Thanksgiving is here and that means one thing for an almost-30 year old X-Men fan like myself — rereading the classic “Uncanny X-Men” #308! This issue, written by Scott Lobdell with art by John Romita Jr., was first published way back around Thanksgiving 1993, which just so happened to be the very first holiday season I celebrated as a crazy X-Men fan. So yeah, my sincere love of this issue and my desire to subject it to an entire article’s worth of scrutiny is definitely motivated by nostalgia.
The ’90s get a bad rap, and for the most part that bad rap is well deserved. That being said, lumping Lobdell’s “Uncanny X-Men” in with the blood-soaked die-cut variants it shared the stands with is a bit unwise; in-between the crossovers, X-Men fans got issues like “Uncanny X-Men” #308, a Thanksgiving issue that makes the mutants feel like Marvel’s real first family.
The issue’s through line consists of a conversation between Cyclops and Jean Grey about the status of their long lasting and long-suffering relationship. While that might sound boring to people that don’t ‘ship Scott and Jean, it’s actually Scott Lobdell’s sly way of packing this family-oriented issue with the superhero equivalent of family photos. We see flashbacks to the couple’s first days at the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, followed by the “Dark Phoenix Saga’s” tragic climax, capped off with recent events in “X-Factor” which led to Cyclops losing his son… to a techno organic virus and a time-traveler, because comics.
No matter how tired Cyclops and Jean Grey’s drama was in 1993, any “Uncanny X-Men” writer would be hard-pressed to find a pairing as integral to the larger X-Mythos as Slim and Red. This recap of their rocky relationship loads the issue with a sense of history, not unlike the history that comes up every time you gather around a table with family. Granted, the classic stories told by your grandmother probably involve 100% less time-travelers.
This conversation between Cyke and Jeannie does matter, though, more so than any conversation they’ve had before. It’s in this issue that Jean Grey finally pops the question to Cyclops. Actually when Jean says, “Marry me,” it isn’t so much a question as a command. She’s put all the clones and alien possessions that have gotten in the way before behind her. Then, for once in “Uncanny X-Men’s” publication history, the characters are allowed to have a happy moment. When the newly engaged couple enter the dining room at the end of the issue, their announcement is met with genuine happiness from their family — and for once, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants aren’t there to ambush them.
And that’s the real selling point for this overlooked classic — it’s fun. As Forge, Jubilee and Professor X outright mention — and everyone else pretty much implies — the X-Men were coming off of a pretty gnarly year. Illyana Rasputin died of the Legacy Virus, Colossus defected to Magneto’s side, Professor X was trying to rehabilitate Sabretooth and Magneto nearly killed Wolverine by ripping the metal that coated Logan’s skeleton right out of his body. But the point of the issue — a point that I wish the X-Books would make right now — is that despite the never-ending parade of suck surrounding the team, they are still a family.
“Any one of these experiences could have proved devastating to our united goal, our collective spirit,” Professor X says to his gathered students-turned-colleagues. “But we have survived. Much more than that, however — I believe, as I feel you all do, that we have grown stronger because of what we’ve endured.” Xavier, a character that would soon be seen through a filter of jerkiness up until his death last year, used to be downright inspiring. This was Xavier in 1993, #nofilter.
This issue is full of heart. Archangel scores a touchdown, Jubilee and Beast go bounding through leaf piles, Iceman builds a Dr. Doom scarecrow and the time-displaced Bishop fills the cranky uncle role perfectly. These vignettes take a backseat to Cyclops and Jean’s life-changing walk (things were never the same after… The Walk!), but Lobdell made sure to pack every panel with just enough character and charisma to make it feel like the entire cast — including supporting players like Banshee and Forge — belong at the X-Mansion’s dinner table. When I think of the X-Men as a family, I think of issues like this.
While I’m aware that my own 20-year history with this issue colors my perception of it, I don’t think I’m far off-base by saying that Thanksgiving 2013 could take a few tips from Thanksgiving 1993. Don’t get me wrong, because I’m enjoying the X-Books a lot right now, but I can honestly say that I haven’t read an issue of a flagship X-Book like “Uncanny” #308 in a very long time. The list of tragic events in this old issue is nothing compared to the new ones I can list off. Professor X is dead, Cyclops has split from his larger family, Jean Grey’s dead, Archangel’s been rebooted, Banshee’s dead, Jubilee’s a vampire, Bishop and Forge are recovering from crazy spells and Iceman cannot stop wearing ugly cargo shorts. Things are bleak. The X-Men could use another Thanksgiving dinner.
I miss the familial aspect of the X-Men. I miss these characters liking each other, and I wouldn’t mind a break from all of the in-fighting and warring factions for just one holiday. The X-Men have changed a lot, as families do, but I think the sincere affection on display in “Uncanny” #308 still exists in there… somewhere. It would be nice to see more of it in both Wolverine and Cyclops’ camps. Maybe someday Cyclops and Wolverine can pit their squads against each other in a game of touch football, and this fractured family can be one again — if only for one meal.
Until then, I’ll keep “Uncanny X-Men” #308 close.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).