My X-Men Quest: 16yrs of Chris Claremont

Welcome to the X-Men, Adam. Hope you survive the experience!

Hiya folks, Adam here. My good pal and beloved Crimespree editor Dan Malmon asked me if I would be interested in writing a piece about finishing my Chris Claremont run of Uncanny X-Men. No, not that run from a few years back, and no, not that other run from even a few years farther back. I’m talking about the run, that sixteen year run of books that has pretty much bred all of the X-Men movies and cartoons that have come out in the last twenty years. That would be Uncanny X-Men 94 through 279, with Annuals 3 through 14 and a little gem known as Giant Size X-Men #1 thrown in just for completion’s sake.

A little history. I started collecting comics in May of 1985. It was spurred by my love of Transformers. I knew there was a comic and being all of 8 years old I had to have as much Transformers stuff as I could get my tiny hands on. So I begged and pleaded with my pop to drive over to the Hy-Vee a few blocks over from the house and buy me a comic. He gave in and I came home with Transformers #6. The gateway book.

For the next four years I’d go from Transformers to G.I. Joe, not really paying much attention to the superhero stuff. Sure, I had some. I’d always ask for the 25 or 30 comic pack that was offered in the Sear Wishbook each year. I’d flip through them but I didn’t really know what was going on.

Then, Christmas 1988 arrived. A typical Christmas, not too different from most others. Loot and swag aplenty. Another 20+ comic grab bag from the Wishbook. Only this time, maybe something was different. Maybe this time it was because I was 12, getting a little older, some hormones acting up that hadn’t been there before, percolating away in my body. I’d toss these comics aside and keep know half the battle for a few more months, not knowing what was going to happen that spring.

I don’t know if it was boredom or thinking how Zartan killed Serpentor during the Cobra Island War that did it but I found myself done with the Joes. But I wasn’t done with comics. I needed to find something new to read. I started to search through that stack of Wishbook comics, looking for something that would grab my attention, something so awesome and amazing, dare I say it, something so uncanny, I would forget about the 22 page toy commercials I had been reading.

There, in this mix of miscellaneous Marvel books, were Uncanny X-Men #s 236-238. Parts 2-4 of the first Genosha storyline. Wolverine and Rogue, their powers removed, captured and held prisoner by an island nation where being a mutant was illegal and those captured were forced into slavery. This was pretty heady stuff. The knockout art work by one Marc Silverstri didn’t hurt either. I gave these books a read because of their consecutive nature and by the time I was done I was hooked. I needed more X-Men. I remember trading something for a copy of #229, the first appearance of The Reavers and I was done for. I was an X-Men fanatic!

To Hy-Vee. I had to get more. Rogue was my new favorite hero! I needed more Rogue in my life. So I grab the current issue out of the spinner rack. Issue #247. Not a great issue to start with if you’re a fan of Rogue. She and Nimrod get sucked into the Siege Perilous! Not having read the Fall of the Mutants, I didn’t realize you could come back from the Siege Perilous. Definitely not a great start to my newest obsession. Issue #248 hit the stands and there was a new artist?! Some schmoe named Jim Lee?! Who did this guy think he was? He definitely wasn’t any Marc Silvestri.
I stuck with the book. Ordering back issues from New England Comics (how many 12 year olds do you know of that had Tick posters in their locker in 1989, in Iowa no less! Probably not many), begging my parents to stop at comic stores when we were out of town. I still remember picking up issue #171 so I could have the issue were Rogue joined the team. I was soon filling more holes than a Dutch boy as I obtained more and more back issues. I devoured these books, read them and read them some more.

A family trip to New York? Back issue hunting. Money that my parents wanted me to spend on souvenirs…shyeah, right. Uncanny X-Men comics were the trinkets and tchotchkes I decided to purchase to remember the Big Apple. By the end of 1989, I had moved from just Uncanny X-men into X-Factor, New Mutants, and Excalibur because you just had to read them all. There were crossovers that could happen. How could you miss out on something tangentially happening over in New Mutants? You couldn’t! That would be madness.

The next few years were happy ones indeed. I soon learned to accept this Jim Lee guy as being the second coming of Jack Kirby. Hey, those Portacio and Liefeld dudes were pretty groovy too. Summer of 91, Mutant Genesis hits. New Mutants becomes X-Force. There are now two X-Men titles to read. X-Factor has some guy named Larry Stroman stinking up the joint on art.

I then get hit by the speculator bug. Image. Valiant. There was money to be made. I soon traded all of my comics for five Valiant comics. Let me repeat that. I TRADED ALL OF MY COMICS FOR FIVE VALIANT COMICS. Two longboxes gone to a friend’s dad who’s only source of income was selling toys and comics at a flea market twice a year. In my fervor to have the hottest books, so hot the only issue I can tell you had from those five books was Solar: Man of the Atom #5, I traded away 8 years of my life. And this grown man, who should have known better, took advantage of that and allowed me to make this trade. At 15 I thought this guy was amazing because he didn’t work a 9-5 and made his money off action figures and funny books. It wasn’t until much later, deep into my 20s, that when I thought about it I realized what scumbag he truly was. Gone was my very first comic. Gone were many Wishbook grab bags. Gone where all my X-Men.

Step in my cousin Chuck. He also read comics and upon graduating high school decided to stop. I asked if I could have his X-Men and related books and he told me I could. For $50. I soon found myself owning the same issues again. Along with large runs of Wolverine, X-Factor, and New Mutants again. I would never let these go… never… nope… trust me. I wish I could say I still had these books because of December of 1997 my cousin Chuck was killed in a car crash. I didn’t really get sentimentality at that time so these books would soon become fodder for my current anime obsession. Another large run of X-Men and related books soon turned into a full run of Akira and Battle Angel Alita. Hey, at least unlike those five Valiant books I still have the Battle Angel Alita issues in my current collection. Akira got traded for DVDs (I never have claimed to be a smart man).

I stuck with X-Men up until Grant Morrison took over and that was that. I walked away, much like Cyclops in issue #138. My passion for Marvel Merry Mutants had died with Morrison’s secondary mutations and Igor Kordy’s atrocious artwork.

Over the next decade I would still keep abreast of my pals at the Xavier Institute. I enjoyed the movies. I played some of the video games. Read some of the news about what was going on in the comic. I tried to get back into the world when Joss Whedon started Astonishing but I was out by the end of the first year. The concept of the Danger Room becoming sentient was just too stupid for me to buy into. I have since gone back and read Whedon’s entire run on Astonishing and don’t think it’s too bad. It’s no Claremont and Byrne but it has its moments. I’ve even gone back and read Morrison’s full New X-Men run. Again, not bad. I still dislike the idea of secondary mutation. I even began recollecting the Claremont stuff through the black& white Essentials line, just to remember the good times. And, every once in a while, I would think back to how much fun I had collecting those back issues. On the rare night, I sometimes caught myself thinking what if…

Jump forward in time to the fall of 2013. I’m looking to sell my X-Box 360. It is gathering dust; I could use the money for my annual trip to Boston. I mention this in passing to a co-worker and he tells me he’s in the market for a new X-box, his just went tits up. He asked if I would be interested in a trade as he didn’t really want to pony up the dosh for a system. I asked him what he had to offer and he said “how about some of my comics.” I knew what he had from having looked over a spreadsheet of his books to help him determine if he had anything of value. So I went for the chance to make “what if” a reality.

“How about my X-Box 360 for your Uncanny X-Men 135-280?” He paused a moment to think and then replied “you got it.” Holy Hannah! Just like that, a collection that I had done away with for a second time 13 years prior was mine again. He even threw in Annuals 5-14.
With these books now mine again I decided to aim as high as I could. I decided I would go for the whole cheesy enchilada and try to make something happen that I had wanted to do when I was 12: Own then entire original Chris Claremont run of Uncanny X-Men.
I began scouring Minneapolis and St. Paul for books. I found a few odd issues at Half Price Books in Roseville. And then nothing. I decided to wait and bide my time for that favorite American pass time. The best shopping day of the year… Black Friday! While others would be out trying to score a new TV or a DJ Roomba, I would try to get as many X-Men comics as possible. Little did I know this day, this day of disgusting consumerism, would blow my expectations out of water, G7 you sunk my battleship!

Some of the pickups were preplanned. I had a large batch of books on hold at Captain Jack’s in Bloomington, taking advantage of their 25% off Black Friday sale. A few other scores were surprise finds at Hot Comics in New Hope (30% off there!). A trade at Nostalgia Zone in Minneapolis netted me a few more books. When all was said and done, I found myself with issues 104 – 134, only missing 109. That was not going to sit well with me, that one glaring omission in what would be an otherwise unbroken run of books from 104-280. On a side note, I was also looking for a book for my wife and every other shop had come up short. I was way ahead of schedule so I decided to stop by Comic Book College in Uptown. It’s a shop I generally never visit as I’m not a huge fan of Uptown Minneapolis but I wanted to find the book for my wife (which I did) and maybe on the off chance X-Men 109.

I arrived at Comic Book College (30% off back issues for Black Friday!) and started to flip through back issues. Nothing. Nada. Goose egg. Not a thing. So I wandered over to the trades and found the book I had been looking to purchase for the missus. As I head towards the register I see a box near the counter, with a sign that says “New Arrivals this week.” I decide to flip through and there, just as it had been waiting for me, was a pristine copy of X-Men #109. I had found it. The run was now unbroken. I was going to head home in a fantastic mood and begin formulating my plans on how to get issues 94-103 and finish this collection up. Notice how Giant Size X-Men #1 was not even in the cards. I just wanted that solid, sixteen year Claremont run.

As I am checking out I happen to notice some other books behind the counter. I see issue 95, issue 96 and 97. Then, I catch a familiar visage, sticking out from behind issue 95. The face of one Count Nefaria. It’s a copy of X-Men 94! The first issue written by Chris Claremont. The second appearances of Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus. The fifth ever appearance of Wolverine, ever, in Marvel comics history. I ask if I can see it, since it’s not a book that is normally in the wild. I just want to touch it and dream…

As it enters my hands I notice the price. $200. This is right at the very tippy top of my price range for this book. However, I’ve already spent way more money this day than I had planned, even with all of the Black Friday discounts I had been able to take advantage of. My hands began to shake, my heart was racing furiously, and I could not speak. I finally muttered “This is in my range, but I just can’t…”

The clerk says “It would be a good day to buy it.”

Not catching on, I say, “I just don’t know.”

This time, tapping the 30% off back issues sign, the clerk repeats “It would be a good day to buy it.”

Realization finally dawns on me. The book will not be $200. It will be $140. It’s in good enough shape for my needs. Decision made. Book purchased. I now own a copy of X-Men #94. A book I had wanted since I was 12 years old. A book that I had never thought I would own. A book that was now all mine.

I don’t remember much of the drive home, outside of knowing for certain that I was going to be in a multi-car pile-up on 35W and my book would be incinerated in an explosion. This obviously did not happen.

I also realized once I got home was that I now only needed issues 95-103 to finish this run. After 13 years of regretting selling the majority of these books, some of them twice, I had almost put together one of the greatest, well-regarded comic book runs in the history of the medium.

And another realization set in. If I could own a copy of X-Men #94, why couldn’t I, why shouldn’t I, why wouldn’t I, be able to get my mitts on a Giant Size X-Men #1. Outside of the hefty price tag attached to Giant Size X-Men #1, of course.

I continued to work on issues 95-103. Grabbed an issue from a local shop. Other issues from EBay or Atomic Avenue. The gap was closing. But my obsession to find a Giant Size X-Men #1 was growing. I was starting to dream about the book. I was looking at EBay listings because I knew I would not find a copy locally.
I learned that I knew nothing and my name may as well be Jon Snow.
A random mention on FaceBook that I was looking to find this issue was commented upon by my pal Pete. Pete worked at Twin City Comics until they closed their doors and he was their number one guy when it came to grading books. Pete mentioned that he was working on grading a large Marvel collection for a local collector and this gentleman did indeed have a Giant Size X-Men #1 that he was willing to part with. I asked Pete for condition and price. I knew the condition I would like the book in and I had a price in mind that I was willing to spend. He asked for a few days to look over the book and he would let me know. I asked that he send pictures if he could so I could know what the copy would look like.

Pete got back to me a few days later as he said he would and told me the grade was a “Very Good.” That sounded perfect to me but at that grade I was afraid it would be outside my budget for the book. Then the pictures came over. A nice, bright white cover, a rip at both the top and bottom of the spine (a common problem with the way these Giant Size editions were bound), and a very minor tear on the back cover. Nothing to be ashamed of and a book I could be proud of owning. If the price was right.

The next text made me blink rapidly.

“$100” it read.

“Is that a typo? Should there be another zero in there?” I texted back.

“No. $100 is what I graded this book at based on the conditions. I need a second opinion but $100 should do it.”

I told Pete I would most definitely take this book. He said he’d get back to me after the second opinion on the price and grade came in. I can’t remember the length of time that was, it was within a few hours, but I felt every second of the 25 years that had passed since the 12 year old me dreamed of owning a Giant Size X-Men #1 and X-Men #94. The 37 year old me could not believe it was about to become reality and I knew the 12 year old me would kick the current me in the shins for even suggesting this would ever happen. Hell, 32 year old me would do that same thing.

Pete sent another text, saying the $100 price tag was good to go. I was elated.
IMAG0721
On December 19th, 2013, at a little after 5 PM CST, I was the owner of a Giant Size X-Men Number #1. All was right in the world.
After all of that, the ending of the story is anti-climatic. The last issue I needed to finish the Claremont run arrived in the mail, issue #95 to be exact. It was nice to open that package and feel the sense of completion at owning not just Claremont’s full original run of X-Men, but a landmark run in all of comic history.
It’s clichéd to say “third time’s a charm” but I’m going to say it, third time’s a charm. It’s the third time I’ve owned many of these books in the last 25 years and the first time I’ve owned all sixteen glorious years of that run. It is also, the last time I will own this run. I’ve learned from the folly of youth. These books got me through my teenage years; saw me through many ups and downs. Their importance is greater than what I gave them credit for when I was in my teens.

I’m happy to report, with this all over, I did survive the experience. Thank you, X-Men!

 

Adam Vermillion