Sunday, November 8, 2015


Hardcover, 2009. Collects 1985's X-MEN AND ALPHA FLIGHT #1 - 2, NEW MUTANTS SPECIAL EDITION, and X-MEN ANNUAL #9.

Published in 2009, ASGARDIAN WARS is a very slim hardcover collecting only four issues. It begins with an introduction by Chris Claremont, written in 1988 for a trade paperback edition of this material, then continues into 1985's two-issue X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT mini-series. Each issue is double-sized, written by Claremont and illustrated by Paul Smith and Bob Wiacek. The story features the X-Men of the era setting out to find their leader emeritus, Cyclops, after his plane crashes. The mutants team up with Canada's super-team, Alpha Flight, and find themselves eventually dealing with Loki of Asgard.

Aside from Smith's artwork, I was never much of a fan of this story as a kid. The Asgardian stuff seems an odd choice to mix with the X-Men (and this is coming from someone who loves when they go into space now and then). Plus the story was created during one of my least-favorite periods for the X-Men, the mid-eighties era when Cyclops was not a regular member, when Rachel Summers was a regular member, and when Storm sported her dumb mohawk and leathers.

So given my distaste for both the premise and status quo, it's not really surprising I consider this story skippable. The fact that Smith only gets to draw his brilliant rendition of Cyclops in costume for a couple pages at the very end only adds to my dissatisfaction.

Somehow, due to bizarre scheduling, X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT was set some time before it was actually published. Its sequel was released at just about the same exact time it was, in the pages of 1985's NEW MUTANTS SPECIAL EDITION and X-MEN ANNUAL. Written by Claremont with artwork from Art Adams and Terry Austin, this duology saw the X-Men and their junior counterparts transported to Asgard for more hijinks.

Again, aside from the artwork, I'm not a fan. Strangely, while I read X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT as a teen around the same time I picked up back issues of the rest of Chris Claremont's run, I somehow never read the sequel until I grabbed this very volume as an adult. I generally find it just as disappointing. It's not exactly more of the same, and Claremont does some fun stuff in the first chapter, with the New Mutants as "fish out of water" in Asgard, but overall I feel the story could've been told in one single annual or a pair of standard-length stories. It's too long and meandering.

Add to that that Terry Austin had changed his art style by the mid-eighties, employing unattractive light, scratchy inks, and this one's not nearly as fun to look at as X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT, either. I love Adams' work; it's great, but it's really marred by Austin's style.

Following the four issues, this volume includes twenty-four pages of bonus material, though almost all of it is original pencil pages by Adams -- which would be great, except that they're reprinted at quarter-size, four pages to a page, which kind of defeats the purpose for me. If anything, if I'm going to look at original artwork -- especially this much of it and especially if I'd like to compare the pencils with Austin's lackluster inks -- I'd like to see them bigger than original publication size!

The only other bonus items are a few character design sketched from Adams and the covers of previous printings of this material (including one by Dave Cockrum from 1998!?).

So for me, at least, this book is kind of a let-down. But if you're a fan of these stories, then by all means -- pick up the book! It's nicely restored and the oversize hardcover format is wonderful for Paul Smith's and Art Adams' artwork. The hardcover is out of print but can still be found online for excellent prices, as can the 2014 trade paperback edition.

Available from Amazon: Hardcover | Paperback


  1. one of my least-favorite periods for the X-Men, the mid-eighties era when Cyclops was not a regular member, when Rachel Summers was a regular member, and when Storm sported her dumb mohawk and leathers.

    My personal favourite era! I swear by these stories.

    1. To elaborate, I am of course extremely biased due to jumping into the X-Men precisely at this point (I mean really, my first X-Men book printed UNCANNY #199 and the first pages of #200 where the X-folks return from Asgard to Paris). None of these stories can be blamed for lack of Cyclops, btw, though of course some bits of it will grind those in the I Hate Rachel club.

      It's an era, if not THE era, of shared continuity done right. Loki watching Storm from the recent Surtur War (okay yeah Claremont has another villain fall for her but anyway), New Mutants and Storm returning from their respective shenanigangs only to be hijacked to Asgard, Kitty Pryde & Wolverine returning from theirs just for the earlier Alpha Flight bit, after being off UNCANNY for the time needed.

      AND at the same time all the behind-the-scenes stuff with Claremont having the X-FACTOR shoved down his throat. It's hard to think that Rachel taking the Phoenix Force wasn't for some part to take it away from the X-Factor toolbox OR that Scott's and Rachel's exchange about her Phoenix costume didn't have a tiny bit of meta-message about usurping the legacy of Claremont's Jean Grey.

      Many of the stories of the era may be forgettable if not downright ignorable, certainly not of instant classic potential, but at the same time it's all so Claremontian juggling in a way in its finest. I really think one big strenght in it is that it isn't even trying to be the Massive Epic That Changes Everything You Thought You Knew, which we will be seeing a lot after Claremont's departure. We know and love Claremont downtime issues, it's kind of nice to have the concept stretched into a downtime era. It'll be events, EVENTS soon enough.

    2. FWIW I don't think Rachel taking on the mantle of Phoenix was something Claremont did to deny X-FACTOR that device - from all I've read, the idea of Jean being in X-FACTOR was sprung on Claremont so last minute he wouldn't have had time to work any kind of reaction to it into any issues released so close to the launch of that series.

      Not that he maybe wouldn't have if he'd had the time and wasn't already doing it, but I think "Rachel-as-Phoenix" was an idea Claremont was driving towards long before X-FACTOR (and Jean's involvement therein) was something he knew about.

    3. It certainly isn't something I'd push for, but on Secrets Behind The X-Men blog they got Claremont's take on the matter (from Comics Creators of X-Men) and he specifically says he was coming to the office to plot #198 when he was told it. So there was still the opportunity, and lord knows a motive, but of course the whole thing feels like a longer-term plan that was already in motion by then what with the Beyonder setup and everything. Phoenix burns brightly for the ten or so following issues, until Rachel leaves for the miniseries that never came to be.

    4. Yeah, that "CC on X-Men" book is my main point of reference for this as well. I just don't think that finding out while plotting #198 is enough time for him to force a Phoenix adoption into #199, not when it's such a significant part of it (cover and all), just on the grounds of keeping Phoenix out of X-FACTOR's hands. Besides, it was something he was already clearly building to, and if X-FACTOR wanted Phoenix, they'd have probably gotten it (since they wanted Jean Grey over Claremont's objections, after all).

    5. Yeah, I know everyone has their preferred X-Men eras, and you guys -- and I'm sure many others -- love the JR jr. period. It's just never done much for me. I don't hate it, mind you, and I appreciate that most of the team I like is there. But for me, after Byrne left the title, Claremont began a slow transformation, moving away the style of story I like best. Cockrum kept him in the traditional superhero mode for a bit longer, and the Smith run is good, but around the time JR jr. comes aboard, the evolution really ramps up and I quickly lose interest in the stories for a few years.

      I think you perfectly summed up what I don't like about it, Teemu -- it is very much a "downtime era", where, while a lot may happen over the long run, from issue to issue you feel like nothing is happening. Teebore addressed this when he reviewed the period a couple years ago, how every issue feels like a "day in the life". It's just not epic enough for me. Give me a dozen-issue world tour or a crossover a year anytime over a few years of done-in-one after done-in-one.

      Plus I've never liked JR jr's art in his first run on UXM. His second run, yes -- I like that. But the first is sort of unappealing to me.

      As for Storm, I just prefer her original costume and characterization over all others. Once Claremont "hardens" her, she becomes a character I can't really relate to or sympathize with.

    6. And on Rachel, I tend to agree with Teebore -- I don't think Claremont had enough lead time to have her become Phoenix after he learned about Jean's return. I suppose it's possible he accelerated his time table, though.

      But really, I'm not sure X-FACTOR would've wanted Phoenix. That series was very much about restoring the original X-Men to their original states, right down to turning Beast human again and stripping Jean of her telepathy. I would guess that the plan all along -- or at least, from the point they realized they could have the character -- was for her to be plain old Marvel Girl.

    7. Right down to her being TK only, no telepathy - just like in the earliest X-MEN issues (something which lasted surprisingly-long; it's amazing Simonson didn't restore her telepathy at some point).

      The early issues of X-FACTOR are all about recreating the original X-Men as much as possible. It's a retro series in a completely not fun way, and you're right they'd have wanted nothing to do with Phoenix. Note that when Phoenix does start getting mentioned, it's only after Simonson comes aboard and the book is doing something else entirely.

    8. Matt: Teebore addressed this when he reviewed the period a couple years ago, how every issue feels like a "day in the life".

      That's really beautifully put, and I absolutely love the era just for that. The sentiment really get epitomized in that one issue where the acting leader Nightcrawler asks the fresh-from-a-jog Logan if they really have to go face Juggernaut and Logan answers: "Never." And then they go. It's a bit like the early Spider-Man when the essentially romance comicky shenanigans and interactions of the supporting cast captivates you so that you feel robbed a bit when Stan excusingly rips you away from it to the next web-slinging Spider-Man panel.

      Plus I've never liked JR jr's art in his first run on UXM. His second run, yes -- I like that. But the first is sort of unappealing to me.

      Ha, just the opposite for me. I love the simple 80's JRjr, not so much the boxy 90's one. And the love extends to him in the Spider-Man of the era.

      Both of you are of course absolutely right about the intended retro feel of the X-FACTOR. But the damn thing with Phoenix is that it'll surface from the ashes, again and again, and Claremont would know, being the worst offender himself. But, should he have had such a premonition (and I really don't insist he would have), the following decades would of course prove him absolutely correct.

    9. What's funny is that I love JR jr.'s AMAZING SPIDER-MAN with Roger Stern. I think he did great work there, even despite a parade of inkers who were not always suited to his style. But maybe I just don't find him appropriate for a team book or something, because for whatever reason his transition to X-MEN leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

  2. when Storm sported her dumb mohawk and leathers.

    "When Storm sported her awesome mohawk and leathers, the only time the character has ever been even remotely interesting"

    There, I fixed that for you. :)

    Yeah, we just have to agree to disagree on this volume, since both the stories contained therein I count amongst my all time favorites. In fact, this single volume might just be my favorite collection of X-Men stories, if we're talking in terms of themed or story-specific collctions (as opposed to something that just collects a run of issues I really like). I take it back - "From the Ashes" is probably my favorite. This is probably second.

    The second story in this volume gets by on the strength of Adams artwork - I'm awful at recognizing inking, so the shift in Austin's style isn't apparent to me. Or maybe I just like it more? But that iteration of the New Mutants, Adams-drawn, sprawling cast (the largest it ever was) is the definitive/preferred version of the New Mutants for me. It doesn't last long, but this is probably the best showcase for it.

    The first story, though, is just fantastic. Gorgeous Paul Smith artwork for one, and a story that, despite the sword-and-sorcery settings speaks directly to the themes at the heart of the X-Men, the question of making everyone like the perpetual outsiders, and what cost for that is too high to pay.

    Of course, it also helps that I encountered both these stories very early in my initial reading of the X-Men (my copy of the Asgardian Wars trade paperback was one of the earliest collections I ever had, back when collections were, relatively speaking, much pricier than they are now).

    1. I recognize inking sometimes. For me, Austin changed his style so drastically that it's hard not to notice, however I only really saw it when I looked at his work with Byrne in X-MEN and then his work with Byrne from the mid-eighties on. It really helps to see him working on the same penciler to get an idea of how he changed.

      I agree with you; I love "From the Ashes". My trade from way back when is kind of battered and dog-eared these days from so much use and from being lent out. It's amazing, given how continuity heavy Claremont was, or was getting, around that time, that the issues covered in that book form a relatively seamless "novel" experience.