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"He Didn’t Ask For Me To Read It – – But I Did Anyway": Graeme on X-Men Forever

Graeme McMillan

This is the kind of thing that you’re supposed to admit in a darkened room, sitting in a circle on uncomfortable seats with people who are in the same position as you, and who won’t judge you for what you’re about to say, but somehow I’m telling everyone in the internet and hoping for the best.

My name is Graeme and I love X-MEN FOREVER.

I know, I know; you think less of me now. I’m sorry. What can I say to explain…? Does it help that, when the project – which, for the faint of heart and fortunate of reading, sees Chris Claremont pick up from where he left the X-Men franchise originally, back with 1991’s X-Men #1-3, pretending as if nothing had happened in between then and now, accompanied by Tom Grummett, who seems to have become Claremont’s old-school partner in crime following their Exiles run together – was announced, I was just like all of you, snarking that it was unnecessary and a cheap cash-grab for the wallets and adoration of those fans who feel like the X-Men haven’t been the same since they were kids? Probably not, because I still picked up the first issue, and then found myself picking up the second, then the third, and by the time the fourth came out last week, realizing that it’d become the first thing I’d read off the reading stack everytime it was released. But how did this happen? What has gone wrong with me?

It’s not even as if I have genuine nostalgia for the era. I’d stopped reading X-men by 1991 (I dropped off around the time Jim Lee came onto Uncanny, confused and tired by what seemed like months if not years of directionless storytelling and characters coming and going with no rhyme nor reason; I think #250 was my last straw, when Polaris reappeared and suddenly had a sister and new powers, and with no explanation), so it’s not like I’m all “This is my era!” And yet, there’s something comfortingly familiar to see all the stereotyped Claremontisms in place in this series, all the characters “sounding like themselves” in the way that the 15 year old me remembers, and incidental characters spouting awkward expositionary dialogue to give Chris the feeling that he’s staying in touch with the common man (All we need now are a couple of NPR shout-outs, and I’ll be in retroheaven).

But it’s not just nostalgia that makes me unable to stop reading the series, because there’s something oddly… intense about the nostalgia. The plot is too fast, too frantic to truly feel like the occasionally-glacial Claremont of old, and it’s too scattered to feel like anything other than the Image Comics that the X-artists who replaced Claremont went on to abandon the series to produce. It’s as if Claremont half-remembers what he wanted to do with the series – certainly, parts of what have happened tie in with interviews he’s given about where he would’ve taken Uncanny, given the chance; Wolverine’s “death,” for one – but not how he wanted to do it, and so he’s working in some strange parody of how he remembers the comics of the era being while trying to stay true to himself. Everything keeps happening in these comics, to paraphrase the line on the back of that Scott Pilgrim book: In four issues alone, Wolverine has died, Jean has become Phoenix again, admitted that she loved Wolverine, Nick Fury has become official government liason to the X-Men, Sabretooth has been blinded by Storm, who turns out to be (a) evil, and (b) not actually Storm, because there’s another Storm running around, who’s a kid – and there’s a shout-out to an Uncanny subplot of years past – Rogue’s powers have potentially been altered or maybe not, and Shadowcat has one of Wolverine’s claws in her arm thanks to a phasing incident gone wrong. Oh, and there’s a secret society plotting against the X-Men, of course. All of that in four issues, people. That’s some packed, and nonsensical, storytelling.

Add to this conflicted writing Tom Grummett offering up art that takes his own (somewhat dated, but that may just be me) style and adds some 1990s papercut-rendering, covers that don’t match the interiors (As in, characters have entirely different costumes, which seems like an odd mistake to make considering Grummett is doing the covers as well; I’m guessing that the costumes on the covers are part of a redesign that we’ll see at some point) and you have a book that’s very much its own, completely addictive, thing. I almost want to describe it as car-crash reading, but that’d be unfair; it’s not that any of it is bad, or even that you’re expecting disaster at any given point… It’s just that there’s a continuing feeling of “It’s got to go wrong at any moment. It just has to,” that keeps you from looking away. But, God help me, I also genuinely enjoy it.

It’s a series that I know, objectively, should be Eh at best, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I find it Good, and secretly think that anyone who read Uncanny X-Men back in the day should at least try it.

I’m sorry.

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