Monday, June 24, 2013

The History of the X-Men in June

UNCANNY X-MEN #497 (2008)
At the very first editorial meeting I got to sit in on at Marvel, all the various editors did slideshow presentations on what were coming up in their particular books with covers, art, and little notes on which characters they’d be using. I’ll never forget X-Men editor Nick Lowe running down the Divided We Stand plans for Uncanny X-Men character-by-character, getting to Angel and, with a big grin, simply saying “he’s going to San Francisco where he’ll have a really good time.” I guess you need to know Nick, but it was all in the tone he said “really good time,” cracking himself up at the idea of Angel just chilling and getting a tan. That’s kind of what this issue is, though, as SF has been transformed into this weird retro hippie paradise where any X-Men who enter get groovy 60’s-style redesigns by Mike Choi and Sonia Oback at the height of their artistic powers and hang out. Some of the mystery behind that whole deal gets explained here, but I just enjoyed the weirdness of it all, as it set the tone for the trippy, socially-aware San Francisco era of the X-Men under Brubaker, Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen.

UNCANNY X-MEN #421 (2003)
If you want an example of why most folks remember Chuck Austen’s stint with the X-Men as perhaps leaning too heavily on the soap opera aspects, this issue gives a pretty good snapshot, with not much action but one character/relationship after another practically begging for the musical sting from Days of Our Lives. As always, a Melrose Place fan like me tended to dig this sort of thing, but there were times even I felt like Austen’s stuff would give Amanda Woodward pause. Over the course of this story alone, Havok comes out of his coma, Havok reunites with Polaris, Polaris proposes to Havok, Havok accepts said proposal, and Havok and Polaris elect to take a leave of absence together, oddly enough with Nightcrawler in tow because he just stepped down as team leader (I personally think a limited series and/or sitcom about Nightcrawler tagging along on Havok and Polaris’ honeymoon would be money in the bank). Elsewhere, Juggernaut pleads with his brother Professor X to help him be a good guy and Nurse Annie confesses her love to the aforementioned now-engaged Havok. At the end, Alpha Flight shows up in crazy battle armor to bring Sammy the Squid Boy back to Canada. Love it or hate it, you had to admire Austen’s willingness to let it all hang out.

UNCANNY X-MEN #356 (1998)
If there’s one period in X-Men history I regret missing out on, it’s when Joe Kelly and Steve Seagle were co-writing the books. I was in high school, not really buying comics, and I missed this era more or less in its entirety. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise, since the run got cut short due to creative differences…nah, I still wish I’d been reading. Kelly and Seagle are both masters of their craft, particularly when it comes to balance, be it between characters and subplot or comedy and drama, showing one reason they’ve become so successful in the animation field. I eventually went back to collect this period, but was only able to do so via eBay and quarter bins, meaning I read it scattershot and out of order, not the optimum experience. This is an issue I particularly liked though. The primary plot deals with the original five X-Men reuniting in Alaska—where Cyclops and Jean Grey have retired to—both to game plan how to search for the missing Professor X and because Scott was worried Jean might be becoming the Phoenix again. I may not have grown up with this quintet as “my” X-Men, but I’m a sucker for the chemistry between them. I like Warren confiding in Jean about his relationship issues with Psylocke; I like Bobby being a bit aloof. I also really enjoy Chris Bachalo’s art in this issue as his progressive style helps breathe life into classic characters.

UNCANNY X-MEN #301 (1993)
I have never read this comic. I was heavy into collecting X-Men in particular in 1993, but for some reason, I never got Uncanny X-Men #300 or the next few issues up until Fatal Attractions. I do remember having no appreciation for John Romita Jr.’s art at the time because it was so different from the smooth Jim Lee/Andy Kubert style I was used to, and not really getting Forge or Mystique. Oh well.

UNCANNY X-MEN #230 (1988)
I don’t remember this issue too well either, but I’m pretty certain I read it. Maybe in an Essential? Not sure. It’s a month after the X-Men moved to Australia in one of the first comics I ever read and it’s a Christmas issue (in the summer). Searching their new home, the team finds a bunch of stolen goods swiped from around the world by the Reavers or whoever. Fortunately, among Longshot’s litany of powers is the ability to know where an object came from by touching it, plus the X-Men just met a teleporter named Gateway, so they make like Santa Claus and return all the goodies. It’s a sweet little story and also a nice spotlight for Longshot, who could be a bit of a cipher, with some slick Marc Silvestri art.

UNCANNY X-MEN #170 (1983)
Classic issue right here. Angel has been captured by the Morlocks and the X-Men have been unable to rescue him. The Morlocks particularly in their early days made for an interesting threat because they weren’t just an opposing team, they were a society, and besides that, they had so many seeming non-combatants mixed in with the dangerous ones and the good guys couldn’t really pick them apart (Leech is a little kid, but he’s also got a potentially lethal power and didn’t know any better than to follow Callisto or Masque). Besides that, they had such a diverse array of powers, from the raw power of Sunder to the poison touch of Plague and everything in between. Recognizing a traditional fight couldn’t be won, two of the X-Men take matters into their own hands, as Kitty Pryde promises Caliban she will live with him if he helps save Storm, then Storm turns around and invokes the challenge of one-on-one combat against Callisto for leadership of the Morlocks. Storm displays a combination of street smarts and ruthlessness in her duel with Callisto, which would get an extremely PG but nonetheless memorable adaptation on the 90’s X-Men cartoon. The great Paul Smith provides the pencils to put the bow on a gem of an issue.

UNCANNY X-MEN #111 (1978)

I believe I have this issue as part of either a Masterworks or Essential that I’m too lazy to go check right now, but I recall the concept and the quintessential Dave Cockrum art and designs even without remembering the full story in detail. Mesmero captures the still-new X-Men and convinces them they’re basically a circus freak show, complete with Colossus as the strong man, Wolverine as the jungle savage, and so on. A guest-starring Beast stumbles on the situation and manages to pull Wolvie out of the spell, with the rest following suit. Another fondly remembered one that has reverberated in homage as well as across media.


Anonymous said...

X-MEN #111 (1978)

So much for the "quintessential Dave Cockrum art" it was penciled by John Byrne.

Ben Morse said...

Mea culpa, friend. The cover was Cockrum and I didn't check my facts.