The nineties are often considered a golden age for the X-Men. A huge part of that is the creative heights readers saw in the line in 1994 and 1995. In that years, the line saw multiple high points, and this week we’re going to take a look at one of them!
Through the early nineties, linewide crossovers were an annual X-Men event, telling such stories as X-Cutioner’s Song, Fatal Attractions and The Phalanx Covenant. That last one was most notable for launching one of the most lauded X-Men books in the line’s history- Generation X. Though the crossover hit the entire line, including X-Force, X-Factor, Excalibur, Wolverine and Cable, we’re only going to look at the first part, Generation Next, from Uncanny X-Men #316-317 & X-Men #36-37.
The X-Men chapters were by Fabian Nicieza, Andy Kubert, Matt Ryan, Bill Oakley and Digital Chameleon. Meanwhile Uncanny was by Scott Lobdell, Joe Madureira, Terry Austin, Dan Green, Chris Eliopoulos, and Steve Buccellato
When Banshee discovers that the supposed X-Men he finds in the mansion are actually Phalanx simulacrums, it sets him on a cross country journey with a ragtag team of X-Men- himself, the White Queen, Sabretooth and Jubilee. Their mission is to protect the next generation of mutants, a group that Xavier had identified as his next students. Can this quartet stop one of the most powerful enemies the X-Men have ever faced and save the students?
Reading these four issues, it’s easy to see why the Phalanx were the main antagonists of Powers of X last year. Nicieza and Lobdell make them incredibly scary. They’re unsettling, strong, smart and determined. Really, the biggest issue this story has is that it’s so short that it relies on the other chapters to deliver on the promise of what the Phalanx are- especially X-Men #36’s incredibly creepy opening pages (spoiler alert- they don’t).
Beyond that though, this story is packed with great characterization. Banshee had been a non-entity in the X-Men books for years before this, yet in these four issues we see a deeply human yet competent hero. I’ve been a fan of Banshee for years, and I realized it was because this story is one of the first X-Men stories I ever read, even before I was a regular reader. The same goes for each of the Generation X-Kids, who each get a solid spotlight moment so they feel fully formed and ready for the series ahead, and Emma, who makes her shift from antagonist to protagonist here.
The art here is great, but it’s a tonal mismatch that jumps out, especially in the second Uncanny issue. However, this story is a great example of how Joe Mad and Kubert became superstars. Madureira’s characters are extremely bombastic, and his pages are filled with a dynamism that few before or since have had. It’s very easy to see why he inspired so many imitators. Kubert’s pages are intimate even in wider shots, and his take on the Phalanx is incredibly unsettling.
The tonal mismatch is probably the other issue with this story. It’s jarring to go from Lobdell and Madureira’s bombastic actioner, to the tense thriller Nicieza and Kubert created. However, since the latter closes the story out, it definitely ends on a high note, and overall it’s a story worth checking out.
This story is readily available in physical single issues at many local comic stores, and via digital platforms. It’s also available as a part of the recently released X-Men Milestones: Phalanx Covenant which is available in bookstores, comic stores and your favorite digital platforms.
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