Sunday, September 4, 2016

AVENGERS/X-MEN: BLOODTIES & X-MEN: THE WEDDING OF CYCLOPS AND PHOENIX

BLOODTIES: Hardcover, 2011. Collects 1993's AVENGERS #368 & 369, AVENGERS WEST COAST #101, UNCANNY X-MEN #307, X-MEN #26, and 1996's BLACK KNIGHT: EXODUS.

THE WEDDING OF CYCLOPS AND PHOENIX: Paperback, 2012. Collects 1993-94's UNCANNY X-MEN #308 - 310, UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL #18, X-MEN #27 - 30, X-MEN ANNUAL #2, X-MEN UNLIMITED #3, X-MEN: THE WEDDING ALBUM, and WHAT IF? #60.


In 1993, the X-Men jumped directly from one crossover into another. The first, "Fatal Attractions", was within the X-family as we saw last time. The second, "Bloodties", teamed the X-Men with the Avengers in a celebration of the two groups' shared thirtieth anniversary. The catalyst for the crossover was Luna, child of the mutant Quicksilver and Inhuman Crystal, and the villain of the piece was Exodus, the leader of Magneto's Acolytes who had just debuted a few months earlier during the "Fatal Attractions" event.

AVENGERS/X-MEN: BLOODTIES is an installment in the since discontinued Marvel Premiere Classic Hardcover line, a set of books which originally began as more-or-less straight reprints of long out-of-print storylines (among the earliest volumes were the acclaimed SPIDER-MAN: KRAVEN'S LAST HUNT, the Claremont/Miller WOLVERINE, and Barry Windsor-Smith's WEAPON X). Unlike the majority of the "oversized" X-MEN hardcovers I've looked at so far, the Premiere Classics were published in standard trim size, meaning the pages are no larger than those of a normal comic book or trade paperback. BLOODTIES was the eighty-second in the Premiere Classic line, and it's a very nice package.


The book begins with a brief recap informing readers of the statuses of both X-Men and Avengers as of the crossover's start, then proceeds into a straight reprint of the original event: AVENGERS 368, X-MEN 26, AVENGERS WEST COAST 101, UNCANNY X-MEN 307, and AVENGERS 369. Writing comes from Bob Harras (AVENGERS), Roy Thomas (AVENGERS WEST COAST), Scott Lobdell (UNCANNY X-MEN), and Fabian Nicieza (X-MEN), with art by Steve Epting (AVENGERS), Dave Ross (AVENGERS WEST COAST), John Romita, Jr. (UNCANNY X-MEN), and Andy Kubert (X-MEN), plus some pinch-hit assistance from Jan Duursema on a few pages in AVENGERS 369.

But the crossover proper isn't the end of this book by any means. BLACK KNIGHT: EXODUS, a one-shot by Ben Raab and Jim Cheung from three years later, comes next and brings with it some closure to a dangling plot point involving the two title characters as brought up in the main story. It's interesting to note how much Marvel's production process changed in those scant three years -- we go from "Bloodties", featuring traditional coloring and hand-lettering across the board, to EXODUS, which is suddenly digitally color separated and lettered by the computerized wizardry of Comicraft. Even the artistic evolution is a bit jarring, moving from the gritty nineties aesthetic to the more cartoony work of Cheung. It's a fascinating transition.

Following the BLACK KNIGHT one-shot, it's on to thirty-two pages of bonus features, including a Nick Fury-narrated promotional pamphlet which was stapled into a ton of Marvel comics released in '93, plus second printing covers, trading cards, MARVEL AGE covers and an accompanying article, and more.


I confess I remember very little of "Bloodties", hence the lack of ruminations on the story here. I had only gotten into the X-Men fairly recently when the crossover was published and I was not really interested in the Avengers at the time (though I do have fond memories of perusing a friend's copies of some of the Harras/Epting issues even if I had no desire to actually read the series regularly). I believe I only read X-MEN 26 out of the entire "Bloodties" storyline when it was first released. I know I rectified this by reading the whole thing some years later, but I have virtually no recollection of my thoughts on it.

On the other hand, I well remember a great deal of THE WEDDING OF CYCLOPS AND PHOENIX. Published during my formative X-reading years, much of this material is quite dear to me. The book begins with the standard recap, then jumps into X-MEN ANNUAL #2, an issue I'm not sure I've ever actually read. But from there it's a couple issues I've read a number of times: X-MEN 27 by Fabian Nicieza and Richard Bennett, spotlighting Mister Sinister, and X-MEN UNLIMITED #3, a very good study of Sabretooth by Nicieza and Mike McKone, which begins the long-running plot in which Professor X attempts to cure the mutant berserker of his bloodlust.


Page 140 of the collection brings us UNCANNY X-MEN 308 by Scott Lobdell and John Romita, Jr. -- a Thanksgiving issue in which Jean Grey proposes to Scott Summers. We then jump back over to X-MEN for issue 28 and more Sabretooth drawn by regular series artist Andy Kubert. UNCANNY 309 follows, the famous tale in which Professor X has a long chat with Magneto inside his own head. Then it's X-MEN 29, a return of the Hellfire Club which begins the relationship between Archangel and Psylocke and features adolescent me's second all-time favorite picture of Psylocke after the SWIMSUIT SPECIAL image I noted a couple months back.


We have UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL 18 next, in which Glenn Herdling and Ian Churchill pit Sabretooth against Caliban (though the issue is more notable to me for a back-up tale of Bishop by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale which I wrote about briefly here some time ago). X-MEN: THE WEDDING ALBUM follows, a cute little one-shot I seem to recall was originally printed at magazine size. This is followed by Cyclops's bachelor party (crashed by Cable and the X-Cutioner!) in UNCANNY X-MEN 310, and then the volume's eponymous wedding issue, X-MEN #30, appears on page 334 of the collection.


The final issue in the book could be considered a bonus feature, as WHAT IF? #60, by Kurt Busiek and Ron Randall, asks: "What if Jean Grey and Scott Summers Had Married Earlier?" (Hint: Not much would've changed.) Then the actual bonus features arrive: a mere seven pages including the recolored cover art for this volume free of trade dress and logos, followed by a MARVEL AGE cover and corresponding article on the Big Day.

Perhaps even more than A SKINNING OF SOULS or FATAL ATTRACTIONS, this collection really brings me back. I had gotten into the X-Men with issue 20 after dabbling in the "X-Cutioner's Song" crossover a few months earlier, and "Fatal Attractions" was my first X-event as a regular, ongoing reader -- but it was around this point, the late twenties of X-MEN, that I really began to pay attention to the title and that X-MEN surpassed AMAZING SPIDER-MAN as the Marvel comic I most looked forward to every month. Fabian Nicieza's scripting really resonated with me somehow, while Andy Kubert's artwork -- which I'd found kind of ugly or off-putting when I first started reading -- seemed to get better and better every month. I loved the labyrinthine continuity and machiavellian plots of villains like Mister Sinister, but I also loved that the X-Men were, at their core, more like a family than a superhero team -- and nowhere is that more evident to me than in Nicieza's wedding issue, X-MEN 30, which still gives me warm feelings even after all these years. (And in fact Nicieza himself cites it as the high point of his time on the title.)

The book is a very thick trade paperback which means that, unlike many trades, it can actually lay open on its own as you get closer to the middle. It's nicely designed and the stories flow about as well as can be expected considering it contains a mish-mash of X-MEN and UNCANNY issues along with Annuals and other bits and pieces. From my perspective, it's pretty cool to see that it includes a mix of issues I've read many times, along with a few I'm not sure I've ever read -- I didn't bother with Annuals back when I was originally reading X-MEN or UNCANNY, at least not for the first few years, so while I did pick up X-MEN UNLIMITED, the Annual material is all-new to me.

My only real complaint about the collection is that I wish it were a hardcover. However, unlike most of the X-Men hardcovers I've looked at so far, this book has no crossover or other big selling point to give it a reason for being; it's really just a grouping of issues and stories which happened to take place in the lead-up to X-MEN 30. The wedding material itself is a very small component of the book's contents, despite its title. But regardless of that lack of a narrative spine to hold it together, these issues are so special to me that I can't help believing they should have received the high-end treatment along with the likes of "X-Cutioner's Song" and "Fatal Attractions".

Nonetheless, in any format, THE WEDDING OF CYCLOPS AND PHOENIX is easily one of my very favorite X-Men collections.

Available on Amazon: BLOODTIES (out of print but very reasonable)
WEDDING OF CYCLOPS AND PHOENIX: Paperback (out of print and less reasonable) | Kindle

5 comments:

  1. I have a lot of fond memories of "Bloodties" - shortly after getting into the X-Men, I got into the Avengers (Harras & Epting were basically trying to recreate the success of the X-books at the time, and I guess it worked, at least for me), and those two families of books quickly became my "main" series - there was other stuff I would read, but month in, month out, my top two books were X-Men and Avengers.

    So I loved "Bloodties", a crossover between my two main series that managed to do some fun stuff with both teams' shared history while still taking place very firmly in both series' presents (especially the aftermath of "Fatal Attractions".

    Fabian Nicieza's scripting really resonated with me somehow, while Andy Kubert's artwork -- which I'd found kind of ugly or off-putting when I first started reading -- seemed to get better and better every month. I loved the labyrinthine continuity and machiavellian plots of villains like Mister Sinister, but I also loved that the X-Men were, at their core, more like a family than a superhero team -- and nowhere is that more evident to me than in Nicieza's wedding issue, X-MEN 30, which still gives me warm feelings even after all these years.

    I'll second, third and fourth that - my feelings about this material is pretty much exactly what you wrote there, point for point.

    UNCANNY #308-310 and X-MEN #30 remain some of my all-time favorite issues, filled with moments I absolutely love. Great stuff that still warms my heart.

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    1. Re-reading my quoted paragraph in your post, now I want to reopen this book again! (It's been a few months since I actually wrote the above post.) I really, really love this run of issues!

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  2. I got married there earlier this year and cannot say enough positive things about the entire experience of working with their manager and the service, food and venue. The coordinators from Malibu wedding venues managed my wedding, and were impeccable wedding Angels.

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    1. Since I'm inferring from the above that "Sun Dry" got married in Genosha, this spam stands.

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  3. // a cute little one-shot I seem to recall was originally printed at magazine size //

    Yep. I was actually reading the X-Men titles during this era, by dint of working at a comics shop. While the material still, overall, left me cold — no knock to anyone who enjoyed it; as I’ve written before at Teebore’s blog if not here, for whatever reason the X-Men world is something I just could never quite get back into after dropping it (Marvel at this time was, admittedly, off-putting to me in general as well) — I felt compelled to at least skim the current releases to engage with customers both in person and through the weekly store newsletter I produced. As it happened, Running Press had its editorial offices a couple of blocks down from our main store and one of the editors who frequented the shop liked the hype I wrote for the wedding issue enough to ask me to write the introduction to the X-Men installment of their Postcard Book series. Not the weirdest thing on my résumé, but a fun and welcome boost at the time to my fairly meager collection of bylines.

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