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Tuesday, October 12, 2021

X-amining Classic X-Men #1

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"First Night"
September 1986

In a Nutshell
The new X-Men settle in while the original X-Men decided whether to stay or go. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: John Bolton
Letters: Tom Orzechowski
Colors: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Following the new X-Men's successful rescue of the original X-Men, Professor X grapples with how he's going to integrate the two groups. He telepathically eavesdrops on his students, learning that Havok & Polaris plan to leave the group. Meanwhile, Cyclops finishes his after-action report, while Iceman confronts Banshee, Nightcrawler, and Colossus, angrily telling them they haven't earned the right to call themselves X-Men. Outside, Wolverine makes his attraction to Jean known, while Angel joins Storm in the skies above the mansion. But when he spots Wolverine talking to Jean, he swoops down, angrily separating them. A fight breaks out between Angel & Wolverine, which Storm and Jean do their best to stop. The next morning, after a sleepless night for both, Jean visits Professor X and tells him she's going to leave the X-Men as well, in part because of the attraction she feels towards Wolverine, but also to see more of the world and live a life amongst the humanity she's meant to protect. 

Firsts and Other Notables
The first issue of a series designed to reprint the "All New, All Different" era of X-Men (which began in Giant-Size X-Men #1 and launched in the main series with issue #94, this one is a little off-model in that it doesn't reprint the entirety of Giant-Size, but just the scenes featuring Professor X recruiting the new X-Men. 

Because the amount of story pages per issue was smaller in the 70s than in 1986, and because Classic X-Men is presented without ads, there are extra pages to fill each issue. Early in the series run, extra pages, often drawn by the issue's original artist, Dave Cockrum, are added to the reprints to flesh out or add to the original story (additional changes, to update or clarify the art - like an added narrative caption - are also made as well). Additionally, each issue up to #44 features a short backup story, which is what I'll be reviewing in each issue. 

The thrust of this first backup story is largely about fleshing out the original X-Men's decision to leave the team (as they'll do in the opening pages of issue #94) and show the new X-Men starting to settle in. The most notable thing about it is the establishment right from the beginning of the the "All New, All Different" era of an attraction between Wolverine and Jean Grey (thereby marking the beginning of the Cyclops/Jean/Wolverine love triangle), something wasn't really present in the original stories. 

Additionally, Jean's attraction to Wolverine is specifically cited as one of the reasons motivating her to leave the X-Men. 

This issue reprints the recruitment scenes from Giant-Size X-Men #1. Art Adams provides the cover and an illustration for the title page on the inside cover, while John Bolton provides a fully illustrated back cover. 

The issue was on sale the same month as Uncanny X-Men #209; the final issue of (the renamed) X-Men Classic is #110, and it reprints Uncanny X-Men #206, which means the series missed "lapping" itself by about three months. 

A Work in Progress
In addition to setting up the reprinted recruitment scenes by recapping the X-Men's capture and imprisonment by Krakoa, the first four new pages of the issue are mostly concerned with explaining the change in Cyclops' visor from the completely rectangular one he wore in the Silver Age to the one with the rounded bottoms he wore starting in X-Men #94, saying that his encounter with Krakoa altered his optic blasts and Xavier had to make adjustments to the visor. 

Havok and Polaris are shown deciding to quit the X-Men to continue their geologic studies, which is what they're doing when Erik the Red kidnaps them in X-Men #97.

Cyclops, cool dude that he is, declines the opportunity to socialize with the new X-Men or spend time with Jean in order to finish his "after action" report while his impressions are still fresh. 

Poor Colossus keeps tearing his shirts whenever he uses his powers. 

Angel mentions his "eagle eyes", a rare reference to the fact that Angel's senses are heightened to better enable his flight. 

Angel angrily confronts Wolverine when he spots him hitting on Jean, and says that the X-Men are no place for a killer like him, something which calls back/retroactively sets up the similar sentiment which led Angel to leave the X-Men a second time in Uncanny X-Men #148

Xavier, however, tells Jean that for all his rough edges, he believes Wolverine could become a keystone of the team (which, by the time Claremont is writing that dialogue in 1986, he is). 

Artistic Achievements
The cover of this issue has become something of an iconic one, inspiring a rejiggered poster from Adams while the specific drawing of Wolverine has been used in a variety of different licensed material (I currently have a t-shirt hanging in my closet with that image on it). 

"Professor Xavier is a jerk!"
Professor X wonders what the original X-Men are thinking as far as whether they'll stay or go, so he decides to telepathically eavesdrop to just find out. 

"Professor Xavier Iceman is a jerk!"
Iceman is a complete jerk to Colossus, Banshee, and Nightcrawler, casting aspersions on Colossus for being Russian and suggesting they all might be villains trying to infiltrate the X-Men before saying they haven't earned their place at the mansion like the "real" X-Men. 

Later, he yells at Thunderbird, the short-lived "jerk" of the All-New team, even though Thunderbird was just trying to be friendly. 

The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
Before returning to Krakoa, Cyclops makes sure to spend a page bemoaning his uncontrollable power and the impact it has on his life (and Professor X gets in on the action as well, complaining about being in a wheelchair). 

Young Love
Angel joins Storm in the air and is immediately like "hey, let's kiss" until he sees Wolverine pulling the same move on Jean and gets huffy. 

Austin's Analysis
The X-Men in 1986 were more or less at the top of the comic book world, so its doubtful that whatever was put out between the covers of this issue wouldn't have sold well or at least turned a profit. Marvel could have easily just reprinted the old X-Men stories under a new cover (like they did with Spider-Man stories in Marvel Tales) and made a buck. But to their credit, Chris Claremont and John Bolton are tapped to launch the series with a raft of new, original pages which are both a good story in their own right and also a proof-of-concept for the idea of backup stories which "dance between the raindrops" of events in the original reprinted stories. While the decision to only reprint part of Giant-Size X-Men #1 (motivated, presumably, on the desire to not launch this series with a giant size issue of its own) may have rankled some fans hoping to read the entirety of that issue for the first time in an era where availability of old issues wasn't as ubiquitous as it is now (for many, many years, the recruitment of the new X-Men reprinted here is all of Giant-Size I knew), it makes sense, both because the subsequent backup story is all about the handoff of the old team to the new, and because the recruitment of the new X-Men is the part of Giant-Size which is most immediately relevant to the "All New, All Different" era that will unfold in the series' future reprints. 

The new pages which, in the absence of the original setup, lead into the reprinted recruitment scenes, are fine; there's some nitty-gritty continuity stuff regarding Scott's visor and a bit of his patented fist-clenching angst, but the real meat-and-potatoes storytelling comes in the actual backup story, as the new X-Men try to settle in and the old X-Men try to figure out what to do with themselves. Claremont understandably stacks the deck in favor of the new X-Men: Iceman is a complete jerk, because Claremont needs someone to be a jerk (Angel later offers that "he's young" as a bit of in-universe explanation), but Banshee, Colossus, and (especially) Nightcrawler rebuke and gently chide him, turning the other cheek and coming out looking the better people. Later, Angel comes on aggressively to Storm, then immediately abandons his pursuit in order to "defend" Jean against Wolverine's own flirtation, with the implication being that while Angel has made his peace with "losing" Jean to Cyclops, he'll be damned if she ends up with this "roughneck" (a delightful bit of classist word choice by Claremont for the most upper-class of all the X-Men). Despite the X-Mansion being, as Iceman points out, the long-time home of the original X-Men, Claremont immediately positions the soon-to-depart originals as the usurpers. We know (most of) the original X-Men are going to leave at the start of the next issue; this story shows us why. 

The "why" of their departure is also where the story's biggest retcon comes in, as Jean admits to Professor X in the story's closing panels that she's leaving, at least in part, due to the sheer animal attraction she feels towards Wolverine. Contrary to its dominance in wider pop culture tellings of X-Men stories, the Cyclops/Jean/Wolverine love triangle is something Claremont came to later in his run. We don't really see that Wolverine has feelings towards Jean until X-Men #101, and there's very little indication anywhere that Jean reciprocates. By the time "Dark Phoenix" rolls around, Wolverine is in a happy (if long distance) relationship with Mariko, his one-time infatuation with Jean firmly a thing of the past. But here, Claremont revs it back up, suggesting both that the attraction was immediate and, at least on some level, shared, to the point that it contributed to Jean's departure from the team. For a generation of X-Men fans who encountered these stories for the first time via Classic X-Men, Wolverine/Jean (and Wolverine/Jean/Cyclops) was therefore always a thing, and by the time "Inferno" rolls around a couple years after this issue is published, Claremont is engaging with that love triangle in the text like it's been there since 1975 and not just 1986.

Overall, the quieter, "down time" setting of the story both sets something of a template for the series while playing to John Bolton's strengths, as he turns in some gorgeous, lush art in which each character looks and feels distinct: Colossus' naivetĂ©, Banshee's jocularity, Wolverine's rough edges are all apparent from the way Bolton depicts and stages the characters, before dialogue or narration even enter into the occasion; Claremont's words aren't needed, for example, to know that Iceman is being a little pissant to his ostensible teammates. Colorist Glynis Oliver is a standout here, too, making the change in setting from the warm mansion interior to the cool outdoor skies and mansion grounds palpable. Letter Tom Orzechowski, the long-time secret weapon of Uncanny X-Men, is here too, doing his usual thing and punching up the dialogue with superb sound effects. All in all, while the opportunity to affordably read these old, seminal X-Men stories for likely the first time was undeniably a major appeal of this series when it launched, this first issue makes it clear just how much added value the backup stories are delivering. While there will be plenty of misses along the way, some of the best X-Men stories of all time will come in the form of these backups, and the potential for that is made apparent right from the start. 

Next Issue
Next week, Lady Deathstrike makes her animated series debut in "Out of the Past, Part 1". After that, Storm makes a friend in Classic X-Men #2!

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  1. Totally random (but related): John Byrne once said that because CLASSIC X-MEN started after royalties had been instituted at Marvel (and the royalty program included a clause for reprints), the creators whose work was reprinted received a share of the profits, which they didn't get the first time around in the 70s. So Claremont, Cockrum, and Byrne likely all made some money during the height of X-Mania off of these old stories.

    Anyway -- I have to admit that I've never been a fan of John Bolton's work on CLASSIC X-MEN. I think he's a fine artist, but not suited to this sort of thing. Granted, most of the CLASSIC backups are concerned with people talking and don't have lot of super-action in them, but whenever he did draw an action scene (or just characters in costume in general), it looked off to me.

    In part that may simply because his work was being printed alongside bombastic, four-color stuff from Cockrum and Byrne. It was jarring, to say the least.

    I'm also not really into Claremont's backups in general in this series. People used to poke fun at (or were aggressively hostile toward) George Lucas for never being able to leave his movies alone, and Claremont's work in CLASSIC feels much like that. The original 1970s stories were great; some of the best super hero comics ever conceived. Claremont coming along a decade later and trying to shoehorn in all these things he came up with after the fact feels ridiculously self-indulgent.

    The weird thing is that I rarely have issues with reasonable ret-cons in the ongoing monthly comics. But for some reason, the way it was done in CLASSIC leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But that's probably because some of the stuff Claremont did in these backups, I would've disliked as straight ret-cons, too -- Jean being attracted to Wolverine from day one being a prime example, but also Storm having an adventure in a parallel dimension while the X-Men were in the Savage Land, or just Wolverine coming across way more level headed and friendly in general in all these early stories. Wolverine was a hotheaded A-hole who the X-Men barely tolerated for a long time, but I'm supposed to buy that he was already the wizened elder statesman, convincing Nightcrawler to abandon the image inducer, circa issue 96? It's just dumb.

    Anyway, that's my opinion on this widely beloved series, which is generally considered by fans to be some of Claremont's best work.

    Now, about that Patreon...

    1. The backups are something of a mixed bag - it's been a while since I read them all, but that Storm one you mention is probably my least favorite of them all - but I do think there's some really nice ones here and there, especially the quieter ones (I agree with you that superhero action is not Bolton's strong suit). That said, reading these alongside the reprints as a kid (which is how I first encountered all the ANAD stories), I definitely thought they were weird and mostly ignored them.

  2. Austin, thanks for starting the review of this series.

    1) The first page drawn by John Bolton with Cyclops returning with his red eyes is one of the most iconic X-Men scenes to me. I don’t know why it didn’t cause the same impact in others. When I read the reprints of the original story, not having that scene reprinted still bothers me!
    2) I think Chris Claremont’s retcon of Jean Grey’s feelings for Wolverine was a mistake. A big mistake. In the original, Jean Grey had NO feelings for him and actually disliked Wolverine. It was really one-sided, which is why Byrne and Claremont (correctly) made him move on.

    Adding that plot made the characters worse and subsequent creators only worsened the situation, making their love triangle something far bigger. Jean Grey and Wolverine’s kiss in Inferno and Extinction Agenda hurt Jean Grey’s character. In fact, it hurt Wolverine’s character as well, since he had some morals and didn’t look like the kind of person who would try to have a secret affair with a colleague’s girlfriend. I can imagine his infatuation to Jean when he still didn’t respect Scott, but not after he learned to appreciate him and even showed to be his friend.

    Claremont turned his own infatuation with Wolverine and Jean’s relationship in his X-Men Forever series, in which both treat Cyclops horribly and the latter acts as sheepish cuckold who seems to be happy that his girlfriend is being banged by his colleague.

    3) I’m not sure how I feel about Iceman’s behavior. I understand the need to create friction, but he could have at least showed Iceman apologize for his behavior at a later point.

    4) I liked Angel and Wolverine’s fight, but I need to acknowledge that it came out of nowhere. Angel did not have the time to know that Wolverine was a violent man. Even he was moved by jealousy, this impulsive aggression doesn’t look like him. Even his flirting with Storm, although an interesting possibility that never went somewhere, makes little sense because they never shared anything meaningful, even when they were briefly together in the same team (post Dark Phoenix).

    4) Did George Lucas read this? It would explain a lot…

    1. #2 - Totally agree. Wolverine having an unrequited thing for Jean at one point? Sure, that's in the original text, and gets moved past quickly enough. Turning it into a whole love triangle thing? Blegh. Even the way Claremont handles it is okay, but then it got picked up by the Animated Series folks and then the movie folks and became, like, the consistent emotional arc of the X-Men in any outside-the-comics stories.

      #3 - Yeah, even for a dumb kid who needs to make a point for the narrative, Iceman comes off poorly, which is a shame.

      #4 - FWIW, the whole "Wolverine is too violent for the X-Men!" thing came after Wolverine whipped out his claws and lunged at Angel. So Angel is reacting to his actions in that moment, not any prior actions on Wolverine's part. The initial fight - Angel swooping down and punching Wolverine away from Jean - is just predicated on Angel trying to "defend" Jean or whatever (/being jealous).

  3. Monthly comics are a tricky thing. You could write 20 issues before an idea hits you that you wish had occurred to you sooner. When that happens, you kind of have to roll with it and move on. So I'm not surprised that, given the chance, Claremont took the opportunity to work some of his ideas into Classic X-Men. Given the dearth of reprint material available in 1986 it's doubtful many people (specifically kids) would have known what was new to the comic and what wasn't. I'm sure, based on the early success of this series, "call backs" in things like Inferno wouldn't have been out of place as much. As Matt pointed out, it's fairly self indulgent but I think that's always been Claremont, to a degree.

    Also, I might be mistaken, but wasn't there a Special Edition reprint of Giant-Size #1 not too long before this?

    1. Yeah, the SPECIAL EDITION X-MEN oneshot that reprinted GIANT-SIZE came out in 1983 (and was likely a precursor to this series in that it was attempting to get an old and expensive issue in front of new and burgeoning audience) but I believe that was a direct market only thing, so its reach was more limited, and it too quickly became an expensive back issue itself (I believe you can find it pretty cheap these days, but I remember seeing it at cons in the mid 90s ridiculously marked up for what was, essentially, a reprint).

    2. Yeah, I've seen them going at my LCS going for about $10. I think it's actually cheaper now than the True Believers reprint that came out a couple of years ago.

  4. I have each of these Classic Issues with a backup story and I bought the large Classics reprint book within the past few years. As a kid I didn't like Bolton, sort of like Mignola, but as an adult I really like his style, even if it doesn't always fit with the X-Men. I love the Hellfire Club stories that really flesh out those characters.


  5. I haven’t read this issue in, geez, probably 30+ years.

    Not only does Art Adams turn in a great cover and frontispiece — well, except for Banshee’s weirdly off-model face/head in the latter — but Ken Lopez does a gorgeous job on the logo. BTW, I’m pretty sure I learned what a frontispiece was thanks to this issue.


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