Today, Taylor and Michael are discussing X-men ’92 1, originally released March 30, 2016.
Taylor: For many Generation Y-ers, or Millennials, or basically anyone born in the ’80s, the introduction to the world of comics came from one of two sources. The first, of course, is Batman: The Animated Series, which solidified the Dark Knight in this generation’s hearts forever. The second is the well-known, if not quite so beloved, X-Men animated series. While both shows are fantastic in their own way, I remember frequently being frustrated by the X-Men series as a kid. Like a true comic book, this series told long stories over the course of several episodes which made watching the show in order essential, but during the age of syndication, nearly impossible. Still, I have fond memories of the show and to this day I can still sing its guitar solo theme song from memory. X-Men ’92 is cut from the cloth of this show and in doing so, the creators have made a comic that is both timely and nostalgic at the same time.
A lot of the media that is produced today banks on the nostalgia of the those born in the ’80s. Now that we’ve come of age and can buy things, companies are doing the best they can to cash in on us. Nostalgia is a safe bet when it comes to producing media because if it worked once, why not again? Knowing that, I was a little hesitant about reading X-Men ’92, but I’m happy to say it succeeds not only on nostalgia alone.
There’s a lot a like about this issue but perhaps the thing I appreciate the most is the way that it exists in the ’90s, but so well mirrors the current times. When it’s learned that Alpha Red has been unleashed because Russia sold it to the von Struckers, Logan quips the following:
As Wolverine notes, Russia has basically sold off its arsenal to those of questionable reputation. The Von Struckers are most assuredly evil but this seems to matter little to Mother Russia, who could use a quick buck. While this is certainly based on actual events that took place in the ’90s, I can’t help but see the similarities between then and now. Russia currently is backing a man of questionable reputation in Syrian president Bashir al-Assad and, as we know, much of their former arsenal is now in the hands of militants in the Middle East. So while this issue reflects on the past, it reflects the current world as well. It’s fitting here that Logan is the one to notice this. Given his old age, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s noting the cyclical nature of history.
Artist Alti Firmansyah also blends nostalgia with the present day with her work on the pencils in this issue. All of the characters we see here are drawn in the exact same costumes I saw them in during the animated series. This suits have become iconic, and it’s a lot fun to see everyone prancing around in their old duds. Firmansyah even makes sure their eyes are whited out just as fashion dictated in the ’90s. While these throwback unis are certainly a nod to the ’90s, Firmansyah makes sure that her character design is more modern than the ’90s, however.
While there are certain ’90s details that remain (check out Wolverine’s arm hair), these character designs are far from the Rob Liefeld-like designs that spawned the character designs of the ’90s cartoon. Firmansyah updates the design of these characters by cutting down on unneeded textures and muscles. In addition, each of these characters skews more towards the cartoony style of drawing than the realistic. It’s not a huge shift, but its enough to distinguish these particular characters apart from earlier iterations. Overall it’s a nice effect that acknowledges the past but places this comic, artistically, in the present.
Of course, now that I’m past the age of 30, I can’t resist the bittersweet allure of nostalgia. Indeed, there are parts of this issue that are made for me exactly because they bank on my memory of things past. Gambit, everyone’s favorite Cajun, is a prime example of this. All of the lines writers Chris Sims and Chad Bowers give to him fly straight out of the 90s cartoon. Just check out the line below:
When I read that line in my head I hear it in the voice of the actor who played gambit in the animated series. Here, Gambit refers to himself in the third person, drops in random tidbits of French, and pronounces “th” with a “d,” all of which are hallmarks of the ’90s version of this character. Such a caricature of Cajun culture would probably be lambasted if it came out today, but safely nestled in the warm arms of nostalgia, it’s simply marvelous. This is the type of thing that reminds me not only of the series, but of speaking in a Gambit voice to my friends and (to their great confusion) my parents. This nostalgia is fun because it brings me back, but it also doesn’t detract from the narrative in any significant way.
Michael, I was pleasantly surprised by this issue! What do you think? Do you buy the danger of Alpha Red or is he just another vampire knock-off? Does the nostalgia work for you? And most important of all, do you think taking a grizzly bear “upside the head” would hurt?
Michael: Unfortunately the word “nostalgia” has become a dirty in my lexicon. The overwhelming amount of pieces of pop culture that are trying to reap the fruits of nostalgia — quality be damned — is maddening. So asking me if the nostalgia works for me causes me to self-destruct a bit. As a matter of fact, I found that you could read that kind of critique in an instance from X-Men ’92 1 that Taylor already talked about a bit. When Wolverine was talking about the fall of communism and the resurgence of capitalism “making a quick buck,” the cynic in me read it as a commentary on this comic book’s existence. X-Men ’92 falls within the typical parameters of what I’d classify as a “nostalgia reap.” But as superhero comics are in a constant state of redefining, I tend to give them a pass as far as my nostalgia criticisms go. And while X-Men was not as fully-formed as Batman: The Animated Series, it certainly had its own distinct personality — which Chris Sims and Chad Bowers intentionally channel to color this universe.
What I like about X-Men ’92 1 is that Sims and Bowers are writing a ’90s series with a 2016 intelligence; making the book funnier than I ever remember the series being (and I rewatched it last year). While it’s always fun to see Beast reading a book whilst hanging upside down, I very much enjoyed seeing Professor Henry McCoy as a teacher. Beast as the perturbed teacher who knows that he works in a madhouse was a lot more fun than Professor X would be. Alti Firmansyah really nails Beast’s humorous reaction of reluctant defeat at the predictable unpredictability of being an X-Man. It’s moments like this where Sims and Bowers know they can get away with such a stupid (but great) joke as Wolverine on roller blades:
Beast is a great voicebox for the creative team of X-Men ’92 1. The whole “pitch” for the Xavier School in this first issue is about re-opening the school to students and focusing on them. But they know that readers jumping into a number one don’t want new students — they want Wolverine and co.! The “X-Men of it all” is literally thrust upon Beast and his students, as Maverick crashes through the window. The comedic pacing of those first few pages was spot on and very well-timed.
Like Taylor, I read this book with all of the voice actors from the animated series in my head. While I allowed for Gambit’s “tres gauche” accent, I found myself rolling my eyes a bit when Omega Red and his ex-Soviet brothers struggled to compose their sentences in English. Everything that happened between Wolverine and Omega Red felt completely in line with the animated series however. Wolverine calls Omega Red a “slimeball” (the most heinous of insults in a ’90s kids’ show); and more importantly, Gambit makes a fun little quip about Wolverine’s tired and complicated origins.
Overall I found X-Men ’92 1 to be a fun continuation of the ’90s series that wasn’t overly simplistic. Sims, Bowers and Firmansyah are opening doors to a subset of the Marvel Universe that hasn’t really been expanded all that far. Alpha Red is mentioned as “The Soviet Union’s answer to Captain America” which stands to reason that Captain America — and any other Marvel characters — are up for grabs for the X-Men ’92 treatment. At the very least, X-Men ’92 is a safe haven for Gambit to have some entertaining story moments. Poor Gambit — you just can’t seem to make yourself relevant or inoffensive in the modern day, can you?
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?