Sunday 25 September 2016

X-Men #3. 25th anniversary review.

X-Men #3, 1991
Break out the cake mix because I've just realised I'm coming up to a very important date.

And that's the twenty fifth anniversary of me buying issue #3 of the all-new 1990s X-Men comic.

That might not seem like much of an anniversary but, when I got it, it was the first American comic I'd read since 1984.

I must confess that, nowadays, that seven year gap doesn't seem like very long at all but, back then, it seemed like an eternity had passed.

It happened because, in December 1991, having found myself in Meadowhall's WH Smiths, I spotted, upon the shelves, the comic shown to the left of this deathless prose - and, in a fit of nostalgia, I bought it.

It turned out to be a remarkable coincidence because the first issue of the the 1970s' New X-Men I ever owned was issue #100, which featured a bunch of X-Men I'd never heard of, fighting some other X-Men on a satellite. And this one too featured a bunch of X-Men I'd never heard of, fighting another bunch of X-Men on a satellite. Not only that but the first issue of the 1960s' Original X-Men I ever owned featured Magneto - and this one featured Magneto. Truly, the Fickle Finger of Fate was working overtime that day.

But there was more. Not only did it thematically link to those other landmark tales but it was Chris Claremont's last issue on the strip, while Stan's Soapbox in this issue featured Lee's tribute to the recently deceased Vince Colletta. Could a comic be more designed to prod my Nostalgia Button if it tried?

X-Men #100, Magneto and Moira McTaggart
What happens in it is this. Thanks to his skullduggery, some of the X-Men have teamed up with Magneto and are having fun in his satellite's swimming pool.

You have to hand it to Magneto. Not many people have a swimming pool in their satellite.

The other X-Men, not approving of such behaviour, are determined to stop Magneto from doing whatever it is he's planning to do, and so, propelled by the sheer power of exposition, they set off to his satellite.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the Russians and the Americans are planning to nuke both his satellite and his swimming pool, regardless of whether the X-Men are on it or not.

Needless to say, it's not long before the X-Men are slugging it out with each other before they all come to their senses and decide to slug it out with Magneto instead.

The only problem is that Magneto's not looking for a fight. He's well into his, "My philosophy is in conflict with yours, Charles," years and so, instead of having a fight, he's looking to make a great big long speech and then send them on their way as he dies nobly for no noticeable reason other than that it's Chris Claremont's last issue and he's clearly determined to go out by writing Magneto's obituary.

When I bought this, all those years ago, it seemed dramatically different from the comics I'd read in the 1970s. The art seemed different. The writing seemed different. The lettering seemed different. The colouring seemed different. The inking seemed different. Even the adverts were different. It was different to a degree that meant it took a couple of readings and a hefty determination to be open-minded about change for me to accept it deserved to exist.

X-Men #100, Magneto and Wolverine
The odd thing is that, reading it now, it seems almost indistinguishable from comics of that earlier era but dramatically different from how comics are now, even though it'd be classified as being from the current Modern Age rather than the Bronze Age.

Bearing in mind the general unpopularity of 1990s comics, I'm going to commit heresy but I've always quite liked Jim Lee's artwork.

Yes it's full of unnecessary lines, and muscles like cannon balls, and bosoms like water melons but, rarely for an artist of his era, he did have a grasp of how to place panels in an order that made sense without there having to be arrows telling you where to look next or the writer having to explain what was happening, on the artist's behalf. That's why, for me, Jim Lee was easily the best of the artists who drew like Jim Lee.

The problems I do have with the tale are that Chris Claremont's gone into verbal overdrive with it. Everyone's spouting huge great mountains of dialogue at each other to a degree that'd make even Don McGregor protest.

My other problem with the story is that Jim Lee's pacing is surprisingly slow. His art looks dynamic, in that everyone has a dramatic look on their face and they all like to stand in action-packed poses but they often don't actually seem to be doing anything. It seems to take forever for the X-Men to get to the satellite and, when they do, the climax seems to draw on forever.

On the plus side, the paper and the printing are strikingly better than they were in the 1970s. It also smells nicer. Opening the comic now, even after twenty five years, the paper and the ink smell startlingly fresh, like it's a brand new comic. It reminds me of that experience you used to get when you pulled open a newly bought LP for the first time.

So, it wasn't a masterpiece, but it was at least trying to do something with a bit of profundity to it and it did reintroduce me to the Marvel Universe after a long gap. It also forced me to stretch my mind by forcing me to accommodate a different style to the one I'd grown up with, and I can't help feeling that anything that forces you to be more open-minded is ultimately a good thing.


Anonymous said...

If theres anything that sums up the Jim Lee era X-Men for me, its Gambit. Playing cards that can zap stuff or something, and a stick - how is that a mutation?
And from shiny metal knee-length boots to a raincoat - a raincoat! - and designer stubble his costume seemed randomly cobbled together from different characters.

Its funny, Steve, because like you I came to the early 90s X-Men after a long absence and agree with everything you say here, yet you like the comic and I don't.


Steve W. said...

I quite liked Gambit. It was Jubilee I always hated. She had a terrible superpower, creating pointless blobs of light that didn't seem to do anything, she wore bright yellow and every single thing she said was annoying.

Anonymous said...

Well, Wolverine used to wear bright yellow and say annoying things too, Steve, so that seems a bit unfair.
Not that I particularly want to defend Jubilee, but at least she seemed easier to ignore than Gambit