Waiting for the trade – X-men

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
X-Men Visionaries: Jim Less
by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee
Collects Uncanny X-men 248, 256-258, 268-269 and 273-277 and Classic X-men 39
Why I Bought This: So several months ago DC was hyping the hell out of the New 52 and the preview pages for Justice League by Jim Lee looked pretty damn amazing. Knowing I was going to wait for the trade on JLA meant I had six months before I could pick it up so I decided I wanted something by Jim Lee in the interim. The two most obvious choices were either X-Men or Fantastic Four Heroes Reborn, but having purchased the terrible Captain American Heroes Reborn trade in the wake of the awesomeness of last year’s movie, I decided to go with X-men. Plus the back cover did promise both a famous Cap story and a Savage Land story I had never read before as I dropped X-men in my original collecting days right around the time Jim Lee took over so most of this is actually new to me. Those preview pages must have been damn good because this is one of the rare trades I paid full price for from my local comic shop.

The Plot – As you can see in the issue list this collection is 11 non-sequential issues from two year period, taking what I guess the editors fee is the best of Lee’s art from his Uncanny before Marvel launched the second X-men title for him.
Issue 248 – The X-men are living in Australia (this was their status quo for much of the late 80s) when Nanny and Orphan Maker (a pair of minor villains who plagued the various X-books at this time and were terribly lame in every conceivable way) show up in hopes of regressing the X-men into children. They manage to do this to Havok, Dazzler and Psylocke before the other X-men stop them but as Havok is coming to his senses he fires a plasma bolt at Nanny’s UFO and accidentally kills Storm.
Issue 256 – 258. So in-between the last story and this one all of the X-men except Wolverine jumped into a magic crystal that would allow them to be reborn with new lives because they were afraid of another group of lame villains, this time the Reavers. Wolverine was later crucified by the Reavers and saved by new character Jubilee. In this story Wolverine and Jubilee are traveling to Madripoor, where by coincidence Psylocke is reborn as purple-haired Japanese ninja (she had previously been a pink-haired British chick). Psylocke is found by the Hand who sell her to the Mandarin and she becomes his bodyguard. This eventually leads to a battle with Wolverine and ultimately she regains her memories and frees herself from the Mandarin’s influence.
Issue 268 – In World War II Wolverine (pre-metal claws) and Captain America meet for the first time in Madripoor, where they thwart a Nazi/Hydra kidnapping of Black Widow back when she was a child.
Issue 269 – Rogue is reborn as both herself and Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers, whose memories and powers she had permanently absorbed when she was a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants) back in Australia where the Reavers have taken over the X-men’s a brief three-way battle ensues since Marvel holds a bit of grudge, until Rogue uses Gateway to teleport to the Savage Land. Once there Rogue loses her powers. Several weeks pass before Marvel tracks her down, and she is looking rather undead since there is not enough life-force between them to support two people. Ms. Marvel is about to win until Magneto intervenes and reintegrates them into one being with Rogue as the survivor.
Issue 273 – In the aftermath of the X-tinction Agenda crossover the leaders of the various X-teams are discussing which of them should take possession of the X-mansion, when Lila Cheney arrives and teleports the X-men to Shi’ar space to help Professor X, who hadn’t appeared since his death/space cloning/marriage in issue 200.
Issue 274 – Magneto and Rogue (still sans powers) are falling for each other. They team up with Kazar and SHIELD to try and prevent Zaldaline, who has stolen Polaris’ magnetic powers, from conquering the Savage Land.
Issue 275 – double sized issue sees a pair of big battles as the X-men battle Deathbird and the Imperial Guard as Deathbird has usurped the throne from Lilandra, wife of Professor X. Simultaneously back on Earth we see the conclusion of the Savage Land team-up with Magneto killing Zaldaline much to Rogue’s disappointment and renouncing his face-turn from five years earlier. In the cliffhanger The X-men defeat Deathbird but then in the party that follows Jubilee and Gambit witness Professor X being evil.
Issue 276 – 277. More space intrigue that ultimately ends with Professor X and few others revealed to be Skrulls before the X-men set things right and restore Lilandra to the throne.
Classic X-men 39 – In the early days of the second X-men team Storm inadvertently slights a homeless mutant with energy projection powers. He follows her to the X-mansion and stalemates her, Wolverine and Colossus forcing her to choose which of her friends he will kill. She picks Wolvie knowing his agility and healing factor will save him, but in the aftermath of victory Wolvie’s feelings are still hurt.
Critical Thoughts: The stories here are mixed bag, some are good but some terrible. None are truly great; although I should preface that by saying I’m not much of an X-man fan to begin with. The art however is as good as you’d expect a Jim Lee volume to be.
The Nanny store is terrible and I assume must be Lee’s first work on Uncanny since I can’t think of any other reason to include it and chronologically it’s a lot further apart than the others in the volume.
The Psylocke story is the last story in this volume I had read before in real time. Psylocke greatly benefits from this rebirth, becoming my favorite of all the X-men afterwards. Claremont’s writing is a lot wordier than what we see nowadays and this story with its brainwashing is heavy on internal monologue (the Nanny story has the same problem). I guess what I’m saying is the journey isn’t as good as the destination. The end result of purple-haired ninja Psylocke is a high point for the character (and how Lee draws her as a ninja is the epitome of 90’s comic cool) but how we get there isn’t as interesting to me. It probably doesn’t help that this is the third time I’ve read this story in 18 months as I have both an Essential X-men and an Exiles trade I bought last year that included this story as well. Also Psylocke is presented as this A-list fighter capable of taking down Wolverine in this story, and the description of her skills is the best part of the writing here, but then in future stories she’s never presented at the A-list elite Cap-Wolvie fighting level ever again.
The Cap story was an enjoyable one-shot and Jim Lee draws a damn fine Captain America. Other than the inexplicable aging that placing Black Widow in World War II causes, it’s not exactly treading new ground as I’ve seen dozens of Cap flashback missions in World War II and they’re all basically the same type of story, but I still liked it well enough.
The Rogue story is more overly-wordy psychobabble from Claremont, although the Magneto reveal at the end is another nice splash page by Lee. Of course why Magneto has a machine that can integrate two life-forces into one just lying around is never explained.
Issue 273 has no reason to be in this collection. It’s a talky epilogue to a crossover not in this collection. You could easily include the final page teleport or an issue note and go straight to 274.
The Savage Land story is mostly good and not in the way I expected. Usually the Savage Land setting is for fun stories of little consequence involving some hero fighting dinosaurs or some other monster like Terminus or Gog. This one is narrated by Magneto, and here Claremont’s emphasis on internal monologues is a benefit because Magneto is one of the most nuanced villains in all of comics. The moment where he walks away from Rogue and renounces Xavier’s path is the dramatic high point of this collect. Plus Lee’s art really shines throughout every panel of this story. If there is a downside it’s that Zaldaline doesn’t have the heft to be considered the villain that is going to trouble Magneto (and his allies) or allegedly conquer/destroy the world if this stand against her fails (which is the alleged rationale for why Nick Fury and SHIELD are down there helping out).
The space story is okay. I’m not all that interested the Shi’ar monarchy, but the story handles it plot twists well enough and newer X-men Jubilee and Gambit are given some nice moments to shine. Actually I would say Jubilee is a major highlight every time she appears. These are her earliest appearances and Claremont gives her dialogue a fun rhythm that differs from the rest of the cast. It’s easy to see why she became so popular around this time period (and make no mistake Jubilee was popular as she was prominently featured in the first X-men cartoon, the Marvel versus DC crossover and any other side project Marvel had in this era).
The Classic X-men story is average quality for a back-up. It is included because it is the first time Lee drew the X-men. There’s also a cover gallery of stories not reprinted some of which look quite nice.
One other note you can tell this is the 90s by the last two Uncanny stories because everyone has big guns. Rogue loses her powers? Give her an over-sized gun. Lila Cheney the rock star who doesn’t participate in missions? Give her some Shi’ar ordinance. Kazar, the primitive Tarzan-ish dinosaur fighter who in every other appearance since the 1960s uses a knife or a spear? Throw that man an automatic weapon that would make Rambo blush. I think you get the point.
Grade: If you are buying this for the artwork, it definitely delivers on that front and if that’s all you want give this an A and move on. For me even if I’m buying for the art I expect the story to deliver too—it’s why my flirtation with Image in the 90s lasted less than a year. Story wise you’re getting a good Magneto story, a decent Cap one-shot and a historically significant Psylocke story; plus a bunch of lesser material. Let’s call it a B- in deference to the fact that even the bad stories look good; but this took me months to read because in the early chapters I’d put it down and not be tempted to pick it back up for a month or more at a stretch, it really didn’t get rolling until the Savage Land story at the end.