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Gary Friedrich, Don Heck and Werner Roth’s X-Men – X-Men Omnibus, Vol. 2 (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

By the time that Gary Friedrich had taken over writing duties on X-Men, it was clear that the title was in trouble. To be fair, this has nothing to do with the rapid turnover of writing talent on the book. At this point in the history of Marvel, it often seemed like writers were wandering around the office waiting to fill any gap that happened to develop. Friedrich wasn’t a replacement for Roy Thomas as an attempt to herald a bold new direction for the book. Indeed, his first issue was a story pitched by Thomas.

However, at the same time, it’s quite clear that X-Men was struggling to stay afloat. The comic was seemingly re-tooling itself month-in and month-out. Professor Xavier had been killed off towards the end of Roy Thomas’ last run. The cover now trumpeted individual members of the cast and back-up stories opted to focus on characters within the team, hoping they might find an audience as solo super heroes.

The first death of the dream...

The first death of the dream…

This trend continued into Gary Friedrich’s short tenure as X-Men writer. The first issue of Gary Friedrich’s run focuses on a guest star from the golden age, while his last solo script dissolves the X-Men as a team. In the middle, there’s a crossover with The Avengers. This was a very troubled book entering its fourth year, and the fact that it could not seem to settle on a single creative team or direction contributed to that sense of listlessness.

X-Men was a book that simply wasn’t working.

These men... these X-Men!

These men… these X-Men!

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Ed Brubaker’s Run on Uncanny X-Men – Divided We Stand (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

Divided We Stand actually feels like the start of something interesting for Ed Brubaker’s run on Uncanny X-Men. It’s a story arc that heralds a bold new direction for Marvel’s merry mutants in the wake of Messiah Complex, taking the team out of their comfort zone and suggesting that Uncanny X-Men will be moving a little outside its comfort zone and trying something different. It’s a story arc that sees the team reflecting on the past and considering the future.

So, naturally, it is Ed Brubaker’s last solo arc on Uncanny X-Men.

A bad trip?

A bad trip?

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Roy Thomas & Neal Adams’ X-Men – X-Men Omnibus, Vol. 2 (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

Roy Thomas and Neal Adams (with the odd fill-in here and there) brought the first era of the X-Men to a close. At the end of their run, editor Martin Goodman would cancel the title due to low sales, only to bring it back as a reprint magazine a few months later. The title would continue as a reprint magazine until the publisher decided to resurrect it with Len Wein and Dave Cockrum’s Giant-Sized X-Men and Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum’s subsequent revival of the original magazine.

The last stretch of issues on this initial run is fascinating. While it lacks the raw energy and sense of direction of Claremont’s early work on the title, it’s easy to argue that Thomas and Adams helped to pave the way for their successors. Thomas and Adams’ X-Men lacks focus and vision, but it does have its own quirky style. The duo would introduce and tease all sorts of ideas that would remain with the X-Men after the cancellation and into the revival.

Suit up...

Suit up…

It may be too much to credit Thomas and Adams with saving or redeeming the franchise – although, apparently sales were increasing during their run- but their influence on the creators that followed is obvious. There are a number of clever ideas and premises that were effectively introduced by the duo, which would become almost expected from an X-Men comic book. Even if it seemed like Thomas and Adams were really just making it up on the fly, their work fits quite comfortably with what would follow.

It may not have been enough to save the mutants at that moment in time, but one could argue that it did provide Claremont with a solid base to build from.

They certainly do...

They certainly do…

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X-Men: Season One by Dennis Hopeless and Jamie McKelvie (Review)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

X-Men: Season One is a weird beast. The core of Marvel’s Season One initiative has been offering accessible standalone graphic novels that take their iconic characters back to their roots – as if to have something that you could point a new reader towards, say “this is how [character] got started.” The line hasn’t always lived up to that promise, with the quality of the collection of graphic novels being quite uneven in practice, but it’s a solid starting point.

However, the X-Men were always going to seem a bit strange when this approach was applied. After all, many of the most iconic X-Men character – from Wolverine to Storm to Rogue – didn’t appear for years after Stan Lee and Jack Kirby launched X-Men. Beast didn’t have blue fur for quite some time. Magneto was fairly generic and one-dimensional. For a comic book series about an oppressed minority, the characters were all white, middle-class and straight; Jean Grey often felt like the token girl.

The Tomorrow People...

The Tomorrow People…

So revisiting the roots of the X-Men was going to be different from exploring the origins of The Avengers or Thor or Ant-Man, because a lot of what people take for granted about the X-Men didn’t exist in those early years. Trying to find a way to encapsulate what makes the X-Men so successful and appealing into the context of those early stories is a pretty ambitious task, making X-Men: Season One seem like an almost impossible challenge.

Luckily, Marvel recruited some top-notch talent for the book. Artist Jamie McKelvie is one of the best artists working in comics today. His linework is clear, his action sequences are stylish – but he’s also fantastic with characters. McKelvie can offer a lot in a small amount of space – body language, facial expressions. He’s paired with writer Dennis Hopeless, who has a bit of a knack dealing with potentially troublesome assignments turning Avengers Arena from ruthless Battle Royale (or The Hunger Games) knock-off into a pretty compelling read. The X-Men are in good hands.

The child protection agency is going to crucify Charles for this one...

The child protection agency is going to crucify Charles for this one…

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Ed Brubaker’s X-Men – Deadly Genesis (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

In 2006, Ed Brubaker was one of the hottest younger writers working at Marvel Comics. He was writing a celebrated run on Captain America. He was about to take over Daredevil following a monumental run by Brian Michael Bendis. He was also going to launch The Immortal Iron Fist with collaborator Matt Fraction. It was a year that cemented Ed Brubaker as one of the primary voices writing at Marvel Comics. In the midst of all that, Brubaker also took over the X-Men franchise.

In the early years of the decade, Marvel had tasked Brian Michael Bendis to reinvent the Avengers franchise, which he had done with Avengers Disassembled and an extended stint on New Avengers. Bendis had done this by tearing down a lot of the elements of The Avengers taken for granted and demonstrating that nothing was safe. The Avengers Mansion was destroyed, Hawkeye and Vision were killed, Wolverine and Spider-Man were recruited. The approach was iconoclastic, but it worked.

Sentinels of liberty...

Sentinels of liberty…

It’s not too hard to see Ed Brubaker’s stint on the X-Men franchise as a not-entirely-successful attempt to emulated Bendis’ reinvention of The Avengers. There was a clear attempt to focus on aspects of the mythology that were outside the comfort zone, and to attack and undermine some of the most sacred areas of the mythology. After all, Brubaker began his run on Uncanny X-Men with The Rise and Fall of the Shiar Empire, a twelve-issue space opera that took the focus of the book off the wake of House of M.

Logically, then, Deadly Genesis serves as the equivalent of Bendis’ Avengers Disassembled. It’s the story that exists as the lead-in to Brubaker’s run, outside the monthly series. It sets the agenda for a lot of what is to follow, shifting the premise and changing the rules. However, Brubaker’s work suffers because he doesn’t have the same freedom that Bendis had with New Avengers. He can’t just clear the board and start anew. Deadly Genesis find him heaping a bold new status quo on top of a bold new status quo.

Burning it all down...

Burning it all down…

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X-Men: Operation Zero Tolerance (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine this month, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men and Wolverine comics. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

Operation Zero Tolerance is very much an artefact of the nineties. It’s a big bombastic X-Men romp, one that manages to hit on a lot of the key themes and ideas of the franchise (making them resonate with the public mood), while still seeming loud and simply and incredibly hollow. After all, it’s a comic about the prejudice facing a minority in the nineties, with repeated references to the Holocaust. “Zero tolerance?” Senator Robert Kelly asks towards the end of the event. “Isn’t that what the Nazis had for the Jews in the last World War?” The villain, Bastion, is presented as a “wannabe Hitler.”

Operation Zero Tolerance is, in a word, blunt. With so many of the high-profile comics of the nineties, from both Marvel and DC, “subtlety” is an alien concept. This is an X-Men comic where racial intolerance and prejudice are expressed through nothing short of attempted genocide. On the one hand, it’s very clearly the mutant prejudice idea pushed to its logical extreme. On the other hand, the notion of the United States government even passively condoning an attempted genocide feels like it robs the franchise of the social relevance which had made it so compelling and intriguing.

Still, the event’s impact is quite obvious. It’s hard not to see Operation Zero Tolerance as the driving influence on the entire X-Men franchise from House of M through to Second Coming.

Chances of survival are Slim...

Chances of survival are Slim…

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Civil War: X-Men (Review)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine later in the month, we’re taking a look at some classic X-Men and Wolverine comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday here. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

Ugh. There’s nothing like Civil War: X-Men to remind you just how unkind the middle part of the last decade was to Marvel’s merry mutants. It’s a soulless cash-in the worst sense of the word, a four-issue miniseries branded with the title of the gigantic universe-spanning crossover that was going on at the moment. One would imagine that the whole Civil War crossover would provide a multitude of compelling storytelling opportunities for the X-Men as a franchise.

After all, these are superheroes whose entire schtick is based around being hated and feared by the world they try to protect. You’d imagine that they’d have a few choice words for all the superheroes finding themselves suddenly confronted by the idea that the public isn’t too keen on people with superpowers just wandering around. Instead, we get a messy jumble of a plot that doesn’t make sense on its own terms, let alone as an attempt to contextualise the involvement of the X-Men in Marvel’s Civil War crossover.

Back in black...

Back in black…

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