I took a break from my X-Men read-through for a little bit so that I could focus on some of the smaller trades that I had as well as some books and newer stuff I got for Christmas, which seems to be the way to go with these read-through projects (see also: Titans, Star Trek, and Starman). I’m also now into the period of X-Essentials where I have to “double fist” them in order to keep up with continuity, as I read the X-Factor Essential alongside the sixth X-Men volume.
Okay, there’s no actual requirement to read them side-by-side, but since I did that with the Wolverine miniseries and the first issue of Alpha Flight, I thought it would be fun to do it with X-Factor, especially since the last three Essentials that I own (Volume 6, 7, 8) contain three mutant crossovers: The Mutant Massacre, The Fall of the Mutants, and Inferno. So it’s kind of cool to keep things in continuity, especially since in the early days of the X-Factor book, even the X-Men did not know the connection between their original incarnation and what appeared to be a mutant-hunting team.
Let’s talk about X-Factor for a moment. This was a series that I read mostly in its early Nineties incarnation, which was the post X-Men #1 era that starred Havok and Polaris after the original members of the team had gone back to the main titles. Beyond crossover issues that I’d picked up here and there and the occasional historical recap in places like Wizard, I didn’t have much experience with the original incarnation. The first Essential volume takes us through the first year and a half or so worth of stories, including the issues of Avengers and Fantastic Four where the pod containing Jean Grey was discovered and resurrected and issues of Thor that crossed over as well. Beyond those events are the aforementioned Mutant Massacre as well as two key moments that set up stories that would happen up to two years down the line: Angel losing his wings and the end of Scott Summers’ marriage.
At one point, I’d owned X-Factor #1, so I remember how Scott left Maddie to be part of the team early on and that would eventually lead into Inferno a few years later. There are mentions of Mr. Sinister in this book and the main X-Men book, but he hasn’t appeared yet, and by the end of this Essential volume, she’s completely disappeared. As for Angel, I remember the character of Archangel but had forgotten that the road to his his becoming a horseman of Apocalypse was longer than just an issue or two (i.e., it didn’t all happen in The Fall of the Mutants). Speaking of Apocalypse, he gets introduced early and is a great villain. I mentioned over in the Titans recap I did recently that one of the issues that Marv Wolfman was having in the post-Brother Blood story era was the villains. Wildebeest is the only one who kind of clicks and even then his/their purpose will change over the title’s run. Here, Bob Layton and Louise Simonson have a serious threat who looks menacing and as he goes around “collecting” his horsemen, we have some great villain moments and I can see how he was a substantial threat throughout the run.
The only drawback to this volume is that the first few issues are a little bit of a slog, and the series doesn’t really start to find its footing until Louise Simonson fully takes over. The artwork is consistent throughout the title–Jackson (Butch) Guice is outstanding in this era and would later go to do some superb Flash and Superman work–and if you can endure the first five or six comics, you’re in for a treat once it hits its stride.
Now, as for the X-Men, they’re still firing on all cylinders with Chris Claremont doing his thing with a number of really good artists. Most of the artwork is by John Romita Jr. whom I’ve never been a huge fan of, but I found his artwork to be dynamic and outstanding. Maybe it was because it was earlier in his career or because of whom was inking him, but it didn’t have the scratchiness of his 1990s Uncanny run, which turned me off. Claremont also works with Art Adams and we see some early work by eventual X-artist and Image Comics founder Marc Silvestri (whom I’ve always associated with a meandering run of the book between Inferno and Acts of Vengeance, but I know that’s not entirely the case). And there’s three issues drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith: Life-Death and Life-Death II and the solo Wolverine issue (#204). It’s nice to remember a time when Wolverine was very popular but not as ubiquitous and this particular story packs a real punch.
Storm’s storyline is one of the highlights, too, as she loses her powers but remains team leader, and much like Angel’s storyline over in X-Factor, I had forgotten how long she was without her powers. In fact, I’m not sure when and how she gets them back (and don’t tell me … I want to find out for myself). I’m sure that we could parse out the good, bad, and problematic about how Claremont treated Storm, and we could also parse out the good, bad, and problematic of Claremont’s entire run, but I’m enjoying her arc so much. The same can be said with Rachel Summers, aka Phoenix, who I think is one of my favorite characters out of all of the X-Men (next to Kitty Pryde who’s also a fave). Her story has also been way more organic than I thought it was … which I guess is what happens when you learn about a character through OHOTMU or Wikipedia.
Btw, one nice thing about reading the X-Men volume and the X-Factor volume at the same time is that the Mutant Massacre–a great crossover–is featured in both, so when you read all of the issues in one, you can skip over them in the other and finish more quickly.
These Essentials are largely out of print and might be found in a few cheap trade bins or shelves, so you might not be able to get them; however, there are Epic collections or Marvel Unlimited and they’re certainly worth making their way through.
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