So this was a digital graphic novel from one of Amazon’s deep-discount Marvel sales that I got for about $1.99 a while ago and I had been saving it for when I was completely done with my Essential X-Men volumes (and had read what was in between). But I am only up to the first volume of those massive trades, which means that I’m about to read Giant Size X-Men #1 and therefore have a long way to go. Being that this was the last of those Marvel digital trades to read, I said, “What the hell, I’ll work my way through this.”
This collects some of the stories from the 1990 Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor and New Mutants annuals as well as X-Factor #65-70, Uncanny X-Men #278-280, and X-Men #1-3. So that means we’re getting the Apocalypse storyline that doubles as Cable’s origin, The Muire Island Saga, and the three-parter that brought Magneto back as the team’s big bad and kicked off the adjectiveless title. Back in the early Nineties, I owned all of the back half of this and part of the Apocalypse storyline from X-Factor, so this was a reread of some comics that I hadn’t read in at least twenty-five years (and here I will point out that one of the purchases of these books will please Professor Alan–I bought all five editions of X-Men #1 for a grand total of $1.00, which means that I got each issue for less than a quarter).
I won’t go into my whole history with the X-Men, although I will say that I didn’t come into these books until about six months after the last issue in this trade and bought all of the books off the stands until ditching all of them between the July 1993 (where I offloaded X-Force with issue #26) and January 1994 (where I finally stopped reading X-Factor with issue #100). So it was, I think, about two and a half years of X-Men and in that time I did what I did with G.I. Joe back in 1987, which was buy as many recent back issues as I could. The Muir Island Saga was pretty easy to come by (unlike back issues of The X-Tinction Agenda) and since I was interested in what led into the era that I had been reading, I picked them up.
I’m trying to remember what I thought of all of them at the time as well as what I thought of the first few issues of the new X-Men title. I know I probably flipped through them more often to look at the art than to actually read the stories. Here, I read through all of it in the space of an evening–and I admit that I skimmed through some of it–and was disappointed because I was hoping that these would be better than the reputation of the era. Mind you, it’s not on the level of some of the early Image crap I’ve recently read, but at the same time, I was hoping that I would walk away from it saying “Hey, this is actually pretty good.”
At the time I first read them, I was aware that this was the end of the Chris Claremont era of X-Men and had also heard from my friend Chris that Marvel kind of shuffled him off unceremoniously because they wanted the hot creators on the book because hot creators sold books. Louise Simonson had been writing X-Factor up until right before the issues featured in here and Fabian Nicieza was scripting the book during the Muir Island Saga (and would soon be one of the main X-writers). What could have been a pretty good “End of an Era” story or two wound up being a “Let’s clear the decks so we can reset everything for the new fans.” It seems like a lot of the more intricate plots for the teams were more or less brushed aside so that we could get a “familiar” X-Men that the average new comics fan could identify (with Wolverine front and center).
Plus, as much as Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio’s art is still some of the best on the X-books of that era (with apologies to Marc Silvestri, who had a very good run on Uncanny prior to Lee), it bothered me more than I realized that these X-Men weren’t really operating in the real world. With the exception of some establishing shots of the X-Mansion and descriptions that placed it in Westchester County as well as some of the conflict with Apocalypse taking place in Manhattan, everything in these stories took place on Genosha, Muir Island, on Asteroid M, in outer space, or on the Moon. That way, the artists didn’t have to draw backgrounds or just had to draw metal walls? Plus, we see all sorts of futuristic-looking weaponry in these comics, which I might of thought looked cool in 1991 but has not aged well since and looks incredibly tired.
These are some of the best-selling comics of all time and were consistent best-sellers when they came out. I’m not going to question why because I know exactly why and I can see it here. I just think that the most accurate assessment of these comics is that they are what they are–no need to hold them up as “better” in any way because of sales or because time has passed and no need to put them down because of the regrettable purchases we made.
Keep, Sell, Donate, or Trash?
*Keeping only because it’s a digital comic and not taking up actual shelf space. I would recommend at least five different X-Men stories before this one and will say that this is only worth reading if you’re a completist.