Marvel’s relationship with the X-Men movies has always been a little strained. It’s something that goes right back to the beginning of the franchise. Indeed, Bob Harras’ failure to turn the release of X-Men into an excuse to sell X-Men comics is often cited as one of the factors in his removal as Marvel EIC mere weeks after the film came out.

As it was, their sole attempt to synergise their line involved a logo change on the core books that lasted 2 months, and a handful of movieverse tie-ins. The idea of X-Men movieverse comics seems alien now, but back then it was a thing that definitely happened. Here we present a look at what is perhaps the most visible of those: X-Men: The Movie, The Official Comic Book Adaptation. Or as I like to call it, X-Men: The Movie, The Official Comic Book Adaptation of the Official Comic Book Movie: The X-Men or XTMTOCBAOCBMTX for short.

You might imagine this comic would be a high priority for Marvel. At the time, the X-Men movie was a big deal. A huge deal. X-Men had been the comic industry’s dominant franchise for a decade plus, consistently selling better than everyone (except, once in a while, Spawn. Hey, it was the 90s.) Marvel’s main attempt to sell comics to the movie audience was to do this to the main two X-Books:

This looks like a comic movie-fans would recognise now, right?

Admittedly, it’s never clear who adaptations are aimed at (is it people who’ve already seen the movie and know what happens? or people who don’t want to see the movie at all?) but either way, the creative team for this comic is not what you’d call impressive. Ralph Macchio (then-editor of the Spider-titles) adapts the script from the
screenplay. Anthony Williams, a Welsh artist who mostly worked for 2000AD, provides pencils.

With no disprespect to either man, these are not Marvel’s top creators, and that shows in the work they produce. Maybe it was the pressure of trying to fit an entire movie into 64 pages. Maybe the comic was produced very quickly. Maybe the enormity just got to them. But whatever way you look at it, this is terrible.

Even ignoring the fact that, with so much to cover in so little space, the comic can’t do things like build the necessary rapport between Wolverine and Rogue to make the story work, this comic is broken on a basic technical level. Every caption and speech bubble is overwritten. The art frequently doesn’t resemble the events that the narration and speech claim is happening. The narrative is so garbled that by the time they’re fighting Magneto at the Statue of Liberty that you realise that they’ve never actually explained what his plan is beyond “switch on the spinny mutant-maker” machine.

One of the bigger problems with the visuals is that no-one looks remotely like the actor they’re played by. I was going to suggest that there were issues with the likeness rights that it’s trying to circumvent, but looking at the wider context of the book, it’s clear what’s happened: Williams has been asked to draw a film he hasn’t seen.

Let me write that again in capitals so you know how dumb it is. HE’S TRYING TO ADAPT A FILM HE HASN’T SEEN. That’s why everyone looks so off-model. They’ve been cobbled together from a combination of publicity stills, concept art and their appearances in previous movies.

That’s supposed to be Rogue (Anna Paquin) sitting in the grounds of the mansion. It does not look like either of these things

But let’s be clear, as many problems as there are with the art, it’s the writing that’s truly terrible. Almost legendarily bad. When you’re translating a script from screen to page, there’s sure to be a need to paper over some of the cracks. Things might work in one medium but not another. That is fully accepted by everyone here. But it’s still no excuse for lines like “Rogue! Stay Back! He’s extending claws from his wrist!” not least because NO VERSION OF WOLVERINE HAS EVER EXTENDED CLAWS FROM HIS WRIST.

Presumably he’s doing it really slowly, too.

Even the lettering on this book is bordering on incompetent. Observe:

STOP! You’re reading the wrong way! This panel goes from right to left!

Appreciating that Chris Eliopoulos can only work with the art and script he’s sent, no-one is going to read these word balloons in the right order first time, not least becasue they’re embedded inside one another for no reason. And this is THE Chris Eliopoulos. One of the most celebrated letterers ever. One can only assume he had a really tight deadline.

We’ll now have a brief interlude in the article so I can share some other great moments taken from this geniune comic which exists.

“Jean! Hold still while I explain my actions in vague terms!”

Here, Jean is coloured African-American for no reason. (actual reason: even the colourist has stopped giving a fuck by this point.) BONUS NOTE: Macchio confuses telepathy and telekinesis.

“I just ate too many lentils, Logan, and I’ll thank you not to mention it.”

“So, er, not devoid of ALL metal, then.”

One of the few genuinely interesting things about this comic is that it appears to have been adapted from an earlier version of the script than the one that was used for shooting. It contains a scene at the top of the movie showing Storm’s powers awaken – something people who’d read the script often described, but which was never shot.

“Why film a scene in Africa when we can just cut it?”

More interestingly, it’s also a version from before Joss Whedon did his rewrites. Some of the lines Whedon added are public knowledge. The script Macchio is adapting doesn’t contain them. As a result, the story is actually missing one of its most memorable and hilarious moments. You know the bit. Cyclops confronts Wolverine after his fight with
Mystique. “How do we know it’s you?” “You’re a dick.” “Okay then.” It’s not entirely missing from this script, but, er…

“I’m sure that would’ve had audiences chuckling too.”

Of course, Whedon didn’t just contribute the film’s best moment – he also contributed the worst. As a result, there is one thing in this comic that’s better than the movie. Do you know what happens when a Toad gets struck by lightning?

“In retrospect, Halle Berry could probably have managed this one.”

Er, yeah. That.

So there you have it. X-Men: The Movie, The Official Comic Book Adaptation of the Official Comic Book Movie: The X-Men, cover dated August 2000. Prestige format. $5.95. Adjusted for current comic price inflation, that’d be about $10. Excuse me while I vomit laughing.