Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Essential X-Men vol. 7

Oh, the X-Men. Mainstays of the comics industry for decades. They have, at various times, been the best selling comics around. X-Men #1 from 1991 is still the best selling comic ever (at least in America), having sold eight million copies. Currently, under the title "X-Men: Legacy," it sells sixty something thousand copies a month.

But I'm not reading X-Men #1, or even X-Men: Legacy #222. I'm reading Essential X-Men volume 7, which reprints Uncanny X-Men comics from the mid 1980s.

Marvel's Essentials are huge, black and white books reprinting of older comics. When they started the line in the late '90s they were reprinting things that could be considered "essential," or at least good/important: the original Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, and the 1970s relaunch of the X-Men. The fact that they've since printed things like Marvel Saga (really?) indicates the line has more or less become Marvel's attempt reprint every comic they have ever published from the '60s to the '80s.

And you know what? I fully support this idea. Essential Godzilla may have been terrible, but at least I found out for myself that it was dreadful ("How could a Godzilla comic be bad?" I foolishly asked myself, three issues of Godzilla fighting cattle rustlers later and I knew). Other comics, like Super-Villian Team-Up, may not be essential, or even good all the way through, but they're still fun enough to be worth reading.

Of course I haven't read as many of these things as perhaps I should have. Some Spider-Man, the aforementioned inessentials, and a whole lot of X-Men.

In the last year I've read five of these things, from Essential X-Men volume three all the way up to volume seven. These collect over one hundred issues, annuals, and crossovers from 1982 to 1988. That's a whole lot of X-Men comics (but possibly less than were released last year).

The dialogue is kind of clunky, sometimes the stories don't make any sense because I'm not reading New Mutants or X-Factor or some other random title from the 1980s, and the team in the latest volume is made up of a fairly ridiculous group of mutants (an unpowered Storm, Dazzler, Longshot, Rogue, Psylocke pre-Asianification, Havoc, and Wolverine). I'm reading comics about a character created to tie into a disco record that never came out. (http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2006/04/27/comic-book-urban-legend-revealed-48/)

And yet I want more. And I'm totally excited because next volume is when they move to Australia. Maybe Jubilee will appear!

Of course, a lot of the appeal of this comic is...not nostalgia exactly, as I've never read these comics before, but excitement as I'm reading all the adventures of these characters that were referenced in other comics I had read.

I started really reading American comics when I bought an issue of Warren Ellis' Excalibur (about super heros in the UK). It was the first American comic book I'd read _and_ enjoyed enough to want the next issue. The next month was the Age of Apocalypse crossover, where all the X-titles spent four months telling stories set in a post-Apocalypse-tic (hah) world. I became hooked on the X-Men as only an 11 year old could be. I eventually tracked down every back issue of Excalibur (they weren't that expensive as nobody really cared about them).

Actually, that's not even true. I was already hooked on the X-Men, through the cartoon I watched on TV every saturday morning. I just hadn't found any comics I'd liked up to that point. I did however read around eight young adult novels that featured retellings of older X-Men and Wolverine comics. They were filled with characters I didn't recognize, they were so forgettable to everyone else who read them I can't even find any reference to them online, and yet I read them over and over again.

But now I'm reading the actual comics those stories were based on. I know what's going to happen to these characters. I know Storm will get her powers back, I know Nightcrawler isn't going to die, I know Dazzler is going to struggle to have a point decades after disco has stopped being popular. But I still want to read these comics to find out how they got to the points where they are today (or rather, in the mid '90s, because I can't be that bothered with current X-Men comics). And while I wouldn't pay $3 an issue, I will pay, well, less than a dollar an issue for these trades. Of course this is because I don't care it's not in colour.

Marvel's just pulled the colour plates out of these, so it's just the original inked pages, no toning or anything, and I assume it looks fairly different from how it was originally printed because of that. I think the Art Adams annual that leads off this book actually suffers from being in black and white. How about the regular artist? Well, it's Mark Silvestri I guess, but his longest consecutive run is four issues, while fill-ins come from Barry Windsor Smith, Alan Davis, Rick Leonardi, Jackson Guice (twice), Bret Blevins, and Kerry Gammill (in only fifteen issues!). Despite this, it all generally looks pretty good, and perhaps current editors could learn something from the '80s, as except for one (the last in the issue, which was a random fill in issue), all the other issues moved the story forward.

So should you read it? Well, probably not as your first X-Men comic. It's dated, and perhaps incomprehensible (though sometimes that's appealing). But really, it's five or six hundred pages for $16.99, which is one of the best deals in comics, and if you think it sucks you can use it as wrapping paper or a colouring book or something.


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