Sunday, July 10, 2016


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.

"X-Cutioner's Song", 1992's 12-part X-Men family crossover, is collected in full in a very attractive hardcover volume which opens, in a nice touch, with writer Fabian Nicieza's introduction to the original 1994 trade paperback edition. From there we get a brief recap page explaining what the X-teams have been up to in recent months, then it's on to the crossover in UNCANNY X-MEN 294, X-FACTOR 84, X-MEN 14, and X-FORCE 16. The story repeats this pattern two more times for a total of twelve chapters ending with X-FORCE 18 -- but the book isn't quite finished there. We also get a "quiet issue" epilogue from UNCANNY 297, and then the volume's collected issues come to an end with the STRYFE'S STRIKE FILE one-shot.

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).

Bonus material begins with the X-MEN: SURVIVAL GUIDE TO THE MANSION one-shot, which is advertised as one of the full issues reprinted here -- and while it is a full issue, it's really a supplementary one-shot with no connection to the ongoing narrative, so it feels like a bonus feature to me (unlike STRYFE'S STRIKE FILE, which features a framing sequence set just after "X-Cutioner's Song" tying the book's contents into the overall story).

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.

Available on Amazon:
X-CUTIONER'S SONG: Hardcover | Paperback | A SKINNING OF SOULS: Paperback


  1. My experience w/this era closely mirrors your. I'd been reading a bit earlier, but "X-Cutioner's Song" was really the first big event of my reading tenure, and it felt like (or I made it) a BIG DEAL. I devoured it and was completely hooked.

    Then I found the subsequent Colossus story lacking (I even briefly - for one month - dropped comics entirely during it) but was completely captivated by the byzantine Psylocke/Revanche story, and I was all-in like never before after that.

    Though I do really like the Jae Lee X-FACTOR art. It's very NEW MUTANTS Sienkiewiczian. Which, now that I think about it, is probably also why it doesn't speak as much to you.

    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!

    Really, the only thing they have in common is that they're pretty much the only two crossovers from the height of the first Crossover Era to be formally-structured - with each chapter unfolding in the same rotation through each of the group books, each chapter clearly numbered, etc.

    (I always thought that happened more in this era, with stuff like "Inferno", "Fatal Attractions" etc. the rarity, but they were really the norm).

    Regardless, that's not really enough to justify goosing the logo just to match "X-Tinction".

    1. Interesting Jae Lee/Bill S. comparison. I never thought about it, but you're right. (Though the difference is that I liked Bill S. during his "Neal Adams clone" days while I've never really liked Lee.)

      I never thought about the numbered chapter thing, either. You're right that this and "X-Tinction" are pretty much it for clearly numbered events. Unless I'm mistaken, I think the next time we see an X-event with chapter numbers on the issues' covers is "Hunt for Xavier" years later, and that story only runs between the two core X-titles.