Nostalgia is a hell of a drug. While it can be good fun to look back fondly at times gone by, it’s easy to think so well of the past that you miss a lot of its faults. It’s the difference between Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy and Tom Cruise’s The Mummy. One is a loving homage to a bygone era that adds to the established canon without defiling it, and the other is a perverse cash grab, often driven by creative vanity, that uses something people fondly remember as a little more than a tool in a grift.
The Missing Links, a trade collecting the first six issues of Marvel’s ongoing X-Men Legends series, mostly hews toward the former, thankfully, but does have its issues. The series’ goal is to revisit former teams and eras within the X-canon and tell new stories or resolve old ones. The real hook here, however, is that the series typically brings back members of the creative teams from these eras to pen the adventures. The three mini-arcs contained within this trade, for example, were written by Fabian Nicieza, Louise Simonson (with her husband Walt providing the pencils for her arc) and Peter David. It’s a fun conceit, I’ll admit, but your feelings toward this series will have a lot to do with your affection toward these creative teams and eras.
Take Nicieza’s section, for example, which naturally focuses on the early/mid-’90s X-teams, most notably the Summers brothers. The author uses his two-issue stint to bring closure to one of the most tantalizing lingering threads of his original run with the X-Men, the third Summers brother. Unfortunately, this ends up leaning a little too close to creative vanity, as the lost sibling is revealed to be Adam X — the X-treme!
Now, this was always Nicieza’s intention, and I’m glad he’s getting to finally see his vision out (in some form). That being said, Adam X is just the worst example of everything wrong with the general pop culture aesthetic of the ’90s, and I didn’t need a book where he bonds with Cyclops, Havok, and Corsair over their shared lineage. That aesthetic permeates the entire mini-arc by design and it just leaves the section feeling like a relic of a time thankfully past. From the walking Mountain Dew commercial that is Adam X to the edgelord villains replete with Wolverine claws, this was an auspicious start to the series.
More charming are issues #3 and #4, helmed by the legendary X-Factor team of Louise and Walt Simonson. This throwback to the original X-Factor lineup feels effortlessly plucked from their previous run, and tells a fun (if largely inconsequential) story about Cameron Hodge’s first post-mortem assault on mutantkind with the help of perennial antagonist Apocalypse. Short of some muted coloration, this section fits so naturally within that era of X-factor that it’s easy to believe this is some kind of “lost story” that is only now being printed.
Now, this is where I admit that this was never my era of X-Factor (I was much more of a Peter David’s Madrox era fan), but that shouldn’t suggest that I don’t recognize that this will make a lot of classic X-fans happy. That being said, the Simonsons always had an issue with trying to cram too much into their books. This most commonly takes the form of action sequences only being depicted in text, and effectively happening off panel. It’s not enough to sink the whole work, but it is an issue that I’ve had throughout books I’ve read from this creative team. The Simonsons are nothing if not consistent.
The final section revisits Peter David’s first run on X-Factor (this book probably should have been called “X-Factor Legends”), just with a decidedly more modern look. The federal team will always have a soft spot in my heart, as this was the X-Factor lineup when I started reading. The one issue I have is that this book largely sidelines the more colorful personalities in the book (i.e. Madrox and Guido), in favor of lengthy dialogues from the extra dry Val Cooper and Havok. They mostly serve as a framing device for yet another forgettable B-story about some mutant Latverians rebelling against Doom’s rule.
There is some fun to be had in this book, mostly surrounding the normally austere Doom and his hotel room habits, and the pace is such that you never really linger on any one point for too long. It’s harmless fun, much like the other sections, but it all just feels a touch inconsequential when these stories are designed to fit within established continuity and — short of Nicieza’s section — really do nothing with the established lore of the X-universe. I also have issue with the ending, as though I’m sure Rahne was shaken by her experience in the mini arc, her willingly allowing Dr. Doom to murder a couple of people seems out of character.
The art on this book is as varied as the writing talents, but each artist is well paired with their section. Nicieza’s mid-’90s throwback is pencilled by Brett Booth, whose work takes clear influence from ’90s stalwarts like Rob Liefeld, Adam Kubert, and even a little Roger Cruz. His figures can be a bit too posed, and occasionally they come out a bit gaunt and unnaturally elongated, but it’s well rendered and extremely apropos for the series’ theme and era.
I’ve already touched on the work of Walt Simonson, but he hasn’t lost a step. I’m not a huge fan of the blocky figures made famous by he and John Romita Jr., but the Simonsons’ section of the book feels the most properly nostalgic and a lot of that has to do with the full creative team returning for the section.
The final section is pencilled by Todd Nauck, and though his line work is clean and consistent, it must be said this is the least visually interesting section of the book. If I had to pick a single problem, I’d have to say it’s his faces. There’s a certain lack of definition that leaves all of his characters looking a bit too young and cartoonish. There are definitely scenarios in which that works, but it feels a touch anachronistic with the mid-’90s vibe the series is going for.
Overall X-Men Legends Vol. 1: The Missing Links is a solid book. It’s good, harmless fun, but far from essential reading. Of the three arcs, there’s a clear hierarchy in quality. The Simonsons’ section is probably the strongest, while Nicieza’s portion likely has the most resonance, and David’s is little more than a fun detour. All of the stories are still fun and light, and this is a breezy read. It’s not something you need to run out and grab, but it could be a fun distraction on a Sunday afternoon.
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