Sunday, May 22, 2016


THE GIFT: Paperback, 2015. Collects 1985-86's UNCANNY X-MEN #189 - 198, UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL #8, X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT #1 - 2, and NIGHTCRAWLER #1 - 4.

GHOSTS: Paperback, 2013. Collects 1985-86's UNCANNY X-MEN #199 - 209 and UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL #10.

As noted last time, I've decided to expand my reviews of X-MEN hardcovers to include trade paperbacks as well. So, before we move chronologically forward from the two X-MEN BY CLAREMONT & LEE books, let's take a look at a couple volumes set earlier in Claremont's run, during the time he had John Romita, Jr. as his regular artist.

X-MEN EPIC COLLECTION: THE GIFT, published more recently than GHOSTS but set earlier, begins with UNCANNY X-MEN 189 through 192 in direct order, featuring the misadventures of Rachel Summers and the New Mutants' Magma, the revenge of Kulan Gath against Spider-Man, and the debut of New Mutant Warlock's father, Magus.

The book then moves out of the ongoing series to present X-MEN ANNUAL #8, a sequel of sorts to the classic UNCANNY 153, "Kitty's Fairy Tale". Next are X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT 1 and 2, representing a major chronological jump in publishing time -- these issues were originally published in late '85/early '86, but are set much earlier in the timeline, and they're slotted here to fit where the story dictates they should go.

This seems to be an anomaly for the Epic Collection banner, unless I'm mistaken. It seems to me that, historically, these books have printed one-shots, annuals, etc. when they were published rather than when they took place. But personally, in this case, I prefer it this way. X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT was not published that much later than the issues it's slotted between here, so I'm fine with some rejiggering of the publication history to make the reading experience smoother. (Similarly, I also like when collected editions include the original WOLVERINE mini-series where it should take place, rather than where it was published.)

With the annual and mini-series completed, we're back to UNCANNY for a straight run of six issue, 193 through 198. We have Thunderbird and the Hellions menacing the X-Men, Juggernaut and Nimrod duking it out, a guest appearance by Power Pack, a crisis on the campus, the return of Arcade and Doctor Doom, and Storm's second "Lifedeath". The volume closes out with Dave Cockrum's NIGHTCRAWLER mini-series, also presented slightly ahead of its original publication schedule to fit the book's chronology.

Bonus material is strewn throughout the volume, including quarter-size X-MEN CLASSIC reprint covers and original artwork. The proper bonus section occupies the volume's final nine pages and consists of MARVEL AGE articles about NIGHTCRAWLER and X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT, as well as a house ad for NIGHTCRAWLER.

GHOSTS is a slightly slimmer, but no less impressive, collection. It runs UNCANNY 199 through 209 in direct order, featuring the capture and trial of Magneto, Cyclops' and Storm's duel for the X-Men's leadership, a clash with the Beyonder, an offbeat Nightcrawler solo adventure, an offbeat Wolverine solo adventure, the return of Freedom Force, a showdown with the Hellfire Club, and the attack of Nimrod. Things close out with UNCANNY ANNUAL #10, introducing Longshot to the team.

Note that X-MEN ANNUAL 9 is absent from both of these volumes. Presumably someday the material contained in GHOSTS will find its way into a proper Epic Collection which will include the missing issue, but for now ANNUAL #9 and NEW MUTANTS SPECIAL EDITION #1 are available in the X-MEN: ASGARDIAN WARS collection (in both out-of-print-but-still-reasonably-priced hardcover and paperback flavors).

The bonus section in GHOSTS is far longer than in THE GIFT, weighing in at 33 pages! We have a couple humor strips and a pair of articles from MARVEL AGE, X-MEN CLASSIC covers by the likes of Brian Stelfreeze, Gary Frank, Jae Lee, and Terry Dodson reprinted at full size (which I wish THE GIFT had done as well), pinups and posters from a variety of sources, character designs by Arthur Adams, original art reprinted at quarter size (which, honestly, seems pointless -- you lose the effect of original artwork by shrinking it even smaller than publication size), and the covers of previous collections featuring parts of this material.

Together, THE GIFT and GHOSTS represent about thirty consecutive issues of the Chris Claremont/John Romita, Jr. X-MEN. The books flow nicely together with the exception of the missing "Asgardian Wars" material, and on top of that, GHOSTS butts right up against MUTANT MASSACRE as well (also available in both out-of-print-and-not-so-reasonably-priced-hardcover and paperback formats).

I've stated before that I'm not a huge fan of the John Romita, Jr. era on UNCANNY X-MEN. Note that I have nothing in the way of story commentary on these books, the reason being that I've rarely ever gone back to them over the years. I love early Claremont for story, status quo, and characterization, and while I'm not a big fan of the status quos or team line-ups of late Claremont, I like the stories for their deep serialization and convoluted continuity. This period, mid-Claremont, seems boring by comparison.

On top of that, Romita's artwork in these issues has never been as appealing to me as his earlier Spider-Man material or much of his later output. I've often blamed that on Dan Green's inking, but I have to admit that the art is beautifully restored in these books and it actually looks better than I remember from the individual issues. Perhaps the fault I've long perceived with the work is more with Marvel's printing processes of the times and not with either of the artists.

So, now that we've delved a few years into the past for these trades of the mid-Claremont period, next month we'll jump past Claremont's final days and into the 1991 X-Men relaunch with a look the BISHOP'S CROSSING hardcover.

Available on Amazon: THE GIFT | GHOSTS


  1. By coincidence, this week I just got my best friend these two books for his birthday (along with SECRET WARS and some collections of the Stern AVENGERS run). A few years back, I got him books of the Claremont/Byrne run, as well as lending him major issues of the entire CC run (with CLASSIC X-MEN and NEW MUTANTS issues as well), but these books might be more accessible for him to read for himself and his kids (although I left him a warning to be wary about reading 191's 'The Passion of the Spidey' to his boys). He once mentioned a fondness for the art of UXM#300- John Romita Jr.- and felt this might be good for him to see the majority of his run.

    1. Weird/funny: I'm a huge fan of #175-211 Romita Jr., but #300 and onwards is off-putting more than anything to me even if it still is Dan Green inking on him. Already on DAREDEVIL he seems to have picked up this line-y/blocky element to his art that was missing earlier and doesn't work for me at all. I wonder if the difference cut into the other direction too.

      Also, boo on robbing "The Age Undreamed Of" from the poor mites. They'd love it.

    2. My all-time favorite period for Romita's artwork is the late nineties when he was on PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN. I think the over-blockiness of the late eighties/early nineties was gone by then, but he also hadn't become as sketchy as he's been more recently.

      I also really love his original AMAZING SPIDER-MAN run with Denny O'Neil and Roger Stern.

      I tend to agree with angmc43 on at least warning his friend about the Kulan Gath story. I read that one years later, but had I read it as a kid, I would've been traumatized to see Spider-Man (my favorite superhero) tortured and then murdered on-page. I still think it was an awful idea on Claremont's part.

    3. Myself and Teemu definitely seem to have the same taste.
      This was my favourite period of X-Men? Check.
      I enjoy John Romita Jr.'s pencils more at this point than how he'd develop later? Check.

      As far as the Kulan Gath story, I first read the issue when I was a kid, and it didn't traumatize me. Maybe it didn't effect me badly due to Spider Man not being my favourite hero.
      I just remember being bored by that two-parter, as it seemed to have zero to do with the X-Men.

    4. Anonymous, *thumbs up*. :D

      About Kulan Gath, they'll do the 24 hours time reversal thing later on in INFINITY GAUNTLET and on Marvel UK's MYS-TECH WARS and I gather in lots of other places, maybe before it too, and fullblownly usurped from a gory murder-a-thon, but when I read the story the trick was new to me and how I see it is that with his editorially mandated immortality removed for the story (for him and the Avengers and the X-Men too) we really get to see what Spider-Man is made of. Kulan Gath can't break him and moreover in the end it's him who saves the day by making the others know the power is in the Amulet. He's the one who goes in blaze of glory despite the torture and everything; the other deaths of the heroes are rather futile and near accidental.

      It's harsh, but it was one of the character-defining Spider-Man stories for me.

    5. Teemu -- now that you mention INFINITY GAUNTLET, I'm pretty sure I was traumatized there as well, when Spider-Man was bludgeoned to death by Thanos's consort, Terraxia! I think I'm just overly protective of the web-slinger.

  2. This period, mid-Claremont, seems boring by comparison.

    You misspelled 'awesome' there; it does not start with a 'b'. Claremont has two mutant books at the time to juggle with back and forth, which he does recommendably, and I have only now come to realize how greatly he picks the happenings surrounding the Dazzler: The Movie - Graphic Novel for the background of his UNCANNY. He nearly looks like grabbing Dazz with two hands which is hilarious when compared how she was pushed on him during Byrne era.

    1. I cast no stones at those who like this era; it just doesn't tickle my particular tastes as far as what I look for in a comic!

      I've never read DAZZLER: THE MOVIE. Someday...

    2. Well, more than anything I'm referring to the Dazzler movie posters that pop up in UNCANNY and always seem to have been effaced with "Mutie die!“ graffiti. I love how in #191 the freshly-arrived Nimrod takes one look on one and is set on his path.

      But naturally Claremont couldn't resist picking up the Gladiators thing from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST for his NEW MUTANTS and I like him opting for Dazzler herself soon afterwards. I've been looking imto the DAZZLER book lately and I like it much better than it reputation lets on.

  3. I was going to step in and get a defense of my precious JRjr run on the record, but I should have known Teemu would have it covered. :)

    Really strange that they left ANNUAL #9 out of both collections. Presumably, as you say, it'll end up in the next sequential X-MEN Epic Collection, but still.