Episode #3: X-Men 1 & 2

The 90s may have produced some work that most comic book fans would rather forget. But it also produced the single bestselling comic book issue of all time: X-Men #1. The writer/artist team of Chris Claremont and Jim Lee captured lightning in a bottle at exactly the right time and everybody sat up and took notice. So with those hefty expectations we take a look at that seminal issue and it’s immediate follow up.

Listen to Episode 3: X-Men #1 & 2.

Variant Cover 4 of 4

Variant Cover 4 of 4

You can subscribe to the Council of Geeks Podcast, home of 90s Comics Retrial on iTunes or on Sticher.

And now for a few choice samplings from Issue #1, written by Chris Claremont with art by Jim Lee.

X-Men do not simply "stand around," they pose for invisible photographers at all times!

X-Men do not simply “stand around,” they pose for invisible photographers at all times!

And here we have two of the most popular characters of the era. One renowned for his gruff demeanor, savage character and mysterious background and the other for her... well... just shut up and look at her.

And here we have two of the most popular characters of the era. One renowned for his gruff demeanor, savage character and mysterious background and the other for her… well… just shut up and look at her.

Move over Hugh Hefner... Hey! Maybe that's why all the women in this comic look like they're posing for a centerfold.

Move over Hugh Hefner… Hey! Maybe that’s why all the women in this comic look like they’re posing for a centerfold.

A cover that tells a story, and a cover blurb that pointlessly reiterates that story.

A cover that tells a story, and a cover blurb that pointlessly reiterates that story.

I've poked some fun, but this is an example of Jim Lee at his best.

I’ve poked some fun, but this is an example of Jim Lee at his best.

So... many... POUCHES!

So… many… POUCHES!

I hope you’ll come back next time when I’ll have a guest to help me take a look at one of my few issues of a DC comic: Lobo #0. Before you go, here’s a heaping helping of cheesecake with a side of beefcake.

How I spent my summer vacation... in my mind.

How I spent my summer vacation… in my mind.

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3 thoughts on “Episode #3: X-Men 1 & 2

  1. I started collecting X-Men and Uncanny X-Men a couple months after these issues came out, but I was able to get these as back issues. My copy of issue #1 is the reprinted gatefold that includes all four covers combined. As a kid, discovering these characters in comics, cartoons, and toys all around the same time, I imagine was like kids in the late ’70s with their Star Wars collections.

    Jim Lee’s style and redesigns were my jam, and I didn’t realize the magnitude of Chris Claremont departing with issue #3 after directing these characters for sixteen years. I rolled with the turnover because I wasn’t “reading” the books for the stories, not at that time.

    Ten or fifteen years ago I started collecting the ESSENTIAL X-MEN reprints that started from the beginning of Claremont’s run after Giant-Size X-Men #1. I was astonished, and a little embarrassed at how well the ’70s and ’80s X-Men stories held up when the ’90s issues that I collected looked and sounded pretty craptacular.

    Having said that, Claremont was never an amazing writer. He always over-wrote dialogue and thought balloons and captions. The characters tended to speak like they hadn’t been partners for years but rather just met each other. It made everything sound expository and unnatural–but it also made his issues super new-reader accessible because you got everything you needed to know about the characters, their histories, and their relationships in a way that felt *only slightly* forced. Ironically, I think he missed the mark on the first issue of Adjectiveless X-Men, overwriting to the X-TREME without conveying any natural rhythm or characterization through the dialogue.

    Claremont also benefitted from extraordinarily talented partners. Artistic legends like Dave Cockrum, Paul Smith, early John Romita, Jr., and the most famous, John Byrne, who actually co-plotted a good chunk of their historic run. Claremont also had the editorial guidance of a master like Len Wein during his formative years. He also pretty much stole some of his best ideas from other sources. Star Wars. The Legion of Super Heroes. Movies. Books. TV shows. Anything that was popular or creative or inventive, Claremont found a way to repurpose for the X-Men.

    Now, that didn’t make him a hack, and that is not what I’m saying. He knew the right things to steal and he knew how to craft amazing and unforgettable character drama. In a way, he was like George Lucas on the first Star Wars. And he did it for SIXTEEN YEARS!

    By all accounts, he walked off the book because he felt more and more marginalized while Marvel was giving more and more creative control to the artists like Jim Lee, and before Jim Lee Mark Silvestri (who was a raw, unrefined Jim Lee before Jim Lee). Was Marvel wrong? I don’t think so. It was the ’90s and art was king, in large part because of what Lee and Silvestri brought to the industry. X-Men sold better because of them, while the stories had become repetitive and a little lazy. I did say Claremont wrote the book for sixteen years, yeah? He probably should’ve stopped after ten.

    Anyway…

    Great episode as always! You covered the two sequential issues deftly and the forty-five minutes flew by. I know you’re planning to have guests on future episodes–if I’m not mistaken I’m one of them–but I don’t think you need to make that the default format of the show. Guests bring a nice variety and new energy to the show, but you’ve got a good, working style and voice that shouldn’t be just the backup plan.

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  2. Great and brutally honest coverage! I seem to recall enjoying The Uncanny X-Men title better at this time.

    Quick correction: There were 5 covers, not four. One cover was the deluxe edition with a gatefold cover poster showing all the other four covers as one image. Yes, I bought all five versions. To my own personal shame.

    Thanks for playing the FIRE & WATER PODCAST promo during this episode! I’m sure it was just because of the “Firestorm” issue title, but i’ll take it!

    The Irredeemable Shag

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  3. X-Men #1 and everything it represented made me leave Marvel entirely. I’d already dropped every book but Uncanny X-Men because the quality of stories and/or art were at an all-time low. My last issue of Uncanny had the X-Men in space and Jim Lee art and it was just… who cares anymore? I was collecting Uncanny out of loyalty only, because it was the only book I’d collected for more than 100 issues. The prospect of the characters getting split across several books, at THAT level of quality? No thanks. I was out and wouldn’t look back for almost 10 years.

    Claremont may have been an icon, his style was old-fashioned by this point and the franchise so convoluted that he was basically a parody of himself. Jim Lee, I never cared for. He was fine, but not an artist I wanted to follow anywhere. As a Publisher at DC, he’s in large part responsible for the New52’s terribleness. His redesigns are awful, overwrought, and absurdly similar to one another. If Justice League was the anchor of the new line, he filled it with splash pages and pin-ups. Dull stories where nothing happens because he needs to create art he can sell at conventions or something. And plugging his stupid Wildstorm properties in the DCU, never getting the hint after each WS book gets canceled, over and over and over again, just so he can cynically get royalties or give his characters visibility? Ugh.

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