Essential X-Men Vol. 11

xmen11First Published: January 2013

Contents: Uncanny X-Men #273 (February 1991) to #280 (September 1991); Uncanny X-Men Annual #15 (1991); X-Men #1 (October 1991) to #3 (December 1991); X-Factor #69 (August 1991) and #70 (September 1991); X-Factor Annual #6 (1991); New Mutants Annual #7 (1991); and New Warriors Annual #1 (1991)

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Jim Lee, Fabian Nicieza, Peter David, Paul Smith, Andy Kubert, Tom Raney, Whilce Portacio, and others

Key First Appearances: Acolytes (Fabian Cortez, Delgado, Anne-Marie Cortez, Chrome)

Story Continues From: Essential X-Men Vol. 10

Overview: This is the end, beautiful friends! Over the last 15 years of reprinted stories, we have seen X-Men come and go from the mansion in Westchester, New York. We have buried teammates, and seen many resurrected, as well as welcome new heroes to the family. The villains have gotten deadlier, whether they are shooting lasers or leading congressional sub-committees. But the goal remains the same, to find a way for humans and mutants to live together in the same world. This is Essential X-Men Vol. 11.

This collection starts out with the crazy adventures we have come to expect from the X-Men. We get Rogue, Magneto, and Nick Fury heading to the Savage Land. We’ve got the rest of the X-Men heading to deep space to stop the War Skrulls. Seriously, we knew the Skrulls were war-inclined for years, but now these War Skrulls take it to a new level!

Next up is the summer crossover event that went between the Annuals – Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants, and New Warriors. A.I.M. is looking to resurrect Proteus, the mutant son of Moira MacTaggert. A rag-tag team of heroes (i.e., those not good enough to go on the mission into space) must ban together to stop A.I.M. and Proteus.

Upon their return to Earth, the X-Men find that the Shadow King, the ne’er-do-well that has been lurking around in their minds for years, has taken over all of the inhabitants of Muir Island. The X-Men give their all to stop the Shadow King, with Xavier making a final stand with his son Legion in a coma.

The book concludes with the first three issues of the adjectiveless X-Men title. With Jim Lee on art and with the benefit of five different covers, Chris Claremont pens the best-selling comic book in the modern era. Really, after all the ups and downs of the past 15 years, Claremont is bringing things back to how he found them when he first took over the X-Men scripting duties. The original X-Men have returned to the team, the mansion has been rebuilt (AGAIN!) and Magneto has returned to his evil ways. It’s been often said that a comic book writer should leave the title as they found it. Claremont found a way to make things right as he left the mansion…. for now.

What makes this Essential?: This is a great way to wrap up Chris Claremont’s 17-year run with the Marvel mutants. Picking up from their introduction in Giant-Size X-Men #1 back in 1975, Claremont helped turn around the X-Men from a doormat title into one of Marvel’s most important (and most profitable) franchises of all time.

By the time this Essential comes to an end, Claremont is ready to step away from the mutant books. Under his guidance, he turned the Uncanny X-Men comic around from a bi-monthly title into two different ongoing monthly titles, along with multiple spin-off titles (New Mutants/X-Force, X-Factor, Excalibur, Wolverine, and others). A new generation of comic book creators, who grew up reading Claremont’s books, were in place ready to take over the reigns of the books.

Footnotes: Uncanny X-Men #280, Uncanny X-Men Annual #15, and X-Factor #69 and #70 are also reprinted in Essential X-Factor Vol. 5.

If you like this volume, try: the Comic Geek Speak podcast look at the X-Men in the Chromium Age. Yes, I am part of my own podcast (Worst. Comic. Podcast. EVER!) and would love for you to check it out and follow me there. But the guys over at CGS have been doing the podcast thing for over 10 years now. They know what they are doing, and they do it well. CGS has been doing detailed looks at titles or characters over a period of time, such as the X-Men. With the podcast referenced above, they take a detailed look at the X-Men in the early 1990s. There is so much information in these podcasts. Bookmark their website and use it as a reference like I do.

Essential X-Men Vol. 10

xmen10First Published: March 2012

Contents: Uncanny X-Men #265 (Early August 1990) to #272 (January 1991); Uncanny X-Men Annual #14 (1990); New Mutants #95 (November 1990) to #97 (January 1991); X-Factor #60 (November 1990) to #62 (January 1991); and material from Fantastic Four Annual #23 (1990); New Mutants Annual #6 (1990), and X-Factor Annual #5 (1990)

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Jim Lee, Louise Simonson, Rob Liefeld, Jon Bogdanove, and others

Key First Appearances: Remy LeBeau/Gambit, Seraph, Ahab

Story Continues From: Essential X-Men Vol. 9 

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 11

Overview: Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of future present for the X-Men and their extended family. Make no doubt about it, the X-Men title in this era is a full-blown daytime soap opera. You’re going to need a scorecard to keep up with everything going on here in Essential X-Men Vol. 10.

Let’s start with Storm, the one-time leader of the X-Men. She is suffering from amnesia, and her body has been reverted from adulthood to childhood. She is getting by with petty thievery on the streets of New Orleans, where she meets the Cajun mutant, Gambit. Will this charming rogue stick around?

Speaking of Rogue, she’s back in Australia from the Siege Perilous. But she has been split into two people, Rogue and Ms. Marvel, whose powers she absorbed so many years ago. The two women must fight each other as well as the Reavers for control of the headquarters and for control of Rogue’s body. Who will win?

Of course, we can’t tell an X-Men story without involving Wolverine. We get a great stand-alone issue, featured on the cover of the Essential, which tells a flashback story of Wolverine and Captain America saving a young Natasha Romanov, who would one day become the Black Widow.

But the highlights of this collection are the two large stories that take up most of the book.

The first is the Days of Future Present story, which ran across multiple annuals in 1991. Serving as a sequel to the original Days of Future Past story (check out Essential X-Men Vol. 2), a grown-up Franklin Richards travels from the future hoping to stop the events that lead to his current situation. This leads to fights between the Fantastic Four, the New Mutants, X-Factor and the various members of the X-Men. Adult Franklin meets young Franklin, Jean Grey meets Rachel Summers, and Cable spends time in the same room with infant Nathan Summers without things going wacky.

But the main story that takes up the last half of the book is the X-Tinction Agenda epic. The various teams (X-Men, X-Factor, and the New Mutants) must ban together to finally overthrow the Genoshan government. This storyline wrapped up so many ongoing storylines, with the most important conclusion being the reformation of the X-Men as an official team with a line-up featuring Storm (now returned to her adult form), Wolverine, Banshee, Forge, Psylocke, Jubilee, and Gambit. But the teams did not escape unharmed. Warlock was killed, and Wolfsbane finds herself trapped in her wolf form. She and Havok elect to stay behind on Genosha and help rebuild the government, one which will treat mutants and humans as equals.

What makes this Essential?: This is an interesting era for the X-Men, as the book (and the various related titles) truly become a large soap opera of sorts. While it’s always been a key component of any Chris Claremont X-Men story, the stories in this collection seem even more focused on the character interactions than the over-the-top superhero adventures. (Don’t get me wrong, you still get those stories, especially with the epic crossovers in this book.)

If you have been reading the X-Men since Giant-Size X-Men #1, then, by all means, pick up this book, if you don’t already have all of the issues. But if you are just getting into the X-Men, you might be better off just focusing on the big epic stories, many of which can be found in their own hardcover or trade paperback collection.

Footnotes: Material from Fantastic Four Annual #23, New Mutants Annual #6, X-Factor Annual #5, and Uncanny X-Men Annual #14 are also reprinted in Essential X-Factor Vol. 4.

Uncanny X-Men #270 to #272, New Mutants #95 to #97 and X-Factor #60 to #62 are also reprinted in Essential X-Factor Vol. 5.

If you like this volume, try: the X-Force series that started in 1991. Following the end of the X-Tinction Agenda story, the New Mutants book was due for a shake-up. Wolfsbane left the team to stay in Genosha and help rebuild the nation. Long-time member Warlock had been killed during the story. New members were joining the team, and the group was now led by Cable. Series artist Rob Liefeld had taken over the writing duties, and it made sense for Marvel to relaunch the title in a new direction with a new #1 issue. Along with co-writer Fabian Nicieza, X-Force #1 became one of the best-selling comics of all time, thanks to the issue being poly-bagged with collector cards. The first year of X-Force has been collected in an omnibus edition, so that might be the best way to track down these stories to read.

Essential X-Men Vol. 9

Essential X-Men Vol. 9

First Published: June 2009

Contents: Uncanny X-Men #244 (May 1989) to #264 (Late July 1990); and Uncanny X-Men Annual #13 (1989)

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Marc Silvestri, Jim Lee, and others

Key First Appearances: Jubilation Lee/Jubilee, Matsuo Tsurayaba, Cylla Markham/Skullbuster

Story Continues from: Essential X-Men Vol. 8 

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 10

Overview: Wow, where to start? This book goes all over the place and back, in the short time frame of 14 months in publishing time.

The book starts out with a key issue, as a new character is introduced that would become a staple of the 1990s team, both in comics and in the animated series. The women of the X-Men plan a girls night out and have Gateway transport them to the ritzy Hollywood Mall. There they encounter a young teenage girl who goes by the nickname of Jubilee. She can create energy plasmoids with her hands, and uses them to her advantage to avoid the mall cops. When the X-Ladies return to their secret headquarters in Australia, Jubilee tags along in secret, and hides out in the basement headquarters until Wolverine tracks her down. From that point, Jubilee becomes an unofficial sidekick to Logan, and eventually a full member of the team.

After that, the story just seems to fall apart. The characters start going their separate ways. Storm is killed – don’t worry, she gets better later. Many of the X-Men are sent through the Siege Perilous, which is like a cosmic reset button for each of the characters. Dazzler returns to Hollywood to become a movie star; Colossus becomes a successful artist; Rogue is transported to the Savage Land to become the consort of Magneto.

The most dramatic of resets comes for Psylocke, who ended up in Japan in control of the Hand. Spiral uses Betsy to save the brain-dead lover of the Hand’s leader, Matsuo Tsurayaba. Betsy’s mind is placed in Kwannon’s body and utilizes the new body’s physical skills to become a new assassin for the Hand, known as the Lady Mandarin. Her first assignment is to kill Wolverine. However, during their battle, Betsy regains control of herself and returns to her Psylocke identity, albeit in a different body.

The volume lumbers to a conclusion, as one-time members Banshee, Forge, and Polaris work to track down the missing X-Men. Unfortunately, you will need to wait until Volumes 10 and 11 to see the full team back together. And when I say the FULL TEAM, I mean there is enough X-Men hanging around to create at least two teams of X-Men!

What makes this Essential?: Two words describe why this should be collected: Jim. Lee. Like many of the “young gun” artists that came up together, Jim Lee took the X-Men by storm (no pun intended). His early issues still command large prices on the secondary market. This is also an era where things get really busy for the X-Men. The monthly book became a bi-weekly book, putting out two issues a month for several stretches at a time.

Personally, the stories in this volume just never appealed to me. The team felt very fragmented, with characters running off on their own adventures. These issues are the first time that I felt you also needed to be reading the Wolverine title in order to understand everything that was going on with him. At this point, Claremont had been scripting the team for over 15 years. Maybe his story well had run dry, or maybe he needed to tear everything apart to rebuild the team in a new direction. These may not be the highlight stories of Claremont’s X-Men career.

If you like this volume, try: the original Excalibur series, which ran from 1988 to 1998. Way back when the Mutant Massacre came to an end, several of the X-Men were severely wounded or damaged. To oversee their care and rehab, Kitty (& Lockheed), Nightcrawler, and Rachel were sent to Muir Island, missing out on many adventures of the X-Men, including their perceived death during the Fall of the Mutants story. The abandoned former X-Men soon joined up with Captain Britain (a Chris Claremont co-created character and the brother of Psylocke) and his girlfriend Meggan (a shapeshifter) came together to form a new team to protect Great Britain. The initial team of Claremont and artist Alan Davis took a fun inventive approach with the characters, working together on the first 24 issues. Davis left the title for awhile but later returned as writer/artist when Claremont stepped away from the book. Over the years, numerous creators would come onboard with their own approaches to the team, but nothing quite matches up to the first two years of books from Claremont/Davis. Also, they flew under the radar of a lot of readers during this era. Excalibur didn’t get caught up in the other ongoing X-Men events (unlike New Mutants and X-Factor), they were left alone to do their own stories. There have been multiple trade paperbacks issued to collect these issues, so they should be somewhat easy to track down.

Essential X-Men Vol. 8

Essential X-Men Vol. 8

First Published: December 2007

Contents: Uncanny X-Men #229 (May 1988) to #243 (April 1989); Uncanny X-Men Annual #12 (1988); and X-Factor #36 (January 1989) to #39 (April 1989)

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Marc Silvestri, Rick Leonardi, Louise Simonson, Walt Simonson, and others

Key First Appearances: Gateway, Reavers (Bonebreaker, Pretty Boy, Skullbuster), Tyger Tiger, Jenny Ransome, Tam Anderson, Philip Moreau, Genegineer

Story Continues from: Essential X-Men Vol. 7

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 9

Overview: When we last saw the X-Men, the world had watched them die in Dallas during the Fall of the Mutants. Thanks to the goddess Roma, the X-Men were brought back, but their images could no longer be captured on film or video. Free to move about the world, the X-Men set up shop in the Australian Outback, in the former headquarters of the Reavers. There, we meet the mutant known as Gateway, who is able to transport people to any place at any time. Not one to say much, Gateway gladly welcomes the X-Men to their new home.

Following a way-too-short return of the Brood, we are introduced to the island nation of Genosha. Located off of the eastern coast of Africa, Genosha is a thriving nation built on it’s mutant slave labor force. The X-Men get wind of what is going on here, which leads Wolverine and Rogue to go in on a rescue mission. Over the coming years, Genosha would become a major focus in the mutant storyline, while serving as an allegory for the real-life issues of slavery and apartheid.

This volume concludes with the next crossover event known as Inferno. Demons are making plans to take over the Earth, and they plan to use Magik from the New Mutants (and younger sister of Colossus) as their gateway to our world. At the same time, Madelyne Pryor finds out that Jean Grey is alive and well, and that her missing husband has been hanging out with her doppelganger. Guided by Mr. Sinister, Madelyne’s mind slips over the edge, and she becomes the villainous Goblin Queen. During the final battle with the X-Men, the Goblin Queen commits suicide in an attempt to take Jean Grey with her, but fails on that point.

What makes this Essential?: Over his many years on the title, it’s very easy to make jokes about Chris Claremont’s run on the X-Men title. Yes, he can be very wordy – if it takes 15 words to describe a scene, expect Claremont to use 143 words. And don’t worry about any dangling plot points, as Claremont plans to return to them in three years. That said, the more I re-read his run, the more impressed I get with Claremont’s X-Men opus. For example, take the creation of Genosha. At the time of Genosha’s debut in the comics, political and economic pressures were mounting on South Africa, which had been maintaining a policy of apartheid for 40+ years, which treated colored citizens as second-class. Claremont took a real-life situation and incorporated those points into the book. While the Genosha story would continue for many years, the beginnings shown in this volume shows why Claremont is a master of his craft, and why Essential X-Men should be a must read.

Footnotes: Uncanny X-Men #242 and #243 and X-Factor #36 to #39 are also reprinted in Essential X-Factor Vol. 3.

If you like this volume, try: the Inferno omnibus collections from 2009 and 2010. OK, I really enjoy these Essential volumes. But when we get to these large crossover events, this format is not designed to collect the full story. As we saw with The Fall of the Mutants storyline, we miss out on one-third of the story by not having the New Mutants issues collected in the volume. In addition, there was a four-issue X-Terminators mini-series that ties in with Inferno. So in order to get the COMPLETE story, I recommend you track down the two omnibus collections for this story. The first collection from 2009 includes all of the main mutant books, such as Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants, and X-Terminators. The second collection from 2010 includes all of the crossover issues across the Marvel Universe, including issues of Avengers, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Power Pack, and issues from all three ongoing Spider-Man books.

Essential X-Men Vol. 7

Essential X-Men Vol. 7

First Published: April 2006

Contents: Uncanny X-Men #214 (February 1987) to #228 (April 1988); Uncanny X-Men Annual #10 (1986) and #11 (1987); and Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men #1 (February 1987) to #4 (June 1987)

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Barry Windsor-Smith, Alan Davis, Arthur Adams, Jackson Guice, Marc Silvestri, and others

Key First Appearances: Crimson Commando, Stonewall, Super Sabre, Mr. Sinister

Story Continues from: Essential X-Men Vol. 6

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 8

Overview: After the events contained in the last Essential X-Men, you have to wonder where the X-Men can go from here. The Mutant Massacre have left the X-Men at half-strength, with Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Shadowcat severely injured. Magneto is overseeing the New Mutants, and the X-Men team is down to the still-powerless Storm, Wolverine, Rogue, and Psylocke.

First up is to build up the ranks of the team. During a battle in the Mojo Universe that involved the X-Babies, Longshot returned with the team to Earth and became a member of the team. On a chance encounter, the X-Men extend an offer to Dazzler, the mutant with light powers that was first introduced prior to the Dark Phoenix Saga. Next up is Havok, the younger brother of Cyclops that once did time with the X-Men in the 1960s. He rejoins the team, as the world has become dangerous to all mutants with the Marauders on the loose. During this time, Havok’s former sister-in-law, Madeline Pryor, starts hanging out with the X-Men, leading to some awkward interactions when they cross paths with X-Factor.

While a lot of these stories are one or two-parters, the overarching storyline is building to a confrontation in Dallas, known as the Fall of the Mutants. This event also crossed over with X-Factor (see Essential X-Factor Vol. 2) and New Mutants, but each title had its own story thread under the Fall of the Mutants banner. Storm has traveled to Dallas to find Forge, and force him to find a way to return her powers to her. The X-Men follow and encounter Freedom Force, led by Mystique and comprised of the former members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Storm and Forge are battling the Adversary, a foe that has been tormenting Forge for years. The only way to stop the Adversary is by the X-Men sacrificing themselves, which they reluctantly do if it will save the Earth.

However, the sorceress Roma, who had been saved by the X-Men during this battle, saves the souls of the X-Men and gives them the chance to live again. They are still considered dead because they could put their loved ones in danger if it was known that the X-Men were still alive. As a side effect of saving them, the X-Men find out that their images cannot be recorded by electronic devices, keeping them hidden from most of the world. The volume ends as the world mourns the loss of the X-Men, and the X-Men prepare for a new direction for the team.

What makes this Essential?: I find it a challenge to review some of these volumes that collect issues that I originally collected off of the newsstand spinner rack. Truth be told, I think I actually had a mail subscription to Uncanny X-Men in this era. When I was reading this month-to-month, in a world without the Internet and spoilers, we were on the edge each month wondering where Chris Claremont and friends would take the mutants in the next issue. Twenty-five years later, reading them all in a row in a short time period, I really start to appreciate the grand vision that Claremont was laying out for us. This is a good volume for the X-Men fan. However, if you want to read the full Fall of the Mutants storyline, you need to pick up the Omnibus that collected all of that storyline.

If you like this volume, try: The X-Men vs. The Avengers mini-series from 1987, 25 years before the AvX nonsense of 2012. Released around the same time as the Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men mini-series, it was not included in this volume. The story takes place shortly after the events of Uncanny X-Men #200 when Magneto is brought to the World Court to be held accountable for his actions in Uncanny X-Men #150. The Russians are still upset with Magneto for his actions, and send the Soviet Super-Soldiers after him. At the same time, the Avengers are called on to stop a pair of asteroids falling towards Earth. They discover that one of the asteroids is Magneto’s former headquarters, so it is time to pay a visit to the X-Men. As with any of these meet-ups, a confrontation ensues pitting the teams against each other. The original plot by Roger Stern called for Magneto to resume his evil ways in the final issue, but Marvel editorial stepped in, wanting to let the Magneto story play out in the pages of Uncanny X-Men under Chris Claremont. That may help explain why Jim Shooter gets a writing credit for #4. This has been collected a couple of times, most recently as a premiere edition in 2010.

Essential X-Men Vol. 6

Essential X-Men Vol. 6

First Published: September 2005

Contents: Uncanny X-Men #199 (November 1985) to #213 (January 1987); Uncanny X-Men Annual #9 (1985); New Mutants Special Edition #1 (1985); New Mutants #46 (December 1986); Power Pack #27 (December 1986); Thor #373 (November 1986) and #374 (December 1986); and X-Factor #9 (October 1986) to #11 (December 1986)

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, John Romita, Jr., Barry Windsor-Smith, Walt Simonson, Alan Davis, Arthur Adams, and others

Key First Appearances: Phoenix (Rachel Summers), Freedom Force, Brightwind, Hrimhari, Nathan Summers, Marauders (Arclight, Blockbuster, Harpoon, Malice, Prism, Riptide, Scalphunter, and Scrambler)

Story Continues from: Essential X-Men Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 7

Overview: Welcome back to the ongoing adventures of the students of the Xavier School for Gifted Children, led by the headmaster Magneto. Wait, what the?!? Magneto leading the Xavier School? What is going on here?

Once again, Chris Claremont introduces one change after another in the newest Essential X-Men volume from Marvel Comics. Magneto is brought before a world court to face charges for his actions back in Uncanny X-Men #150 (see Essential X-Men Vol. 3 for that story). During a battle, Xavier is gravely injured and is taken away by Lilandra and the Starjammers for treatment, leaving the reluctant Magneto in charge of the school. At that same time, the powerless Storm defeats Cyclops in a Danger Room fight to determine the leadership of the X-Men. Cyclops, his wife Maddie, and their son Nathan opt to leave the team behind and try to start a new normal life. That plan gets derailed later in the pages of X-Factor.

The highlight of this volume is the Mutant Massacre, which spread out into other Marvel titles such as New Mutants and X-Factor. The bulk of the Morlocks were killed by the Marauders; The Angel’s wings were badly damaged when he was pinned to a wall, leading to his wings needing to be amputated. Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Shadowcat are all severely injured and leave the team – this leads to the later creation of Excalibur. A new member joins the team in Psylocke. And we are treated to a nasty dogfight between Wolverine and Sabretooth.

The art in this volume is just stellar. In addition to the talents of John Romita, Jr., the ongoing series artist, we are also treated to art by Arthur Adams and Barry Windsor-Smith.

What makes this Essential?: If you like your X-Men to be EPIC, this is the volume to pick up. Between the finale of the Asgard arc that started in the previous Essential to the Mutant Massacre that crossed over with New Mutants, X-Factor, Thor, and Power Pack, this covers all aspects of the team’s greatness. In addition, Rachel Summers becomes Phoenix, the future Cable is born, and Psylocke joins the team. These stories are the ones that drove all of the various X-Men storylines of the 1990s. If you have not read these stories yet, this is the most affordable way to read all of the issues at one time.

Footnotes: Power Pack #27, Thor #373 and #374, and X-Factor #9 to #11 were also reprinted in Essential X-Factor Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the New Mutants Classic line of trade paperbacks. The New Mutants were introduced in 1982 in Marvel Graphic Novel #4 and earned their own title the following year. For many years, the New Mutants title was required reading if you were also reading Uncanny X-Men. The New Mutants were a new group of teenage mutants brought to the Xavier school to train them on how best to use their powers for the benefit of mankind. Sadly, this title has not been collected (as of yet) in the Essential format. The first 4 1/2 years of the title have been collected in seven Classic trade paperbacks, which is a line that Marvel has used for a lot of 1980s titles. With this Essential, we are getting into a period where the big X-Men crossover events (Mutant Massacre, Fall of the Mutants, Inferno, etc.) will be collected in both the Essential X-Men and Essential X-Factor volumes. Reading the New Mutants Classic books will give you an understanding of what was going on in the other area of the Marvel mutant community.

Essential X-Men Vol. 5

Essential X-Men Vol. 5

First Published: July 2004

Contents: First Edition: Uncanny X-Men #180 (April 1984) to #198 (October 1985), and Uncanny X-Men Annual #7 (1983) and #8 (1984); Second Edition: Uncanny X-Men #180 (April 1984) to #198 (October 1985), Uncanny X-Men Annual #8 (1984), and X-Men/Alpha Flight #1 (December 1985) and #2 (January 1986)

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, John Romita, Jr., Paul Smith,  Barry Windsor-Smith, and Steve Leialoha

Key First Appearances: Amiko Kobayahsi, Forge, Adversary, Nimrod, Angelica Jones/Firestar, Fenris

Story Continues from: Essential X-Men Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 6

Overview: The X-Men return from the Secret Wars to face new adversaries, including one by the name of Adversary, in this next Essential from Marvel Comics.

The team is going through some change. Storm loses her mutant abilities after being shot by a gun designed to take down Rogue. Rachel Summers travels from the future to join the team, only to discover that her future cannot be, as her mom no longer lives. Kitty Pryde and Wolverine take leaves from the team, but soon return back to the fold.

The X-Men cross paths with Selene, an energy vampire who craves their mutant blood. Selene puts herself in position to be named the new Black Queen of the Hellfire Club, longtime enemies of the X-Men. In a battle against Kulan Gath, first seen in the Conan the Barbarian comic, and his attempt to change reality, the X-Men, the Avengers, and Spider-Man are brought together to stop him.

Two issues stand out, both from Claremont and guest artist Barry Windsor-Smith. Lifedeath (Issue #186) and Lifedeath II (issue #198) deal with the powerless Storm looking to come to grips with the loss of her mutant abilities. Issue #186 finds her confronting the inventor of the gun used to strip her of her weather controlling abilities, Forge. As much as she wants to hate him for what he has done, she finds herself attracted to him and his story. In the sequel story, Storm has travelled back to her home lands in Africa, to reconnect with who she once was, and to explore who she could become.

What makes this Essential?: Not that there is ever any truly “normal” time for the residents at Xavier’s mansion, but this really seems like the calm before the storm – no pun intended. We get a lot of one-and-done stories. If they do spill over, it’s just for one more issue. A lot of going back-and-forth with the kids from New Mutants. Beginning with the next Essential volume, it becomes one event after the next, with hardly a moment of quiet time to be found in the books. Enjoy these moments while you can, because nothing is the same following issue #200. If you are a fan of the epic stories across multiple titles, skip this volume and move onto Essential X-Men Vol. 6.

Footnotes: In an ongoing move to include additional material, Marvel adjusts the content listings between the first edition and the second edition of this Essential volume. The first edition contains annuals #7 and #8, while the second edition contains annual #8, along with X-Men/Alpha Flight #1 and #2.

If you like this volume, try: the Kitty Pryde and Wolverine miniseries from 1985 by Chris Claremont and Al Milgrom. Following the X-Men’s return from the Secret Wars event, Colossus breaks things off with Kitty in Uncanny X-Men #183. She needs a break from her environment and takes a leave of the team to visit her parents. Returning to Chicago, Kitty finds that her dad is in Japan under mysterious circumstances. Following her father halfway around the world, she encounters a mysterious figure from Wolverine’s past, which provokes our favorite Canadian to join up with Kitty in Japan. During this series, Kitty matures into a young adult and settles on the codename of Shadowcat, which has been her costume name ever since. This is an excellent series and has remained in print for years in both trade paperbacks and hardcover collections.

Essential X-Men Vol. 4

Essential X-Men Vol. 4 (second edition)

First Published: June 2001

Contents: First Edition: Uncanny X-Men #162 (October 1982) to #179 (March 1984), and Uncanny X-Men Annual #6 (1982); Second Edition: Uncanny X-Men #162 (October 1982) to #179 (March 1984), Uncanny X-Men Annual #7 (1983), and Marvel Graphic Novel #5 (1982);

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, Brent Anderson, Paul Smith, John Romita, Jr., Michael Golden

Key First Appearances: William Stryker, Binary, Brood Queen, Lockheed, Madelyne Pryor, Callisto, Masque, Sunder, Morlocks, Plague, Dr. Valerie Cooper,

Story Continues from: Essential X-Men Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 5

Overview: Marvel revisits the X-Men after a nearly three-year span between Essential volumes. What a rough time it is to be a member of the X-Men! The story starts out with the first Brood war, and introduces us to the second costumed identity for Carol Danvers, as Binary. A new member of sorts joins the team as Lockheed the Dragon is paired with Kitty Pryde. Following this battle with the Brood, which nearly claimed the life of Charles Xavier, we see the X-Men return to Earth to literally find New Mutants living in Xavier’s Mansion, forever changing the dynamic in the X-books.

A new group of mutants, the Morlocks, are found living in the tunnels of New York City. To save her teammates, Storm must fight for control of the Morlocks with Callisto. At this same time, the X-Men face a moral challenge as a reformed Rogue comes to Xavier asking for help in controlling her mutant power. Not only is she welcomed into the mansion, she is placed on the team despite the objections from many of the active X-Men.

A new romantic interest is presented to Cyclops in the form of Madelyne Pryor, who bears a sinister resemblance to Scott’s former love and fellow X-Man Jean Grey. In a whirlwind romance being manipulated by Mastermind, it culminates in the wedding of Scott and Madelyne and the retirement of Cyclops from the team.

For anyone reading the second edition of this Essential, Annual #7 is a fun romp as the Impossible Man sends the X-Men on a scavenger hunt.  Every now and then, the writers throw in an issue like this, where things are not grim and gritty for the mutant team. You get to see them unwind, whether playing baseball on the lawn of the mansion or watching a movie together. There is a lot of humor in this particular issue, and this is one of the first times we’ve seen the Impossible Man used in a book other than the Fantastic Four.

What makes this Essential?: This is a must-have volume in anyone’s collection. Between the Brood war, the introduction of the Morlocks, an apparent wedding for Wolverine (left at the altar) and a wedding for Cyclops (preceded by a drag-out fight with Mastermind). In particular, the famous “God Loves, Man Kills” story is one of the most-important X-Men stories of the 1980s. For years, writers have used the X-Men and the subject of mutants as a soft allegory for race and ethnic relations in America. Beginning here, Claremont and others make this an ongoing discussion point in the books.

John Romita, Jr., starts a three-year run on the title in this volume, taking over from Paul Smith’s beautiful run. These are some of my personal favorite stories, as I started collecting the title off the rack in this era. Uncanny X-Men #171, with Rogue joining the team, was my first purchase in this corner of the Marvel Universe, and I was hooked for life.

Footnotes: In an ongoing move to include additional material, Marvel adjusts the content listings between the first edition and the second edition of this Essential volume. The first edition contains annual #6, while the second edition contains annual #7, along with Marvel Graphic Novel #5.

The inclusion of Marvel Graphic Novel #5 causes some issues with the look of the reprint. The Marvel Graphic Novel line was a deluxe book printed on a heavier paper stock. The dimensions of these books were just a smudge smaller than an 8 1/2″ by 11″ sheet of paper. In comparison, a standard modern-size comic comes in at approximately  6 1/2″ by 10″. As a result, it was necessary to reduce the size of the Marvel Graphic Novel reprint in order to fit the Essential format. While it is still readable, having a pair of magnifying glasses handy might be helpful when re-reading this story.

If you like this volume, try: the Leave It To Chance series by James Robinson and Paul Smith. This incredible series from Image Comics in the late 1990s told the story of a teenage girl, Chance Falconer, and her pet dragon, St. George – a nod of the hat to Kitty Pryde and Lockheed, perhaps. Chance is the daughter of Lucas Falconer, a paranormal investigator in the city of Devil’s Echo, a world where magic is common. Chance finds herself getting into trouble as she tries to assist her father in solving cases. This all-too-short series started very strong, but was plagued with publishing delays towards the end. Smith’s art follows the 1990s animated style, with smooth, clean drawings that look to have been taken from a TV screen. Nearly the entire series has been reprinted in a series of hard cover collections from Image. This is a great all-ages storyline that should be in all collections.

Essential X-Men Vol. 3

Essential X-Men Vol. 3

Essential X-Men Vol. 3

First Published: August 1998

Contents: First Edition: Uncanny X-Men #145 (May 1981) to #161 (September 1982), Uncanny X-Men Annual #3 (1979) to #5 (1981); Second Edition: Uncanny X-Men #145 (May 1981) to #161 (September 1982), Uncanny X-Men Annual #5 (1981) and #6 (1982), Avengers Annual #10 (1981);

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, Brent Anderson, Bill Sienkiewicz, Michael Golden

Key First Appearances: Caliban, the Brood, Anna Marie Raven/Rogue, S’ym, Gabrielle Haller

Story Continues from: Essential X-Men Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 4

Overview: Things never slow down for the X-Men, as evidenced in this third volume. The team finds themselves at odds with Dr. Doom and Arcade; the Hellfire Club; and the return of Magneto. The Starjammers return to Earth, inadvertently bringing the X-Men in first contact with the Brood. Cyclops rejoins the team, and comes face-to-face with his estranged father. Storm catches the eye of Count Dracula. An untold tale of Xavier and Magneto in their youth introduces Gabrielle Haller, who would become the mother of Legion. All of this plus Kitty tells Illyana a fairy tale of uncanny proportions.

What makes this Essential?: This is a good volume to read, but it is not a required volume to own. Claremont delivers solid stories which he re-uses later multiple times with later stories: Magneto’s attack in issues #149 and #150 lead to him being brought before a world court in issue #200; Emma Frost trades bodies with Storm in #151 and #152, setting up an ongoing rivalry between the two women; the Brood are introduced in 1982, but the first epic story happens the following summer (see Essential X-Men Vol. 4); and Illyana grows up in #160 (see below), which sets the stage for multiple stories in Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants, and other titles for years to come. These stories are good, but the impact/fall-out of the stories are much more important for the total Claremont run with the mutants.

Footnotes: Once again, Marvel juggles the content listings between the first edition and the second (and later) editions of this Essential volume. The first edition contains annuals #3, #4, and #5, while the second edition contains annuals #5 and #6, along with Avengers Annual #10. 

Avengers Annual #10 is also reprinted in Essential Ms. Marvel Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the Magik (Illyana and Storm) mini-series from 1983/84. In Uncanny X-Men #160 (August 1982), 8-year-old Illyana Rasputin is drawn into the Limbo realm by the demon Belasco. The X-Men rush to the rescue of Colossus’ younger sister. During the battle, Kitty Pryde grabs hold of Illyana’s arm to pull her back out of Limbo. A short tug-of-war ensues before Kitty finally pulls Illyana back, but Illyana is now 13. The mini-series, by Claremont and John Buscema, details the five years that Illyana was in Limbo, receiving her training in the dark arts, that took place between two panels of #160.

Essential X-Men Vol. 2

Essential X-Men Vol. 2

First Published: October 1997

Contents: Uncanny X-Men #120 (April 1979) to #144 (April 1981), and Uncanny X-Men Annual #3 (1979) and #4 (1980)

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin, George Perez, John Romita Jr., Brent Anderson

Key First Appearances: Jeanne-Marie Beaubier/Aurora, Jean-Paul Beaubier/Northstar, Walter Langkowski/Sasquatch, Michael Twoyoungmen/Shaman, Narya Easton/Snowbird, Kevin MacTaggert/Proteus, the Hellfire Club, Harry Leland/Black Bishop, Sebastian Shaw/Black King, Donald Pierce/White Bishop, Emma Frost/White Queen, Kitty Pryde, Alison Blaire/Dazzler, Tessa, Senator Robert Kelly, Heather Hudson, Stevie Hunter, Avalanche, Irene Adler/Destiny, Pyro, Rachel Summers

Story Continues from: Essential X-Men Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 3

Overview: As the X-Men grew in members, abilities and even popularity, Chris Claremont and John Byrne amped up the stories to take the X-Men to new heights. New challenges were introduced, such as Alpha Flight trying to return Wolverine to Canada; the return of Arcade; and the introduction of the sinister Hellfire Club. Mastermind begins tampering with Jean Grey’s mind, leading to the Dark Phoenix and the death of an original X-Man.

This volume also introduces us to Kitty Pryde, who went through code names (and costumes) before settling on Shadowcat; future X-Men member Dazzler, who was touring books in the Marvel Universe before headlining her own title; and the possible future line-up of the X-Men, featuring Franklin Richards, Rachel Summers, Kate Pryde, and Wolverine struggling to stay alive in a world that executes mutants.

What makes this Essential?: If you were to own just one Essential X-Men volume, this would be the one. The stories contained here have impacted the entire Marvel comic book universe for 35 years, as well as serve as the source material for at least two of the X-Men movies. Claremont & Byrne are at their peak with these stories. The Dark Phoenix and Days of Future Past stories in here have been reprinted numerous times. but this is the most affordable way to read the stories from start to finish.

Footnotes: The first edition of this volume did not contain the annuals.

Even though this blog uses Uncanny X-Men as the comic title, the comic was known just as X-Men up until early 1981. It was only with issue #142 that the title was officially named Uncanny X-Men. This becomes important to note to help later on, when, in the 1990s, Marvel had a monthly Uncanny X-Men title and a monthly X-Men title on newsstands.

Uncanny X-Men #130 and #131 are also reprinted in Essential Dazzler Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: John Byrne’s Next Men series. The original series was released by Dark Horse Comics in the early 1990s. Recently, Byrne returned to these characters with another run of the series at IDW. The DHC comics run were collected in two black & white editions released by IDW. The Next Men were a fresh take on the concept of teenage kids with powers and abilities that set them apart from the people around them.