The Xavier Institute: A Different Sort of Leadership Test In X-Men Unlimited #1

by Tony Thornley

Through the history of the X-Men many characters have held the role of team leader. However, three characters in particular stand ahead of the pack and in X-Men Unlimited #1 the three of them were thrust together in extreme circumstances.

The X-Men line was at its peak in 1993, with the best selling series in comics, the animated series lighting Saturday mornings on fire and one of the most successful toylines of the 1990’s. The 90’s also was an interesting time in the comics industry as the collectors boom (and soon to be bust) pushed publishers to maximize their output, and provide a rigid publishing structure. That presented a unique problem- the fifth week.

Though you might barely notice it today, once a quarter, there are five Wednesdays a month. Today publishers typically fill those weeks with annuals, anthology specials, or significant issues. However in the 90’s multiple ongoing series were launched by both Marvel and DC to fill that gap, and for the X-Men line, it was X-Men Unlimited. Though the series eventually descended into irrelevance, the earliest issues are some of the best and more significant X-Men stories of the 1990’s, and it all started with this issue by Scott Lobdell, Charis Bachalo, Dan Panosian, Glynnis Wein, and Chris Eliopoulos.

After a mission to the Savage Land, Cyclops, Storm and Professor X crash in Antarctica after a violent electrical storm. The trio quickly find themselves in a battle for survival against their injuries and the elements. However, it becomes apparent that their crash was no accident and they’ve been pulled into a dangerous game…

This story has two sides. When it’s focused on Cyclops, Xavier and Storm, it’s an excellent read. Lobdell knows how to get into each of their heads, and presents their relationship as the core and heart of not just the story but the X-Men as a whole. Their challenge is harrowing and it makes for an intense read. Thankfully the majority of the issue is focused on them, giving each stalwart X-Man a great spotlight, but also a fantastic spotlight on their relationships.

On the downside is the antagonist- Sienna Blaze. If you said “who” I don’t blame you. She was an overpowered Jubilee knock-off with the vague power of controlling the electromagnetic aura of the planet. Even worse, she was a member of the Upstarts, probably the worst example of a 90’s plotline that dragged too long and went nowhere. So of course, her presence on the page was always a drag.

This is Bachalo’s first X-Men work, so the issue is worth checking out just for that. Though it falls a bit into 90’s Marvel House Style, it’s still a fantastic looking issue. His character work is emotional, his layouts do a fantastic job at telling the story, and we see glimmers of the superstar that he would become with Generation X not long after. Panosian’s inks are a little heavy, which does take away from Bachalo’s unique style a little, but overall, it’s one of the artistically best single issues of X-Men of this era.

The 1990’s were dominated by the X-Men, and revisiting this issue is a perfect example of why. It’s an excellent single issue story, and a prime example of what the X-Men can be at their creative peak.

This story may be available in physical single issues at many local comic stores (I got a copy myself right as the pandemic started!), and via digital platforms. It’s also collected in X-Men Fatal Attractions Book 1 which is available in bookstores, comic stores and your favorite digital platforms.

We’d like to ask, on behalf of our friends and colleagues that own and are employed by comic shops, that you first try to get these books at your local shop. This is a very uncertain time for owners, employees, and their families. Show some love for your community and friends by buying from your regular shop when possible and safe.

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