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‘X-Men Milestones:  Fatal Attractions’ review: classic masterpiece, or the beginning of the downturn?

Can it be both?

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You know you loved them. You had to have them. In 1993, there was nothing cooler than those holograms on the covers of Fatal Attractions crossover issues.

We look back on them and cringe now, but there’s no denying the stupefying and near-complete hold all things X-Men had on comics readers (and much of the general public) at the time. The adjectiveless X-Men #1, co-written by Chris Claremont and current Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics, Jim Lee, shipped over 8 million copies in 1991, still the record-holder for highest ever sales.

But change was in the air. The X-Men franchise had become so big, maybe there were too many hands in the pot. Claremont, who had stewarded Marvel’s merry mutants since 1975, left X-Men after just three issues, reportedly due to disagreements with editor Bob Harras. And comics (and fans) themselves were changing. If you remember scrambling for holograms, I probably don’t have to tell you that the “grim and grit” that comics purists bemoan of that “extreme” decade followed shortly thereafter.

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Marvel Comics

Marvel recently published a collection of the entire Fatal Attractions story under the “X-Men Milestones” banner, and it sure is one, for better or worse. The blinged-out, cash-funneling mega-event was certainly a turning point for the line, and maybe for comics in general.

For starters, it is brutal. By that I mean the opening issues of the X-Men and associated teams battling Magneto’s Acolytes ramp up the violence in ways that weren’t all that common before. There’s not a ton of blood and guts or anything, but John Romita Jr. and Brandon Peterson’s pencils really elicit the feeling of a dirty slugfest, rather than a Silver Age, four color quarrel.

The language brings the hurt, too. Trigger warning for all the “anti-SJWs” out there who think only modern comics tackle social issues and we should all “get back to just telling good stories,” but this whole volume is dripping with depictions of oppression, minority struggle, and blatant statements that mutant bigots are like Nazis. You know, back when we all agreed that it’s bad to be a Nazi.

It’s a running theme throughout Fatal Attractions, though it sadly sometimes runs in circles. People like to talk about how comics took longer to read in ye olden days, as if time spent somehow directly relates to value. Fatal Attractions hits a lot of the same dialogue beats over and over again, when condensing and focusing probably would have been a better approach (and let’s not even get started on what passes for teen dialogue coming from the mouths of Jubilee and Boom-Boom).

So, in a way, it’s almost like veiled decompression, if you’re wont to use that term. You can complain that stories take too long to complete now, but much of this saga could have been combined into fewer issues if it weren’t for all the spurious pontificating. But then, it is nice to see little side issues, like the repercussions of the Neophyte’s betrayal, fleshed out into full stories.

New Acolyte Colossus acts as the Neophyte’s defense, because yes, he’d turned villain in Fatal Attractions. He doesn’t act very villainous, here, though, and the transition feels largely unearned to begin with, despite the inner turmoil over the death of his sister, Illyana (whose torturous continuity is run down during her funeral, if you’re into acknowledging even the weirdest of previous tales).

The most famous moment of the crossover, Magneto ripping the adamantium out of Wolverine’s body, while gruesome, strangely doesn’t have the resonance it might, either. Fabian Nicieza tries his best to presage the moment with talk of their eternal rivalry, but it rings a little hollow when Scott Lobdell doesn’t mention it at all in the previous issues. X-Men #25 is probably still the best of the bunch, though, as tension is built continuously until Charles Xavier and Magneto both break mentally and emotionally (which is also odd, considering Nicieza notches the weakest issue of the trade, X-Force #25, while Lobdell is otherwise even-keeled).

This new level of aggression between Xavier and Magneto might be emblematic of where all of comics storytelling was headed at the time. It’s a major plot point that Magneto’s global electromagnetic pulse led to hundreds, if not thousands of deaths, a topic that was often only danced around previously. Xavier’s willingness to do anything it takes to stop him, even if it means breaking his own self-imposed rules, surely began the professor’s slide into untrustworthiness in the eyes of his students and those of future writers. That’s not to mention Larry Hama’s neat treatment of Wolverine’s new bone-clawed status quo which, whatever you think of the stories that followed, established a tougher and more tactical runt.

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Wolverine #75

Romita’s pencils stand out from the pack, and Andy Kubert’s work toward the end of the volume seems strangely scratchy and stylized. Joe Quesada throws in some stuff, too, along with Chris Bachalo (though you might not even know it, in either case), and a host of other artists and colorists combine for a visual experience that’s remarkably consistent and engaging, for the most part.

X-Men Milestones:  Fatal Attractions nicely compiles all the disparate issues (including X-Men Unlimited #2, for some reason) that you’ll need for the full experience in the same place, though you still might feel like you’re missing something as the narrative jumps from beat to beat. Overall, though, reading this volume is an emotionally powerful experience on the surface level, and a peek into a changing industry on a meta level.

Oh, and there are five pages at the end all about how they made those damn holograms.

X-Men Milestones: Fatal Attractions
Is it good?
It's a story caught between two eras, but a compelling one nonetheless. Like much of the '90s, it's probably not as bad as you remember, while still having its flaws.
Viscerally emotional
Tight continuity, and an explanation of Exodus' name
Nice art from Romita Jr. and mostly consistent tone from others
Proof that circular arguments aren't just relegated to real life
X-Force #25 is a dud
Not all the character arcs feel earned

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