Friday, December 14, 2012

Marvel Masterworks vol 37: The Uncanny X-Men

Before I dive back into the more obscure trades of the independent world, a diversion to the glory days of the X-Men.  Hard to believe that there was a time when the X-Men only had one title and were immensely popular.  The Big Two these days mandate a minimum of two titles for even a moderately popular character or cast of characters, and no one can beat the X-Men for volume of titles.

Anyway, this volume collects Uncanny X-Men 122-131 and Uncanny X-Men Annual 3.  I vacillated on buying this volume for a long time because I already own singles of 122 and 126-131.  Even on sale at half off it seemed a bit much to buy for 123-125 and the annual, a grand total of 4 issues I hadn't read.  Still, in the end I bought it, and it was worth the money.

Nostalgia certainly has to be factored in to my fondness for these stories, but there's also the fact that one was being told really was new and really was well done.  Claremont was at the top of his game in telling these stories that lead into the grand Phoenix saga that will always, in my mind, conclude with Jean Grey's death on the moon, regardless of all the revisionary crap that's come along since.

It doesn't hurt to have John Byrne doing all the monthly issues and George Perez doing the annual, either.  These two were among the best superhero artists of that era, and certainly tops in overall history of comics art, too.  Distinctive styles and fine detail, particularly with Perez, are their hallmarks.  But both drew muscular men and sexy women without going overboard into the hyperbole that characterizes much of the superhero art of later eras.  What's more, they did average people, including children, without making them copies of the superhero physiques.  It was this kind of art that really cemented my affection for comics and has kept me looking for more good reads in the field to this day.

The stories cover some insecure feelings, including homesickness, for Colossus, a Murderworld trap by Arcade, and a one off story involving Arkon in the annual.  Those are something of a hiatus from the intense stories that were told in the preceding volume that had elements of the team thinking one another had been killed fighting Magneto in Antarctica.

Once those respite stories conclude, Claremont gears things up with reuniting the team in Scotland, while barely surviving a fight with the ravenous and insane Proteus (aka Mutant X), which quickly leads to the first confrontations with the Hellfire Club, which will later lead to the epogee of the Phoenix saga.

Of course, these issues also introduce Kitty Pryde (insert code name here) and Dazzler.  I think there's one other X-Men issue a few years later that involves Dazzler and used the character well.  Other than this introduction and that story, I'd have been happier never having to read another Dazzler story again.  Her introduction came in 1980, just as Disco was about to come to a spangly halt, so she was automatically a badly dated character.  Letting her fade away would have been far better than the graphic novel she starred in some years later.  You can read more on my opinion of that here.

Ah, but the young Kitty Pryde had many more great stories to be told.  As long as Claremont stayed away from too much cutsie (she was 13, not 6), he put together an engaging history and story for her, including a fun Christmas issue when she fought a demon and nearly destroyed the mansion in the process.

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