You’ve heard of these stories. I know you have. I’m not here to preach to the choir, to worship at the altar of the Dark Phoenix Saga or Days of Future Past. That does none of us any good. What I am here to talk about is how Marvel presents these stories in the seventh installment of their X-Men Epic Collection line.
The first half of this collection is X-Men #129-141, Uncanny X-Men #142-143, Uncanny X-Men Annual #4, Phoenix: The Untold Story #1, and some backups and process pages from ancillary Marvel Treasury Edition and Team-Up issues. The physical artifact feels like there was genuine effort put into it, too — Marvel’s trades are inconsistent when it comes to things like paper quality, but this trade has the good stuff. Where there’s a bit of a disconnect, though, is the actual content printed on the page — each page of the original comics are made smaller so there’s enough room for a margin that includes a big page number at the bottom. I can’t really see a benefit to this; everything is just slightly smaller and the whole comic feels trapped within the confines of the page, rather than bursting out of it.
After the main story content, namely the Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past, the collection is mostly a bunch of ancillary and frankly unnecessary material. I have no real gripes with Phoenix: The Untold Story one-shot or any of the other extras, but I already barely remember their contents and I don’t plan on rereading them if I do end up revisiting this collection. They were included out of some sense of obligation to chronology rather than an actual necessity of the story or era.
Almost all of the content in this collection is drawn by John Byrne, who is an abhorrent person, but drew some really nice comics back in the ’70s and ’80s. The better quality paper is a gift to this art, because it allows the colors to pop. At the same time, this does appear to be glossy paper rather than newsprint, so the comic itself is mildly recolored. I’m a bit of a stickler for reading things in their original form, and this collection doesn’t allow for that. It’s a nit pick and wouldn’t bother most people who aren’t me, but is something that I noticed.
The last thing I want to touch on is the actual presentation of this collection. I’m of the opinion that collected editions look best when they’re distinctive and you can immediately tell what the contents are from afar. Sadly, the Epic Collection line does not adhere to this principle — the spine is a generic black with dark blue and white text, the same as all the other X-Men and X-tangential Epic Collections. The cover’s a recolored version of the famous Dark Phoenix cover that loses a lot of the flair and personality of the original. Honestly, if I saw this on the shelf or on display in my local comic shop, I wouldn’t really think it looked striking. If I wasn’t already interested in X-Men, this wouldn’t sell me on trying them out. Presentation matters, no matter how strong the actual work is.
Like I said at the beginning, we all know the interiors of the collection are good. That’s not what I’m here to talk about; you must have known that going in. This Epic Collection does a serviceable job providing its contents to the reader — it’s not nearly as distinctive or high end as the Uncanny X-Men Omnibus, but it’s affordable, especially alongside all the other Epic Collections you’d need for this run. If you’re looking to have all of Claremont’s X-Men without breaking the bank, this is for you, but it’s clearly not without its own flaws.
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