It has been said that timing is everything and, when it came to my becoming a serious comic book collector, my timing couldn’t have been better. As I wrote in my blog about The Korvac Saga in The Avengers series, a friend had encouraged me to become a serious collector and I started collecting The Avengers and The Uncanny X-men in the summer of 1978. So, when I started collecting The Avengers, the artist was George Perez. Perez was pretty early in his career with Marvel and he was really hitting his stride when I started collecting Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. My timing was also good, because they were battling one of their greatest foes: Ultron.
The first issue I bought of The Uncanny X-Men was #113 (September, 1978). My timing was a little off in that I joined a story already in progress, but that story featured the group’s greatest adversary: Magneto. And Magneto was at the height of his power. He had just defeated the new X-Men in issue #112. Pretty handily to boot.
At the time I thought Perez was a great artist, but the guy drawing The X-Men was a revelation to me. When I opened that first issue of seriously collected X-Men, I saw this…
I was completely wowed! It was just a character shot of Magneto approaching the “camera” with power crackling from his hand, but it was drawn so well. I loved the style. And page after page, book after book my jaw kept dropping lower than I thought was humanly possible.
The artist was John Byrne and he was working with inker Terry Austin. I will say this right here – Byrne and Austin were one to the best pairings of penciller and inker ever! The art produced by that team on this X-Men run is, in my opinion, unparalleled. Those guys were amazing. So, my timing was good to start buying when such a great team of artists was producing at such a high level.
It wasn’t just great timing for the art, there was a great writer making waves, too. The writer was Chris Claremont who, with plot assist from Byrne, set the reader on a long and winding road of powerful bad guys bringing this new group of mutants to the brink of death again and again. In fact, for a time, Professor X, the group’s founder and mentor, believed that Jean Grey (Marvel Girl/Phoenix) was the only X-Man left alive after their battle with Magneto. Phoenix and Beast (former X-Man, but an Avenger at the time) were able to escape an erupting volcano that destroyed Magneto’s sub-Antarctica super complex.
Despite their inexperience, the new team was able to defeat Magneto, but in doing so, as it appeared to Phoenix and Beast, the rest of the team were killed in the volcanic eruption. But, Cyclops, Wolverine, Banshee, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Storm had survived. And they believed it was they who were the ones who got out alive.
They had dug their way out of the underground mega-station to surface in the Savage Land, a land that time forgot in the center of Antarctica. It’s a primitive jungle-covered land filled with all sorts of dangerous creatures dating back to the age of dinosaurs. There they stayed with people native to that land and eventually met up with Ka-Zar, Marvel’s answer to Tarzan.
They got a chance to rest for a while. And I got a chance to see just how well Byrne could draw the female form.
Well, to not go on too very long, the X-Men’s rest was short-lived due to having to battle Sauron, which led to a greater battle to save the Savage Land and the world from the evil ambitions of Garokk, the Sun-God. Then they ended up in Japan and hooked up with Sunfire to fight Mandroids and to stop Moses Magnum from sinking that island nation. A battle in which Banshee lost his voice from the strain of destroying a mountain.
All this while making their way back to their school in Westchester, NY and to Professor X. However, the Professor had decided, since he believed his X-Men were dead, to shut down the school and leave planet earth to live with his love Lilandra, Majestrix of the Shi’ar Empire.
Yeesh! You need a damn program to keep track!
But at 13, I loved it. Claremont, Byrne, and Austin weaved a complex tale of super-powered mutants going from battle to battle, developing these new and exciting characters along the way. They were even sewing in hints at troubled times ahead. Jean Grey as Phoenix had become extremely powerful and she was enjoying it a little too much. They were moving her character toward the destructive evil of Dark Phoenix, which would open a universe-spanning saga of its own.
You see how it was? I could keep going, because that creative team was just so good at putting together such a sprawling tale of this heroic group of mutants sworn to protect a world that feared and hated them. It was marvelous and it’s why the X-Men went from an also-ran, nearly cancelled, series to Marvel Comic’s marquee title.
And it’s why the Claremont/Byrne/Austin run of The Uncanny X-Men is one of the greatest of all time.
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