Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
A few weeks ago I was the guest on The Rick and Phil Hour, a live chat hosted on the Oni Press blog. During the chat, Phil asked me:
10:11 PhilGelatt: Are you an apologist for a particularly nerdy thing (for example: I will fight to the death for Babylon 5).
10:11 PhilGelatt: to. the. death.
My answer was Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s run on Uncanny X-Men. Although those weren’t the first comics I ever read, they were the first comics that I can remember wanting — no, needing — to seek out every month at my local 7-Eleven. Before that my comic book buying habits were a bit random; a little Spider-Man here, some Fantastic Four over here, maybe an issue of Invaders on a long road trip. With X-Men, I became not only a spinner rack stalker, but eventually a back issue collector as well … once I discovered the wonders of comic book shops (thanks to Lone Star Comics on Forest Lane in Dallas) I was able to fill in all of the issues I’d missed. Because at the time, the X-Men were becoming somewhat of a phenomenon, and finding issues of it at 7-Eleven, Mr. M or anywhere else I regularly looked for comics was tough.
So just like Phil would fight to the death for Babylon 5, I’d do the same for this era of the X-Men that really cemented my love for comics. So without further ado, here are my top six favorite individual issues of Claremont and Byrne’s Uncanny X-Men.
1. Uncanny X-Men #115: This is the first issue of the title I ever bought, but it doesn’t make the list on sentimentality alone. No, it makes the list because of this double-page panel spread right here:
The lead up to this scene was a long explanation by Sauron on how he was going to rule the Savage Land, and as you can see, Wolverine wasn’t having it. This is not only classic Wolverine — let’s stop yappin’ and start choppin’ — but also showcases the classic Wolverine/Cyclops dynamic. Wolverine leaps before he looks, while Cyclops wants to think everything through. It’s their entire relationship summed up in 20 words of dialogue and one awesome piece of art.
That scene was followed by a mind-controlled Wolverine fighting the X-Men, the introduction of some really bad dude named Garokk and the possible destruction of the entire Savage Land at his hands. I was hooked.
2. Uncanny X-Men #138: This probably seems like an odd one to have on the list. It takes place at the funeral of Jean Grey, and as far as action goes, it’s a pretty quiet issue. In fact, the only thing that really happens in terms of plot or story advancement is that Cyclops leaves the team at the end.
But as a kid whose knowledge of the X-Men at the time was limited to just a few scattered issues of the title, this issue was a goldmine. While at the funeral, Cyclops pretty much recounts the entire history of the X-Men, from their early days when he first met Jean all the way up until the events of her death. Looking back, it’s a great character story, showing how Scott Summers’ life has pretty much always been about the X-Men and Jean, love and duty, and at the end he has to see if he can live without either.
3. Uncanny X-Men #128: This was the big finale of the Proteus saga, where Moira MacTaggert’s evil mutant son, who has the ability to warp reality, pretty much lets loose on Scotland and the X-Men. My copy of this issue is water damaged; back then my older brother had the bad habit of reading comics in the bathtub, and I think this was a casualty (not that he ever admitted it).
This issue was pure adrenaline; Proteus could pretty much do whatever he wanted to, well, anything, and you could tell the creative team had a lot of fun making that happen. I think the best part of this, though, is when Phoenix connects the minds of the X-Men so Scott can tell them what to do, and they go to work as a team, giving it all they’ve got. In the end, Colossus gets the last lick in, and in probably my favorite line from that issue, he comforts Moira and tells her to cry all she wants, as he will not rust.
4. Uncanny X-Men #139: What’s interesting about issues 139 and 140 is that they are bookmarked by two landmark stories in X-Men history, the Dark Phoenix saga and Days of Future Past. But if I was putting these in some kind of order, I’d probably rank these issues higher than them, because they featured my two favorite X-Men at the time. Issue 139 introduces a new status quo for the team — Cyclops is gone, Angel and Kitty Pryde join and Storm takes over as leader. After a classic Danger Room sequence, we move into the meat of the story — Wolverine heads back to Canada with Nightcrawler in tow to make peace with his former teammates in Alpha Flight.
So it’s kind of a road trip/buddy movie as they revisit Wolverine’s past. Not only do we learn his name is Logan, but we also get to see him come face to face with the first foe he ever fought, Wendigo. And at the time, I hadn’t read the issues that introduced Alpha Flight, so it was my first exposure to Vindicator, Snowbird and Shaman. And while it may not have gone down in history like that tale that came before it or the one right after, you gotta admit the cover still remains a classic:
5. Uncanny X-Men #123: I’d be remiss if I didn’t include something about Murderworld on this list. I owned the Marvel Team-Up issues that introduced Arcade and Captain Britain, so to see Murderworld pop up in the X-Men was a treat. And just seeing all the different ways Arcade catches them, combined with the different scenarios he put them through, was pretty awesome.
But even beynd that, one thing I liked about this issue was how it showed the X-Men were connected to the larger Marvel Universe. They always seem to be out on an island all their own, sort of the Hawaii to the greater Marvel Universe of America, but this issue featured both Colleen Wing and Spider-Man … a reminder they were part of something bigger.
6. Uncanny X-Men #137: I’ll end my list with the first comic I ever bought out of a back issue bin. Despite my best attempts at tracking it down on the newsstands, somehow I missed it, and this was not the issue to miss.
Anyway, I saved the best for last. In order to save the life of Jean Grey, the X-Men have to face the Imperial Guard in a battle on the moon. The classic New X-Men team, joined by Beast and Angel, face off against an overwhelming force led by, essentially, Superman. Jean, of course, was being tried for her crimes as Dark Phoenix. We all know how this one ends, right kids? How Jean reverted back to Dark Phoenix, and instead of letting herself succumb to her evil impulses, she takes herself out:
It was a classic moment, both heroic and tragic at the same time. I still get chills thinking about it.
Anyway, that’s my list, my favorite moments from my favorite run in comics. What about you?