Uncanny X-Men Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin, Ricardo Villamonte & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1194-8 (HB) 978-0-7851-4570-7 (TPB)

In the autumn of 1963, The X-Men #1 introduced Scott (Cyclops) Summers, Bobby (Iceman) Drake, Warren (Angel) Worthington, Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey and Hank (The Beast) McCoy: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier.

The teacher was a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo Superior; considered by many who knew him as a living saint.

After nearly eight years of eccentrically spectacular adventures the mutant misfits virtually disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics sales. Just like in the closing years of the 1940s, mystery men faded away as supernatural mysteries and traditional genre themes once more dominated the world’s entertainment fields…

Although the title was revived at the end of the year as a cheap reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel universe and the Beast was refashioned as a monster fit for the global uptick in scary stories until Len Wein & Dave Cockrum revived and reordered the Mutant mystique with a brand-new team in Giant Size X-Men #1 in 1975.

To old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire was added one-shot Hulk hunter Wolverine, and all-original creations Kurt Wagner, a demonic German teleporter codenamed Nightcrawler, African weather “goddess” Ororo Monroe AKA Storm, Russian farmboy Peter Rasputin, who transformed at will into a living steel Colossus and bitter, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who was cajoled into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird.

The revision was an instantaneous and unstoppable hit, with Wein’s editorial assistant Chris Claremont writing the series from the second story onwards. The Uncanny X-Men reclaimed their own comicbook with #94 and it quickly became the company’s most popular – and high quality – title.

Cockrum was succeeded by John Byrne and as the team roster shifted and changed the series rose to even greater heights, culminating in the landmark Dark Phoenix storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved and imaginative character.

In the aftermath team leader Cyclops left but the epic cosmic saga also seemed to fracture the epochal working relationship of Claremont and Byrne. Within months of publication they went their separate ways: Claremont staying with the mutants whilst Byrne moved on to establish his own reputation as a writer on series such as Alpha Flight, Incredible Hulk and especially his revolutionised and freshly-groundbreaking Fantastic Four

After Apache warrior Thunderbird became the team’s first fatality, the survivors slowly bonded, becoming an infallible fighting unit under the brusque and draconian supervision of Cyclops.

This third titanic compilation (available in luxurious hardcover, trade paperback and eBook editions) is perfect for newbies, neophytes and even old lags nervous about reading such splendid yarns on fragile but extremely valuable newsprint paper. It celebrates the unstoppable march to market dominance through the pivotal early stories: specifically, issues #111-121 of the decidedly “All-New, All-Different” X-Men – spanning June 1978 to May 1979.

The drama resumes cloaked in moody mystery as ‘Mindgames’ (by dream team Chris Claremont, John Byrne & Terry Austin) sees the Beast visit a circus in search of the new team. They have been missing for weeks…

His presence disrupts a devilish scheme by mutant hypnotist Mesmero to subjugate the heroes through false memories and implanted personalities, but the reawakened team’s vengeance is forestalled when their greatest enemy ambushes them…

In X-Men #112 the revived and furious heroes fight and fail, leaving ‘Magneto Triumphant!’ and his enemies helplessly imprisoned miles beneath Antarctica in the tense, action-packed battle bonanza follow-up ‘Showdown!’

However, by the time the Polaric tyrant returns after terrorising the humans of Australia, the X-Men have broken free and are waiting for him…

In the apocalyptic battle which follows the base is utterly destroyed and Magneto grievously wounded. With boiling lava flooding everywhere, only Beast and Phoenix manage to reach the surface and, in horror, realise they are the only survivors…

They could not be more wrong.

Unable to go up, the remaining mutants tunnel downwards and ‘Desolation!’ turns to joy as they emerge into the antediluvian wilderness dubbed the Savage Land.

Linking up with old ally Ka-Zar, the team slowly recover in a dinosaur-filled elysian paradise. The idyll is rudely shattered when former foe Karl Lykos succumbs to his old addiction and absorbs their mutant energies to become lethal leather-winged predator Sauron

His ‘Visions of Death!’ are readily dispelled by the assembled heroes, but he’s just the first course in a campaign of terror as crazy, colonializing barbarian queen Zaladane revives proto-god Garokk as the figurehead of her army of conquest…

When the insane imperialists meddling disrupts the tropical climate of the sub-polar region, Ka-Zar and the X-Men invade their noxious citadel ‘To Save the Savage Land’, where the brutal battle demands the best and worst from the young warriors before the job is done…

With the distasteful task completed, the mutants opt to try a perilous sea-passage back to the outside world…

Uncanny X-Men #117 begins with their rescue by an Antarctic exploration vessel, heralding a slow torturous voyage to Japan, before lapsing into an untold tale of Charles Xavier in his globe-trotting days prior to losing the use of his legs. ‘Psi War!’ is full of clever, in-filling insights as it details how the dispirited, restless young telepath fetches up in Cairo and meets his first “Evil Mutant”…

Amahl Farouk uses his psionic abilities to rule the city’s underworld: a depraved, debauched monster who thinks he is beyond justice. The enraged, disgusted Xavier defeats the beast and in doing so find his life’s purpose…

A revelatory 2-part epic follows as the X-Men – still believed dead by Xavier, Jean and the wider world – arrive in Agarashima, just as the port is being devastated by a vast firestorm. Inked by Ricardo Villamonte, ‘The Submergence of Japan!’ sees tectonic terrorist Moses Magnum undertake a most audacious blackmail scheme, countered by the valiant mutants who briefly reunite with old – and still belligerently surly – comrade Sunfire.

Perhaps he is just surprised to discover Wolverine has unsuspected connections to Japan and has turned the head of local highborn maid Lady Mariko. A bigger surprise awaits the American specialist the government have brought in. Misty Knight is Jean Grey’s roommate in Manhattan and grieved with her at the X-Men’s deaths.

Now she has to tell Cyclops his girl has moved on and Professor X has abandoned Earth for the Shi’ar Empire…

Of course, all of that is moot if they can’t stop Magnum and his Mandroid army sinking Japan into the Pacific, but after a catastrophic conflict inside a volcano there’s a seasonal reunion in store for all in the Austin-inked ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…’

This volume concludes with another tumultuous two-parter and the introduction of a foreign super-squad in ‘Wanted: Wolverine! Dead or Alive!’, as the enigmatic wild man – accompanied by Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, Banshee and Nightcrawler – returns from a bombastic battle and heartbreak in Japan only to be covertly herded into Canadian airspace so that the Ottawa government can confiscate their former property…

Forced down by a magical tempest, the heroes are soon on the run in Calgary, ambushed by the aforementioned Alpha Flight – specifically battle-armoured Vindicator, super-strong Sasquatch, First Nations magician Shaman, shapeshifting Snowbird and mutant speedster twins Northstar and Aurora – all ordered to repossess at any cost former special operative and top super-agent “The Wolverine”…

After a brutal but inconclusive clash at the airport the X-Men fade into the city but only after Wolverine and Nightcrawler are captured…

The retaliation results in a ‘Shoot-Out at the Stampede!’ with the mutants confronting their pursuers as Shaman’s eldritch blizzard spirals out of control, threatening to destroy the entire province. Even after Storm fixes the problem, the Canadians are adamant, so to end hostilities Wolverine surrenders himself in return for his comrades’ safe passage.

Of course, he never promised to stay arrested…

These are some of the greatest stories Marvel ever published; entertaining, groundbreaking and uncannily intoxicating: an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 1977, 1978, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.