X-Men Milestones: X-Cutioner’s Song captures a fascinating moment in X-Men history. Chris Claremont was taken off the line, Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld left Marvel after finishing the last big X-Men event X-Tinction Agenda, and Fabian Nicieza just came off co-creating Deadpool and Shatterstar with Liefeld on New Mutants about a year prior. How could Marvel continue the high of delivering big crossover events that mattered? This recent rerelease of the collection suggests that they tried, but maybe didn’t pull it off to their liking.
This collection opens with an intro by Nicieza, who co-wrote this event with Peter David and Scott Lobdell. In the letter, Nicieza is quite open about the fact that this collection may not hold up over time, but it was still a good attempt at pulling off a huge crossover event. For the most part, I think he’s right and it’s nice to get a little context before diving in, even if the letter was written in 1994.
As events go, this book had quite an A-list cast of artists, even if a few of them didn’t really hit their prime until a few years later. Greg Capullo, Andy Kubert, Jae Lee, Brandon Peterson, and Larry Stroman penciled the series and their high-quality, detailed style stands up throughout. There isn’t a hitch to be found in the quality of artists in this book. More than once I found myself lingering on a page to admire the art.
The story itself kicks off with a major attention-grabbing moment which sees Cable shoot Xavier from afar. It’s not only bold but dramatic, with Xavier seemingly dead, or at least bleeding out. Xavier’s part in the story is mostly to be looked over by Beast for much of the narrative, but in the end, there’s a nice moment between him and Jubilee that’s worth reading. One of the strengths of this collection was how it weaved in Apocolypse, who was typically the big bad villain at this point, but is rendered more of a middling good guy. It foreshadows what we might see in Excalibur next week and is yet another example of how complex the X-Men story can be.
The biggest element this series adds to the X-Men mythology is Stryfe, and how he plays a part in being a Summers family member. At the time this came out of the idea that Cable being the son of Cyclops and Jean Grey wasn’t yet known — that would be revealed a year later — and Nicieza adding to this Cable’s clone Stryfe (or is Cable the clone..?) made the family even more complex. One might argue it’s convoluted, but it’s an interesting way to explore the family line with the big climactic set piece this book ends on.
The weakness of this collection resides in its length, running across 13 issues. The story bobs back and forth between each title and can grow tiresome. Cliffhangers can feel unnecessary, while Stryfe and Apocalypse bandy about in the story. Nicieza talks briefly about editorial meetings in the intro, suggesting much of this narrative was written by committee. Not every scene, but certainly the outline and big beats of the story. That shows as the story twists and turns in unnatural ways, serving the plot over any character development.
It’s a fun ride to experience X-Men history with these Milestones trade paperbacks, but it’s also a reminder of how older stories had their quirks and issues. The comic book medium is storied and complex, and with those complexities come imperfect moments too.
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