X-Centric Roundtable: Days of Past, Present and Future

by the General

Well, it's X-Week here at the Bad Genious, as we celebrate Uncanny X-Men's 500th issue. So, our usual Friendly Neighborhood Editors have stepped aside to let me take a stab at hosting the BG Roundtable. I figured, how hard could that be, right?

Surprise! Getting the whole gang to sit still long enough to talk about the past, present and future of the X-Men was like herding cats. Or, at least as hard as keeping track of the Summers' family tree.

Oh well, the X-Men's history is long and convoluted... so why shouldn't the X-Centric Roundtable™ be long and convoluted too? Let's dive in!

The General: Hey gang, with Uncanny X-men #500 arriving in stores on Wednesday, I thought that this would be a good time to take a look at the teams past, present and future. So, to start: When did you first read an X-title?

Patrick: This X-men stuff looks cool? Is it a new book from DC?

Actually, I may be known as a DC guy now, but in my youth I was all about the Marvel. And yet, I never got into the X-Men. FF, DD, Hulk, Spidey, Rom, and others were bought often. Yet I never read X-Men regularly. Well, I did have every issue of Dazzler, but I don't mention that in public.

The General: (Ignoring Patrick) Anyone?

Kach: The early '90s is when I started "collecting" comics. I remember the "new" X-Men series was all the rage at the time. I really enjoyed those first few arcs with Asteroid M & the Acolytes, Omega Red, Gambit's ex-wife....that was the end of Claremont's writing if you ask me. Jim Lee's artwork was fantastic, as usual.

Liana: I first read an X-title in 1998 (Uncanny #352). This was not what you'd call the Glory Days of the X-Men, but I was pretty hooked on the soap opera aspect of the title from the get-go, mostly because of the Fox cartoon.

Betsy: I started reading the X-Men in 1995, when my boyfriend (now husband) introduced me to the book. Like Liana, I was hooked on the soap opera aspect of it. I had an immediate affinity for the Beast, and he became my favorite comic book character of all time.

Chris: If we're talking mutant titles in general, I started collecting New Mutants towards the end of 1986, I believe, so my first issue was probably in the 40s. Those were some fun stories and I had a little bit of a crush on Dani at the time.

If we're talking Uncanny X-Men title specifically, my first issue must have been #280, bought at the same time as X-Factor #70 (Peter David's first issue) in Aug. 1991.

Mr. O: Uncanny X-Men #297 was my first X-Men book, well first non-reprint. It was the epilogue to the "X-Cutioners Song," and though it didn't really make too much sense to me, it was still a brilliant book, and it really hooked me in. From there 'til the end of Grant Morrison's run I was hooked.

Tim: I got into X-Men about the same time, comic-wise as Mr. O, I think - right at the end of the infinitely confusing "X-Cutioner's Song." It drew me in, but made fuck-all sense.

Brandon: I started reading Uncanny X-Men back in 1990, but I had picked up a random issue here or there before that from my cousin. The X-Men have been like a middle school romance for me, constantly off and on over the years with no real rhyme or reason.

Dan: My X-Men obsession started in Summer 1989. Uncanny X-Men #246 was on the spinner rack at my local High's convenient store and for some reason I had to check it out. Maybe it was the big robot on the cover. Maybe it was a friend's suggestion to try X-Men. Maybe it was Rogue laid out at the bottom of the cover like a SI swimsuit model (probably not that one). I got about six issues (this was the days of biweekly shipping) before starting eighth grade and losing track. Four years later I picked up X-Men #18 on a road trip and fell in love with the characters all over again. This time, I didn't lose track of the merry mutants.

Matt: My first X-Men book was Uncanny X-Men #200. I didn't understand a lot of it but I was hooked. I quickly started to pick up back issues and Classic X-Men came out around the same time and that helped me complete the series.

Yassir: I first read Uncanny X-Men circa issue #200, too. I remember thinking that it felt a bit darker than the superhero comics I was used to (hey, I was only 10 or so). I was immediately hooked. Also like Matt, Classic X-Men was another reason that I became an X-fanatic.

The General: Yeah, Yassir and Matt, I started collecting Uncanny X-men at about the same time as you (well, issue #210 to be exact), so I know what you're saying. There was a "grittiness" to the title in those days that really appealled to my 5th grade brain.

Dan: How'd you guys come across the X-Men comics when you were only 8-10 years old? My friends and I used to ride our bikes up to the local shopping center to get comics. Of course we couldn't do that until we were in that 12-13 age range.

Matt: My friend was heavily into comics in the 6th grade. He said that the X-Men were his favorite. There was a small comic shop where my family shopped for groceries and my mom gave me a few bucks to get some comics. I spent it all on X-Men #200.

The General: Hey, Dan! I'm asking the questions here!

My mom used to buy my brother and I comics when we went to the doctors or dentist. Or occasionally, we'd stop at 7-11 during family road trips, and get to buy comics to read on the road. But, it was my cousin (who was in Junior High at the time) that recommended X-Men.

Also, in 5th grade comics were *the* thing to be into. Each year, there was a different thing that was the cool thing to collect (marbles, Garbage Pail Kids, etc) ...in 5th grade it was comics.

Doug: My first X-Men comic was #113, back in 1976. You're all just whippersnappers compared to me. Back in my day (Friendly Editor's Note: this would be a couple weeks after the dinosaurs went extinct), there was just one X-Men comic...and it had just started being published monthly...and we liked it!

Dan: 1976! Awesome year. What with my being born and all.

Actually, I recently read the second Uncanny X-Men Masterwork (the softcover ones), which ends at #110. Those were some great stories back in the days of when gas was 59c, a stamp was 13c and Captain and Tennille were winning Grammy gold!

The General: Speaking of gold, in your mind, when was their "Golden Era?"

Liana: Since I immediately had an affinity for Jean Grey (when's she coming back again?), I sought out what trades I could featuring her, which meant a lot of the Claremont/Byrne Phoenix stuff. It was so well-written that it's hard for me to come up with a better time for the title than that, but there's plenty I haven't read.

Yassir: Yeah, I consider Uncanny X-Men #93-175 to be the peak of the series. I've enjoyed "Messiah CompleX," and there have been other odd runs here and there (the early part of Morrison's run, for example), but it was the early Claremont issues which made me fall in love with the pesky mutants. And in those early days Cyclops was the man. I still maintain that Byrne drew the best Cyclops ever.

Doug: The Claremont/Byrne era was definitely my "Golden Age". Banshee and Phoenix were still members of the team back then, Cyclops was the star, and Wolverine was just a little pain-in-the-ass with an attitude. I thought the book started a slow and steady decline as soon as Byrne left.

Betsy: I think that the "Dark Phoenix Saga" is some of the best comic book storytelling out there.

Dan: The golden era for me is a toss up between the Outback years (which was the story going on in my earliest issues) and the craziness around, during and immediately after "Age of Apocalypse." I liked the Outback stuff due the team being complete outcasts from society, so much so that the public thought they were dead. The fights with the Reavers and Wolverine's crucification have stuck with me for years. Most of the stories from that time have as they were so dark compared to other stuff I had read before it. Uncanny X-Men #251 remains one of my all-time favorite covers.

Matt: My favorite run and what I consider the Golden Era of the X-Men is probably the first John Romita Jr run. Issues #177 to #211. That is mostly because of nostalgia. The title became incredibly dark and became less of a super hero book.

Doug: But....but....no Banshee then....

Matt: **SUPER GEEKY MOMENT** He was in #193.

Patrick: There was only one issue I ever picked up and thought it was awesome right off the shelf. That would be the issue where Colossus breaks up with Kitty Pride. Then Wolverine takes him out to "talk" to him, and they run into the Juggernaut in his civilian clothes. Colossus then ends up in a fight with Juggernaut, not knowing who he is, while Wolverine stands back and lets Juggernaut kick Colossus' shiny metal butt. Colossus is pissed they didn't help him, and Wolverine somehow ties it into his breaking up with Kitty and letting him know what a creep he is being. Great comic.

(Shortly after this, Patrick wandered off to have an Infinite Crisis or something.)

Ware: My favorite era in the mutant titles (since I've been reading) is from late 1991 to mid-1995. Chris Claremont, Scott Lobdell, Fabien Nicieza, Peter David, and J.M. DeMatteis writing the four main books and just some amazing artists with Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, Rob Liefeld, Joe Quesada, Andy Kubert, Joe Madureira, JR Jr., Brandon Peterson, Tom Raney, Jae Lee, Jan Duursema, Greg Capullo, and Tony Daniel. Not to mention Larry Hama, Marc Silvestri, and Adam Kubert on Wolverine. Storywise, there was the introduction of Bishop, the "X-Cutioner's Song," the "Phalanx Covenant/Generation Next," "Legion Quest," and "Age of Apocalypse," not to mention Wolverine getting the adamantium ripped out of his bones and Scott and Jean getting married. I loved those two years worth of stories.

Mr. O: The high point for me was "Age of Apocolypse," a great series, a nice big but tight story and gorgeous art all over, and all self-contained.

Dan: Yeah, "Age of Apocalypse" is one of the greatest story lines and most brilliant and ballsy publishing stunts to that point - "canceling" all the ongoing titles for four months to tell an alternate universe tale just made the event that much more special. Also, cool shiny cover to start it all.

Mr. O: Along with this, and I know most people didn't enjoy it, but I loved Scott Lobdell's run on the two books. Some great ideas, sometimes poor execution, but overall a really enjoyable run, and he wrote some really nice, smaller stories, some really emotional stuff.

Tim: My big love was always Generation X. I'm still annoyed that's basically unsalvageable as an entity now. What with Jubilee depowered, Skin dead and Chamber fucked about with... I'm not going to get into how sad I am what they've done with poor old Jono Starsmore. (Editor: Don't worry. I think Tim will get into this later this week.)

Brandon: To me, the best X-Men era was the Grant Morrison years. I consider the New X-Men title as being the last true X-Men title. It's like all the Star Wars stuff that has come out after Return of the Jedi; it's all expanded universe for me. I still read X-Men, but Morrison to me was the ribbon that wrapped up a good gift. I think the X-Men had evolved past Magneto, the whole Us vs. Them mentality. But alas, Marvel felt differently and Grant's run dissolved faster than Peter Parker's marriage. Too bad, really.

The General: Now that we've got a sense of your collective history with the X-titles, let's talk about the X-line today. It seems like the X-Universe has been through a number of large changes over the last couple years, and is in a perpetual state of flux. Generally speaking, what do you think?

Liana: Generally, I'm sick of Jean being dead and Emma being alive.

Doug: I'm generally enjoying the X-line and I really like the writers they currently have lined up. However, your point about the line always being "in flux" is a great one, General. I think that if you look back at the eras most of us considered "Golden Ages", the team line-up was usually pretty solid. During the Claremont years with Cockrum/Byrne/Romita Jr., you had a constant core - Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Jean at the beginning and then Kitty after that. And you really got to know and care about those characters and I think that's lost now, with the lineups shifting every ten issues.

Matt: I am an old school fan. Like Doug, I do enjoy the current X-books quite a bit but I liked the old days better for a couple of reasons.

For one, there was a smaller cast and you got to know them personally. Former X-Men were treated as guest stars and they felt like guest stars; they were a treat. Towards the end of Claremont's run and since, if a character was an X-Man at some point, they HAD to be part of some X-team.

Also, in regards to subplots and storylines, this is what I liked about those early days: stories took time to develop, they didn't have to be wrapped up in 4-6 issues. Take the saga of Madelyne Pryor for instance. She was introduced in Uncanny X-Men #168 and her origin finally came in Uncanny X-Men #241. I love subplots, that is what kept me collecting the book. Nowadays, I feel like I can drop the X-books at anytime. I know Marvel is trying to make them accessible to new readers but, for every jumping on point exists a jumping off point.

The General: OK, let's look at things a little more specifically then. Anyone got any thoughts on M-Day?

Dan: As far as the events go, M-Day/Decimation was a solid story that got me back into the X-Men books after some really disappointing creative teams ruined the fun for me. Unfortunately, no one seems to have really done anything with the idea that there are only a couple hundred mutants out there. Sure, we had "Messiah CompleX" come out of it, but nothing really changed for the X-Men. The core characters were unaffected in the long run.

The General: Speaking of which what did you all think of "Messiah CompleX?"

Dan: I loved "Messiah CompleX." The three-month crossover through the four ongoing titles was great. I actually liked it when the two main X-books were pretty tightly interlocked and always dug stories like "X-Tinction Agenda," "X-Cutioner's Song" or "Fatal Attractions" that brought all the titles together for a couple months.

Mr O: "Messiah CompleX" was brilliant and told a great multipart tale with some cool inter weaving of storylines and characters.

The General: "Divided We Stand?"

Dan: "Divided We Stand" didn't really feel like any kind of event at all, just the fallout of "Messiah CompleX." Which is why it was just silly that Marvel pimped it as an event and had a two-issue mini-series to go along with it. Stuff like this makes me hedge my excitement of the next event mini-series in a couple months.

The General: And how about the specific titles? Astonishing X-Men?

Doug: Why does Astonishing X-Men still exist? It looks like Uncanny X-Men is going to be the flagship book again (as it should be), and with most of the Astonishing X-Men cast apparently being used in Uncanny X-Men as well, I think Astonishing could be retitled Unnecessary X-Men; it's just redundant, in my opinion.

Dan: It's just hanging out there, like a second Ultimate book.

Liana: Dan and I decided to wait for trade on that because Warren Ellis is absolutely unreliable. How bad is he going to screw up the overall release schedule and momentum for the line? It's frustrating to even consider and definitely doesn't encourage me to put X-Men at the top of my To Read pile.

Chris: As an Ellis whore, I'm looking forward to his run on Astonishing X-Men.

The General: The *actual* two flagship titles? Uncanny X-men and X-Men Legacy?

Liana: Now that I'm all caught up on Uncanny and Legacy, I totally have opinions on today's X-line! And my opinion is that it sucks! Okay, not really. But I was totally captivated by "Deadly Genesis" and "Messiah CompleX" and I'm into the stuff with Sinister in Legacy, but this whole move to San Francisco is leaving me luke warm. I just don't care about it. Maybe that will change after the move and the X-Men are back in business (and maybe if the whole skrull thing will come into play), but I don't know. It feels like the excitement is gone. Plus, you know, everyone still loves Emma and Jean is still dead.

Chris: Uncanny has been pretty damn good since Brubaker took over. I loved Billy Tan's artwork on it. However, this most recent arc in San Francisco was dull as dirt. I enjoyed the stuff in Russia, but everything else put me to sleep. While I enjoy Mike Choi's art, it doesn't seem to fit as well as Tan.

I've really been enjoying X-Men Legacy. I love all this continuity stuff. Mike Carey has been blowing the doors off this book.

Mr. O: Though Uncanny is rather mediocre, I've got to say I'm loving Legacy at the moment. For me this has been the best run on X-Men since the Morrison days, starting from "Rise and Fall" and "Supernovas" through "Messiah CompleX" to the current books, I've really been enjoying the ride.

It has been a while since X-Men has been my personal number one book, and bare in mind this the series that hooked me on comics, so I think the current team is doing a bang up job.

Dan: Carey has generally been boring me senseless (although I am enjoying the Mr. Sinister stuff in recent Legacy issues). Brubaker has been treading water since "Rise & Fall of the Shi'ar," but he's got a big shake up to help. Too bad he's accompanied by artists I don't care for.

The General: What about X-Factor?

Chris: X-Factor is awesome. Of course, I'm a big Peter David fan, so that probably has something to do with it. I love the character interactions and such. And the ending of #32? Sets up an interesting new status quo for the book.

The General: I've actually been enjoying Young X-Men overall. Anyone else reading it?

Chris: Young X-Men isn't grabbing me. First, it's contradicting what all the other books are doing (I assume this will be explained soon). Second, the story is pretty dull, which is surprising because Guggenheim is a pretty good writer. Hopefully, they'll shake everything out in this first arc and get it going.

The General: Cable is a series I'm struggling with a bit. I feel like I should be liking it more than I am. What do you all think?

Liana: I just got caught up on Cable and, even though it's slow, I REALLY like it.

Mr. O: Cable is a really weird one for me, Liana. The concept is brilliant, I love the whole idea behind it, from Bishop chasing Cable through time, the implication of the child to both of these men's lives, as well as what it means for the current Marvel Universe X-Men timeline, but the execution is so bad, the dialogue so grating the progression so slow that I'm just finding it immensely annoying.

Maybe if the writer tightens up some what, I'll enjoy it more, but otherwise, it will be on the chopping block as soon as my subscription ends.

Liana: I think part of the reason I enjoyed Cable is that I read the first four issues at once. This might be something that reads fantastically in trade and awfully as a monthly. I will say that the dialogue didn't bother me at all.

Dan: Even reading Cable monthly, I'm really enjoying it. I know it's a slow burn, but I dig the story and the dialogue. But as I've said before, I have a real soft spot for apocalyptic future stories.

Doug: Plus, your well-documented love for Ariel Olivetti's artwork knows no bounds.

The General: How about Wolverine? Or should I say Wolverines... since there seems to be so many Wolverine titles out there these days.

Chris: Wolverine is a book that really needs to find a direction. When is the last time this book had a stable creative team? Honestly, it feels like one of the Confidential books that DC publishes so different creators have a chance to work on that character. The book desperately needs a writer to come in and take a firm grip on it and establish a focus, rather than a different creative team for every arc. That said, this "Old Man Logan" storyline sounds like fun.

The General: Finally, X-Force is getting fairly good reviews, and I'm enjoying it despite myself.

Mr. O: X-Force is blowing me way, I was expecting to enjoy this, but not as much as I am. Some dark gritty art to go with the story telling, and some very good characterisation.

Chris: I'm enjoying X-Force. It's a total '90s book, but that's okay since I have fond memories of those days. Kyle and Yost provide some solid storytelling abilities and I'm enjoying Crain's digital painting.

Matt: I agree about X-Force. Totally exceeded my expectations.

The General: But, regardless of what you think of the X-line today, there's always the future, right? With issue #500 of Uncanny coming out, it looks like we are going to be treated to another reworking of the status quo, and another 'Event' (in the form of "Manifest Destiny"). But, if you were the captain of the ship, what would you like to see happen with the line of X-titles.

Matt: Aside from revealing that Banshee was a Skrull and bringing him back on the team, I would want to work on making sure that the core titles are stable. I think I was really spoiled by Claremont's first run since it was so long and he was the only voice on the X-Men. I would want that type of stability on the core books for sure.

I would also want to make sure that the X-books that were being published had a meaning. Just because we have so many X-Men doesn't mean that they need to be on a team and in a book.

Doug: Stable teams - both on the creative side and within the pages of each book. Each team/book with a clear purpose; it seems a lot of people here are questioning the reason for Astonishing X-Men to still exist. Focus on quality instead of quantity. (Yeah, good luck with that.)

Dan: Honestly, I'm a bit weary of the immediate future of the X-books. I'd like to see the line trimmed down a bit. There are 19 X-Men related comics scheduled for August 2008, not including Ultimate X-Men (cause really, what relevance do the Ultimate books have any more?). That's just too many ongoings and mini-series that, more often than not, have little to do with each other. I'd love to see the "main titles" cut to Uncanny and Legacy. If Legacy is only a short term story line, cut that out and turn Uncanny to a bi-monthly shipper. Axe Young X-Men and incorporate that story in Uncanny. Enough with the ridiculous number of Wolverine (and other) one-shot comics. Put the Exiles out of their misery. Wrap up the M-Day/Decimation/Endangered Species/Messiah Complex/Manifest Destiny daisy chain. And have one, focused vision of where the books are going with the occasional storyline floating between titles as necessary.

The General: Any closing thoughts?

Rory: The X-Men arcade game was awesome. I always played as Nightcrawler!
The General: Yep. That about sums it up.

1 comment:

Patrick Gaffney said...

I did indeed wander off to have a crisis, but the good news is I think that it may the the final one.