X-Babies, X-Men #46-47, 1995: Before he became a writer for the X-Men, Scott Lobdell was a stand-up comic. This story is a reminder why. It’s hilarious, with a great situation, great comedic characters and some great lines. The basic story features the X-Babies, miniature versions of the X-Men who are creations of Mojo made to entertain his television audience empire. However, the X-Babies escape from Mojo’s world and wind up in New York. They’re kids. But they’re immensely powerful kids who think they’re adults. And that makes them a big nuisance. The X-Men are brought in to control the chaos. Meanwhile Mojo’s minions Gog and Magog are sent in to bring his entertainment slaves/stars back into the fold which means that there’s a genuine threat in addition to the kiddie chaos.
The kiddie chaos is great with some of the X-Babies spouting lisps and all of them getting into trouble of one kind or another. The genuine threat is pretty good, too. Mojo may be an overused villain by this point, but Gog and Magog are fairly new, interesting and powerful. Plus, this issue features some great characterization for the actual X-Men. Bishop had always been suspicious of Gambit, thinking that the Cajun would become a traitor to the X-Men. But in this issue, they start to hang out together in an odd-couple buddy-movie pairing that really works well. It works so well that they’re later given a mini-series together. That relationship really starts here, right in the midst of what is probably the funniest X-Men story ever written. Humor, action and great characterization: it’s hard to ask for more than that.
Warriors of the Ebon
Night/Quest for the Crimson Dawn, Uncanny X-Men #329-330, 1996:
I’m a big fan of the Joe Madureira run on Uncanny X-Men. There
are a lot of good stories in there, several of which already made the
top ten. One of my other favorites is this little two-parter. In
the previous story, Psylocke was injured by Sabretooth as he escaped
from the mansion. In this story, Wolverine and Archangel set off on
a mystic quest to find a potion that will heal her. It’s a
simple enough story, but it’s all of the extras that Scott
Lobdell and Joe Madureira throw in there that makes it so much fun.
Wolverine fights ninjas, which is always fun. Dr. Strange shows up
as a guest-star. There’s a great new character in Gomurr the
Ancient- a small, elderly man who also happens to be an excellent
martial artist. And even Angel gets into the swing of things with
some open hand combat himself. Plus, there are the great visuals.
Madureira gets to draw a ninja made of steam. The way that the light
shimmers off of this ninja looks almost electric. It’s
masterful. It’s not a big epic, but it’s beautiful to
look at and fun to read which is why Ebon Night/Crimson Dawn remains
one of my favorite X-Men stories of the decade.
Know Thy Enemy,
Uncanny X-Men #337, 1996: It seems like the worst crossovers have
the best epilogues. That was true of “X-Tinction Agenda”
which was immediately followed by the excellent “Too Many
Mutants” (Uncanny X-Men #273). It was true of “X-Cutioner’s
Song” which was followed by “Song’s End.”
And it’s true of “Onslaught” which was followed by
“Know Thy Enemy” and “Man.” This particular
issue, “Know Thy Enemy,” focuses on the team as they pick
up the pieces after the disastrous events caused by Onslaught.
There’s a scene in which Wolverine gives advice to Charles
Xavier, a wonderful reversal of their usual roles. There are scenes
with J. Jonah Jameson, Graydon Creed and Bastion, setting up some of
the stories for the coming year. But the heart of the issue is a
simple scene in Scott and Jean’s home, which had been converted
from a boathouse into their private living quarters. The scene takes
place in the kitchen as Jean prepares breakfast. Slowly, other
members of the team wander in. Some, like Quicksilver, are planning
to say good-bye. Others, like Psylocke, are simply looking for
company. As the teammates slowly gather together, they begin to talk
about their experiences. They talk about missing teammates. They
talk about their feelings- why Joseph doesn’t want to be called
Magneto, how Psylocke is still afraid after her earlier injuries, and
so on. But more important than any one question or any one
conversation is the fact that the X-Men are simply spending time
together. They’re friends. They’re family. And,
despite all of the dangers they’ve faced, they enjoy each
other’s company and a bit of normality over a plate of
Tolerance, Uncanny X-Men #346 and X-Men #65-69, 1997: The X-Men
crossovers tend to be stories that I either love or loathe. They’re
either among my favorites- such as “Fatal Attractions,”
“The Phalanx Covenant” and “The Age of Apocalypse”
all of which made my list of the top stories of the decade- or else I
think they’re awful- such as “X-Tinction Agenda”
and “X-Cutioner’s Song.” “Operation: Zero
Tolerance” is one of the few crossovers that holds the middle
ground. It’s very good, but not quite good enough to make the
top ten. Similar to “The Phalanx Covenant,” the main
X-Men are taken out of the picture and “Operation: Zero
Tolerance” focuses on lesser characters. In this case, the
X-Men are quickly captured by Bastion’s Sentinels and Iceman-
who escaped the initial onslaught- is forced to try and put a new
team of X-Men together. I really like the band of oddball mutants
that he gathers together.
Spider-Man, in a nice guest-appearance to
start the story, urged Marrow to seek out the X-Men in Uncanny #346.
So that’s one. Iceman finds another in Cecelia Reyes, a doctor
who wants to be doctor and not a mutant on the run. Unfortunately
for her, Bastion’s Sentinels don’t give her that choice.
Iceman, often the least-respected X-Man, rescues her and convinces
her to help at least temporarily. And finally, there’s
Maggott, who doesn’t have as much as role in this story as the
other two. I think it’s great to read about Iceman and Cecelia
on the run from Bastion. And I think it’s great to read about
Marrow’s quest to find the X-Men in order to ask them for help
after having earlier sworn to kill them. I’m a big fan of
redemption stories and “Operation: Zero Tolerance”
represents Marrow’s first step down that path. The tie-ins in
Wolverine and Generation X are pretty good too. Wolverine features
the captured X-Men attempting to escape and Generation X first shows
Jubilee in captivity and then the rest of the kids on their own after
the adult X-Men are defeated. My complaint, and the reason why this
story stayed out of the top ten, is that the overall story seems a
little drawn out. The covers illustrate my point: issues 66, 67 and
69 all feature a variation of the same scene in which Iceman faces
off against Bastion. I really like the characters spotlighted, both
the old ones like Iceman and the new ones like Marrow. And I like
the story. I just wish it was a little tighter.
Reunion/The Sky is
Falling, Uncanny X-Men #356-357, 1998: The Chris Bachalo run on
Uncanny X-Men was remarkably short. He drew only 11 issues on the
title, in just over a year. But as a big fan of his work on
Generation X and on this title, I had to include at least one of his
stories. This little two-parter is probably his best. I think that
Bachalo must have really liked to draw the X-Women. His work seemed
to especially shine on stories that featured Rogue or Phoenix. This
particular tale is actually a reunion of the five original X-Men,
called in to investigate a disturbance in a small town in Alaska.
Another thing that I really liked about Bachalo’s work was the
way in which he would use specific images to create a visual theme
and unity for an issue. Writer Steven Seagle gave him the perfect
opportunity with this story, featuring a Native American Crow God as
the tormentor of the town. Bachalo had previously drawn birds for
the Rogue-centric story “Blackbirds” in issue #353. Now,
he had the opportunity to do it all over again, plastering the pages
with crow creations. It was a visual smorgasbord. Steven Seagle’s
story was pretty fun, too, with a Scooby-Doo type mystery and the old
gang back together again.
Children of the Atom, Uncanny X-Men #360 and X-Men #80, 1998: My fondness for this two-part crossover is based mostly on my memory of anticipation. This was a story that promised big things. It featured the return of Colossus, Nightcrawler and Shadowcat to the regular team after their years of service on Excalibur. It featured a brand new set of villains. These villains had interesting appearances, conceived mostly by regular artist Carlos Pacheco. They had interesting and powerful abilities. They even claimed to be the real X-Men. And though the X-Men could deny it, they couldn’t deny that these new villains seemed to have a connection to the team. Each of these mutants seemed to bear a remarkable similarity to one of the X-Men. Several even seemed to be the combination of current or former X-Men. So there was a cool mystery- who are these new X-Men, where did they come from and what is their connection- if any- to the real team? And there was a really cool fight between two equally matched sides. X-Men #80 featured one of the best team vs. team fights since the X-Men went up against the Marauders in the late ‘80s. Yet despite the excellence of these two issues, the story always reminds me more of unfulfilled promise. Some of that has to do with my own expectations. I was disappointed that Excalibur was canceled in order to facilitate the return of the three X-Men to the main title. After this reintroduction story, the Excalibur trio ends up being underused in Uncanny X-Men except for a few Alan Davis stories in 1999. Plus, the new X-Men never become the rivals I wanted them to be. In fact, they’re never used again. That’s probably because the end of the mystery is slightly confusing. It seems like the enemies were constructs created by Cerebro. But how Cerebro was able to create constructs outside of the confines of the Danger Room is never really answered. And why Cerebro decides to test the team in this manner is unanswered as well. Perhaps those questions would have been answered had the titles not shifted creative teams later that year. As it is, the story promises a lot- the return of several X-Men, the introduction of a new team of villains- and even delivers in the short-term. But the title is unable to follow through on the promise in the long-term, leaving this story short of the greatness that would’ve gotten it into the top ten.
And that’s going to have to be it. I could have probably included even more stories but I had to draw the line somewhere. Besides, twenty-two stories including honorable mentions, makes for a fairly sufficient list of the best X-Men stories of the 1990s.