In honor of Uncanny X-Men 486- which happened to ship this week and which happens to be part 12 of the 12-part “Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire”- I present my personal list of the best Shi’ar stories. So strap on a space-suit and get ready for a ride…
Uncanny X-Men 107-108 by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and John Byrne
This is where it all started. Well, I guess you could say that it started
several issues earlier with Professor Xavier’s dreams of an alien, but this is
where it really started. The X-Men are
suddenly teleported to another planet and thrust into battle with the Imperial
Guard. They’re well on their way to
losing when they find some unexpected allies in the Starjammers. They’re caught
between a mad emperor, his noble sister and a plan to destroy the world using
the M’Kraan crystal. In the second
issue, the X-Men enter the crystal and fight a series of guardians before we
see the full extent of Phoenix’s
ability to rearrange the world around her.
This story also marks the transition between two great artists. Dave Cockrum drew the first part in Uncanny X-Men 107. He designed the great costumes and- with Claremont- modeled the Imperial Guard on DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes, a title that Cockrum had previously worked on. A lot of the charm of the Shi’ar, the Guard and the Starjammers comes from Cockrum’s sense of design. The second issue was drawn by John Byrne, marking the beginning of his long tenure with the team. Byrne brought a very accessible style to the title, with clean and powerful line-work. This was especially evident in the big climax featuring Phoenix.
That would be enough to get any story onto this list, but this story gets the little things right as well. For example, I love the bit in which Wolverine steals Fang’s costume. It’s a good look for Wolverine- and is later borrowed by X-23- as well as a nod to the Legion’s Timber Wolf.
Uncanny X-Men 135-137 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne
It’s only the biggest X-Men story ever and a candidate for one of the greatest superhero stories ever told. It’s the end of the Dark Phoenix saga. It’s absolute corruption at the hands of absolute power. It’s honorable heroes standing by their friend to the death. And it happens to be a Shi’ar story as well.
Uncanny X-Men 275-277 by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee
I wanted to include Uncanny X-Men 162-167 but outside of a few guest appearances by Corsair, Deathbird and Lilandra, it’s really more of a Brood story than a Shi’ar one. So the next big Shi’ar story worth including is this three-parter by Claremont and Lee. And this story just happens to be a personal favorite of mine.
At the end of issue 273, Lila Cheney shows up on the
doorstep of the Xavier mansion, tells the X-Men that they’re needed and
promptly teleports them away. They
arrive on Chandilar, in the heart of the Shi’ar Empire. What I like most about this story is that
there’s a lot of character misdirection. Charles Xavier has been gone from the X-Men some time as he had joined
Lilandra as her royal consort circa issue 200. When the X-Men arrive in Shi’ar space, they’re confused by stories that
Lilandra and her royal consort have somehow become corrupt. The team becomes divided as some team members
refuse to believe that their former mentor is capable of evil. The character misdirection is further
Claremont causes doubts to fall upon new members Gambit and Psylocke both of whom have shady pasts. The result of all of this sleight of hand is a great battle between Wolverine and Gambit in issue 277 and a stunning turn for Wolverine in issue 276. But don’t worry, Xavier didn’t really turn evil. Instead, he and Lilandra have been held captive by Skrulls who are trying to undermine the Shi’ar Empire and doing a pretty good job of it.
As I mentioned earlier, this is one of my all-time favorite X-Men stories. I love the high drama of it which Jim Lee captures so well in the covers. I like that the new guys turn out to be right even though no one believes them at first. And I love that Claremont keeps us guessing as to who might have turned evil and who might have stayed true.
Uncanny X-Men 342-344 by Scott Lobdell and Joe Madureira
I think this is a pretty underrated story. This particular tale continues the tradition
of having the Shi’ar
threatened by an outside source and turn to the X-Men for
salvation. It had happened previously
with the Brood and the Skrulls. Now,
it’s the Phalanx who have infiltrated the Empire. The story begins in issue 341 with a great
battle between Guardian and Cannonball in which Guardian begrudgingly admits
that the Shi’ar need the help of the X-Men. After that, we’re treated to a tight three-part story in which the X-Men
take on the Phalanx, learn secrets of the Shi’ar and team up with
Deathcry. It’s a nice fast-paced tale.
I also like that this story gets the little things right. Guardian is too rushed to insure that he only sends X-Men into space so two X-Men associates are sent with the team. That means that Lobdell is able to continue character and relationship work even while the team is in space. One associate is Hank McCoy’s off-and-on girlfriend Trish Tilby. Through this story, we get a stronger appreciation for Trish as we see her resourcefulness. Also, Trish gets a stronger appreciation for Hank and his fellow X-Men as she sees the kinds of threats that they face on a regular basis. The other associate is Joseph. Now I know that not a lot of people like the Magneto clone. However, I liked how he was used in this story. It’s neat to see Gambit distrust the newcomer, an ironic reversal of his early tenure. And Lobdell does a great job of having Joseph react to the Phalanx’s genocide of the Shi’ar.
Uncanny X-Men 475-486 by Ed Brubaker, Billy Tan and Clayton Henry
Maybe it’s too early to include this story. It’s not like we have had any time to look back on this tale and reflect on whether or not it was truly good. Plus, I haven’t even read the finale yet. It’s possible that the whole thing falls apart. Then again, this has been one great tale. I’ve read some negative reviews of it and I’m left to wonder if they’re even reading the same story.
Here’s what we have so far: Gabriel Summers, aka Vulcan,
swears vengeance on the Shi’ar. The X-Men take off after him but they’re
always behind and sometimes way behind. They’re fought off by Shi’ar outposts
who consider them a threat and think they may even be allied with Vulcan. A Shi’ar anti-Phoenix specialist attacks,
trying to kill Rachel Summers. Vulcan
blows out all of the Shi’ar jumpgates. Lilandra is betrayed by her own military who consider her weak and is
deposed. D’Ken returns from the dead,
but he’s still as insane as he ever was.
Darwin continues to evolve, becoming one of the coolest new X-Men in years. Havok takes charge. Vulcan arrives on the Shi’ar homeworld. Deathbird takes Vulcan in as a lover and uses her sexuality to twist him around until he’s fighting to protect D’Ken. Lilandra finds a new ally in someone she had previously banished. The X-Men hook up with the Starjammers. Xavier and Darwin are captured by D’Ken and scheduled for public execution. Vulcan marries Deathbird, kills D’Ken and declares himself emperor by right of marriage. That means that the Shi’ar have gone through two coups in less than a month while the X-Men have doggedly been trying to get across the universe. Even the X-Men manage to defeat Vulcan in the finale the Shi’ar Empire has been irrevocably altered. That’s a great tale.
And that’s it for this list.