Published: 1988 Written by: Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Louise Simonson, Chris Claremont, Steve Gerber, Mark Gruenwald Art by: various
Marvel Comics, 704 Pages
It has been years since I’ve read this giant crossover event that happened in the Marvel annuals over the summer of 1988. I really dug the hell out of it when I was a kid and I’ve always liked the High Evolutionary as a big villain, even though this was really his only major story.
Being that I still own the physical copies of all these issues, I figured that taking them out of their protective bags and boards and thumbing through them once again would be a fun experience.
Overall, this is one of the best large crossover events that Marvel did in the ’80s, where these things started to become the norm. I think I liked Atlantis Attacks slightly more but I’m going to revisit that one in the very near future, as well.
This is spread over eleven issues and there are two others that tie into this but aren’t a part of the main arc. However, the main arc is sort of a loose one, as the scheme of the High Evolutionary weaves in and out of these issues without most of the heroes coming into contact with one another. In fact, it isn’t until the final issue where a group of former Avengers come together and realize what’s happening and with that, they foil the High Evolutionary’s plans.
Sometimes the main arc is just very minimally wedged into a story like with The Punisher annual, which sees Frank Castle fighting drug lords in Latin America. Knowing what we know already, we see Castle fight a robot that we know is associated with the High Evolutionary and we know that the drugs being pushed by this specific cartel is tied to the High Evolutionary’s experiments.
Being that these are annuals, there are always main stories and then shorter backup stories tacked on to the end of the issues. The backup stories in these tell the origin of the High Evolutionary and recap everything he’s been involved with up to this point. These were all rather good and interesting and it shows the character as a sort of high-tech Dr. Moreau from the famous 1896 H. G. Wells sci-fi/horror novel The Island of Doctor Moreau.
In the end, this was a hell of a lot of fun to revisit. The writing and art were handled by a team of Marvel’s best creatives from the era. I dug the art a lot and it was damn consistent throughout.
Published: 1989 Written by: Archie Goodwin Art by: Howard Chaykin
Marvel Comics, 66 Pages
I have loved the hell out of this graphic novel’s cover since I was a little kid hanging out in comic book shops with very limited funds. So I never actually bought this back in 1989 or the years that followed and I hadn’t actually read it until now.
While I enjoyed this it’s pretty average for what Marvel was putting out in their popular graphic novel series at the time. With a script by Archie Goodwin and art by Howard Chaykin, I went into it with pretty high hopes that this didn’t live up to.
Although, it’s still a pretty cool, action-packed book. I just felt like the story needed more pages to really be fleshed out and that things felt rushed and then it was over.
I did enjoy Chaykin’s art, as I usually do. I dig his character design and his patented style and it did a good job setting the tone for this story. But like the story, I wish there was more.
Still, this is beefier and a bit more adult than the standard single page comics of the era. I thought the villain was kind of neat but he barely got a chance to develop in any sort of meaningful way in just 66 pages.
Published: July 10th, 2019 Written by: Chris Claremont Art by: Bill Sienkiewicz, Sal Buscema, Bob McLeod
Marvel Comics, 504 Pages
Man, oh man… I forgot how great the Demon Bear story was! It was one of my favorite New Mutants stories when I first discovered this comic series, as a young kid. But I hadn’t actually read it for probably thirty years now.
This beefy Epic Collection release doesn’t just cover that story, though, as it features the events leading up to it and the story after, which is the debut of Legion.
Every story arc in this collection is pretty damn cool. There really wasn’t a dull moment and you get to see these great characters develop even more while also seeing their bond strengthen quite immensely.
This stretch of issues also feature the art of Bill Sienkiewicz, a comic book artist that truly had a unique style that I’ve always thought was one of the most impressive, expressive and coolest. It’s this series that introduced me to Sienkiewicz’s work, which I couldn’t get enough of. In fact, I bought all of his Elektra and Moon Knight stuff that I could find at my local comic shop circa 1990.
This stretch of issues was always one of my favorite runs on any comic book series. Revisiting it for the first time in eons, I still feel that way.
Rating: 9.5/10 Pairs well with: other New Mutants comics, as well as the other X-Men related titles from the ’80s.
Published: December 10th, 2014 Written by: Chris Claremont, Peter David Art by: John Buscema, Gene Colan
Marvel Comics, 495 Pages
As big of a Wolverine fan as I am, I have never read his earliest solo stories that revolved around his time in Madripoor when he was going by the name of “Patch”. I knew enough about this era but nothing is ever as good as reading it for yourself.
I read this on Comixology after buying it pretty cheap during a Wolverine sale. Normally, it’s like $30 but I know I got it for less than $10 and it was well worth that price tag.
This is a beefy collection that covers the first 16 issues of his solo comic, as well as the story that came out just before it and another comic that takes place within the same time frame. It makes for one nice long epic of Logan’s life in Madripoor. I’m not sure if he sticks around there after this collection and for how long but this really gives you the important stuff from that era.
I also knew that Jessica Drew a.k.a. Spider-Woman was around for some of this but I didn’t realize that she wasn’t Spider-Woman here and that she was pretty much just herself, as a ninja badass. I also didn’t realize that she was actually a big part of the Wolverine Madripoor stuff.
We also get a cool plot that teams Wolverine up with the Gray Hulk a.k.a. Mr. Joe Fix-It for the first time. It’s a pretty cool tale and it also fits well within the larger tapestry that sees Logan trying to fight the criminal underworld in this fictitious Asian island nation.
Almost everything here is written by the great Chris Claremont, who probably knows Wolverine the best. Some of this is also written by Peter David but he’s a legend too and he knows how to write a story with great energy.
Ultimately, this wasn’t close to being my favorite Wolverine story, and it may actually be a bit underwhelming because of that, but it is still damn entertaining and really reflects a truly unique time in the character’s mythos.
Rating: 7.5/10 Pairs well with: other Wolverine solo stories from the late ’80s into the early ’90s.
Published: 1995-1996 Written by: Scott Lobdell, Jeph Loeb, John Francis Moore, Mark Waid, Warren Ellis, Fabian Nicieza, Larry Hama, Howard Mackie, Terry Kavanagh Art by: Roger Cruz, Terry Dodson, Steve Epting, Andy Kubert, Adam Kubert, Carlos Pacheco, Joe Madureira, Tony Daniel, Salvador Larroca, Chris Bachalo, Ken Lashley, Steve Skroce, Ian Churchill, Joe Bennett
Marvel Comics, 1462 Pages
I’ve really only heard great things about The Age of Apocalypse storyline since it started back in 1995, an era where I wasn’t really reading comics for awhile, except for Dark Horse’s Star Wars stuff.
In fact, the last major X-Men related event that I had read before this was X-Cutioner’s Song, a pretty good epic. But shortly after that, I got pretty burnt out once the top Marvel guys went off to form Image and then those comics were constantly hindered by delays and irregular schedules.
Based off of all the praise I heard, I always wanted to read this but it was such a massive story, spread over multiple collected volumes that I never really wanted to fork out the over $100 it would cost to buy the whole shebang. So, all these years later, I took advantage of a massive X-Men sale on Comixology and got the entire saga with its prelude for about $20.
Now that I’ve read it, I’m glad I only spent $20 because like Game of Thrones, all my friends and all the critics lied to me about how great this was. It’s not, it’s a clusterfuck of biblical proportions showcasing a lot of the things that were wrong with mid-’90s comic book art from the major publishers.
I’ll start with the art and just come out and say that this was mostly an eyesore to look at. The biggest reason was the colors, which relied so heavily on what I assume are digitally created gradients and overly vibrant colors that this was like staring into the asshole of a tropical fruit salad for hours. Everything is too busy, every single issue collected is made to be overly grandiose and if everything is larger than life and overly vivid, then that becomes the norm and thus, makes everything kind of boring.
Additionally, there is such a mix of different artistic styles that it becomes jarring as these collections jump from issue to issue every twenty pages or so. Some of the artists had great pencils but many of them illustrated in a style that didn’t feel like Marvel and instead felt like the artists were trying to emulate indie comics from Image and Valiant. Besides, the stuff that was illustrated well, ended up being wrecked by the primitive gradients and crazy colors that looked like a giallo film puked all over a box of Prismacolor markers.
When it comes to the narrative side of this, that’s also a mess.
This suffers from trying to be way more ambitious than it needed to be. The whole story is comprised of about seven or eight different subplots that are and aren’t intertwined. Some of them merge towards the end into the bigger story but some stuff just happens within this new timeline. But the story jumps around so much that it makes the whole thing hard to follow as a singular body of work. This is the same problem I have, right now, with all the new X-Men related titles that are tied to a bigger narrative but don’t feel connected as much as they should. But this is what happens when you have a half dozen different titles and different writers, all of whom want to explore different territory in their own way while being trapped within a common framework.
In fact, the only plot I actually enjoyed was the one that dealt with the characters that aren’t tied to the X-Men.
There was a two issue miniseries called X-Universe, which focused on what other Marvel characters were up to during this event. We check in on this timeline’s version of Gwen Stacy, some of the Avengers, Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom and a few others. I found this more interesting and it showed me that this alternate timeline could provide the right sort of environment for cool and refreshing takes on old characters.
While I should probably feel the same way about all the X-Men related characters and their stories, it is hard to focus on any of them because of how this jumps around so much. When I got to the non-X-Men characters, it felt like a nice break from the X-clusterfuck I was pushing myself through.
Ultimately, I was really disappointed in this. I kept powering through it because I was hoping that all these subplots and characters would unify into something coherent that clicked at the end but that didn’t happen. We eventually get to a resolution but it’s not all that satisfying.
On a side note (and spoiler alert): the way that Magneto kills Apocalypse is pretty f’n badass.
Rating: 5/10 Pairs well with: other big X-Men crossovers of the ’80s through ’00s.
Published: 1988 Written by: Chris Claremont, Peter David, Louise Simonson, Steve Englehart, Mark Gruenwald, Ann Nocenti Art by: Marc Silvestri, Todd McFarlane, Bret Blevins, June Brigman, Kerry Gammill, Jon Bogdanove, Kieron Dwyer, Keith Pollard, John Romita Jr., Walt Simonson
Marvel Comics, 803 Pages
This was a story so big that it was collected into two massive volumes. But I figured I’d read both and give the whole thing a single review, as one body of work.
But that may have not been the best approach, as this crossover doesn’t really crossover in a way that makes one big story. This is more like an anthology of events that were going on in all the different X-books at the same time. And weirdly, this isn’t collected in chronological order but as separate stories without much overlap or characters meeting.
This big event also has some short stories focused on Hulk, Captain America, Daredevil, Black Widow and the Fantastic Four. In those tales, it shows what they’re up to during the events of what is happening in some of the X-books.
The Fall of the Mutants takes place between Mutant Massacre and Inferno. It is also the last of the ’80s X-Men crossovers that I hadn’t read in its entirety.
Out of all the tales here, I thought the X-Factor one was probably the best as it concludes the Apocalypse and Angel storyline, as it introduces Archangel for the first time. Also, the X-Factor arc showcases Cameron Hodge turning on the team, revealing his true agenda to set up what would eventually be the superb crossover event X-Tinction Agenda.
The New Mutants part was the weirdest but it also featured Hodge’s heel turn and kind of sets things in motion for X-Tinction Agenda and Inferno. This is also where the New Mutants dump Magneto as their teacher and return to the ways of Charles Xavier.
Ultimately, this was kind of a mess when read as one body of work. But it does do a proper job of bridging the gap from Mutant Massacre and the next two big events to follow.
Rating: 5.5/10 Pairs well with: other major X-Men crossover events from the ’80s and ’90s.
Published: 1986 Written by: Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson, Walter Simonson, Ann Nocenti Art by: John Romita Jr., Walter Simonson, Sal Buscema
Marvel Comics, 319 Pages
Well, not all giant X-Men crossover events can be created equal.
This one started off with a bang though. Sadly, it withered away in the second half, as it crossed over into non-X-Men-related titles and became a narrative clusterfuck that slowed down the story’s momentum to a complete halt.
The main reason I wanted to read this was to have a bit of background context before jumping into the following big event The Fall of the Mutants. While I had never read either crossover in their entirety, I had read parts and I knew that the stories had a very close association.
The focal point of the story shows the Marauders invading the Morlocks’ sewer hideout where they murder the shit out of them. Only a few actually survive and that’s mostly due to the X-Men, X-Factor and the New Mutants involving themselves in the ordeal.
As this collection rolls on, the story spins off into issues of Thor, Daredevil and Power Pack. This is where the narrative starts to become a mess. And once we get to this point, a lot of the issues rehash some of the same shit, over and over.
What I was excited to see was Apocalypse show up and the actual breaking of Angel. I thought that he would actually be turned into Archangel in this story but I guess that happens just after, which was kind of disappointing, as I’ve never got to read that actual story. I assumed it would happen here once Angel had his wings destroyed and was nailed to the sewer wall with about half the story left.
There were a lot of deaths in this but none that really hold any weight or matter to the bigger picture.
But I guess this helped plant the seed for The Fall of the Mutants and the introduction of both Archangel and Mister Sinister.
Rating: 6.25/10 Pairs well with: other big X-Men crossover events from the ’80s and ’90s.
Published: June 24th, 2019 – October 9th, 2019 Written by: Jonathan Hickman Art by: Pepe Larraz
Marvel Comics, 400 Pages
Let me preface this review by saying that this is the best new comic book story that I have read in ten years.
That’s absolutely a bold statement but let’s be honest, Marvel and DC haven’t really been bringing their A game for awhile, other than a few things, here and there.
Overall, modern comics just aren’t great anymore. But this is in a league of its own, as Sean Gordon Murphy’s recent Batman work at DC Comics is also on its own plane of existence when compared to what else is coming out from its publisher the last few years.
That being said, it’s been a really long time since I’ve been engaged by X-Men stories. That’s kind of depressing, as the X-Men pocket of the larger Marvel universe is one of my favorite franchises of all-time.
Jonathan Hickman has made me care again.
In fact, this made me care so much that I added every new X-comic to my pull list, as I am hoping that this carries over into something larger, richer and more spectacular. This sort of prologue to the larger X-universe is going to be a hard thing to beat or live up to over the long haul but it’s obvious that Hickman has a plan and I want to see how this all unfolds.
There are some things in this story that seem weird and out of place and I believe that these things are intentional. Primarily, many of the characters are acting uncharacteristic. I don’t think it’s an oversight or the product of a writer that doesn’t know what he’s actually writing about, as many modern writers seem to do.
If I’m wrong, I’ll be pissed and heartbroken but there is real intelligence to this writing and Hickman has a fantastic track record.
Also, this is a great jumping on point. You don’t really need to read what happens before. This is a true starting point for new readers or old readers that tapped out on the X-Men books long ago.
Plus, Pepe Larraz’s art is some of the best I’ve seen in a long time.
Rating: 10/10 Pairs well with: old school X-Men mega crossover events.
Also known as: X-Men: Dark Phoenix (alternative title) Release Date: June 4th, 2019 (Hollywood premiere) Directed by: Simon Kinberg Written by: Simon Kinberg Based on:X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont, John Byrne Music by: Hans Zimmer Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Halston Sage
Marvel Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios, 114 Minutes
“You’re always sorry, Charles. And there’s always a speech. But nobody cares!” – Magneto
Well, I guess there’s a new rule. That rule is that if an X-Men film tries to tell a Phoenix story, it’s going to be the worst movie in the series.
I honestly didn’t think that the regular X-Men films of the rebooted/prequel era could get worse than Apocalypse but this one takes the cake.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy parts of it, I did. However, for the most part, this movie is a fucking mess and ignores previous continuity more than any other X-film from either era and this comes after they tried to course-correct five years ago with Days of Future Past.
The big narrative problem for me is that it was established that the Phoenix Force in the film universe was dormant in Jean Grey all along. When Days of Future Past corrected the wonky timelines of the film, that shouldn’t have been a reboot of every aspect of the film series. Otherwise, that’s just some J. J. Abrams Kelvin Timeline bullshit.
In this film, Jean Grey gets infected with the Phoenix Force during a space mission. It’s more in line with how it happened in the comics but it doesn’t make sense with what was already established. Also, in just the previous movie, she sort of taps into the Phoenix Force when she’s battling Apocalypse. So it was in her but then it wasn’t? Fuck, these movies are a goddamned clusterfuck of epically biblical proportions!
Anyway, like the three films before this one, this takes place in a new decade: the ’90s. Somehow though, no one fucking ages in these movies even though First Class was thirty years earlier than this chapter. Cyclops and Quicksilver were in their late teens in the ’70s in Days of Future Past. Here they look like they’re maybe in their early twenties. But whatever, it’s not like the filmmakers cared, as Dazzler is wearing her disco outfit in 1992 and everyone else is dressed like its 2019.
Another thing that irked me somewhat, is that I love Michael Fassbender’s Magneto but it took an hour for him to show up. Also, three movies into the subplot with Quicksilver and Magneto still doesn’t know he’s the kid’s father and it’s actually just dropped in this movie and not mentioned.
It seemed pretty apparent that the regulars didn’t want to do this movie. Other than McAvoy’s Professor X, the rest of the main cast were only in half the movie, got killed off or got beat up and put on the shelf. That being said, Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique was insufferable in this installment and I’m glad she got impaled.
The main characters that did actually appear for the entirety of the film were completely misused, however. Professor X was a careless prick and didn’t act like himself, Beast was super emo and almost became Dark Beast and Magneto switched his allegiances on a dime because he conveniently didn’t have all the information.
The threat in the film other than the Phoenix Force was a bunch of shapeshifting aliens that were obviously written to be the Skrulls but probably got changed late in production because Disney bought Fox and they couldn’t have Skrulls in an X-Men movie just after they introduced them in Captain Marvel.
Everything in this film feels scaled down as well. Every big battle is in a small area. There’s the fight at Jean’s daddy’s house, the confrontation on a small island, the big second act battle in front of a modest sized New York City building and its generic lobby and then the big finale which takes place on a train. They definitely didn’t do anything epic in scale, which seems like a missed opportunity considering that this is a movie that features the Phoenix Force trying to cleanse the Earth with fire.
Sophie Turner is also the focal point of the movie and I’m still not sure if she can act or not. This movie doesn’t help her case, as she was monotone in every scene, barely conveyed emotion and just acted like she was completely disinterested in the whole project.
While it sounds like I’m bashing the film and honestly, I probably am, I did like a few things.
For one, the Hans Zimmer score was damn incredible. It’s rare that I even notice music in movies anymore but I noticed it here and it actually made some scenes better and more emotional when some of the actors couldn’t even do that themselves.
I also liked the opening sequence, even if these teens going into space, untested, at the request of the United States President seemed strange.
Some of the new mutants in Magneto’s camp were also pretty cool additions in the New York and train battles but they were just kind of there and then discarded. The dude with the killer dreads was pretty badass; think Omega Red… but with dreads instead of hand tentacles.
I was really happy to see Dazzler show up too but she’s completely wasted in a cheap cameo. She sort of just hangs out in the background and doesn’t do anything else. Fans that have wanted Dazzler since 2000’s X-Men will probably feel cheated, especially since she was played by Halston Sage, who is dynamite on The Orville.
Additionally, I can’t say enough about how good Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are in these films. Their bond transcends the screen, it truly does. It just sucks that the material they had to work with here was so fucking lackluster.
On a side note, I really liked Nicholas Hoult too. He’s a solid Beast, even if I wasn’t initially keen on the casting. But like the other two great actors in this, he also had shit to work with in this picture.
To be fair, a lot of this film’s issues might not be the fault of the actual filmmakers. Simon Kinberg can do some solid stuff and he’s mostly handled this franchise well. However, Disney bought Fox just before this movie was slated to come out. It’s pretty well known now that they meddled with it in post-production because they thought it was too similar to Captain Marvel, which they were banking the entire future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on.
In the end, though, we got a really mediocre movie made by people that don’t seem like they care anymore. I guess it’s fitting that this incarnation of the cinematic X-Men franchise is now dead.
So I guess we’ll have to wait a few more years (or longer) to see what Disney does with the X-Men once they are rebooted into the MCU.
Rating: 5.25/10 Pairs well with: all the other Fox X-Men films and spinoffs.
Published: 1980 Written by: Chris Claremont Art by: John Byrne
Marvel Comics, 200 Pages
Does it make me a terrible X-Men fan that I have never actually read The Dark Phoenix Saga?
I’ve tried to round up all the single issues over the years but some of them are pricey and there’s nine issues that make up this arc. But in my defense, I know the story very well, as it has been referenced a million times over throughout X-Men history. I’ve also seen various interpretations and adaptations of the plot. Granted, none of them are really accurate in regards to this, the source material.
This is free for Comixology Unlimited subscribers though, so I thought that delving into it was long overdue and that I really didn’t have an excuse anymore.
I expected this to be enjoyable but it still took me by surprise, as it was better than what I anticipated and all the years of hype I’ve experienced, didn’t diminish it in anyway.
The Dark PhoenixSaga is quintessential Chris Claremont. I can’t say that this is where he peaked but this is certainly a very elevated highpoint in his long run writing X-Men related stories.
This also came out in a time when Marvel wasn’t addicted to big crossover mega-events. This was a mega-event for its time but it wasn’t marketed or structured in the way that these things are now. It was just a good, lengthy story, limited to one already existing comic that found a way to utilize a lot of characters but in a way that balanced them all out and made them all useful to the plot.
One cool thing about this arc, is it also features the first appearances of Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, Sebastian Shaw, the Hellfire Club and Dazzler. There’s a bunch of stuff going on within this story but it doesn’t off track and still builds towards the big battle between Jean Grey as Dark Phoenix and her X-Men family. It’s, at times, heartbreaking and tragic but it also makes you love all these people all over again in an organic, natural and emotional way. This hits emotional notes in the reader in ways that comic books never seem to come close to in 2019.
I can’t just give credit to Chris Claremont and his stupendous writing though. The art by John Byrne is absolutely superb and it is just as rich, colorful and meticulously crafted as the story its telling.
The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the greatest Marvel stories ever told. It’s classic Marvel and truly represents what I loved about the era and how I fell in love with this creative medium in the first place.
Rating: 10/10 Pairs well with: other early Chris Claremont X-Men comics.
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