Friday, January 20, 2012

Tales from the Long Box: Confession of a Closet X-Fan

Every week Seth goes into his back issue bins, picks out a single issue, story arc, or creative run, pours through it and then writes about it. He calls it Tales from the Long Box. Though old and now either retconned out of existence or made irrelevant by the latest event, these books still share something in common... they're bagged, boarded, and a part of comics history.

So my own personal comic book baptism took place as a child of around 12 years old. My oldest sister, after tiring of collecting baseball cards and sports memorabilia had randomly taken up the habit of comic collecting and specifically those starring the X-Men. This was in the early 90's when Image was still getting off the ground and Jim Lee had recently completed a monumental run on the merry mutants. I would read her comics on warm summer days on the porch of my parent's home and though I had no concept of the artist or writer as individuals I did enjoy the issues where Wolverine stabbed someone with his bone claws or Colossus rocked someone in the face.

Years later when I made my return to comics I avoided the X side of things for the most part. Sure I dabbled here and there with stuff like X-Factor and Whedon's Astonishing X-Men but typically I avoided any book that featured the characters. In a way I still balk, initially, at the thought of picking up the newest X titles regardless of their creative teams, but I've come to notice something funny... I'm apparently a secret X-Men fan. You see, the other day while sorting my graphic novel collection I started to notice there was an abundance of titles that featured them. If you're willing to include Wolverine as an x-universe book then I'd say I safely could fill an entire shelf with books starring the mutants.

So why do I still have a problem accepting I'm a fan? In some ways I think it has something to do with the insane amount of characters and years of convoluted continuity that come with them. Whatever the case may be, until the other night and my startling revelation I'd been telling people for years that I "just don't care" about the X-Men.

Of late I've been reading even more titles starring Colossus and his ilk than ever before; I've even gone so far as to add Wolverine and the X-Men to my pull list. It's the first x-title I've pulled on a monthly basis and I adore it. What Jason Aaron is doing in that book is superb, fun, superhero storytelling. So, naturally, I decided to go back and catch up on everything that happened up to the Schism event that led to Wolverine and the X-Men becoming a thing. As I said I didn't have that much catching up to do. I own the first five volumes of Mike Carrey's X-Men: Legacy, the Messiah Complex, and Second Coming hardcovers and multiple trades collecting Matt Fraction's run on Uncanny. Before that I'd read everything that Ed Brubaker had done with the characters, and I've devoured Grant Morrison's work on New X-Men. Elsewhere, I'd read the first handful of X-Factor trades and pretty much every Wolverine story published since 2004... Seriously, how did I not realize I was this abreast of the goings on in this section of the Marvel U sooner? How did I manage to spout off about not being an X-Men fan without realizing that, hey, you own half the books they've starred in over the last five years?

Now obviously no one would be able to read every X-title... or at least I wouldn't be able to. I have no interest in the New Mutants (despite reading many of the early 90's issues owned by my sister) and Generation Hope carries no meaning for me. Also, I don't tend to read tie-in minis so all those little ancillary series' starring Kitty Pride or Colossus were just going to carry on being unread by me. But the last 20 + issues of Fraction's Uncanny run and on into the Kieron Gillen stuff, well, that was fair game. Also, Schism, and the relaunched Uncanny.

Fraction's work on X-Men really does impress me. I'd even go so far as to credit it with being some of the better team comics of the last decade. Sure, at times it delves too far into high-minded sci-fi but it's fast and fun and he made some interesting decisions, such as bringing Magneto onto the team and returning Kitty to earth where she belongs. He did away with Sebastian Shaw (for the foreseeable future) and did a wonderful job of introducing new characters that felt fresh to the Marvel U. He was saddled with one of my least favorite artists (Greg Land) but also one of my favorites (Terry and Rachael Dodson). His run is a lot of fun, and though the first few stories may seem trite he eventually found his footing with the Utopia move and without him we wouldn't have had stories like Messiah Complex and Schism.

Gillen came aboard as writer toward the tail end of Fraction's run and kept the ball rolling to the finish line. His run was sadly intercepted by Fear Itself (also a Fraction Joint) and sort of petered out toward the end but he proved himself capable enough with the characters to earn himself a spot as the head writer on Uncanny when it relaunched as part of the post-Schism X-Men landscape. Unfortunately, his relaunched X-Men, while strong, highlighted some of the weak points of the characters and their world. Too many characters, confusing continuity and goofy villains. Sure, I dig the heck out of Mr Sinister but when he turns the population of San Francisco into facsimiles of himself and he's floating around as a giant talking Sinister head... well, it's hard to take the threat seriously.

So Aaron's run on Wolverine and the X-Men is the only X title I'm buying monthly, but, there's really no denying it. I'm going to end up buying Uncanny in trade. After years of claiming I'm not an x-fan, there is no getting around the fact that the characters and their corner of the Marvel U just appeals to me. With guys like Gillen and Aaron on the two main books I don't doubt the line is in good hands. You may wonder what the point of this column was. Well, consider it a confession... I'm an X-Men fan. Have been since I sat on my parent's porch and read stories about the techno virus and Gambit's adventures with the Assassin's Guild. It's like the mafia; just when I think I'm out they pull me back in.

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