Finishing up the X-Men

At one point in my collecting, I started buying Marvel’s Essential volumes of the X-Men. It started with a couple of the Uncanny X-Men volumes, moved on to the Classic X-Men, and I eventually wound up having every storyline from X-Men #1 in 1963 all the way up to the end of the Inferno crossover. This includes the first two volumes of The Essential X-Factor as well. As you know, if you’ve been reading this blog long enough, I made my way through all of them and have decided to keep them on my bookshelves. But once I reached the end of those trades, I had a problem: there was more out there.

There certainly were more Essential X-Men and X-Factor volumes, and with the exception of books that were included in those trades, I had completely ignored The New Mutants (something I might go back and correct one day via Marvel Unlimited). But the last few volumes of each are incredibly hard to find and tend to be really expensive on eBay. My guess is that they were published in the waning days of the Essentials line and were under-printed (whereas the first few volumes are all over discount trade bins). I decided that I was going to put those trades on my want list, get them, and then finish this reading project with the very last Chris Claremont issue.

What changed my mind was the “fill a shortbox” sale last Thanksgiving, where in addition to a significant number of Dreadstar comics, I picked up a TON of post-Inferno X-Factor issues (most of which are in pretty poor condition), including two of the Whilce Portacio books that were wall books back in the day. Plus, there was a beat-up copy of Uncanny X-Men #275. I also decided to go ahead and finally buy a subscription to Marvel Unlimited, and once I finished up my #RomanceComicsMonth obligations for 2023, I dove into the X-Factor pile, thinking I was going to be able to supplement with Marvel Unlimited.

It didn’t exactly work that way. Marvel Unlimited has all of X-Factor up until the end of Inferno, but there’s a huge gap between Inferno and The X-Tinction Agenda. This isn’t the case with Uncanny, which sees every single issue show up on the platform. This meant that I had a couple of one-issue gaps in my reading but at this point, I didn’t really care that much and I figured that I would use context clues to discern what I’d missed. Oh, and I should say that with the exception of “Days of Future Present”, I skipped the annuals. I just wasn’t very interested in chapters of The Evolutionary War or Atlantis Attacks or the smaller crossover events of 1990.

In reading, I followed a pattern similar to what I’d been doing when I was reading the Essential volumes. I started with one book and when I hit an intersection point or a book referenced something that was on my list and hadn’t read yet, I went back and read the other book or books to catch up. It was a lot of flipping back and forth with physical and digital copies, but that was very much worth it.

Now, usually what I do is give a rundown of each issue and what I thought of it, but there’s a couple of years’ worth of books here and only a handful of them are actually on my “Uncollecting” list. So I thought I would just go through some observations and opinions.

X-Men in Space is “meh” no matter who writes or draws it. I mean, in general, I’m not the biggest fan of Earthbound teams going off-planet. Granted, I haven’t read enough Avengers or Justice League comics to change my mind here but when it comes to the X-Men or the Titans, the times when they’re in outer space and fighting a civil war on another planet is where they lose me a little bit. In this case, X-Factor has the “Judgment War” storyline where the Celestials grab the sentient ship that is the team’s HQ and whisk all of them off to a glaxy far, far away to fight in a civil war on another planet. We learn that Ship, whom X-Factor had taken from Apocalypse, was actually created by the Celestials; we also see that Jean Grey seems to be developing some sort of multiple personality disorder as she comes to terms with the fact that she seems to have remnants of Phoenix and Madelyne Pryor buried somewhere in her psyche. Jean’s struggle was probably the most interesting thing out of all of this and it seems to fade away as the book goes on. The Judgment War itself? Well, it’s not very remarkable. Paul Smith returns to the X-books to pencil most of it and it certainly looks great in places, and Louise Simonson’s writing was certainly entertaining, but it was all utlimately disposable and I pretty much forgot what had happened. In fact, with the exception of a cameo by Professor X (in space with the Shi’ar) and Ship becoming an enormous building on the tip of Manhattan, there’s not much to affect the team in here.

Then you have the prime Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio issues of Uncanny and X-Factor. Lee and Claremont take the X-Men to fight the Skrulls in space and eventually bring Professor X back home (and props to Claremont for keeping Xavier out of the title for the better part of four or five years … you don’t see that often these days). In X-Factor, Apocalypse comes after Ship and injects Nathan Summers with a techno virus so that he could eventually become Cable in the future (and I believe that Askani is a future Rachel Summers? I stopped reading X-Men books before that happened). It all certainly looks nice, but something is really lost when they’re fighting aliens and such. It’s no wonder Lee went on to do an intergalactic civil war pastiche with WildC.A.T.S. a few years later.

The Australian Outback era of X-Men is one of my least favorites. I think that overall, my least favorite era of X-Men is most of the beginning. Those early issues weren’t my favorite and a number of the Roy Thomas-penned stories just didn’t work for me. But the Uncanny era’s lowest point has to be this Australian Outback era. The team remains in disarray following “The Fall of the Mutants”, “Inferno” is a quality crossover, and there’s a couple of fun one-and-done issues (#’s 244-245 to be precise), but overall the book meanders until the team is pushed through the Siege Perilous and we have some very disparate stories up until “The X-Tinction Agenda”.

Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio brought life back to these books, but weren’t there as much as I thought they were. So I started reading X-Men right around the time both of these artists left for Image. In fact, I think that my first two issues of X-Men and Uncanny X-Men were these two artists’ last. I worked on buying back issues of each of their runs, but the biggest holes in my collection were always from this year or so of reading. If an issue came out after Inferno but before X-Men #1, it was either hard to find or was a wall book. In fact, I paid $25.00 for a first print of Uncanny X-Men #248 back in the Nineties (and sold it in a lot for much less years later), but never got my hands on anything else aside from paying prime prices for every chapter of “The X-Tinction Agenda”. As a result (and because he did most of the covers), I was under the impression that Jim Lee was the steady penciller on Uncanny X-Men starting with the “Acts of Vengeance” issues. But his “run” is very staccato, with artists like Marc Silvestri (who was the regular artist before him), Kieron Dwyer, Bill Jaaska, Andy Kubert, Michael Collins, Whilce Portacio, and Paul Smith doingthe art chores. In fact, between issues #255 (the start of the “Acts of Vengeance” stories) and #280 (the end of “The Muir Island Saga” that sets up X-Men #1), Lee only pencils 13 issues while doing the cover for 18 of them. Maybe I had a false memory of him doing as much work as John Byrne or Marc Silvestri had done on the book. And while Portacio would do about a year’s worth of Uncanny before leaving for Image, he only did seven issues of X-Factor (and I get the feeling that Louise Simonson was unceremoniously dumped off the book at this point, although she would go over to the Superman books soon after).

I guess that they made enough of an impact in their short time for people to take notice, and I can say that their art is refreshing, especially that of Lee, who wound up being my favorite of all of the eventual Image founders (even though I bought more issues of Spawn than any other Image book). Nothing against Silvestri’s art, mind you, but the change was something I welcomed. But …

The artists were morphing the book into what they wanted made it less appealing. By the end of X-Factor’s first iteration, the “old guard” of writers and artists is completely gone and Lee and Portacio–and later, Fabian Nicieza–are on the writing chores. Rob Liefeld had basically taken over New Mutants and morphed it into X-Force. I guess Chris Claremont might have had enough clout to stick around a little longer, but even then I could tell that certain story elements seemed to be catered to the artist. I’d have to do some more research into Psylocke’s race switch/brain swap, but by the time we get to “The X-Tinction Agenda”, the (to borrow a phrase from Jon Wilson) “All The Pouches” Nineties is starting to form. Genosha is an interesting concept, but not one that I particular cared about. And how did all of this cybernetic technology suddenly come about when we were spending a lot of time with demons and in the Outback just a year earlier? Considering that half of these guys hated to draw backgrounds, having everything be special forces/quasi-futuristic/underground bunker headquarters helps them? I don’t know. All I can say is that as much as I liked a number of these stories, some of them felt like “So-and-so likes to draw X, so let’s make the setting Y.” Or maybe I realized that because I’ve got 30 years of hindsight on the founding of Image?

Really, the coming of Image and the way the books just turned to cater to the artists’ whims left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, especially when it came to those last few issues of X-Factor and Uncanny before the big X-Men #1 book. The way that Claremont and Lee moved the pieces into place in Uncanny wasn’t as jarring as X-Factor, though. At least in Uncanny, you had the team go through the Siege Perilous and therefore get completely lost. Yes, it was a little bit of a cheat to have that be the reason certain female characters’ appearances change, but at least there’s some sort of plot logic. When it comes to X-Factor, the book meanders a little and then all of the sudden the “family” aspect that had been building is shuffled off and everything’s cybernetic? And everyone has new uniforms? It’s all very … well, jarring.

If I have a favorite era/run of the book, it’s much of the late 1970s and early to mid-1980s. Uncanny kind of lost me around The Fall of the Mutants; X-Factor went a little bit longer because of the lead-up to Inferno (and the Jean Grey of it all). So the nice part about this particular part of the run was that with the exception of the couple of bucks I put down for issues in quarter bins, it was all part of my monthly Marvel Unlimited subscription. That makes comics that you’re not too thrilled about go down easier.

Keep, Sell, Donate, or Trash?

Donate or most likely trash the physical copies (they’re in fair to poor condition).

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