At around this time, the new season of the hit comedy HAPPY DAYS began, with a three-part opening storyline in which the cast went to Hollywood, and the Fonz wound up in a competition to water ski jump over a caged shark in the bay. This episode was the origin of the now-popular term “Jumping the Shark”, used when something that’s otherwise been good up to that point has gone off the rails. In a way, it could have applied to my comic book reading habits as well as, inspired by having enjoyed a number of the stories reprinted in SON OF ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS, I “jumped the shark” and began investigating current Marvel comics for the first time. And the first book that I bought was this then-current issue of X-MEN.
In many ways, I almost could not have picked a worse place to try and jump in. Because not only had the X-MEN series recently returned from reprint status and jettisoned most of the characters I was familiar with in favor of a strange band of international newcomers, but this particular issue was the wrap-up to a multi-part storyline that also featured the Shi’ar Imperial Guard and the Starjammers–almost none of whom were clearly identified in this issue. To say that I was lost was an understatement–I couldn’t even have told you which guys in this comic book were the X-Men by the time I had finished it.
This was also the first issue of the title drawn by John Byrne, who ad campaigned to get the assignment when it became available. Joining ongoing writer Chris Claremont, and backed up by expert inker Terry Austin, Byrne would herald what is generally considered to be the high point creatively of the series, taking it from a struggling bimonthly title to the most popular comic book on the market, at least within comic book specialty shops. I became a huge fan of Byrne’s work in this era, and apart from a couple of Rog-2000 back-ups in Charlton’s E-MAN issues, this would be my first exposure to it, As crowded as it is, this is a good-looking comic book.
Byrne had an appealing cartooniness to his style that he never completely shook, and it’s in full evidence here. it must be said that this is a crazy story, with a sense of scale so out of whack that it almost defies description. It opens with the X-Men and the Starjammers, having defeated the Shi’ar Imperial Guard, finding the cosmic M’Kraan Crystal, which has been damaged and is now causing reality itself to blink out of existence. Clearly, something has to be done to fix this, but before anybody can make a move to, the assembled heroes are confronted by the tiny alien Jahf, who proclaims himself the guardian of the M’Kraan Crystal, and proceeds to punch Wolverine into orbit. (Bear in mind that, at this point, the notion that Wolverine possessed a fast-healing factor hadn’t been invented yet–he was just a tough little guy with unbreakable claws. I’m not even sure that anybody had revealed that his whole skeleton was unbreakable yet. So the fact that he survived this was noteworthy.)
Jahf proceeds to wail the tar out of the assembled heroes until banshee is able to pull a win out of his ass by unleashing his sonic scream full bore directly into Jahf’s face. But the danger isn’t passed–as Jahf goes down, a new antagonist appears: Modt (Modt and Jahf, get it?) Modt claims to be a thousand times more powerful than Jahf, and if he falls, a third guardian will appear who is a thousand times stronger than he is. Why they didn’t just start with the strongest guy and give the others the day off is beyond me. Again, the X-Men get kicked around as the damage to the space-time continuum grows worse. Seizing is moment, Raza of the Starjammers snatches up the would-be Emperor D’Ken, who is responsible for all of this carnage, and hurls him into the M’Kraan Crystal itself, intending to kill him.
Instead, there is a blinding flash of light, and everybody finds themselves in the world within the M’Krann Crystal. A final defense is triggered that gives the assembled heroes all crippling nightmares, but Phoenix has recently died and been reborn, so she’s able to quickly snap out of it. Unfortunately, she’s also becoming ephemeral as the M’Kraan Crystal taps into her power to try to fix itself. And worse, the insensate Cyclops’ optic blasts are firing wildly. Cyclops was the only character I recognized from X-MEN #1–I couldn’t have told you that Phoenix was the same Marvel Girl I had met there. In order to protect everybody, Phoenix has to knock Scott out.
At this point, there’s a letters page on which, among other things, John Byrne writes a letter speaking about ow nervous he is to follow Dave Cockrum on the series. I, of course, had no idea who Dave Cockrum was–there’s another dedication to Dave, who had co-created and designed most of the All-New All-Different X-Men on the final page, along with a postscript from Cockrum noting, “I’m not dead.” Given that Byrne always appeared to evidence a surfeit of self-confidence in later years, it’s kind of an odd letter to see. But significant, especially given how seminal this run became in the history of comics.
Back at the M’Kraan Crystal, Cyclops’ wild shot has shattered the sphere at the center of that world. Entering it, Phoenix discovers that it contains a latticework of energy binding and containing a Neutron Galaxy. When the latticework fails, the N-Galaxy will be unleashed and wipe out our own. Phoenix needs to repair the damaged, but diminished as she is, she doesn’t have enough power to do the job. Storm offers her own life force in support, and Phoenix also borrows some life force from Corsair, the leader of the Starjammers, along with revealing to him that, thanks to her telepathic powers, she’s worked out that he’s Cyclops’ father.
And so, accompanied by reams of flowery writing that attempt to explain just what she’s doing and how, Phoenix goes back in and repairs the latticework within the M’Kraan Crystal, saving everyone. Shortly thereafter, the X-Men step back through the stargate that took them into space, only to be confronted by Firelord. I didn’t know who Firelord was, but that didn’t’ matter, as he explains that he only stuck around to tie up loose ends after Professor X explained to him what was going on. By this point, I was kind of wishing that the Professor would do the same for me. Nonetheless, just as when i was reading my first issues of FANTASTIC FOUR, there was a sense of a larger mystery to work out here, a continuity to unravel, and so I was intrigued by this book, for all that I didn’t follow a bunch of it. And I’d be back the following issue.