Review by Frank Plowright
The opening shot is to beware which printing of this volume is purchased. The first print stuck rigidly to the ten issues per book policy, so cutting off midway between a two issue story. The second print, with Magneto on the cover, rectified this unsympathetic editorial oversight by adding the additional issue.
The later ‘Dark Phoenix Saga‘ (in volume 5) has come to overshadow much of the remainder of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s other fine work on the X-Men. That’s the peak of their collaboration, but they reached top form very rapidly, as displayed by the content here. Claremont always viewed the X-Men as having a global sphere of operations, and they visit Canada, Japan, the Savage Land and Egypt after starting the book as captives in a carnival.
It’s a fine opening, briefly providing entertaining alternative characters for the cast, and returning another villain from the team’s previous incarnation. That’s followed by a particularly imaginative battle against old foe Magneto. John Byrne really puts the effort into spectacular layouts that never sacrifice clarity, and by the conclusion of that story he’s also contributing to the plots. Comparison with X-Men stories immediately after Byrne’s departure indicate his influence to be considerable.
There’s a clever plot twist separating some ream members from others, with Beast and Phoenix, the party who made their way back to the USA believing the remainder to be dead. It’s actually endearing that this plot is a credible option, and equally that of the remainder of the team taking several weeks wending their way back to North America. As characters developed their abilities both those options would have been instantly off the table.
This volume returns another old X-Men foe, and, provided you’ve acquired the second print, Canadian superhero team Alpha Flight are introduced. They’d progress to their own series both written and drawn by Byrne. There’s a glimpse of the first meeting between Storm and Professor X, long forgotten by her, and a guest spots from Ka-Zar, Japanese mutant Sunfire at his arrogant and irritating best, and the Daughters of the Dragon, not then known as such.
Claremont’s now fully in tune with his cast, but, in places has begun to exhibit the verbose tendencies that would later spin out of control. This, though, is only apparent in hindsight and barely impinges on the thrilling ride on offer here. It should also be noted that while not all of these 1970s X-Men reprints pass the Bechdel test, they were progressive at the time in presenting women whose abilities largely exceeded those of their male counterparts and who were as three-dimensional as their team-mates.
The entire content is also available in two other value for money collections. Those happy enough with black and white reproduction and pulp paper can look for Essential X-Men volume one, and Uncanny X-Men Omnibus volume one reprints everything in colour.