As someone who got into comics via the 90s X-Men cartoon – and whose first X-Men story was actually X-Men #1 back in a UK reprint series, let me state for the record: I love Chris Claremont’s last couple of years on the X-Men. That’s why, when the chance came up to re-evaluate Claremont’s final arc, from the opening 3 issues of X-Men (Vol. 2) I just couldn’t say no. After all, at $4.99 for over 3 comics’ worth of material, it’s pretty good value, and if nothing else it’ll provide a nice reading copy to go alongside my worn and aging originals.
Of course, this book isn’t really aimed at me. It’s aimed at the people who might want to pick up X-Men Forever (the premise of which is “What if Chris Claremont never left the X-Men?”) but who weren’t there the first time around. Since “X-Men #1” was written as a jumping on point anyway, the story in Alpha stands alone quite well, which wasn’t always the case with Claremont’s X-Men stories. For better or worse, it’s full of all the tropes that made his run enjoyable in the first place – well-defined characterisation, speech bubbles full of dodgy accents, and philosophical monologues on virtually ever page. As a microcosm of what Claremont’s run was like, it can hardly be faulted.
It helps that the story is fairly action-packed, too. Compared with the decompressed, 6-issue arcs of today, this 3-issue arc manages to feel like several blockbuster events crammed into one. The story shows the reunited X-Men going out on a mission against – who else? Magneto – and over the course of it, recalls events from hundreds of issues ago (the sinking of the Leningrad, Moira raising the infant Magneto) while also climaxing with the apparent death of Eric himself. The opening sequence, in which the X-Men team simulate an attack on the mansion as a training exercise, is a great sequence, though after such a strong opening, the arc does start to suffer towards the end. Lee tends to overcrowd his pages, while Claremont uses any remaining space for dialogue, and it becomes clear that this was not a story designed to be read in one sitting. About two-thirds in, you’ll be longing for a month’s break just so you can digest it.
The issue also contains a few pages as a teaser for X-Men Forever, which show Claremont sticking to the premise far more than the promo art initially suggests. Whether or not it has any appeal outside the X-Men nostalgists is hard to gauge, but off the back of this collection, I’m actually feeling quite charitable towards what I’d previously viewed as an ignorable Claremont vanity project – so in that respect, at least, it’s done its job.