The X-Men colour series
Whilst I have done a lot of my comics reading digitally recently, the idea hit me to read some X-Men comics out of my longboxes.
Marvel UK reprint titles are back and one of them is re-printing the Johnathan Hickman run of the X-Men which started a couple of years back, starting with House of X and Powers of X. This made me want to look at what came before that. It was that period between the whole Inhumans vs mutants thing that only really happened because Fox owns the film rights to X-characters and so Marvel wanted to up the profile of inhumans to sort of supplant mutants in marvel comics. It didn’t work. So Marvel did a push on the X-Men and this came out in two comics X-Men Blue and X-Men Gold, this and other stories were kicked off in the one-shot X-Men Prime.
X-Men Prime was written by Marc Guggunheim (who would go on to write X-Men Gold), Cullen Bunn (who went on to write X-Men Blue) and Greg Pak and set out Marvel’s stall for the X-Men. Afterwards the X-Men Gold title saw Kitty ‘Shadowcat’ Pryde was now the team leader/school headmaster and set up a greatest hits team consisting of Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Rachel Summers/Grey (now going by Prestige) and a future version of Wolverine, known simply as Old Man Logan. It was a more traditional superhero comic with the added themes of prejudice and discrimination. X-Men Blue was about the time-displaced original X-Men who were still in the present but allied themselves with Magneto to take out villains and prove their value as X-Men. They both had strong starts and had a well-received crossover with both titles dealing with the return of Mojo and then they split from one another going very much in their own directions.
In my opinion, X-Men Blue started off well but seemed to lack direction and played too much with time travel and callbacks to older stories. Adding the Ultimate Universe’s version of Wolverine’s son Jimmy Hudson and the vampiric Bloodstorm was positive changes, but honestly, it struggled to find its own identity and it was something of a mercy when it came to an end in issue 36.
X-Men Gold however seemed to regain its focus, but with a relatively small cast and lacklustre villains, it too was in danger of overstaying its welcome. The thing that saved it was as always the soap opera elements of romance, secrets and tension that made the X-Men franchise so appealing to many people over the last 4 decades. It had a great ending with the wedding issue (again, number 30) being full of memorable scenes and the occasional twist.
This Blue/Gold era also brought back the original Jean Grey (absent since Grant Morrisons run over a decade earlier) in the ultimately forgettable Phoenix Resurrection series that had a fancy cover that neither felt good in your hand nor looked particularly good. This however led to Tom Taylor’s exceptional X-Men Red series. This series ran for only 11 issues and an annual, but because of that was able to retain a single artist Mahmud Asrar (who I met in 2019 and who signed my copy of X-Men Red 1, lovely guy) who gave the whole book a distinct look that was unlike anything the X-Office was producing at that point. This title showed Jean Grey trying to change the world alongside an eclectic mix of X-characters, including Namor, Storm, Nightcrawler, X-23 and her sister Honey Badger/Gabby taking on Cassandra Nova as hatred spread throughout the world via social media. It had interesting things to say, epic stakes and my personal favourite moment was Gabby referring to Namor as Prince of Abs-lantis.
The final colour series was X-Men Black, which was five one-shots about X-Men villains with a backup story about Apocalypse that was at best forgettable. But the main stories were at least interesting and made these villains more understandable, if not more sympathetic.
The era came to an end with Extermination, a 5 part series by Ed Brisson and Pepe Larraz which finally brought to an end the plot of the time-displaced X-Men and put everyone back where they needed to be, as well as kill off Cable. It was an entertaining story that seemed to bring to an end this particular era and allowed the X-Men to be taken over by a new writer with a bold new vision of the X-Men’s future.
The problem was that this wasn’t actually ready yet.
I read all of these comics over a period of about two weeks, which for nearly 100 issues isn’t too bad and for the most part, I enjoyed all of them. Yes, there was a lack of a clear path, which is to be expected when you have 3 or 4 different writers. It suffered the usual problem of being so interconnected that a clear reading order wasn’t really as easy as it may have seemed. But ultimately is re-connected the X-titles and gave them a big push at a time one was needed. There was interesting things happening and some great moments and I am glad that I decided to go back and look at this particular era, which by now is one of the more forgotten parts of X-Men history. It’s all available in trade paperback or online via comixology and is honestly worth your while checking out because as disjointed and unfocused as it could be, it was also lots of fun and to me that’s what comics should be.
Next time: The middle child of this time