Greetings from the Odinson,
Hidden Gems: The Classic X-Men Vignettes
For nearly 20 years, from 1975 to 1991, writer Chris Claremont orchestrated one of the greatest runs in Comics History. Along with a Who’s Who of the industries greatest artists, he took the X-Men franchise from the cusp of cancelation to the top of the mountain and turned the Children of the Atom into bona fide superstars.
During this run, his flagship title The Uncanny X-Men spearheaded storylines that have become standards by which others are measures. This includes must read classics like Dark Phoenix Saga, Days of Future Past, and the Mutant Massacre. He introduced new and fresh characters into the mythos that would go on to become cornerstones of not just the X-franchise but the Marvel Universe as well. Heroes like Rogue, Psyloche, and Gambit. And villains like Mystique, the Brood, and the Hellfire Club. He even took C-List characters he did not create like Dazzler, Longshot, and Lady Deathstrike and fleshed them out with stories and motivations that helped make them fan favorites.
It is that very thing, Character Development, which makes Claremont’s legendary run on the X-Men so great. Not only did he and his cohorts take a motley group of intrepid mutant heroes gathered together from the four corners of the globe – Storm (Africa), Nightcrawler (Germany), Colossus (Russia), Banshee (Ireland), and Wolverine (Canada) – and make them living, breathing individuals the readers could root for and fall in love with, he also took the cookie-cutter, milk toast characters of Xavier’s First Class and gave them depth and motivations fans could really get behind. Jean Grey and Scott Summers have never been more interesting than when they were under the guidance of Chris Claremont’s keyboard.
In the mid-80s, Marvel launched the Classic X-Men title. This was a series of comics that reprinted the All-New, All-Different era of X-Men began in the pages of the seminal Giant-Size X-Men #1. Not only did this series allow fans like the Odinson, fans who may have been too young to have enjoyed these stories upon their initial release in the 1970s (this was in the days before trade paperbacks were all the rage), but they also featured amazing homage covers and insert artwork by the great Arthur Adams. These covers alone make these issues a must have for any fan. However, the true source of why these issues and this series is so special is the all-new material featured in the back-up stories.
Chris Claremont (along with writers Jo Duffy and Ann Nocenti) and artist John Bolton (Tales of Terror, Evil Dead) created these insightful and moving vignettes that were windows into the past, present, and future of the heroes and villains of the X-Men mythos. These were never before seen stories that helped explain and further flesh out character motivations and expanded on the lore of the X-Men franchise.
These vignettes allowed readers access to the stories that took place between the pages and between the adventures of the flagship title during those early All New, All-Different days leading up to and following Giant-Size X-Men #1.
From Storm encountering a suicidal writer to Llandra’s tragic back story, there are so many gems in this series. Here are a few of my personal favorites.
The Odinson’s Vignette Highlights
Classic X-Men #1: First Night – What do super heroes do after they save the day? Picking up right after the events of Giant-Size X-Men #1, this back-up story shows the new members interacting with the original X-Men with mixed results, to say the least. The highlight is a brash Wolverine hitting on Jean Grey and an over protective Angel interceding (aggressively) on her behalf.
So much character development is executed in just a few panels. Logan is established as a bad boy loner whose brash ways clash with the more traditional students of Xavier’s Institute. There is an undeniable immediate attraction between Logan and Jean. And, the seeds of Angel and Wolverine’s rivalry are planted, a rivalry that will play out in the years that follow, especially when Warren adopts his Archangel persona.
Classic X-Men #3: Mourning – As the team deals with the aftermath of Thunderbird’s death in Uncanny X-Men #95, the reader is introduced to James Proudstar, younger brother of the deceased Thunderbird and a man that would go on to become both a dangerous enemy and stalwart ally of the X-Men as the hero Warpath.
Classic X-Men #4: The Big Dare – The friendship between Nightcrawler and Wolverine is now legendary. This tale shows the beginnings of their strong bond as Logan goads Kurt into forgoing his image inducer tech and venturing into town with his mutant heritage on full display to both positive and negative outcomes.
Classic X-Men #5: Prison of the Heart and 21: First Love – These two tales of love and loss shine a spotlight on the attributes that make Piotr Rasputin such a beloved character – his innocence, his courage, his naivety, and his heart. Plus, Colossus has never looked more beautiful than in the capable hands of artist John Bolton.
Classic X-Men #8 – Taking place between the pages of Uncanny X-Men #100 and 101, this untitled story provides details of the bargain made between Jean Grey and the cosmic force known as the Phoenix. The harrowing specifics of Jean’s ordeal are shown plus further revelations help explain the events that bridge the gap between the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga and the Phoenix Rising.
Classic X-Men #10: Tag Sucker – In the pages of Uncanny X-Men #212-213 it was revealed that Logan and the killer Sabretooth had a history. Creed stalks and hunts Wolverine on the anniversary of a very important incident that sparked their decades-long feud. Even before Wolverine #10, this classic vignette was the first to elaborate on that bloody rivalry.
Classic X-Men #12: A Fire in the Night and 19: I, Magneto – From Uncanny X-Men #150 to 200 and God Loves, Man Kills to Mutant Genesis, few characters in all of comics went through such an astonishing arch as Magneto. Right smack in the middle of that amazing narrative were these two gems that pull the curtain back on one of comics’ greatest villains and reveals important details about his past including the tragic loss of his first family and his origins.
Classic X-Men #13: Lifesigns – This tale gives more insight into the friendship between Jean Grey and Misty Knight. The Odinson personally loves this story because not only does it expand on the already great Marvel Universe continuity (something the company used to actually care about) but it is also a great tie into how these women became roommates and ties into the classic crossover in the pages of Iron Fist #15.
Plus, Misty punches a shark in the face with her bionic arm. That alone is worth the price of admission.
Classic X-Men #18: Stalking Life – Another great character piece, as Logan confronts Jean Grey in his Logan way. As Jean and Logan discuss power and control, Phoenix makes a demonstration of just how terrifyingly powerful the Phoenix Force truly is. This is an early look at how Wolverine, with his nearly century’s worth of experience, takes on a mentor role to his fellow mutants, an aspect of his character that would be explored over the years with Kitty Pryde, Jubilee, and X-23.
Classic X-Men #24: Vacation – This revealing vignette shows that the seeds for Jean Grey’s seduction to the dark side by the Hellfire Club during the Dark Phoenix Saga were planted long before that tale actually took place.
Chris Claremont’s, Jo Duffy’s, and Ann Nocenti’s tales add depth, insight, and pathos to an already rich tapestry. And John Bolton’s art is beautiful and powerful. These important and must read stories have been collected in the pages of X-Men: Vignettes Vol. 1-2, X-Men Classic: The Complete Collection, and X-Men Classic Omnibus.
For any fan, either casual or hardcore, these tales come with the Odinson’s highest recommendation.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell
NOTE: For past entries of the So Sayeth the Odinson blog, over a decade’s worth of comic book and pop culture articles and reviews, click HERE. Also, be sure to check out my novels The Survivors and Autumn Dawn, which were inspired by 1980s horror – HERE and HERE