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The ’90s Revisited: The X-Men Collector’s Edition #1

90s_revisited

xmen_collectors_edition_0001Slice of Danger!

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Andrew Wildman
Lettering: Rick Parker
Inker: Steven Baskerville
Colors: Jim Hoston
Editor: Glenn Herdling
Published by: Marvel Comics & Pizza Hut
Cover Price: "$1.50 Value"
Cover Date: 1993

Back in 1993, the X-Men were an extremely "hot property." Their comics were at a definite high, they had a new cartoon series, they had trading cards, they had action figures, they had all sorts of merchandising going on…they were Marvel‘s Merry Mutants and all that. And one of those merchandising deals was with Pizza Hut. For whatever the price of a kids’ thing, you got a pizza, a plastic cup (If I recall correctly), and one of four comic books, commissioned specifically for this promotion. (I believe available for purchase separately were two VHS tapes, each with two episodes of the still-new Animated Series (Night of the Sentinels parts 1 and 2 OR Enter: Magneto and Deadly Reunions); both of which contained a brief roundtable interview with then-current creatives on Marvel‘s X-Men and Uncanny X-Men titles and such.

Where it would have surely been simple to just slap a new art piece and title logo onto something with a reprint of X-Men #1 or X-Men Adventures #1 or such, new cover, new art, and a new story was produced across essentially a 4-issue mini-series; an all-new original adventure exclusively for Pizza Hut.

We open on the X-Men in the Danger Room as Professor Xavier calls them to his meeting room. He explains that something’s happened with Cerebro (the computer that allows the X-Men to make first contact with new mutants before the villains can recruit them) that endangers the machine’s continued functionality. To repair it, various things are needed…which results in the X-Men being broken off into several teams to each get or accomplish something necessary to the whole of repairing Cerebro. Starting off, as X-Men Rogue and Gambit attend to dealing with in-house wiring, the Danger Room is activated with sentinels from "a dark future" (that many readers will recognize to be intended as the future revealed in Days of Future Past). After the two eventually overcome a trio of these killer giant robots (the scene powers down), we get a brief glimpse at a shadowy figure watching all the X-Men in their current endeavor…suggesting some secretive, behind-the-scenes operator working against the mutants!

The art for this issue is what I would consider typical 1990s fare. It’s not bad, but it’s not wonderful. The X-Men are all in their "Jim Lee costumes," the familiar outfits they were in (I believe) as of late-1991’s X-Men #1, also the looks used for the Fox animated series. Everyone is very recognizable as who they are, though the details of the art aren’t my favorite take. This definitely goes on the notion of a "house style" (as opposed to the artist of whatever book simply giving us "their take" on characters). Like a number of "fringe" titles/issues, this both looks like an actual Marvel issue while carrying a sort of generic feel that sorta/kinda/mostly fits with what was being published at that time without being entirely beholden to it nor affecting/impacting any of the "real" stuff.

Story-wise, this is pretty basic, simple stuff. Open on the X-Men in action. Show off one-liners and two-dimensional "character beats" to remind us of attitudes or such, "establishing" these as the characters that were being showcased in the animate series. Split the characters into separate groups to pad out several issues’ worth of content while allowing for "extended spotlights" on characters in manageable chunks. Showcase "key" expected stuff associated with the franchise/highlight all the characters and "locations" of the franchise.

So we get that–from Cyclops vs. Wolverine, to Wolverine’s random outburst, Jubilee’s snarkiness, Xavier having this dire situation but disappearing "to let" Cyclops and Storm handle stuff, to (particularly for this issue’s focus) Rogue and Gambit flirting, etc. The "characterization" in the issue seems generic and surfacey…but I don’t think it’s meant to be anything else. As something that would be reaching (primarily) kids for whom this might be their first/only experience with actual comics, it was important to give them stuff they recognized, both in the characters’ appearance and their behaviors. So the "character shorthand" stuff is prevalent; showing this mini time-capsule of stuff about them at the time, but not really building, changing, or directing anything new about them.

I fondly remember this period of the X-Men; and this promotion (I still have the VHS tapes and recall really enjoying the round table interviews, and those four episodes are particularly ingrained in my memory from this time). I even have one of the large promotional pieces that someone got ahold of for me some years back.

In and of itself, though, there’s nothing special about this issue, or this mini-series; it’s generic, surfacey stuff that doesn’t particularly draw from any deep continuity (despite the "references" to Days of Future Past), and it certainly doesn’t add anything TO the continuity. I certainly appreciated some of Gambit and Rogue’s flirting in this issue, and was surprised at one comment that certainly was "over my head" in 1993 that got a "Wow, they went there?? They said that ON PANEL?" reaction from me in 2018.

This is a fun novelty thing…hardly essential, but fun to have. I have the original copies I got from Pizza Hut in 1993, and I’m pretty sure I’ve come across these just a couple times over the years in bargain bins (maybe twice or so); the copy I read for this post came from a convention dollar-bin, I believe. So you’re not missing out on anything whatsoever in this issue or any of the other three, and I would not consider them to be "worth" anything much except for nostalgia. For that, they’re certainly worth $1-$2ish each. I don’t feel these are typical quarter-bin fare, not seeing them often…but they’re by no means anything high-ticket or worth $5+ an issue idly.

The cover states these are "A $1.50 value," representing the then-standard cover price of Marvel single issues. With a double-gatefold cover and interior cover, being full-sized issues both in dimensions and page count, written by one of the actual regular writers…this is a fun issue to have, and worth getting; though definitely most satisfying as part of a full set of all 4 issues.

xmen_collectors_edition_0001_full_front

The cover is a double-gatefold; four "panels" including the front cover. When unfolded completely, this is the full image.

xmen_collectors_edition_0001_full_inside

And the flipside of the double-gatefold, viewed from the inside is this image, spotlighting Rogue and Gambit.

xmen_collectors_edition_0001_blogtrailer

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X-Men: Grand Design #1 [Review]

xmen_grand_design_0001X-Men: Grand Design

Cartoonist: Ed Piskor
Editor: Chris Robinson
X-Men Group Editor: Mark Paniccia
Editor in Chief: Axel Alonso
Chief Creative Officer: Joe Quesada
President: Dan Buckley
Executive Producer: Alan Fine
X-Men Created by: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: February 2018
Cover Price: $5.99

I crab about Marvel comics all costing $3.99+ and virtually always put back even curiosities once I “confirm” that they’re $3.99+ for the issue held in-hand. I’m down on much of what Marvel has published for the last few years at least, and have had extremely mixed feelings on what stuff I have picked up.

This issue is $5.99.

And I barely thought anything of it. The issue FEELS thick, and heavy, and quite possibly THE single best value in a single issue that I have come across from Marvel in a long, long time.

It took me three sittings to get through this issue. Granted, I had other stuff going on, but I also hadn’t mentally “budgeted” a long time to stay put and read, used to even the extra-sized issues being pretty quick reads.

I’m not actually sure what I expected from this issue. I think initially I thought it was going to be a book that was text-only; when I realized it was actually a comic after all, I decided to give it a shot. What I got out of it is that whatever the length of the finished product, it’s like this detailed “history” of the X-Men, in comic format–using new art and narrative but covering existing material.

The page design includes coloring to make these glossy, higher-quality-paper pages look like old newsprint; the coloring to the story/art itself lends to that effect, giving this the appearance of a classic 1960s comic book or such. While there’s a little bit of “panel creativity” and “white space,” by and large the page layouts are tight and dense, modular classic panels–squares and rectangles with actual borders and gutters in a way that seems to have been largely jettisoned in “modern” comics. The dense visuals share space with dense text–plenty of caption boxes, speech balloons, and thought bubbles; the art is there, the art shows plenty, but there are no full or double-page splashes. The art serves the narrative, rather than some limited text serving up an excuse for big, flashy art.

Story-wise, I didn’t really feel like there was anything “new” or “fancy” or such here. Nothing particularly stood out, nothing was singularly memorable. But then, I was not expecting such. What the story is, what the writing is, is basically a straight-forward narrative, in chronological order, from the beginning of Marvel Comics into the 1960s and the beginning of the original X-Men issues. Things that were revealed in flashbacks a few issues in or 30-something YEARS’ worth of issues in, it’s here in order, unfolding as events unfolded–NOT in the order that details were doled out to readers as the actual issues were published. And this is presented as a tale from Uatu, the Watcher…giving a good context to things now being told in order.

In many ways, I’m sure a lot of people would consider this a boring read, and a re-tread, and probably a few other negative connotations to stuff. Me? I thoroughly enjoyed this. Part review, part history lesson, part summary, and part condensed revisitation of classic stories. I totally appreciate comics in general and the nature of them; the occasional “new reveal” or such, new flashbacks revealing previously-unknown information, the introduction of a character from someone’s past who just happened to not have been mentioned or relevant til “now” in the story that sheds new and different light on past events. But there’s something cool and refreshing about just following a single, one-directioned narrative pulling in everything–from information we got in X-Men #1, to stuff brought up/shown into 2009, 45-some years after X-Men #1.

X-Men: Grand Design (sample 2 pages' layout)

Pages seem to have 5-9 panels each, some more…making for plenty of room to cram a LOT of story into small space. No half, full, or double-page splashes to “cheat” or anything!

For my $5.99, three “sittings” to read, and sheer amount of time spent to read this whole thing, this is the best value in time-to-money I’ve found in years. As I got to the end of the issue, I wondered if this was monthly, or if I’d have to wait up to TWO months for the next issue…but then saw the next issue is supposedly in a mere two weeks.

At $5.99 an issue, and biweekly, and I’m very much looking forward to the next issue? Anyone reading much of my writing of late ought to realize that alone should speak to the quality I see in this. Again–this will not be for everyone. That said…I highly recommend it, especially to anyone who is or was a fan of the X-Men, particularly the 1960s “early days” OF the X-Men.

Showing off the Shelves: X-Men January 2017

Today, I’m showing off my current X-Men shelf configuration, with some volumes "weeded out" for present, possibly permanently, or to be added back in once I expand my shelving, which my collection has pretty much outgrown at the moment.

showing_off_the_shelves_xmen_shelf01

One of my earliest collected volumes ever was that original The Essential Uncanny X-Men 1 that I bought right before leaving for college back in 1999. Obviously, my X-collection has grown significantly in the last 17 1/2 to 18 years!

I have stuff largely in chronological–or near-chronological–order, moving through the franchise’s history, with this first shelf pretty much covering 1963-1994-ish.

showing_off_the_shelves_xmen_shelf02

Picking up in 1995, this second shelf pretty much takes us through the later ’90s, early 2000s, Morrison, Whedon, and up to 2010 or so.

showing_off_the_shelves_xmen_shelf03

And moving beyond Second Coming and the Fraction run, a bunch of the miscellaneous/skinnier volumes taper off the X-Men proper, and get into other stuff…primarily Wolverine and X-Factor.

Of course, with Marvel discontinuing the Essential line in favor of the Epic line, I may eventually be swappign out some of the Wolverine and X-Factor stuff, or pay inflated prices to fill the Wolverine run in. Time will tell!

The X-books are–next to Superman–the most significant part of my entire collection, and certainly out-do the rest of my Marvel collection; while not exact, I’d say these account for at least 35% of my entire Marvel collection.

Impressive as they can be…knowing the "gaps" in content from the various X-Men oversized hardcovers and omnibus volumes…I find it kinda hard to imagine sticking just to the omnibus/OHC format…there’s so much more to be had by combining the formats. That said…I’d be interested in the Inferno and Inferno Crossovers volumes if I could get them relatively cheaply…though more immediately I’ll probably be content to just get the paperbacks as those’ll be much cheaper, period, and there are several other paperbacks that I want that do not (to my knowledge) have hardcover counterparts…including several Gambit volumes!

But that all gets off on other topics (like "wishlists")…

The ’90s Revisited: Uncanny X-Men #308

uncanny_xmen_0308Mixed Blessings

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: John Romita Jr.
Inkers: Dan Green, Al Vey
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: January 1994
Cover Price: $1.25

This issue brought back a number of fond memories, as well as a new feeling as I “noticed” the art rather consciously this time. Having this issue relatively on-hand for this reading is something I must credit to fellow blogger Chris Sheehan, whose comments/discussion of the issue prompted the purchase and encouraged making the time for the re-read. It was his post that prompted me to re-purchase the issue (for the convenience of immediate availability in print without digging through umpteen unorganized longboxes to locate my original copy).

For a single issue, there’s a lot packed into so few pages. Essentially, though, we have Scott and Jean–Cyclops and Phoenix–walking the grounds outside the X-mansion. For once, there’s no overt threat, no villain interrupting, the world-at-large doesn’t need immediate saving, etc. Just a young man and woman spending time together, enjoying cool fall weather (well, Thanksgiving Day) and doing so amidst a larger group also living on the premises. So we get a bunch of “moments” between characters…and while the couple reminisces, they also come to a decision about their future.

This issue is one of a handful of X-Men comics I recall from the early/mid 1990s where we basically just have the characters hanging out at the mansion, interacting with each other in down-time withOUT having to deal with some villain or crossover or whatever. And reading this in 2016 where every story is written for the trade, and every trade is part of some big event and every event leads into the next with no time between…this issue is highly refresshing. There just aren’t issues like this anymore (at least not from Marvel/DC!).

The story itself is very much what I prefer in comics, giving us the characters, “quiet” “moments” and generally giving us a glimpse of what these characters do, how they might interact when not in the midst of fighting for their survival. We get to see them presented as actual people…which makes them that much more truly relatable (at least, to me!).

I remember thoroughly enjoying this issue over 20 years ago…and I enjoyed the story now. Unfortunately, while I don’t recall noticing the art–back then, if I did it didn’t throw me–but this read-through I REALLY consciously noted the art…and between this and bailing on a Superman story some time back for so disliking the art, I must conclude that as a general thing I dislike Romita Jr.’s visual style. There’s something to the style–sometimes a sense of sketchiness, other times something to faces and lips particularly that just doesn’t work for me and proved flat-out distracting to me, taking me out of the story itself. Which, while a complaint that I have, myself, is not to suggest the art is bad…it’s just definitely not to my taste, and it now being a conscious thing, it’s something I can watch out for.

And then, regardless of the linework and such itself, I had consciously forgotten (but hey, deja vu or such!) how much I dislike the flipping and flopping one must do to read certain ’90s comics, when the artists played fast ‘n loose with the “traditional” comic page and layouts. Some pages read fine, but rather than just varying panels across one or two pages, where one can just page through the issue with a single physical orientation and be fine…here, we’re given some instances with a double-page piece where you have to turn the comic sideways for a top-to-bottom experience with the issue physically turned sideways; others where the issue must be turned on its side for a then-typical left-to-right experience, and so on. Rather than being able to just lay the issue flat and page through, reading, while say, eating a bowl of cereal as breakfast it requires an active, physical experience of manipulating the book, which gets distracting and kicks one out of the story.

All in all, though…this is an excellent X-Men comic that I paid less than $4 for, and got so much more from it than any $3.99 new comic I can think of. If you know your X-Men and enjoy such stories, or have never read this, I’d urge you to give it a shot, if you can get the issue for (or less) that $4. If you find it in a 25-cent or 50-cent bin, all the better!

Getting Into Comics With High Numbers

I was introduced to comics in late 1988 with a stack of Silver Age books Mom had grandpa bring for me–to my knowledge, he simply grabbed a bunch from a cabinet that he and my uncle kept them in…so there was a mix of “Batman” and “Superman” stuff, and probably other DC characters…possibly some Marvel, but they were more DC guys than Marvel.

high_numbered_first_issuesa

In spring 1989 when I learned that they STILL MADE COMICS, that one could still buy NEW COMICS, brand-new, these stories were STILL GOING ON, it was Mom that bought me my first four comics: Detective Comics #604, Adventures of Superman #453, Batman #439, and Superman (rebooted) #31. Not a #1 amidst them, and at the time absolutely no knowledge nor expectation of backtracking TO a #1. When Action Comics eventually returned to the “Superman Family,” it was still several months before I came across the title myself, and my first issue was #651.

It was Captain America #425-beginning the twelve-part Fighting Chance story–that primarily pulled me into having an interest on that title (and that after it not bothering me at all seeing a #400 on an issue tying into Operation: Galactic Storm), and it wasn’t a new creative team or a new #1 that got me into The Flash…it was simply the start of a new arc at #197 with the ongoing/continuing team that led me into several years of following the book, into Infinite Crisis and all the shenanigans with the character, series, numbering from there.

Maybe once upon a time, a #1 was special or significant…but now with ENTIRE LINES being restarted at #1 and doing so REPEATEDLY, every couple years or so such that it’s actually surprising for anything to hit #30, let alone #50 or up, it’s NOT special, and I for one have less faith in a series’ longevity now than ever before: if a book has lasted 120+ issues, that’s a 10-year run, a 10-year history or pedigree, it means that whatever they’re doing with it, it has lasted a decade or more, and isn’t just some short year-and-a-half flash-in-the-pan thing likely to disappear within a “few” months of me getting involved.

My Four X-Men 100s

Sometimes, it actually doesn’t seem like it’s been all that long that I’ve been into comics. It can seem so recent, my reading certain stories for the first time, discovering characters the first time, wondering at the mysterious backgrounds and motivations and all that for them.

Characters that were around for a couple years already seemed old and completely established.

Yet other times, reality sets in and I realize that some of those characters had hardly even been introduced, and I’ve basically been around for their whole existence, within a reasonable +/- tolerance.

Rarely is it driven home more for me than with key "anniversary" issues.

Such as looking at these, the even #100s issues I’ve been around for with Uncanny X-Men…that regardless of having been following much at the time or not, I’ve bought "off the shelf" as new issues.

uncanny_xmen_300_400_500_600

Four of the six "round number" 100 issues for the title. #300 in 1993, through #600 this past week. I’ve been buying the title off and on for half of its entire existence.

Which is a mighty scary thought, considering I came to the party 300 issues into the run.

Uncanny X-Men #600 [Review]

uncannyxmen600Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Sara Pichelli, Mahmud Asrar, Stuart Immonen, Kris Anka, Chris Bachalo, David Marquez, Frazer Irving
Inks: Wade Von Grawbadger, Tim Townsend, Mark Irwin
Colors: Marte Gracia, Jason Keith, Chris Bachalo, Frazer Irving
Cover: Chris Bachalo
Lettering & Production: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Assistant Editors: Christina Harrington, Xander Jarowey
Editors: Mike Marts and Mark Paniccia
Published by: Marvel
Cover Date: January 2016
Cover Price: $5.99

Winter Carnival

Writer: Mary Jo Duffy
Penciler: George Perez
Inker: Alfredo Alcala
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Cover Art: Paul Gulacy
Associate Editor: Ralph Macchio
Editor: Dennis O’Neil

The first X-Men comic I clearly, consciously remember getting is Uncanny X-Men #300. The costumes, the characters, the cover–it fit the then-current animated series on tv that I was getting familiar with, and had a nice shiny cover to draw extra attention (to say nothing of being a thicker cover physically, making for a durable, high-quality issue to hold).

Several years later I picked up #400, and then years after that 500–though I hadn’t kept up with every issue of the title.

So again now, I bought #600 despite not being entirely current on the title (and overlooking the multiple reboots between the last legitimately-numbered issue and this) because of having bought the last several 100-issue round-number issues when they came up. Some 22 years after getting #300, here I am with #600.

My understanding is that this is Bendis‘ final X-Men issue, as far as being the driving force behind the main X-books. Despite catching up a fair bit on Uncanny X-Men and All-New X-Men recently via Marvel‘s Digital Unlimited, I’m still a bit out of the loop on whatever’s transpired between where I left off there and stuff immediately prior to Secret Wars and the Last Days stuff. But I do know the characters and the bulk of recent stuff in the most general of terms.

This issue finds Beast (Hank McCoy) experiencing an “intervention” by his teammates, forcing him to confront what he’s done of late–with emphasis on having time-traveled to bring the original X-Men into the present where they’re now stuck. Amidst the intervention/confrontation, we get some flashes to a number of smaller interactions–“original” Jean wants to leave the group for awhile; “original” Bobby confronts current Bobby on repressed feelings; Kitty, Colossus, and Illyana catch up with each other, and so on. Meanwhile, we also see Scott Summers’ recent dream to fruition…and it proves to be just a bit different than we’ve been led to believe.

We also get a lengthy “backup story” by Perez, a solo Iceman thing, that while it looks good does not feel particularly relevant nor current. It seems set in the early 1970s, though it feels like a more recent piece. The art is very good–I usually do enjoy Perez‘ art–though I don’t entirely appreciate the black-and-white instead of color. Perhaps it was intended this way, maybe it was a stylistic choice, but that contributes to it not feeling like it belongs in this issue.

The main feature’s story is solid enough, and though it doesn’t feel like an ongoing issue but more like a one-shot, it works decently enough as itself, as what it is. At the same time, I’m not thrilled at what appears to be Bendis trying to cement several key points just before taking off, like he has to solidify or shoehorn in some stuff to force subsequent writers to address things or leave Bendis‘ work to be an absolute character element. I do definitely approve of the supposed conclusion of the Cyclops arc, and hope to see stuff picked up on, that it’d “redeem” the villanous element applied to the character over the last several years.

Visually…while I appreciate the CONCEPT of letting a bunch of artists work on the issue as “the” big anniversary issue…I can really do without it. The shifting visual styles is distracting and draws attention to stuff in a way that takes away from the otherwise-natural shifting nature of the story, giving us some smaller character moments while addressing the larger overall confrontation with Beast.

I definitely enjoyed Perez‘ work on the Iceman story…but it’s such an unrelated thing that I’m honestly resentful at its inclusion, at this issue being over-priced at $6 over the “standard” $4 just for the story’s inclusion. Better a $3.99 issue without it than $5.99 WITH. That said, the story would work as some bonus/extra cheap attraction, as it really has nothing to do with current continuity, and has no likely/obvious ongoing elements to contribute to stuff, other than being a ’70s-looking/’70s-sounding story.

The main story’s art was distracting…and I was reminded how recognizable and unwelcome (to me) Bachalo‘s art is amidst it all…especially for the cover. It’s also very disappointing that the cover looks like it’s half of or one of several “panels” of a larger image, without even a wraparound…only a bunch of variants.

I bought this issue personally for being the anniversary issue, being the actual high-number or “legacy-numbered” issue. That’s for the personal element of having got #300 off the shelf, and each subsequent 100-numbered issue. In and of itself, if you have followed Bendis‘ X-work, you’ll want to pick this up. Otherwise, this is quite skippable for whatever will be ‘current” moving forward. Outside of whatever closure you’d get having followed this series, and/or All-New X-Men, I’d suggest skipping this and waiting for whatever nearest #1 most directly follows and grabs your attention.

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