Have you ever heard two people with a vested interest in the same commodity start a conversation about their shared passion? Get two people going on about Game of Thrones and I swear they’ll be murdering someone’s wedding or something, I don’t know, I don’t watch it (1%, BAY-BEE!). You might not know this, but I am an X-Men fan. A pretty big one. I talk about the X-Men on a daily basis. I started a blog over a decade ago because I wanted to talk about the X-Men.
A few years ago, an old online buddy of mine from the great Canadian wilderness or somewhere named Scotto Williams decided to begin a blog in which he would take an in-depth, yet irreverent look at EVERY SINGLE ISSUE of Uncanny X-Men beginning with the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby debut in 1963. His site is called Uncanny X-Cerpts. It is AWESOME. He’s up to issue #135 (that’s Dark Phoenix Saga, kids!) as of this writing, and over the past two years, he has created a go-to index for any little snippet of X-Men info I would need when going on a rant or rabble. His work is thorough and entertaining and really, you should be reading it.
Scott’s mission got me going in two ways. One was out of jealousy because I had thought about doing the exact same thing and I can’t do it any better than he’s doing it. It really is an enjoyable blog. The second was that it gave me an opportunity to re-experience the story of the X-Men from the very beginning, back when there weren’t eighteen million different issues put out that made little to no difference to anything. Back when comics were good, you could say.
As I read, I would drop in comments here and there. That’s what I meant about the conversation between two people with a shared passionate interest. I could make the littlest gag and Scott picked up on it immediately. I knew that he had exactly the same kind of experience with these characters that I had just by how he talked about them. It’s one of my favorite things on the internet.
But then something weird happened.
It was in his write up of issue #132 that he said this:
While all this is going on, Professor X remains in New Mexico with Angel, frustrated that he can’t re-establish his psychic contact with the team (for reasons that are never made clear.) The team had been performing ably without him, so is the Prof just being a micromanaging jerk? Or does he sense that they may be in over their heads here?
This pinged my nerdy brain cells, not because he correctly identified Professor X as a jerk, but because I knew that in my earlier reading of the Claremont/Byrne era of Uncanny X-Men, the matter of ‘Why doesn’t Professor X just mind whammy the villain?’ being the go-to ending like it had been in the Silver Age had been specifically covered. I remembered going “Oh, that’s cool. That puts a limitation on the characters so you don’t overpower them to ridiculous extremes like they do now.” and that stuck. Stuck like a magnet, you might say, since I was pretty sure that explanation had to do with Magneto.
I shared this with Scott and expected to get a “Oh, that’s right!”, but instead got a “I’ve never heard of that and I’m an X-pert.” (I KID). But that was weird – Scott is pretty thorough with his write-ups, yet this was a plot point that somehow he had missed and I had gotten. I was quite sure that it had been established, and it wasn’t in a later Magneto story post-Byrne. This had been established.
So I went and looked it up. My collection of actual issues begins at #180, but for the issues before, I depended on the collected black-and-white Essential volumes. I found what I was looking for in issue #113, with a panel of Magneto having a self-monologue about how he had been messing with the magnetic waves of Earth to cause psychic static or something. Basically, he was bending the poles to screw with Xavier.
Rather than taking a blurry picture of a black-and-white Essential, I went to a digital copy of the issue to snip the panel in question. But when I got to the panel, I discovered what had caused the miscommunication between two X-Junkies. What I found was this:
That was the very panel that I had learned of this plot point. But you might have missed it in reading it…since it has no mention whatsoever of magnetism, telepathy, psychic static, Professor X, or anything close to it. This panel is just a description of Asteroid M and an alarm going off to get Magneto back into the plot.
So where the hell did all of that psychic stuff come from? The answer came from the reprint line that got me hooked on X-Men all the way back in the early 90’s, Classic X-Men. Towards the end of Claremont’s legendary run on X-Men, Marvel began reprinting the original run starting from Giant Size #1. You know – the good stuff. But Classic X-Men wasn’t JUST a reprint book, mind you. It added new stories, written by Chris Claremont and drawn by John Bolton, that took place within the original stories, made to flesh out the characters.
What I didn’t realize is that apparently Chris Claremont, still being the X-Men writer when these were coming out, not only was adding new stories to the back, but also redoing some of his original work in the dialogue. In some cases the issues even added in whole new pages of content to the story. It was in this run that I found the panel I had seen in my Essential volume:
Hey, look at that! There’s what I remembered reading, and what I had brought up. In the original issue, Magneto was written more as the Silver Age rampaging despot character he had been. But after John Byrne had left the title, Chris Claremont began retooling Magneto into the much deeper character we know him to be now. The Holocaust survivor and former associate of Professor X. So apparently, when Classic X-Men came around, Claremont went back to his original work and added in characterization that flowed better with what he would eventually settle upon instead of just leaving him as a raving lunatic that eventually got a soft side.
That is what we in comics know as RETROACTIVE CONTINUITY. Or retcon, if you will. That is taking something that happened originally and retelling it in a different way to make it work better with the present.
And that interested me quite a bit. This was 19 issues into Classic X-Men and it had a pretty hefty change. If that had been done, surely more changes had been made between the original publication of Uncanny X-Men and the reprinted Classic X-Men. So I went back to the beginning and started looking. And I found a lot. A WHOLE LOT. And in doing so, I’ve found an interesting look at how Chris Claremont saw the original work he had done years before through the edits he made. Some come with little wordings. Some come with narration boxes. Some come with completely different lines of dialogue.
What else I found interesting is that Marvel’s Essential X-Men is actually not what it says it is. It says that its contents is what was originally published in the issues of Uncanny X-Men. In some (but not all) cases, it is instead containing altered work done years later for a reprint volume. That’s probably something they should look into.
But now to the point. Now that I’ve gone through this looking glass of X-Men revisionism, I’m going to be starting a new blog to show my findings. Using Scott’s suggestion, it will be called Uncanny Retcons and it will be coming out (hopefully) once a week. I’m not going to summarize the original issues (I’ll link to Uncanny X-Cerpts for that!), but instead will give a panel-to-panel viewing of the edits and changes made between the original publications and the reprinted Classics. And I’ll also comment on the changes with what I think about them, since I am a loudmouth know-it-all.
So I may be a tad busy for the foreseeable future, but I hope you’ll give the project a look once I get going!