With the first “X-Men #1” in almost 20 years dropping this week, we thought that it would be fitting to flash back to a book of the same name and number. Return with us, readers, to the thrilling days of 1991!
Late Summer/Early Fall : The official cover date for X-Men #1 is October of 1991, but we all know the vagaries of shipping dates vs. cover dates. So, what was going on?
Music Went Crazy: We touched on a bit of this in previous columns, but music went insane in 1991. Nirvana broke through, kicking off the Alternative Revolution. Rap became a dominant sales force, and new Country re-emerged. Metal was still strong, as Metallica’s so-called “Black Album” hit in the summer, followed by the one-two punch of Guns ‘N’ Roses “Illusion twins” by fall. More disparate acts were knocking each other out of the number one album slot than ever before, based in part on the then-new SoundScan tracking. Artists with number one albums that year included Vanilla Ice, Mariah Carey, R.E.M., Michael Bolton, Paula Abdul, N.W.A., Skid Row, Van Halen, Natalie Cole, Metallica, Garth Brooks, GNR, U2, and Michael Jackson (who would be dethroned by Nirvana two weeks into 1992).
Big Movies: Proving that X-Men #1s aren’t the only thing that move in the 19-year-cycle, a big Robin Hood film was in theatres, this one being Kevin Costner’s “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”. It was second only to the behemoth that was “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (directed by James Cameron, who had another visually ground-breaking film that made a bunch of money recently). Other important hits were “Silence of the Lambs” and Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”.
1991 on TV?: Proving that comedy ruled the air at the time, eight of the top ten TV shows for ’91-’92 were sitcoms. The two lone holdouts were “60 Minutes” and “Murder, She Wrote”. The rest of the top ten was rounded out by: “Roseanne”, “Murphy Brown”, “Cheers”, “Home Improvement”, “Designing Women”, “Full House”, “Major Dad”, and “Coach”. With the exception of pseudo-doc “Unsolved Mysteries”, there was a single cop show in the top 30, which is MUCH different than today.
So, the X-Men then?: Right. From a story perspective, ”X-Men #1” came about as part of an X-line across-the-board reset that spun out of the lengthy saga involving the Shadow King. The conclusion of the story essentially had most of the X-related characters present for a battle at Muir Island. Said battle left the previously healed Professor Xavier in a wheelchair once more. From that story moment, the resetting of the teams began.
Earlier in the year, “New Mutants” had given way to “X-Force”. In “X-Factor”, the dispatching of young Nathan to the future left the team open to participate in the Shadow King battle, and subsequent rejoining of the new X-Men team. “X-Factor” then gave over to the new government team, featuring several Muir Island battle combatants; that initial line-up was Havok, Polaris, Strong Guy, Wolfsbane, and Madrox the Multiple Man. “Excalibur” remained Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Captain Britain, Meggan, and Phoenix II.
The line-up of the X-Men, then, was large and stuffed with classic characters. With Professor Xavier back at the mansion, and Forge, Banshee, and Dr. Moira McTaggart along for support, the team became filled out by Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, Beast, Archangel, Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Gambit, Rogue, Psylocke, and Jubilee.
Your Creative Team . . .: Chris Claremont handled the writing duties, as he had for the X-Men since 1976. On pencils was Jim Lee, the rising superstar that had already distinguished himself on “Uncanny X-Men” and “Punisher: War Journal” among others. The superstars-on-a-#1 formula had worked to great success for Marvel twice in the past 18 months at that point; both the new “Spider-Man” title created expressly for Todd McFarlane and the “X-Force” book featuring the art of Rob Liefeld had been huge sales bonanzas.
“X-Men” went on to crush them both. Buoying by four variant interlocking Lee covers (and a fifth variant, a fold-out of all four covers together), the book went on to sell 8.3 million copies. Granted, X-Men was Marvel’s most popular series at the time, and the speculator market was in full swing, but few people expected numbers like THAT. We’ll never see its like again, to be sure.
The issue pitted the X-Men (now broken into Blue and Gold teams) against Magneto and his new Acolytes. The story would arc through the first three issues of the title, after which Claremont departed the X-books for many years. For his part, Lee would depart a few months later to co-found Image.
While the Acolyte thread would continue to play out over time, the most significant impact of the book outside of immediate comic circles could be seen on Fox TV on Saturday mornings. The team, prominently featuring the Jim Lee redesigns that garbed the characters, soon made the transition to the incredibly successful eponymous animated series.
So, readers, what do you recall of 1991? I graduated high school, Lucas was in (what? Fourth?) grade, and David Pepose was taking a nap in kindergarten. Did you read the book at the time? What did you think? Does it hold up? Obviously, it had a big impact, but what does it mean to you now? That’s “X-Men” #1 from 1991, and it’s your Friday Flashback.What's your memory of X-Men #1?