Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Uncanny Anniversary Calculation

Marvel 100th Anniversary Issues


X-Men #100

X-Men was, in a way, short-changed as far as having its 100th issue appear on the stands. Even its cover caption--"At Last--The Spectacular 100th Issue of--X-Men"--tried to convey that nothing unusual was going on, billing this issue as a milestone in the book's history. Being one of Marvel's earliest titles--launched in late 1963--it most certainly deserved to be heralded thus. Yet appearances, in this case, are deceiving--because after issue #66, Marvel ceased publication of original stories and began reprinting the book's earlier stories from that point on (beginning with the story originally published in issue #13). The reprinting began in issue #67, and continued the book numbering in sequence. I wasn't collecting the book at the time, but I can imagine how confused both old and new readers might have been. X-Men was cancelled--yet it wasn't. And the reprints would continue for another 26 issues on a bi-monthly basis. That means that, for a period of over five years, X-Men was in what some have come to call "reprint purgatory."

So "the spectacular 100th issue of X-Men" is deceptive in that, strictly speaking, it's really the publication's 73rd issue, as far as being published out of the cycle of reprints (if we're putting aside Giant-Size X-Men #1 for argument's sake)--because instead of giving the "new" X-Men a brand new run with issue #1, X-Men was simply continued at issue #94 as the book shifted from reprints back to new stories. And with the issue featuring the "new X-Men" in only their 7th appearance, billing the issue as the X-Men's 100th issue let the wind out of the new team's sails, to say the least.

Which is regrettable, since X-Men #100 is every inch the 100th issue it should be. The story concludes the scheme of Steven Lang, who has taken control of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s abandoned orbital platform in order to launch an unauthorized project to exterminate mutantkind. Writer Chris Claremont, in only his fifth full issue scripting the book, keeps this climax at a whirlwind pace that artist Dave Cockrum has set throughout the story. And why shouldn't the pace be off the hook? It's the new X-Men vs. the original team, or so it appears:

Claremont establishes the chemistry between the original team members perfectly, with the newer team caught off-guard by both the circumstances as well as an ingrained state of teamwork in their foes.

Just look at this beautiful double-page opening spread from Cockrum that has this story exploding like gangbusters:

It's only later, through a shocking gambit from Wolverine, that the new team is able to blunt the momentum of the original members, who have so far directed this fight at every turn. Yet even at the fight's conclusion, Claremont doesn't let up on the reins. With the orbital platform's imminent destruction, the only option for survival is a life-or-death escape which heralds the birth of--well, I'm sure you're more than able to fill in that particular character's name.

As a storyteller, Dave Cockrum, who would go on to pencil and ink these initial issues of the new team until #107, is simply amazing on X-Men--and issue #100 is as fine a showcase of his work as you could wish for. And with Claremont's already intuitive feel for each member of the team, as far as I'm concerned this is the 100th issue of this title. And coming out of reprint purgatory, it was just what long-time readers needed to realize that this team was here to stay.


dbutler16 said...

I remember how excited I was when I saw the cover of this, as a back issue (I was a bit late to collecting the X-Men) in my LCS. One of the better Marvel #100's out there.

Comicsfan said...

I agree. Perhaps it stands out above the pack because it wasn't trying so hard to be a 100th issue. :)