If you’re new to comics I highly recommend you read what came out of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. It gives you a perspective on comics and will most likely make you appreciate them more. That’s largely because comics from these eras were trying new things, going full melodrama, and making waves with comic book storytelling. Without these years of exploration and tinkering, comic books, in general, wouldn’t be what they are today. It’s a big reason why I had such a blast reading X-Men Epic Collection: It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn because it’s so weirdly good.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Continuing the saga of Marvel’s original mutant team, we bring you the most unusual X-Men adventures ever! Pushed undercover by anti-mutant paranoia, Hank McCoy sets off on his own, taking a research job. But his scientific curiosity will curse him forever when an experiment gone wrong turns him into a fanged, furry, blue Beast. Meanwhile, the other X-Men find themselves pursued by a secret adversary that seeks to pick them off one by one. They must join forces with Captain America to save the nation and rescue their mutant comrades. Also featuring the first appearances of Wolverine, the top-secret Weapon X program and Madrox the Multiple Man, an X-Men/Avengers battle against Magneto, and a host of x-tra rare X-Men covers!
Can I jump in easily?
You’re going to need your Marvel encyclopedia handy if you aren’t fluent in Marvel Comics characters. This is a weird collection in that it houses a lot of strange one-shot tales with Spider-Man, Hulk, and the Avengers inexplicably popping up. Luckily most stories are self-contained and don’t require you to know a lot about continuity, but there also isn’t a cohesive story from beginning to end either.
Reason 1: When the Beast turned gray he kinda went mad
The first 239 pages of this collection mostly feature Beast and his transformation from normal skin to grey fur and eventually blue fur (although he calls it black when it changes). The very first issue collected here features Spider-Man kidnapping Gwen Stacey and Iceman stopping him (weird right), but that’s a blip in the grand scheme of things. No, instead you are privy to one of the craziest transformation in comics.
That transformation involves Beast decides to create an elixir that can turn anyone into a mutant for a brief period. Seems normal enough for a scientist until he finds out his boss is working with spies. Beast downs the drug and turns grey and with the transformation, he also has a bit of a temper. Sadly he realizes it’s permanent. To continue as his normal self Beast wears a rubber mask and a special suit to make his spine straight. It’s a situation where he has a secret identity of sorts, which evolves as the story here develops.
Reason 2: A reminder this is a large shared universe
This is an interesting collection in that it features all the covers to X-Men at the time, but many of the stories are from Spider-Man, Avengers, Hulk, and other superhero books. It’s a grab bag of stories that have mutants in them, essentially. Reading this serves as a reminder that Stan Lee was trying to connect as many heroes each month as he could, likely to increase sales for books that might be lagging. By doing so, he made this world feel cohesive. Hulk might do something to Havok, as he does here, and Havok might then turn and reflect on that in another book. It creates a living world that makes the reader feel more compelling and realistic.
Reason 3: You will say, “Did that just happen?” a lot
While I was reading this book I had to take pictures of what I was reading and share on Twitter. It was just that weird. We’re talking moments where Magneto makes his daughter (who probably wasn’t his daughter at the time, but still) dance for him:
— David Brooke @ SDCC (@Nosocialize) July 15, 2019
Where Daredevil refuses to joint he Avengers because it’d be too distracting with so many heroes running around:
— David Brooke @ SDCC (@Nosocialize) July 14, 2019
And the one in which Spider-Man forces himself on Jean Grey to the shock of Xavier:
— David Brooke @ SDCC (@Nosocialize) July 14, 2019
Seriously, this is about as weird as comics can get. That makes it so much fun to enjoy because when will you ever see a character reflect on how their face is rubber and they couldn’t possibly kiss their girlfriend or they’ll find out their secret (this happens to Beast)? This book is a great reminder comics weren’t always as realistic as they are today. Instead, they were straight silly and more fun for it.
Reasons to be wary?
As a completist, I love having this on the shelf, but it’s an odd read since so many of these stories are unconnected from each other. It reads like you’re getting a taste of what the X-Men were like in the early ‘70s, but the adventures and calamities were so disconnected it’s hard to follow or even care about their adventures.
Is there a rationale for the reasons?
What an incredibly weird and enjoyable book. It seemed as if every other page had some shocking moment, wild reaction from a character, or a turn of events that was unbelievable. The ’70s had some of the best comic book storytelling because it was so weirdly good.