Sunday, April 21, 2013

The History of the X-Men in April

UNCANNY X-MEN #495 (2008)
The first post-Messiah CompleX issue with the Xavier Institute once again destroyed, Professor X presumed dead (though not for long) and the X-Men having disbanded, though they’re all still in contact so it seems more like a quick hiatus than anything else, backed up by the plots that unfold here. I was a few months into my tenure at Marvel when this came out, and X-Men editor Nick Lowe was one of the folks from editorial I quickly got along with (especially after he made me host a company-wide “mustache pageant” in front of four dozen people like my second day on the job), so both through talking with him and his office as well as being privy to upcoming plans, I had a pretty good idea of where the X-Men were headed, which altered my reading of issues like these a bit just as starting at Wizard a little over three years earlier had. I really dug Cyclops and Emma Frost’s Savage Land vacation, with Ed Brubaker taking the lead on making Scott Summers a more likable relatable but simultaneously take charge character with a mix of humor and focus; it was a baton passed to him by Grant Morrison and Joss Whedon that he’d in turn hand off to Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen and today Brian Michael Bendis. In the other two subplots, Wolverine takes Colossus and Nightcrawler on a Russian road trip that felt like a throwback a bit to the Claremont days while Angel investigates a freaky time portal to the 60’s in San Francisco that would lead to big, cool changes. Mike Choi and Sonia Oback did the art on this arc, and it’s gorgeous.


UNCANNY X-MEN #439-440 (2003)
By this point, Chuck Austen’s tenure on Uncanny X-Men had gone full-on soap opera tilt, with these two installments of the “She Lies with Angels” arc being a pretty prime example. The story had Husk—Cannonball’s younger sister Paige—bringing Angel home to Kentucky where one of her other siblings, Josh, has gained wings and other similar-to-Warren powers and anti-mutant unrest has cropped up. It ends up being a country version of Rome & Juliet with Josh and the daughter of the mutant-hating sheriff being in love, some of the bigoted good ol’ boys getting high tech weaponry they plan to use to kill all the Guthries, and the X-Men getting caught in the middle. Parallel to this, Paige and the far older Warren have feelings for each other and are trying to find the courage to admit as much. As a dyed in the wool fan of Melrose Place and other such adult melodrama, I didn’t mind this period of X-Men history, though I know others got annoyed that there was a lot of angst and kissing without as much punching and kicking (I’m actually surprised the aforementioned Nick Lowe, who loves angst and kissing, wasn’t editing at this point). Regardless, you had beautiful Salvador Larroca art—with Danny Miki and UDON knocking it out on inks and colors respectively—and he’s a guy who can draw proclamations of love as well as he does big battles.

UNCANNY X-MEN #354 (1998)
I…don’t think I have this issue. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever even read this issue. It was during the Steve Seagle/Joe Kelly period, which Kiel raves about but was one of my bigger blind spots. I’ve tracked down some stuff from this era, but not all, and not this; too bad, looks like a fun one.

UNCANNY X-MEN #299 (1993)
I remember this issue well, coming as it did a couple months post-X-Cutioner’s Song, right before the big issue #300, and just prior to Fatal Attractions. These quiet months between big events are some of my favorites from when I was a kid as it allowed Scott Lobdell to slow down and focus on some of the emotional connections he was making between characters while also ramping up the drama to come. The story kicks off with Forge being called in on an excavation of a crashed Asteroid M and making the discovery that Magneto’s body was not among the wreckage. I basically had started reading X-Men comics regularly only a couple of months earlier, so I had never actually encountered Magneto, what with him being “dead” at the time, so my only knowledge came from trading cards and the like; this seemed like a much bigger deal for me than it likely did to the more seasoned fan trained to expect such resurrections. We also learn more about the Upstarts and the Gamesmaster—more folks I only knew because I had their trading cards—including the introduction of Sabretooth’s son, anti-mutant rabble rouser Graydon Creed. My most vivid memories of this issue, though, are of two characters that appear out of nowhere and then were never even mentioned again for as long as I was collecting regularly through high school: a waitress whom Bishop thinks “seems familiar” and a campaign aide working for Senator Kelley who tips to Jean Grey that he’s a telepath. Only very recently via Marvel Handbooks and the Internet did I learn that the waitress was revealed as Fatale—who?—during around Onslaught when I stopped reading and the aide returned years later during Joe Kelly’s Deadpool run as Noah Dubois.

UNCANNY X-MEN #228 (1988)
Bridging the gap between the end of Fall of the Mutants and the X-Men’s rebirth into the Australian Outback, this is a one issue flashback tale—probably an inventory story—featuring Wolverine and Dazzler helping a bounty hunter character from the Dazzler solo series clear his name. Not much of note aside from Rick Leonardi on fill-in art, always a delight.

UNCANNY X-MEN #168 (1983)
A memorable issue for multiple reasons, first and foremost that it opens with the famous “Professor Xavier is a jerk!” splash page with Kitty Pryde whirling around and pointing her finger at us, as perfectly rendered by Paul Smith. Following the lengthy Brood epic, the X-Men have returned to Earth and met the New Mutants, and since there’s now a team specifically for mutants her age, Professor X wants to bump Kitty down off the adult roster. A pissed off Kitty spend the first half of the issue pouting like any teenager, than discovers and defeats—with Lockheed’s help—a nest of alien Sidrian Hunters, proving her worth and earning a spot back on the X-Men. Wolverine heads off to Japan for his first limited series while the rest of the cast check in with their loved ones; just good, classic Claremont stuff. The last big moment, however, comes on the final page, with the introduction of Madelyne Pryor, an Alaska-bound pilot who looks exactly like the deceased Jean Grey.

UNCANNY X-MEN #110 (1978)
Another seeming inventory issue—or close to it—with another legendary guest artist: Tony DeZuniga. Iron Fist villain Warhawk, a Claremont co-creation, storms the mansion, trapping most of the X-Men in the Danger Room while he goes one-on-one with Wolverine until the others bust free (Warhawk would return years later in a Maverick back-up story drawn by Mark Texeira that I didn’t understand at all when I was 10). There’s some relationship advancement with Wolvie and Jean Grey as well as Banshee and Moira MacTaggert, but mostly a downtime story coming off the original Phoenix Saga. There is one big moment here though: what I believe is the first X-Men baseball game, which would become a tradition in the franchise—and one I daresay we’ve gone too long without. Where’s that Nick Lowe character?