Sunday, June 1, 2014

THE UNCANNY X-MEN OMNIBUS, VOLUME 2

Hardcover, 2014. Collects 1980-1982's UNCANNY X-MEN #132 - 153, UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL #4 & 5, AVENGERS ANNUAL #10, MARVEL FANFARE #1 - 4, material from MARVEL TREASURY EDITION #26 & 27, MARVEL TEAM-UP #100, BIZARRE ADVENTURES #27, and PHOENIX: THE UNTOLD STORY #1

A while back, when I listed by Top Twelve Comic Book Runs of All Time, UNCANNY X-MEN #94 - 176 made the number one slot. And since this book contains issues 132 - 153, I can't complain about what's between the covers... much. The inclusion of annuals and bonus content like AVENGERS ANNUAL #10, MARVEL FANFARE #1 - 4, and various short stories from BIZARRE ADVENTURES, MARVEL TREASURY EDITION, and MARVEL TEAM-UP are much appreciated -- in particular the Nightcrawler story from BIZARRE and the Storm/Black Panther adventure from TEAM-UP -- neither of which, to my knowledge, have been collected before (outside of the ESSENTIALS format for the latter, at least). The book also contains the letter columns from all included issues, which is always a nice touch.

However there is one glaring absence among these supplementary tales. I don't clamor for every little guest appearance to be included in these books. I don't like the flow of the main narrative to be interrupted that much. But I would argue that the X-Men's appearance in SPIDER-WOMAN issues 37 and 38 are integral to the group's continuity and would fit nicely among the issues presented here. That two-parter is written by Chris Claremont, the X-Men's regular writer, and is a direct lead-in to UNCANNY X-MEN #148, presented herein. It features X-villains Juggernaut and Black Tom Cassidy, and introduces Banshee's daughter, Siryn, to whom Banshee is introduced in 148. The story's exclusion from this book is an utter, inexcusable shame.

But, the above nit picked, what we have here is a tremendously satisfying volume. The previous UNCANNY X-MEN OMNIBUS, published way back in 2006, ended in the middle of the seminal "Dark Phoenix Saga", due to the practice of the time of simply collecting a few Marvel Masterworks volumes into an Omnibus and calling it a day. The Omnibus program has evolved since then, and these books are no longer beholden to collecting the exact contents of the Masterworks. So instead we have a natural cut-off point of UNCANNY X-MEN #153, "Kitty's Fairy Tale", rather than cramming a few more issues into the book and ending on yet another cliffhanger, which this time would be in the middle of the long-running Brood storyline.

The early issues in this book are some of the best in the X-Men's history: the tail end of artist/co-plotter John Byrne's run, containing both the final issues of the afore-mentioned "Dark Phoenix Saga" -- plus the equally classic "Days of Future Past" and the Kitty Pryde spotlight "Demon", stories comprising Byrne's final three issues on the title. And in between these venerable tales is a two-part team-up with Byrne's Alpha Flight characters, spotlighting Wolverine and Nightcrawler. Say what you will about Byrne's personality and even his work as a solo creator (though I like much of it), but to me, there can be no argument that his influence and more traditional approach to superheroes helped temper Chris Claremont's more extreme tendencies, resulting in the best work of Claremont's career.

After a Cyclops solo story with fill-in artwork from Brent Anderson, the new X-Men's co-creator, Dave Cockrum returns to the fold. There are those who view Cockrum's second run with less reverence than his first, but I believe it mainly suffers simply from following the epic, ground-breaking issues illustrated by John Byrne. There is nothing wrong with the Cockrum issues here; they're simply standard superhero fare; good guys vs. bad guys. If anything, it is Claremont whose efforts have declined some following Byrne's departure. After working for a few years with the strong-willed and opinionated Byrne, and forging a series of outstanding stories through that somewhat antagonistic partnership, Claremont now finds himself with no one with whom to butt heads, and it seems that he begins coasting. We have a Dr. Doom/Arcade trilogy which, while wonderfully illustrated by Cockrum, is uninspired and even intentionally derivative of "Dark Phoenix" by the time it reaches its conclusion. This is followed by a one-off team-up with Dazzler, an unnecessary rematch with Garokk the Petrified Man from the previous Byrne run, and then the comparatively much stronger return of Magneto.


All stories are well-drawn by Cockrum, but -- as noted above -- are just run-of-the-mill superhero stuff. The real meat of Cockrum's second tenure with the X-Men will appear in the third UNCANNY X-MEN OMNIBUS, as Cockrum's affinity for science fiction is tickled by Claremont's plots featuring Cockrum's pet characters, the Starjammers, as well as the alien Shi'ar and Brood. But that's for another day. In the meantime, besides the main run of issues listed, this volume also contains two UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUALS, one spotlighting Nightcrawler and the other featuring a return of a previous Annual's antagonist, Arkon. We also have AVENGERS ANNUAL #10 by Claremont and Michael Golden, featuring the debut of future X-Man Rogue, and a four-part storyline from MARVEL FANFARE which co-stars Spider-Man and sees the X-Men return to their occasional stomping ground, the Savage Land, and spotlights some remarkable artwork from Golden, Cockrum, and upcoming X-Artist Paul Smith.


Lastly, there are the supplemental items. MARVEL TEAM-UP #100 featured a back-up story by Claremont and Byrne in which Storm teams up with the Black Panther and a shared history between the couple is revealed. This story would serve as the seed for Marvel's ill-conceived marriage between Storm and the Panther in the 2000s, but here it is simply a quick, fun little adventure which has not seen a color reprint in recent years -- until now. Strangely, it didn't even show up in the SPIDER-MAN: MARVEL TEAM-UP paperback released a few years ago, which otherwise contained all of Claremont's and Byrne's work together on that title (true, Spider-Man does not appear in the story -- but still).


In addition to the MARVEL TEAM-UP tale, we also have two short stories from MARVEL TREASURY EDITION -- one of which features an entertaining barroom brawl between Wolverine and Hercules, while the other is a much less inspired solo story starring the Angel. The book also contains BIZARRE ADVENTURES #27, an X-Men spotlight issue of Marvel's black-and-white magazine. Three stories feature in the issue -- a Phoenix adventure by Claremont and John Buscema, a look at the underutilized Iceman by Mary Jo Duffy and George Perez, and a Nightcrawler story, which -- to my knowledge -- has never before been reprinted, written by Duffy and Bob Layton and drawn by Nightcrawler's creator, Dave Cockrum.


Rounding out the book is PHOENIX: THE UNTOLD STORY, the one-shot published by Marvel in the early eighties, showcasing the originally conceived ending to "Dark Phoenix" and featuring a round table interview with the creators and editors involved in that momentous story. Following THE UNTOLD STORY, the book contains a few pages of Byrne's original artwork, as well as house ads and the covers of various past reprints which collected the material presented in the Omnibus.

As for the book itself -- the paper is thinner than my first printing of volume 1, which had this beautiful, slightly yellow, very thick stock that smelled (and still smells) like one heck of a classy book -- so it doesn't quite match the quality of the previous installment. This book has more pages than volume 1, but is actually much thinner due to the paper used. And while I appreciate the extra shelf space gained by the slim package, I feel that the book is a dip in quality from its predecessor. However for those who would like to have a matching set and/or don't want to track down either of the first volume's previous two printings, Marvel recently issued a second edition of volume one which should match this first printing of volume two.

But regardless of the quality of the book, its content cannot be disputed. These are the stories that turned the X-Men into THE X-MEN. 'Nuff said!

Now I sit back and wait for volume three, which should most likely collect issues 154 - 175 (and I'll cross my fingers for 176 too), thus completing my definitive run of X-Men stories in Omnibus format. Hopefully it won't take another eight years!

Available now at Amazon.com

4 comments:

  1. Just finished reading through this myself and your assessments are spot-on. That Nightcrawler and Vanisher story is b-a-n-a-n-a-s bananas, though

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    1. Yeah, it's kinda crazy. But I loved discovering a "new" Cockrum-illustrated Nightcrawler story!

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  2. Dear friend,

    Are you sure about the release of the third volume? I wish it happened soon.

    Greetings from

    Guillermo

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    1. I don't think anyone knows when the third volume will come out, though since this one was just released I'm sure it will be a few years -- but Marvel collection editor Cory Sedlmeier has at least just recently confirmed that he has the next few volumes completely planned out.

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