X-CUTIONER'S SONG: Hardcover, 2011. Collects 1992-93's UNCANNY X-MEN #294-297, X-FACTOR #84-86, X-MEN #14-16, X-FORCE #16-18 and STRYFE'S STRIKE FILE.
A SKINNING OF SOULS: Paperback, 2013. Collects 1993's X-MEN #17 - 24, X-MEN: SURVIVAL GUIDE TO THE MANSION, and material from MARVEL SWIMSUIT SPECIAL #2.
Bonus material consists of sixteen pages, beginning with second printing covers -- including one for STRYFE'S STRIKE FILE. A book of wall-to-wall text and pinups received a second printing. Who says the nineties weren't the merry Marvel age of mirthful excess? We next get both sides of twelve trading cards, which were originally packaged with the individual issues in polybags, reprinted at original size, followed by a MARVEL AGE cover and article about the crossover, a scan of a chapter still inside its polybag, trade paperback covers of previous collections, and recolored cover art for this volume.
The book's dustjacket and graphic design are crafted to make it a companion to the X-TINCTION AGENDA hardcover released earlier in 2011 (but in blue rather than X-TINCTION's red). The book's title is even redesigned from the original crossover logo, utilizing an old-fashioned jagged "X" in order to match the original "X-Tinction Agenda" logo instead. And while this is a nice idea, it really doesn't make much sense. These crossovers have nothing in common; no shared villain, no shared theme. Even a lot of the characters are different!
Last month I said that the BISHOP'S CROSSING collection was near and dear to me due to it containing the first stack of UNCANNY X-MEN back issues I picked up at a comic convention circa 1993 or so. I wasn't exaggerating then, but these two collections are perhaps more special to me -- and I should warn you now to get used to me blathering about how nostalgic I am for nearly every X-collection I review going forward!
"X-Cutioner's Song" was the storyline brought me to the cusp of becoming a regular X-reader. I had discovered the X-Men some time earlier via a friend's "Outback Era" issues and CLASSIC X-MEN reprints, and the hype over this event, mainly due to blurbs in the ENTERTAINMENT THIS MONTH ads in my Spider-Man comics, were too much to pass up: Professor X assassinated by Cable! Cyclops and Jean Grey kidnapped! All the X-teams united against a common threat! I had to read it. I picked up every installment, making these the very first X-Men comics I ever owned.
The crossover didn't disappoint (despite some ugly Jae Lee artwork on the X-FACTOR installments). It served as my introduction to a number of X-characters with whom I was completely unfamiliar, including the majorities of X-Factor and X-Force, as well as mainstay antagonists Apocalypse, Mister Sinister (soon to become my favorite X-villain), and Stryfe. I hung on every issue, every cliffhanger, and when it was over I wanted more. But, for reasons even I don't rightly recall, it was still a few more months before I jumped in as a regular reader.
Enter A SKINNING OF SOULS. This paperback opens with a detailed recap page covering material from X-MEN BY CLAREMONT & LEE volume 2, BISHOP'S CROSSING, and X-CUTIONER'S SONG. From there the layout is about as simple as can be: it's just X-MEN 17 - 24 in direct order. There is, however, a very short recap before issue 24, covering material which occurred contemporaneously in UNCANNY X-MEN (in issues we will cover next month as part of the X-MEN: FATAL ATTRACTIONS hardcover).
The remaining bonus material consists of eleven pages of pin-ups from the second MARVEL SWIMSUIT SPECIAL (including adolescent me's all-time favorite picture of Psylocke by Art Thibert), and then nineteen pages of pinups from the 1993 MARVEL YEAR IN REVIEW and several trading cards from a few different sets released around this time. I'm unsure why Marvel chose a seemingly random assortment of cards, other than that they seem to spotlight characters who appear prominently in this volume -- but the full set, as they did previously in the larger Omnibus collections, would've been much appreciated instead of this half-hearted effort.
(And that's the problem with hitting home run after home run, as Marvel's collections department typically does -- when you smack a solid double, fans are disappointed it wasn't another dinger!)
The book itself is your typical square-bound trade paperback. Unfortunately, with so much of the prior X-MEN material in hardcover, this volume is a bit of a letdown by comparison -- especially since it doesn't really open up flat like the hardbacks. Snapping all these pics was a lot harder for a trade since I usually needed one hand free to hold the book open!
I have little fondness for the three-part story arc which gives this collection its name, for a couple reasons: one, I've only read the issues once or twice as back issues over the years so I have no real nostalgia for them, and two -- more importantly -- they're a downright depressing slog which begin the X-books' year of putting Colossus through torture after torture, utterly breaking the one-time optimistic and naive X-Man pretty much forevermore.
The following issues, however, mean a great deal to me. X-MEN #20 was the first issue of the series I picked up with the intention to read the series regularly, and (aside from randomly missing #24 for some reason) I didn't stop until Grant Morrison took over nearly a hundred issues later and ruined the X-Men.
In particular, issue 20 begins writer Fabian Nicieza's "Revanche saga", a convoluted mangling of Psylocke's history which hooked me immediately for its labyrinthine series of twists, turns, and revelations. The storyline is (probably rightly) reviled among fans, but to fourteen year-old me, it was incredibly engrossing, and after the flirtation of "X-Cutioner's Song", the Revanche stuff cemented me as an X-Men reader for the next eight years and a fan for life.
So when I express my fondness for nineties X-comics, as I'm wont to do on occasion, hopefully the above clarifies where I'm coming from: Though I had discovered the X-Men a few years earlier -- and though I consider the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne/Smith era of relatively straightforward superhero action to be the definitive X-Men -- it was Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Jean Grey, Archangel, Iceman, Bishop, Beast, Psylocke, Rogue, Gambit, Jubilee and Professor X who I read about, month-in and month-out in "first run" adventures filled with impenetrable continuity and never-ending sub-plots courtesy of Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza, who are "my" X-Men -- and these two books are where all that began for me.
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X-CUTIONER'S SONG: Hardcover | Paperback | A SKINNING OF SOULS: Paperback