Tuesday, 22 February 2011

‘Essential X-Men Volume 8’ – Various (Marvel Comics)

I used to love watching the old X-Men cartoon back in the mid nineties (Afternoon lectures or X-Men? No contest...) so when I finally made it into a comic shop it was fairly obvious I’d be picking up these titles to read through. I started off on ‘Uncanny X-Men’ and ‘X-Men’, two titles that seemed to compliment and feed into each other’s ongoing storylines. Then I found myself picking up ‘X-Factor’ and ‘X-Man’ to tie up loose ends. And then I found myself also picking up ‘Excalibur’ as a little offshoot on a side plot. And then I found myself picking up an issue of ‘Cable’ (to tie up something happening in ‘X-Man’) and thought to myself, ‘hang on a minute...’ It was at that point that I decided that Marvel had taken enough of my money with their scheme to tell one story over several comic titles that you had to buy. I wasn’t a great buyer of comics after that but I always made sure to avoid the ‘cross over’ when I was on the lookout for something to read.

The thing was though; I still loved the whole background to the X-Men and wanted more. I wasn’t prepared to hand over the cash though and so was reduced to living vicariously through Wikipedia character biographies; better than nothing but still not a patch on the real thing. Imagine how pleased I was to see all the old X-Men stuff being released in ‘Essential’ volumes... The cover suggested that you’d be getting the whole story and the price didn’t look too shabby either. I was in and decided to kick things off at... volume eight...

Conventional wisdom would suggest that volume one is, in fact, the best place to start and normally I would agree with you. A friend of mine at college had lent me the comics where the Brood face off against the X-Men and that story was in this volume; I had to have it, what else can I say?

‘Essential X-Men Volume 8’ collects ‘Uncanny X-Men’ #229-245, ‘Annual’ #12-13 & ‘X-Factor’ 36-39 and this takes us way back to the very late eighties. It wasn’t too long before I found that I still wasn’t getting the whole story though with loads of those little footnotes referring to events in other comics that weren’t featured here. Will I ever be free of the ‘Cross over Curse’? I have to say that I don’t see that ever happening but what I will say is that the stories in volume eight are as near as dammit self contained in any case so those tantalising glimpses of other comics may be irritating but they are not detrimental to what you are reading.

What are you reading? It’s a bit of a mix of everything really. There are some ‘one shot’ stories (I liked the Christmas one) and the ongoing tales all involve the X-Men operating out of their new base in the Australian Outback and trying to do some good in a world that thinks they are dead. There’s a fight with the Reavers in the Outback along with a fight for mutant rights on the island state of Genosha and the Brood attempting another infestation of Earth. The big one though is the ‘Inferno’ storyline where Manhattan suffers an extreme case of demonic possession which coincides with the appearance of one of the X-Men’s greatest enemies and a vicious betrayal by one of their own.

I got lost in this volume for hours, possibly even a couple of days. There is a hell of a lot going on here with a wealth of detail paid to each and every character and, as a result, it’s all too easy to get fully immersed in the scenario playing out. Would I buy more of these volumes? If the stories are anything to go by then I probably would.

I wasn’t too keen on the presentation though... The artwork is lovely (I’m looking at you in particular Marc Silvestri) but I felt like a lot of the impact was lost by it being in black and white instead of the original colour. Not that I’ve got anything against black and white art here (I’m looking at you in particular ‘Walking Dead’) but black and white art that’s just colour art with all the colour taken out...? There were moments in the ‘Inferno’ storyline where I actually had trouble making out what was going on in some of the big standoffs. The book itself was a nice price (a big part of the reason I ended up getting it) but I would still pay a few pounds more to have the whole lot in colour.

Storytelling duties are essentially shared between Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson and, to be honest, if it hadn’t been for the writing credits at the start of each issue I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between the two. If I’d read more ‘X-Men’ comics then maybe differences would be a little more apparent but I’m counting this as a good thing (in the meantime) as it helped things to flow a lot more easily and there were no irritating ‘bumps’ where the baton was passed from one writer to the other.

I’d read the ‘Brood’ story years ago and it was great to go back and give it another try. The whole thing with the gigantic ‘space shark’ made a lot more sense this time round and there was also some interesting discussion over the fate of people infected with the Brood virus. These are innocent people who can’t be allowed to live for fear of the virus spreading...

The ‘Genosha’ storyline was perhaps a little too earnest to be truly engrossing with a clear line between good and evil that made closer examination almost pointless. There’s a lot to look at in the meantime though and, along with the ‘Brood’ plot, there are a lot of pointers to get the reader ready for the ‘Inferno’ storyline...

The ‘Inferno’ plot is what the whole book leads up to and, for the most part, it doesn’t let you down with both the X-Men and X-Factor teams set against each other while the true evil behind the scenes makes its move. Cue loads of full on combat between people who are meant to be friends and a massive revelation for the X-Men. It’s a confusing read though and I’m going to have to re-read it, just so I can get it clear in my head just exactly when a particular something actually happened. It’s not exactly a big chore but I wish things had been a little clearer.

The whole ‘black and white artwork’ thing really let things down for me but you can’t deny the power in the story. Claremont and Simonson paint a vivid picture of superheroes who are real people at the same time and this brings a whole load more issues to the table other than who has the coolest mutant power. It’s a soap opera for geeks but is that actually a bad thing? Not when the story is as well told as this.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

1 comment:

Lagomorph Rex said...

I've found the various Marvel Essentials volumes to be, on the whole, a great deal. They more or less contain entire storylines.. though this does occasionally lead to issues being included in multiple volumes.. and certain extremely important storylines such as, Secret Wars, are if I'm not mistaken only available in the full color TPB formats.. still if you like Marvel comics and want to get a whole ton of comics for not a lot of money.. you can't go wrong.. the fact they actually start at the first appearance of the characters is just that much nicer. The only really annoying examples of them simply slacking off would be.. the Essential Howard the Duck. They included everything up to I think issue 28 out of 31.. I think it wouldn't have killed them to have just gone ahead and included the entire series.

DC showcase on the other hand, all seem to pickup in the 70's, they leave the golden and silver age comics to the much more expensive color reprints. So I can't really appreciate them as much since they are only a way to reprint the stuff they figure they will have the hardest time selling in the more expensive formats... or so it seems to me anyway.. still they reprinted about 60 issues of WARLORD so.. they can't be all bad right?