclops/Wolverine fight), but ultimately gains control long enough to help turn the tide along with the newly-repowered Binary and Storm riding a big ol’ space whale. Lockheed also makes his debut (I think) here, saving Kitty Pryde and helping her head back into battle. Overall it’s just a satisfying story to read, as Claremont had done a great job really making me hate the Brood because of the gross and horribly invasive way they had gone after the X-Men and because our heroes had been through so much over the past several issues, so their win feels earned and good. It’s also a story with consequences, as Kitty in particular does not feel like the same character who came in, very much scarred and battle hardened by the experience, but struggling to hang on to her innocence. Finally, there’s a great cliffhanger, as the X-Men realize that there’s one Brood egg left, and it’s incubating in Professor X back on Earth…

X-MEN #109 (1978)
The X-Men are freshly back from their first real space adventure with the Shi’ar, and while Jean Grey tells her parents about becoming Phoenix, Wolverine along with Storm, Colossus, Banshee and Moira MacTaggert get ambushed on a picnic by Weapon Alpha, aka James Hudson, Wolvie’s old boss in what would become Alpha Flight as well as the future Guardians of that same team’s fame. It’s the first real hints of Wolverine’s past beyond the scene where Xavier recruited him from Canadian intelligence back in Giant-Size X-Men #1, and also the doorway to a bunch of great characters, as Mac would return not long after with Northstar, Sasquatch, et al. in tow. To this day, Dave Cockrum’s design for Weapon Alpha/Guardians stands out as a really slick one that you don’t need to be Canadian to appreciate, I don’t think. This issue was more or less faithfully adapted by the 90’s animated series in the “Repo Man” episode (they probably had Rogue and Gambit doing all the Colossus and Banshee stuff, I don’t recall).