A Tale of Two X Men

And now for something completely different. My local comic shop is having a sale at the moment, selling off the already reduced sale stock on a buy one get one free deal. As you might expect, there’s a lot of material that’s understandably not selling, but it gave me the opportunity to pick up to X Men collections that pretty much define the end of the 90s era and the beginning of the modern era.

The first is X Men: Eve of Destruction, by Scott Lobdell and an assortment of artists. This represents what is possibly one of the most overlooked runs on the title(s), in which an unusual amount of relevant stuff happens. It’s overlooked largely because of the period in which it was published. Marvel’s 2000 relaunch of the X books was a spectacular failure, and the returning Chris Claremont was shuffled off hurriedly by the incoming management, to be replaced by Grant Morrison. The upshot of this was a gap in the schedule and a whole bunch of dangling plot threads that Marvel wanted of the way. Enter Scott Lobdell, the man responsible for many of said plot threads, and a very brief return to clear the decks.

Not collected in this TPB are the issues which end the Legacy Virus plot, or deal with the missing Kitty Pryde. We’re thrown into the aftermath, where the curing of the Legacy Virus has given Magneto an army with which to threaten the world, finally giving Lobdell the chance to write the big war story he always wanted to. Unfortunatley, to get there he has to rehabilitate Cyclops (recently back from the dead/being possessed by Apocalypse) and introduce a temporary team of X Men. In the process he wraps up the Genosha arc, deals with the Neo from Claremont’s preceeding run, sets up the direction that set Cyclops on his path to becoming the very different character he is today and brings the curtain down on an era. The story is clearly meant to end with Magneto’s death, something which was undone (and redon) almost immediately in Morrison first arc, and even has a goodbye note in the artwork on the last page.

With Morrison then assuming the reigns on the re-branded New X Men, Joe Casey was brought in to helm Uncanny X Men, and Poptopia is the first (and only) collection of his run. It’s an odd beast, clearly attempting to set a new tone and direction for the title, one which was poorly received at the time. In collected form it works well, although the first story, the entire purpose of which is to have Wolverine and Jean Grey kiss (but not really. But it’s edgy!) is what put a lot of readers off. It’s a blatant attempt to shock and show that it was different which backfired. Casey’s run never recovered, despite a a strong arc satirizing pop stardom and the introduction of a mutant prostitute in the form of Stacey X, who later joined the team. Things improved drastically towards the end of Casey’s time on the title, but he had lost the fanbase by then and was replaced by Chuck Austen, the latter half of his run to remain uncollected.

Both runs are now largely forgotten and wouldn’t make many X fans ‘best ever’ lists, but they are a great example of the change and confusion at Marvel at the time. Lobdell provided rare closure to a lot of story lines, and Casey was a fine example of Marvel’s attitude of throwing anything out and seeing what sticks. I can’t recommend them to anyone other than fans in good conscience – they’d be terrible introductions to the X Men – but there’s an importance to both that a lot of people will never realise.

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