Saturday, April 2, 2011
On April 1, 2011 the X-Men anime by Madhouse premiered in Japan on Animax. In honor of the new anime series, I'll be doing this list of my top ten favorite X-Men comic book stories!
10. Magik #1-4
A four-issue limited series, written by Chris Claremont, straight from the pages of the X-Men. The focus here is on Colossus aka Peter Rasputin's little sister, Illyana. Illyana Nikolievna Rasputin, like her older brother, is a mutant herself with the ability to control teleportational light discs. This enables her to travel across vast distances, but only by first using the demonic alternate universe of Limbo as the way-station between one destination to another.
Illyana is kidnapped by the demon-lord Belasco who is the ruler of the Limbo dimension to which she is spirited away. For some reason John Buscema's pencils always evoke a terrifying evil when it comes to any underworld, be it Mephisto in the pages of Silver Surfer or here with Belasco and these alternative mirror-versions of the X-Men. Some like Storm and Shadowcat would help to train the girl to fight Belasco with both sorcery and swordplay. Others such as Nightcrawler, and eventually even Shadowcat herself, were possessed by demonic forms which Illyana would eventually have to combat and slay.
This mini-series is one of the earliest X-Men related mini-series I ever read, thanks to a stack of comics given to me by my Aunt. (Thanks, Aunt Debbie!) The early exposure to the "Darkchild" would make her one of my favorite X-Men characters, who after successfully taking over Limbo from its former ruler Belasco went by the name Magik and joined the New Mutants.
9. X-Men Children of the Atom #1-6
The mood and tone of this 1999 mini-series feels as if it was crafted to tie-in to the soon to be released X-Men feature film. The realistic tone of the hate and fear of mutant-kind never felt more down to earth to me than in these six issues. Joe Casey constructs a well-crafted modern day retelling of Xavier's first encounters with his original students as well as his partnership with FBI agent Fred Duncan.
The pencils and painted covers by Steve Rude in the first 3 issues are a pleasure to behold. By issue #4 Paul Smith takes over the art duties fairly seamlessly. Unfortunately for the reader, when Essad Ribic takes over for the final two issues in the mini-series, it is a bit more jarring.
Although Magneto remains in the background rather than the forefront of the story, it only serves to strengthen his carefully placed character. You have to admire the honesty of his single-mindedness in dealing with those who threaten his species' existence.
Of course, I am partial to the original line-up of the X-Men: the slim and future leader of the team Cyclops, the athletic yet insightful Beast, the youthful jokester Iceman, the classic daring do-gooder the Angel and the telepathic prodigy Marvel Girl, in this story that serves as a prequel of sorts to Lee and Kirby's X-Men #1.
8. Uncanny X-Men #175
A special Anniversary issue written by long-time X-scribe,Chris Claremont, that would tout the return of one of the X-Men's greatest foes, The Dark Phoenix. As is apt of comics, what you see on the cover is not always what you would get. However, the bait and switch in this issue doesn't make you like the story or art by Paul Smith and John Romita Jr any less.
Cyclops' status as master tactician of the team comes into full play because Jason Wyndguard aka Mastermind has crafted an illusion of the first X-Man so that he appears as The Dark Phoenix to the rest of the current team.
This pits Cyclops against a very violent version of Storm (now with Mohawk!), the German acrobat with the demon-like appearance, Nightcrawler, the team's metallic Russian strongman, Colossus, the youngest member of the team, the phasing, tech-savvy Shadowcat, the southern belle whose touch can drain mutant powers, Rogue, and finally the ol' Canucklehead himself, Wolverine.
Cyclops certainly hasn't lost his touch. He manages to not only defeat most of the X-Men in an elaborate Danger Room simulation, but also convince them of MasterMind's interference by forging a mental psi-link to communicate with the rest of the X-Men.
7. Uncanny X-Men #475-486
"The Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire" spun out of the resolution of a long running subplot in the X-Mythos. Whereas some, such as myself, thought the identity of the third Summer's brother (the first two being Cyclops and Havok) had been resolved once the character Adam-X the X-Treme was introduced in the early 90's, apparently this wasn't good enough and the character of Vulcan or Gabriel Summers is created by 2006.
I'm not a big fan of Deadly Genesis, but the year-long space epic that follows Vulcan's path of destruction is right up my alley. Professor X forms a team to track down Vulcan before he reaches the Shi'ar Empire to exact his revenge. The team is made up of Havok aka Alex Summers, Polaris aka Lorna Dane, Nightcrawler aka Kurt Wagner, Rachel Summers aka Marvel Girl, and Warpath aka James Proudstar. They are quickly joined with one of the missing link X-Men that might have some chance of reaching out to the revenged-crazed Vulcan, the adaptive mutant called Darwin.
With Vulcan, writer Ed Brubaker, really created a strong wicked persona on par with the X-Men's greatest villain Magneto. His off-beat romance with the evil Deathbird seemed to be a match made in hell. The series culminates with a wedding between the two that turns into an all-out battle.
The X-Men, Lilandra and Starjammers face off against Vulcan, D'Ken and the Imperial Guard. By the end of the battle Vulcan has turned on D'Ken, obliterating him out of existence, and through his marriage to Deathbird proclaims himself the Emperor of the Shi'ar Imperium.
6. Pryde and Wisdom #1-3
Kitty Pryde is one of my favorite X-Men characters. Believe it or not, one of the diamonds in the rough of 90's comics, is writer Warren Ellis' run on British X-team Excalibur, of which Kitty was a founding member.
Spinning out of that run is a three issue mini-series that focuses on Kitty and her current boyfriend and teammate of the day, Pete Wisdom. We get to learn a good deal about Wisdom through the eyes of Kitty as she meets the man's family for the first time. It was a sweet relationship that probably wasn't destined to last (but I enjoyed it) and the book was the zenith of the two's partnership as heroes and lovers.
This featured some early pencil work from Terry Dodson, before he became attached to more well-known titles such as Spider-Man or the current day Uncanny X-Men. There is a bit that pokes some fun at the expense of the character John Constantine from the DC/Vertigo Comics' series Hellblazer.
While Wisdom's reputation as a super-spy is often played up it's nice to also see his mutant ability to throw 'hot knives' of shearing energy from his fingertips as well. Sometimes I think people forget he's even a mutant. Also while Kitty's technical expertise and mutant phasing ability is well-known among her fans, it's nice to see her kicking ass thanks to Ogun and Wolverine's training alongside the best of them.
5. X-Factor #14
The husband and wife writer/art team of Louise and Walt Simonson have created a terrific Cyclops solo story in this issue of X-Factor called "The Mutant Program!". Cyclops too, was a perennial favorite character of mine. You'd never guess, right?
Anyway this is the fairly simple tale of Scott Summers returning to Anchorage, Alaska to look for his missing wife Maddie. Instead the leader of X-Factor comes face to face with the Big Daddy of all Sentinels, MasterMold.
It's not often Cyclops gets a chance to fly solo, so that's why I consider this one a rare treat as a fan of ol' "One Eye."
4. X-Men Unlimited #10
"Need to Know" by Mark Waid is a creepy look at the dark alternate version of Hank McCoy (also known as the X-Man, Beast) from the storyline The Age of Apocalypse.
Where our Hank is driven by scientific curiosity and driven to save his fellow mutants from the deadly Legacy Virus, The Dark Beast is the Mengele of his little universe. Now a refugee in the 616, or mainstream Marvel Universe, he finally decides to confront his good-natured doppelganger head on.
He begins systematically investing the life of the good Beast while eliminating most of his research subjects such as Hank's elementary school Principal, high school girlfriend and Church Pastor.
Hank is so distracted in his attempts to find a cure the only way the Dark Beast can grab his attention is to offer a bit of knowledge on the subject like a carrot on a stick to a starving bunny rabbit. This leads to Beast's downfall at the hands of Dark Beast as he buries him alive behind a brick wall and will successfully take his place among the X-Men. The last moment is still bone-chilling to me even today.
3. Uncanny X-Men #309
"When The Tigers Come Out At Night" by Scott Lobdell and John Romita Jr. features insight into the mind of the founder of the X-Men, Charles Xavier. The image of Magneto serves as Charlie's conscience and takes him on a trip down memory lane, recounting an untold tale from his past involving his romantic relationship with Amelia Voght.
While Amelia would later serve as one of Magneto's Acolytes, the story here is sentimental and bittersweet. Xavier's life goals and dreams of forming the X-Men for the betterment of mankind come between him and Amelia's love.
I enjoy the story because, while it exposes a self-acknowledged shortcoming of the man, it still paints the character in a noble and self-sacrificing light. With other writers who tend to look at Professor X's past or tenure with his students, you will often find a someone who manipulates minds supposedly for their own good. I think this story stands out because while it wants to address the same topic, it doesn't drag the character down into such a deep gray area that he becomes unlikeable or irreparably damaged.
2. X-Men #137
"The Fate of the Phoenix" is the final chapter of the Dark Phoenix Saga and arguably one of the greatest X-Men stories ever told. Written by the verbose Chris Claremont with superb art from John Byrne at the height of his popularity we find the X-Men teleported to the flagship of the Shi'ar Empire. Jean Grey who has been possessed by the entity the Dark Phoenix has been brought to face execution for her crimes against the Empire. As Dark Phoenix, Jean has laid waste to entire populated worlds and now must face the consequences of her actions.
Xavier having spent much time with the Empress Lilandra knows of the ancient ARIN'NN'HAELAR, a trial by combat challenge which cannot be refused. The X-Men stand by their comrade and face off against the Imperial Guard, who they cannot hope to defeat.
From Wolverine discovering a Skrull shape-changer to the epic battle between Colossus and Gladiator, the battles are quick and perilous.
Eventually Jean and Scott are the only two X-Men remaining. The two share some final words before heading out to fight what may be their final fight.
In the midst of battle Dark Phoenix resurfaces and even the X-Men and the Imperial Guard are no match for her might. Luckily the part of her that is still Jean Grey holds enough sway to do what must be done.
1. Inferno Uncanny X-Men #239-242/ X-Factor #35-38/ New Mutants #59-61
The crossover dubbed Inferno represents the peak of my days reading the X-Men. This was a huge summer event that ran through all the mutant titles of the day. Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor and New Mutants made up the bulk of the primary story, however all the Marvel titles set in New York City were affected by the demonic invasion from Limbo.
The invasion laid the groundwork for the long awaited reunion and face-off between the original X-Men, known as X-Factor, and the current team, most of which who had fallen to the darkness inflicting the city after Magik was tricked into opening the floodgates.
Havok and the X-Men side with Scott's wife Madelyne Pryor who has been transformed into the alluring and deadly Goblin Queen.
While an intricate and involved storyline, it's the one I have the fondest memories of in my reading of X-Men comics.