The X-Men were not my first love in comics. Hell, they weren’t even my second. Those honors go to GI Joe and Superboy but there’s something different about the X-Men. The X-Men was the first franchise in comics to inspire long-term loyalty. When a new X-Men book gets announced, I get excited. When a long-dead X-Man returns from the grave, I lap up the story eagerly (welcome back Jeannie!). So when my editor and I were talking some initial ideas when I was coming aboard Comicon.com, I pitched a monthly recap of the events of the X-books. She liked the idea, but it unfortunately became a bit unwieldy, so I pitched this alternative idea.
Now, twice a month I’ll be taking a look at X-Men stories from the long history of the franchise, talking about the history behind them, and even a little controversy that accompanied the franchise along the way. Welcome to The Xavier Institute!
In the future, I’ll be taking reader requests for stories, and talk about stories from all across the X-Universe (I’ll definitely be covering Excalibur’s Cross-Time Caper very soon), but I wanted to start with a story personally relevant to me. I watched the X-Men animated series just like everyone, but I actually started reading X-Men regularly with X-Men #72 by Joe Kelly and Carlos Pacheco. However, the franchise didn’t sink it’s teeth in until later that same month when I picked up Uncanny X-Men #353 by Steven T. Seagle and Chris Bachalo.
I mean, look at that cover, and tell me you’re NOT wondering what’s happening in that story. I dare you. So, when Marvel released this collection in March of this year, I had to pick it up, especially because it included multiple issues that I’d missed and struggled to find. It’s rare for me to purchase collections of stories when I already have the single issues, but I loved this story so much the first time, it was worth revisiting.
First of all, yes, this collection is confusingly titled. The story is actually around 20 years old, and the only link it has to today’s X-Men Blue series is that one of the two main plots through the collection features the original five X-Men. Don’t let that put you off though, because I’d be willing to say this is one of the most under appreciated X-Men runs in the franchise’s history.
The first three issues of the collection were stories I personally had never read before. The first, #351, is a single issue story by Seagle and Ed Benes featuring Doctor Cecilia Reyes, who leaves the team at the beginning of the story, has a terrible day at work (which includes saving the life of longtime X-villain Pyro, and secretly patching up Daredevil after a particularly brutal fight), and rejoins the team at the end of the story after getting fired for letting Pyro go. The best thing this story does is shows us that Dr. Reyes has been criminally underused since this story.
The next two stories are a Cyclops and Phoenix adventure (Uncanny #352), and a Wolverine/Sabretooth body swap story (X-Men Unlimited #17). Both are decent enough, but ultimately skippable. The notable thing about #352 is that it had no less than 6 pencillers (which they proudly proclaimed on the cover), and the Unlimited story is a story that we’ve seen elsewhere done better.
The aforementioned #352 is where we get to the story that takes up the rest of the book. At the Xavier Mansion, Rogue is coping with some pretty freaky nightmares, which results in an intense fear of hurting her friends, while Cyclops and Phoenix try to settle into a small Alaskan town for Scott to recover from recent injuries. The two stories interweave through the collection, as Scott and Jean discover there’s something strange happening in this town, and Rogue explores the possibility of a cure for her X-gene.
Like I said before, Seagle’s run on this title is generally underappreciated and forgotten, and that’s a shame. These issues feature a strong story that mixes the soap opera elements and superhero action that makes the X-line so beloved along with some great character work. Jean Grey and Rogue both really shine under Seagle’s guidance. Rogue battles her “curse” and comes to accept it as a part of her identity. Jean looks at her past and embraces it in a way that she never had, officially adopting the Phoenix name and the classic green and gold costume as her own. If you ever have someone try to tell you Jean is not a good character, give them this collection, and see if it changes their mind.
As far as art goes… when Chris Bachalo (with inks throughout by Tim Townsend and Scott Hanna, and colors by several colorists) is drawing the title, it’s fantastic. Though Bachalo opted for a slightly more classic style than his current more experimental work, or even his Generation X work, it’s still just fantastic. Bachalo has long been one of my favorite artists, and his work in these pages are a big reason why.
Meanwhile, the guest artists are a bit of a mixed bag. That’s not to say they’re bad by any means. In Uncanny #357, Dan Norton and Dexter Vines & Scott Hannah step in for an issue. They give us a solid story, focused entirely on the strange happening in Alaska. It’s good, but also pretty standard house style for the era- slightly manga, Joe Mad inspired line work. The last Uncanny X-Men issue (#359) of the collection is half Bachalo, half Ryan Benjamin. Benjamin again is a good artist, but a huge departure from Bachalo. The shifts are jarring, but it’s solid work.
(The collection ends with an annual featuring the X-Men and Fantastic Four. Like the Unlimited story, it’s decent but skippable.)
Should you pick this up? Like I said, this was the story that hooked me on the X-Men for 2 decades and it holds up really well. These are big, soapy, fun X-Men stories that work really well, especially for a lapsed fan. I think the odd numbering actually works, because it would ease a lapsed reader back into the X-Men universe before bringing them back to the modern era.
Well, that’s it for the first edition of this column. If you have any requests for an X-Men story you’d like to see featured in the future, comment below, or reach out to me via Twitter (@brawl2099). Meanwhile, fellow mutants, stay safe in a world that hates and fears you!
X-Men Blue Volume 0 collects Uncanny X-Men (1981) 351-359, X-Men Unlimited (1993) 17, Uncanny X-Men/Fantastic Four Annual 1998, Cerebro’s Guide to the X-Men and is on sale now from Marvel Comics, available in comic and books stores and digitally.