I bought a bundle of X-Men Vol. 2 issues, 1-79, and I am going to read them all and blog about them here. And now:
BEHOLD A PALE SILVER HELMET
It’s hard to truly understand the state of X-Men comics back in 1992 for all young pre-teen comic readers obsessed with the X-Universe. Jim Lee had just made the jump to Image Comics along with basically every popular artist in comics, which led to a day of reckoning for every young X-fan to decide whether we truly loved these characters, or if we loved “Jim Lee’s X-Men.” And like anything having to do with love and youth, maybe you don’t even know what you love, or why you do it.
Keep in mind that amidst the 90s comics boom, I BEGAN reading comics with late 80s/early 90s Big Two comics, so Jim Lee’s X-Men (at least, visually) was really all I really knew. I hadn’t yet dug deeply into comics history. I had no idea that the X-Men could even LOOK a different way; so losing the artist whose style defined these characters in my mind was a weird thing. I haven’t really read a lot of these issues since then, so it’s going to be interesting seeing how I react to them without the burden of being a Jim Lee/Image cabal fanboy like I was when I was 12 or 13 years old.
Rereading it, it’s plainly transparent how much the “X-Cutioner’s Song” was a major attempt to keep the attention of the X-Universe readers after losing Lee. It was to finally answer who Stryfe and Cable really were, as well as bring Apocalypse back into the fray and have the X-Force vs. X-Men fight that had been brewing since Cable took them away from the Xavier School inner circle. But rereading it, I think it falls short for two main reasons: For one, I think they greatly overestimated how much people really cared about Stryfe. Don’t get me wrong, Stryfe was COOL (cool helmet bro), but I don’t feel like the MLF ever really coalesced into a team with a real identity, none of the characters really stuck with me.
And two, it didn’t answer much. The conversational history goes that Stryfe was supposed to be revealed as Nathan Summers, the child of Scott and Madelyne Pryor; and Cable was supposed to be his clone. And THAT was the big carrot at the end of the stick. Hey guys, stick around with us during this post Jim Lee transition, and we will TELL YOU WHO CABLE IS. By the end of “The X-Cutioner’s Song” they had dropped some red herring-esque hints (pretty much the same hints that they had dropped before, but instead only making Scott think he knew the truth) about Stryfe’s origin, but just zapped both of them out of the picture leaving no real answers, just smoke screens that were similar to what was there before. It took a year later in the Cable standalone title for the X-writers to come clean about his origin, as well as kind of undo the hints dropped during “X-Cutioner’s Song.”
If I can recall, I think I took a break from X-Men titles after this saga, mostly BECAUSE of this; so the fact that they dangled this false hope in front of us and then never really paid it off might have angered me (and other fans, I’m just presuming) to the point of saying screw you.
And yet, they chose to lay the seeds for the Legacy Virus in one of the most subtle, almost unnoticeable ways by opening an empty container, setting the stage for basically every X-event through the future (the ramifications still felt all the way to 2009 in Second Coming). But it’s the kind of “blink and you could miss it” moment, a weirdly artful non-telegraph from an industry that is infamous for telegraphing every storyline for over a decade. “Hey, open this.” “It’s empty.” “He he, just waiiiiit.”
“X-Cutioner’s Song” also introduced Andy Kubert, a guy whose style defined the 90s X-Men arguably to a more realistic degree than Lee’s did. He not only stemmed the tide of dropping sales after Lee’s exit, he helped sell MORE X-Men books, and is the artist who made one of the most iconic X-Men covers of all time in “The Wedding of Scott Summers and Jean Grey.” Which makes me think, maybe “The X-Cutioner’s Song” WAS a success, but in a weird way was as much a bridge as it was an event, both in terms of creative teams as well as storylines. Maybe the disappointment I felt as a kid for not knowing if CABLE REALLY WAS NATHAN SUMMERS, while completely warranted, should not be this book’s legacy in my mind.
Maybe, like a lot of things in life, it’s about more than what I want. And for that reason, maybe it should be remembered more fondly. I just wish it was a better read. I was really looking forward to it, too.
Up Next: Soul Skinner, Ilynana, and the beginnings of Revanche.
- X-Men X-Cess: Hazardous Placeholder (thenerdsofcolor.org)