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 Classic X-Men Vol. 3

Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3

First Published: February 2009

Contents: The X-Men #54 (March 1969) to #66 (March 1970); Amazing Spider-Man #92 (January 1971); Incredible Hulk #150 (April 1972) and #161 (March 1973); the Beast stories from Amazing Adventures #11 (March 1972) to #17 (March 1973); and Marvel Team-Up #4 (September 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Werner Roth, Arnold Drake, Don Heck, Neal Adams, Tom Palmer, Steve Englehart, Tom Sutton, Herb Trimpe, and others

Key First Appearances: Living Monolith, Lawrence Trask, Karl Lykos/Sauron, Savage Land Mutates (Amphibius, Barbarus, Brainchild, Equilibrius, Gaza, Lorelei, Lupo, Piper), Shiro Y0shida/Sunfire

Story Continues From: Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 1

Overview: Here we go, readers! It’s the final adventures of the original X-Men as members of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, Iceman, Havok, and now Polaris go on a non-stop run of adventures that take them from the sands of Egypt to the jungles of the Savage Land to the bright lights of the Las Vegas strip.

The highlight of this collection is the Roy Thomas and Neal Adams all-to-brief run on the title. Adams had been doing work for DC for about two years when he came over to do some work at Marvel. (At that time, creators generally worked for just one company at a time. If someone did work for more than one publisher, one of their jobs would be done under a pseudonym.) At the time that he came onboard with X-Men #56, the book was floundering in the sales column. Adams came in and helped plot a wild adventure ride, introducing new threats to the mutants.

While this is the most creative peak in the title’s seven-year run, it could not stop the cancellation ax. The final issue with original content was X-Men #66. Beginning with issue #67, the title ran reprints of old X-Men stories. Let this sink in for a minute. There was a time when X-Men was strictly a reprint book. It was more profitable for Marvel to re-run old stories versus commissioning new stories. Unbelievable!

Now, the title may have been in reprint mode, but the characters still existed and became free game to use in other books. So Iceman makes an appearance in Amazing Spider-Man, and Havok & Polaris show up in the pages of the Incredible Hulk.

The volume concludes with the solo adventures of Hank McCoy, who finally graduated Xavier’s school and landed a job in a Brand Corporation research lab. McCoy works on isolating the chemical cause of mutation into a liquid solution. Trying to keep his work from falling into the hands of corporate spies, McCoy swallows the formula, and his body is mutated into a furry gray Beast. (In later issues, the fur would change permanently to blue, but that’s not important for this black & white collection.) The Beast finds that he is trapped in this further-mutated body. Despite attempts to hide his mutation, Hank finally embraces his blue-furred identity. These stories are written by Steve Englehart, and he would continue the Beast’s story in the pages of The Avengers.

What makes this Essential?: In my humble opinion, this really is an essential volume to own. First, the Thomas-Adams run on this title is the first “great” story-arc in the history of the X-Men. The Sentinels are more menacing, the Savage Land is more savage, and the introduction of Sunfire opens the door for the international approach to the X-Men in the mid-1970s. In addition, by collecting the X-Men adventures in the other Marvel titles of the 1970s, it highlights how a proper Essential should be put together. The books should be reprinting the character stories, and not necessarily just within a specific title. The solo adventures of the Beast would never have been reprinted in any other Essential volume, so including them here was perfect. While some of the characters’ appearances can be found in other Essentials (see Footnotes), having these stories in one book reads so much better for the X-Men fan.

Footnotes: Amazing Spider-Man #92 is also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5.

Incredible Hulk #150 and #161 are also reprinted in Essential Hulk Vol. 4.

Marvel Team-Up #4 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1.

Amazing Adventures #17 reprinted the origin of the Beast, originally told in backup stories from X-Men #49 to #53 (see Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2). The cover to issue #17 and new framing pages are included in this Essential.

X-Men #67 to #93 and X-Men Annual #1 & #2 reprinted classic X-Men stories from the 1960s. New covers were created for those issues, and the covers are included in this Essential.

If you like this volume, try: the X-Men: Hidden Years series by John Byrne from 1999 to 2001. This series was designed to pick up the story of the original team following X-Men #66, the last original issue of the series. Byrne begins his story with what should be issue #67, but numbered as #1, and continues the adventures. Over the next two years, Byrne told new stories set in the Marvel Universe of the early 1970s, so the mutants encounter a Fantastic Four with Crystal subbing for Invisible Girl. We meet a young Ororo before she has her official first appearance as Storm in Giant-Size X-Men #1. The problem with this book is that it was written and drawn by John Byrne. Not that he necessarily did a bad job with either, but more that Byrne became a very polarizing figure in comics by the early 2000s. A new leadership team took over the reigns as Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief and opted to cancel the book as the X-Men universe was too convoluted and needed to be streamlined. (Note that streamlining of the X-Men books lasted for about one month.) You can read into that the cancellation was due more to personality conflicts between Byrne and management, and not due to poor sales, poor stories, or a convoluted X-Men universe. This entire series was collected in two trade paperbacks in 2012, so it should be relatively easy to track down. If you are a Byrne fan, by all means check this series out.

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 Spider-Woman Vol. 2

Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 2

Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 2

First Published: August 2007

Contents: Spider-Woman #26 (May 1980) to #50 (June 1983), Marvel Team-Up #97 (September 1980), and Uncanny X-Men #148 (August 1981).

Key Creator Credits: Michael Fleisher, Chris Claremont, Ann Nocenti, Steve Leialoha

Key First Appearances: Dr. Karl Malus, Turner D. Century, Theresa Cassidy/Siryn, Caliban, Flying Tiger

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 1

Overview: The adventures of Jessica Drew continue in this second volume of Essential Spider-Woman. We seen Spider-Woman working as a bounty hunter in Los Angeles in partnership with her friend Scotty McDowell. Their friendship and working relationship is drifting apart, leading to both of them going their separate ways.  That path leads Jessica to move to San Francisco, where she becomes roommates with Lindsey McCabe, ²and Jessica sets up office as a private investigator.

Spider-Woman fights numerous unmemorable villains from issue to issue. The highlight of these is an encounter against the Juggernaut and Black Tom Cassidy. This gives Chris Claremont to bring in his X-Men for a crossover appearance. Spider-Woman returns the favor by making a guest appearance in Uncanny X-Men #148.

Throughout the series, Spider-Woman has been tormented by Morgana le Fay, who wants Jessica’s soul. This comes to a climatic conclusion with issue #50. Jessica fights for her soul in the astral plane, and finds a way to defeat her with the aide of Magnus. However, Jessica is surprised to find that her body has died while her spirit was outside of it. Magnus casts a spell to make everyone that has known Jessica to forget her, so that no one has to mourn for her. The series ends with the spirits of Magnus and Jessica Drew fading off into limbo.

What makes this Essential?: Well, quite honestly, I don’t know that this is truly essential. The Spider-Woman shown here from the early 1980s is far different from the Spider-Woman shown in comics in the 2000s. I’m looking for a positive on why this should be read, but I am not coming up with one. Conversely, I’m not finding a negative as to why this should not be read. If you want to consider this an essential, that’s fine, but it should probably be low on your list.

Deathstroke²: In Spider-Woman #39 (August 1981), a new villain is introduced who goes by the name of Death-Stroke, and his henchmen are known as the Terminators. Death-Stroke is a masked assassin-for-hire who uses blades, and claims to be the best in his business. Sound familiar? Take a look at New Teen Titans #2 (December 1980). A new villain is introduced who goes by the name of Deathstroke the Terminator. Deathstroke is a masked assassin-for-hire who uses blades, and claims to be the best in his business. The DC Comics’ Deathstroke has become a mainstay since then. The Marvel Comics’ Death-Stroke made only one other appearance, in which he was killed off.

Footnotes: Uncanny X-Men #148 is also reprinted in Essential X-Men Vol. 3.

Marvel Team-Up #97 is also reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: tracking down Avengers #240 and #241 from 1984. While Roger Stern was the regular writer of Avengers at this time, Ann Nocenti co-wrote these two issues to tie up the final plot threads left dangling at the end of the Spider-Woman series. We discover that Jessica’s friends discovered her body in time to revive it, but she is still in a coma in a San Francisco hospital. The Avengers enlist the help of Dr. Strange, who leads the Avengers into the astral realm to battle Morgana Le Fay for the soul of Jessica Drew. Not to spoil the ending, but the heroes win out, and Jessica Drew awakens, ready to start a new life. If I was running Marvel, I probably would have pushed to include these two issues in this Essential volume, since they do help wrap up the final storyline. These issues have not been collected yet, so search for them in a back issue bin at your local comic store.

Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2

Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2

Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 2

First Published: May 2006

Contents: The X-Men #25 (October 1966) to #53 (February 1969); and Avengers #53 (June 1968)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Werner Roth, Gary Friedrich, Arnold Drake, Don Heck, George Tuska, Jim Steranko, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Sean Cassidy/Banshee, Cobalt Man, Candy Southern, Changeling, Frankenstein’s Monster, Grotesk, William Drake, Madeline Drake, Mesmero, Norton McCoy, Edna McCoy, Lorna Dane/Polaris

Story Continues From: Essential Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3

Overview: Welcome back to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. With a small enrollment, headmaster Charles Xavier is able to focus and help each student develop to the fullest extent of their abilities. Mutant abilities, that is! As all of the students are members of the X-Men, mutants working to build a world that homo-sapiens and homo-superior can live side-by-side.

In this volume, we get the first new member to join the team, as Mimic comes on board. However, he left quickly after fighting with Cyclops, and losing his ability to mimic others’ abilities during a fight with the Super-Adaptoid. At this same time, future X-Man Banshee is introduced as a foe, but soon becomes a loyal friend to the X-Men. At the end of this volume, we do meet Lorna Dane, but more of her story will unfold in Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3.

Now, over the years, many people have claimed that Charles Xavier can be an ass. A story arc in this volume would be Example #1. During a battle with Grotesk, the X-Men believe that Xavier has been killed. The students bury their mentor, and figure out how they will function going forward. Out of nowhere, Xavier returns alive and well. Turns out he had been hiding in a secret basement at the mansion, so he could mentally prepare to stop an alien attack. Xavier hired the reformed criminal known as Changeling to impersonate him, giving him some of his mental powers. So it was the Xavier-impersonator that died in battle with Grotesk. Trust me, this is just the first of a long list of Xavier’s foibles.

Towards the end of these issues collected, a new format was introduced into the books. The stories would run around 15 pages, and then there would be a 5 page back-up which slowly revealed the origins of the original X-Men. In this volume, we get the origins for Cyclops, Iceman, and Beast.

What makes this Essential?: I actually feel that these stories are better than those found in Essential Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1. While I do not want to besmirch the work of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, I don’t believe the X-Men were ever their top priority. I think when writer Roy Thomas comes onboard, he is able to put his full effort into the stories, and we see the characters start to develop, becoming individuals with unique costumes and not just chess pieces controlled by Xavier. I almost think the casual X-Men fan would be better off starting with this volume first before ever reading Essential Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1.

Footnotes: X-Men #45 and Avengers #53 are also reprinted in Essential Avengers Vol. 3.

If you like this volume, try: Marvel Visionaries: Roy Thomas, which collects assorted issues from Thomas’ legendary career at Marvel. In the early 1960s, Stan Lee realized he needed help and hired Thomas to come in as an assistant. He was quickly promoted to writer, and one-by-one, Thomas would scribe the adventures of nearly every significant Marvel title at some point in the 1960s and 1970s. By my count, he has stories reprinted in over 35 Marvel Essentials (plus 2 DC Showcase Presents). The stories collected here give the reader some of the many highlights from Thomas’ resume – The Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, the Invaders, Dr. Strange, and Dracula.