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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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Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s X-Men – X-Men Omnibus, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

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.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are the architects of the shared Marvel Universe. The pair collaborated on titles like The Fantastic Four, The Avengers and Thor – helping reinvent American comic books during the sixties. The comics redefined what superheroes could be, honing in on the changing sensibilities of the era. However, not every series was a run-away success. Not every idea worked from the very first issue.

The X-Men are one of the most iconic bunch of superheroes in existence. They have had everything from blockbuster films to celebrated cartoon shows. However, they had a rocky start. The book limped along through its first years of publication, never quite connecting with its audience. Indeed, the book almost died a quiet death in the early seventies, before writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum revived the team for a relaunched Giant-Sized X-Men. After that, Wein handed the book over to Chris Claremont, who really defined the book and its characters during an extended run on the title.

Reading these early issues, from Lee and Kirby, it’s quite clear that the X-Men aren’t working. There’s a lot of stilted awkwardness to the stories, as Lee and Kirby try to find a compelling hook for the team. They come quite close – it’s surprising how close at times – but it’s easy to see why the premise took so long to catch on.

To me, my X-Men!

To me, my X-Men!

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Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force (Review/Retrospective)

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.

Between Uncanny X-Force and Venom (and arguably his run on The Punisher), Rick Remender seems to have built a comic book career out of rehabilitating symbols of nineties excess. Taking a bunch of grim and nihilistic concepts that were very popular in mainstream comics during the nineties, Remender uses them to craft a compelling story about the wages of vengeance. Its premise and pedigree might lead you to believe that Uncanny X-Force is another throwaway comic about gratuitous violence. Instead, it’s a masterpiece about profound consequences.

Welcome to the World...

Welcome to the World…

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Chris Claremont’s Run on Wolverine (Vol. 2) (Review/Retrospective)

With our month looking at Avengers comics officially over, we thought it might be fun to dig into that other iconic Marvel property, the X-Men. Join us for a month of X-Men related reviews and discussion.

Although his extended run on Uncanny X-Men is one of the most renowned runs in comic book history, it’s easy to forget just how massively Claremont developed the X-Men franchise beyond that core book. He did, after all, launch spin-off titles like New Mutants or X-Calibur. The writer also shepherded the development of Wolverine outside the Uncanny X-Men book, producing the original Wolverine miniseries with Frank Miller, Kitty Pryde & Wolverine with Al Milgrom and even Save the Tiger in Marvel Comics Presents. Claremont also drafted nine of the first ten issues of Wolverine’s first on-going solo title and, while not the writer’s finest work by a significant stretch, it is a pulpy and entertaining read – one more firmly grounded in pop culture conventions than grim violence and anti-heroic nihilism. The issues are a light, fun collection of stories featuring the character, nothing more and nothing less.

A cut above the rest?

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Wolverine: Save the Tiger (Review/Retrospective)

With our month looking at Avengers comics officially over, we thought it might be fun to dig into that other iconic Marvel property, the X-Men. Join us for a month of X-Men related reviews and discussion.

In 2009, Marvel published a Wolverine Omnibus. I’m honestly surprised that it took the company that long to pull together a large volume of work featuring the character and dump it on the market. However, browsing the gigantic hardcover, I’m amazed at just how much Wolverine-related material Marvel published before the character got his own on-going series. There was the Claremont/Miller miniseries, Kitty Pryde & Wolverine, and seemingly numerous cameos and guest appearances in books outside the X-Men line. However, Save the Tiger, a ten-part story that opened the anthology series Marvel Comics Presents, occupies a crucial place in Wolverine lore. Written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by John Buscema, it reads as something of a dress rehearsal for the character’s seemingly inevitable on-going series.

No claws for concern…

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