When I was in high school, Marvel Comics launched the comic book X-Men #1 (Volume 2, 1991) which sold an estimated eight million copies worldwide. The times back then were very exciting as the comic book had great art by Jim Lee (inked by Scott Williams and colored by Joe Rosas) combined with the writing of Chris Claremont.
For this retro review, I have the gatefold cover edition of X-Men #1 which has the complete set of covers and a cover price of $3.95. The comic book used high-quality paper (or glossy paper) for its content. To put things in perspective, X-Men #1 was released with multiple editions. The comic books carrying cover prices of $1.50 had individual covers and lower quality paper.
So what was X-Men #1 all about? Was it deserving of the tremendous sales success it achieved for Marvel? Did the combined talents of Claremont and Lee create something super special?
To begin with, X-Men #1 marked the beginning of a new chapter of the X-Men. In the events that happened prior to this comic book, the X-Men founder Charles Xavier had been away for many years and along the way the team went through several changes with its members. At one point, the classic villain Magneto even became the head of the X-Men. The pioneering X-Men members of Jean Grey, Cyclops, Iceman and Beast meanwhile found their temporary place outside by forming X-Factor. Eventually the Muir Island saga which incidentally reunited Xavier with his mutants.
So in this comic book, the X-Men got reformed and Xavier returned to his mansion for the first time in many years. The stakes are much higher this time because Xavier needs to adjust to the dynamics of the X-Men whose membership has grown so much two teams (Gold and Blue) had to be used. As if that was not challenging enough, the world, as Xavier noticed, is more hostile towards mutants than ever before.
In out space, two groups of people engaged in a spaceships chase which triggered Magneto (now living in a new headquarters orbiting Earth) to take action. He tells them he is no longer interested in their cause and simply wanted to be left alone.
Because he made his presence felt (his energy signature was detected and so was his floating headquarters), authorities on Earth had no choice but to launch the first stage of the Magneto Protocols.
In Washington DC, Col. Nick Fury meets with the President of the United States who expressed his concern about the incident in outer space which involved American shuttles that got destroyed.
US President: It’s my understanding, in fact, that the terrorists who hijacked our vehicle look to him (Magneto) as their inspiration. Suppose he makes their cause his own?
Nick Fury: If the Soviets act like hotheads, Mister President, they could make things worse.
US President: You have an alternative?
Meanwhile at the Xavier mansion, the X-Men participate in an training session with Cyclops (blue team leader) and Storm (gold team leader) watching and coordinating from the control room. Charles Xavier, who is still adjusting upon returning, closely watches the large team.
Of course, with the team so large, conflicting personalities and problems with bonding with each other was inevitable. Clearly the newly revamped X-Men had a long way to go before achieving true solidarity.
And then Nick Fury contacted the X-Men with the Magneto situation…
For a comic book released in 1991, this one was quite a grand product. Sure it did not have a gimmick cover of foil nor hologram nor chromium but having a gatefold cover with art of the X-Men and Magneto drawn by the great Jim Lee was itself a big luxury at the time.
Very clearly, Jim Lee and Scott Williams did their best ensuring great art for the comic book. The X-Men all look very fit (as if they all regularly spent time in the gym), their redesigned costumes were meant to look cool (although the many pouches and “suspender” of Cyclops’ costume look really silly), Magneto looks ageless and the Acolytes were designed to be the new nemesis of the X-Men.
And then there was the action…..
Jim Lee has a great vision for high-octane action designed to show impact while at the same time give readers something great to look at. In my view, Lee was influenced by action movies and he developed ways to not only make comic book action flow nicely but also deliver impact.
This comic book has a lot of action and Jim Lee cleverly visualized the capabilities of the X-Men with striking visuals. The way Wolverine looked striking at an enemy was pretty intense. Cyclops’ use of his Optic Blast to separate Magneto from Wolverine showed a lot of power. Psylocke’s physical strike against Magneto reminds me hard action scenes from Hollywood flicks.
With regards to the writing, Chris Claremont managed to redefine the X-Men for the new age while at the same time did his best to balance the story, establish the threat and build up the tension for the inevitable conflict with Magneto. In this particular comic book, it is the blue team taking on the classic villain.
Apart from the main story, X-Men #1 also came with extra stuff like behind-the-scenes sketches by Jim Lee, a preview of things to come (notably the post-Claremont concepts), a 2-page image of the X-Men enjoying the pool side of the mansion, and a villains gallery! All these extras were drawn by Jim Lee!
Overall, X-Men #1 is still a compelling comic book to read even by today’s standards. The comic book speculator boom has long been over but if you are looking for the modernizing of the X-Men for the 1990s, this one really is a milestone. Clearly, X-Men #1 was made to start the new age of the mutants with the 1990s in mind while at the same time it took the bold move of gathering Xavier and the pioneering X-Men members and putting them back into Xavier’s mansion forming a much larger team than ever. This move of mixing classic X-Men members with newer ones resulted a nice variety of personalities.
When it comes to getting this for your collection focused on Marvel’s mutants, X-Men #1 is highly recommended. Remember, you should look at this comic book as a piece of X-Men history and don’t focus on making a profit with it. Just enjoy it for what it is.
By the way, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is opening very soon in cinemas. You bought a ticket already?
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