Bought this issue of X-MEN most likely at the same time as I got yesterday’s INVADERS issue, at my regular source for new comic books, the 7-11. Every issue of X-MEN in these days was a discovery, as the cast had changed so completely from the team that I had met in SON OF ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS. What I didn’t realize at the time was how much of this stuff was being revealed for the first time–I felt like there was a huge backstory that I wasn’t aware of that had been established for this cast, but most of it hadn’t been established yet. Either way, this made reading every issue of X-MEN something of a revelation.
This is the rare issue of ALL-NEW ALL-DIFFERENT X-MEN not illustrated by either Dave Cockrum or John Byrne. The story had clearly been commissioned as an inventory story, necessary since Cockrum had been so notoriously slow in producing even though the book was still a bimonthly at this point. John Byrne had come on board as artist and didn’t need the help, but I’m sure a combination of needing to burn off the inventory costs and a desire to try to get ahead enough that the series could go monthly were the reasons why it was dropped in here. Artist Tony DeZuniga wasn’t really a great fit for the X-Men, but Dave Cockrum did a quick touch-up pass through the art to bring it more on model. And Chris Claremont scripted it with the same importance and sense of ongoing story that he’d give any other issue. As such, while it was a fill-in, it didn’t feel particularly extraneous.
This was also the first of the X-Men ball games, a situation that became first a staple of the series and then a cliche as subsequent writers tried to evoke memories of these scenes. Here, Claremont crams characterization and incident into every spare corner–this book is a dense read. It’s particularly interesting to watch the development of Wolverine in these early issues. This was the version of the character I first encountered and still the version I like best. He wasn’t very rounded yet, he was small and violent and he had a bad attitude and a jones for the unattainable Jean Grey. In essence, he was a more dangerous version of Hawkeye, a spoiler character who created friction within the group even while becoming a part of it. Here, he threatens to slash up Colossus after the Russian hits a long fly ball, for really no reason at all other than that he’s nasty. And he’s also quickly taken down a peg–something it’s hard to imagine happening today.
But there’s an adventure waiting to break out. The phone company repairman turns out to be Warhawk, a villain that Claremont had introduced in IRON FIST and who has been sent by a mysterious telepathic overseer to infiltrate the X-Mansion and take the measure of the new X-Men. As a fill-in story, it’s a relatively evergreen story plot, though Claremont winds up having to write around developments that have taken place in the series since it was commissioned. Specifically, Jean Grey has become Phoenix, but here she is effortlessly taken down by Warhawk and a drugged dart, as she might have been as Marvel Girl. Claremont uses this opportunity to introduce a subplot element wherein Jean’s mind, unable to cope with her levels of telekinetic power, have begun placing limits on her abilities. It cleans up the discontinuity while providing fodder for the future.
As ridiculous and comic booky as it is, the Danger Room was one of X-MEN’s greatest innovations, a high-tech gymnasium dedicated to training super heroes and giving them a workout. But here, as has so often been the case, the Danger Room is turned against the X-Men, as Warhawk traps them inside and disables both the protective safeties and the internal overrides. This allows for several pages of action as the X-Men individually and in teams face and overcome assorted perils. Her, at a pause in the action, Cyclops has Nightcrawler teleport himself and Wolverine out of the room so that they can disable it from the outside. Here again, this looks as though it was plotted as something new, Nightcrawler taking a passenger with him while he teleports. But Claremont and Cockrum had shown him doing this in a prior story, so Claremont here needs to at least mention that earlier instance. It’s also worth noting that this story was done before anybody had decided that Wolverine had a healing factor–he was just a tough little guy. So him going down here is as bad for him potentially as it is for Nightcrawler.
But it turns out to not be too bad after all. Like I said, Wolverine was a tough little guy. After a few more pages, he staggers to his feet and is able to slash through the power lines to the danger Room, saving the others–before being jumped by Warhawk himself. This is a relatively early Wolverine solo battle, and one in which he gets a couple of cool moments, such as slicing Warhawk’s dart in half in midair. (DeZuniga tends to draw Wolverine as being at least six feet tall if not another half-foot taller–he obviously didn’t get the memo about Wolverine being a little guy.) It’s a stand-off battle, at least until the other X-Men blow their way out of the Danger Room door to join in the skirmish.
And that’s pretty much all she wrote for Warhawk, who is clearly no match for a full team of X-Men. It’s odd from a modern perspective to see Professor X and company turning him over to the police, whom they’ve summoned to their mansion for that purpose. It feels like an odd breach of security from a modern perspective. Anyway, there’s a quick wrap-up page, one which Claremont again scripts more from the point of view of carrying on the ongoing plot points he’ll be carrying into the future rather than in the manner it was initially plotted, and then the issue is done. I can recall as a reader being very invested in finding out who the mysterious mastermind was who sent Warhawk to attack the X-Men–and how off-handedly it was eventually dealt with more than twenty issues later.
This issue’s letters page gives an explanation of why this fill-in was run, and what it was originally commissioned for–though some of what is said here rings hollow to my ears today. But I don’t know that it especially matters one way or the other. The page also gives us the Statement of Ownership, the first to run in X-MEN since the series returned to new stories if I’m remembering right. And that allows us to work out that X-MEN over the past year had been selling 130,559 copies on a print run of 283,742 for an efficiency of 46%. Not enough to mark the series as a runaway hit, but a better percentage than just about anything else we’ve seen, and a good reason to try to boost X-MEN up to monthly status, where it can mark those sales twice as often–and hopefully improve upon them.