If you’re a longtime X-Men fan, you know the main players’ origins inside out. Cyclops can’t turn off his optic blasts because he hit his head on a rock after parachuting out of his father’s planeredd. The death of Jean Grey’s childhood best friend awakened her extraordinary psychic abilities. Beast used his super agility to… play football! You know these stories because they appear over and over again, in flashbacks, mini-series, other media and so on.
And if you have a pretty good handle on the X-Men’s origins, you also know how… complicated they can be. As many of these characters are several decades old, their beginnings have been revised and retconned often countless times. And, when you least expect it, Marvel decides to reveal new facets to their origins we never thought possible! So yeah, it can get confusing, but what else is new in the weird world of the X-Men?
When Marvel Comics launched its series of X-Men Origins one-shots back in 2008, perhaps there was a desire to cut through some of the confusion and simplify the early adventures of readers’ favorite mutants. Either way, the X-Men Origins: The Complete Collection trade paperback does just that and serves as an excellent read for those new to the expansive X-Universe. And you know what, it’s also a great refresher for veteran X-Fans like myself.
Under $40 and collecting all 11 one-shots, X-Men Origins provides high-quality reprints at a good value. While not all of the X-Men’s power players get the solo treatment (sorry, Storm and Magneto fans), you’re treated to the origins of the following mutants: Cyclops, Iceman, Beast, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Colossus, Gambit, Sabretooth, Emma Frost and Deadpool.The collection’s best story is without a doubt Jean’s (what is it about Jean that inspires creators to bring out their A-game?). Written by Sean McKeever and illustrated by Mike Mayhew, this comic is simply gorgeous to look at. I know she’s fictional, but one look at Mayhew’s Marvel Girl and you totally understand why each of the original X-Men was so smitten with her. But beyond a pretty Jean, this story highlights how the gift of mutation can easily turn into a curse–if not for the presence of a caring figure like Professor Charles Xavier. And, you see that even when a mutant thinks they’ve mastered their powers, things can change in an instant. Kind of makes you realize how important constant training is… hey, sort of like the training the X-Men receive!
As you move from one story to the next, you quickly realize tragedy and hope are key ingredients in most X-Men characters’ origin stories. Had Professor X never found a young Scott Summers, Bobby Drake or Kurt Wagner, you get a sense of how dark–and dangerous–a path they may have gone down without his compassion. In a way, you do get to see this concept explored in the Emma Frost and Sabretooth one-shots, where these two characters’ lives take very ugly turns.Speaking of ugly, the most disappointing tale in here is Deadpool’s, in which the merc with a mouth meets with a screenwriter about his life story. Written by Duane Swierczynski, this one’s just not very funny (for a Deadpool story) and very much a product of its time. You know, a time before there were two Deadpool movies. Just saying, it’s hard to laugh at Deadpool’s disbelief at his movie featuring Celine Dion music when his actual sequel featured Celine Dion music. Also, I really got no joy out of watching Deadpool mow down innocent moviegoers and concession stand workers at his movie premiere with his twin Uzis.
But… that Deadpool story comes at the very end, so at least it doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the rest of the one-shots, which honestly, showcase some pretty terrific talent. Experienced X-Writers like Mike Carey, Christopher Yost and Kieron Gillen, along with artists Phil Noto, Cary Nord and Mark Texeira all contribute to this collection.
So if you’re new to the X-Men or want to find out what you’ve been missing–but also unsure about where to begin–consider giving X-Men Origins: The Complete Collection a go. Once you form an attachment to one or more of the characters, it should be pretty easy to track down your next collection.
And that, my friends, is how you form a multi-decade addiction to the X-Men franchise. Hope you survive the experience.