There are really only two ways you can read the X-Men Epic Collection: The X-Cutioner’s Song as a grown adult. Either you let yourself escape into the dreamy world of nostalgia, relishing in the more X-citing days of youth. Or you repeatedly shake your head in shame, wondering why 10-year-old you was so enthralled with these, uh, subpar comics.
At a price hit of $50, that’s quite a bit to shell out for nostalgia. But, maybe you have a good friend going through a midlife crisis who needs a Christmas gift.
Well, the collection does include five issues of Uncanny X-Men (#289-293) as well as four issues of X-Men (#10-13) preceding the 12 part X-Cutioner’s Song crossover. So, at least you get a whopping 520 pages of content. That’s about 10 pages per dollar!
Anyway, are X-Cutioners known to sing songs while X-cuting? Is this some well-known cultural or literary reference that I’ve never heard of? And who X-actly is supposed to be the X-cutioner in this crossover? I don’t recall any X-cuting going on in those 12 issues. Does it matter? Probably not. It’s just one of about 187 inexplicable things going on here.
One thing seems certain: this collection definitely marks the start of the ‘90s for the X-Men. I don’t mean the start of 1990 in the year of our Lord. I mean the ‘90s era of comics known for its confounding art and narrative style, of which the X-Men franchise was probably the most prominent contributor.
A history lesson: as the ‘80s came to a close, X-editor Bob Harras less than graciously drove Chris Claremont out the door, only after Claremont had taken the X-Men from B-list heroes to the most dominant franchise in the comics industry. Bob wanted to hand the reins over to the highly popular new faces of comics, including Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio and The Rob (that’s Rob Liefeld).
And the X-Men Epic Collection: The X-Cutioner’s Song does in fact include some of Jim Lee’s and Whilce Portacio’s final work on X-Men, all of it in those nine issues before The X-Cutioner’s Song actually begins. Take, for example, the few famous poster-ready Jim Lee covers included. Whilce Portacio also contributes a few beautiful covers of Storm.
But, by the time The X-Cutioner’s Song begins, Lee, Portacio, Liefeld and the rest of the popular boys had jumped the Marvel ship to start Image Comics. I have to admit, I feel plenty of schadenfreude as I think of Bob clamoring to replace the creators he thought would be his bread-winning artists. He ended up replacing them with – let me check my notes – Brandon Peterson drawing Uncanny X-Men, Greg Capullo on X-Force, Jae Lee on X-Factor and Andy Kubert starting his run on X-Men.
So, we do get some well-known and popular artists. Unfortunately, at this point, they are all doing their best to mimic Jim Lee’s style, which is obviously what Bob Harras wanted as the X-Men standard. Well, except Jae Lee, whose style is a bit more experimental, which makes it a bit more interesting at times, but ultimately looks like a fever dream of Jim Lee’s style.
Accordingly, we get every ‘90s comic cliché you can think of. Men’s jaws are all squared. Teeth are often gritted – and there are lots of teeth. Everyone always seems to be yelling at each other. We have bomber jackets and tank tops and pouches – lots of pouches. There is a lot of crosshatching; just lines everywhere. I’d hate to have been the inker. Everyone is constantly posing in front of the camera. In X-Force #16, Greg Capullo provides us with what might be the two most ‘90s pages ever created.
And everything is big! Both men and women have big hair. Did someone ask for mullets? We’ve got big mullets. The capes are big and flowing. The muscles are so big, there are muscles growing on muscles. The guns are big. About the only things that aren’t big are the women’s waists, which are often smaller than even one of their boobs.
Human anatomy seems to be treated like a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ series. Bodies, especially muscles, grow and shrink depending on the setting. Feet are avoided whenever possible. Legs, especially women’s legs, grow longer – sometimes over two-thirds of their body-length – and sleeker or more muscular. Sometimes a leg appears to detach from the body in order to give us a boobs and butt pose.
Speaking of elongated legs and boobs and butts, the many distortions of Psylocke’s body have been well documented. Here they are on full display. She doesn’t have an important role in the story whatsoever, yet appears in nearly every issue. It’s somewhat humorous how some of the artists continue to place objects in front of her impossibly long pelvis, I assume so that they can get away without actually having to draw her crotch.
Wait, how did Boom-Boom’s costume change between issues, even though it’s a continuation of the previous scene? Wait, it happens again in the next issue? Wait, it’s happening to other characters, too? Does it matter? Probably not. It’s just another one of about 187 inexplicable things going on in this crossover.
The plot of The X-Cutioner’s Song can best be compared to a kid who owns every X-Men action figure, takes them all out, throws them all on the floor and yells, “FIGHT!”
But, it’s X-actly this plot that my inner 10-year-old X-citedly describes: “Prof. X is shot by someone who looks exactly like Cable! Then, Jean Grey and Cyclops fight the Dark Riders and are kidnapped! Then X-Factor fights X-Force! Then the X-Men fight Mr. Sinister! Then a combined X-Factor and X-Men squad fight X-Force again! Then the X-Men fight Apocalypse! Then Wolverine and Bishop fight Cable! Wolverine and Bishop against Cable! Then a giant X-Men, X-Factor and X-Force squad fight the M.L.F. Then Stryfe fights Apocalypse! Then Jean and Scott fight Stryfe! Then Cable fights Stryfe! And it’s so awesome! Anyway, you want to come over Saturday morning and watch the cartoon with me?”
Any description of this story that doesn’t includes a lot of X-clamation points doesn’t do it justice. I’m not sure I got all of those fights in the correct order. And I’m definitely sure that I left out a few more. Also note, this is a story that involves X-Force and the other X-Teams trying to resolve their philosophical differences on the use of violence by punching each other really hard.
Wait, what is Mr. Sinister even doing in this crossover? In his subplot, he trades the kidnapped Jean and Scott to Stryfe for a canister that is supposed to hold the Summers’ family genetic material. But, he had Scott (and Jean) captured and incapacitated! Why does he need to trade them for Scott’s genetic material? Does it matter? Probably not. It’s just another one of about 187 inexplicable things going on in this crossover.
Don’t forget, the X-Men are not being plotted by the likes of Claremont and the Simonsons or even Jim Lee and The Rob anymore. Instead we now have – let me check my notes – Scott Lobdell’s infamous stint on Uncanny X-Men, Peter David’s first critically acclaimed run on X-Factor and Fabian Nicieza on both X-Men and X-Force. At least Nicieza makes a few meta-jokes about things like the costumes inexplicably changing between issues.
The X-Cutioner’s Song appears to be mainly Nicieza’s story. It climaxes his main conflict from X-Force between Cable and Stryfe. Did you know Cable was created by Rob Liefeld? Just ask him; he’ll be happy to tell you.
Stryfe has to be the most ‘90s villain in X-Men history. He is so X-treme! His costume is shining metal armor with spikes all over, a giant flowing red cape and a huge metal helmet that looks like it’s made completely out of giant blades. He’s the clone of a cyborg from the future, who has traveled back in time. And he’s absolutely megalomaniacally crazy, out for revenge against everyone, most especially Cable, Apocalypse, Jean Grey and Scott Summers, due to what basically amounts to really big daddy issues.
You know, the further I read, the more I got used to the mind-boggling art and the even more incomprehensible plot. Luckily, Lobdell has some characters recap everything important in Uncanny X-Men #296 in a way that makes the story somewhat comprehensible. He still can’t explain why Mr. Sinister was involved, though.
And, to be quite honest, one of the X-Men’s biggest revelations of the ‘90s occurs in The X-Cutioner’s Song. This was the crossover that most X-plicitly revealed Cable to be Scott’s child, who was taken to the future to be raised, but now has grown old and travelled back in time to fight for the future. It also reveals the connection between Stryfe and Cable (one is the clone of the other). Or, at least I think it does. Nothing is really said outright. Mysterious origins sell comic books; be back next month to see if we tease any more.
And the epilogue involving that inexplicable canister that Mr. Sinister got from Stryfe in exchange for Jean and Scott is really the start of the Legacy Virus plotline, which will painfully haunt all X-titles throughout the rest of the ‘90s.
I guess in that sense, The X-Cutioner’s Song is really one of the most important crossovers of the ‘90s; a must-read, actually. Well, at least if you want to escape in the nostalgia of more X-treme, X-citing and X-uberant times. X-Men Epic Collection: The X-Cutioner’s Song really does include both the best and the worst that the X-Men franchise of the ‘90s had to offer. If that’s your thing, support your local comic shop and go buy this collection. Otherwise, you’re probably better off avoiding ‘90s X-Men – except The Age of Apocalypse. That rocked.
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