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X-Men Epic Collection: Mutant Genesis Paperback – December 12, 2017
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This is where the initial ride ends.
I'd like to say it's all gravy and that Chris Claremont went out on the top of his game because... in a lot of ways he DID. His writing was still absolutely solid. His stories engaging. His characters charming. Unfortunately, he wasn't really ALLOWED to go out on top of his game because for most of this book, he only serves as scripter. A PHENOMENAL scripter, yes, but there's only so much you can do when you can't direct the action.
It's also funny that this X-Men Epic Collection features a large chunk of non-X-Men books. There was a lot of tidying up to do before Uncanny and Adjectiveless X-Men could be soft rebooted into the Blue and Gold rosters we know and love and that meant situating the X-Factor team into a proper jumping off point so that the team could be reintegrated into the main X-Men books. Mostly, this means getting rid of Cyclops' son and the team's sentient headquarters while facing their greatest foe, Apocalypse, one last time. Don't worry folks. Apocalypse will be back but he won't be an X-Factor villain ever again. But X-Factor won't ever be the same X-Factor ever again, either.
Beyond that, we see the second iteration of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (which was calling itself Freedom Force at the time) reach the end of it's road in the early chapters of this book. We see a premature conclusion to Claremont's long running Shadow King storyline towards the end (which was really a mercy killing because that story wasn't... awesome). We see Xavier resuming his place as leader of the X-Men (even though someone decided that the only way people would recognize him again was in a wheelchair).
Claremont ducks out of Uncanny X-Men before the halfway point of the Muir Isle Saga, leaving everyone else, including Jim Lee, to scramble to the finish line of that story. It doesn't turn out badly but you can definitely tell when Claremont's "voice" has left the building. He co-writes and scripts the first three issues of the brand new X-Men series, detailing the beginning of the new era of the X-Men and putting a bow on his Magneto storyline in the process. This is probably the best part of the book because he and Jim Lee collaborating is just a treat to read. There are still a few hiccups where the script and the art don't exactly match up (the two "Delgado" characters is the worst offender, here) but things run much more smoothly than they did in the X-Factor pages.
Overall, this would be an excellent jumping off point for a lot of X-Men readers and I REALLY hope that that isn't Marvel's plan because I'd love the Epic Collection to continue after this. But at the same time, the deck is sufficiently clear. Most of the dangling plot threads of the previous few years are resolved. With Chris Claremont's departure, Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio would attempt to tell their own stories with the X-Men for almost another year before they, too, would leave the books (and Marvel!).
This was all before my time, though. I didn't actually start reading X-Men until just prior to Fatal Attractions two years after this book. I quickly raided back issue bins to fill myself in on just what had happened before I jumped on, only learning of the incredible contributions to the title that Chris Claremont made after he had well and truly left. He would eventually return to the book but by then, the characters had gone in directions he wouldn't have taken them and become people he didn't recognize. And it wasn't the same because it couldn't be the same.
But you can always go and read his earlier run. And you won't even have to raid back issue bins to do it! This collection is by far the best option to enjoying the last of Chris Claremont's initial X-run. The colors hold up very well and look better than they ever did in the original comics. The paper quality is solid. The extras include Jim Lee character sketches and magazine interviews as well and covers to earlier collected versions of this material. It's a great trip down memory lane with a lot of history to be had.
The next part of the book consists of X-Factor issues plotted by Jim Lee & Whilce Portacio and scripted by Chris Claremont. The art by Portacio has not held up over time & looks overly complicated, and chock full of 90s cliches . In these issues you will find page after page of open mouthed screaming, clenched teeth and tech, tech, tech, everywhere! I guess microchips and excess computer cabling were all the costuming rage for heroes & villains back in the day. Oh! And lots of overly aggressive posturing & poses ... basically everything bad we remember from the 90s comics are included here. That being said, the scripting by Claremont kept these issues readable, and read all together in one setting they were okay. In re-reading I noticed that there was lots of foreshadowing that Nate would eventually become Cable. Whenever there would be mosaics of future images, you'd see Cable in some of the broken shards of the timeline, etc. I'd grade this section a solid C+.
Next up is the Muir Island Saga which was an editorial mandated storyline to clean up the various long-running subplots from the X-books ahead of the 1991 X-Men comic relaunch. Before they could do a "back to basics approach" they need to do some serious house cleaning. At that point in time, the X-Men were largely believed dead and had spent the past 2+ years (real time) running around the globe, slowly coming back together as a team, finding out they were all alive again (or something ... comics, what can you say). I'd read some of these issues when they were originally published but it was nice to read them all together in one sitting. When originally published I was only a casual X-reader so I was lost & confused about the various subplots, but re-reading it all today and knowing the history of the books I understood things much better. In all, it was a fairly decent conclusion to the story. Some of the writing is by Claremont, but the bulk is by Fabian Nicieza or "Fabian Nicieza with lots of help" (seriously check the credits page). The epilogue issue by Peter David was well done, dealing with all the fallout of the Muir Island saga conclusion. David features some nice, low key, character moments with Rogue & Mystique, Strong Guy & Polaris, Cyclops & Jean returning to the X-Men, Professor X's thoughts on returning to the series after several years away, etc. My only complaint is that the plots seemed ... rushed for lack of a better word. I know editorial was keen to clear the slate for the upcoming X-Men (1991) series and that's the reason for the rushed nature, but it is really evident in reading these issues all together. I'd give this story arc a B-.
Finally, the last three issues of the collection feature the Mutant Genesis story which kicked off the new X-Men comic book series in 1991. Back in the day the first issue sold over EIGHT MILLION COPIES (woah, mama!). These issues still hold up well today and Claremont really left the book with a bang. The art by Jim Lee is great, and we get some nice character beats featuring Magneto. You can tell Claremont held him in high regard. He muses that "he does not wish to harm the X-Men" or that "we were once brothers in arms fighting the same fight", etc which is nice considering only a few years earlier he had led the X-Men in Xavier's absence. My only (minor) gripe is that basically the entire slate was wiped clean for this new series launch and all the familiar tropes of the X-Men were back with little build up ... the X-mansion & danger room are fully restored off-panel, Xavier is crippled yet again (sheesh give the guy a break), Magneto is villainous again and so on. Overall these issues get an A-.
Overall I give this collection a positive recommendation for fans of 1990s X-Men comic books. Just know what you are getting into ahead of time, as it is not very new reader friendly.