Previously on Desperately Seeking…
You know how sometimes when you read a really good book, you want to wrap yourself up in it and just live in it forever? That’s how I’ve been feeling about the X-Men. So I’m very glad to have gotten extra time to spend with the merry mutants. Without further adieu, on to more X-Men.
X-Men: From the Ashes by Chris Claremont and Paul Smith (with Walt Simonson and John Romita, Jr.)
Team: Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, Rogue (and Wolverine and Cyclops when they’re not busy getting married and making out with clones of their ex, respectively)
I had gotten a few recommendations for this trade, but when the owner of my comic shop called these issues the Gold Age of the X-Men, I decided it was a must. And I haven’t been this happy about a comic decision in a long time.
From the Ashes picks up a few issues after the end of The Dark Phoenix Saga and opens with the infamous Professor Xavier is a JERK! panel. It’s a worse-for-the-wear team that’s pulled itself apart with grief. After spending time on a shrimping boat, Scott has been off with his dad and the Starjammers. Wolverine fled to Japan. Kitty was relegated to the New Mutants. And Storm is leading the team while battling her own demons.
This trade does not open in a happy or fun place. In fact, most of the stories are emotionally rough. But these are all personal stories, character pieces. And when it’s done well, I eat that stuff up with a giant spoon.
There’s not a ton of action in this book. I mean, there’s a wacky battle with the Morlocks, some awesome ninja fights in Japan, and a showdown between X-Men in the Savage Land. But that’s not what this book is about. Each of the X-Men–Kitty, Ororo, Logan, Scott, and even Rogue–are trying to find themselves no that they’ve lost Jean Grey.
I think this is Claremont at his best. The caption boxes aren’t mini novels and the dialog is as natural as it going to get. He lets the art tell the story. Which is a good thing, because the Paul Smith art is amazing. And Simonson and Romita Jr (who fill in for a couple issues) aren’t exactly slouches. But that’s really just a style thing. Claremont is delving into his characters here. He’s defining them. He creating them in a way that truly his own.
For a story that starts with a group of lost, emo characters, it ends with a strong, confident team. A family even. And I think that’s what I loved most about this.
New X-Men by Grant Morisson, Frank Quitely, Leinil Yu, Ethan Van Sciver, and Igor Kordey
Team: Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine, Beast, Emma Frost
This is a polarizing run. I feel people either love it or hate it (or both, but it’s rare to find anyone with a luke-warm reaction to it). For Desperately Seeking I read the first volume of the Ultimate Collection, which is something to keep in mind while reading this blurby-blurb.
I love the hell out of Grant Morrison’s X-Men. Actually. Let me rephrase that. I love the hell out of Grant Morrison’s Jean Grey. Cyclops may be the “leader” but when Xavier is knocked out of commission by Cassandra Nova, Jean runs the team and the school. She’s kind and compassionate, but she’s also strong and capable – I love watching her run circles around Emma Frost. I also love hating Emma in this series. I know Cassandra Nova is the real villain of this story, but Emma’s constant conniving and cold calculating is not the stuff of heroes. But like Logan is to Scott, Emma is the perfect foil for Jean on the team. She’s like Lady MacBeth, waiting to make her play to take control.
Morrison writes these X-Men with flaws and vulnerabilities, making them more relate-able and human. It’s the reason I liked this book so much. The stories where solid, but nothing really groundbreaking (although, holy shit was that silent issue amazing). We see an underside to Morrison’s X-Men, but they’re still heroic. Which is an important distinction (at least for me). I think Morrison tries to bring that through in the wide cast of mutants he created for this series. His mutants a rougher and uglier than the traditional students we’ve seen. Beak looks like he’s half-chicken and Angel vomits acid. There’s a girl with pairs of lips around her neck and a guy with three faces on one(ish) head. In fact, the Cuckoos are least creepy of the new mutants, and the thought of not one but five clones of Emma Frost is kind of terrifying.
I really did enjoy this volume and I want to read more of it. Except, I know what’s coming up. I know Scott starts messing around with Emma. I know Jean dies. And I really don’t want to see that happen. So I’m content with having read what I have and am going to cut my losses and call it day with the rest of the run.
Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
Team: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Armor
I originally read Joss Whedon’s much adored Astonishing X-Men last summer, but I decided to give it a quick read-through for this. My initial problem with Astonishing was that I was expecting it to be accessible and new reader friendly. It mostly was but there was a lot going on that I didn’t get at the time. I now know that’s because Whedon lifts heavily from Morrison. I had no clue what Cassandra Nova and Genosha were supposed to mean to me, so I just went long with the story. Whedon’s very good with character, which is why I liked this run a lot. Kitty is a great character, but Astonishing is the reason I love her. This is also the most bad-ass Cyclops has been (I mean, he’s got moments of bad-assery in New X-Men, but when he comes “back from the dead” with guns blazing, Scott is the hottest guy in the ‘verse).
But reading this a second time, and knowing everything I know now, Astonishing feels like a redemption story for Emma Frost. Here, Emma is trying to be part of the team. She has some genuine character moments. If Kitty can accept her as an X-Men, then surely I should. But I even after this, she’s still the woman who has stolen Jean’s place on the team. I never really bought Faith as a member of the Buffy Squad, and Whedon still hasn’t sold be on Emma as a good guy (besides, having Emma teach Ethics class is like having Snape teach Defence against the Dark Arts – yeah they know the course material really well, but for all the wrong reasons).
Uncanny X-Men by Kieron Gillen, Terry Dodson, and Greg Land
Team: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Magneto
Also, for the sake of simplicity (and space), I’m just going to cover Gillen’s first solo arc on the book (issues #535-538). And the main reason I’m covering it is because it builds off of Whedon’s work in Astonishing and Gillen’s own work on S.W.O.R.D. Society had completely fallen into disarray on the Breakworld, and in an attempt at diplomacy, Kruun (the dude who shot the giant space bullet that Kitty got stuck in) reaches out to Agent Brand to get some help from the X-Men. But old habits die hard, and instead Kruun tries to kill all of the X-Men, again. I will read pretty much anything Gillen writes. He’s the reason I’m even picking up Uncanny right now. And this first arc is good, solid storytelling. But, and maybe because this story felt like a continuation of Whedon’s work, it didn’t resonate with me the way other X-Men stories have. That said, Gillen is freaking killing on Generation Hope, and if this article was on non-X-Men X-Men, that would be the title to beat.
I could keep reading old X-Men stories forever, so before this gets too long (too late) it’s time for me to pick my X-Men. While I’ve come to completely adore Jean Grey (I really, REALLY wish she wasn’t dead) From the Ashes is hands down my favorite of these. By creating such character-driven stories, Claremont has defined the X-Men for me and countless others. This is indeed the Golden Age of the X-Men, and I just want to dive back in and read more.
While writing this article, Ali Colluccio’s dad said he much prefers the Y-Men. They’re the one’s who sang YMCA, right?