EXCLUSIVE: Alex Ross Covers "Uncanny X-Men" #500

In the comics industry, there are certain milestones publishers like to celebrate. Often, they’ll produce special a “Annual” issue to mark a title’s having completed another year of continuous publication. When a book reaches its 25th issue (or a multiple thereof), it’s typical for readers to see an extra-sized anniversary issue. However, when a comic reaches its 100th issue, a publisher needs to do something huge to celebrate, both in terms of size and story. After all, not many titles make it to such a landmark.

So what can a publisher do to celebrate a milestone as huge as a 500th issue? Well, if you’re Marvel Comics and celebrating 500 issues of “Uncanny X-Men,” you get Alex Ross to create a special cover for the double-sized comic book. CBR News is happy to present this piece of Alex Ross art to you now, and share with you a few thoughts from its creator.

The X-Men have been through much in just the past dozen issues of “Uncanny,” and trying to conceive of an image that would summarize 500 issues of the series would be a daunting task for any artist. Ross, however, still had fun with the process.

“It’s easy to have immediate inspiration and design concepts when you get a chance to illustrate your favorite versions of the various X-Men characters,” Alex Ross told CBR News. “The fact that I was allowed to do a transition between the 1964 X-Men and the 1975 'New’ X-Men allowed me to address what I was affected by the most growing up with these characters.”

As the artist indicated -- and as is obvious by the 500-issue milestone -- the X-Men have been around a long time. Some superheroes have costumes and “looks” that are iconic, while others seem to change from year to year. “Uncanny” has seen many different characters, as well as many different versions of the same character with various costumes, different hairstyles, and a catalog of other accoutrements, each permutation the favorite of one fan or another. How did Ross decide who to use and what they should wear? The artist shared his thoughts about the X-Men’s character designs over the last 500 issues of “Uncanny,” and a few he fears might have been fashion missteps.

“[In creating the cover,] I tried to be true to most every character’s first appearance look,” Ross said. “Notably, Rogue is in her earliest costume, the Silver Age X-Men are in their earliest outfits, and, if it can be considered that Phoenix and Marvel Girl are two separate people, then I did the first costumes for both. There are liberties taken with that goal with the appearances of characters like Iceman and Emma Frost, though.

“I would argue that no designer put their imprint on these characters greater than Dave Cockrum. In fact, the test of great designs is how well they are handled by many hands. An example of a poor costume era for a character would have to be Dazzler, who reflected the 'Flashdance’ era of workout clothing.

“What’s important about the first appearance looks of these many characters is that designers generally go back to these earliest inspirations for design reboots of the characters, so, in a fashion, that’s the most timeless ways you can present them.”

It is often said that a hero is only as interesting as the villain he is facing. In the cover Ross has created, he depicts the X-Men stuck between two of their greatest enemies: the Sentinels and Magneto. If one really studies the piece, one will note these bad guys have belief systems that are at opposite ends of a spectrum: Magneto believes mutants to be the dominant species on Earth and that humans are expendable, while Sentinels have been programmed to the end that mutants are expendable and human life is the most valuable of all.

As to what baddies will feature in the issue itself -- written by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction and illustrated by Greg Land and Terry Dodson -- Marvel editor Nick Lowe shared, “Two major X-figures whose names start with M appear here. As well as one of the characters shown at the end of the first chapter of 'Endangered Species.’ Sadly, it's not Sugar Man. Though it should be!

Solicit information for “Uncanny X-Men” #499 indicates the “Divided We Stand” era will conclude in that issue. Since the end of “Messiah CompleX,” the X-Men have been largely floundering; lacking a vision to follow in the aftermath of that cataclysmic story. Surely, “Uncanny” #500, sporting its auspicious Alex Ross cover, would be the place to define the new direction of the X-Men under Professor Xavier’s original dream for mutantkind?

“I'll tell you this, they certainly come together under a dream,” Lowe remarked. “But it's not necessarily Xavier's.

“We are looking forward,” Lowe continued. “['Uncanny’ #500] is smash-bang and it sets up the next year or so of stories in Uncanny. It also sets the tone for all the X-Books.”

For his part, Alex Ross hopes to be drawing more X-Men in the future, but didn’t specify any upcoming plans. For now, the artist is happy to reminisce on 500 issues of one of the most popular superhero titles in history, a joy that is on display in his portrayal of the X-Men.

“Uncanny X-Men” #500 is on sale in July.

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