The Small Lebowski:
X-Men: The Hidden Years #1-9
Issue(s): X-Men: The Hidden Years #1, X-Men: The Hidden Years #2, X-Men: The Hidden Years #3, X-Men: The Hidden Years #4, X-Men: The Hidden Years #5, X-Men: The Hidden Years #6, X-Men: The Hidden Years #7, X-Men: The Hidden Years #8, X-Men: The Hidden Years #9
During the mid-90s, while the Spider-Man Clone Saga was going strong, Untold Tales of Spider-Man was created essentially as an outlet for fans looking for classic Spider-Man stories. The series was crafted to fit seamlessly between the early issues of Amazing Spider-Man, and it was very successful, creatively. It only lasted 25 issues, plus two annuals, but it's generally fondly remembered.
On the assumption that there'd be a similar audience for classic X-Men stories at a time when the X-Men books had also strayed quite a bit from their original concept, X-Men: The Hidden Years was created in the early 2000. This series had a couple of things going for it over Untold Tales of Spider-Man. First, the creator was John Byrne, who has a small but dedicated following of readers ("Byrne victims") that will follow him from title to title. Second, the original X-Men title went into reprints in the early 70s, leaving a gap where the X-Men had few appearances, so the need to work new stories into the existing canon wouldn't be as difficult (It's said that every issue cover of this series has the issue numbers continuing from issue #66. I can't say i found them all, but i didn't really spend too much time looking.).
On the other hand, while Kurt Busiek and Pat Olliffe were at the top of their game on Untold, Byrne's style was considered somewhat dated by the time Hidden Years was being published. Issue #1 contains a note from John Byrne that serves as a sort of warning that he's neither Neal Adams nor trying to replicate the style of the Adams stories that this series will follow, and that he's not the same John Byrne that drew the popular Uncanny series in the 70s, either.
I skipped this at the time, but i've since picked it up, and it's better than i expected it to be. Byrne's art is quite nice, if not quite as strong as in his early-80s heyday (or maybe it's just different, but for some reason i don't like it quite as much; but it's still good)...
...and Byrne uses the opportunity to address a few minor lingering continuity concerns, which is appreciated.
While i said the purpose of this series was essentially "throw a bone to the older fans", there doesn't seem to have been any theme to the series beyond that. The series could have been used to re-establish to the underdeveloped mutant hysteria theme, or lay groundwork for Magneto's transition to a more sympathetic character, or show the first generation of Xavier's students growing and maturing into adults, or... anything. (There is a never-developed plotline where Professor Xavier is acting funny. It's supposed to be due to the fact that the cure he received at the end of Uncanny X-Men #66 didn't quite fix him completely, and he's having mental problems, causing him to treat the X-Men like children. The series is cancelled before the storyline could be developed beyond the "dropping hints" stage, and since it was never developed we could pretend it's support for Onslaught era characterization of Xavier, but it wasn't the intention to set up anything like that.) Instead, Byrne basically goes for straight-up adventure stories, which is fine, except for the pacing.
And the biggest problem with the series is the pacing, which is abysmal. It's generally my policy to break entries in this project down into individual story arcs, but never break up a cliffhanger. As you can see, the first nine issues fall into one entry here, and even that's being generous as even at the end of the eleventh issue there are still ongoing plots that i normally might not break up. Byrne splits up the team in the first issue and for all of these issues we have Havok, Polaris, and (separately) Iceman aimlessly wandering the Savage Land looking for the rest of the X-Men, who had already left some time ago. The secondary team is still in the Savage Land at the end of these nine issues.
Every issue starts with a multi-page recap of previous issues, which is very tedious when reading all the issues together. Issue #8 starts with a three page recap of Uncanny X-Men #59, which has no bearing at all on issue #8, and only tangential relevance to a plotline that doesn't really begin until issue #10.
But the biggest problem really is the meandering pacing. It takes five issues to get the main X-Men group in and out of the Savage Land.
From there they wind up in Africa for a two issue team-up with Storm.
Then immediately home for a fight with the Fantastic Four and a re-hash of the Z'Nox Invasion. All with no rest in between, and meanwhile, as i mentioned, three other team members are still wandering the Savage Land. Someone jokes on one of the letter pages that the series really should have been called "The Hidden Days", but it's no joke. And this isn't modern decompressed storytelling that allows for more involved characterization; it's frantically paced. I don't know if it's a deliberate tribute to Roy Thomas' schizophrenic writing style, but that's how it reads.
A word on "Marvel Time". John Byrne calls our attention to it in the note in issue #1:
[The series] is being done, however, in full awareness of the fact that this is not the 1970s - not for us, and with the application of "Marvel Time", not for the characters either.
That's the full explanation. I don't think that warning was sufficient. I know what "Marvel Time" means, but it's clear that a lot of readers didn't, because just about every lettercol has someone writing in to complain about anachronisms. And there are plenty of what us chronology nerds call "temporal references" - references to Mel Gibson and Star Wars, use of portable phones, modern car and clothing styles, etc., that would have been out of place in the 1970s. I know that "Marvel Time" means that Fantastic Four #1 takes place six years (or whatever) in the past, regardless of what year that would make it, so Uncanny X-Men #66 and these stories that follow it no longer take place in the 70s. But it seems like Byrne went out of his way to rub that in. Instead of avoiding temporal references all together, he seems to have gone out of his way to place them in. It's jarring, and for many readers it was clearly confusing.
The biggest contribution this series makes to the Marvel Universe is addressing a gap between Magneto's appearance in Uncanny X-Men #63, where he was buried in an explosion in the Savage Land and his re-appearance in Fantastic Four #102, where the Sub-Mariner investigates an explosion in the Savage Land and finds an injured Magneto. The two issues were published almost a year apart, so having them occur in direct sequence would have been a little difficult, and this series seems devoted to fixing that. In this arc we see Magneto recovering from the explosion in X-Men #63, and later issues will supply a new explosion for Namor to investigate.
After Xavier recovers from his recent injuries, he mind-reads all of the X-Men (resulting in the major recap documented in the References list below), and angrily scolds the X-Men for not confirming that Magneto was dead after their last encounter with him. So he sends the original X-Men back to the Savage Land to confirm Magneto's death. They leave without Iceman, however, because he's mad that Xavier recently faked his death to prepare for the Z'Nox invasion, so he's quit the team. When the X-Men's plane inevitably crashes on approach to the Savage Land, however, and Xavier sends Lorna Dane and Havok after the first team, Iceman picks up on the signal and tries to make it to the Savage Land on his own (by charting a plane that gets him as far as Terra Del Fuego and then making it the rest of the way there on an ice bridge.
Lorna Dane was never called "Polaris" until Chris Claremont's run in Uncanny X-Men #94, so she doesn't have a code name in this series. She hastily chooses "Magnetrix" when she and Havok first meet Ka-Zar.
Havok mocks her for the bad name, and it's funny at first, but the joke drags on when it's repeated in practically every issue for the first half of the series.
These things are called Nhu'ghari:
They're working for Magneto in an ill conceived plot to detonate a major volcano and release gas that has healing properties but also makes weak minded people docile slaves.
Once the X-Men actually make it to Magneto (who had been recovering in the healing gasses since their last battle), he's defeated very easily. A single punch from the Beast knocks him out.
While in the Savage Land, Angel also meets a winged creature who is said to be a mutant. She's called Avia.
She lingers about in the series for a while but nothing ever really comes of her and she eventually returns home.
Byrne has Beast break out his "Oh my stars and garters!" exclamation in issue #3, in what would be it's chronological first appearance. It's prefaced with "As my sainted Aunt Gertrude used to say...".
In the aftermath of the Magneto plot, after what i think were 300 pages of the X-Men wrestling with balloons, the X-Men land in Africa, where they meet Storm.
Having Storm appear in this series was probably its most controversial aspect. When the X-Men meet her, and the Beast suggests that Xavier be informed, Jean Grey says:
He... already knows about her, Hank. He knows about a lot of mutants he hasn't told us about.
There's nothing in Storm's first published appearance that contradicts the idea that the Beast (who wasn't even around at the time) and Jean had already met her (Cyclops is unconscious during the entire encounter), but it's tenuous ground. On the plus side, at least Byrne didn't go with a mind-wipe or amnesia or something.
The story here is that Storm's powers have been stolen by a mutant called Deluge, who has the power to manipulate his environment.
Compared to him, Magneto's a piker. He has the ability to "harness the most elemental powers of the earth itself".
He absorbs the powers of the X-Men, but they beat him with the old "feed him more energy than he can handle" routine.
Meanwhile, Angel and Avia are found at sea and held in captivity.
But Jean, Cyclops, and Beast make it back to the school and get into a brief Misunderstanding Fight with the Fantastic Four before realizing who they are dealing with. This is the issue with Joe Sinnott inking the Fantastic Four characters (only).
After apologizes are made, Marvel Girl goes to change her clothes, but she's been on the move for so long that she's out of clean costumes and she's forced to put on a modified version of her original school uniform.
The FF are here because it turns out that Xavier's solution to the Z'Nox Invasion was only temporary (and very Earth-centric, leaving the rest of the universe at risk to their attacks), and the FF want to help ensure that there isn't a repeat encounter.
So the two teams fly off into space and have a big battle. I'm a bit concerned that the heroes seem to be wantonly killing the aliens, which seems out of character even against alien invaders, but i'm willing to let it slide because i like this shot of Cyclops.
Then we get the biggest cliffhanger bait & switch of all times, with Jean Grey transforming into the Phoenix...
...and battling the Fantastic Four and the X-Men for about five pages before we learn that the whole thing was just in her head. The implication is that this was the moment where the Phoenix Force first became aware of Jean and began following her around, waiting for the right moment to take her place.
Mr. Fantastic eventually sends the Z'Nox's mobile planet into a dimension that exists between our universe and the Negative Zone so that they can't bother anyone ever again.
I guess the purpose of the Z'Nox re-hash is to make their threat menacing enough that it really made sense for Xavier to go through all of the deception with the Changeling. Lying to his students doesn't make him look very good, especially since Marvel characters deal with alien threats six times a year.
Cameos in issue #2 by the Beast's sometimes girlfriend Vera and Iceman's Zelda. They think Bobby's been acting funny, so they call Candy Southern to investigate. They aren't aware of the boys' secret identities, but Candy is, and she plays a larger role in this series.
Her immediate concern is regarding Angel's mother's pending marriage to his uncle (and the Hamlet parallel is noted).
So after nine issues, we take a break but:
And to top it all off, issue #9 actually ends in a cliffhanger, with a Sentinel landing in the suburbs to menace a young girl.
But next issue won't immediately pick up on that cliffhanger. So it's an ok break from my perspective. But things sure are dragging on. Taken individually these are pointless but enjoyable adventure stories with nice art. Read in succession and it's definitely extended to the breaking point.
Also, compared to the preceding Neal Adams X-Men issues that were Byrne's main inspiration, there's no doubt that these issues are bit... goofier. Well written, well drawn, but nothing to compare to those Adams-drawn Sentinels staring down at the X-Men.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: The beginning of this arc takes place three days after the end of Uncanny X-Men #66 (after recapping the end of that issue). The Fantastic Four appear here after Fantastic Four #96 (actually, after Fantastic Four #99 because that is when Crystal rejoins the team) but before the Magneto story in Fantastic Four #102-104. Following the MCP, i've got this between FF #101-102 (see comments below as well).
Continuity Insert? Y
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showAgatha Harkness, Amphibius (Savage Land Mutate), Angel, Arnstrom, Ashley Martin, Avia, Beast, Candy Southern, Crystal, Cyclops, Deluge, Ebony, Franklin Richards, Havok, Human Torch, Iceman, Invisible Woman, Jean Grey, Ka-Zar, Krueger, Magneto, Mr. Fantastic, Phoenix Force, Polaris, Professor X, Sauron, Storm, Thing, Vera Cantor, Zabu, Zelda
The "Ghost/Darkness" title refers to the movie of the same name, and "Riders" is the title of a song by the Doors.
Jean did wear the modified original costume a few time from 1971-1974, such as Marvel Team-Up #4(I think).
The German Savage Land camp probably refers to Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Land That Time Forgot".
Posted by: Mark Drummond | December 31, 2011 5:54 PM
The winged Savage Land natives here look a lot like a certain later Byrne creation, the Great Lakes Avenger Dinah Soar.
During most of their post-66, pre-Giant Size X-Men 1 appearances in other books, the X-Men were shown wearing their old uniforms. This was mainly because the current issues of their title were reprinting old stories where they were shown wearing the blue (black) & yellow outfits. Byrne decided to make an in-story reason for why they started wearing the old outfits again here but Hidden Years got cancelled before he could tackle Beast's Amazing Adventures, the Secret Empire abducting mutants story and their other appearances leading up to GSXM 1.
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | August 20, 2013 11:58 PM
Er.. I mean to say Dinah Soar is an earlier creation by Byrne since he created her before he wrote this... but since this story is set before the Great Lakes Avengers first made their appearance... I got my tenses confused. Or something like that. I'll go with that. Yea.
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | August 21, 2013 12:08 AM
"The Fantastic Four appear here after Fantastic Four #96 (actually, after Fantastic Four #98 because that is when Crystal rejoins the team) but before the Magneto story in Fantastic Four #102-104."
I believe the Fantastic Four's appearance here actually has to take place between FF 101 & 102 because of the other continuity implant story "Fantastic Four World's Greatest Comics Magazine" #1-12 which takes place between FF 100 & 101. The complete X-Men team appears there which means that story has to take place during the "3 day" gap between UX 66 and when Iceman leaves the team at the beginning of this.
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | August 21, 2013 12:48 AM
Is that FF mini-series canon? I wasn't sure, although I don't suppose there's anything to disqualify it.
Posted by: Chris Kafka | August 21, 2013 1:06 AM
I just checked: In the letters page of issue 12 they tell readers to look for FF #101 to see what happens next to the Fantastic Four. I don't have time to check but I think they also placed a caption in one of the issues (I forget which one) informing readers the whole series takes place between FF #100 & 101, so yea, it's mean to be cannon.
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | August 21, 2013 1:28 AM
Here's a series that really could have benefited from the Archer Solution, but Byrne had to go and make his "point" to the fans about the sliding timescale. Byrne also splits the FINEST of hairs explaining why HIDDEN YEARS was valid but UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN was a dumb idea.
Posted by: Jay Patrick | August 21, 2013 1:32 AM
The problem with the World's Greatest Comic Magazine is that Blastaar was dead between FF 100 and 101 but he appears in the story. It can be explained, but still...
Posted by: Michael | August 21, 2013 7:55 AM
Hmm. The MCP has the sequence as FFWGCM, then FF 101, then X:HY. That's for both the FF and X characters (except for the first few pages of issue #1 here, as i noted).
Right now i've got FF #101 right before this run. I think i'll leave it this way until i'm able to do the analysis on World's Greatest.
Posted by: fnord12 | August 21, 2013 8:55 AM
That's correct. FF 100-> FFWGCM 1-12-> FF 101-> XHY 1-15-> FF 102-104/XHY16-22.
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | August 21, 2013 12:33 PM
Ok, good. I misunderstood and thought you were telling me i needed to make an adjustment, although your comment is clear in retrospect. Thanks!
Posted by: fnord12 | August 21, 2013 2:45 PM
Nope, it's all good! Your welcome. :)
You wrote: "There was a sneak-peak for this series in the back of X-Men #94 (1999), which i don't have but which would take place after the Hulk sequence but otherwise before issue #1."
A caption in the "sneak preview of X-Men Hidden Years" 2nd story in X-Men #94 (1999) says it takes place the day before XMHY 1 (minus the recap of UX #66 bit of course). It's possible that the "sneak-peak" may go between the X-Men's appearances in FFWGCM #4 & #11 depending how long the events of FFWGCM take/how strictly you want to stick to Byrne's "3 days after UX #66" caption in XMHY #1.
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | August 21, 2013 10:40 PM
"FFWGCM 1-12-> FF 101-> XHY 1-15-> FF 102-104/XHY16-22"
Posted by: Shar | November 24, 2013 9:55 PM
The X-folk wear street clothes in MTU 4, IIRC.
Posted by: Dan Spector | August 1, 2014 3:51 AM
The X-Men are shown in their original costumes in Marvel Team-Up #4 while hanging around the mansion, but they are in their civvies for most of the issue.
Posted by: fnord12 | August 1, 2014 10:02 AM
Formatting note: These scans show up sideways on my tablet.
Posted by: Cullen | August 1, 2014 11:53 AM
The sideways images here and the other places that they were reported should be fixed. I've added something to the Q&A about this, but the short of it is that i have to "fix" the images manually, so if you see them appearing in any other place, please let me know. And you see any Safari developers, please kick them in the shins.
Posted by: fnord12 | August 6, 2014 3:20 PM
I think Terry Austin's contribution to Byrne's Uncanny X-Men run might be understated. His inking style might be the ingredient that makes one prefer art in those issues over this work.
Posted by: Cecil | October 1, 2016 2:22 PM
Regarding the events between UXM #66 and HY #1, with all the continuity inserts (Savage Hulk 1-4, X-Men & Spiderman 1 and FF WGCM) any opinions on where the back-up from X2 #94 should be placed?
The MCP placed it before X-Men & Spiderman 1
Posted by: Bibs | April 5, 2017 6:46 AM
If you scroll up about 7 replies from this, I answered your question. Byrne's captions tell us the preview story in X-Men #94 takes place 1 day before the beginning of X-Men: Hidden Years #1 which, in turn, takes place 3 days after the end of The (Uncanny) X-Men #66. That doesn't leave much time for 3 insert stories, one of which is quite epic (FF:WGCM).
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | April 7, 2017 1:20 AM
I guess I left out my conclusion but with that tight timescale, it's possible their appearance in the X-Men #94 secondary story could take place between their appearances in FF:WHCM #3-4 & #11-12.
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | April 7, 2017 1:30 AM
In the article, fnord12 wrote "Setting up the "something's wrong with Xavier" storyline that never came to fruition, when Jean switches back to a modified version of her original uniform, Xavier repeats dialogue to her that comes from when she first put on her school uniform in Uncanny X-Men #1."
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | April 7, 2017 2:29 AM
I'm finishing UXM's first run (1-66) and afterwards I'm planning to read as follows:
which is the order used by the MCP (minus the Savage Hulk issues, which they don't consider, dunno why...)
I'll comment again in here should this order turn out to be messy
Posted by: Bibs | April 7, 2017 8:50 AM
And I'm not ignoring your reply Jay, you're probably right in placing the back-up closer to XMHY #01, since the XM&SM + FFWGCM stories probably take place in more than one day. I have to read them and judge it for myself.
Thanks for your input though =)
Posted by: Bibs | April 7, 2017 8:53 AM
This may be the wrong place for this, but I had to nitpick... regarding your opening comment about Untold Tales of Spider-Man: "It only lasted 25 issues, plus two annuals, but it's generally fondly remembered."
Wasn't UTOSM cancelled because they were dropping the 99-cent titles altogether and/or because Busiek's combination of increasing workload and unstable health put his continued presence on the title seriously in doubt? Roger Stern helped out a lot on the last handful of issues, otherwise they probably would not have come out on time and Busiek stopped working on Astro City altogether at about the same time.
My point simply being that UTOSM wasn't just cancelled for the normal reason of insufficient sales. It was selling well enough (AFAIK) that if it hadn't been a 99-cent title, they might have simply put it on hiatus until Busiek could come back to it. But given that they were blowing up the 99-cent line anyway, it was a case of "now or never" to wrap the title up at #25.
(Also, in addition to the annuals, there was that infamous #-1 issue focusing on Pete's parents).
Posted by: Dan H. | April 7, 2017 9:53 AM
Hey Bibs, you're welcome. It's possible the MCP just hasn't gotten around to posting it yet as I believe they're still processing the 2014 titles...?
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | April 7, 2017 1:55 PM
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