I think we’ve pretty well established that I am a DC person. I have always been a DC partisan. I think a lot of it has to do with when I really came in to comics – those years in the late 80s especially for a fascinating time for DC where they were dabbling in deconstruction long before it was fashionable. There were new prestige projects coming out it seemed, every month (books like the ones pictured above)– and I would gaze at them longingly in the ads that sat in the back of my Star Trek and Superman books. These were very hit or miss, but they were daring. Vertigo came around and changed everything, sorting all of that sort of thing into one place, and in some ways it feels like it tamed those tendencies. It’s certainly redirected them.
Still, even within the mainstream titles things felt different – like they were growing up. I saw themes and elements in Superman that I didn’t remember being there in the silver age, Batman was more violent, the JLI bickered and were dysfunctional – it all felt like DC was really trying to focus on writing and storytelling in an era that, as we rode into the 90s, seemed increasingly focused on art over a story – with superstars like McFarlane and Liefield creating a house style at Marvel that would eventually migrate over to Image… But never seemed to affect DC.
The point being – I never read X-Men. Even when I was a young kid, picking up Spiderman and Superman comics, I always avoided X-Men. Something about the pointyness of their costumes always bothered me – it’s a crazy aesthetic peeve, but it’s pervasive in the 80s X books. The shoulders of Colossus costume, Nightcrawlers too– Jean Grey’s mask and wolverines whole outfit… So many points you could cut yourself just by looking at them! There was a exception, I do remember finding a copy of the Asgard wars and really enjoying it… But it was an anomaly. I was still by and large, reading DC comics even when this volume fell in my lap. It had the advantage of featuring the New Mutants, which was an idea I really loved. Even though I wasn’t a fan of Marvel and X-Men, I was aware of the distinction between the main team, and the team of students – in fact it would be the gateway for me to enter that universe later on.
Asgard Wars also had the great advantage of introducing me to some of my favorite characters in the X-Men universe – in particular, Kitty’s dragon named Lockheed. Even without knowing much more about him then that particular story, I would be doodling and cartooning him for the next 10 years… Going so far as to have one of my birthday cakes done in the shape of his character. Is it wrong that I was far more amused and intrigued by Lockheed then I was by Kitty? It kind of shows my complete disconnect from X-Men as I was growing up.
The other character that I fell in love with in Asgard Wars was Warlock. He is written and drawn in such a fascinating way throughout this entire story – quirky and funny and unpredictable. I would go on to collect tons of New Mutants later on in my life, always looking to recreate some of that same feeling of fun and whimsy that I got when I first read this book. They never quite found his voice again though. I was always disappointed that no one else quite captured how much fun this character could be and I have never loved him as much as I do in this book.
Still, other than this I was not reading X-Men. I had a friend back in high school, whose name was Tim – he didn’t read any other comics but X-Men… And he had been reading them for probably 10 years or more. He spoke fondly of it and had a real commitment to the series that I just didn’t understand.
It was about this time, the very early 90s, that I finally found myself dabbling. The Jim Lee run had exploded, and the cartoon was right around the corner, paving the way for what is arguably the most recognizable version of these characters since the brown suit Wolverine Claremont Era.
It started, as I mentioned with New Mutants, although at that point they were no longer the New Mutants – so rather it began with X-Force. It wasn’t the first issue, I believe we were somewhere around issue 19… A good jumping on point, as the team changes its roster a bit, changes its costumes, and attempts to go on without its leader. It was a good time for X-force, Fabian Nicieza was in full effect on the book and the next six months would be a fun story arc that gave you a real sense of continuity and a feel for the direction the book would be taking. The growth of the characters also was appealing to me. They had grown from High School kids into College age people. Sam had really grown into himself, and I was really having fun reading characters like Boomer and Rictor.
In the meantime, the X-Men cartoon was taking the community by storm, making the X-Men more popular than ever – and it was enough to suck me in, and was a very simple sidestep from X Force.
The thing is, the X-Men of this era were very superhero oriented – accessible but comparatively vapid. Classic villains would show up, but for no other reason than it was time for them to appear in the book. There were spurious tires to classic characters and storylines – even then I was aware of Clarmont epic run – who wasn’t? But this had really mutated into standard superhero soap opera fare. And that’s okay, but it still lacked that special spark that made my friend Tim such a devotees of this series. That’s not to say that there aren’t great points here – this is the series that took me from a mere interest in Rogue to absolutely loving her, it’s the series that brought us Gambit. And then there’s the white issue – this particular story tears me up every single time. Also coming out around this era was thier attempt to launch a new book to fill the New Mutant’s shaped hole that X-Force’s graduation to College age left in the mutant line of comics. The result was Generation X – a book that I absolutely adored. To this day I feel it got sabotaged by the hiatus caused when Age of Apocalypse started…but I digress…you can read all about that in a short article over here – https://argocitycomics.wordpress.com/2015/04/21/in-defense-of-generation-x/
In recent days I’ve noticed a lot of the wonderful Essential volumes dropping in price – I frequently see them for five dollars, although Carol and Johns recently had a sale with them priced as low as three. I’ve been picking these up at conventions a lot, most recently at Great Lakes Comic Con and decided to take some time and really try to explore this classic Era.
What is fascinating is to encounter some of these storylines for the first time – Silver Samurai and the Brood and the Hellfire club, they all fit better in this period… They are introduced organically rather than the way they feel shoehorned in later on in the series. A lot of those stories I remember from the cartoon, I’m finally experiencing the source material – indeed, I’m coming in right around the time when my favorite little guy Lockheed was introduced! There is a strong continuity here, one of the things that appealed to me so very much about the Superman comics during the Byrne and Ordway Era. It seems like it would be hard to just drop in to this series though, and it’s one of the reasons I think I’ve always found it so inaccessible – it takes a commitment to read the stuff.
There is a better understanding of these characters to be had though, with a lot that I expected as well as some character development perhaps I hadn’t expected. Cyclops, who I generally find insufferable, is far more interesting in these stories – there is more to him than the stuffed shirt we get so used to in the 90s Era. It’s interesting to see characters like Yukio The Ronin show up here. I know her from the early Phalanx prologue with Storm, it was an issue I originally bored because I thought I saw Jubilee on the cover. You can hardly blame me for making this mistake can you? I mean take a look below at the image of the way Yukio is drawn in this issue compare it to how she is drawn in essentials number four. I’ll chop them up and put them side-by side.
I swear she has de-aged… Honestly, I like the way Paul Smith draws her better – there is more character on her face, she’s not as pretty, but still has that impish Full-of-life attitude and it’s far more evident in her face and body language. I’m looking at that later issue now, and she still looks like Jubilee to me.
As I read on, it occurs to me to wonder if the success of X-Men during this period is about Claremont or about how well they fit into the 80s. Kitty is a quintessential 80s girl. I’m not even sure what it is about her, she’s not a stereotype but everything about her screams 1980s – her posture, the body of her hair (no Aqua net, not high or teased or anything like that, just the body and shape), The way she carries herself, her drive and her attitude – the same is very true of Jubilee, who is a quintessential 90s slacker girl. The problem with these characters however is that they root themselves or the stories and the team in that particular time frame. Still, they work so well in that time frame. More then any other era, Wolverine’s cowboy hat looks right at home here, cyclops is large glasses work better here, The technology juxtaposes better against the warm wood furnishings of the 80s mansion and it feels more fantastic… a period before high-technology became commonplace in our lives.
These days it seems like X-Men bounces between trying to be relevant, and trying to be familiar to those who have only seen the films. There are still fun periods, in particular I was enjoying the run about eight years ago where things have kind of reverted to a simpler adventure format – coming out of the Grant Morrison run. It was fun, and simpler and we were seeing the best elements of the best costumes rolled into modern interpretations.
Today, it seems we have gone in the other direction – that continuity that I spoke of earlier? Today it’s wound so tightly across the titles in the series, that much like the avengers books, it becomes insular and difficult to drop in and out of. Over the years, we’ve picked up so many different characters along the way that it feels like they need to shoehorn them all into the series at some point or another as well focusing on a cohesive team that works well together and has chemistry. It’s hard for me to get into the X-Men comics of today.
Perhaps that’s why I’m looking to the past.