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Apr 5

X-Men Legends #1-2

Posted on Monday, April 5, 2021 by Paul in x-axis

X-MEN LEGENDS #1-2
“The Burning Blood”
by Fabian Nicieza, Brett Booth, Adelso Corona & Guru-eFX

So this is a strange little bit of counter programming. The X-books are the focus of attention at the moment in a way that they haven’t been in some years, but they’ve done it with a version of the X-Men that differs wildly from the traditional set-up. For those looking for something a bit more traditional, we now have the determinedly retro X-Men Legends – not merely a series telling stories set in the past, but a series in which past creators are invited to come back and tell stories set during their own runs.

The obvious way to kick off something like this would be to call up Chris Claremont. But then maybe not. Claremont has written tons of continuity implant stories over the years. Some of them (notably the Classic X-Men back-ups) are very good. But we’ve seen it before. Instead, X-Men Legends opens with a two-parter that seems to be targeted unapologetically at continuity geeks: Fabian Nicieza getting the chance to finish off his Adam X storyline from the mid-90s.

Now, by all means, if you’re going to have creators revisit old runs, it makes all the sense in the world to tie up loose ends – especially if they’re stories that the writer wanted to complete in the first place. But gosh. Adam X. That’s one for the purists.

Adam X has an unfortunate reputation, for fairly obvious reasons. He’s often seen as a ludicrously 90s character, which isn’t entirely fair. I mean, yes, they gave him the codename X-Treme. That was unfortunate. And he wore a silly baseball cap, though that’s more actual 90s than comics 90s. And he had a convoluted blood-based superpower that suggested his stories were going to tend towards bloodbaths.

But… a lot of that is superficial. His basic story, viewed in hindsight, is sound enough. Adam was created by the previous Shi’ar Emperor D’Ken, using a mixture of DNA from D’Ken himself and Katherine Summers. He winds up living as a farmer with no idea of where he comes from and goes looking for answers, purpose, direction and all that. Those answers turn out to involve people trying to pressgang him into a destined role that he has no particular interest in, and ultimately he opts out of the whole thing and tries to go back to farming. That’s a perfectly okay “he had what he wanted all along” kind of story, and it’s nothing especially extreme or 90s.

And as for his powers, they’re overcomplicated by Nicieza’s fondness for technobabble. Igniting the electrolytes in oxygenated blood? What? What does that actually mean? I still don’t really know what it means in theory, but in practice it means that Adam can win a fight as soon as he draws blood. So far from his powers promising a bloodbath, the logic of Adam’s powers is that he can win by giving you a paper cut. You’d rather fight this guy than Wolverine. Or Callisto, for that matter.

Maybe that was always meant to be the joke? That he promises all sorts of 90s-ness and turns out to be something else entirely?

Legends has nonetheless opted for a very nineties artist in Brett Booth. At the time of the original stories, Booth was working for Jim Lee at WildStorm. The actual X-books of the mid-90s didn’t look quite so much like this. Andy Kubert was the regular artist on X-Men by this point; Adam’s one spotlight issue was drawn by Terry Dodson. But Booth’s style is what people associate with the 90s. It makes sense on that level; it’s not bad at the level of individual panels. When you get to the visual storytelling it’s another matter. The page layouts on the second issue in particular are often cacophonous.

Regardless… Adam was clearly intended to fit into the notorious Third Summers Brother storyline, which began in the mid-90s and finally paid off in an entirely different way with Vulcan. Nicieza doesn’t exactly abandon the original idea – genetically, at least, Adam is Scott and Alex’s half-brother, and this story is very, very clear about that fact. At the same time, though, it acknowledges that they have no real shared history, nothing much in common, and no real family connection.

Most of the details of Adam’s back story were in fact revealed back in the 90s. Nicieza covered most of it in Captain Marvel #3, an obscure comic which isn’t available on Unlimited, but which established the stuff about him being D’Ken’s creation. The connection with Katherine had been very heavily implied but not stated outright before. So the actual revelations in this story are barely revelations at all; it merely confirms what everyone already understood to be the case – and, perhaps, makes clear that those hints aren’t to be disregarded merely because the role of third Summers Brother has since been given to Vulcan.

But if the story had played out in the mid-90s, then revealing Adam as the third Summers brother would also have carried the weight of him being a big deal. That’s no longer an option, which leaves this story to play out purely on the level of the family relationship. It works up to a point. Just as Adam wanted to know where he came from, and wasn’t particularly satisfied by any of the answers, he likes the idea of having a family, yet feels no particular connection to any of these people. Why would he? His connection to them is purely genetic, and he’s not the one who’s attaching any significance to the DNA.

The plotting has issues, too. The pay off is meant to be that Adam chooses to reject all of these revelations and just go and live a peaceful life as a farmer; he asks for Oracle to scramble people’s memories of him so that he’ll be left in peace. That in turn gives Lilandra the assurance – supposedly – that Adam is not going to cause trouble for her as a rival claimant to the throne. It makes sense in terms of Adam’s character arc, but not in terms of the plot – the whole story is about cultists trying to pressgang Adam into this role even before he knows anything about it, and it’s not very clear why  any of that would stop.

There’s also something a little odd about trying to give closure to a character who has in fact shown up subsequently – he was last seen quite recently over in X-Factor, in something more of a 90s bro role. All told, tacking a resolution onto a story from a quarter century ago that was actually mostly finished at the time feels like a well-meaning exercise that doesn’t quite work in practice. But there’s a certain charm to it for all that; if nothing else, it feels like Nicieza thought more of this character than most readers did, and is taking genuine pleasure in wrapping up his story.

Bring on the comments

  1. Chris V says:

    I remember finding the entirety of the 1990s Captain Marvel series in a quarter box about a decade ago (only six issues, but still…). I bought them, thinking they would be more than worth it for a laugh.
    Captain Marvel with his ponytail. Adam-X, the X-Treme.
    Instead, I didn’t find the series bad.
    It paled in comparison to Peter David’s later run on Captain Marvel, but I found it worth a read.
    It was mostly the artwork which so badly dated the series.

    I’m not exactly sure the purpose of this series will be that much of a draw.
    Sure, if Claremont finally writes the “origin of Nightcrawler” featuring Mystique and Destiny the book will be worth existing.
    I see the next story-arc seems to be Louise Simonson writing a story which I thought she already wrote for the title X-Factor: Forever.
    It’s not quite the same remit as the “Forever” books, but the idea of former creators returning to tell the story they didn’t get to tell was done around the year 2010.

  2. Nu-D says:

    These kinds of stories invariably disappoint. Claremont’s the worst, since what he writes is obviously not what he would have written 30 years ago when he was in the middle of it all. But nobody else really seems to do this well either.

    And Adam X? No. Not interested. I wasn’t interested then, and I’m not interested now.

  3. Thom H. says:

    I missed Adam X in the ’90s, so the first time I encountered him was his recent X-Factor appearance. And I kind of liked him?

    I do not like this whole “other Summers brother” business, though. Do we seriously need mutant dynasties? So Star Wars.

  4. Dave says:

    So they could bring the memories back now and it wouldn’t be that big a deal for the Shi’ar, right? As the current Empress’ genetic cousin he wouldn’t have a particularly strong claim to the throne. Being Vulcan’s sort-of half brother wouldn’t be getting him any support, either.

    I found the reference to the D’Ken stuff being 20 years ago a little bit strange. Should be more like 10. Adam being a young adult in 90s comics already meant his background needed some accelerated ageing, I assume (I also was never interested enough to pick up the relevant back issues).

  5. Si says:

    Wasn’t Adam X in Age of Apocalypse, where he was some kind of fire guy?

  6. Dave says:

    Oh, wait – 20ish years was when Scott and Alex were kids and the parents got nabbed.

  7. Chris V says:

    Wait. These stories are meant to be in-continuity?
    I thought they were non-canonical stories where the writer got to tell the original story he wanted to tell (hence “Legends”, ala Star Wars), but was never able to detail because later writers had written different revelations to dangling plots.
    For example, Claremont getting a chance to, say, write Mystique and Destiny as Nightcrawler’s parents.
    Is it actually more like continuity implants?

    Based on the description, it sounded like the next story-arc was going to be Simonson telling the X-Factor story she would have written if she didn’t leave the book. Again.

  8. the new kid says:

    The “X-treme” 90s only lasted from 90- 93 or so but for some reason people paint the entire 90s as the Liefeld ponytail era. Joe Mad was the hot artist by 94.

  9. Chris V says:

    The Nicieza Captain Marvel series was from 1995. The artist was Ed Benes.
    It was still very early ‘90s-riffic, featuring a Gen X Genis-Vell with ponytail meeting a guy called Adam X, the X-Treme.
    Genis-Vell was created in Silver Surfer Annual #6. I think the artist was Ron Lim.
    The early-1990s was still alive and well with some comic books until after Onslaught or Heroes Reborn for Marvel, I’d say.

  10. ASV says:

    I think it’s hilarious that Cyclops has a phone built into his visor, and he just answers unexpected calls on it.

  11. Diana says:

    It occurs to me there’s a simple enough way to have Legends be both canon and irrelevant to current stories at the same time: have them all be set in one of Moira’s past lives. That would make this more than just vanity projects and callbacks that are older than the Internet.

  12. Benji says:

    I remember a story where Adam meets Scott and Alex’s grandfather. They’re stuck in a snowstorm, I think, and they bond even though it’s not clear to them that they are (sort of) related. Although, according to Adam’s background which I didn’t know at the time, it would seem he was never related to the actual Summers. Anyway, I remember it was a nice comic – a character-based story that moved away from Adam X’s EXTREME regular appearances.

  13. wwk5d says:

    @Benji

    I think that was issue Paul mentioned above, the “Adam’s one spotlight issue was drawn by Terry Dodson” issue on X-men Vol. 2.

  14. SanityOrMadness says:

    Chris V> Wait. These stories are meant to be in-continuity?… Is it actually more like continuity implants?

    Yes. They were stressing this really heavily when it launched, even. Here’s part of the solicit for XML1:

    Break out the yellows and blues, fire up the Danger Room and snap on your pouches as legendary X-writers return to classic eras of the mutant super heroes in ALL-NEW, in-continuity stories set during their fan-favorite runs!

  15. Luis Dantas says:

    Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio might not be on the X-Men by 94, but the “x-treme” period as I understand it lasted _way_ beyond 1993, much as I wish it had not. Easily into early 1997, at the very least.

    The original Onslaught mess went well into 1996, at a time when lots of books were very much drowning on their own x-tremeness. It took a long time for the industry to quite recover even after that point.

  16. Luis Dantas says:

    It is noteworthy that the Legends books are being promoted as in-continuity. These are times of a lot more flexibility in continuity than the 1980 or arguably even then 1990s.

    It may be a conscious effort at presenting a line that is continuity-conscious as a selling point, which I would welcome. Most comics seem to be effectively unaware of their own past continuity beyond five years or so these days.

    I don’t think that the parallels with Claremont’s Classic X-Men book go very far. Claremont is a writer who often retcons his own work in subtle and not so subtle ways, even if we never see many of those changes acknowledged on panel. It made sense to give him a channel to fully express the most important retcons, since he would write forward according to those retcons anyway.

    That is not however an approach to continuity that works well as standard operating procedure in a shared universe that emphasizes continuity. And indeed, it is probably no coincidence that Marvel lost a lot of its interest in continuity while attempting to reconcile Claremont’s output with that of later writers and competing creative visions.

    A big part of the appeal of writers such as Nicieza and Peter David back in the 1990s was their apparent lack of ambition for continuity impact and willingness to write with or at least around the disruptive effect of crossovers and other writers’ projects, which minimized conflicts with the star names such as Jim Starlin and Chris Claremont.

    Mark Gruenwald attempted to do the same with Quasar and failed, mostly because his own writing is similar to Claremont and Starlin’s in that it requires a considerable amount of continuity space to truly thrive, and he ended up writing a huge part of his Quasar run in a holding pattern that kept the protagonists apart from their own core plots for way too long, hurting reader commitment.

    Nicieza is a different kind of writer, one very much willing and able to run with the flow and work with the editorial mandate of the day. But that also means that he is just not all that invested in continuity, because he never had much of an ability to direct it in the first place.

    So, if this book is to succeed, it should probably be by attempting to rewrite the perception of past continuity, subtly or otherwise. I expect that it will.

  17. Chris V says:

    Luis-This is an anthology title. Nicieza was only writing this initial Adam X story.
    The next story will feature Louise Simonson writing a X-Factor story.
    I know that Marvel announced Claremont writing a story too.
    After that, I’m not sure. Maybe Nicieza will come back for another story, or maybe the book will be canceled by that point.

    Quasar was a really fun comic. I enjoyed it. It lasted for sixty issues. That’s about as much mileage as a character like Quasar could get out of a series.
    The book didn’t fit with the times either. It started in 1989 and was very much being written by Gruenwald against the expectations and style of where comics were moving during the early-1990s.
    So, it’s definitely to the credit of the quality of the series that it lasted for five years.
    The book did begin to lose a lot of momentum towards the end.

  18. FUBAR007 says:

    Benji: I remember a story where Adam meets Scott and Alex’s grandfather. They’re stuck in a snowstorm, I think, and they bond even though it’s not clear to them that they are (sort of) related. Although, according to Adam’s background which I didn’t know at the time, it would seem he was never related to the actual Summers. Anyway, I remember it was a nice comic – a character-based story that moved away from Adam X’s EXTREME regular appearances.

    X-Men vol. 2 #39 by Nicieza and Terry Dodson. Published in late 1994 just before Legion Quest and Age of Apocalypse. One of my favorite issues of Nicieza’s underrated (IMO) run.

    Adam X next showed up briefly just before the AOA when the crystallization wave wiped out reality in X-Men vol. 2 #41. There’s a panel of him fighting Eric the Red. Nicieza then picked up that thread in the issue of Captain Marvel that O’Brien refers to. X-Men Legends #1-2 take place after that. For Cyclops and Havok, they take place shortly after AOA but before Howard Mackie had Havok abducted and brainwashed by Dark Beast.

    As a 90s X-fan, I thoroughly enjoyed these two issues even though the second one felt rushed. I’m looking forward to Walt and Weezi’s X-Factor story up next. Per the solicit, it looks like it’s set shortly after Inferno during the “Judgment War” story arc.

    On a side note, it occurs to me that, with all the explorations of the Summers lineage, we still know next to nothing about Kate Summers, not even her maiden name. In an earlier era of more character-driven storytelling, there could’ve been an opportunity there, perhaps for a few curveballs. What if the Summers X-gene Sinister was so interested in came from her side and not Corsair’s? What if Kate was a latent mutant herself? Where did she come from? What was her side of the family like?

  19. Chris V says:

    We know, per The Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix, that it was from the father’s side which caused Sinister’s interest in the bloodline.
    Unless Kate’s last name was also Summers.

    I read about a really crazy aborted plot that Robert Weinberg wanted to tell in Cable, that Apocalypse was going to be revealed as the third Summers’ brother.
    That story was going to have details about Kate.
    I think it sounds like it was for the best that Marvel editorial vetoed that idea.
    I forget where I read about it and what the plot would entail.
    It might have been the Comic Legends Revealed column.

  20. Luis Dantas says:

    This seems to be the article (indeed a CBLR installment).

    https://www.cbr.com/comic-book-legends-revealed-217/3/

    It would make some sense to have Apocalypse be the third Summers brother. I stand reminded of that early X-Factor issue by Louise and Walt Simonson where Scott was fighting a sentinel that insisted that he was “one of the strong”. I don’t think that what we got as his eventual origin is particularly convincing or interesting, but I don’t think that the character can quite be made convincing either.

    X-Factor before Peter David was daaaark, about as depressing and downbeat as anything that Marvel ever published.

  21. Chris V says:

    I think it’s hard to beat Frank Miller’s Daredevil, in that regard.
    Elektra dying. Karen Page revealed as a drug-addicted prostitute. Matt having a number of breakdowns and finally playing Russian roulette with a crippled Bullseye. A kid killing himself while using drugs.
    “Born Again” was even more depressing then Miller’s original stint until the ending.

  22. Chris V says:

    Oh, also Steve Gerber’s Man Thing. One long slog through misery and despair, as Gerber tells us that life is meaningless. I absolutely love it!

    Special mention: Don McGregor’s Luke Cage. Unfortunately, it didn’t last longer, as it was shaping up to be a gem.
    McGregor gives us a guided tour of life in the slums, including coming across a guy who ODed on heroin, with the needle still sticking out of his arm.
    I have no idea how it got cleared by the Comics Code.

  23. Diana says:

    @Luis: A big part of the appeal of writers such as Nicieza and Peter David back in the 1990s was their apparent lack of ambition for continuity impact and willingness to write with or at least around the disruptive effect of crossovers and other writers’ projects, which minimized conflicts with the star names such as Jim Starlin and Chris Claremont.

    In fairness – at least where Peter David is concerned – that was less a matter of a lack of ambition and more determination to not have his own stories derailed by irrelevant crossovers. His first Hulk run somehow managed to dodge and weave around Acts of Vengeance, the Infinity Trilogy, Onslaught and Heroes Reborn through sheer spite if nothing else

  24. The Other Michael says:

    This story went about as well as can be expected. We got confirmation that Adam was related to the Summers family in exactly the way everyone had always predicted, while the mindwipe at the end ensured that it wouldn’t impact the decades of stories we’ve had since.

    All this does is add another cloned Summers to the already bloated family tree, as seen in the graphic included in this very story. Maybe if the memory blocks are lifted, Adam can get a room in the Summers House on the Moon as well.

    Honestly, I found the whole thing to be harmless and inconsequential–a way of appeasing continuity nerds like ourselves without actually disrupting anything of any note.

    Now, if they dedicated the series to clearing up the other X-Men Dangler plots (remember when fansites used to keep track of those? I think Claremont alone left enough to drive most historians mad…) that would be minorly amusing as well.

  25. Allan M says:

    The earliest X-Men Dangler list I am aware of was back on Usenet. Maintained by some guy named…. Paul O’Brien. Wonder what happened to him?

  26. The Other Michael says:

    I hear he tried to create the Complete History of Wolverine, had a breakdown, and is now managing a fish n chips takeaway in Manchester. Poor fellow.

  27. Person of Con says:

    I appreciate that Nicieza managed to still get in a few “eh? eh?” type moments re: Gambit’s Summers statuses by panning over to him whenever any one mentioned there might be more unknown brothers out there.

    Someday, someone’s going to do a secret Summers sister story, just for variety.

  28. Taibak says:

    Person of Con: Now that you’ve said that, all I can think of are the X-Animaniacs.

    Scott and Alex: “We’re the Summers brothers!”
    New character: “And the Summers sister.”

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