By Arune Singh
[Welcome to Make Mine Marvel, a bi-weekly series of articles devoted to all the things we've loved about Marvel over the past 60 years. From toys to video games, movies to trading cards, Underoos to stamps and more, we embrace it-warts and all. Kick back and enjoy Marvel's merry past with us.
For those of us who grew up in the '90s, it seems a pre-requisite that you'd become familiarized with the X-Men at an early age-from the comics, cartoon, games or toys. And if you were a comic fan, you were pulled into a lot of universe-changing crossovers. While some look back at that time period with less than favorable memories, and understandably so in some cases, I can't remember feeling anything less than love for all the big events unfolding across comics' many universes.
From "Knightfall" and "The Death & Return Of Superman" at DC to Marvel events such as "Maximum Carnage" and the various "Infinity" epics at Marvel, something was always happening with your favorite characters. You can debate the merits of these stories as much as you like, but the fact is that I loved the events at the time and it's that epic scope in the storytelling that created so many fans. But from the moment X-MEN #1 hit the stands, selling a mind-blowing 8.1 million copies, it became clear to me that my first and only priority was the X-Men. Everything about them, from the social commentary/allegory to the cool back-stories, was perfect for someone entering their teens. And even better, things were happening.
More than any other super-hero team I can remember, the X-Men titles not only embraced crossovers, but used them to move storylines forward. Even if I wasn't working at Marvel, I'd be excited for the upcoming "Messiah CompleX" event simply because it's been 10 years since the last X-Men crossover and they've generally been a lot of fun. Just look at the past events: mutants hunted like animals by the Marauders! Wolverine's adamantium removed! Angel turned into a Horseman of Apocalypse! The teaming of X-Factor, X-Men and the New Mutants against a huge threat! Still, there's one X-over, pun intended, that holds a special place in my heart: "The X-Cutioner's Song."
The basic premise of this 1992 crossover was that someone, apparently Cable, attempted to assassinate Professor Xavier and set in motion a war within Xavier's students, past and present, over how to deal with Cable. On one side we had X-Force, defending Cable and claiming it couldn't be him, while the rejuvenated X-Men and government-sponsored X-Factor sought to bring Cable to justice. To make things even better, every issue was polybagged with a cool collectible card, and while this makes some people roll their eyes, I always liked those cards. For a relatively new fan, they were an invaluable source of information. So in this 12-part epic we discovered the true villain of the story, saw many characters set on new paths and even somewhat resolved the true identity of Cable (hinted at back in X-Factor #68). The storyline even introduced the Legacy Virus, a fictional allegory to the AIDS epidemic, further adding relevance (and timely commentary) to the plight of mutantkind.
Why did this crossover affect me so much? Frankly, it's because "X-Cutioner's Song" was the first X-Men crossover I ever collected and it was the first comic event I ever completely owned...and because it's damn fun.
I didn't know much about the X-Men, so each issue of the crossover was a door to a whole new group of soon-to-be-favorite characters. Given the speculators "investing" in comics at the time, it was hard to pick up the final issues of NEW MUTANTS or some newer issues of X-FORCE at a reasonable price, so this crossover was my first real exposure to the X-verse. Everything was big, epic and meaningful because this was an event that had years of build-up-we're already invested in the major players and this story answered some big questions.
Plus, this story featured every major X-villain of the day (except the presumed-dead Magneto) in the intertwined group of Stryfe, Apocalypse and Mr. Sinister! The most interesting aspect of that group was the fact that it wasn't a team-up per se-everyone had their own agendas and was constantly seeking to gain the upper hand. No one was a cackling, stereotypical "villain" because everyone had very real and understandable agendas. Stryfe wanted revenge on his "parents." Apocalypse sought to ensure survival of the fittest. Mr. Sinister's motives were a bit more mysterious, but considering his past involvement in X-Men events, his mere presence meant we'd get a clue to his true plans.
The team of mutants assembled was a celebration of one of the X-Men's historical high points. We had the cool dual X-Men teams (Blue and Gold Strike Teams!) that encompassed every popular X-person from over the years; an X-Factor team that Peter David shaped into one of the most innovative and enjoyable comics of the '90s; the surprisingly proactive team of New Mutants led by Cable. Just looking at all those teams, you notice one thing they all have in common: growth.
The New Mutants graduated into X-Force and developed their own set of views, a hybrid between that of the peaceful Professor X and the soldier mentality of Cable. X-Factor demonstrated how far mutants had come, beginning to work with the government and gaining societal acceptance. Each member of the team had a storied past and they weren't the characters you expected to see together (except for Havok and Polaris). Even the name X-Factor was a nice nod to the original X-Factor team formed by Havok's brother Cyclops.
And the X-Men! The X-Men had been torn apart, challenged and split into their own groups-but finally came back together. The best part? They didn't all get along. Cyclops' leadership was challenged. New members such as Gambit and the much-different Psylocke added an element of distrust to the team. Wolverine saw no reason to play by the rules. Every character on the team brought a unique dynamic to the group, not only because so many had been introduced when other members were on board, but also due to the excellent stories involving clusters of these characters produced in the preceding years.
It'll be interesting to get feedback and see how other people view this pivotal event in X-Men history. No one's rushing to celebrate the 15th anniversary of X-Cutioner's Song, but at the same time, I've spoken to a lot of people my age (mid '20s) that remember this story fondly. The premise was intriguing. The characters were gripping. And the revelations continue to affect the X-books to this day.
I'd be remiss if I didn't take a moment to honor the creators involved with that storyline. Following the departure of heavyweights such as Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio, Jim Lee and Chris Claremont, the X-Men could've been in trouble. But Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Peter David, Jae Lee, Andy Kubert, Greg Capullo, Brandon Peterson and stepped up and delivered. They coordinated and produced a huge story worthy of being remembered over a decade later and continued to tell bold, compelling stories as the years went on. When I think of the X-Men, it's hard not to remember the guys who implemented some of the biggest changes in X-history.
I won't pretend that I don't look back at this story with rose colored glasses and yes, there are valid criticisms I'm ignoring. But y'know what? It doesn't matter to me because "X-Cutioner's Song" is simply a fun, great story to read on a rainy day. What more could I ask for?
Make Mine Marvel.
Check out the full gallery of "X-Cutioner's Song" covers, including the 12 core issues, the unofficial epilogue, the one-shot handbook-style STRYFE'S STRIKE FILES and the issue of WHAT IF? that puts a dark spin on the events of the crossover.
Unfortunately, we don't have great scans of the 12 "X-Cutioner's Song" trading cards...yet. If you do, though, post them or your email address in the forums. If we use 'em, we'll give you credit here on Marvel.com.