Essential X-Men volume 1

Essential X-Men volume 1 essentialxmenvol1
Marvel Comics
Writer: Chris Claremont
Art: John Byrne & Dave Cockrum
BW, 528 pgs
$14.95 US / Higher in Canada

I’ve always been intimidated by Marvel’s line of X-Men books. Throughout my youth, I had been familiar with the likes of Spider-man, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Flash, but didn’t become aware of the X-Men until the early 1990s. I was in high school at the time, and this was a particular period when, for whatever reason, the X-Men were making quite the impressionable mark on kids who read comics. There was a strong resurgence of all things X-Men, but it’s the video games, both arcade and console, that I remember most. I seem to recall during this particular period, Gambit was getting a lot of attention, but right behind him was the man in the yellow spandex with the bad ass metal claws.

I’ve looked at the Marvel shelves in comic shops many a time, eyes wandering along the numerous X-Men titles, wondering what kind of stories were playing out between the covers. Every time I picked up an issue to browse, however, there seemed to be too much to take in. Who were these guys and gals, these mutants? And what’s with the bald guy in the wheelchair? And so I never delved into the world of the X-Men. It seemed like too much of an undertaking to learn all their history.

“I want to read some X-Men books,” I told Dana, fast-forwarding to the present. “Give me some core X-Men stuff. Some essential X-Men reading.”

And that’s exactly what he did. Literally. He gave me Essential X-Men volume 1.

This black and white tome collects Giant Size X-Men #1 and X-Men #94 – #119. Originally published in 1975 through to 1978, these issues mark the beginning of Chris Claremont’s long run on the X-Men books. Starting off as a co-writer with Len Wein, co-creator of the X-Men, Claremont quickly hit his stride and took on writing duties full time.

Claremont started his writing career with Marvel in the early 70s, penning stories and providing editorial assists on series such as Dracula Lives, Tales of the Zombie, Vampire Tales and War is Hell. His X-Men debut came in 1975 with X-Men #94. This first collection only reproduces a small portion of Claremont’s run, which would last into the 1990s.

As a newcomer to the X-Men series and its characters, there was no better starting point for me than this very collection. With more than 500 pages and at a price that is easy on the wallet, there is no reason you should pass on this collection. This is a piece of X-Men and comics history.

Claremont introduces and, in some cases, reintroduces the X-Men’s core characters; Cyclops, Jean Gray, Colossus, Wolverine, Professor X, Night Crawler and Storm. We also get, however, a look at a few characters that have fallen into the background over the past years, but are nonetheless still active in the X-Men world. I’m referring to the likes of Banshee and Sunfire. As a little added bonus, we get the death of an X-Men, John Proudstar.

The writing in Essential X-Men volume 1 is truly a testament to the 1970s era of comics. Adventure and action is high on the menu, and so too is the jocular camaraderie shared among the group of mutants. Wild adventure is the only way to aptly describe the content of this collection. This is the kind of fun comics used to be before things took a serious turn in the 80s when Alan Moore and Frank Miller hit the scene, and now again in the new millennium. It took me awhile to adjust to this particular carefree, wide-eyed storytelling with all the far-out locations and improbable situations. Once I got into the groove, however, I had a blast thumbing through the past.

Interestingly enough, amidst all the superhero slugfests, there are some great character moments. The quiet times are few, but even in among the action Claremont takes time to explore the dynamics of a group of individual personalities as diverse as the X-Men.

The Essential X-Men also gives us a look at another talent from the past. True enough, John Bryne is still active today, but Mr. Fix It is past his prime in terms of drawing my attention to a comic series. Here in X-Men, however, Bryne is in true form on pencils. With the colour stripped out of this book, you can really enjoy the art. No space is wasted in the panels. There’s lots of eye candy to enjoy. The black and white palette also lends a hand in presenting this collection as a piece of history. Reading Essential X-Men is like watching a classic, black and white movie. Don’t eat buttered popcorn while you read, however. You’ll get the pages all sticky. (Chad Boudreau)

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