Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Review # 24.1: "The Top 10 X-Men Teams of All Time"

And now for something completely different: a countdown! There's little doubt the X-Men are the greatest superhero team of all time. But which incarnation? This is my attempt to rank the absolute best, based on chemistry, character growth and story strength in a completely unscientific process. Here we go!

Honourable Mention: The Orphan, The Anarchist, U-Go Girl, Venus Dee Milo, Phat, Vivisector, Dead Girl, Doop and a rotating cast of people with a short life expectancy (X-Force/X-Statix, Early 00s. Writer: Peter Milligan)

Great team, great story. Just can't bring myself to put it on the actual list because it seems like it's on a separate track from the rest of the X-Universe. Yeah, it's deliberate, but... no, I can't do it.

10. Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel/Archangel, Beast and Iceman (X-Factor, Late 80s. Writer: Louise Simonson)

Gotta have the originals! In the 1960s when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.... wait, what? "X-Factor, Late 80s?" That's right: not the original era. Not the well-done "First Class" era either. Reunited and it feels so good, the coming together of Scott Summers, Jean Grey, Warren Worthington III, Hank McCoy and Bobby Drake as adults is my pick as the best. Why? Because they actually grew as characters. You had Scott trying to justify (and desperately hide) leaving his wife to return to a resurrected Jean, Hank regaining his humanity but losing his intelligence, Warren's complete reinvention and Bobby becoming a true heavyweight. Supported by well-written stories with strong new villains (Apocalypse and Cameron Hodge,) the first era of X-Factor was a true gem.

Defining Story: Fall of the Mutants

9. Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Havok, Rogue, Psylocke, Dazzler and Longshot (X-Men, Late 80s. Writer: Chris Claremont)

While the original band was getting back together, the main X-Men series was getting darker and darker, becoming a group of outlaws that was thought dead. Wanting to get far away from their roots to deal with various angst (and there was a LOT of angst going on at the time), the team moved its home base to Australia. This was very much the "Storm and Wolverine Show" at the time with Rogue rapidly gaining traction as she fought Carol Danvers for control of her own mind. Dazzler and Psylocke also toughened up, though the latter of those two would take that to another level after the team split. Tagging along for the ride was Cyclops' abandoned wife Madelyne Pryor, searching desperately for her baby son. That, um... that got a wee bit out of hand.

Defining Story: Inferno

8. Cyclops, Wolverine, Beast, Gambit, Rogue, Psylocke and Jubilee (X-Men "Blue Team", Early 90s. Writer(s): Chris Claremont, Jim Lee, Scott Lobdell)

When the original team was brought back into the fold and everyone was split into two units, it's pretty clear that the new "X-Men" series had the deck stacked in its favour. Seriously, it got all the cool mutants. However, the success of the team was short-lived. While it trudged on admirably after Claremont left, when Lee took off a lot of the quality did too. But a lot got packed in over the course of a year and each member had his or her chance to shine. Cyclops grew a sense of humour (and developed great chemistry with Beast as a result), Psylocke showed a devious streak and Wolverine was, well... Wolverine was Wolverine. Also, casual fans who love Gambit: take note. This run was his peak. He hasn't been nearly as good of a character since.

Defining Story: Mutant Genesis

7. Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Kitty Pryde (X-Men, Early 80s. Writer: Chris Claremont)

This may seem criminally low to some, and I had a tough time putting it here. Seen by many as the best team ever, I just can't bring myself to agree. Rising from the ashes of the Dark Phoenix Saga, Kitty Pryde is brought into the fold and placed front and centre. While it led to some amazing stories, the reason why I have this group so low is because the team was too unbalanced in her favour. There's some great stuff going on with each character during the course of this incarnation, but all things fall back to Kitty to the level that it becomes obnoxious. Still: this era freaking rocks. Come on, it had "Days of Future Past," "God Loves, Man Kills," "I, Magneto..."

Defining Story: God Loves, Man Kills

6. Cyclops, Wolverine, Emma Frost, Magneto, Namor and nearly every mutant under the sun (X-Men, Late 00s. Writer: Matt Fraction)

After the destruction of the X-Mansion in "Messiah Complex," the team moved to the west coast and pretty much everyone with an X-Gene ended up in San Francisco. The team-up potential this created was off the charts. You had the original New Mutants reunite, a new incarnation of X-Force, the hilarious X-Club science team, heavyweights Magneto and Namor and young mutants like Pixie and the Stepford Cuccoos being mixed in effectively with the main squad. Matt Fraction takes this anarchy and somehow - by having it revolve around the Cyclops-Emma Frost relationship - keeps everything balanced. I think the best example of how cool it was to have all of these mutants operating together came as a side-story to the incredible "Second Coming" crossover. Cyclops tells Cannonball to pick a team to rescue Illyana Rasputin from Limbo. The roster he ends up with? Gambit, Northstar, Dazzler, Pixie, Trance and Anole. I mean... who even THINKS of that? And then it WORKS!

Defining Story: Second Coming

4. (tie) Jamie Madrox, Layla Miller, Siryn, M, Rictor, Strong Guy and Wolfsbane (X-Factor Investigations, Mid-00s. Writer: Peter David) / Jamie Madrox, Layla Miller, Siryn, M, Rictor, Shatterstar, Longshot, Darwin, Strong Guy and Wolfsbane (X-Factor Investigations, Late 00s. Writer: Peter David)

I was flipping back and forth between "Kid Layla" and "Adult Layla" a few times and decided to make it a tie instead. A lot of people may look at those names and not have a freaking clue who any of them are. That's probably why this team works so well. Picking up the scraps no one else wants, Peter David gets carte blanche to characterize as he pleases. Madrox becomes a detective, Rictor gets off the juice, Siryn gets on the bottle, M becomes a monstrous bitch, Shatterstar and Longshot tiptoe around their weird relationship and Strong Guy is actually funny again. The star of the show, though, is the creepy Layla Miller. First as a kid whose knowledge of the future is slightly unnerving to an adult with a power that is far MORE unnerving. It's a diverse group of characters, each with the strong ability to push someone else's buttons. I plan to look at this series very soon on the blog.

Defining Stories: The Longest Night (Kid Layla,) Time and a Half/Overtime (Adult Layla)

3. Wolverine, Archangel, Psylocke, Fantomex, Deadpool and Deathlok ("Uncanny" X-Force, Early 10s. Writer: Rick Remender)

Everything for everyone. Violence? Check. Romance? Check. Anarchy? Check. Wolverine and Deadpool? Check. Rick Remender struck gold with this group, writing some absolutely unbelievable stories ranging from exhilarating to heartbreaking. I think the reason this team ended up working so well is because Remender takes an Avengers approach to what's going on. There is no doubt that the biggest stars on this team are Logan and Wade, but if you're looking for the focus to be on them, look elsewhere. Psylocke is the star of the show with a lot of character devotion to Fantomex and Archangel as well. All parts of the team compliment another, driven by an incredible narrative.

Defining Story: The Dark Angel Saga

2. Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Phoenix, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Banshee (X-Men, Late 70s/Early 80s. Writer(s): Chris Claremont, John Byrne)

The greatest X-Men run of all time produces the second-greatest team. Formed initially by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum, it was after Claremont and Byrne stepped in that things really began to gel. They added a killer edge to Wolverine, introduced more of Storm's past as a young thief, alluded to Colossus' reluctance as a hero, gave Banshee a graceful (and needed) exit, and even brought back Beast and Angel for some excellent temporary roles. Oh, and there's that whole "Jean Grey turns evil and sacrifices herself to retain her humanity" blah blah blah. I think the best "team scene" comes during the Proteus arc where Cyclops gives them a military-style pep talk to get their asses in gear, included dangerously egging on a freaked-out Logan and provoking a fight. There are other great team moments, though, like Cyclops and Storm trying to snap Colossus out of Arcade's brainwashing and a series of Claremont-signature soliloquies before their confrontation with the Imperial Guard on the moon. It would take an absolutely perfect combination to possibly top this.

Defining Story: The Dark Phoenix Saga

1. Cyclops, Wolverine, Beast, Emma Frost, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, Lockheed and Armor ("Astonishing" X-Men, Mid 00s. Writer: Joss Whedon)

...which Joss Whedon had in "Astonishing X-Men." This team is f***ing awesome. It has all the keys: Leadership, intelligence, strength, experience, youth... Hell, even great dramatic intangibles like in-team manipulation, forced maturity and sexual tension. Over 20-plus issues, every teammate has their own bad-ass moment - Cyclops' grin in the Breakworld torture room, Wolverine regaining his natural state of mind thanks to an open fridge, Beast's metaphor as he gets ready to fight Danger... and it goes on like this. Each character came out of this arc looking stronger than they had in 25 years, Armor (the sole new addition) excepted. With Joss Whedon at the helm, though... what did you expect?

Defining Story: The entire run (Gifted/Dangerous/Torn/Unstoppable)

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