I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
To be a youthful fan of superhero comics during the nineteen-eighties, one needed — absolutely needed — to adore the X-Men. Writer Chris Claremont took the granules of Stan Lee’s original conceit for the team, with the maligned mutants standing in for every beset group of people in American culture, and spun it into a fair representation of the sensation of being perpetually outcast that comes with adolescences, especially for those trudging through their teenager years with an affection for comic books in the time before the culturally normalizing effect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is what it feels like to be young and willfully misunderstood, Claremont offered, and wouldn’t it be nice if razor sharp claws sprung out of the top of your hands any time you were being hassled too much?
I came to Uncanny X-Men a little later than some other titles, but I fell hard. I reveled in the soap operatic instincts of Claremont’s writing (and eventually soured on the title when his weakness for outer space sagas took the series down some seemingly endless avenues), but I was especially enamored of his ability to occasionally deliver an issue that seemed like a mere diversion, in large part because those stories always stealthily deepened the characters. In that category, few stories were more delightful and satisfying than “Kitty’s Fairy Tale.” Presented as a bedtime yarn spun by the X-Men’s youngest member and newest recruit, Kitty Pryde, the story recast our various anguished heroes as the bubbly cast members in a fanciful romp. Kitty, naturally, was the hero of the tale, a fearsome pirate. With a Wizard of Oz-style methodical precision, she encountered her transformed teammates, including one who now resembled a Smurf:
This version of Kurt Wagner, also known as Nightcrawler, was popular enough that it carried over into proper continuity. The creatures, dubbed Bamfs (after the commonly used sound effect that accompanied Nightcrawler plying his main super-power) cropped up in various stories that came later. If only the same could be typed for the Taz-like avatar of the unduly ubiquitous Wolverine.
I hardly have exhaustive knowledge of everything Marvel Comics has published over the course of the past thirty years or so. It’s entirely possible that scruffy ruffian has popped up somewhere. If so, I’ve no doubt that story was terrible. So adjust my wish to see more of the Coors-bearing beast accordingly.
The story progressed with the giddy dream logic of a story made up on the fly. Kitty’s intent, within the narrative, was to entertain the sweet little sister of her burly crush, Peter Rasputin. Within the exercise, she revealed some of her own feelings of inadequacy around being the kid member of her superhero squad. Why, she can’t even give herself boss magical wings when the time comes.
This issue of the X-Men wasn’t actually all that strange, at least in the grand scheme of superhero comics. In a way, it was simply an extension of the “imaginary stories” that DC Comics published with some regularity years earlier, providing the opportunity for creators to explore notions completely detached from the continuity boundaries set up for the individual characters. For me, though, already deeply bought in to the meticulous rigors of Marveldom, it seemed the height of whimsy, a blissful indulgence. Claremont, who adhered to Vonnegut’s dictum “Be a Sadist,” even found space to offer an emotional respite to star-crossed lovers Scott Summers and Jean Grey.
After years and years of tiresome back-and-forth with Jean Grey’s character, this now plays like an echo of an echo, but Uncanny X-Men #153 hit newsstands (when comics still hit newsstands) only a couple years after the fabled “The Fate of the Phoenix!” issue. It had weight.
In retrospect, this individual comic had absolutely everything I was aggressively, anxiously seeking whenever I plunged myself into the printed pantheon of four-color fantasies. It was awash in imagination, taking full advantage of the form to go wherever Claremont and his pencilling collaborator, Dave Cockrum, chose. The comic book page was a wonderland without real rules. Uncanny X-Men #153 demonstrated why that held such appeal.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
The New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod
Dark Horse Presents
Bizarre Adventures #27
Marvel Team-Up #48 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Metal Men #20 by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru
The Avengers by Roy Thomas and John Buscema
Fantastic Four by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
American Flagg by Howard Chaykin
Marvel and DC Present by Chris Claremont and Walter Simonson
Batman by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #5 by Alan Kupperberg and Pablo Marcos
Web of Spider-Man by Louise Simonson and Greg LaRocque
Super-Villain Team-Up #12 by Bill Mantlo and Bob Hall
What If? #31 by Rich Margopoulos and Bob Budiansky
Fantastic Four by Scott Lobdell and Alan Davis
Magik by Chris Claremont and John Buscema, Sal Buscema, and Ron Frenz
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7 by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell
Avengers #202 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie and George Pérez
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Jim Steranko
Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers by Jack Kirby
What If? #6 by Roy Thomas, Jim Craig, and Rick Hoberg
Iron Man #39 by Gerry Conway and Herb Trimpe
Stig’s Inferno by Ty Templeton
Avengers #221 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie, and Bob Hall
Fantastic Four #176 by Roy Thomas and George Pérez
Fray by Joss Whedon and Karl Moline
Legends by John Ostrander, Len Wein, and John Byrne