Welcome to the 13th edition of the weekly "From Top to Bottom" column! Every week I will look at something within the comics industry and give you my opinion on what I think is the best and what I think ranks amongst the bottom-feeders.
Last week, I celebrated Hellboy 2 and the new Batman sequels with a sequel of my own by looking at the Top and Bottom of Comic Book Sequels. Today, because of the impending release of Uncanny X-Men #500, I am looking at past Uncanny X-Men anniversary issues. I think anniversary issues should be special, whether it deals with the start or end of a story line, a new character debuting, an older character returning, it should be an event. A couple of years ago I got into an argument on the old X-boards about anniversary issues. Uncanny X-Men #400 and had just come out and I was disappointed in the book and this fan told me that it would be one of the most important X-Men anniversary books. I told him that was a joke. Now that we are on the eve of #500 coming out, does #400 hold up like I thought or like he thought?
Like I mentioned before, I feel that when a book reaches as anniversary number, there should be something special happening. It should be something that makes it different from other issues. With Uncanny X-Men being the flagship of the X-franchise, I have high expectations for an anniversary book, especially one as grand as #500. Some Uncanny X-Men anniversary issues have been better than others, some have left me confused and some rarely even mention that they are celebrating a milestone. Here are my Top 3 Uncanny X-Men anniversary issues followed by my Bottom 3.
3) Uncanny X-Men #175
We were teased that Madelyn Pryor just might be Dark Phoenix but we found out that Mastermind had been manipulating everything from behind the scenes to enact his revenge on the X-Men. Mastermind tricks the X-Men to battle whom they think is Dark Phoenix but is really Cyclops. Cyclops proves how dangerous and smart he can really be as he fends off the X-Men. It established Madelyn as her own character and pushed out Cyclops as leader and active member as the issue ends with the marriage of Madelyn and Cyclops. Too bad it didn’t end all that well for them. The issue was Paul Smith’s final and also featured the start of John Romita Jr’s great run.
2) Uncanny X-Men #200
This was my first issue of the X-Men and I was confused and intrigued at the same time. This was a big one; Magneto was on trial for crimes against humanity. The X-Men suddenly appear in France; returning from Asgard to find Professor X. The tension is heightened by terrorist attacks that are blamed on the X-Men asking to ‘Free Magneto’! The terrorist attacks are a ploy for Fenris (the children of Baron Von Strucker) to kill Magneto, Gabrielle Haller and Professor X. Magneto defends them in battle and is cleared of his charges. During this battle Professor X (who was already dying) asks Magneto to take his place at his school before he dies. Magneto accepts and Lilandra and the Starjammers appear to save Charles. Back at home, Madelyn also goes into labor without Cyclops by her side. Drawn by John Romita Jr, this issue began a long run where Professor X would be separated from the X-Men. Lots of stuff certainly happened in this issue.
1) Uncanny X-Men #275
I am not a huge fan of X-Men in space stories but this was definitely the best one. This also marked the return of Professor X to the X-Men after a long separation. This featured a fantastic cast of X-Men, some old and some new; a team that I wish would have been together longer. This issue also featured Magneto, Nick Fury, Rogue and Ka-Zar as they battled Zaladane and her newly acquired magnetic powers from Polaris. Rogue regained her powers in this issue and Magneto made a decision to revert back to being a villain as he killed Zaladane. “I am not Charles Xavier. I will never be Charles Xavier. I was a fool to try as he was for believing I could succeed.” This issue was drawn by the incredible Jim Lee and remains one of my favorite storylines of all time. And it had Banshee!
I wish all anniversary issues would have been special. Some of them, like Uncanny X-Men #125 and #250 barely mentioned that they were anniversary issues. Sadly, these anniversary issues just didn't do anything for me. These were not terrible issues, they just didn't measure up to the anniversary issues listed above.
Before we get to that one, there is an anniversary issue that I totally love and yet hate at the same time. So for the second week in a row, I present a middle pick, one that can be placed on either list.
Uncanny X-men #375
The X-Men are gathered together to find that Wolverine has been killed. Professor X believes that one of the X-Men is an impostor and he accuses Jean of becoming Dark Phoenix again. Cyclops defends her as Professor X attacks Jean. Cyclops blasts Professor X but Shadowcat phases him and he strikes down Storm. And then it all goes to hell. X-Men fight X-Men, and they split into smaller teams. One team believes that Dark Phoenix is back, another thinks Onslaught has taken over Professor X, some believe that X-Man is the problem. The situation worsens and X-Men after X-Men are killed and true and deep secrets come out. At the end, it is revealed that it was all a setup by Professor X. There is an impostor on the team and it is the dead Wolverine, but Professor X wanted to be sure that there were no other impostors. At the beginning he did this to X-Force (we didn't get to see the battle) and he does it to Generation X at the end of the book. I loved seeing the X-Men act on what they truly believe but I felt a little cheated that it really didn't happen. It was a good idea and well executed but felt like a ploy for an anniversary issue.
And now for the Bottom 3.
3) Uncanny X-men #350
Lots of things bother me about this anniversary issue. By this point I was sick of the relationship between Rogue and Gambit. When they first became a couple, there was a sense of danger and recklessness but the more it went on, the more sickening sweet it turned, which then turned my stomach. The bounty hunters Spat and Grovel were just as annoying as Rogue and Gambit. Then we find out that Gambit was working for Sinister and helped bring together the Marauders. Now I admit that was kinda cool but then the issue rewrote some continuity by having Gambit be the man that broke the Marauders into the Morlock Tunnels which does not coincide with Uncanny X-Men #210. I think it was bad enough that Gambit worked for Sinister and got the Marauders together but I guess Marvel really wanted him to look bad. Instead it looked stupid. I was hoping that the Marauders would appear again in that issue to massacre all the stupid characters in this book. At least the 'real' Magneto returned.
2) Uncanny X-men #325
This issue dealt with the anniversary of the mutant massacre. Some younger morlocks called the Gene Nation were going to kill a human for every mutant that was killed. The idea was good and the Joe Mad art was fantastic but as the story progressed it got worse and worse. I hate Marrow and the Gene Nation; I find them lousy characters and villains. I also hated the big battle between Storm and Marrow. It was just a rehash of when Storm and Callisto battled years ago. Only this time they had to make it more extreme. Storm licking the blood off her blade was just stupid. She said she doesn't like to kill but yet she callously tosses her knives and kills one of the Gene Nation without any remorse. Then she rips the heart out of Marrow. Ugh.
1) Uncanny X-Men #400
I love being right. Uncanny X-Men #400 was a terrible anniversary issue. At the least the art in the other anniversary issues were good. This issue dealt with Manbearpig and the 'origin’ of Stacey X and the Supreme Pontiff. This storyline was resolved a little later in Austen’s run on the book and has not been mentioned again thankfully. I never was a fan of artist jam issues and the artists chosen for this issue just were not exciting enough for the flagship X-title.
Here is hoping that tomorrow’s release of Uncanny X-Men #500 will hearken back to the good old days of anniversary issues.