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Revisiting the X-Men

Issues #251 - 270

It’s been a while, but I finally managed to squeeze in enough time to get through another block of the old Uncanny X-Men.  The writing during this period is very word-intensive, creating a better story without relying completely on exposition.  The side effect of this is a 20-30 minute read.  One can easily lose all night in these things, especially considering the level of detail that has emerged within the current storyline.  But I shall elaborate on all that as I continue.

First and foremost, we are still in the Chris Claremont years (or decades, rather) so the story is following his vision.  Pencillers Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri take care of most of the art during this 20-book block, though other artists sometimes lend a hand.  Some of these artists are talented, adding their own styles to the title, but, unfortunately, more than one of them are lacking and their work looks more like what you’d see 20 years prior, without the expert perspective and line detail that characterize artists like Lee and Silvestri.  This is likely because Marvel was putting out quite a few titles at this time, a bit of a difference from their past, and thus needed to bring in more artists regardless of whether they measured up to the best.

The most noticeable thing about this block is the convoluted storyline.  Claremont, after killing off or otherwise exiting many of the former X-Men team, has begun to concentrate on side characters, creating a new team in a way.  He still goes back to many of the older characters and by the time #270 rolls around almost everyone has been brought back from the dead (in one way or another).  So, as he attempts to detail back-story and motivation for characters like Forge, Banshee and Polaris, he is forced to revert every once in a while to the old cast.  He also introduces Gambit at this time and gives Psylocke her ninja makeover (worst idea ever, in my opinion).

Uncanny X-Men is releasing twice a month at this point and the way that Claremont is constructing his plots suggests he’s thinking a year or two ahead.  This is both good and bad.  While it’s nice to see the story take on an extended focus, with so many characters involved the books are frequently forced to revert to one character or another, sometimes for only a few pages.  After being referenced briefly or sometimes being the subject of one or two books, they get forgotten again.  If this was being done in novel format, it would have worked brilliantly.  As a comic, however, it often leaves me wondering exactly which book I’m reading at any given time.  Is this the one with Storm?  The one with Colossus?  Is the chief enemy the Reavers, Shadow King, Mr. Sinister or one of these others that get dropped in occasionally?  It feels a bit too ambitious.

One of the strengths of Claremont’s writing is that he treats the whole thing like a war story.  No one from any of the plot lines ever seems to get a rest.  They’re always under assault and the number of anti-mutant groups is prolific.  Add to that the super villains who also want the X-Men dead and they are always kept busy.  Still, with too many characters, some of this gets lost as you wait to learn what’s going on with someone else.  So far, there appears to be no main focus for the comic and I am beginning to wonder if Claremont has a grand plan after all or whether he’s just become burnt out from doing the title for so many years.

I shall continue to cross my fingers as I move into the next phase.  Hopefully it will start to converge and I won’t be left feeling like I’m reading 5-6 different titles that have been crammed into one book.  Next up, a cross-over called “The X-Tinction Agenda,” so I’ll be looking into some X-Factor and New Mutants as well.