I’d read most of them before. In fact, I’d read most of them more than once. But this was the first time that I would start in 1963 with X-Men #1 and systematically read right up through the present day. Actually, I started before X-Men #1 by reading the origin story Children of the Atom published in 1999 first. This was also the first time that I would include every one-shot and mini-series associated with the X-Men. However, I opted against reading ongoing spin-off titles except for the issues that were directly involved in a crossover. If I had done that, it probably would have taken a dozen years. But who knows? I may get to that next.
This week, I finally finished. I intentionally saved Claremont’s future-set story X-Men The End for the end. That way I’d have a specific end point rather than having the project peter out when I caught up to the present day. I finished the final Avengers vs. X-Men tie-ins last week and blazed through The End over the weekend.
With the exposition out of the way, let’s get to your questions…
George Poague: Any reactions? Have your eyes stopped bleeding? ;) Did you just read issues of Uncanny X-Men, or did you also read the spin-offs (from New Mutants on)? And the guest shots and miniseries?
Yes. I feel a strange sense of accomplishment. It took an unexpected amount of dedication. When I did reading projects like this in the past, it would usually take a couple of months, no more than a year. This was the biggest project that I’d ever attempted and I had no idea that it would take this long.
I was never tempted to give up but I did set the project aside a couple of times. In each case, I had binged at some sale or another- a trade paperback blowout or back issue bargain hunt- and I took a break from the X-Men while I read new comics. That’s probably what prevented bleeding eyeballs or insanity (though the latter diagnosis is debated).
At the same time, it was a lot of fun. I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t love the X-Men. I enjoyed it and I’m glad I did it.
As I answered earlier, I didn’t read the ongoing spin-off titles like New Mutants and Excalibur except for issues that were directly a part of a crossover like the Morlock Mutant Massacre. I did read the guest shots and mini-series. I even picked up the other half of shorter crossovers like Ghost Rider #26-27 and guest appearances in other titles like Spider-Woman #38 (though I eventually had to abandon that angle as well).
John Dunbar: What held up? What didn't? Did anything surprise you, as in "I think I liked this better the first time" or "I don't remember this being this good before"?
In most cases, the answer is what you would expect it to be. There are a lot of great X-Men runs and they remain great whether you read them for the first time or the fifth: Roy Thomas & Neal Adams, Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum & John Byrne & Paul Smith & John Romita Jr. & Marc Silvestri & Jim Lee… [takes a deep breath], Scott Lobdell & Joe Madureira, Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely, Joss Whedon & John Cassaday and so on.
There were also some rough patches. One of the things that I discovered is that I had less patience for those rough patches this time ‘round. For example, I couldn’t tolerate Claremont’s heavy-handed narration during his return to the X-Men in 2000. I was willing to read every word the first time because I didn’t know what was going to happen. But I found myself skimming a few narrator speeches this time. I also didn’t bother reading The Arena story in X-Treme X-Men as I hated it the first time. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t count. Plus, I didn’t bother buying two issues of X-Men Legacy I had originally skipped.
Even so, there were a few surprises. I enjoyed the Arnold Drake issues more than I remembered. A big part of that is the early Jim Steranko and Barry Windsor-Smith art. Partly, the first Roy Thomas run that preceded those issues was so bad anything would look good in comparison. Yet Drake deserves some credit for mixing things up a little with the introduction of Polaris and Erik the Red.
Some of the recent runs held up really well. I loved Ed Brubaker’s epic Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire when I first read it but it was even better when I was able to read the entire story again in one sitting. Second Coming was better than I remembered. The crossover had a very strong narrative progression through different stages of the battle and a deep emotional core with the deaths of Cable and Nightcrawler. It was a story I enjoyed at the time- I even wrote a eulogy for Nightcrawler- but I admired the story-craft that much more now. I also appreciated the way that it subtly set up future storylines- this is where the rivalry between Cyclops and Wolverine really begins to turn into animosity, and where Cyclops starts to reject Captain America and the rest of the “outside” world.
I was disappointed in a few things. Warren Ellis’ run on Astonishing X-Men wasn’t as good as I remembered it. It was all flash, no substance and the stories didn’t really move forward. The X-Men/Micronauts mini-series didn’t live up to the hype. I hadn’t read it before but it came across as a typical team-up. It’s probably not something I’ll bother to read again. And there’s one other…
Jeff of Earth-J: Chris, I know you said you didn't read any of the spin-off series, but I'm wondering if you made an exception for X-Men: The Hidden Years...?The title knocked Avengers out of my personal "#1 favorite Marvel" spot at the time, but I've never gone back and re-read the entire series. I have a feeling that it might not hold up in a marathon reading session and that it might not fit very well following directly on the heels of [having read] X-Men #66.
You guessed right, Jeff. I read The Hidden Years between the first X-Men series and the All-New revival and it did not hold up well. I loved the series when it came out. I appreciated the way that John Byrne imitated Neal Adams’ art style. And it was a lot of fun to spend time with the original X-Men plus Havok and Polaris. But, on reflection, it wasn’t as good as I thought at the time.