I know this may be hard to believe but this is the first comic I ever bought. At the age of fifteen I had often wandered past a store called The American Comic Shop, in my little hometown. It always looked so colourful but I never had the urge to enter it, until I started watching a new show on Saturday morning television: The X-Men. I immediately fell in love and recorded as many as I could, watching them repeatedly. It was then I decided to go into that shop and find myself an X-Men comic. I asked the guy behind the counter if he had the latest books and he would peruse the shelves and say, “We have sold out this month” and I would be disappointed. However I began to look for older issues in the longboxes and I came across this gem, mainly because it had a cool hologram. I read this again and again and again, not fully understanding what was happening. I had no frame of reference and the cartoon stories were completely different. The dialogue was a little heavy and the language not overtly easy to understand, given by naïveté to the characters and the Magneto and Xavier dichotomy. I did not appreciate the true impact of this book until years in the future and as I come back to read it now, I am astounded at how incredible a book it actually is.
Fabian Nicieza’s plot is insanely concise. We have a fantastic opening, that not only describes the enormity of the Magneto situation but a speech from the man himself, deliberating his decisions and feeling regretful of the consequences. It then moves speedily onto a stubbly Xavier looking tired exhausted doing the exact same thing. We even see it from our old buddies Scott, Jean and Hank point of view as they contemplate the actions of their troubled leader. The pacing is immense as this is only thirty-eight page comic but we have a definite beginning, middle and end. The underlying ethos of the mutant struggle is explored from multiple perspectives and ends with the heavy decisions of two men with resultant casualties. This one issue covers years of ground from past and future writings. In fact this is all you probably will ever need to read about Xavier versus Magneto. There are so many subtle elements to the arguments including defecting mutants, Rogue’s romantic longing for Magneto, Quicksilver’s tortured childhood, Erik’s troubled life, Jean-Grey’s love for Wolverine, Colossus’ betrayal, prolicide and patricide and even the pertinent Hitler comparisons. There is no simple good guy bad guy fight in this comic. The characterisation is wonderful as there are clear distinct personalities of the supporting cast including the thugness of Wolverine, the unquestioning of Cyclops, the sentiment of Rogue, the rebelliousness of Remy and the stoic nature of Colossus. It is a true joy to read and there is even a little room for an Aeschylus quote. The book is a little heavy on the narrative boxes and dialogue but there is a lot to the narrative. It really becomes unnoticeable whilst reading but the pages can appear a little cramped. However there are some beautiful lines that beckon forgiveness, such as one from Quicksilver about his father. “What has he ever given anyone which has sprung from his own creativity? Other than the cold, bitter taste of his power and his bleak outlook of his vision”.
Andy Kubert is on point with his pencilling because this book looks the part. Each character looks intense with ruffled brows, focused eyes and square jawed fierceness. The group shots look great and the individual posedowns are breathtaking. The action sequences are dynamic and Kubert has the ability to vary his effects depending on the power on display, especially Quicksilver’s speed. The big splash pages deliver on the right level of intensity and a couple of these have become iconic images, especially the one below featuring Wolverine’s adamantium expunged from the pores in his body and Xavier mentally shutdown Magneto. I believe the colouring is essentially of that time as there is a lot of white and light yellows on the pages but it does not take away from the art. The panels are not always easy to follow and the fighting is focused on individual boxes, except the build to Wolverine’s final fate which is treated with delicate suspense and surprise. Despite the book having a classical feel to it, it could hardly be done better in modern times.
There are some epic and memorable events in this book but those are not the important aspects of the book. This is a book about the dream and how it began to fade. It is not about the occasion but the underlying theme and character transition, that I often long for in modern comics. We see Xavier being doubted by his team and ultimately himself with Magneto pushing him to his limits. The writing is so plausible that we wonder whether we would have done the same thing, or even of Magneto is right. As Xavier invades the mind to two defecting mutants to put them to sleep, Nicenza plays the immoral card early on to suggest that maybe the final outcome is not necessarily the correct one. There is an incredible amount of exposition upon the opposing schools of thought and as Jean looks with regret at her actions, we see a young Colossus who has become numb to the struggle in light of his decision to betray his leader. The final page is devastating as both sides suffer a huge loss, and even though Xavier takes out Magneto, the price is heavy. I adore how there is no clear winner and I can just imagine a younger version of myself not knowing what to think. The labours of Xavier pay their price as we can see in current events, but those actions all began here: the day he had to sacrifice the few to save the many.
It is hard for me to reflect on this book without thinking about the current state of comics, especially the X-Men. Not only is the writing superb and the characterisation phenomenal, but this all took place in a single issue. There are no crossovers here and the big fight happens in all but a few pages, but it is a clear example of quality not quantity. We have clearly made some advances with colouring and rendering of art but we have lost so much in storytelling and writing. It was month titles the infrequency of mass events that lead to the enormity of an event. To force this issue only leads in failure and contempt. I never wanted to be the kind of person that says, “It ain’t like it used to be” but it clearly isn’t. Of course there are some phenomenal books out there but when a series has reached a natural end, and there is no thing left to say then it should be left alone. I have no idea of the implications of these final thought processes and the realistic interpretation of them, but we should be true to our writing and honest with our characters. As I end my three hundredth post, a milestone I never imagined I would reach, I am left with one final deeply personal thought: I miss my X-Men.