I started my X-Men fandom back in 1991 when my brother picked up Uncanny X-Men #275 (featuring my all-time favorite cover), and then had me buying them just three issues later. 1991 was a big year for the X-Men franchise, as the three big titles – Uncanny, New Mutants and X-Factor all went through major changes. With the release of the cartoon shortly after, the X-Men became an even bigger sensation for young fans, even for a line that had for some time been THE book of the comic scene.
A lot of my time in late-91 and most of 1992 hanging out a small local comic shop about three blocks away from my house hanging out with the local solicitor, a guy I only knew as Steve. Steve had opened a comic and card shop along with a small art gallery in a building next to Louisville’s Clifton Pizza, which is why to this day I associate the smell of a sit-down pizzeria with comics. Steve was an amazing contributor to my fledgling comic fandom, one of the three people that _ my love of comics (along with my older brother and my friend’s Aunt Jane – who was my comic mentor).
I spent many a dollar in Steve’s shop, and he gave me numerous deals that helped me build my collection of both comics and cards. For the entire summer of 1992, I spent dollar after dollar on packs of the first-ever X-Men trading card set. This 100-card set (not counting the bonuses) was drawn completely by Jim Lee, and reflected all of the X-Teams, even Excalibur. This card set let me learn about all the X-Men characters, in a time when Al Gore had yet to develop the Internet. Back then, you had to read the issues yourself or find some kind of resource to get your knowledge. And this one was mine.
At a dollar a pack, I spent most of the summer of ’92 piecing together this set. Steve was nice enough to buy back my doubles as I slowly but surely worked on the entire set. In fact, two weeks was spent looking for two cards to finish the set – Shatterstar and Danger Room Gambit – until one fateful day I bought one pack that had BOTH cards in it. I was one happy camper.
In fact, my biggest regret of the numerous lost pieces of my youthful comic collection is that I managed to lose this set somewhere along the line. It was probably pitched or given away by my mom, but I can’t really blame her as it likely took place during my down period of comic fandom in the early 00’s. I could actually buy the whole set now for not that much, but I can’t say I have the money for it right now. (If any reader would like to…just saying, ha!)
But I occasionally go back and look through the set, via a site of scans at comiccovers.com, and reminisce about the fun I had collecting them.
But today when I did so it dawned on me that there are some characters that were highlighted back in this boom period of X-Men that have been lost into character limbo over the years. After all, it’s been over 2 decades since this set came out. So let’s look at some of the featured characters from this period that have been largely forgotten over time.
Feral was one of Rob Liefeld’s new creations that got added to the New Mutants in the final issues to quickly set up X-Force’s roster (along with Domino, Warpath and Shatterstar). Looking like the cat-equivalent of Wolfsbane, Feral was a thus far-unheard of Morlock looking for sanctuary and being taken in among X-Force, though in just her third issue, she managed to gut Cannonball. Thus it was unsurprising that Feral eventually defected over to X-Force’s arch-nemeses the Mutant Liberation Front, though that did her a fat load of good, as the group was decimated by its own leader shortly thereafter. After some sporadic appearances thereafter, she was finally killed off in a Jeph Loeb Wolverine story so horrible it has to be seen to be believed.
Kylun was one of Excalibur‘s original running plot developments, originally being set up in one of the earliest issues before returning and joining the team proper. Along with a rather strange appearance, Kylun had the mutant ability to mimic any sound, as well as a strong fighting ability honed with much of his life spent in an alternate reality. Shortly after Alan Davis left Excalibur for the second time, the X-Office took control of the book and cleaned house, removing nearly every member from the team. Kylun headed off to go find his parents, though I’m honestly not sure if he ever succeeded or not.
Another long-running plot development of Excalibur, Widget was originally nothing more than a small ball of metal made of random trash, but eventually developed into the neat looking thing seen above. One of the bigger plot developments of it was that it housed the consciousness of Kate Pryde, the same from Days of Future Past that came back to prevent Robert Kelley’s murder. Like the majority of Excalibur, Widget too was removed from the team in the post-Davis sweeping, but it and Captain Britain were done-so off panel with nothing more than a passing mention. There have been some appearances since, but never again was Widget any kind of running character.
Even for 1992, Maverick’s inclusion in this set strikes me as odd, especially when the likes of Cypher and Warlock are omitted. It probably has something to do with the fact that he was created by Jim Lee himself, debuting in the second story of the newly launched X-Men. Maverick was a Wolverine supporting character, largely tied up in the convoluted Weapon X nonsense. He caught the Legacy Virus but managed to survive long enough for the release of its cure, eventually becoming a character in Frank Tieri’s Weapon X, where he eventually was killed off.
Another of the eventually forgotten Excalibur characters, Cerise at least got an on-panel departure for the team, eventually having to face repercussions for her actions with her native Shi’ar. She left the team to serve Lilandra, only reappearing again when Chris Claremont returned to the X-Men books, where he used her to illustrate Nightcrawler’s vow of celibacy upon entering the priesthood. To my knowledge, she has not appeared since.
Another odd inclusion to this set, especially when the likes of the Marauders and Reavers were omitted. True, Mojo II was another Jim Lee creation before he departed the line, but his sole appearance set him up not as a villain, like his predecessor, but an ally of Longshot looking to improve Mojoworld. His ultimate turn was done off-panel, and by the time anyone got back to dealing with Mojoworld, the original was back in control. Who cares?
Remember when Gideon was a big deal? Neither does anyone else. Introduced as the head of the immortal mutants known as the Externals, Gideon really didn’t do anything aside from killing Sunspot’s father. In fact, most of the Externals’ dealings with X-Force had nothing consequential happening, and eventually the whole lot of them, including Gideon, were killed off by Selene…who doesn’t have a card in this set.
The early 90’s saw Wolverine’s past muddled with terms like “memory implants”. When the known crop of Weapon X characters headed back for answers, they found Shiva waiting for them. I’m not entirely sure Shiva has done anything since, but I do know its debut was big enough to get it into several X-Men video games as well as the cartoon. So there is that.
Gatecrasher was the leader of the Technet, who were the primary enemies of Excalibur for the first third of the book’s run. By the time this set had come out, however, Gatecrasher had abandoned her team and taken off on her own, fearing repercussions from her own team. I haven’t read all of Excalibur but I don’t believe she made much of an impact after that.
During the mid-80s, following the Mutant Massacre, a large plot point was the X-Men’s decision to have their headmaster Magneto join the Hellfire Club’s Inner Circle as a means of entrusting no further hostility from their longtime foes. By the time this card set had come out, Magneto and Sebastian Shaw were believed dead, Emma Frost was in a coma and Selene was MIA. The Hellfire Club was quickly done away with in favor of the Upstarts (see below), and never really managed to rebound.
The Mutant Liberation Front was Rob Liefeld’s contribution to the X-Men villains pool, with such memorable members as Forearm, Kamikaze and Thumbelina. The main point of it was its leader Stryfe, who as we all know was eventually revealed to be a clone of Cable. The MLF took a huge hit upon Stryfe’s death at the end of X-Cutioner’s Song, and again when new leader Reignfire basically dismantled the team himself before revealing himself to be Sunspot…only not really. Since then? Who cares? They all sucked anyway.
The most-unmemorable version of the Brotherhood was another Rob Liefeld creation in the pages of X-Force, but it did manage to upgrade Toad into a villain in his own right rather than merely a lackey. No, I’m just kidding, it really didn’t. While Blob and Pyro were Brotherhood veterans, Sauron was a new edition, though he didn’t hang around long. Oh, and there was also Phantazia…yeah, she was there. This was the first in a line of groups calling themselves the Brotherhood that lasted shortly and mattered little.
Oh, the Upstarts. When the 90’s relaunch of the X-Line kicked off, many of the regular villains, including Magneto, Sebastian Shaw, Donald Pierce and the Reavers, were quickly killed off to make room for this new group, featuring new characters Trevor Fitzroy, Sebastian Shaw and Fabian Cortez. And really, they got a hell of momentum starting out, but they just never went anywhere. I actually wrote an article about the Upstarts a couple years ago, if you would like to learn more.
At this point, I should note that several substantial X-Villains did not get their own cards in this set – Sebastian Shaw, Selene, Pyro, Trevor Fitzroy, Graydon Creed, Fabian Cortez and Sebastian Shaw. Along with Cypher and Warlock, they could have easily been included instead of the Danger Room puzzle at the end. But what do I know?
During Fall of the Mutants, Roma was actually a pretty big deal, especially when she resurrected the X-Men and set their whole Australian period in motion. A Captain Britain character, she also factored into Excalibur, but as the 90’s changed that title into a generic X-Men side book, her role lessened and lessened. She was eventually killed off in a story you probably have never heard of, but not before giving her knowledge to Sage.
And there you have it. Early 90’s X-Men history lost in the decades since. If I were to make a 100 card set today, featuring the same number of all categories, I wonder who I would include. Hmm…that seems like a good idea for a future post.