Comic Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

Published: 1980-1981
Written by: Chris Claremont
Art by: John Byrne

Marvel Comics, 176 Pages

Review:

I read the collected trade paperback of this famous story but I was surprised to find that Days of Future Past is only a two issue story arc. The majority of this collection is padded out with a few different stories around that saga. However, everything in this collection directly follows The Dark Phoenix Saga.

Days of Future Past is a story I have never read, until now, but it’s been heralded as on of the best in the decades since it came out. But if I’m being honest, I didn’t think it was a real classic of a story. At least, not in how it has been sold to me over the years.

It’s a good, fun story but I think it’s severely over hyped. I think that it’s fondly remembered because it introduced the idea of possible dark futures to the X-Men mythos and that’s a storytelling device that never really went away after this tale. We’ve had time travelling characters showing up in X-Men stories all the time ever since Days of Future Past.

That being said, one can’t deny the impact that this story had and anything with lasting power like that is going to always be a pivotal point for fans to go back and reference. But looking at it objectively, without any actual nostalgia for it, allows me to rate the story on its own merit, detached from decades of nostalgia and hype.

Also, maybe I’m a bit less impressed than I should be because I read this just after The Dark Phoenix Saga and that story is legitimately a real classic, in my eyes. But that’s not to say that Days of Future Past isn’t a milestone, it is.

Ultimately, this is still a solid collection of stories where the two issue Days of Future Past story arc is the high point. But I was surprised to discover that it wasn’t a long, massive epic like I always thought that it was.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other X-Men stories from the Chris Claremont/John Byrne era.

Comic Review: X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga

Published: 1980
Written by: Chris Claremont
Art by: John Byrne

Marvel Comics, 200 Pages

Review:

Does it make me a terrible X-Men fan that I have never actually read The Dark Phoenix Saga?

I’ve tried to round up all the single issues over the years but some of them are pricey and there’s nine issues that make up this arc. But in my defense, I know the story very well, as it has been referenced a million times over throughout X-Men history. I’ve also seen various interpretations and adaptations of the plot. Granted, none of them are really accurate in regards to this, the source material.

This is free for Comixology Unlimited subscribers though, so I thought that delving into it was long overdue and that I really didn’t have an excuse anymore.

I expected this to be enjoyable but it still took me by surprise, as it was better than what I anticipated and all the years of hype I’ve experienced, didn’t diminish it in anyway.

The Dark Phoenix Saga is quintessential Chris Claremont. I can’t say that this is where he peaked but this is certainly a very elevated highpoint in his long run writing X-Men related stories.

This also came out in a time when Marvel wasn’t addicted to big crossover mega-events. This was a mega-event for its time but it wasn’t marketed or structured in the way that these things are now. It was just a good, lengthy story, limited to one already existing comic that found a way to utilize a lot of characters but in a way that balanced them all out and made them all useful to the plot.

One cool thing about this arc, is it also features the first appearances of Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, Sebastian Shaw, the Hellfire Club and Dazzler. There’s a bunch of stuff going on within this story but it doesn’t off track and still builds towards the big battle between Jean Grey as Dark Phoenix and her X-Men family. It’s, at times, heartbreaking and tragic but it also makes you love all these people all over again in an organic, natural and emotional way. This hits emotional notes in the reader in ways that comic books never seem to come close to in 2019.

I can’t just give credit to Chris Claremont and his stupendous writing though. The art by John Byrne is absolutely superb and it is just as rich, colorful and meticulously crafted as the story its telling.

The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the greatest Marvel stories ever told. It’s classic Marvel and truly represents what I loved about the era and how I fell in love with this creative medium in the first place.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other early Chris Claremont X-Men comics.

Comic Review: New Mutants: Back to School – The Complete Collection

Published: 2003-2004 (originally published)
Written by: Chris Claremont, Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 350 Pages

Review:

The New Mutants was one of my first loves in comic books. I discovered it at a pretty early age and loved it, along with the Chris Claremont era of the X-Men. So I wanted to check out this series from 2003-2004. I had put it off for a long time but with it being free for Comixology Unlimited members, I finally decided to give it a read.

All this did was disappoint me though. And man, it was a really long read at 350 pages. This collection covers the whole run of the relaunched series, plus some other comics that tie into the story.

This focuses on the formation of a new team of mutant youngsters, as opposed to bringing the original team back together. The cover was severely misleading as I wanted to read the adventures of that team. All the characters on the cover don’t even come together until the last issue in this collection and even then, it’s way too late and doesn’t do much to salvage the complete boredom I felt for everything before it.

10-20 percent of this giant collection features actual action. The rest of it is just talking and talking and talking and talking. And even with 80-90 percent of this being dialogue, I don’t really care about any of these characters and there is no emotional weight to anything that happens between the covers.

Even if you are a hardcore New Mutants fan, you can ignore this completely and not miss anything. If you are a Dani Moonstar fan, I guess you might want to read it, simply for the fact that she is a big part of this slow, boring story.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: more modern X-Men and New Mutants comics.

TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 7 – Spotlight on Chris Claremont (1992)

Released: 1992
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Chris Claremont

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 50 Minutes

Review:

I’ve really been enjoying going back and watching this series. Most of the episodes I haven’t actually seen as I only owned five of the 13 videos. This is one of the ones that I missed back in 1992 because I was much more into the artists than the writers back then.

Unfortunately, out of all the ones I’ve seen, this being the seventh, this one was definitely the slowest and least interesting. I think that part of that is because it was just a straight up interview for 50 minutes and there wasn’t a large portion of it devoted to art and comic book creation.

I was pretty surprised by how detached I was, as I do love Chris Claremont and I thought that his documentary from a year or so ago was damn good. He is, hands down, one of the best writers I was reading on a regular basis when I was first getting into comics.

Now this isn’t a bad episode of the series but it’s probably not going to excite kids that are interested in comic book creation.

Chris Claremont is a class act and you certainly shouldn’t miss this episode if you want to watch through all of these but I wouldn’t call this a good starting point.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

Comic Review: X-Men: Inferno

Published: 1988-1989
Written by: Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson, various
Art by: Marc Silvestri, Walter Simonson, various

Marvel Comics, 600 Pages

Review:

This was actually the first big X-Men crossover event that I ever read. Unfortunately for me back in 1988 and 1989, I wasn’t able to get every single issue in this massive event. But I do own them all now, so I wanted to revisit this huge story in its entirety.

It is really good but it also has some problems.

In regards to the positives, the writing is pretty solid. The bulk of this event is written by Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson with other writers contributing to some of the tie-ins. The art is also great, most of which is done by Marc Silvestri and Walter Simonson.

The story sees Mr. Sinister unleash literal Hell on Earth with many weapons at his disposal: Madelyne Prior, S’ym, the evil version of Polaris, the Marauders and the big bad demon, N’Astirh.

Sinister also finds ways to trick the X-Men and X-Factor into fighting amongst themselves and manipulates the stage to pit brothers Cyclops and Havok against each other.

There is a lot at stake here and it changes many of the characters going forward. One of my favorite characters, Magik, dies here. Granted, we all know she comes back because she’s basically a demon queen of the underworld but the weight of it is very heavy and at the time, we didn’t know if the young heroine could return.

This crossover also includes the New Mutants and the X-Terminators. The story serves to merge those two teen teams into one. This set the groundwork for what was to come once Rob Liefeld came into The New Mutants and gave us Cable, Deadpool and eventually, the hugely successful X-Force.

What I love about this story is that it merges superhero Marvel with fantasy Marvel. Like the Magik miniseries a few years earlier, this takes Marvel’s mutant heroes and makes them deal with fantastical and occult evil but on a much grander scale. Also, Mr. Sinister was damn cool in this period of X-history.

Looking at the negatives, my only real issue is that the story drags out in places. That could be due to me also reading all of the tie-ins apart from the main body of the central story. Some of it felt really unnecessary and it also felt poorly organized. The New Mutants issues were on the orbit of the main story but with the death of Magik and how that effected her brother Colossus, I feel like that should have happened within the framework of the stories actual main chapters.

Shaky narrative flow aside, this is still a better crossover event than what the Big Two comic book publishers give us in modern times.

Inferno was my first big crossover event. It’s not the best but it’s still a lot of fun and it came out in a time where the X-titles were at their absolute creative peak.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other big X-Men crossover events of the late ’80s and early ’90s like X-Tinction Agenda and X-Ecutioner’s Song.

Comic Review: X-Men: Black

Published: October 3rd, 2018 – October 31st, 2018
Written by: various
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 160 Pages

Review:

Part of me wanted to be excited when I first heard about X-Men: Black, an anthology of five issues, each of which showcased a famous X-Men villain, along with a sixth story that was broken up over the five issues.

However, I knew that it would probably miss the mark, as X-Men comics, outside of Old Man Logan, haven’t been good for quite some time. I did have a little light of hope though, as Chris Claremont returned to pen the Magneto issue.

But unfortunately, this did miss the mark almost completely.

Most of the stories were beyond awful. The Apocalypse tale was the best one and the Juggernaut story was pretty darn good. Now Claremont’s Magneto issue was okay but it didn’t really cut the mustard and didn’t live up to the great standard that Claremont set in the X-Men‘s heyday.

The Mojo issues wasn’t completely terrible and it was entertaining and certainly not a bore. But it still felt out of place and didn’t work in the grander scheme of things.

Now the Mystique and Emma Frost issues were atrocious.

Mystique was a terrible person, doing terrible things and didn’t act like Mystique at all. The book read like a violent and vindictive fantasy of the author without any real purpose other than to make you hate the character, hate the author and hate the issue. This chapter alone really drags this entire series deep down into the muck.

The Emma Frost story wasn’t that different from Mystique’s and also didn’t do this series any favors. Plus, Emma looked like an anorexic college freshman and felt more like Emma Roberts from Scream Queens than Emma Frost, the voluptuous blonde that’s almost naked and has melted boys hearts since 1980.

Overall, this had potential but only two writers even seemed to actually try to write something worth anyone’s time. The rest phoned this in and obviously didn’t give a shit.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: modern X-Men schlock.

Comic Review: Magik: Illyana and Storm

Published: December, 1983 – March, 1984
Written by: Chris Claremont
Art by: John Buscema, Ron Frenz, Sal Buscema, Tom Palmer, Glynis Wein

Marvel Comics, 128 Pages

Review:

Illyana Rasputin a.k.a. Magik is one of my favorite Marvel characters of all-time. I loved her in The New Mutants and in her many appearances since. I never read her origin story, however.

Before getting my hands on this series, I read The Uncanny X-Men #160, which bookends this miniseries. At the start of that story, Illyana is a small child. She gets caught on the other side of a portal. When the X-Men pull her through, just seconds later, she is seven years older. This miniseries fills in that seven year gap and shows how she went from just being a young mutant with teleportation abilities to a powerful sorceress with a magic sword.

Chris Claremont did a damn fine job with the story and each of the four issues were great from cover to cover. This also got away from standard Marvel fare and tapped into a tone and style that was much more in tune with hardcore fantasy fans of the ’80s.

This looks and feels like a comic set in the Dungeons & Dragons universe, which was at a peak in popularity at the time. In fact, maybe I never got my hands on this comic because my mum was pretty adamant that playing Dungeons & Dragons with my cousins was going to punch my ticket to Hell. She’s less crazy about that stuff now and weirdly, she’s a big Harry Potter fan.

Anyway, this story kind of reminded me of how I felt when I used to watch the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon on Saturday mornings when my mum wasn’t paying attention to what I had on TV.

This story is pretty damn dark. While it is a coming of age story and very much written for a teen audience, Claremont’s greatness transcends that demographic and I think that most people that love ’80s X-Men or ’80s D&D will enjoy the hell out of this.

It does some really disturbing things to some of the core X-Men characters too. Kitty Pryde is transformed into a werecat creature and then dies, Storm is a badass sorceress and then dies, Nightcrawler is a demon slave and then dies, Colossus, who is Magik’s older brother, is found with his metal shell ripped open and yes… he’s also dead.

Illyana has to figure out her predicament, battle a powerful warlock, take his power and also fight several other demonic and magical forces. Ultimately, she becomes a demon goddess of the awesomest caliber. She may also have had the most screwed up childhood of any X-Men character that wasn’t present at the Holocaust.

I f’n loved this story. It also motivated me to get back into those early New Mutants tales, as it’s been a really long time since I’ve read them.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The Uncanny X-Men #160, which bookends this story and the early New Mutants stuff featuring Magik as a member of the team.