Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Classics - X-Men #1

Since this month featured another X-Men #1, it only seems right to look back at the last comic to carry that label (this one had a cover date of October 1991).

That issue also managed the feat of reportedly selling 8 million copies - although the fact that they printed it with four different covers probably didn't hurt those sales totals. (And yes, you'll note that I bought all four covers. What can I say?)

The sales weren't hurt by the fact that the comic featured two of Marvel's biggest creators - writer Chris Claremont and artist Jim Lee (with Scott Williams inking).

So how does the issue hold up today? Frankly... not well.

By the time this issue appeared, Chris Claremont's style was wearing thin with me, anyway. Don't get me wrong, his early work on the title was fantastic, loaded with great stories, fascinating characters and loads of twists and turns.

But by this time, his stories - while professional and well-crafted - all seemed to be the same. (He left this comic after just three issues, so this was the end of his long run - at least until he returned to the X-Men family in recent years.)

This issue starts out with the surprising return of Magneto, and then we check in on an army of X-Men taking part in a Danger Room exercise, which rolls on and on.

That's followed by a big fight with Magneto, then a big fight with his mutant followers, and then a cliffhanger to bring you back for the next issue. Did I mention the tons of dialogue that fill the issue?

But while Claremont's star was fading (for me), Jim Lee's was really taking off. With powerful layouts, excellent character work, hard-hitting action and tons of beautiful women, Lee's art really made this issue sing.

Of course, by today's standards it also features some of the worst excesses of what would soon be known as the "Image style" - lots of scratchy lines, characters standing in impossible poses (especially the pneumatic women) and more focus on "poster" pages, rather than storytelling.

Still, there's no arguing with success, and Lee's work here led directly to his becoming one of the industry's top artists, and he was able to take that position and co-create a hugely successful comics company.

It's actually somewhat sad to realize that the X-Men haven't changed much in the 19 years since this comic was published.

Their adventures are more about bombast, action and angst, instead of focusing on the features that made the comic popular - great characters, big adventures and a manageable cast.

In some ways, this comic was the latest in the trend toward excess - it followed in the footsteps of X-Factor and X-Force. The more X-Men titles there are, frankly, the less interesting the team becomes.

In the interest of making a buck, too many comics companies make the same mistake. They forget that less... is more.

Grade: B


Kyle said...

Oh my gosh Chuck, has it really been 19 years...? I think I bought FIVE copies of this one... all four individual covers and fifth one that was a fold-out combining all four... geesh... what was I (and the industry!) thinking...? ha!

Chuck said...

I know what you mean - I say that with almost everyone one of these "Classic" reviews when I look at the dates. Hard to believe I was alive 45 years ago, much less reading comics.

You know, I think I have that fold-out cover, too - I must have missed it when I dragged these issues out of the archives!

Nate said...

I can't believe this is a classic! I got into comics in the early
'90s, and it is hard for me to believe how old those issues are now.

Chuck said...

Nate, imagine how I feel - I started reading in the '60s!