Comic Book Review – X-Men Epic Collection: It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn

X-Men Epic Collection: It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn (2019)
Reprints Amazing Adventures #11-17, Amazing Spider-Man #92, Incredible Hulk #150, 161, 172 & 180-182, Marvel Team-Up #4 & 23, Avengers #110-111, Captain America #172-175, Defenders #15-16, and Giant-Size Fantastic Four #4
Written by Steve Englehart, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Mike Friedrich, Tony Isabella, & Chris Claremont
Art by Sal Buscema, Tom Sutton, Herb Trimpe, Gil Kane, Don Heck, John Buscema, Bob Brown & Jim Starlin

This is the easiest to pass up of all the original X-Men Epic Collections. It takes place in the gap between the initial run and Chris Claremont’s takeover in 1974, so we have a lot of short arcs with the X-Men guest-starring in other books. That was my mindset at first, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I see this as a flame carried by people who loved these characters. It would have been easy to let the X-Men slide into obscurity like many other characters whose books got canceled. They could have fallen into comic book limbo, but because writer/editor Len Wein believed in the concept, he and other creators kept finding places for these mutant heroes to pop up.

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Comic Book Review – X-Men Epic Collection: The Sentinels Live!

X-Men Epic Collection: The Sentinels Live! (2018)
Reprints X-Men #46-66, Ka-Zar #2-3, and Marvel Tales #30
Written by Roy Thomas, Arnold Drake, Gary Freidrich, Denny O’Neill, Linda Fite, and Jerry Siegel
Art by Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, Werner Roth, Don Heck, George Tuska, Barry Windsor-Smith, and Sal Buscema

The X-Men were in a spiral downward during this period, with writers coming and going every few issues. Roy Thomas’ run was paused for a few issues before returning with a surprisingly new collaborator on pencils. Eventually, the steam would run out of the concept, and for four years, there would be no new stories published in the X-Men title, only reprints. In this book, we see that last period where you could pick up a new monthly story featuring only the original team. After all this time, some of their personalities are still muddy and often contradictory when new writers jump on the book. There are some hidden gems here, though, stories that rooted themselves so much they still have effects on the title today.

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Comic Book Review – X-Men Epic Collection: Lonely Are The Hunted

X-Men Epic Collection: Lonely Are the Hunted (2018)
Reprints X-Men #24-45, Avengers #53, and Not Brand Echh #4,8
Written by Roy Thomas with Gary Friedrich
Art by Werner Roth, Don Heck, George Tuska, Ross Andru, Jack Sparling, Dan Adkins, John Buscema, and Tom Sutton

As prolific as Stan Lee was, he just didn’t know what to do with all of his co-creations. You can feel his enthusiasm for characters like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four in how those worlds build outward from the central protagonists. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for books like Daredevil or the X-Men. Lee clearly had a concept but didn’t seem to know where to go after that, aside from very few antagonists that would carry on into the present. Finally, after 19 issues, he handed the reins over to Roy Thomas, a rising star editor & writer at Marvel. Thomas had come to Marvel in 1966 after a stint at DC Comics. After fill-in writing on some teen romance books, Thomas’ first long-term writing gig came in Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos for one year before being handed the X-Men. 

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Comic Book Review – X-Men Epic Collection: Children of the Atom

X-Men Epic Collection: Children of the Atom (2015)
Reprints X-Men #1-23
Written by Stan Lee
Art by Jack Kirby, Werner Roth, and Alex Toth

The X-Men have had quite a tumultuous history. When I was getting into comic books in the late 1980s/early 1990s, they were insanely hot. X-Men comics were some of the best-selling books, which spun off into action figures, video games, and multiple animated series. When we think of the X-Men, many immediately think of Wolverine. My personal favorites have always been Colossus and Nightcrawler. Yet, none of that is present at the beginning and wouldn’t be for over a decade. The original X-Men was such an oddball book, feeling like an afterthought by Stan Lee. 

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Comic Book Review – X-Factor: Genesis and Apocalypse

X-Factor: Genesis and Apocalypse (2017)
Reprints Avengers #263, Fantastic Four #286, X-Factor #1-9, X-Factor Annual #1, Iron Man Annual #8, Amazing Spider-Man #282, material from Classic X-Men #8, 43
Written by Roger Stern, John Byrne, Bob Layton, Bob Harras, Louise Simonson, Tom DeFalco, Chris Claremont, and Jackson Guice
Art by John Buscema, John Byrne, Jackson Guice, Keith Pollard, Paul Neary, Bob Layton, Rick Leonardi, Marc Silvestri, Terry Shoemaker, John Bolton, and Mike Collins

It was 1986, and for five years, Jean Grey had been dead. In a shocking development within the pages of Uncanny X-Men, she became possessed by the Phoenix Force, driven mad, and gave up her life to stop the cosmic entity from wreaking any more havoc. The original X-Men: Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, and Angel grew apart and left the team they started with. Then something miraculous happened, a cocoon was found in Jamaica Bay in New York City by the Avengers. With the help of the Fantastic Four, they discovered Jeany Grey inside, apparently without any memory of the tragedy that occurred. Her return would spur on events that would resonate throughout the Marvel Universe for decades to come.

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Comic Book Review – X-Men by Jonathan Hickman Volume 2

X-Men by Jonathan Hickman Volume 2 (2020)
Reprints X-Men #7-11
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Francis Lenil Yu

Jonathan Hickman’s new status quo on the X-Men books has been such a refreshing surprising over the last year from Marvel. It seems more and more often, comic books get stuck in nostalgic cycles of retelling the same basic stories over and over. Hickman has totally reinvented the X-Men, ending the entire conflict between the team and their villains to tell a much more compelling story about a new race of people trying to carve out their own place on this planet. There really isn’t an X-Men team anymore with this title and many of the others featuring regularly rotating casts. 

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Movie Review – The New Mutants

The New Mutants (2020)
Written by Josh Boone & Knate Lee
Directed by Josh Boone

And so the 20th Century Fox X-Men franchise comes to a strange, pitiful end. Dark Phoenix came out last year and appeared to be the intended conclusion, made and edited with the end of the series in mind. However, multiple delays and then COVID-19 caused The New Mutants to make a three year trip to the big screen. The signs that the X-Men film series was over were apparent years ago with X-Men: Apocalypse, a movie that seemed conflicted about what is trying to be or how it would fit in the post-MCU landscape. I would argue that, despite a few highlights along the way, the X-Men film series was always disappointing and felt like it belonged to another era gone by.

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Comic Book Review – X-Men by Jonathan Hickman Volume One

X-Men by Jonathan Hickman Volume 1 (2020)
Reprints X-Men v5 #1-6
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Francis Lenil Yu, R.B. Silva, and Matteo Buffagni

After Jonathan Hickman’s magnificent House of X/Powers of X reboot of the X-titles’ status quo, it was clear the classic Marvel characters were headed in a brand-new direction. The mutants had finally dropped their petty squabbles and coalesced into one community, relocating to the living mutant island of Krakoa. Now with their new-found sovereign nation status and the ability to grow medicinal plants that could change the survival rates of numerous diseases, they leveraged a place at the tables of power. We also learned in that mini-series how the mutants have overcome death, using Professor Xavier’s Cerebro computer and Krakoa’s regenerative properties to regrow dead mutants complete with all their memories. This is where the fifth volume of X-Men opens, a brand new world. 

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Comic Book Review – X-Statix: The Complete Collection Volume 1

X-Statix: The Complete Collection Volume 1
Reprints X-Force #116 – 129, Brotherhood #9, X-Statix #1-5
Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Mike Allred, Darwyn Cooke, and Paul Pope

This is the most of Peter Milligan’s work that I have ever read. Before this is was a handful of Justice League Dark issues and a mini-series he did for DC’s Flashpoint crossover. I can’t say I was ever a fan of what I read, it is all so strange & off. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, more that your brain sort of has to adjust to the wavelengths Milligan is broadcasting on. It’s evident he has his own style and is writing first for himself. I prefer writers who practice that approach, write a story you would want to read, and the audience will come to you. This is one of those forgotten runs in Marvel’s X-Men niche, running alongside Grant Morrison’s brilliant reboot of the main title. Milligan’s take on X-Force got a lot of attention when it kicked off, but I don’t remember it lasting too long, the series kept going but the buzz faded.

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Event Fatigue: Second Coming

Second Coming
Written by Zeb Wells, Mike Carey, Craig Kyle, Chris Yost, Matt Fraction
Art by Ibriam Roberson, Esad Ribic, Greg Land, Terry Dodson

If you are wanting to jump into some of the most dense, hard to navigate continuity in comics today then look no further than Marvel’s X-Men titles (New Mutants, Uncanny X-Men, X-Men Legacy, X-Force, X-Factor). The X-Men characters have always seem to occupied their own little corner of the Marvel Universe, only occasionally linking up with characters like the Avengers and Spider-Man. So, when an event goes down amongst the mutant community its always very self-contained but rarely simple. The most recent event, Second Coming was all about the rebirth of the mutant race. Five years ago, Magneto’s daughter, Scarlet Witch used her reality bending powers to erase the majority of mutant powers from the face of the earth, leaving only 200 mutants left. Over the next few years, some of these mutants died and the creeping fear that their species would be wiped spread over the community. That is until one new mutant was born.

The X-Men rushed to Alaska, where the new mutant registered on their computers. Other competing groups of mutants, and anti-mutant hate groups were their competition. In the end they learned the mutant was an infant whose powers manifested at birth, defying all the medical knowledge that had gathered about mutant genes. Present day was deemed too dangerous for the baby girl, named Hope, so Cable, Cyclops’ warrior son from the future, took the baby with him on a roulette journey through time, staying one step ahead of their enemies. Once Hope was fifteen, she decided that she wanted to return to her time period to rejoin her people and learn what it was to be a mutant. Her arrival alerted Bastion, another time traveler and cyborg who was programmed specifically to wipe the mutant race from the Earth.

Since Cable had left, Cyclops had established a haven for mutant on the island Utopia, off the coast of San Francisco. Here they fended off attacks from forces that wished them dead, and Cyclops formed X-Force, a black ops team led by Wolverine that drew first blood on their enemies. This would be seen as a complete 180 from the dream Professor Xavier hoped for, so Cyclops kept it secret from the majority of mutants, even his long time lover Emma Frost. When Cable and Hope dropped on the East Coast, expecting the X-Men to still be there X-Force was dispatched, along with staples Storm, Colossus, and Nightcrawler. A battle on the freeway ended with Nightcrawler being killed and Cyclops’ bloody secret being revealed. Storm was disgusted, and Beast could no longer consider Cyclops a friend or ally. Hope and Cable eventually got to Utopia, where Bastion erected an impenetrable globe around the island and San Francisco. Portals opened inside, releasing Sentinels, mutant-killing robots on the population.

X-Force went on one final mission to the future, where these Sentinels were being dispatched and destroyed the Mastermold which made them. In the present, Hope unlocked her power and completely disintegrated Bastion and his forces. Cable, who went with X-Force, realizes that they are unable to return to the present unless he allows a technovirus that has plagued him his entire life to be unleashed. By allowing his body to become non-organic he hold the portal open and X-Force jumps through. Once on the other side Cable’s body crumbles and Hope is left to mourn the death of her adoptive father. A bonfire memorial is held that night on Utopia to the mutants that fell, and it is here Emma Frost witnesses the source of Hope’s power: The Phoenix Force. Suddenly around the globe hundreds of mutant genes are activated in humans and the mutant race is saved. Emma realizes in this moment that Hope is the reincarnation of Jean Grey, Cyclops’ late wife and that its only a matter of time until Emma loses him to her.

This series would be near impossible for someone without a dense familiarity to enjoy. I’ve read over four hundred issues of Uncanny X-Men in my life and it was still tricky for me to follow. It’s also built on seeds planted by Brian Michael Bendis five years ago in The House of M event, wherein Scarlet Witch erases a ton of mutants. It would also be a tricky event to follow if you hadn’t read the most recent two year long Cable ongoing series which followed the development of Hope. AND if you hadn’t read a few arcs of the recent two year X-Force ongoing you’d not understand why everyone freaks out when they find out what Wolverine has been up to with Cyclops. In many ways, this is the definition of a completely new reader inaccessible story. I think there’s definitely a place for rewarding loyal readers by pulling in a dump truck load of plot points, but the X-Men rarely open their doors for new readers to easily jump on. The next event has already started, the SAME WEEK Second Coming ended! While the latest event, Fall of the Mutants, is a little more accessible, it still makes me wonder what happens when the current fans die. They aren’t doing a good job of nurturing new fans.