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Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Volume 1 (New Printing) Hardcover – 17 Sep 2013
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The X-Men started with issue #1 in 1963, these comics were written by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the comic was not as sucessful as other Marvel comics of the time and was suspended at issue #66 in 1970.
In 1975 the X-Men were relaunched with a new team and a new writer, Chris Claremont. This is where this omnibus picks up, collecting issues #94 to 131 of X-Men (or 'Uncanny X-Men' as the comic was named named from issue 114 onwards) as well as Giant-Size X-Men #1 and the X-Men Annual #3 (in case you're wondering issues 67 to 93 were just reprints of the older stories).
This relaunch is when the X-Men really started to take the shape that is now so familiar. The new members introduced in the first Giant-Size issue are: Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Banshee, Colossus, Thunderbird and Sunfire - the only 'original' X-man to remain is the leader: Cyclops, though turnover is quite high in the X-Team and a few changes happen within the first few issues. Members of the original team also crop-up pretty regularly, particularly Beast and Jean Grey/Marvel Girl.
This omnibus collects many of the most famous early X-Men stories, including the Dark Phoenix Saga, a plotline which still crops up in modern X-Men comics (as well as all the adaptations, from movies to animated TV shows) and represents a perfect starting point for anyone interested in reading the classic X-Men stories.
Of course there are those earlier issues from the '60s - which now have their own Omnibus: The X-Men Omnibus Volume 1 Hc Ross Variant which collects X-Men #1-31 (presumably another collection covering #32-66 is in the pipeline). I own both and would say that the '70s Claremont issues are probably the best starting point. The story is pretty much re-booted so it's easy to pick up and it's a bit more accessible and fun than its predecessor. That said the orginal Stan Lee comics still have their charm, though they do feel much more dated.
In addition to a few years worth of X-Men stories (this book is BIG) you also get written introductions, sketches, alternate covers, notes, essays and most entertaining of all the original letters pages - all of these add up to make a book that's not only hugely enjoyable but that also serves as an interesting document in its own right. If you're going to take the plunge and buy a Marvel Omnibus then you certainly can't go wrong by starting with this one.
Let me get the glaring problem out of the way first. Yes, Claremont's writing has undeniably dated. There are many instances where, for example, a character will go into a big monologue to explain something that a modern writer would never explain when the art expressed it perfectly. Also, the story-lines aren't quite as “epic” and “deep” as I remember them being as a teenager. As such, I would never recommend this collection to a new adult comic book reader. However, these are, nonetheless, some pretty excellent superhero comics, and they definitely represent the X-Men at their most quintessential. Of course, I don't expect (or want) the X-Men to remain like this 40 years later, but when I read this I really did feel pangs of nostalgia for when the characterisation was just so spot on, when Storm was an amazing character, and Wolverine was still mysterious (and small and ugly!). The only character I didn't really care for was the clichéd Russian strongman, Colossus, the only X-Man in here that I think it took later writers to flesh out. Similarly, Magneto was a pretty bland super villain within these pages, and it would be a few more years before Claremont himself would turn him into the three dimensional character he is now.
Another problem is that, with Claremont being a newcomer just taking over the reins of the series, it takes a little while for the book to really hit its stride. The first issue, 'Giant-Size X-Men' #1 by Wein and Mantlo, while of great historical value to the X-Men and pop culture in general for introducing the “all new, all different” X-Men to the world, is a pretty average 1970s superhero comic. The quality improves when Claremont joins as co-writer in 'X-Men' #94, and then shoots up again when he's free to do whatever he likes as sole writer from #96. However, it isn't until John Byrne joins Claremont as regular artist and co-plotter at #108 that the series really begins to shine. Without wanting to detract from Claremont's unbelievable contributions to this franchise, it's not really fair to look at his entire 20 year run as a homogeneous entity that single-handedly redefined comics. In reality, the truly stand-out moments of that run were from the Claremont/Byrne partnership, of which the cream of the cream doesn't happen until vol. 2 of this Omnibus series (which re-prints most of “The Dark Pheonix Saga”, which begins in this volume, and all of “Days of Future Past”).
The way I'm glowing over this book probably makes me sound like I'm reviewing a dated 'Watchmen'. No. The level of sophistication in here is nowhere near that, nor is it even close to the likes of Grant Morrison's 'New X-Men' run, or Joss Whedon's 'Astonishing X-Men'. However, what this book reprints, in a beautiful and worthy hardcover, are some absolutely solid 1970s and '80s superhero comics. If you're into the X-Men, and you can look past its many flaws to appreciate it for what it is, then you can't do much worse. But, if you're new to the series, perhaps after watching the movies, I'd recommend starting off with something a bit more modern (like the Whedon run), and then maybe working your way back.
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