Friday, May 15, 2015


Story: Scott Gray | Coloring: Val Staples | Lettering: Blambot's Nate Piekos
Production: Joe Sabino, Anthony Dial, & Paul Acerios
Assistant Editors: Jordan D. White (#1 - 3) & Michael Horwitz (#4) | Editor: Nathan Cosby
Editor-in-Chief: Joe Quesada | Publisher: Dan Buckley | Executive Producer: Alan Fine
Dedicated with respect and admiration to Len Wein, Chris Claremont,
John Byrne, and the late, great, Dave Cockrum

In 2009, Marvel published this series featuring a handful of adventures set during the early days of the "All-New, All-Different" X-Men and starring the team lineup from that era: Cyclops, Storm, Banshee, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Phoenix. I'm unsure if this was always intended to be a limited series or if it was cancelled with #8 due to low sales, but in any case, eight issues are all that were published. Given that the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne days are my all-time favorite period for the X-Men, this series was on my radar for years, but I never read it... until now. Thanks to Marvel Unlimited, I've finally given it a try. Here are my thoughts.

A Note For the Continuity-Anal Fan (like myself): As best I can tell, all eight issues of this series must take place during the time gap between UNCANNY X-MEN #110 and 111. My reasoning is simple: Lilandra is hanging out with the X-Men in FIRST CLASS, and she returned to Earth with the group in issue 109. Also, Jean Grey became Phoenix in issue 101, but the X-Men immediately set out on a series of adventures, without her, which also ran all the way up to issue 109. Following 109, 110 is a stand-alone story, and then 111 kicks off an extended story arc which doesn't end until the opening chapters of the "Dark Phoenix Saga", after Lilandra has returned to the Shi'ar Empire. And since it's an unstated amount of time which passes between issues 110 and 111, it seems obvious these stories are meant to fit there.

Art by Roger Cruz

We begin with a two-part tale in which the new X-Men meet the Inhumans. Nightcrawler, having just been rattled by an angry mob in Manhattan, decides that the Inhuman city of Attilan is where he's truly meant to live, and considers residing there permanently. But when he witnesses the Inhumans' tradition of purposefully mutating their children, he attacks. The other X-Men come to his aid but Phoenix exacerbates the situation. Eventually cool heads prevail, and the Inhumans allow the X-Men to depart unharmed.

"Refuge" and "To Err..." have an interesting kernel of a concept -- the X-Men vs. the Inhumans -- but I'm not fond of the execution. The story's premise first loses me on the idea that Professor X is old friends with Black Bolt and knows the Inhumans well enough that he's invited their royal family to his mansion for lunch. To my knowledge -- and I admit I could be mistaken -- Xavier had never met the Inhumans at this point in his history. The story seems to be taking modern Marvel's idea of Xavier and Black Bolt belonging to a top secret "Illuminati" as its basis for this idea, and, as I've never liked this Illuminati idea, it just doesn't work for me.

But then I may be incorrectly assuming the conceit of this series. I imagine it's meant simply to chronicle "untold" tales of the X-Men as if they had been published at the time of the original stories, rather than being a retroactive look at the characters utilizing continuity from later publications.

At any rate, Scott Gray (could there possibly be a better name for an X-Men writer, by the way?) has a decent handle on the characters circa UXM #110, painting Wolverine as a little jerk, Phoenix as a reluctant X-Man, Colossus as the naive youngster, etc. Some of his dialogue rings false (try to imagine the Cyclops of the seventies -- or eighties or nineties -- saying "C'mon, crew, you know this level! Are you gonna let "G.I. Joebot" kick your mutated behinds again?"), but otherwise I have no objections to his handling of the cast and Nightcrawler's desire to remain among the Inhumans is actually a really interesting idea for the character as he was presented around this time.

The scripting in general isn't bad, either. Gray uses third person narration and thought balloons, which automatically win him bonus points from me in today's comic book world. Some of the narration is sparse and/or clumsy, but at least he's using it.

Left: Art by Roger Cruz (issue 1). Right: Art by David Williams (issue 4).

The artwork, however, turns me off almost completely. In the nineties I loved Roger Cruz, but that was because he was trying his hardest to draw like Joe Madureira (even swiping many of his poses from Mad's artwork). Cruz here, though, doesn't really do anything for me. He's not as cartoony as he was in the nineties, but he isn't realistic enough for a story set in this era. These X-Men were visually defined by Dave Cockrum and John Byrne. They just don't work when drawn in Cruz's modern style. These stories would've looked much better drawn by a Paul Smith or a Tom Grummett.

(Also, Cruz engages in one of my biggest pet peeves when drawing Cyclops -- he spots no black into the costume, which makes his outfit look blue. Cyclops's costume was black, people. Shiny black with blue highlights, but definitely black. It looks goofy when it's colored entirely blue.)

Art by Roger Cruz

Art: Ed McGuinness
The series' third issue is a Banshee spotlight which finds the Irish X-Man haunted by the apparent ghost of his late wife, thanks to her father who has enlisted a psychic mutant Houngan to create the apparition. Banshee and his new love, Moira MacTaggart, investigate the mystery and grow closer together in the process.

Once more, Gray's knowledge of the characters and era comes into play. Banshee's love of country western music is referenced, as is his backstory as an Interpol agent. Revealing his father-in-law as an angry old man with a grudge is a bit much, but fits into the Claremontian world of the X-Men, where no one is ever quite normal. Scott seems to be a fan of Banshee too, writing a training scene at the story's outset in which Banshee eludes all the other X-Men to win a five-on-one game of Capture the Flag. As Banshee is my second favorite X-Man after Cyclops, I appreciated this touch.

The artwork still doesn't fit the material all that well, but Cruz's layouts seem a bit improved from the first two issues.

Art by David Williams

Art: Roger Cruz
Next up is a Storm adventure, as she joins Jean Grey, Jean's roommated Misty Knight, and Misty's partner Colleen Wing, for a "girls' night out". But their revelry is interrupted by Blaxploitation villainess Dr. Nightshade, who forces Storm to invade the SHIELD helicarrier and steal a device which she then uses to program her new robots with Misty's and Colleen's fighting abilities.

Gray continues to employ third person narration and thought balloons while drawing upon the characters' pasts -- in this case referencing some adventures of the Daughters of the Dragon and Storm's first encounter with Black Panther in MARVEL TEAM-UP #100. Some of the characters' dialogue is still a bit off, and Nightshade's and Misty's "street talk" doesn't sound quite authentic, but Gray seems to have a good handle on Storm, at least.

But the real winning factor in issue 4 is the artwork from David Williams. He's a bit rough in places, but overall he turns in a much more realistic job than Cruz, making the story far easier to imagine as taking place between the Cockrum and Byrne issues. And best of all, he draws Cyclops's costume as black as can be and it looks magnificent.

Throughout these first four issues of FIRST CLASS, there's also a sub-plot building, which comes to a head in #4. It seems that Starcore-1, the space research station manned by Professor X's friend Peter Corbeau, has stumbled across three figures emerging from the sun. These beings eventually reach Starcore and invade it, but not before Corbeau manages to amplify his thoughts with a device on board and send a mental distress signal to Xavier, setting up the series' only three-part storyline, which we'll cover next week.


  1. I read FIRST CLASS, the initial series which did the same sort of thing with the original X-Men, and a few issues of the Wolverine/Kitty series set circa UXM 139 & 140 that did the same thing, but then lost interest in the concept. I haven't read these issues, but given that they're on Marvel Unlimited, I may have to check them out.

    As best I can tell, all eight issues of this series must take place during the time gap between UNCANNY X-MEN #110 and 111

    I love that that's pretty much the only place any outside-UXM stories featuring Phoenix and Banshee can fit. The stories before and after are so specific in terms of timing and the cast involved that everything has to get wedged in between those two issues. :)

    . I imagine it's meant simply to chronicle "untold" tales of the X-Men as if they had been published at the time of the original stories, rather than being a retroactive look at the characters utilizing continuity from later publications.

    This little sub group of titles (FIRST CLASS, etc.) have a weird relationship with continuity, in that I think they're trying to do both.

    FIRST CLASS, for example, fits between issues of the original series, so it's like the UNTOLD TALES model, yet the characters are wearing different uniforms, speak with updated references to pop culture, and referencing continuity that wasn't in place when the original stories were published, so they're kind of doing their own thing.

    I think the idea is supposed to be "just tell a good story" and sometimes that means adhering to established continuity and sometimes not, and I have mixed feelings about that loosey goosey approach.

    Cyclops's costume was black, people.

    Huh. I never, in a million years, ever would have said Cyclops' classic costume, with the pirate boots and the skullcap, was black. Ask me a hundred times and I always would have said it was blue (with black highlights on occasion). Now you have me questioning everything I ever knew about color...

    1. I understand how it can be seen as blue. I thought it was blue when I was younger. But now I feel like it's some super-shiny black material that reflects light as blue (same as how I see Batman's cape). My reasoning is:

      1. It's drawn the same way as the Byrne-redesigned Fantastic Four costumes.

      2. In the pages of Byrne's FF, those costumes are explicitly described as being black and white.

      And, if you want to get non-canonical, Byrne himself has said that the costume is supposed to be black. All of the confusion just stems from the days of using blue, instead of something more natural, like white or gray, to highlight black (see most characters' black hair over the years).

      So pretty much my entire reasoning hinges on John Byrne, I guess.