For the past two weeks, I’ve been writing about the ten best X-Men stories of the 1990s. But once I got going, it was hard to stop. So here I am with some honorable mentions that didn’t make the cut for the first ten. Some of these are stories that I simply didn’t have room to include. Others are stories that had a significant flaw that kept them out. But all of them are great in one way or another. Enjoy!
X-Men vs. Magneto, X-Men #1-3, 1991: This is the opening arc of the new X-Men series by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee. There are plenty of good reasons to include it. There are the great Jim Lee covers: three featuring the entire X-Men line-up, a fourth featuring Magneto, and a fifth featuring the other four as one big pull-out. There is the great introduction to the team, or re-introduction to the recently reassembled team for some. Claremont does a great job of establishing everyone’s role- who’s on the team, who serves as support staff (Banshee, Forge and Jubilee) and how they all fit together. Plus, there’s the perfect villain for a story this big: the Master of Magnetism, Magneto. It’s a delight to see the X-Men living at the mansion, and another delight to see them taking off to tackle their greatest nemesis. The first issue is about as good as a first issue can be. The fight in the second and third issues is pretty good, too, but that’s also where the fatal flaw enters this particular story. The fight becomes an extended political argument between Xavier and Magneto. I realize that the difference in philosophy has been at the heart of the battle between Magneto and the X-Men for a long time- with Magneto being compared to Malcolm X and Xavier being compared to Martin Luther King Jr.- but this particular philosophical discussion brings the story to a stop. It’s okay the first time through when the reader has some interest in seeing the two sides carefully delineated, but it becomes more noticeable upon re-reading. Even so, a little bit of padded pontification isn’t enough to keep this from being a very good opening arc to the new series.
The Jim Lee Issues, X-Men #4-11, 1992: I’ll admit that I’m kind of cheating here. These are four stories, not one. But they have one thing in common which is why I’m grouping them together: they were all written by Jim Lee. Jim Lee had been credited as co-plotter for awhile before this and some of those stories made my list of the best of the 1990s. Beginning in issue 4, however, Chris Claremont was gone and Jim Lee was on his own. Well, not completely. John Byrne and Scott Lobdell did come in as scripters. But the stories were all Jim Lee. And they were really good. They were just packed with action, which is probably what you would expect from an artist. Yet they weren’t random fights. They were personal grudges. They were battles that exposed character and history: Sabretooth and Omega Red, Bishop vs. Gambit, Wolverine vs. Ghost Rider, Mojo vs. Longshot. They were fast-action, hard-hitting stories with beautiful art. The title stumbled a little bit when Jim Lee left suddenly to found Image. Yet before he left, Jim Lee contributed a great collection of stories to the X-Men.
Song’s End, Uncanny X-Men #297, 1993: I don’t have the crossover-phobia that many older X-Men readers seem to have and I deliberately chose several crossovers for the top ten. Not just to represent them, but because I enjoyed them. They can be epic, including big events and important character changes. And they can be well-done, with classic clashes and poignant personal moments. Which isn’t to say that I like all of the X-Men crossovers. There are some convoluted messes in there. “X-Cutioner’s Song” is a candidate for my least favorite crossover. Yet, despite its connection to that awful crossover, the Song’s End epilogue is one of the best X-Men stories of the decade. Due to the events of X-Cutioner’s Song, Professor Xavier was healed from his leg injuries. However, the Professor is aware that the healing is only temporary. He walks out onto the grounds of the estate, reflecting on the fleeting nature of his mobility. There, he runs into Jubilee. Or, more accurately, Jubilee runs into him. She changes his perspective. Instead of mourning the fact that he’ll lose the use of his legs again soon, Jubilee shows him that he should enjoy the use of his legs while he can. The issue ends with Jubilee teaching Professor Xavier to roller-skate. It’s a wonderful moment with a great message and it always brings a smile to my face.
Going through the Motions, Uncanny X-Men #303, 1993: We switch from the celebration of life in issue 297 to the tragedy of death in issue 303. X-Men comics of the ‘90s have a lot of well-written issues in which somebody leaves the title or the team. There’s Jubilee’s bittersweet departure to join Generation X in issue 318 in 1994. There’s Professor Xavier’s sad, yet noble, surrender to the authorities in X-Men #57 in 1996. Yet the best departure issue is easily this one, focusing as it does on the death of Illyana. It doesn’t come on the heels of a big crossover, such as the other two stories I mentioned which follow “The Phalanx Covenant” or “Onslaught.” Instead, “Going through the Motions” is a strong enough story to stand on its own. Illyana Rasputin, the younger sister of X-Man Colossus, has contracted the mutant-targeted disease the Legacy Virus. Under the direction of writer Scott Lobdell, the Legacy Virus was used as a metaphor for AIDS. The result was an occasionally poignant commentary on the state of our society and the struggles that we face. That commentary became more than a political platform with this issue, when the tragedy of the disease hit home with the loss of a beloved character. There was no fight. There was no villain. There was just a little girl who died of a disease and the people who were left behind. Lobdell deftly showed us the different ways in which people react to death from Jubilee’s guilt to Jean Grey’s need to comfort others to Colossus’ stoicism.
Leaning towards Oneself, X-Men #23, 1993: As I mentioned in the previous entry, I like the big crossovers. But I like a lot of the smaller stories, too. This issue, from the Fabian Nicieza/Andy Kubert era of X-Men is an excellent example. It’s part of the ongoing soap-opera approach to the title. As such, there are several story-lines all taking place within the single issue. Some of the scenes deal with these extended stories, moving them forward in one way or another. And yet, the issue still has a completeness to it in that one story is introduced and concluded within the issue itself. It’s that complete story that makes this issue especially memorable. Early in the issue, Mr. Sinister surprises Scott Summers and gives him information regarding Stryke’s plans and the Legacy Virus. But that encounter is quickly interrupted when the pair is attacked by Apocalypse’s Dark Riders. Sinister dispatches one of the Dark Riders to prove to Scott both his good intentions and his ability to defeat those who would stand against them before disappearing and leaving the rest of the Riders to Scott. The scene then switches to a desperate battle between Cyclops and the Dark Riders, with the leader of the X-Men forced to fight an entire team all alone. Cyclops shows his resilience, his stamina and his skill by fending off the Dark Riders. Even though he doesn’t manage a complete victory in that the Dark Riders escape, he proves that he’s more than a match for Apocalypse’s minions. It’s amazing. Cyclops is often dismissed as being uninteresting or weak. And yet, he’s the star of so many great battles and single issues, such as “The Fall of Avalon,” “The Herald of Onslaught,” and this one. Maybe it’s because writers are reacting to the accusations that Scott is boring and they’re intentionally showcasing his talents. Whatever the reason, Cyclops is the central figure in several memorable battles including the fight against the Dark Riders in this issue. Besides the central story, I also enjoyed some of the side stories. This issue features a scene in which Beast and Gambit travel to Japan in order to confront Shinobi Shaw. They find Shaw relaxing in a hot tub with several beautiful women. I love that scene. Not just because of the beautiful women, who are somewhat incidental to the confrontation. I love Shinobi’s arrogance and dismissive-ness. Nicieza does a great job here in continuing to build Shinobi up as a great villain, one who simply doesn’t care about other people in any way. I picked this issue because of the great Cyclops fight, but I was pleased to discover that one of my favorite smaller scenes was featured in the same issue.
Generation of Evil, Uncanny X-Men #323-325, 1995: There are several things that I like about this story. One, this is Cannonball’s first story as one of the regular X-Men. I loved seeing him graduate to the “big leagues” (the description Sam uses himself in X-Force #44) and I enjoyed his characterization as the rookie of the team. Two, the story starts out with a bit of a mystery as the X-Men are called in to find out why a dance club was attacked. It’s nice to see the X-Men doing a bit of sleuthing. And it’s nice to see them specifically replying to a call for help. Though Generation of Evil will eventually become a mutant vs. mutant battle, the opening shows that the X-Men aren’t just a rival gang of mutants as they’re sometimes accused of being. They really are the heroes, protecting a humanity that often mistrusts, fears and hates them. Three, Scott Lobdell introduces new villains in Gene Nation, young Morlocks who blame humanity and the X-Men for their low position. Artists Bryan Hitch, Roger Cruz and Joe Madureira give the new characters nice visuals as the ugly mutants in contrast to the pretty X-Men. Four, this is the introduction of Marrow, who would go on to become one of my favorite new X-Men. Five, issue 325 features a classic confrontation between Storm and Marrow. I read stories for, among other things, drama. This is a great dramatic encounter as Storm is forced to make a hard decision: take one life to save others. I realize that a lot of readers weren’t happy with the resolution. But I also know that they all remembered it, and that’s sometimes the mark of a good story as it is in this case.