For most of us reading comics, high school sucked. Unfortunately, so did the X-Men.
What do a collection of vintage late-1980s power suits, unreasonably tight costumes, enough muscle definition to make the reigning Mr. Universe pop a blood vessel, and retrospective racism all have in common? They all appear in the new X-Men Epic Collection: Mutant Genesis. This collection, the 19th such volume, covers issues from X-Men, X-Factor, Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants from the year 1991. In usual 1990s fashion, the well-abbed mutants fight against unbelievable foes and fill thought bubbles full of a ridiculous amount of exposition.
The biggest story in this collection is that of the Shadow King and his fight with Charles Xavier. Battling the psychic force on the physical and astral planes brings some great fight scenes, even between the X-Men themselves. As a contemporary comics fan (including the Marvel Cinematic Universe, of course), it is odd for me to see Captain America and S.H.I.E.L.D. appear in an X-Men story, but the “Battle on Muir Island” was an all-hands-on-deck kind of affair.
Speaking of Muir Island, Moira McTaggert’s accent is atrocious, even in print. She actually says “Och” at one point. I’d imagine that reading a conversation between Rogue, Gambit, and Moira written in the early 1990s would cause an aneurysm.
Again, as someone looking into the past, the story that stands out as truly odd to me is “The Killing Stroke,” a C-lister showcase set in the midst of the first Iraq war. For the younger readers, this is not to be confused with the other war with Iraq, also spearheaded by an American President named Bush. As soon as the backbenchers make their way into Kuwait City to rescue a target, you know they’re not long for this world as an effective unit. These guys are essentially the cops on procedural shows who wear helmets and goggles while the stars go without. While on mission they are ambushed by the most stereotyped band of villains formed since the end of the Cold War. Wow, 1991 was much more casually racist than I remember. Led by the vicious Sirocco, the group includes such clear dog whistles as Black Razaar, Amenedi, Veil (who looks like an evil Princess Jasmine), and, because no better name seemed to jump out of the ether, Arabian Knight. Between these guys and the extended X-Factor team, I feel like many of these characters started as just random names from a conversation that began, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a superhero named…”
One of my favorite panels in this whole 400+ page book has to be the half page spread (pun intended) of Colossus delivering what looks like a full-on Stone Cold Stunner to Professor X while manspreading wide enough to give every metallic detail a front-and-center view. Oh, and his right lower leg is so twisted out of view it looks like he has drop foot or a peg leg. 90s comics were the best.
STONE COLD! COLOSSUS! STONE COLD!
I don’t mean to be down on the book, really. It’s fun to look back at the older stories and arcs, but the early 1990s were not really “classic” for anyone. It wasn’t until several years later when the art caught up with the times and the writing settled down into the old show business axiom “show, don’t tell.” The stories are fine once you get past the hair metal band bangs and the costumes straight out of Heavy Metal magazine. I think that Marvel missed a clear opportunity to license the X-Men to Aqua Net in the late 80s. Even mild-mannered Moira McTaggert has volume that would make Christie Brinkley blush. All in all, this collection is, once again, fine for the actual collector or those who are nostalgic for the comics of their high school days. Then again, for most of us reading comics, high school sucked. Unfortunately, so did the X-Men.