Welcome back. Last week, I looked at the best X-Men stories of the ‘80s. Though I cut the list down to a top ten, I didn’t want to have to rank these stories against each other so I’ve been running through them chronologically. I’m up to 1986. So, without further ado, here are the best X-Men stories of the latter half of the decade.
“I’ve Gone to Kill the Beyonder,” Uncanny X-Men 202 (1986): I realize that this issue might not make a lot of “best of” lists, but it makes mine. Mostly, that’s because this issue has such a personal place in my own story. It’s one of the first comic books I ever owned. It’s my introduction to the X-Men and to superheroes in general. And it blew my young mind. So I have a nostalgic affinity for this comic book that others might not. Yet, even without that nostalgic affinity, I think that this issue holds up as one of the best. The main story is Rachel Summers’ (aka Phoenix II) plan to kill the Beyonder. She rushes off to confront him on Alcatraz. In order to have an uninterrupted conversation, the Beyonder sends a squad of Sentinels after the rest of the X-Men. Then, he gives Phoenix the power to kill him. But, if she uses that power, she won’t be able to save the X-Men from the Sentinels. She has a choice: kill the Beyonder and lose her friends, or save her friends and let the Beyonder live. The moral dilemma isn’t the only great thing about this issue. The battle between the X-Men and the Sentinels is a great one. Magneto is still trying to fit in as Professor X’s replacement. Colossus throws Wolverine at the Sentine ls in a classic “fastball special.” Rogue is thrown into a crowd of bystanders and nearly loses herself to all of the thoughts that she absorbs. And Storm flies an unarmed Blackbird against the Sentinels, refusing to be defeated even if she’s de-powered. Plus, there’s great art by John Romita Jr. who’s especially good at drawing super-machines such as Sentinels.
The Morlock Mutant Massacre (1986): The Massacre is the first-ever X-Men crossover running through issues 210-213 of Uncanny X-Men, also featuring multiple issues of both X-Factor and the New Mutants, and even spilling over into Thor and Power Pack. So it’s big. It’s also great. The X-Men have been antagonists, allies and even friends with the Morlocks, a group of mostly misshapen mutants who hide out in the sewers under New York. Suddenly, the Morlocks are under attack. The Marauders are acting like hunting parties, tracking down the Morlocks and viciously killing them without apparent cause. The X-Men and other heroes rush in to help stop, or at least, slow the slaughter. But this is no easy fight. Shadowcat, Nightcrawler and Colossus take serious injuries while Angel of X-Factor experiences the agony of having his wings impaled by harpoons. Even the kids are caught up in the mess. The young wards of X-Factor have ties to the Morlocks, the X-Men can’t completely shelter the New Mutants from harm, and Power Pack accidentally wanders into the fray. It’s a brutal, senseless tragedy and none of the teams emerge unscathed. There are also some great figh ts and great moments. Wolverine and Sabretooth have a pair of classic bouts, setting up what will become one of comics’ classic rivalries. And Thor uses his powers to wash out the tunnels, in one of those moments that remind you that he is indeed the god of thunder. The Morlock Mutant Massacre is the first X-Men crossover, and one of the best.
Juggernaut, Uncanny X-Men 217 (1987): This is probably another
surprise choice for the list, but it remains one of my favorites for
the decade. After the events of the Morlock Mutant Massacre, the
X-Men needed to fill out their ranks and replace injured members.
They brought in former X-Man Havok, as well as new X-Men Longshot,
Psylocke and Dazzler. Often when a new member joins a team, the
series will feature that member in a solo story, showing the new
member’s aptitude in a glorious victory. Indeed, Kitty Pryde
was featured in that kind of a story in “Demon,” as
mentioned in part one. This story is different. Dazzler is indeed
given a solo story. But it isn’t a glorious victory. She
happens to spot Juggernaut as he’s out and about. He’s
not robbing a bank or doing anything. He’s even wearing
civilian clothes. But Dazzler recognizes him. She figures that she
can impress her new teammates and prove her worth to them if she can
take Juggernaut down by herself. So she attacks. Juggernaut,
meanwhile, happens to be a big fan of her music. He tries not to
fight her, and even asks for an autograph. But Dazzler will not be
deterred. Finally, Juggernaut decides that he has to defend himself.
He fights back brutally and Dazzler is defeated. Filled with
remorse and thinking h
e’s killed her, Juggernaut gives Dazzler
a proper burial. Dazzler, however, isn’t dead. She wakes up
in a grave. And this is how she proves her worth. She slowly seeks
out sounds that she can convert into energy. She recharges and is
able to free herself. Shamefaced, she returns to the X-Men, still
unproven and still desperate to succeed. It’s such a wonderful
small story. It completely overturns our expectations and ends up
being an excellent examination of both Juggernaut and Dazzler. And
it’s a great fight as well.
Broodfall, Uncanny X-Men 232-234 (1988): This is the best Brood story ever, bar none. While all of the earlier Brood stories featured the X-Men going into space and facing the Brood out there, this story features the Brood coming to earth. That means that if the X-Men lose, the Earth loses. That makes the stakes a lot bigger and much more personal than in previous Brood stories. Furthermore, in this story, the Brood infect Wolverine with one of their seed. Wolverine has often been the focus of stories in which he has to battle his own inner demons. This time, he has to battle an inner demon that isn’t his own. This leads to one of my all-time favorite scenes in which the Brood-infected Wolverine stumbles into a revival meeting. Most of the congregation flees in panic. But not the revival preacher. He reaches out to Wolverine in compassion. Most readers remember the evil preacher Rev. Stryker from “God Loves, Man Kills.” I remember this counter-point, this moment of grace, and it’s a big reason why this is one of my favorite stories. Of course, there are also big battles, panic in the streets to make even Japanese monster movie enthusiasts happy, Brood beasts throwing cars around and more superhero action than you can shake a stick at (though why you’d shake a stick at it, I don’t know). This is definitely the highlight of the Marc Silvestri era of the X-Men.
Acts of Vengeance, Uncanny X-Men 256-258 (1989): Yup, I’m picking “Acts of Vengeance.” The main crossover is admittedly pretty awful but it resulted in some great tie-in stories, especially in the X-Men titles. There’s a really good Tigershark appearance in Wolverine, a Celestial epic in X-Factor and a Mandarin plot here in Uncanny X-Men. At this point in X-Men history, the team has disbanded and the various heroes are scattered around the globe. The Mandarin takes advantage of the situation and kidnaps Psylocke. He brainwashes her, body-switches her and transforms her into his assassin. And it’s up to Wolverine to stop her and save her. But this isn’t Wolverine at his best. This is a Wolverine, still reeling from his recent crucifixion. And this isn’t Wolverine with the X-Men at his back. He has a little bit of help from Jubilee, but otherwise he’s on his own against Mandarin, the Hand and a host of ninja assassins. It’s a great kung fu action story, with one hero facing impossible odds and the other hero the unwilling pawn of the enemy. Plus, the story serves as Jim Lee’s introduction to the X-Men. I know that a lot of X-Men fans don’t like this story. And I have a theory about that. They don’t like that the previously pretty in pink Psylocke was transformed into an Asian ninja assassin. And since they don’t like the result, they don’t like the story that brought it about. I tend to look at things from a different angle. I like the story. It’s tense, quick-moving and full of action. And, since I like the story, I therefore also like the result. Plus, I didn’t have a huge affinity for the pink Psylocke in the first place. So while this story may mark the “end of the good X-Men” for ‘80s X-Men fans, it serves as a wonderful fulcrum from me transitioning from one favorite era to another.
God Loves, Man Kills (1982): This is another X-Men story that is widely considered to be a classic. Like “Dark Phoenix” and “Days of Future Past,” you can hardly create a “best of” list without including it. And yet, I nearly did just that for the simple reason that I had never read it until recently. I was afraid that “God Loves, Man Kills” would have the intense earnestness that crosses the line into sappiness as so often happens with comics which deal with important topics. And, as a Christian and then a pastor, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a story in which a minister is the bad guy. I shouldn’t have worried or waited so long. Yes, “God Loves, Man Kills” is emotionally charged. Young kids are murdered. Mutants are persecuted. But artist Brent Anderson does a great job of using images to allude to historical events without becoming heavy-handed. Writer Chris Claremont does a great job of using crowd reactions to show that the issue may be more complicated than either Rev. Stryker or the X-Men are willing to admit. The real heroes of this story are actually two normal cops who don’t know who to believe but who still do their duty. Plus, the looks into Rev. Stryker’s background show that he’s a much more complex character than I was initially led to believe. His belief in the inhumanity of mutants led him to murder his own wife and child. He’s sacrificed more for his cause than anyone knows, and he’s gone too far down this path to back down now. If he admits that there’s a place in the world for mutants, then he’s also admitting that he killed his wife and child for no reason and it’s simply too difficult for him to admit that kind of mistake. “God Loves, Man Kills” is a powerful story resonating with all kinds of persecuted minorities such as African-Americans, Jews and homosexuals. It’s also surprisingly personal, emotionally complex, beautifully rendered and well deserving of a place on this list.
Those are the best X-Men stories of the ‘80s. Of course, there were more than eleven good stories in the decade. Stay tuned for honorable mentions and more mutant goodness.