Several years ago I started writing a pretty lengthy post about my brief time as a big-time X-Men fan. I never finished it, but am incorporating some of the ideas into this Trade Post. I loved the 90s cartoon, but that only ever read into me picking up the Fatal Attractions trade as one of the first collections I ever purchased. I also tried getting into the X-world around the time that Grant Morrison took over, but funds grew limited as did my attention span so that went out the window. Then I got a job at Wizard in the research department and wound up covering the X-Men beat for about a year. This might have stemmed from the fact that I’d interviewed Mike Carey for Newsarama about his impending Vampirella take-over between my Wizard internship and actually working at the mag. Anyway, I was the go-to guy talking to Carey about X-Men, the editors and lots of other folks. When you cover things like this extensively you feel the need to keep up on the books because, one, you will probably have to cover them again in the next few months and two, you’re curious to see how it turned out.
At this point which was after the mutant-limiting 198 even with Scarlet Witch, Ed Brubaker — who I dug as the writer on Captain America — took over Uncanny X-Men and Mike Carey was doing X-Men. I’ll get into some of the ancillary titles I also really enjoyed like Cable/Deadpool and New X-Men when I can get my hands on more of those trades, but I figured it’d be fun to go back and read the first years’ worth of both these books, starting with Bru’s Rise And Fall Of The Shi’Ar Empire story. This was one that a lot of people I knew weren’t that into and, if memory serves, it did feel kind of slow when coming out in single issues — this is a pretty epic story spanning 12 issues — but when you read it all together it has that concise nature that I love in his writing.
This story spins directly out of Brubaker’s Deadly Genesis miniseries which revealed that Professor X sent a brand new team of mutants to try and save the original X-Men before he put together the international group made famous in Giant Sized X-Men #1. Most of them died, but two — the third Summers brother now called Vulcan and a super adapter named Darwin — survived. Vulcan flew off into space to get revenge on the Shi’Ar who killed his mother and enslaved him. This prompts Prof. X — who’s not having a great time as all his dark secrets are finding the light of day — to put a team together and go after his one time student. Said group includes Havok, Polaris, Nightcrawler, Darwin, Rachel Summers and Warpath (who I did a fun Wizard Insider on and actually got really excited about as a different take on the Wolverine idea). They head into space, but the trip winds up taking a long time because Vulcan is destroying all the jump gates and winds up actually falling for Deathbird and becoming part of the Shi’Ar royal family.
There’s a lot more going on in the book, which also introduces Korvus, a Shi’Ar citizen locked up because his family line was touched by the Phoenix force long ago and a portion resides in a gigantic, anime-style sword that only he can heft. Oh, plus Skrulls, the Imperial Guard and the Starjammers all play important parts. There’s so much going on that the book actually feels like a really solid TV season with a few departures — every three or four issues Vulcan takes the spotlight in issues drawn by Clayton Henry to give regular artist Billy Tan a bit of a breather.
Not being the biggest X-fan in the world, I must say that I felt it was pretty easy to slide right into this story. I put X-Men up there with the Legion of Super-Heroes when it comes to figuring out how characters related to one another, so it can be daunting wading into a story like this, but Brubaker handles these ancient relationships in such a way that he gives you enough information to understand what’s happening without getting deep into continuity porn. I know very little about, say, the Havok/Polaris relationship or Rachel Summers’ backstory, but I was never confused by the elements being presented to me in this story.
I really enjoyed this trade and a big part of that is the big, bold artwork by Billy Tan. Henry does some fun fill-in issues, but there’s a clear difference in style with his looser pencils showing off how tight and clean Tan’s can be. They both create large, heroic looking figures, though, which unites the stories. I’m also going to give huge props to the ink and coloring team of Danny Miki (mostly) and Frank D’Armata. I remember around this time being really impressed with the house inking/coloring style that Marvel seemed to be fostering in a lot of their books. While not necessarily uniform, I felt like a lot of different books had a somewhat similar feel thanks to a dark-ish, yet bold tone. I don’t have either of them yet, but I’d like to get my hands on Deadly Genesis and The Extremists which bridges the gap between Rise and the Messiah Complex crossover, which I’m a huge fan of.
I’m going to say right off that bat that I wound up talking to Mike Carey quite a bit in my time at Wizard and grew to really enjoy those talks. He’s a very cool guy with a deep love of all things X-Men and comics whose enthusiasm always comes through. I will also say that I had a bit of a harder time reading his X-Men book because of a lack of familiarity with a few of the characters. The idea behind his book is that, in a post-198 world, Rogue will lead a team of mutants not connected to the school who go out and deal with problems. Her crew included Iceman, Mystique, Cannonball, Sabertooth (kinda), Cable (kinda), Lady Mastermind and Sentinel. Most of my confusion — both during my initial reading and the more recent one — came from a pre-occupation of who those latter two characters were. It’s not like Carey put a lot of importance on their backstory, but being almost completely unfamiliar with them and their abilities was distracting. It’s like knowing everyone at a party except for two people and becoming obsessed with who they are. I should have just looked them up on Wiki, but that info should also have probably been in the story.
Speaking of the stories, you’ve got a couple doozies here. First off, there’s a new kind of mutant who were created and evolved on a battleship who have woken up and want to take out the X-Men. They’re so tough that they scared the poop out of Sabertooth who makes his way to the X-Mansion in an attempt to take advantage of the locale’s mutant refuge. He’s kept captive for a while, but is also used as a weapon during various missions. This group of X-Men also finds themselves on the hunt for an evil scientist named Pan who can absorb and use mutant powers like Rogue, but for longer periods of time. He was experimenting on Lady Mastermind and Sentinel which is how they found their way into the story. Oh and they also help fix Northstar who was turned into a psycho killer in Mark Millar’s run on Wolverine. I like that Carey went with new villains because it adds to the sandbox while also allowing him to work within a far more limited cast of mutant bad guys.
While I did have some trouble with understanding a few of the characters, I really enjoyed getting to know some of the others better. Rogue is super-rad in this book, taking charge, kicking ass and taking names. She goes through a lot too, which toughens her up even more, something she probably didn’t need, but gets worked with in later stories. I also liked seeing the weird relationship between Iceman and Mystique. Carey also does some really interesting things with Iceman’s powers that I got a kick out of. Then you’ve got Cannonball who played well off of Cable, the two having moved on a bit from the younger hero’s hero worship of the other. There’s a bit of a sadness that runs through these stories that infects these characters, all of which makes sense when you contextualize it against the fact that their very species is at risk of extinction.
And, of course, you can’t talk about this book without talking about the artists. I love Mark Brooks and his contribution as the artist on the annual is exactly what I think of when I think of superhero comic books. But since this is a darker comic, Chris Bachalo and Humberto Ramos’ styles fit better. Both retain their unique looks, but also feel like part of the same cloth. Bachalo has a crazy, erratic-ness that fits with the idea of a new species popping up to take over for mutants while Ramos’ freneticism fits his story. I will say that sometimes, their sketchy nature makes some of the panels hard to read, but overall I like the effect of their art on the story. Like with the above book, there’s a much shorter trade between this one and Messiah Complex that I want to get my hands on, plus Carey wrote the back-ups that made up the Endangered Species collection. I’d like to get those in the ol’ collection as well to see how they all play together. After that? Well, I remember X-Men Legacy getting a little too in-depth when it came to X-Men history which isn’t really my bag.