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Wednesday, August 6, 2014
A greatest hits collection of X-Men classics
With a multi-book franchise spanning more than 50 years, picking a “definitive” sampling of X-Men stories is by no means an easy task, so kudos to Panini editor Brady Webb for choosing the sort of material which best represents Marvel’s misfit mutants, and thereby providing the perfect entry point for anyone looking to begin their X-Men reading free from excessive continuity and character baggage.
We start off with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s first issue of the original (later Uncanny) X-Men title from 1963, which introduces Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Angel, Iceman, Professor X and their long-term foe/friend Magneto in a simplistic tale which serves primarily to explain the concept of mutants, an idea which it seems impossible to imagine was not familiar to the majority of comics readers at the time.
Next up is Second Genesis, the story by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum from Giant-Sized X-Men #1 which introduced the “All-New, All-Different” incarnation of the team, including the likes of Storm, Wolverine, Colossus and Nightcrawler, and swiftly propelled the title up the sales charts, to by the time of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s seminal Days of Future Past, also included here, it was a palpable hit.
That story, which formed the inspiration for the latest movie, is not just one of the greatest X-Men stories of all time, but rightly deserves its place as one of the best superhero tales of the past half-century, establishing a dystopian future for the team which will both directly and indirectly affect their actions for years to come. The epithet “classic” just doesn’t do it justice.
Elements from God Loves, Man Kills, one of the earliest Marvel graphic novels, have also turned up in movies, but for the most part this done-in-one story about religious intolerance for mutant-kind was to become a benchmark for all X-Men tales about prejudice and bigotry, and established the way that Homo Superior could be used to allegorically represent various other minorities, be it racial or sexual. It’s a bit preachy at times, but you can’t blame Claremont for trying to put across his moral message in the best way he knew how.
As his 200-odd issue run came to a close, the X-Men title was split into two separate books focusing on different groups of mutants, and the launch issues for both of these fractions are also collected here. There’s the landmark X-Men #1 by Claremont and artist Jim Lee, which sold more than 8.1 million copies and is regarded as the best-selling comic book of all time, and it’s counterpart Uncanny X-Men #281 by Byrne, Lee and Whilce Portacio, which wasn’t quite as successful but still set records in its own right.
Indicative of early-nineties comics in so many ways, being over-written and with every character burdened by unnecessary angst, they set the direction the franchise would take for the best part of a decade, until a Scottish writer known as Grant Morrison was invited on board with (New) X-Men issue #114, and nothing was ever the same again (until the next time!).
Morrison’s opening arc, the three-part E for Extinction, illustrated by fellow Glaswegian Frank Quitely, wiped out the mutant island of Genosha, introduced the surprise villain Cassandra Nova, brought back White Queen Emma Frost, and ultimately kicked aside years of continuity-fests in favour of telling damn good X-Men stories. That seminal story-line is collected here in its entirety, and still stands head and shoulders above all of the other material in this volume with the exception of the iconic Days of Future Past.
This fantastic volume of stand-out X-Men stories is nothing new, featuring as it does issues which have been collected in various other formats over the years, but it does serve as a perfect introduction to the team for newbies, and is proof positive of the strength and flexibility of the series over the past half-century.