Sunday, March 20, 2016


Hardcover, 2016. Collects 1982-84's UNCANNY X-MEN #154 - 175, X-MEN ANNUAL #6 & 7, SPECIAL EDITION X-MEN #1, MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL #5, WOLVERINE #1 - 4, and MAGIK: STORM AND ILLYANA #1 - 4.

I like the X-Men, for the most part, throughout their entire history (at least up to around 2001 or so when I stopped following them regularly). But there are some eras I only tolerate, and others I consider definitive. For me, the most definitive period in X-Men lore is UNCANNY X-MEN issues 94 - 175 (technically I prefer to include 176 as well, but I won't quibble if a collection spanning that stretch omits it). This volume completes that run for me, and if Marvel never produces another UNCANNY X-MEN OMNIBUS, I'll be content.

While it's the Chris Claremont/John Byrne material which is the heart of those eighty or so issues, there's plenty to enjoy beyond Byrne's departure. Dave Cockrum, who shepherded in the era of the "new" X-Men with Len Wein and then Claremont on writing chores, returned as series penciler with issue 145, and the first chunk of his second run was included in the second UNCANNY X-MEN OMNIBUS. As I discussed when I covered that book a couple years ago, once upon a time Marvel's Omnibuses followed a pretty strict routine of cramming a few previously published Marvel Masterworks volumes into one book and sending it off to the printers, with no regard to story flow. This resulted in UNCANNY OMNIBUS volume 1 ending in the middle of the "Dark Phoenix Saga".

Not so anymore! UNCANNY OMNIBUS 2 broke the trend and reprinted only a portion of the seventh UNCANNY X-MEN MASTERWORKS, stopping after issue 153. The reason, as we see here, was to avoid separating the long "Brood saga" into two books. With some interludes for other adventures, the Brood storyline runs all the way from UNCANNY 154 through 167! And, thanks to modern Marvel's more enlightened decision-makers, the entire epic is reprinted here.

Cockrum's artwork really shines in these issues, too. There are those who find his second run a letdown after John Byrne's groundbreaking work, and I suppose I can understand such feelings -- but personally, I enjoy Cockrum II quite a bit. It has a certain four-color superhero charm to it, and is really the last time the series feels that way as, upon Cockrum's departure, Claremont becomes more and more experimental and progressive in his storytelling, and his artistic collaborators follow suit. A more traditionally "Bronze Age" artist like Cockrum, who I love on these issues, would not fit into the X-universe of the mid to late eighties as created by Claremont.

But if Cockrum has to go, he at least goes out on a high note, bringing his flair for science fiction action into the series before he's gone. It was Cockrum who introduced readers to the Shi'ar Empire, the Starjammers, and the M'Krann Crystal years earlier, and here it is Cockrum who brings us the Brood, the Acanti, and, of course, more of his beloved Starjammers before leaving the series. The only let-down about Cockrum's run is that he departs before the Brood epic is over. It's evident in these pages that he has issues meeting monthly deadlines; there are two fill-ins in the middle of the run (and the opening chapters of this book follow from two prior fill-ins which closed out the previous installment). That, combined with an opportunity to work on a creator-owned property (THE FUTURIONS) in Marvel's more deadline-friendly graphic novel format, leads to his leaving the series following issue 164.

Cockrum's replacement, Paul Smith, is nobody to sneeze at, though. A veteran of the animation industry, Smith comes aboard immediately for UNCANNY 165 to illustrate the final three chapters of the Brood saga. His work is clean, fluid, and a joy to look at, and it only gets better as his short run continues, with inker Bob Wiacek becoming more accustomed to his style. That said, there will always be a part of me that wishes Cockrum had been able to wrap up the Brood storyline himself before departing the title.

With Cockrum gone, the sci-fi elements -- clearly more a preference of his than of writer Claremont -- quickly vanish from the series. The Starjammers stick around as background characters for the remainder of the book, but Claremont moves the action back to Earth for much more grounded stories introducing the underground-dwelling Morlocks and featuring Wolverine's ill-fated wedding in Japan, before capping things off with a storyline retroactively dubbed "From the Ashes", in which Mastermind convinces the X-Men that Dark Phoenix has returned to life. The volume ends on Paul Smith's final issue, which also features an epilogue debuting incoming penciler John Romita, Jr.

But there's way more to this one than just those core X-MEN issues drawn by Cockrum and Smith. The afore-mentioned fill-ins, illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz and Brent Anderson, pit the X-Men against Dracula and Belasco, the lord of Limbo, respectively. When the action returns to Earth nine issues later, both artists come back to the rotation; Anderson on the classic graphic novel GOD LOVES, MAN KILLS, and Sienkiewicz for an Annual pitting the X-Men once more against the lord of vampires.

And then there's WOLVERINE. The legendary four-issue limited series by Claremont and co-plotter/artist Frank Miller sends the feral X-Man to Japan for a redemption arc pitting him against Lord Shingen, the corrupt father of his love, Mariko, and all four issues are presented here in proper reading order (vs. original publication order), squeezed right between UNCANNY issues 171 and 172.

We also have a rarely-reprinted birthday for Kitty Pryde in SPECIAL EDITION X-MEN #1's lead story, which sees Cockrum return briefly to the characters he had just left behind a few months earlier. And the book is rounded out with the MAGIK mini-series, a spotlight on Colossus's sister, Illyana, by Claremont and John Buscema, set between panels in issue 160. MAGIK is more of a "bonus feature" here, as it was published a few years after the stories reprinted in the Omnibus, but Marvel has seen fit to include it in this volume for thematic purposes.

And speaking of bonus material, this book may be the strongest of all the UNCANNY X-MEN OMNIBUS volumes on that front, clocking in with 129 pages of extra features. But, before we even get to the bonus section proper, there are a few items of note strewn throughout the volume: Louise Simonson's introductions to UNCANNY X-MEN MASTERWORKS volumes 7*, 8, and 9 are here, and the letters pages from every issue reprinted in the Omnibus are present as well -- as is the custom for these collections.

The first chunk of the "official" bonus material is possibly the coolest: 66 pages reprinting full profiles for every X-character seen in the original OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE. This is basically a mini-handbook all on its own, and the profile art, by the likes of Smith, Cockrum, Byrne, and more, looks beautiful in the reconstructed Omnibus format. I know it might not be to everyone's taste, but this stuff gets me thinking that I would love to see a full OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE OMNIBUS. Yes, the profiles would be thirty years out of date, but that series is as much a part of my childhood -- and the childhoods of an entire generation -- as are the actual comics from which they draw their inspiration.

After the OHOTMU section we get some original artwork from Cockrum and Smith, an unused cover to issue 169 by Smith, and various fanzine covers and pinups from the era. There's a big chunk of material dedicated to GOD LOVES, MAN KILLS, including the cover of the 1994 edition, Chris Claremont's introduction to the 2003 edition, and lengthy interviews with Claremont, Brent Anderson, and Neal Adams from the 2007 edition. (Adams was originally slated to draw the story and even began work on it before backing out, and his first few penciled pages are reproduced here as well.)

Then it's on to WOLVERINE, which receives the original foreword and afterword from the 1987 trade paperback edition, by Claremont and Miller, respectively, as well as covers to various printings over the years. We also have an intro to the 2008 MAGIK hardcover by current Marvel editor C.B. Cebulski, and a MARVEL AGE article on same hyping the series when it first came out.

Bonus features are rounded out by the usual CLASSIC X-MEN covers at four to a page, and this batch comes from the impressive pedigree of Mike Mignola and Adam Hughes. Then, of course, there are covers to previous collections which included portions of this material (and there are several, given how seminal it is), and then the "regular edition" Omnibus cover by Jerome Opena Opeña (my copy is the variant, a reprint of the cover to X-MEN 167, since, for me, Opeña's cover doesn't fit the aesthetic of the book's contents).

The book is more than a hundred pages longer than volume 2, but looks roughly the same size on the bookcase (and, like volume 2, it's dwarfed by my original "thick paper" printing of volume 1, which is actually the shortest of the three in length). The reproduction is beautiful, as is typically the case for a book whose contents appeared previously in the meticulously reconstructed Marvel Masterworks format. Of course it comes as no surprise that the book's binding is sewn and it therefore opens up flat to pretty much any page.

With this volume, the "essential" X-Men period is, as far as I'm concerned, fully collected in three beautiful hardcovers, each one of which is well worth the premium price -- and that price seems to increase with each passing year. Just two years back, the second UNCANNY X-MEN OMNIBUS carried a price tag of $99.99 for 912 pages of content. This book is $125 for 1,056 pages. I don't know if 1,000 pages is the cutoff for the next tier of pricing, but in any case, it's worth noting.

Though as I said, if I never buy another UNCANNY X-MEN OMNIBUS, I'll be happy -- and in truth, I may not. The subsequent John Romita, Jr. run will almost certainly see Omnibus format someday, but in all likelihood I'll pass on that in favor of getting his issues in an Epic Collection or some other less expensive format. For me, Claremont, Cockrum, Byrne, and Smith represent all the Bronze Age X-Men I'll ever need, and at long last -- more than ten years after the release of volume 1 -- I can proudly declare that I have the entirety of that monumental run in Omnibus format.

Available at Amazon.

* Simonson's intro to MASTERWORKS 7 was partially reprinted in OMNIBUS 2, given that book collected a chunk of the issues from the Masterworks volume. This book contains the remainder of her truncated intoduction.


  1. I know it might not be to everyone's taste, but this stuff gets me thinking that I would love to see a full OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE OMNIBUS.

    I for one would pay an embarrassing amount of money for such a thing.

    I wonder if Marvel will ever release a v4? Given that a good chunk of JRjr's run was just released in Epic, maybe they, like you, view that format as the best release platform for reprints after this?

    Of course, I'm sure it'll all come down to sales.

    1. I know that one of Marvel's collected editions editors says he's mapped out the next three or four UNCANNY Omnibuses, though that's obviously no guarantee they'll see print. I wouldn't be surprised, though. X-Men books seem to be a consistent seller for Marvel, even if they don't light up the charts like they did in decades past. And I think Claremont's run is considered so seminal that I bet they'll do it eventually. Though it may take a while since for this line (specifically the UNCANNY X-MEN OMNIBUS series), they tend to collect previously issued Marvel Masterworks in the books, and none of the JR jr. run has made it to Masterworks yet. Though it may take a while since for this line (specifically the UNCANNY X-MEN OMNIBUS series), they tend to collect previously issued Marvel Masterworks in the volumes, and none of the JR jr. run has made it to that format yet.

      But if you consider the oversized hardcover collections of all the various eighties crossovers, nearly all of Claremont's run is already out there in Omnibus-style format, with only the JR jr. run (plus issues 215 - 219) missing. Based on that, I'm almost certain we'll see the Romita run in some sort of oversized format just to complete the run, whether as a continuation of the UXM OMNIBUS series or some other branding.

  2. That sounds like a mighty fine book.