Of course I saw Logan over the weekend. But I don’t want to write about it. I can’t yet. I need time to sit with the film, to let it move through my heart and mind until I reach the place where I feel I can write about it in a way that honors the experience. However, I still have Wolverine and the X-Men on my mind. So I’ve decided to take a little trip down Memory Lane and revisit the very first X-Men comic I ever read. Ahh…the early 1990’s. What a great time to meet Wolverine, Cyclops, and everyone else!
My first meeting with the X-Men actually ties to how I began collecting comics. As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, the very first comic I remember Mom getting for and reading to me was Web Of Spider-Man #12. It was released in 1986 and I was just four years old. My lifelong love affair with Spider-Man would begin then, as would a lifelong passion for comic books. However I wouldn’t start collecting comic books until Christmas Eve 1991. My family has always spent Christmas Eve with Dad’s side of the family, Christmas morning around our own tree, and then Christmas Day with Mom’s side of the family. Well, Christmas Eve 1991 would be an important one for a fledgling comic nerd.
Uncle Joe essentially got me a “my first comic collecting kit” that year. It came with an orange comic box featuring an array of Marvel’s heroes on the box itself and a smattering of sample titles inside it. I remember feeling oddly anxious for a moment – not knowing what to make of this present. Sure I loved Spidey…but who were all these other people?? I felt in over my head. But with the boldness a nine year old quickly musters, I jumped in! I assembled the box and began wading through the titles it came with, some vaguely familiar and some I’d never heard of before. This was my crossing of the Rubicon. My life would never be the same again. If I haven’t formally said so on this blog before, THANK YOU UNCLE JOE!!!! Your keen gift-giving eye has contributed to a lifelong passion.
Among the titles contained in this beginner’s treasure trove was a copy of X-Men #1. I hadn’t ever read the X-Men before but I knew they were cool. I also knew they were a team I should know. They were on the periphery of my radar so I was eager to jump into their world. The fact that I recognized this team coupled with the reality that the issue had a #1 on the cover (and, as a newbie comic collector I was realizing this was supposed to be extra important) made this the most exciting book in the haul. In fact, to this day it remains the most memorable comic in the box. I have a foggy memory of what else may or may not’ve come with this set but I know it opened the door to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters to me!
Outside of the usual brief disorientation of reading a team book when you don’t know any of the characters, X-Men #1 certainly grabbed my attention. The issue opens with a hijacked space shuttle flown by the soon-to-be-Acolytes seeking Magneto on Asteroid M to pledge themselves to his cause. Magneto had tried world domination to protect his fellow mutants. He tried fighting alongside the X-Men in the service of Xavier’s dream of peaceful coexistence. In the end, none of it worked. Instead of spending his life futilely chasing the wind, he left earth and the human world of intolerance, hatred, violence, and environmental degradation behind to live on his own in space.
Simultaneously, as these Acolytes urge Magneto to lead once more, Charles Xavier returns to the mansion to take an active role in leading the X-Men again. The title splits the X-Men into the classic (soon to be re-imagined!) X-Men: Gold and X-Men: Blue teams. X-Men would follow Cyclops’ Blue Team of Wolverine, Psylocke, Beast, Rogue, Jubilee and Gambit while Uncanny X-Men featured Storm’s Gold Team with Jean Grey, Iceman, Archangel, Bishop and Colossus. Confrontation comes as Magneto raises a sunken nuclear submarine for the means to protect his newly formed sovereign space nation of mutants. The X-Men arrive and conversation quickly turns to conflict.
I loved it. But how couldn’t you be swept into the world of the X-Men in the 90’s?? The 90’s were the X-Men’s time baby! They were exploding and it felt “cool” to be part of that explosion. The costumes! The powers! The team dynamic! Of course, Wolverine was my favorite. Was it the snark? Was it the gruffness? Was it how different he felt from the other members of the team? Was it the costume? Was it the claws? Yeah…it was the claws. Totally the claws. I mean, I’d come to appreciate all the facets of his character eventually. I now see and value Logan as one of the most layered, dynamic characters in comics. He offers so much to explore and relate to and there is a great deal we can learn from his journeys. His pain, growth, and steadfastness are a work of art. But to a nine-year-old newbie, he had claws that popped out of his hands. To reiterate the point in case you missed the nuance, I found a character who had claws that popped out of his hands. He could also heal from almost any wound! I was sold. Much like my connection to Spider-Man’s black costume having started reading Spidey’s comics in 1984, I’ve always felt a special fondness for Logan’s brown costume as that’s what he wore in X-Men #1. There’s just something about that first costume memory you know?
My brother David loved Cyclops the most. This was convenient as a) Cyclops and Wolverine were featured in the same comic book and b) they were different characters allowing us to easily imagine ourselves in our own X-Men adventures without having to come up with some way to explain two Wolverines on the scene. I’m not sure what first drew David to Cyclops; the blue costume, the natural leadership, the crazy powerful/destructive optic blasts, (he hypothesizes it could’ve been that they both wore glasses yet remains unsure) but whatever it was, he was our fearless leader whenever we’d play X-Men. (Come to think of it, we always left it up to David to lead us as he was also always Captain America and Leonardo. Go David!) As a kid, Cyclops was a vital character in the comics. He was to the X-Men what Cap was to the Avengers. He had honor, integrity, and – with Jean by his side – was part of one of Marvel’s best power couples. He always had a plan too! But, between him going crazy in the comics and being neglected in the films, Cyclops no longer has the pop culture clout he once did. But when we were kids, he was the man. And David embodied it well! We would tear it up pretending to be Wolverine and Cyclops!!! Ahh, those were the days… It’s also worth noting David and I have always gotten along much better than Cyclops and Wolverine do, thankfully. Our favorite imaginary setting for being the X-Men was always the Age of Apocalypse but that’s a story for another post.
The very first X-Men comic I bought on my own (meaning, realistically, Mom got it for me when I asked her) was X-Men #18. Coming out in March of 1993, I’m sure the purchase was fuelled in part by the growing popularity of the X-Men’s new cartoon show. Mine wasn’t a comic shop direct edition. Nope, this was a grocery store find! The issue opens with Omega Red battling the Soul Skinner – two other characters I’d only barely heard of before. But they looked cool! The X-Men (Cyclops, Wolverine, Psylocke, Jubilee, Colossus, and Ice Man) arrive in the now-catatonic Russian town of Neftelenski to try and figure out what’s happened. Their investigation leads them into a building-breaking battle with Omega Red. It was part two of a story so, in addition to knowing little of the X-Men as characters, I was also a chapter behind in the plot. I remember being fascinated by Psylocke and spending a lot of time trying to figure out exactly what her psionic knife could do. I’m sure it’s part of my inner nerd, but I was always big on knowing the specifics of my superheroes abilities (so I loved the Marvel trading cards).
Psylocke was incredible! Here was this telepathic ninja warrior with a glowing psionic knife that extends from her hand who was also handy with katana blades. She was such a badass! She was tough. She was confident. She kept the team connected in the field through telepathic communication. Psylocke quickly became a favorite of mine! Granted, her costume makes me a bit uncomfortable now as a prime example of the blatant objectification of so many female characters that was par for the course in the 90’s. While I won’t read any comic that depicts women this way now (I dropped my beloved Deadpool & the Mercs for Money because of how they draw female characters – Negasonic Teenage Warhead being especially uncomfortable as she’s clearly a teenage character and thus a minor), I was too little to know better or care then. And thankfully, looking back now, with Storm, Jean Grey, Jubilee, and Rogue all having costumes that covered their entire bodies (proportions of those bodies aside), the X-Men were at least a little better than most of your average 90’s objectification.
While I’m on the subject of the team…Gambit. Right?? I loved him too! He had a bo staff, a trench coat, that great Southern accent, and threw playing cards that would explode from the kinetic energy he charged them with. But I’m digressing. Uncle Joe’s amazing Christmas Eve present would lead into Mom and Dad giving me my first membership to Books Galore (my local comic shop) on Christmas morning. Mom explained to me how the two gifts tied together and I was excited. I’d never been a member of anything like this before. And this membership got me comics! No longer was I buying comic books simply at the grocery store like some commoner, oh no! Now I was a comic collector. (Obviously I still bought comics at the grocery store too because why not?? It’s awesome!) I was in a whole new world and loving it!
All of a sudden a regular Thursday afternoon trip to Books Galore was part of my life! Mom waited, happily and patiently, as I eagerly perused new comics every week to decide which glorious titles I’d spend my allowance (and the extra money Mom and Dad always gave to indulge my reading obsession) on. David waited, admittedly a little less patiently (but only a little) as being three years younger he was a bit less enthralled with the stacks of books and comics. But we’d always go to Toys ‘R’ Us afterwards so he could do his browsing too. Then, some days, there was a pretzel or snack as well!
To give you the image, Books Galore is a used book store situated on Peach Street – the shopping/traffic center of my hometown. It looks exactly like what you’d expect a used book store to look like in some arty indie movie. It’s a narrow brick building with books stacked every which way inside on homemade, floor-to-ceiling shelves filling every available inch of its three stories. Unlike a movie set though, this isn’t contrived. It’s organic. It feels like its grown this way. Save the stock and a few minor aesthetic tweaks, Books Galore has remained nearly unchanged in my 25+ years of going there. The whole place smells of books too (you know the smell) and the feeling envelopes you when you walk in. I love it! It’s been my home for two comic collecting eras in my life now.
For years Mom took me their once a week. Picking up that plain brown bag, filled with the comics in my file and random ones that may’ve caught my eye was a highlight of my week! I’d bring it home, run up to my room, and lovingly wade through its contents – reading and re-reading my new ones. Then, the following spring in March of 1992, I was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes. (Don’t worry, the story isn’t taking a sad turn. I’ve been blessed to grow up with diabetes as a normal part of my life, learning to balance it as a regular part of living. I barely remember a time without it. Sure, it’s a chronic disease and it’s serious but I could be fighting cancer or AIDS or Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s or something you know? My numbers are always pretty good and I (and my family and close friends) have all learned how to live with it. I’m very blessed in my diabetes.) One of my most vivid memories of being in the hospital during that time, which after you get your body regulated is odd because you aren’t sick per se but you can’t go home until you learn to manage it, is Aunt Judy delivering my weekly file to me. I may’ve been stuck in the hospital but I wouldn’t be without my new comics! Aunt Judy made sure of that!
Sure, I’d amble around the pediatrics floor. I’d do any school work I was sent. I’d watch TV on the awkward hospital TV, visit the gift shop, and read. But it’s reading my new comic books that is one of my strongest memories from that time. With Mom by my side all day, every day, and Dad coming straight from work, Aunt Judy lovingly went to Books Galore in my stead, bringing that brilliant brown bag to my hospital room each week. Just as I would at home, I’d sit in the hospital bed and explore what Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and everyone else was up to that week. (I was always very concerned with how best to safely store them in a hospital room too – thankfully they all survived.) Obviously diabetes is something that defines who I am, not in a negative way of course but practically. Having had diabetes for over twenty-five years it’s become a sort of dividing line in my life, a way to mark time. There’s the life before and all the life after. It’s funny to think that loving comic books is something that actually predates my diabetes. The love started with a brilliant one-two Christmas present combo from Uncle Joe and then Mom and Dad…and it’s only intensified!
Given it was early 90’s, the X-Men were a big part of my comic love as a kid. X-Men was my favorite, never-miss title but I also read Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine, Generation X, and a smattering of Cable, X-Force, X-Factor, and Excalibur when a crossover came or a cover looked particularly cool. I have such fond memories of the X-Men stories I grew up with. My stomach tightened with anxiety as Magneto ripped the adamantium from Wolverine’s bones. My heart swelled for Scott and Jean as they finally got married. I got excited every time a writer came up with a reason for them to go to the Savage Land because dinosaurs. There just weren’t any other stories that felt like the X-Men did. I know passive aggressive corporate synergy has moved the X-Men to the margins of the Marvel Universe in recent years. Marvel Studios doesn’t have the film rights after all. But I am hoping next month’s re-imagined X-Men: Blue and X-Men: Gold titles really are the “back to basics” move Marvel is promising. I hope the X-Men get the chance to take their place in the spotlight again. Then kids now can feel the same awe-inspiring excitement of meeting their first versions of the X-Men Gold and Blue teams as I did back in 1991. Thanks to Logan, I’ve pulled the ol’ X-Men comic box from the closet and have been revisiting all these great classic titles. And, as this post clearly indicates, with the re-reading has come some wonderful memories. All in all, not a bad postscript experience to seeing a new movie!