The year was 1987 and I was becoming a junkie—a comic book junkie. I had gotten a little taste with Star Wars comics and was a regular reader of G.I. Joe, but in 1987, my friend Brian got me hooked on the hard stuff. Brian re-introduced me to my old friend Spider-Man, who was wearing a black costume and in the fight of his life against a hunter named Kraven.
Spidey wasn’t enough, though. I had to go and seek out a bigger high.
A name stuck out to me from the various ads that I found in my G.I. Joe books: X-Men. I vaguely recalled the name from the cartoon, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends from the early 80’s. Another name from those same advertisements—as well as Spidey’s cartoon—simmered in my mind: Wolverine. I had definitely seen him on various covers and such. He had a cool look. His mask was almost like Batman’s and his claws that sprang out of the back of his hands were nothing to sneeze at. He looked pretty bad ass.
One Friday night, I was at the Echelon Mall in Voorhees, NJ with my dad. Every week he’d take me over to the mall for my weekly comic book fix. It’s one of my enduring memories of my father, as we bonded a lot on those short trips. On this particular October night, I saw two books with X-MEN emblazoned on their covers. One was called The Uncanny X-Men—number 226—and had a grinning villain hovering over eight individuals being shocked so that their skeletons were showing.
Across the top, above the title, were the words, “Fall of the Mutants.” That name rang a bell. I’d recalled seeing ads for the storyline in one of my other comics.
In the ad art, Wolverine was at the front of a long line of bodies stretching out toward the horizon—it looked pretty cool. I snapped the issue up, noting that it was a “Double-Sized Issue”—more bang for the buck! The other X-Men comic was Classic X-Men #18 and had another villain—this one in purple and red—with the X-Men literally in his clutches. I picked that one up too. I was about to head down the rabbit hole.
I can’t recall which issue I read first when I got home, but I’ll never forget that first full-page image at the start of Uncanny #226.
There was Wolverine, sans mask, lying on a pile of rubble, broken, battered, and torn to shreds. What an image for a first-timer to encounter—the hero at his lowest. The descriptive narration detailing how Wolverine’s body was knitting itself back together was horrific and mesmerizing at the same time. It was a striking introduction to the character that would quickly become my favorite comic book hero. I remember really enjoying the issue written by legendary X-Men writer Chris Claremont with art from burgeoning superstar Marc Silvestri. However, I was reading part two of a three-part story, so a lot of it didn’t make total sense. The other book was a reprint of—as I learned later—the All-New X-Men’s second meeting with their arch-nemesis, Magneto.
NOTE for the uninitiated: The original X-Men were: Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Beast, and Angel, while the All-New X-Men were: Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Banshee, and—for this story—Beast and Phoenix—formerly Marvel Girl.
Written by Claremont with art by seminal artist John Byrne, the issue was the first of a two-parter that documented Magneto’s wicked revenge against the X-Men. It was a great story and gave me a nice jumping on point with Classic X-Men to learn more of the team’s history, because I was completely hooked.
However, in the case of Classic X-Men #18, there was more to the story as to how the team ended up face-to-face with Magneto at the start of the issue, while Uncanny #226 was literally in the middle of the Fall of the Mutants storyline. I had to find previous issues, but where? The comic book shop at the mall generally handled only that month’s titles and the X-Men were too popular to end up in their meager back issue inventory. I was too much of a neophyte collector to know about the stores completely dedicated to the hobby of collecting comics, so I had nowhere to turn. Then, it hit me: the book store. In my short time collecting comics, I had learned that the book stores at the mall—B. Dalton and Waldenbooks—were always a month behind the comic book shop. As soon as I could, I headed to B. Dalton’s comic book rack in search of Uncanny X-Men #225 and Classic X-Men #17. I was lucky enough to find them both.
Silvestri’s cover for Uncanny #225 was also tagged with the Fall of the Mutants logo and had a standard face-off pose between the X-Men and their foes, Freedom Force. Classic #17, though, had a savage—and hirsute—Wolverine chained to a wooden wall covered in posters touting the other X-Men as performers in a carnival show.
Though the cover to Classic #17 was drawn by Jon Bogdanove and Terry Austin, most of the early Classic X-Men covers were drawn by Arthur Adams, who also drew what would become my favorite poster of Wolverine. I was sold—the X-Men were my new obsession.
Fall of the Mutants was a fascinating story for a new X-Men reader. There was a whole lot more to the story—X-Men was serial storytelling at its best—but for the time being, I was locked into the three issues that made up the core story.
#225 introduced me to Colossus, an artist who had recently been released from the hospital. I learned he was having trouble controlling his powers—Colossus can transmute his skin into organic steel, giving him super-strength and invulnerability. Through Colossus, the whole gist of the X-Men is laid out. They are Mutants, born with extraordinary abilities that make the population at large mistrust them, despite how many times the team has done good. He meets a mysterious woman, Roma, who draws him into a celestial battle against the Trickster—later they would call him simply, the Adversary—an ancient demon who thrives on chaos. Apparently, the two people who can stop him are the X-Men’s leader, Storm, and her lover, Forge, but the Adversary has taken them out of play. Colossus contacts his sister, Illyana, and she agrees to teleport him to the X-Men.
So, the story shifts to Dallas, where the remaining X-Men hunt for Storm at Forge’s headquarters. The reader is introduced to every member of the team. Rogue has flight and strength—her ability to absorb powers wasn’t revealed to me until later in the story. Wolverine—acting leader of the team—has his claws, healing ability, and enhanced senses. Longshot’s lucky. Dazzler and Havok can fire lasers or energy from their hands. Psylocke is a telepath. In two quick pages, Claremont gave me a rudimentary understanding of seven characters so that I could continue the story and not be totally lost. He was a master at that—weaving the general descriptions of the characters into the narrative over and over again so that new readers always had an opportunity to jump onboard.
Fall of the Mutants presented an X-Men world turned upside down. With the government super team Freedom Force, villains were the good guys, and the X-Men were seen as outlaws.
By the end of the story, which I won’t spoil here for those who haven’t read it, the X-Men were seen around the world as not only heroes, but legends. It was an exciting story to start with, especially since it had such major ramifications for the team and completely reset their status quo for the next few years.
It was a great time to hop onboard the title. Eventually, I would backtrack to get the whole story leading up to Fall of the Mutants—all of which is available in Volume 1 of the trade paperback collection
—and I came across Uncanny X-Men #222, which quickly became my favorite cover in a long line of great covers from Silvestri and inker Dan Green.
It was a simple cover, but said so much as Wolverine faced off against his nemesis, Sabretooth. That cover was so great, I had an airbrush artist turn it into a shirt for me in sixth grade.
However, what of the other issue I picked up that fateful Friday in October? Classic X-Men #18 showed me that the X-Men’s past adventures could be just as exciting as their present day ones. The conclusion of the Magneto story in #19 was thrilling as by the end, the only two X-Men left alive—as far as the reader was concerned—were Phoenix and Beast. I snapped up as many issues of that series as I could, buying anything that had X-Men on the cover. This obsession also led me to pick up another book that had Fall of the Mutants splashed all over it: X-Factor.
I could see from the covers that X-Factor featured Cyclops and a woman who looked like Phoenix and I found out as I read X-Factor #25 that she was indeed Jean Grey. Beast was human again, but getting less intelligent the more he used his super-strength and the final member of X-Factor was an old friend from Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends: Iceman. I was also introduced to a fantastic villain in Apocalypse as well as former X-Factor ally, Angel, whom Apocalypse had transformed into the metal-winged Archangel, his horseman of Death—the X-Factor end of Fall of the Mutants is collected in the Volume 2 trade paperback. I didn’t like the art as much in X-Factor as in Uncanny X-Men, but the story was good. Apocalypse was obsessed with survival of the fittest and mutant supremacy. I’m pleased that he was one of the first X-Men villains I was introduced to now that he’s about to get his big screen moment in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse.
I began following Uncanny X-Men and X-Factor religiously—though I never really got into The New Mutants, go figure—but the X-Men clearly held more sway over me than Cyclops’ crew. I was fully addicted. By the time the fall of 1988 rolled around with the latest Mutant Crossover, Inferno, I was an X-Men Expert, but that’s another essay.
The story had been called Fall of the Mutants, but it represented the Rise of the Mutants in my consciousness. The X-Men, and especially Wolverine, solidified themselves as my favorite comic book characters and it’s a position they’ve yet to relinquish.
Doug Simpson is an author and blogger. As one half of The Hodgepodge Podcast, he talks movies, music, TV, and pop culture with his partner, Dirty A. He also writes a ton of movie reviews, which can be found at Doug’s Reviews and The Hodgepodge Podcast. His first Young Adult novel, Great Big World: The Trouble with Dr. Beamo, will be available in Summer 2014. Please follow him on Twitter.
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