Essential X-Men won’t hit the heights of this volume again for some while. It features some cracking stories, fantastic art from the likes of Brent Anderson, John Romita Jr and Paul Smith, and an admirable variety of tone, genres and themes.

Mutants serving as an analogy for groups persecuted in the real world has been a feature of X-Men since the earliest days, but has rarely been as well explored as in God Loves, Man Kills. Chris Claremont and Anderson investigate religious persecution based on fear, and disappointingly the real world has caught up with what they portrayed as excessive exaggerations at the time. It still stands up well, though, and has something to say. The whimsy of the X-Men trying to stop the Impossible Man’s scavenger hunt didn’t enthuse artist Michael Golden as much as his contribution to volume three, although older fans might enjoy the scenes set in the Marvel office.

The regular X-Men continuity begins with Dave Cockrum’s final contributions to the team he co-created, first pencilling, then providing layouts for Bob Wiacek. It follows up on events in the Shi’ar Empire as seen in Essential X-Men Vol. 3. Blending horror and space opera, Claremont’s Brood are a way of introducing something very similar to cinema’s Aliens to the X-Men’s world. The ideas are good, but what at the time was the longest story Claremont had produced for X-Men, runs on too long, and the art is cramped until Smith takes over.

His work is sumptuous, solid and clear, and the sample art is the introduction of subterranean mutant clan the Morlocks. Showing that all mutants aren’t either glamorous or cuddly was another step forward from Claremont, and their first appearances set the pattern for their subsequent problems over the years. Nightcrawler’s an exception, always there, but never in the spotlight, but otherwise Claremont’s excellent in spreading the attention around the assorted X-Men. Wolverine’s turn comes with a surprising follow-up to the manga-influenced story Claremont and Frank Miller set in Japan, the X-Men settling well into a story of crime, honour and an X-Man’s wedding. There are almost another two of those. These are the stories in which Rogue joins the X-Men, Madelyne Prior is introduced, and Storm makes a fundamental change to her appearance. The over-emoting is dated, but more often than not these are fun stories, well drawn. If you’d prefer them in colour they’re spread over the X-Men Marvel Masterworks editions volumes 8, 9 and 10.