Quick: close your eyes and think of the X-Men and their look. There’s a good chance that you just envisioned a team make-up and an aesthetic that owes something to the work of Korean-American artist Jim Lee. While Lee is currently DC’s Publisher, he made his name as an illustrator at Marvel, particularly with his work on the X-Men. Jim Lee’s X-Men: Artist’s Edition, jointly released by publishers IDW and Marvel, is part of an ongoing series of oversized hardcovers dedicated to spotlighting comic illustrators’ art in its raw form.
Jim Lee’s X-Men collects excerpts from comics that Lee worked on from 1989 to 1992, with the earliest issue being Uncanny X-Men #248 and the latest being X-Men #10. 1991’s X-Men # 1 — home of this famous fold-out/multi-part cover — is presented in its entirety. Lee’s collaborators on the issues presented here include Whilce Portacio on pencils; Dan Green, Scott Williams, Art Thibert, Bob Wiacek, Joe Rubenstein, Dan Panosian and Karl Altstaetter on inks; Tom Orzechowski, Tomoko Saito, L. Louis Buhalis, Kevin Cunningham, and Pat Brosseau on letters; and Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Scott Lobdell on scripts (Content Note: Byrne has publicly been extremely transphobic, and there are multiple allegations of sexual harassment against Lobdell).
In addition to the comics themselves, the Artist’s Edition also includes a gallery of covers and Lee’s illustrations from the first Uncanny X-Men trading card series.
Right off the bat, it’s important to note that Jim Lee’s X-Men: The Artist’s Edition is a book with a very specific audience — it’s first and foremost for folks who love Jim Lee’s art, followed by folks who are interested in the craft of comics. Barring X-Men #1, none of the stories here are complete, both in terms of narrative and presentation. Jim Lee’s X-Men: The Artist’s Edition showcases Lee’s pages in their raw form, prior to their being assembled into a finished comic. Indeed, the pages and how Lee worked with them are as much a part of the package as his famous illustrations.
Furthermore, Jim Lee’s X-Men: The Artist’s Edition is a premium product — its list price is a hefty $150, though that may vary between shops. If you or a pal is new to comics and interested in this era of Lee’s art, the X-Men or both, a better option would be the two Lee/Claremont digital collections or the X-Men XXL collection on ComiXology. That being said, for its target audience, this Artist’s Edition is a splendid presentation of much-loved work.
It’s a treat to track the evolution of Lee’s art over the four years this collection covers, to see how it grows and changes. Wolverine’s maiming at the hands of the Reavers gives way to Rogue’s adventures in the Savage Land alongside Magneto, Ka-Zar, and Nick Fury which in turn give way to X-Men # 1 and the renewed conflict between the X-Men and Magneto. Lee’s art becomes more distinct over these periods. His men become beefy and buff, his women bendy and voluptuous (For good and ill, this is a late 1980s-early 1990s superhero comic [mostly] written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Jim Lee. Beefcake and cheesecake abound.).
Lee’s action shines in big, bold moments — Rogue taking to the skies, Beast leaping through the air, Magneto raising a shield from the raw metals ground. Downtime does not yet come as comfortably to Lee as action does, but the strongest moments lean into the way the X-Men carry themselves. Cyclops is, in his own stick-in-the-mud way, fairly laid-back and relaxed at this point in his career. Wolverine, rattled by some recent revelations about his past, is sharp (sorry) and standoffish. Jubilee is thrilled to be a superhero, even in her most teenage moments.
Jim Lee’s X-Men: Artist’s Edition is a beautiful presentation of a major part of modern superhero comics history. As someone who’s fascinated by the craft of comics, it’s great to see the way that Lee interacts with the physical material of the process (namely Marvel’s illustration paper), whether staying within its boundaries or playing with its rules and limits.
Commentary from Lee on his methods and techniques, as well as how his relationship to this work/part of his career has evolved over the years would be welcome, but that is admittedly not quite the purpose of the Artist’s Edition series. This is a book dedicated to showcasing Jim Lee’s X-Men art. It does so superbly.
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