My Misspent Youth — Uncanny X-Men Annual #5 by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

Summer months meant more time for reading comics. Without the burden of the daytime hours given over to the school, not to mention all that pesky assigned reading that made me unwillingly prioritize Melville over Moench, I could turn my youthful attention to the cacophonous exploits of the costumed do-gooders who populated the mighty Marvel universe. Of course, the publishers of those scintillating stories were well aware that their clientele had expanded availability and were clamoring for more pages, so the summers brought a procession of double-sized special issues. For every series I collected, I clamored with equal fervor for the summer Annuals, stories that promised to be the equivalent of movie blockbusters, delivering bigger and better. And when my second-favorite super-team played host to my favorite super-team in an Annual, I had better be sure I had an extra seventy-five cents in my pocket.

X-Men Annual #5, written by regular X-Men scribe Chris Claremont and penciled by Brent Anderson, actually opened its stirring tale with Marvel’s first family, the Fantastic Four. A normal knock-around day in the Baxter Building is disrupted by an alarm indicating that there are troublesome doings outside. The quartet go to investigate and discover a member of the alien race the Shi’ar racing frantically through the Manhattan streets, pursued by unseen foes. After dispatching her, the ghostly cads turn their weapons on out heroic quartet.

Only Susan Richards, also known as the Invisible Girl, is spared the blast, because she instinctively projects the defense of a force shield. Her teammates are felled and instantly snatched away to another dimension. Luckily, she knows which fellow colorfully clad champions she can turn to. No one has more experience with the Shi’ar than the X-Men, so sue jets to the Westchester County, the upstate location of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. After some intense debriefing, simple deduction — aided by some handy premonitions embedded in the dreams of Ororo Munroe — leads to the correct conclusion that Sue’s teammates have been swooped off to the dimension where dwells Arkon, a fearsome warrior who had previously tangled with both the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. Apparently prepared for just such a happenstance, the X-Men’s leader Cyclops had a whole mittful of Arkon-branded teleportation bolts squirreled away in a school utility closet or similarly secure storage space.

The X-Men and Sue embark of their rescue mission, learning that Arkon’s society has been overtaken by a villainous species called the Badoon, the same occasionally transparent thugs who kidnapped three-quarters of the Fantastic Four. Exposition out of the way, it’s all delirious mayhem from there, with our brave band spreading out to retrieve their captive cohorts, destroy a cosmic resupplying station, and generally blasting, slashing, and punching their way to saving the day.

Claremont was the regular X-Men writer at the time, right in the heart of his tenure transforming the mutant team into a full-on sensation. So the comic is peppered with all the soap-opera subplots and recurring bits that he strung along expertly. On the other hand, Claremont sometimes indulged in ideas that were extremely goofy, methods of giving the reader something that they’ve never seen before that don’t really pass muster, even within the physics-defying free-for-all of superhero comics. I get that it makes no sense that a person can shoot ruby-colored laser blasts out of his eyes, and that another person can imagine into being invisible constructs. I call roll with those imaginative implausibilities. But somehow those two sets of powers combining in a ad hoc plan that results in a water slide of potent destruction strikes me as a starbridge too far.

When I was a kid, this crackpot plan didn’t bother me in slightest. Indeed, I was undoubtedly awed by its audacious spectacle. I’d later expound on the astute psychological underpinnings of Marvel melodramas, insisting these sagas shared one panel at a time were worthy literature. In truth, though, I really wanted the eyeblast loop-de-loop that pulled a world from the brink of annihilation.

Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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