Calling Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men Omnibus, vol. 1 a graphic novel doesn’t quite get across the scope of the thing. This isn’t just a compilation of a half-dozen issues, it’s a massive 800+ page hardcover compilation of over five years of comic books. The years in question are those starting from the revival of the X-Men with the familiar gang of mutant heroes — Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, and the whole bunch.

As a compilation, it’s first rate. Sturdily bound, attractively colored (I believe they redid the coloring so it’d look less stupid on modern printing methods, but it’s still very old-fashioned and heavy on the primary colors), and it even includes the original letter columns from the issues when they were published. The letters are a fascinating semi-historical look back at comic readers thirty years ago; it’s surprising to see how seriously everyone takes these books. People are writing these long, philosophical letters about feminism and whatever else, and it’s hard not to feel like they’re very consciously trying to prove that yes, this really is a valid art form for adults. (These days, of course, people who aren’t hopelessly backward simply take this as a given.)

As an actual story, it’s surprisingly strong, considering its age. This is from the period when superheroes fought a villain every month, spent most of their time exercising their powers in battle, and had their characterization taken care of by thought bubbles as they’re bopping around. Nobody’s going to confuse these stories with modern ones, for sure. But given the limitations of the day, they’re pretty darn good. The characters do have a full two dimensions to them, the plots are more involved than simple baddy-of-the-week stuff, and the writing (as purple as it is) is better than it needs to be. These may not be fully modern comics yet, but they’re recognizably of the same breed, and enjoyable to a modern comic reader in a way that most other books of this vintage just plain aren’t. They must have been superb at the time.

Recommended to any superhero fan — and certainly any X-Men fan — who wants to get more of a historical perspective while enjoying big battles with supervillains.


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