Welcome to 2012 – I am still a comic book geek.
Specifically, the X-Men.
Specifically, I own something like 95% of every X-Men comic book ever reprinted.
On New Years’ Eve I said to myself, “You dashingly handsome scoundrel, how can you use your obsession to aid people who like the X-Men a normal, healthy amount – unlike you?”
The answer? I will count down for you the top twelve collected editions reprinting X-Men comics originally released before 2010. There’s a vast world of thousands of X-Men comics that have been released since 1963, and not all of them are readily available to buy in book format. These reprints mean that hard-to-get, or never-before-reprinted issues can be bought in handy collections with better reproduction of the line art than original issues.
12. X-Force: Cable & The New Mutants, A Force to Be Reckoned With, & Under the Gun HCs
Collect New Mutants #86-94 & Annual 5, New Mutants #98-100 & X-Force #1-4 & Spider-Man #16, & X-Force #5-15 & material from Annual 1, respectively.
It’s a multi-way tie! Marvel inexplicably became obsessed with early X-Force in 2011, maybe owing to the major role of Cable and the X-Force brand name in current Marvel comics.
Whatever the reason, now you can own the entire Rob Liefeld run. He turned a team of gawky teenaged mutants into a militant force ready to do whatever was necessary – and, honestly, isn’t that how a bunch of 19-year-olds would react to the restrained teaching of Xavier after seeing their friends get killed again and again? Not so different than the current X-Men storyline, come to think of it. (Not previously collected in full.)
11. X-Men: X-Tinction Agenda & X-Cutioner’s Song HCs
X-Tinction collects Uncanny X-Men #235-238 and #270-272, New Mutants #95-97, and X-Factor #60-62. X-Cutioner’s collects X-Factor #84-86, Uncanny X-Men #294-296, X-Force #16-18, and X-Men #14-16 – plus epilogue issue Uncanny X-Men #297.
Another tie! These were the first two big, direct, multi-book crossovers of the 90s. Because such a thing was unprecedented at the time, fans ate each chapter up with fervor. In retrospect, both the scripts and the art were uneven.
Still, these were inspired stories, the reproduction on these new hardcover books is gorgeous, and you get a slew of beautiful Jim Lee and Andy Kubert art. (Previously available as TPBs.)
10. Emma Frost Ultimate Collection TPB
Collects Emma Frost #1-18.
If you’re only an X-Men movie-watcher you know Emma Frost only as Evil Betty Draper from First Class. And, actually, that’s not the worst way to think of her.
If you ever wondered how a girl can go from mousy pre-teen to S&M-obsessed blonde bombshell psychic, this early 2000s series gives a glimpse at the family drama that spawned the White Queen. (Previously available as digest versions.)
9. Secret Wars TPB
Collects Secret Wars #1-12.
The first ever Marvel line-wide event (that spawned the classic line of toys), now collected in a brand-new, super-cheap paperback! The entire early-80s X-Men team is whisked to a special “battleworld” to face off against Earth’s villains alongside other heroes. Except, maybe the X-Men are already an endangered species and they don’t feel like being manipulated into a life-or-death struggle by some cosmic being.
You have to read this one with a grain of nostalgia, but it’s good stuff! (Previously available as an overpriced Omnibus.)
Mystique became one of Marvel’s marquee villains thanks to her appearances in multiple X-Men movies, but she had never headlined her own title before this 2003 solo series.
While this isn’t groundbreaking stuff, both Vaughn and McKeever find ways to make her sympathetic while not giving her a heart of gold. It comes off as a mutant version of JJ Abrams’ Alias, only Mystique doesn’t need any wigs! (Previously collected as four TPBs.)
7. Excalibur Visionaries: Alan Davis, Vol. 3 TPB
Collects Excalibur, Vol. 1 #59-67.
Alan Davis is hands down my favorite comic artist, and for about two years he was solely in chart of both art and scripting on the wacky X-Men offshoot Excalibur – starring Nightcrawler, Kitty Pryde, Cyclops & Jean Grey’s daughter from the future, Captain Britain, and a mutant fairy shape-shifter!
Davis’s entire run is A+ work in my book, though this volume isn’t quite the thrill-ride of the proceeding one. (Not previously collected.)
6. Wolverine by Greg Rucka Ultimate Collection TPB
Collects Wolverine, Vol. 3 #1-19
It’s easy to treat Wolverine as an indestructible mayhem machine who hacks and slashes his way through any obstacle. Rucka’s Wolverine is something much more subtle – a hard-drinking drifter with a strong moral compass, who can’t help but put himself and his claws between innocent people and those who take advantage of them.
It’s a pity that few writers have successfully picked up this common-man’s superhero take on Logan since then, as it was a strong read. (Previously collected in three TPBs.)
5. X-Men: Fall Of The Mutants HC
Collects the entire Fall of the Mutants crossover: New Mutants (1983) #55-61, Uncanny X-Men #220-227, X-Factor (1986) #19-26, Captain America (1968) #339, Daredevil (1964) #252, Fantastic Four (1961) #312, Incredible Hulk (1968) #340, Power Pack (1984) #35.
This mammoth hardcover book covers a major gap in the reprint history of Uncanny X-Men from the mid-80s, but it turns out those issues aren’t so super – the team whines a lot while Storm is off on a hallucinatory vision quest.
The real revelation here is the full color reprint of Angel’s original transformation from feathery good guy to angel of death metal. Those scripts and pencils totally hold up to modern scrutiny. (Previously partially collected in TPB.)
4. Uncanny X-Men Marvel Masterworks, Vol. 7 HC
Collects Uncanny X-Men #151-159, Annual 5, and Avengers Annual 10.
We’d be kidding ourselves if a new edition of UXM Marvel Masterworks didn’t make the list every year, but it’s for a good reason – these are premium quality, carefully preserved reprints of X-Men material that has rarely ever seen reprint in the past.
This edition sees the return of the amazing Dave Cockrum to art duties, and the return of the vicious Emma Frost to the rogues gallery. Plus, the X-Men return to space for the first time since Dark Phoenix, and Rogue makes her debut in the pages of the Avengers! (Not previously collected in full.)
3. X-Men by Claremont/Lee Omnibus, Vol. 1 HC
Collects Uncanny X-Men #244-269, Annual #13, X-Men Classic #39
Take two parts Chris Claremont, the writer of ever X-Man tale for over a decade. Add one part the savagely beautiful detailed line-art of Marc Silvestri, and one part explosive newcomer Jim Lee settling in for his first lengthy run on an ongoing title. Lee is renowned as the best comic artist of a generation, and here you can see him grow by leaps and bounds with every issue – which seems to also inspire Silvestri to improve his craft.
Many fans have whined that this is really the Anti-X-Men – the book opens with the team dissolving, and it never truly comes back together in this edition. I say, shove it. This disparate group of stories served to lead into the amazing creative crescendo of Claremont/Lee spending an unbroken year churning out classic issues before both of them jumped ship and the X-line got hijacked by constant gimmick events. (Not previously collected in full.)
2. X-Men Omnibus, Vol. 2 HC
Collects X-Men #32-66, Avengers #53, KaZar #2-3, and Marvel Tales #30.
While Stan Lee and Jack Kirby laid the bedrock of what it meant to be a mutant, it is this volume that presaged the amazing scope and drama of the X-Men stories that would be told over the next forty years.
Here the original five start to transform from teens to team, and we get the incomparable creative pairing of Roy Thomas with Neal Adams. While this was the period that lead to the X-Men going on hiatus, on re-read you can hardly fault the adventurous plots that ensue. (Also collected in HC and TPB Marvel Masterworks.)
What could be more classic than Classic X-Men, and more beautiful than early Jim Lee? Well, nothing. But the this next book wins just about every other award there is for X-Collections in 2011 – Most Surprising, Best Complete Saga, Most Shocking, Best Run from a Single Creative Team, Most Mammoth – the list is nearly endless.
…and, my number one collection of the year is…
1. X-Statix Omnibus
Already SOLD OUT at Amazon in just two months – try Cheap Graphic Novels or Tales of Wonder. Collects X-Force#116-129, Brotherhood #9; X-Statix #1-26; Wolverine/Doop #1-2; Dead Girl #1-5; and material from X-Men Unlimited #41, I <3 Marvel, and Nation X #4.
X-Statix is really weird. Do not think of it as an X-Men comic, or even a Marvel superhero comic, as it relies very little on foreknowledge of either. It is an indie comic about a deadly and incredibly popular reality television show that happens to star a team of lethal mutants with short life expectancies. There are no “villains” to speak of, though the team certainly faces ongoing challenges.
Instead, think of it as something like Reality Bites or Chasing Amy – or even Hunger Games – a self-aware piece of fiction that constantly comments on the real world culture it is woven within. It is a comic dissecting the convention of superheroes, much in the tradition of Watchmen. Except, instead of a dystopian 1984 we get a celebrity-as-reality obsessed modern day with absolutely no overarching plot.
With no villains and no major arc, you might wonder: what is this 1000+ page book even about? Sex, sexual identity, racial identity, celebrity, drugs, suicide, ethics of pharmaceuticals – you know, the same things our lives are about. It just so happens that each struggle is framed in terms of what it would mean to be a superhero struggling with that incredibly common human condition.
(Previously collected as a series of HCs and TPBs.)
That’s my countdown! Have I left off any of your major favorite reprints of 2011? Chime in with a comment, and tune back in next week (really!) for 2011’s top 12 collections of new material.