Alternate Cover: The X-Mas X-Men

James Hunt chronicles the X-Men's yuletide misadventures...

As they say, often ad nauseum over supermarket PA systems, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Or, if you like – Xmas. And what does it mean when you have a word with “X” in near comics? Yep, that’s right – the X-Men aren’t far behind. This week’s column is a Christmas-themed review column of five X-Mas X-Men issues, in chronological order. The Christmas they correspond with is shown in brackets after the issue number.

Uncanny X-Men #98 (1975)It’s Christmas, and the Sentinels attack! One of the first issues written by Chris Claremont, at the very start of his legendary run, it isn’t so much about Christmas as it is set then for no other reason than it was in shops in (one has to assume) December. Nonetheless, it’s a classic X-Men issue that telegraphs the real direction of Claremont’s run, placing the X-Men (and mutants generally) in the social context of an oppressed minority for the first time. It’s standard stuff now, but at the time it actually felt quite original! It’s also the first time we learn that Wolverine’s claws are NOT part of his gloves. Again, widely accepted now – mind blowing at the time!

Uncanny X-Men #143 (1980)This is the “famous” X-Men Christmas, as far as such stories go. In 1980, Claremont and Byrne teamed up to write a story about Kitty Pryde trapped in the mansion and being attacked by an N’Garai demon on Christmas Eve. The holiday spirit is fairly strong in this issue, and not just for corny reasons – the seasonal setting serves to enhance Kitty’s isolation – it’s her first Chanukah away from home now that she’s a student at Xavier’s, and the X-Men have left her in the mansion by herself. As a young and relatively weak X-Man, it takes a lot of courage for her to defeat the demon – and there’s even a traditional Christmas Miracle ending, as the X-Men bring her family to visit after all!

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Uncanny X-Men #341 (1996)Written by Scott Lobdell and pencilled by then-superstar Joe Madureira, this one sees its fair share of Christmassy moments, be it the rampant depiction of shopping for gifts in New York, or the Christmas kiss under the “mistletoe” of a power-dampening Z’Noxx device for Magneto and Rogue. The plot is all a bit stupid, as the Shi’Ar Gladiator attacks the X-Men so that, er, he can talk to them, but the Christmassy moments – such as Beast’s bemusement at Sam’s insistence that his shopping won’t take long – are all great fun, and evidence of exactly where Lobdell’s strengths were.

X-Men #109 (2000)Also written by Claremont, this issue was responsible for spinning off many members of the team into a new title, “X-Treme X-Men”. The Christmas theme is enhanced by the massive 100-page issue including reprints of Uncanny #314 and 143, and the holiday element is used to accentuate the familial nature of the X-Men, as they enjoy a good Christmas gathering. Some quiet reflection does see Psylocke and Archangel break up, but these kind of “downtime” issues are always memorable reads. That said, the hammy dialogue of Claremont’s later career makes this one a little excruciating at times, and only the inclusion of 2 better Christmas issues really makes it worth seeking out.

X-Men #165 (2004)The most recent X-Men Christmas came as something of an epilogue to Chuck Austen’s much-derided run, and a stop-gap solution before Pete Milligan took over. There’s nothing really worth salvaging in a story sense, though it is worth the cover price just to see Emma Frost getting hit in the face with a snowball. The issue is notable for undoing Gambit’s blindness, which we’re supposed to believe was a “permanent” thing. Not exactly Claremont’s proudest moment, but at least he managed to fix a few problems in this one fill-in issue.

James writes Alternate Cover every Monday at Den Of Geek. His previous column can be found here.


22 December 2008