My big project that I’ve been spending way more time than I’d care to admit on is making an ultimate reading guide to the X-Men line. In theory, once complete, I will have a reading order completed that allows an X-Men reader with the time (and resources) to read straight through most of the X-Men story. I say most because I’m leaving out solo series/minis that move away from the teams (Wolverine, Cable, Gambit, etc). Trying to fit them in would be an effort of maddening futility (like trying to enjoy Chuck Austen’s X-Men).
It was quite simple at first – there was only one X-Men title. The only thing that had to be determined was at what point the annuals should be tossed in to not break up an ongoing storyline with the usually unimportant story. Upon the launch of New Mutants and further down X-Factor, the titles had to be more carefully organized for better reading. To do so, I follow three main guidelines in determining the order:
- Characters – The X-Books have characters showing up in each other’s books all the time. Finding openings for these appearances are the most helpful aspect in figuring out where stories relate to one another. For example, if Wolverine pops in to visit the younger team in an issue of New Mutants, then the story would fall between issues that would allow Wolverine an opening to do so. If an issue of Uncanny ended on a cliffhanger with Wolverine laying bloody before a villain, chances are that he’s not going to get up and visit the junior team back home before coming back for the start of the next issue.
- Events – Characters’ dialogue often references events that happen in other titles and thus shows relation in timescale. If Cannonball mentions that Magneto has been acting weird since the X-Men returned from a certain mission, then that appearance falls after the issue in which that mission took place. Crossover events are especially helpful, as they serve as starting/stopping points for different titles. The Mutant Massacre wrapped up in issues 214, 46 and 11, respectively, of Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants and X-Factor. Fall of the Mutants began in issues 229, 59 and 24. Thus, even if the exact number of issues don’t match up for each title, all of the issues between the three books must have played out between the two events (in this case, 15 for Uncanny and 13 for both New Mutants and X-Factor).
- Readability – The biggest point of this entire project is that I want the whole experience to be enjoyable (or at least as enjoyable as the story allows). Thus, I try to switch between the various titles at story breaks. If a story goes for three issues in Uncanny then wraps, I will then switch over to one of the other titles for its next story before getting back to Uncanny. This attempts to keep the stories fresh, as you don’t get overloaded with any one title before switching to another, and keeping the stints short prevents forgetting what happened in another title by the time the reader gets back to it.
With just three X-Books to deal with, the operation has thus far gone smoothly. I’m two issues away from kicking off the Mutant Massacre (one issue each of New Mutants and X-Factor) and so far I’ve only had to make one correction (X-Factor has a two-part story that leads directly into the Massacre that I had initially split up).
But there is one issue that breaks two of the rules on its own and there’s simply no good way of getting around it. And it frustrates the hell out of me.
Nothing irritates me quite like finding that the next issue on my reading list is an Annual. For quite some time, the Annual was nothing more than an unimportant over-sized story added for the sake of putting one out. At least one member of the usual creative team, likely the artist, wouldn’t participate in the issue. These tend to lack any kind of importance and are lost in the minds of fans.
In putting together a reading order, Annuals can be especially frustrating when the ongoing story in the title doesn’t take a break for it. Thus the Annual has to find a break in the storyline when all the characters within are available to participate. The example of this difficulty can be illustrated with X-Factor Annual #1 in which the best place I could find for it followed a statement in which Marvel Girl demands that she and Cyclops speak about his marrying a clone of her (that wasn’t known at the time), but first the whole team had to take a trip to the Soviet Union for the good of the Red mutants. It was kind of awkward place for it, but there simply wasn’t a more convenient place. Waiting a single issue would have put them into the Mutant Massacre, which would remove Angel from the team. But still, it worked. It just suggests that Jean and Scott hadn’t had a moment for their talk.
The problem, instead, took place in Uncanny X-Men. Chris Claremont seemed determined to make sure at least some of his Annual stories mattered. It was in Annuals that Nightcrawler learned the true identity of his girlfriend, Rachel Summers took up the identity of Phoenix, the X-Men rescued the New Mutants from Asgard (to set up Uncanny #200), and much later down the road, Gambit and Storm met up with the New Mutants and reunited with Forge and Banshee at the ruins of the X-Mansion. Of course, there were also the throwaway stories like Illyana’s fairytale, the Impossible Man’s scavenger hunt and whatever the hell Atlantis Attacks had to do with the X-Men.
Despite its rather goofy story, Uncanny X-Men Annual #10 had some important events in it for the main story of the X-Men. It brought Longshot to the X-Mansion, putting him in line to become a member of the team. It established the path that would lead Psylocke to join the X-Men rather than the New Mutants despite her lacking the training of some of the students. And, less importantly, it debuted the rather horrible individual costumes of the New Mutants that would reused later down the road.
But fitting the Annual in with the rest of the books is much easier said than done. Using my rules above, the following would need to be taken into consideration.
- Rachel Summers was no longer with the team, therefore the issue would have to take place after her ill-fated attempt to kill Selene, her stabbing by Wolverine and her capture by Spiral.
- With that said, the story would have to take place after the X-Men’s fight against Nimrod alongside the Hellfire Club. The X-Men were searching for Rachel when attacked by Nimrod and finally gave up the search the issue after it happened.
See how that works? In theory, that should put Uncanny X-Men Annual #10 after issue #210, since that deals with the fallout from the Nimrod fight. There are also some other signs that put it there:
- In the Annual, Colossus is wearing his classic yellow and red pointy-shoulder costume. #210 featured dialogue in which he explained to Magik that all of his newer designed costume (the red and white Soviet look) had been destroyed – a rather unimportant plot point around that time.
- The storyline features Psylocke, who had been introduced to the school (and American comics) in New Mutants Annual #2. That story itself dropped a reference to a recent issue of New Mutants setting both of these behind it (that’s important for the event lineup and the readability balance).
That’s all fine, right? So what’s the problem?
The battle against Nimrod left both the X-Men and the Hellfire Club with casualties. For the Hellfire Club, the rather ridiculous looking Frederick Von Roehm was disintegrated by a blast from Nimrod, and then Harry Leland suffered a fatal heart attack when going through with the plan that actually defeated the robot and saved all of the mutants’ lives. For the X-Men, it was a misguided teleportation attempt by Nightcrawler:
The battle in Uncanny #209 ended with Nightcrawler missing in action, his fate left undetermined. In #210, Kitty Pryde uses Cerebro* to try to locate both Phoenix and Nightcrawler. The search found Kurt, so Shadowcat, Colossus and Magik headed off to rescue him from being beaten down in a bar. You might ask why Nightcrawler went to a bar rather than home, but it was really just an opportunity for Kitty to deliver a speech on how persecution of mutants is just like the persecution of different races or religions. She did that a lot around that time.
Anyway, the point I’m not making is that Nightcrawler could not escape his attackers because his injuries suffered from Nimrod left him unable to teleport. This was an important point leading into the Mutant Massacre because Nightcrawler’s diminished capabilities directly led to him being severely injured in the Marauders attack and eventually leaving the X-Men to found Excalibur (Uncanny would go nearly 70 issues without a single Nightcrawler appearance). So between issue #210 (the aftermath of the Nimrod attack) and issue #211 (the start of the Mutant Massacre), Nightcrawler should not be teleporting. In fact, he should be recuperating from injury. A panel in #211 even shows Nightcrawler surprising his teammates with a teleport only to faint due to the strain.
And there’s the problem. As said before, Annual #10 has to fall between #210 and #211. Numerous plot points require that it happen that way. Once the Mutant Massacre was underway, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat and Colossus would no longer be active on the team. Before that point, Rachel Summers would still have been around. Yet sure enough, numerous times throughout the story Nightcrawler is teleporting normally without even a hint of injury or even strain.
On the production side, it was probably just an oversight on Chris Claremont’s part. Chances are that he had written Annual #10 in advance with the only real plot point worked out being that Rachel Summers had left the team. If you recall, Claremont’s original big plan following Uncanny #200 had to be greatly altered (due to a disagreement between Alan Moore and Marvel) after the wheels had already begun turning. Rachel leaving the X-Men was a part of that, and the cancellation of the story is why she stayed gone until after the Fall of the Mutants and the launch of Excalibur. Claremont had likely written the annual planning on putting Longshot and Psylocke on the team, but had not yet written the altered storyline in which Nimrod (substituting for the Fury) injured Nightcrawler, setting up his fall during the Mutant Massacre. So it’s actually not that big of a deal.
Unless, of course, you are dealing with a continuity nit-picker like me. The solutions I came up with were:
- Push the issues ahead of Rachel’s departure from the team and just assume that she’s doing something else during the story.
- Simply pretend that Nightcrawler didn’t actually teleport as was shown on the printed page. The nerdier amongst you might call this the post-Crisis Legion method.**
The first solution didn’t sit well with me for a couple of reasons. Beyond the matter that every resident of the X-Mansion was present for Annual #10 (both X-Men and New Mutants), making Rachel’s absence even more curious, pushing the Annual’s reading order forward would also suggest that both Psylocke and Longshot were hanging around the X-Mansion behind the scenes while all of the Nimrod matter was going down. That would also make the matter of Kitty needing Cerebro to work without the presence of a telepath irrelevant since Psylocke was available, her powers known.
It also disrupted the reading flow as it would also push New Mutants Annual #2 forward, and within that story a reference is made to the events of New Mutants #44 which takes place two issues before the New Mutants tie–in to the Mutant Massacre. That means that New Mutants would hit the back burner as Uncanny and X-Factor finished up its issues leading to the crossover, which doesn’t work with the flow.
So as much as I hate to do it, I have to just shrug and accept that Nightcrawler’s actions in the setting of Annual #10 cannot be explained and just chalk it up to a continuity mistake. In over 200 issues of Uncanny X-Men I’ve read thus far, this is the first incident in which that has happened. I’m almost certain that it won’t be the last (though avoiding the matter is the reason I’m not trying to add the solo titles into my guide) especially once I get to more current books in which the X-Editors seem to give up and trying to put any kind of rhyme or reason to character appearances.
And that- THAT is what I go through in my quest to read through the entire story of the X-Men. And this is still at just three X-Books. Perhaps it’s easier to see why the effort has been ongoing for a couple years now.
* I know Cerebro is only supposed to be used by telepaths but with the removal of Charles Xavier from Uncanny the team was stuck with this awesome mutant detection computer and no means to use it so a lame plot point was dropped in that the system was “adjusted” so non-telepaths could use it. Whatever.
** The revamp of DC continuity following Crisis on Infinite Earths assumed that Clark Kent had not assumed a super-hero identity until he came to Metropolis and debuted as Superman. Thus all the adventures starring Superboy (Clark’s youthful heroic exploits) were removed from continuity. This created a problem for the backstory of the Legion of Super-Heroes, whose history largely revolved around Superboy. Thus fans created a workaround in which they would simply pretend that appearances by Superboy would be either M’onel, Ultra Boy or even Laurel Gand depending on who was appearing in the scene.