I have suffered a loss. Not a loss that “normal” people understand. Not a loss that I can justify taking time off work to grieve, lest I turn in my Functioning Adult Card. This is a comic book loss. The book that set me on the path that currently has me writing for Comic Book Resources, “Uncanny X-Men,” is gone.
For, like, another week. I’m not going to act like “Uncanny X-Men” volume 2 isn’t right around the corner (then I’d have to turn in my Functioning Comic Geek Card). This is the closest we’re going to get to a final issue of “Uncanny X-Men” for the foreseeable future. This is the first time that one can legitimately eulogize “Uncanny X-Men.” The only tattoo I have ever considered getting is an ‘X’ over my heart; I would have to be an evil Mr. Sinister-bred goblin-loving clone of myself to not write this.
“Uncanny X-Men” came to me when I needed it most. I was a weird, lonely third-grader who was rolling his eyes at the new eco-aware and drug-busting version of G. I. Joe. I had witnessed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fall from popularity like Hootie and the Blowfish post-“Cracked Rear View.” I needed something new and, being weird and lonely, I needed “people” to “hang out with.” “Uncanny X-Men” gave that to me. Welcome to the X-Men, Brett, hope you survive the experience.
“Uncanny” #298 and #299, my first two issues, were indeed a weird starting point. The X-Men saved a bus full of kids with Down Syndrome, and the next issue almost solely consisting of a political debate between Professor X and Graydon Creed. Neither of these issues featured pizza puns or a giant world-ending laser (powered by ghosts!). What was I getting myself into? The cartoon was mutant mayhem and superhero action with a hint of maturity; these two issues were… something else entirely. But I held on, and within the next six months I saw two milestone issues with cover gimmicks that, believe it or not, worked.
“Uncanny X-Men” #300’s silver hologram’d-out thick cardstock cover is either garish or a nostalgia-stroker by today’s standards, but it showed 8-year-old me a new way of life. The pomp and circumstance around a 300th issue paired with big action, spectacular John Romita Jr. art and my first introduction to Nightcrawler won me over. The follow-up 30th anniversary celebration issue (#304) and crossover event (“Fatal Attractions”) exposed me to the wider X-Universe (and led to my unhealthy/undying love of X-Force).
Once the X-Men got in my life, they mutated it. The “X-Men” cartoon became my first ever appointment television, preparing me for the ritualistic habits I would later enact for “Buffy” and “Lost.” I expanded on my drawing skills by trying to figure out how to draw Magneto’s helmet. I tried to make the Boomer figure that Toy Biz never gave me. My bedroom walls were covered in everything X-Men, from official posters to Pizza Hut kids’ meal boxes. I geeked out about “Onslaught” and “Operation: Zero Tolerance” way more than I now realize I should have. My best friends were Gambit, Rogue, Cannonball and Iceman. Scott Lobdell and Joe Madureira influenced my writing and “art” style more than anyone else. The issues from my first five years of fandom (#298-360) read like diary entries to me. I was brought to tears in a Kroger Grocery store by Illyana’s death in #303. I took #318, where Jubilee leaves the X-Men to join Generation X, to show-and-tell in my 6th grade English class. I was left speechless at a family dinner after witnessing Sabretooth tear Psylocke apart in #328. I got involved in a haphazard mock trial for Gambit on an AOL message board after #350 was released. The Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters was my elementary and middle school.
After those formative first five years, a lot changed for both the X-Men and me. I spent four years in high school (where I got into a car accident while in a homemade Nightcrawler costume) and another four in college (where I wrote a paper that compared the first two X-Men films to a romantic comedy). Aside from a lapse during Joe Casey’s run, I still collected “Uncanny” every month. I was there through “The Draco” and “The Rise & Fall of the Shi’ar Empire” (AKA in sickness and in health). My taste grew as I discovered the wider Marvel Universe, Vertigo and the works of Robert Kirkman, and “Uncanny” was always there. Other weirdos became my friends, I fake-sang my way through high school musicals and pumped silicon-based butter onto popcorn at my first job, and “Uncanny” was always there. I wasn’t obsessing over my X-Men Fleer Ultra cards on a daily basis, but I still knew Sage from Cecelia Reyes.
In the six years I’ve spent as what one could loosely identify as an adult, “Uncanny X-Men” has become a stupidly integral part of my life. Thanks to the dominance of nerd culture, something 8-year old me would have greatly appreciated, I can wear X-Men t-shirts every day. I have to stop myself from doing it (current t-shirt count: 7). My laptop has an X-Men skin on it, which screams that I know who Sprite and Ariel are (hint: same person). I hold the world record for Most X-Men Secret Identities Revealed in 90 seconds (true). I even managed to parlay my ridiculous fandom into an actual job during my year with Wizard Entertainment. I had to call Chris Claremont on the phone on my first day, and italics do not provide the amount of emphasis that statement needs. Over the last six years, the writing torch has been passed on from Ed Brubaker to Matt Fraction and then to Kieron Gillen. “Uncanny” has been consistently enjoyable, but it was more my love for eras-past (“Dark Phoenix Saga,” Claremont and Paul Smith’s run, “X-Cutioner’s Song”) that keep my interest piqued more than the monthly series. Even still, “Uncanny” was there for me month after month.
When I brought home my stack of comics last week, I saved “Uncanny X-Men” #544 for last. It was quite possibly the first comic I have ever read that I both dreaded and anticipated. I know it’s absolutely bonkers to be this attached to a number on the cover of a comic, but this number has been going since I started reading comics nearly two decades ago. It existed for 30 years before I could easily roll the phrase “focused totality of my psychic powers” off my tongue. Thanks to the rebooting of both “Action Comics” and “Detective Comics,” “Uncanny X-Men” was the longest-running comic book with uninterrupted numbering. For a book that spent the ’60s as a Stan and Jack afterthought before getting cancelled and resurrected as a cult favorite in the ’70s, that’s quite a feat.
So again, anticipation and dread.
This isn’t a review of the last issue of “Uncanny X-Men.” If it was I would say that it was a great issue that felt aware and respectful of its place in history and treated its finality with appropriate weight (even though I can see volume 2 coming ’round the bend). What got to me was the final line, spoken by Cyclops as he boxed up framed portraits of the original five X-Men.
“I feel like I’ve finally graduated.”
That one line provided me with the sense of closure that I didn’t know I needed, let alone expected to get. But thank you, Kieron Gillen. Recent events like “Messiah Compex” and “Second Coming” didn’t capture my imagination and “Uncanny” being there for me month in and month out was starting to feel like an obligation. Yes it has been solid, but I felt like I was collecting just to keep my streak unbroken (I had to work in the fact that I have every issue starting with #128 into this piece somewhere). But like Cyclops, I now feel like I have graduated from this iteration of “Uncanny.” I feel reenergized by “Schism” and the stories that Gillen and artist Carlos Pacheco are going to tell. A tremendous weight does feel lifted. “Uncanny” doesn’t feel burdened by Unus, Ch’od, the Morlocks, the Beyonder, Arclight, Longshot, Kwannon, Fitzroy, Harvest, Joseph, Marrow, Stacy X, Husk, the Neo and everything else that’s come before. “Uncanny X-Men” no longer feels like the title of a comic that was great and is always trying to live up to that former greatness. Now, with a new #1 issue, “Uncanny X-Men” is going to be the best comic it can be, with no previous “Days of Future Pasts” overshadowing it.
I have come to realize that my comic collecting habit is fueled by the desire to recreate the magic I felt when I picked up my first issue of “Uncanny X-Men” in 1993. I’ve been chasing that ever since. Now, with a new first issue of “Uncanny X-Men” about to be in my hands, it feels like I am the closest I’ve been in a long time to getting back to that child-like excitement about comic books. So let’s do this, “Uncanny” volume 2. I’m ready for another couple decades.