Robot 6

Six by 6 | My six favorite issues of Claremont and Byrne’s Uncanny X-Men run

Uncanny X-Men 137

Uncanny X-Men 137

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:

uncanny115

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.

Uncanny X-Men 128

Uncanny X-Men 128

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:

Uncanny X-Men #139

Uncanny X-Men #139

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:

from Uncanny X-Men 137

from Uncanny X-Men 137

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?

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17 Comments

nice list. when you don’t look at it for a while, you forget how amazing the artwork, inked by Austin, was in those issues. Really glad to see 139 on the list, the scene of Nightcrawler unloading the car and watching the sunset over Hudson Bay while he deals with Jean’s death (back in the day when death in the X-men was assumed to mean something) still remains among my favorites. I guess the one issue i would include would be 133, when a Wolverine “unleased” story was rare and even a bit shocking in its violence…

I have every issue compiled in Essentials. It’s still one of the best runs in comics ever, along with Marv Wolfman/George Perez New Teen Titans, Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Paul Levitz/keith Giffen Legion of Super-Heroes.

Out of that amazing X-Men run, there was that “Day In The Life” issue (I think it’s Uncanny #120) that I count as one of my faves. The whole tone of the issue was no major action but it dived into their lives in a way you never saw in comics before. And the pimp trying to pick up Ororo was (and still is) hilarious…

I like the runs that Lierson mentioned but I think Garth Ennis’ run on Hellblazer has to be mentioned also.

This is a great writeup. Makes me excited to go out and get these. Not really ‘nerdy’ at all just defining what makes these comics good.

Arcade and MurderWorld is truly one of my favorite x-issues ever.

Jesse: All but the first comic mentioned here are in Essential X-Men Volume 2.
(That said, Volume 1 is well worth picking up, too!)

your list has a few of my faves from jeans funneral to murder world to of course my fave the dark Phonix saga. though i would have the mutant massacre and the extinction agenda on my list

No idea who did it, but I remember a really awesome followup featuring the only appearance of the White Phoenix costume in the Classic X-Men issue which reprinted her death. It was damn good.

I want a Classic X-Men run now. :(

This was and still is one of the best runs on any title. The depth of storytelling and detailed art (need to add credit to Terry Austin) still stand out. I fondly remember searcing the 7-11s each month longing to get the new issue each month.
This was Clarmont at his best. New writers could learn somrthing here. You can still take multiple issues (Savage Land and Hellfire Club archs) to tell a story and still be able to cram each page with action and story…

My all-time favorite run of comics as well. I can’t pick any individual issues because I love the entire run. If I had to pick six, I’d go with the Proteus saga (126-128) and the Death of Phoenix saga (135-137). Death of Phoenix, those words back in the early 80’s represented comics at its finest. These days, Jean’s resurrection pretty much made that storyline irrelevant for newer fans.

@Brendan T – IIRC, that back up story that you’re thinking of was written by Claremont and had Tom Rainey (?) on art. And you’re right that was a nice little addition. I think a good number of those back up stories had been collected into a trade called X-Men Vignettes…although I can’t recall if that line had gotten round to reprinting back ups from this late in the Classic-Xmen run. Mostly, those books focus on the Claremont/John Bolton stories.

And yes, this is still my favorite run of books, I just gotten the Uncanny Omnibus recently and reread everything up through 132 or so. (BTW, Marvel, is it too much trouble to ask for a second omnibus to finish off the run?).

My favorite issues would include 109, which had the first Vindicator appearance, and started to move Wolverine out from his brawler mentality. I still really loved Bryne’s art from that era…and to a degree that makes me a bit sad considering that his more modern stuff over the past 15-20 years really seems to have become a shadow of its former self.

I don’t own #137, but I have the TPB of Dark Phoenix Saga, and I remember that entire chapter fondly. Powerful stuff. Perhaps I should look into more Claremont/Byrne X-Men in the future.

Uncanny X-Men #139 & #140 were the first X-Men comics I ever read. Blew my tiny little mind. They were collected in an oversized X-Men annual by Marvel UK. Must’ve read it at least 100 times. It also had an original text story illustrated by Gary Frank set directly after the Dark Phoenix Saga in which the original X-Men (minus Jean) returned to replace the new team but it turned out they were Skrulls. I am not making that up.

Coincedently, the very first Fantastic Four story I ever read was the first issue of Byrne’s run with the FF taking on the four elements conjured up by Diablo.

All my first comic reading experiences were through collections and re-prints by UK companies so my starting points for different characters are all over the place but also meant I was exposed to some of the best stories straight away.

What a great recap of some of the great issues from the X-Men’s greatest creative team. I grew up in Dallas (still live here) and I, too, have fond memories of the Lone Star Comics on Forest Ln. — first located near Medical City (where I bought my copy of #137 off the back-issue wall reserved for high-dollar comics, think I paid the exhorbitant sum of $12 for my copy). It later relocated to Forest & Preston Rd. Sadly, it moved out to Mockingbird and Abrams a few years ago, and is not within my stomping grounds anymore.

My favorite issues would have to be
#111 – for sentimentality, as it was my first issue. It starts in the middle of the action – X-Men already captured & brainwashed – and I thought it was the craziest thing.
#113 – the best X-Men vs Magneto story ever – has yet to be surpassed, just an all-out brawl
#121 – X-Men vs Alpha Flight – I was especially fond of Nightcrawler chasing the Beaubier twins across Calgary, “Tally-ho!”
#127 – Proteus mops the floor with the X-Men; Cyclops has an impromptu “Danger Room” exercise vs the rest of the team (and shows why he’s the greatest X-Man); and the poor girl with the flat tire — when Proteus killed her it scared the crap out my 9-year old self
#134 – vs the Hellfire Club and the birth of Dark Phoenix
#143 – sure it’s an “Alien” rip-off, but it’s a great rip-off.

Anybody want to know my top 6 favorite Babylon 5 Episodes?

Anyone else annoyed by that stupid ad in yellow across the top of the cover of #137?
I was a dedicated regular buyer of the book in that era, and I swear I ended up paying three bucks instead of the cover price because that ad delayed my purchase.

I think back to my childhood days and the vivid memories of the great Claremont ,Byrne & Austin run. I can’t pick six because I feel from #108 – #143 was just…Legendary is the only word that comes to mind. If you read the books over and over like we all did, I’m sure to this day you still steal a line from one of the books right “bub?” It guided us from adolescence to adulthood.it made us think and act a certain way.it caused me to get a Byrne era wolverine tattoo that I need to show every comic fan I meet. It’s great too see that others enjoyed it as much as I did. Glad I found this site:)

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