We all have idealized versions of certain eras. There are those who believe music stopped being bearable after 1989. There are those who believe TV started going downhill the moment Happy Days went off the air. There are even those who miss the inconvenience of having to pay $15 for a CD with only a couple decent songs on it rather than getting the music beamed directly to a smart phone. We can argue just how great these eras actually were, but for X-men fans, there is nothing to argue about.
The ’90s were, and still are, the greatest era for X-men.
It seems so long ago and in the skewed context of the Marvel comics timeline, it was. The ’90s was the era when any book that had a big X on it guaranteed a major surge in sales. It was an era when Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine were still alive. It was an era when Professor Xavier didn’t keep dark, dirty secrets about mind-wiping his students. There were plenty of time travel stories and alternate worlds, but none of them involved sterilization plots. Is it any wonder why X-men fans look back on this era so fondly?
That era, and the fondness that came with it, is the foundation on which X-men 92 is built. While the ’90s ended a long time ago, along with boy bands and America Online commercials, that foundation is still as strong as ever. The Secret Wars tie-in proved that this period in the X-men’s history still has a special place in the hearts of fans. Whether it’s those who have come to despise sterilization plots or just like seeing a world where Jean Grey hasn’t died multiple times, X-men 92 has already won over many fans by default.
With X-men 92 #1, Chad Bowers and Chris Sims look to win even bigger. Like the ’90s itself, just being extreme isn’t going to cut it.
The premise offers a much less dire alternative to the overly retconned, exceedingly convoluted mainline X-men comics where entire conflicts unfold off-panel. X-men 92 #1 picks up right where the Secret Wars tie-in left off, with the Xavier Institute opening its doors to a new wave of students. From there, Chad Bowers and Chris Sims give us exactly that, a perfect progression from the events that preceded it. The Xavier Institute is a functioning school once more, minus the freshman hazing.
There are no Sentinel attacks, no plagues, and no cosmic birds. It’s just the X-men operating a school for mutants. It shouldn’t be such a novel concept. This is, after all, the same concept that Bryan Singer used to make multiple movies and yet, it’s a concept that mainline X-men comics have either abandoned or negated. Bowers and Sims make the case that it’s a concept that’s way more interesting than clones or sterilization plots will ever be.
There’s an undeniable charm to the environment in X-men 92 #1. The art by Alti Firmansyah is vibrant and upbeat. Characters actually smile and joke, something mutants haven’t done in a decade. Considering that the themes of X-men 92 emerged during the grunge era of the ’90s, that’s saying something.
This fun, upbeat spirit is reflected in characters like Beast, Jubilee, and Wolverine. They each carry themselves with the same spirit as the old animated series. Some X-men fans might not be old enough to remember the gruff voice of Cathal Dodd, who voiced Wolverine for a generation of X-men fans, but X-men 92 #1 still conveys that gruffness in ways that every generation of X-men fans can appreciate.
It’s one of the greatest strengths of this series and, arguably, the most important for a series like X-men 92. The voice of each character is distinct and rich with personality. Jubilee comes off as the rebellious, fun-loving teenager who still thinks roller blades are cool. Beast comes off as the smart, dorky, yet charming intellectual he’s always been. Again, these are core traits for core characters. Seeing them function within a story so effectively shouldn’t be such a novel concept. Then again, in an era when a major character has to die and/or get replaced by a clone/time traveler, maybe it’s more novel than it seems.
As for the story in which these rich personalities operate, it’s every bit as engaging. It feels like it could be an episode of the old animated series. It involves faces from Wolverine’s past, including old friends like Maverick, who want to help him and old enemies like Omega Red, who want to kill him. That alone is the basis of at least a dozen episodes of the old cartoon, not to mention the primary plot of nearly every X-men movie ever made. This difference in X-men 92 is that it doesn’t feel forced, a claim X-men: The Last Stand cannot make.
While it might be an overplayed theme, Bowers and Sims still make it feel fresh. That’s something that usually can’t be accomplished these days without time travel or cosmic cubes, but it’s a theme that quickly blossoms. It creates the first real conflict that this revamped team of X-men must face. With Storm now the leader and with two new teammates in Bishop and Psylocke, this team has to hit the ground running. They succeed in ensuring that this conflict doesn’t become solely a Wolverine story, which was no easy feat in the ’90s.
More importantly, and perhaps most importantly, they carry themselves as X-men who are actually trying to maintain peace in a world that seems all too eager to throw killer robots at a problem. This is important because for most of the ’00s, this core theme of X-men has taken a backseat to outright survival. Seeing it emphasized in a story that utilizes the distinct character traits alongside the distinct spirit that defined the X-men for an era makes for concise, engaging, and downright uplifting story for X-men fans of any generation.
X-men 92 #1 doesn’t just succeed in capturing the essence of a defining era for X-men. It creates a world that feels unburdened and unencumbered by never-ending efforts to reinvent the X-men for a new audience. Like an ice cream cone on a hot summer day, some things don’t need to be reinvented. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of why it worked so well in the first place.