Squirrelloid's Review (issues 1-300)
The X-Men flagship title, originally just X-Men, but changed first unofficially and then officially to Uncanny X-Men early in Chris Claremont's run as a writer, has had a history rather different from other successful comic franchises. The original run lasts only 66 issues, at which point the comic returned to publication once per two months (as it had been for the first few issues), and featured re-runs of earlier stories rather than new material. X-Men had failed to capture the imagination of the 60's, despite the fact that some of the best of the early stories (at least from a modern perspective) were among the later ones in this run. These reprints would last from 67-93 when Giant-Size X-Men #1 would revitalize the comic and bring Chris Claremont to the title. He would write almost 185 back-to-back issues (thats about 15 years!), bringing a unity of scripting almost unheard of in the comics business, especially from a major publisher. He would also develop many of those characters which would ensure the strip's popularity (Wolverine being the most obvious of these). Following Claremont's "retirement" from the strip, a series of other writers would take the helm, with varying results.
The following works its way through the Uncanny X-Men over time, and points out those issues which are important to X-Men continuity or are just great stories. Its a guide for exploring the large number of Uncanny X-Men back issues, in whatever form you happen to want them (comic, TPB, etc...). The intention of this guide is to run up until approximately the Age of Apocalypse storyline, or about 3 years after the end of the 'Claremont era'.
Note: I own all of these issues, but many (especially after the initial run) are still packed away. If there is a summary up for the issue (linked on the Uncanny X-Men page), I have read it recently and have it available for reference. If there isn't, it's been at least 3-4 months since I've read it, and possibly much longer. The most notable effect this will have is some uncertainty about who wrote certain issues (notably 55, 64, 66).
The X-Men Silver Age (issues 1-66)
It behooves me to caution you that the Silver Age is rather different from later comic writing. A little cheese was expected. The art was not as consistently dynamic as in later books - in fact, that dynamism was being developed and experimented with in the Silver Age itself. Extensive monologue or descriptive text was standard - sometimes it even summarized action; the role of the visual media was not yet to fully explain the action on its own, the text was meant to help you follow the action. Lay-out is pretty basic through most of the Silver Age (though some experimentation was starting to occur towards its end). Basically, its hard to compare these comics to modern comics.
It was a more innocent age, a more tightly regulated age by the Comic Authority, and a very different concept of superhero. There was also a fascination with atomic power and science in general that hasn't been maintained into the present day. There are still some great stories here, but they are going to be heroic, a little over-the-top, and straight forward. The X-Men silver age run actually captures some of the evolution towards a darker grittier comic world towards the end, especially in Roy Thomas's second run, but for the most part the heroes are heroes and unquestionably good, the villains are bad or misguided, society is a bulwark of moral values and villains are loners, the (U.S.) government is on the good side, and other cliches typical of 50s and 60s stories, TV shows, and movies. Superheroes hide their identities so they can lead normal lives, not so they won't be arrested. A reassessment of these ideas won't really hit comics until the 70s. Appreciating and understanding Silver Age comics depends on this basic understanding of the context in which they were written.
The Stan Lee stories (issues 1-19)
Stan Lee created the Uncanny X-Men with the help of artist Jack "King" Kirby. While Stan Lee's melodramatic lucubratory prose and campy poorly motivated villains was a recipe for success in a title like Spider-Man, it often fell flat in X-Men. Many of these issues do not resonate with modern readers, and the stories are often quite forgettable.
Something Stan Lee did have a good feel for was names - many of his villains had catchy names, and thus despite the villain's original limitations or inherent lameness, they were often developed by other writers later into memorable foes.
Magneto is of course a premier example of this - the original Magneto is a forgettable mad-scientist-villain with a signature mutant power whose personality is very much the "look at me, I am so evil" variety. The facts that his name is rather good, his mutant powerful extremely flexible, and he appeared in the first issue, all guaranteed he would have a decent lifespan. Later work done with the character by others made him not only a good villain, but a great villain who became the antithesis of Xavier's dream in a way that was also compelling. He evolved from being "evil" to a man tragically trapped by his history such that he could never escape his fear that humans would always want to exterminate those like him.
Other villains that would also become successful include Mastermind (X-Men Vol 1 #4, who played an important role in the Dark Phoenix Saga), Toad (X-Men Vol 1 #4, But not until his conceptual re-imagining in X-Force), Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch (also X-Men #4, who would receive their improved characterization as heroes with the Avengers), and to a lesser degree Blob (X-Men #3). While not a villain, Ka-Zar's initial silver age appearance (in X-Men #10) is similarly campy, and the character would only be redeemed by later writers.
Many of the characters were total or mostly total failures, and wouldn't reappear in the X-books for a long time (until finally 'resurrected' by some writer doing tribute to the early years). Vanisher (X-Men #2), Unus (X-Men #8), and Lucifer (X-Men #9) are perfect examples of this. The Stranger (X-Men #11) is a similarly bad character.
X-Men #1 is probably Magneto's best appearance in the early comics. His "I am so evil" schtick hasn't gotten overused and annoying yet, and he has as much motivation as any villain of the era in this book.
X-Men #12 and #13 is one of Stan Lee's best X-Men stories. Introduces Juggernaut, perhaps Stan Lee's best supervillain as created, who needed and received few improvements from later writers because he didn't need them.
X-Men #14, #15, and #16. While Juggernaut may have been Stan Lee's best supervillain, the Sentinels are his best antagonist. This is the story where the series finds its voice, and will also contribute to developing the characters of other villains such as Magneto. While the story is still a little cheesy, especially its resolution, the idea of the Sentinels is monumental, and the idea that humanity will continually strive to destroy that which they do not understand and fear will set the tone for some of the best X-Men stories ever told. Of all the early X-Men stories, this is the true landmark story.
X-Men #2, in addition to featuring the lackluster Vanisher, also features one of the worst Deus Ex Machinas I've ever read in a comic.
X-Men #6: Both the X-Men and Magneto attempt to recruit the Sub-Mariner. The _early marvel_ Sub-Mariner, whose character development was non-existent. Between his pompous annoying character, the early Magneto "I am so evil", and the general campiness of Stan Lee's stories in general, this issue is absolutely painful to read.
X-Men #9, featuring a totally pointless battle between the Avengers and the X-Men which could have been averted by talking. And then there is Lucifer, who is mostly forgettable. His responsibility for Xavier's loss of use of his legs is one of the great travesties of X-Men continuity.
X-Men #10 features a Ka-Zar who can barely string two words together. It ends up reading like a bad Tarzan movie.
X-Men #11 features the Stranger, who turns every event in the issue into a Deus Ex Machina. Important only insofar as it explains why Magneto (who we've seen in more than half the issues thus far: 1,4,5,6,7,11) disappears until #17, and really, that only needs explanation in the context of his excessive appearances in the early X-Men run.
X-Men #17 and #18: Magneto knows where the X-Men live (though why he doesn't use this knowledge more often after this is unknown), and manages to enter the mansion and set up traps for the X-Men to run into one at a time. Featuring some of the worst Magneto evil-villain monologue of all time. The following issue he commits the James Bond villain mistake (put the heroes in an easily escapable death trap). And yet another awful Deus Ex Machina, made worse because its courtesy of the Stranger.
Roy Thomas (issues 20-42)
Unlike Stan Lee's stories, where the bad is truly awful, Roy Thomas's writing manages to save many of the stories, even when the villains are laughable and the plot ludicrous. That said, Roy Thomas uses and creates many villains that we find ridiculous today. Thus the overall quality of this run is higher than the Stan Lee stories, but the villains are generally without staying power and the stories are rarely excellent. A different standard is held to these stories - the bad are better than any of the awful ones picked out for issues 1-19, and often better than ones that went unmentioned above.
In terms of the style and the feel of the series, Roy Thomas does a lot to move the characters towards our modern conception of them. Jean and Scotts' feelings for each other become more obvious to the reader, though the drama of them being unable to reveal their love to each other would fuel many of the team dynamics over Roy Thomas's tenure. Warren would give up pursuit of Jean, and run into Candy Southern. And Hank and Bobbys' relationships with Vera Cantor and Zelda would develop - another recurring feature of the early X-Men run.
There are some other significant events that occur during Roy Thomas's run of issues. Banshee makes his first appearance (X-Men #28), as part of the Factor Three storyline which would occur over more than 10 issues and featured the last return of Blob, Vanisher, Mastermind, and Unus as villains in the original run. Spider-Man would make his first appearance in the X-books (in X-Men #35). Count Nefaria also has his first appearance in an X-book (X-Men #22) (most notable for his appearance later against the new team in Uncanny X-Men #94 and #95).
Roy Thomas, unlike many writers, tends to end his stories with the end of the careers of the villains he created. Thus the Locust (X-Men #24), Cobalt Man (#31), Mekano (#36), El Tigre (#25 and #26), Frankenstein (#40), and Grotesk (#41 and #42) are never heard from again. Others disappear into obscurity (like the Ogre from X-Men #28). We can thank Thomas for the death of Lucifer (X-Men #21), who was otherwise doomed to be a recurring black mark against the comic given the prominence in Professor X's history Stan Lee had given him. Unfortunately, Thomas also had an inordinate fondness for using obscure villains from other titles, including Plantman, Eel, Mole Man, and others who would have otherwise been thankfully forgotten. Super Adaptoid is vaguely in this category, although more prominent.
X-Men #31. Thomas seems to like these sort of stories: A villain is made by circumstance or design, but is really a good person inside. The X-Men stop him, but also help redeem him. This is probably the best of them, where Ted Roberts brother Ralph Roberts becomes the Cobalt Man. The only unfortunate part of this story is no real explanation is offered as to why the Cobalt Man suit (and the Iron Man suit is also implicated) drive men without exceptional mental fortitude to villainy. (Other similar stories include X-Men #24 vs Locust and X-Men #36 vs Mekano, either of which are decent).
X-Men #35, is one of the better examples of superheroes appearing in other comics in this era. Generally it means the heroes will somehow be compelled to fight by some plot device (as Spider-Man and the X-Men are in this issue), but in this case the motivation is sufficient to actually be believable - a rarity in Silver Age Marvel stories of this sort. This is also the best of the Factor Three-related stories.
X-Men #37, #38, and #39. The end of the Factor Three storyline, includes some clever scenes such as the X-Men saving themselves after jumping out of a plane without parachutes, and Cyclops using Iceman's ice to create a smokescreen.
X-Men #30. The first few pages guaranteed this a spot in the bad listing. A giant magical hand grabbing Jean and pulling her through some nether dimension? Egads! What were they thinking! The remainder of the issue isn't awful. I think drug-use may have had something to do with the scripting... dang 60s.
X-Men #32 and #33, probably the worst Juggernaut story ever told. Includes Scott and Jeans' psychedelic adventure to the Crimson Cosmos, which may be the worst moment in Roy Thomas's scripting of the X-Men.
X-Men #40, featuring Frankenstein, which would go unremarked except for Professor X's bizarre revelation at the end that the monster was actually a robot from another galaxy. (Not that the idea of said revelation is awful, but its presentation leaves much to be desired on top of an uninspiring tale).
Gary Friedrich (issues 43-47)
Gary Friedrich takes over immediately following the supposed death of Professor X (actually the Changeling, although that is probably a retcon of Thomas's story). His writing is rather comparable to Roy Thomas in that it manages to save even substandard stories, although he makes more use of prominent villains, including Magneto's first appearance since Stan Lee's writing.
Friedrich has a relatively short tenure as writer for X-Men, sharing his last issue with Arnold Drake.
X-Men #43 and #45, which continues in Avengers #53. While Friedrich unfortunately sticks close to Stan Lee's categorization of Magneto, Magneto is actually not the star of the villainous team. The focus is really on Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, who are duped by Magneto into serving him (see the lead-up Avengers #49 for why), and who struggle to return to being villains, and ultimately fail. X-Men #45 is the best of these.
X-Men #44, an irrelevant and bizarre story that serves no purpose whatsoever, introduces a character Red Raven who is never returned to or developed further, and doesn't read like a superhero story (its more like a mystery or horror story as defined by the comics of those genres in the Silver Age). Its not an absolutely terrible side-story, but it doesn't belong in X-Men, nor does it belong in the middle of an otherwise interesting story.
Arnold Drake (issues 47-54)
Arnold Drake's stories sometimes (though not always) start with great ideas, but something inevitably goes badly. We can thank Drake for giving us Alex Summers and Lorna Dane. However, we can also blame him for Mesmero, whose looks forever trap him in the 'oh yeah, you were a 60's character' hell, a sufficiently problematic characteristic which limits other authors' ability to reuse him. His other villainous creation, the Living Pharoah, is basically forgotten for 30 years because he wasn't memorable.
As if his villain track record wasn't already poor enough, he manages to do worse with villains he borrows from other titles. X-Men has sufficiently many poorly thought-out villains as it is, we don't need to steal Quasimodo and Blastaar from elsewhere. These are by far his worst issues, as you'll see below.
To top it all off, he takes up the comic when the X-Men have been forced to separate by the FBI to better respond to criminal threats, a story he continues in 47 and 48. He then gets the X-Men together in 49-52 to defeat Mesmero (we're ok so far), but then totally forgets the FBI had ordered them to disband and keeps them together as if nothing has happened. Given the FBI never contact them again, apparently the FBI also forgot it had so ordered them. It wouldn't have been hard to explain this change, but no explanation is given. This is very unsatisfying.
(Note: Drake may have written 55, i know i have that issue around here somewhere...).
Unfortunately for Drake, even though he introduces some important heroes, none of his stories are really that good. Fortunately for Drake, there are enough redeeming qualities to some of his stories that they don't make it into the bad listing below.
X-Men #48. In addition to winning the prize for worst title in a superhero comic ever, the plot is ridiculous and the villain unimpressive and unimaginative. Trying to steal new sound equipment is hardly the act of a supervillain. If it wasn't for the extreme "quality" of the competition (eg, X-Men 65), this might have been in the running for worst X-Men book ever.
X-Men #53. Not only is Blastaar one of the dumbest villains to ever grace the pages of the Uncanny X-Men (and if you've read this far, you know he's got pretty stiff competition for that slot), but his battle with the X-Men is incredibly contrived. There is no plot here - Blastaar shows up for basically no reason (techno-magical device summons him from... somewhere), they battle just because, and then Blastaar disappears. *Yawn*.
Return of Roy Thomas (issues 56-64, 66)
Roy Thomas is probably the best writer the series has had at this point, and his return heralds some of the best X-Men stories he will ever write in these pages. Stuck with tidying up Drake's Havok/Living Monolith storyline, he immediately follows this with back-to-back sensational stories. You may notice there's no "the bad" section below - thats because nothing from this run is bad (although 66, given it has to salvage the fall-out of O'Neal's 65, is pushing dangerously close to the boundary).
Thomas brings back the Sentinels in their most memorable Silver Age appearance, introduces Sauron and the Savage Land Mutates, and the final Silver Age X-Men appearance of Magneto. Also notable for introducing Havok's costume.
X-Men #57, #58, and #59 - the second Sentinels storyline, introducing Larry Trask, Judge Chalmers, Havok's costume, and Sentinels mk. II with more familiar weapon systems. This sentinel story reads like a modern story, and opens up the Sentinels conceptually for the many stories that will follow. This classic is also reprinted in Giant-Size X-Men #2.
X-Men #62, featuring Ka-Zar as the X-Men return to the Savage Land. Thomas redeems the character of Ka-Zar, and this storyline (including the next 2 issues vs Magneto) will end with Ka-Zar as an X-Men ally.
Dennis O'Neal (issue 65)
Dennis O'Neal's terrible guest-writing issue combined with the comic's beginning to publish reprints in issue 67 suggests he may have been the cause of that decline. Certainly the print run for 66 was markedly reduced from that of previous issues. And 65 really is that bad. Sorry Dennis. (Other factors may also have been involved, including reduced 'coolness' factor of the X-Men as heroes at the time.)
X-Men #65. O'Neal does a terrible job maintaining consistency of character, as our X-Men act more like their Kirby-era selves than their more recent selves. Professor X is brought back with a bizarre explanation for why he needed to fake his death. The reason? He discovered the Z'Nox were coming to conquer earth and needed to prepare (You haven't heard of them? Thats ok, no one else has either). So who died? The Changeling... On top of all this, the Z'Nox are an uninspired alien threat with rather generic looks for Silver Age aliens. And the X-Men defeat them by transmitting compassion focused by Professor X into Cyclops and along his power-beam into the radio-receiver of the incoming Z'Nox vessel. Say what? Yeah, it really is that bad. Levels of cheese this thick haven't been sliced since Stan Lee was doing the writing, and Lee at least had the decency to create respectable villains.
The Reprint Years (issues 67-93)
X-Men starts reprinting earlier issues, mostly from after the Lee-Kirby run. Uncanny X-Men King Size Special 1 and Uncanny X-Men King Size Special 2, which will later become the Annual series, are also from this era and also reprint earlier issues. The reprints often feature a reworked cover (at least a little bit), but the exact same content for the primary story. For those issues which had origin back-up stories, Stan Lee wrote a short for a secondary story, often a small 'moral play', or reprinted something else bizarre.
The New Team
Len Wein (GSXM 1, UXM 94-95)
Len Wein created the New Team, and collaborated with Chris Claremont on the first two normal issues. We owe Len a lot of thanks for creating the characters that would make X-Men a classic, but let's face it, GSXM's storyline isn't a great example of storytelling. The issue is classic because its a significant introduction of new characters, but not because of great writing! In fact, its a fairly standard superhero monster plot with a 'our heroes were captured' story thrown in on top. The dialog is decent, but nothing exciting. Important? Yes. Good? Not really.
UXM 94 and 95 would actually restart the UXM title with a good story, but its likely Claremont did the actual dialog in addition to collaborating on the overall plot, and thus it's discussed below under Claremont's section.
Chris Claremont (UXM 94-278, Annuals 3-?)
Let's face it, we're going to have to divide this up somehow, probably by artist. Chris Claremont did an amazing amount of work on the X-Men, and salvaged the title from obscurity. It is his work on the characters which ultimately shot the series into stardom and made it one of the best loved properties in the Marvel (or any) Universe.
Dave Cockrum (issues 94-107, 110)
These issues are justly considered classic - they (+GSXM1) introduced the new team to readers. However, Claremont is still finding his voice in these issues, and it often shows.
This run mainly uses a large number of classic characters (Count Nefaria, Juggernaut, Magneto, Sentinels), re-imagines Erik the Red (which is odd, since we all remember Erik as a disguise of Cyclops - this new Erik must have been inspired by his Silver Age Marvel Comics collection!), and introduces a number of key characters (such as Moira MacTaggert, Lilandra, Banshee's villainous cousin Black Tom Cassidy, the Starjammers, and the Imperial Guard). Some key events that will dominate the X-Men metaplot also occur - including the first appearance of the Phoenix Force, who replaces Jean Grey (note that this is the modern interpretation which is a partial retcon of Chris Claremont's original idea), and the death of mad Emperor D'Ken of the Shi'ar Empire. The first death of an X-Man also happens in this run (Thunderbird, in Uncanny X-Men #95).
Some bizarre story ideas occur, including two 'original team battle new team' style issues (#100 and #106). One would have been ok, but two within a single year is over-the-top. UXM #100 is at least tied into the ongoing story, #106 is just a filler issue. And really, we don't need to see the original team fight the new team - this is perhaps one of the worst story ideas ever in general.
Character development is extremely asymmetrical in these issues. Cyclops receives a lot of time in these issues, as does Storm. Banshee gets some time, including a budding romance with Moira MacTaggert, and Colossus gets a little. Wolverine, however, is mostly ignored, and his character remains nothing more than a violent bruiser until well into John Byrne's run. (It may surprise modern readers to know that Wolverine was actually incredibly unpopular when these issues were new - the lack of character development is a large part of the explanation). Nightcrawler gets a little bit, although it will wait until Kitty Pryde's addition to the team to provide the perfect foil for his outlook and personality to really become manifest.
Uncanny X-Men #94 and #95. Not only does Count Nefaria actually have a decent plot this time (as opposed to UXM 22 and 23), the action is dynamic, the plot flows smoothly - its everything you want from a good superhero tale. This issue also sets the tone for the new team in a way GSXM1 really doesn't. And UXM 95 features the stunning death of Thunderbird trying to prevent Nefaria from escaping - Nefaria's later return cheapens this a little bit, but if you only read X-books you can pretend he really died (as, to the best of my knowledge, he never appears as an x-villain again).
Uncanny X-Men #101. The first X-Men issue to feature no combat whatsoever, this is the harrowing tale of the X-Men's re-entry in a damaged space shuttle at the height of a solar flare, and Jean Grey's brave sacrifice to save her teammates - only to be reborn as Phoenix. This is an X-Man milestone and a great story as well.
Uncanny X-Men #102 and #103. Storm disabled by claustrophobia, Juggernaut thrashing Colossus, and Banshee facing off against his ne'er do well cousin Black Tom Cassidy - what's not to like? Ok, the existence of leprechauns in Cassidy Keep is a little over-the-top, but it can be forgiven.
Uncanny X-Men #107 - First major appearance of the Starjammers and first appearance of the Imperial Guard, this one is a must read if only for its significance to the Marvel universe and the X-books in particular. The story will conclude in the next issue (in artist John Byrne's run), but is not nearly as satisfying as this lead-up.
Uncanny X-Men #96 - A random demon story in the grand tradition of the Silver Age "X-Men fight a monster" stories - you'll note none of those rated too highly either. This issue is clearly filler and completely forgettable. Even the character development in this issue is lame - Cyclops, now with levels of melodrama previously unseen outside of Peter Parker! (And you thought he was bad before!)
Uncanny X-Men #100. The new team must fight the old team! Except the old team is actually robot Sentinels with their powers - the X-Sentinels. Someone make the pain stop!
Uncanny X-Men #104. Yet another of Magneto's "I am so evil" appearances. Thankfully Claremont will outgrow this rather quickly. Fortunately Magneto's next appearance will feature dialog that doesn't make you cry.
Uncanny X-Men #106 - The new team must fight the old team! Again! Except this time its all in Xavier's head. This story screams "filler". You'll be happier if you ignore that it ever happened.
Uncanny X-Men #110. This one takes the 70s/early 80s fascination with the Danger Room too far. Oh noes, a villain takes control of the danger room and tries to kill the X-Men with it - Warhawk definitely commits the James Bond Villain fallacy. Despite this, the issue would go unremarked except that Warhawk is presented as working for someone, but it is never revealed who, and neither he nor his employer are ever heard from again, making this issue incredibly forgettable.
John Byrne (108-109, 111-143)
John Byrne was not only the penciler, but was often involved in overall plot of the stories as well. So much so in fact that the credits often say "A Chris Claremont-John Byrne production" instead of listing separate writer and penciler. And his contributions show. What emerges is a complicated ongoing plot that spans almost the entire run, broken up into discrete episodes but all connected; a complicated web of interpersonal interactions and personal storylines that are maintained throughout; and a breath-taking array of stories that are absolutely amazing. All of the characters get taken beyond their starting stereotypes in the course of John Byrne's penciling, most notably Wolverine, whose encounter with and reaction to Mariko Yashida establishes a whole new level of depth to his character that will be built on over the next 100+ issues. This is a truly amazing set of stories in which the heroes become not just characters to the reader, but friends. If you were to read only a limited number of X-Men books, these should be them.
These issues introduce us to Vindicator, Arcade (as an X-Man villain), Zaladane and Garokk the Petrified Man, Alpha Flight, Proteus, the Hellfire Club including Emma Frost, Wendigo, future X-Man Dazzler, and new X-Man Kitty Pryde. We also witness the "death" of "Jean Grey" in the Dark Phoenix Saga. Other notable villains include the return of Mesmero, a classic battle with Magneto (including the first time he isn't prone to ridiculous "I am so evil" monologues), Sauron, and cameos of Juggernaut and Black Tom Cassidy. We also are given the classic story Days of Future Past, and Kitty's memorable solo battle on Christmas Eve against the N'Garai demon
The X-Men start having social lives outside of being superheroes again as well, and a number of characters are introduced as romantic interests or otherwise associated with the X-Men.
This is going to be a tough call because so many of the issues are amazing. This is the best of the best, and many great stories were cut from this list. (explanations coming)
Uncanny X-Men #112 and #113 - The first appearance of Magneto when he's relatively cogent. Given how interesting Magneto becomes as his backstory gets developed, thats an important first. Its also a great battle showcasing Magneto's genius and the X-Men's ingenuity.
Uncanny X-Men #126, #127 and #128 - The Proteus story. Really, what more needs to be said? The villain has a simple but believable motivation, and the X-Men are forced with a moral dilemma that only has one possible outcome. Classic superhero action and storytelling.
Dark Phoenix Saga (Uncanny X-Men #129 - #137, also conveniently collected as a TPB). Best read in its original context (and not this crazy 'Jean comes back from the dead because that wasn't really her' schtick). Ultimately (along with a few cameos going back as far as Uncanny X-Men 125), its the story of the corruption of the human Jean by those who would use her for their own purposes (notably Mastermind) and the immense cosmic power she came to control. She falls from grace. When she comes back to her senses, she is horrified by what she's done. And ultimately, she realizes the only way to prevent it from happening again is to die. To paraphrase the Watcher at the end of 137: 'She chose to die human rather than live as a god'. This story revolutionized comic storytelling - its as important to comics from a story perspective as Kirby, Steranko, Adams, and so forth were for art.
Days of Future Past, Uncanny X-Men #141-#142 - One might say Claremont and Byrne did it again. Only 4 issues after Dark Phoenix dies, Days of Future Past set a grim tone with our heroes desperately struggling against a dark future, in yet another amazing storyline. Its the start of the 80s, and X-Men is leading the way in what would eventually be perceived as a darkening of comic stories. Between this and Dark Phoenix Saga, the tone of the X-Men was set to be a little edgy (certainly edgy by silver age standards), and that would be picked up again later for the massive Brood story arc which took over a year to finish (spans Uncanny X-Men 154-167), and certainly influenced many of the other stories along the way and afterwards. This isn't Silver Age heroes being bravely heroic with little real sense of risk, this is heroes struggling desperately against forces much mightier than themselves - hoping to make a difference, but mostly just refusing to give up. A true milestone storyline.
Uncanny X-Men #111. Its really only bad by comparison. Mesmero is a fairly poor villain, and any comic that takes place in a circus isn't going to be great. This is probably the low point of the Byrne-Claremont run.
Uncanny X-Men #138 - not exactly 'bad' for story reasons cause there isn't really a story - its really just a series of flashbacks by Cyclops of his history with the X-Men in the aftermath of Jean's death. Feel free to skip this one.
A Child Among Us (Uncanny X-Men 144-153)
While Kitty Pryde first appeared in Uncanny X-Men 129, and officially joined the team in Uncanny X-Men 139, she really hasn't participated in any missions as an X-Man before now. In 129-131, she wasn't technically on the team yet, and in 141-142, it was her future self in her body.
A note on section headings: At this point it is easier to stop going by the artis who was drawing the issues because of (1) the large number of guest artists, and (2) it would break up my discussion of an important storyline (next section) if i used artist as the metric by which i was dividing things. These issues were primarily drawn by Dave Cockrum, who was the regular pencils on the book at this time. However, the following were drawn by a guest artist:
This run will feature a number of major supervillains, including Doctor Doom (Victor von Doom), Magneto, and the Hellfire Club. It would also feature the Sentinels, Arcade, Garokk the Petrified Man, and a guest appearance by Man-Thing against D'Spayre. Other guest-stars include Jessica Drew and Dazzler. Additionally, there is one notable first appearance - Caliban, who will also be the first Morlock introduced. Finally, the run ends with Illyana being told a bedtime story in the classic Kitty's Fairy Tale.
The story quality varies considerably during this run, with some being markedly better than others. Some important plot points are advanced: Angel's dislike of Wolverine is established, and he even leaves the X-Men over it. Magneto's jewish heritage is revealed for the first time, and his backstory starts being fleshed out - this will eventually develop into him being the most compelling villain ever in comics. Another important subplot is Peter and Kitty's romance, which while it was getting started in 143, really starts to develop over this run. However, we have some strangely resolved stories and dangling thread issues. Storm and Doom are attracted to each other in 147, but nothing ever comes of this. At the end of 152, Kitty returns to Xavier's for no discernable reason after her parents had taken her out of it and sent her to Massachusetts Academy the previous issue - the White Queen concedes her at the end of 152, but its not her decision to make.
Uncanny X-Men 146 - While 145 and 147 are part of the same storyline, this is the only one that really shines. Its a Murderworld story, but its done in a clever way, and features some characters we haven't seen in awhile - "reserve" X-Men Iceman (Robert Drake), Banshee (Sean Cassidy), Havok (Alex Summers), and Polaris (Lorna Dane).
Uncanny X-Men 150 - Simply titled "I, Magneto...", this is an amazing story that chronicle's Magnus's changing personality and reveals the man beneath the helmet. He now sees himself as the world's savior, and offers the world's leaders 24 hours to accept him as the world's benevolent dictators. This is the issue where he sinks the Leningrad with all hands aboard (after they fire nuclear missiles at him). This is the issue where we first learn of Magda, of his child burned to death in front of his eyes, and of his Jewish heritage. Finally, this is the issue where the reality of who he is and what he's done finally sinks in, as he breaks when he almost kills Kitty Pryde. Claremont has finally taken Magneto beyond the box Stan Lee wrote him into.
Uncanny X-Men 153 - Kitty's Fairy Tale. Its an amusing spoof of the Uncanny X-Men comic - satirically retelling Dark Phoenix Saga with everyone living happily ever after and turning our well-known characters into amusing parodies of themselves. Wolverine is the Fiend With No Name, whose comment "I'm Mean" will end up giving him the name 'Mean' (Nightcrawler Vol. 1). A good read - you'll laugh hard.
Uncanny X-Men 144 - Its a solo story about Cyclops (with Lee Forrester), which isn't in itself a bad thing. But D'Spayre is really not an X-Man villain, and Man-Thing not a great guest star. Don't get me wrong, Man-Thing works in his own comic, but that's an entirely different genre. He doesn't really work in a superhero book like X-Men. This basically comes down to the X-Men vs a monster type of story, even if D'Spayre is mildly more interesting than most monsters, and just feels like a hack - someone at Marvel clearly wanted to advertise Man-Thing. Fortunately, this issue can be safely ignored for continuity purposes.
Uncanny X-Men 148 - Don't get me wrong, Caliban's first appearance has significance because of the various roles he'll go on to play, but he's clearly in the early stages of character development here, and could have used a month or two more time being developed. Even his powers are poorly defined. The only thing nailed down is his infatuation with Kitty Pryde, which is an important plot point. Bottom-line, a little painful to read, but important enough to suffer through it.
Uncanny X-Men 149 - The X-Men return to Antarctica to look for signs of Magneto amongst the ruins of his volcano base to see if he survived. Its a great premise - or at least it would have been 20 issues ago! Its a little old at this point. They find its been partially excavated, and run into the half-ruined form of Garokk. Not terrible in-and-of itself, but then they give Garokk some awful villain dialog which just pushes it a little too far over the top and it falls. There are good bits, but more bad bits. And lets not mention Kitty's self-designed costume. I can't read the mind of 13yo girls, but when I was 13 I thought that thing was an abomination, and its only gotten worse with age! (Its more than the fact that it screams 80s - and I'm sure Cockrum and Claremont were making fun of her - but ouch is it an eyesore).
The Brood (Uncanny X-Men 154-167
Dave Cockrum was the regular penciler for Uncanny X-Men up through UXM 164. Starting with 165 Paul Smith took on the regular penciling duties. Additionally, the following were drawn by guest pencilers:
Duty and Honor (Uncanny X-Men 168-183)
Chris Claremont managed to write 3 weddings or almost weddings in the span of 10 issues. He also evocatively explored the meaning of honor, duty, and sacrifice, and what those meant to various members of the X-Men team.
The Past of Future Days (Uncanny X-Men 184-209)
Although we were first introduced to Rachel Summers in the Days of Future Past storyline, the X-Men of Earth-616 don't actually meet her until Uncanny X-Men 184. She defines this era of the Uncanny X-Men, from her scrappy no-holds-barred demeanor to her claiming of the Phoenix power and codename, including playing the major role in the UXM Secret Wars II cross-over issues.
Hunted (Uncanny X-Men 210-228)
Starting with the Mutant Massacre, the X-Men are fundamentally disassembled and re-assembled in short order, all the while threatened and pursued by some of their deadliest foes.
Outlaws (Uncanny X-Men 229-245)
Having died to power Forge's spell and then subsequently resurrected by Roma, Storm decides the best way to protect the X-Men's family and loved ones is by keeping the world in the dark about their continued existence. Taking this opportunity to strike at the Reavers, they re-locate to the Reavers' base in the Australian outback for the duration of this period.
Dissolution (Uncanny X-Men 246-269)
Beginning with Rogue's disappearing through the Siege Perilous, the X-Men begin to drop off the team one by one. Finally, Wolverine returns to the outback base only to find the Reavers in command once again and the rest of the X-Men believed dead or escaped through the Siege Perilous. This period is especially marked by the attempts of the Reavers to eliminate all allies of the X-Men teams, and by the separate attempts of Wolverine and Forge to find out what happened to the X-Men.
Re-united (Uncanny X-Men 270-280)
The X-Men come together and ally with the other mutant teams in time to deal with the threat posed by Genosha. They then must deal with intrique in the Shi'ar empire to recover Professor X, while Rogue and Magneto defeat Zaladane in the Savage Land. They return to discover Xavier's oldest foe is in control of Muir Island - a battle after which nothing will ever be the same.
This run also features Chris Claremont's final issue (#278).
Blue and Gold (Uncanny X-Men 281-Uncanny X-Men 300)
In the aftermath of the Muir Island Saga, the abundance of mutants associated with the X-Men forces the team to divide into Blue and Gold squads. The Gold team will immediately need to deal with the coming of Bishop, the reality of Piotr Rasputin's brother, and other problems before needing to join forces with all the other mutant teams to defeat the menace of Stryfe. The 300th issue ends with the realization that Magneto is back in business, and things have never been grimmer for Marvel's mutants.
End of review.