A few years back, around the time “Messiah CompleX” was hitting its stride, my LCS owner, Robert, asked me why I thought X-Men crossovers sold so consistently. No other line of books could get the fans so excited over a crossover, but X-fans, even lapsed X-fans, showed up in droves if the books were tying together.
I’ve given it a lot of thought since then, and I still don’t have an answer that satisfies me. But I have spent a lot of time pondering what made past X-Men crossovers work or fall apart. And, of course, because ranking the things we love in the order we love them is imprinted in a geek’s DNA, I ended up making a list of the best. Today, we’re jumping in the Wayback Machine to the nineteen-eighties to take a look at the very first x-over…
Story crosses through: Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants, Thor, Power Pack
Synopsis: The Marauders, a group of mutants assembled by Mr. Sinister, slaughter most of the Morlock population in cold blood. The X-Men attempt to intervene - and quickly get their asses handed to them.
Most of the Morlocks eat it – hard. They call it a massacre for a reason - a sizable chunk of the Morlock population is killed (mostly off-panel, but the corpses are piled up pretty high in the background anyway). This story is the last word on that group of characters for years, until Masque comes back for some reason. Still, it's quite effective and sets up a genuine threat for our heroes to face. And it bears repeating – the X-Men get their asses kicked but good. Not to say that the team hasn't been defeated before, but we've never seen them take casualties like this - Nightcrawler is in a coma, Kitty is stuck in permanent phase and Colossus is temporarily paralyzed due to injuries after he's been forced to snap a Marauder's neck. Add to that Angel's crucifixion and the loss of his wings and you have the single greatest physical blow that has ever been struck to the x-teams. The X-Men are at their best when they are at their lowest, and I cannot think of a time they were lower. It also shows exactly how powerful the foes they are up against actually are, making their eventual victory all the stronger. And the most powerful of those foes is Victor Creed - for the first time we got to see Wolverine versus Sabretooth!
Sure, we've seen these two tear into each other more times that Jean Grey's been resurrected, but still - this was their first on-panel encounter, and it's as bloody, brutal and over the top as any fan could desire. The fights here set the trend for every encounter between these two characters for years to come.
And it’s not just the fights that hold water – the whole story is air-tight. Unlike a lot of x-overs, where one gets the feeling that creative teams aren't talking to each other between issues (*cough*X-Tinction Agenda*cough*), the events of one issue have profound and serious effects on the events in the issues that follow, truly propelling the story forward in to one grand narrative.
Finally, and it's not a big thing, but it's a wonderful little character moment that I really love - Wolverine sniffs out Jean's scent in the tunnels, since X-Factor was there before his team, and takes off after it without a word to his teammates. When he finally returns, he refuses to discuss the matter, keeping the knowledge of Jean's return to himself (at this point the two X-teams hadn't really opened a dialog yet). Logan later claims that he kept the knowledge to himself for the other's own good - there was a mission on, and he didn't want to add to their distractions. But I really think he was just being selfish. His unrequited feelings for Jean made him hold onto this one secret, one thing of her that was just his and no one else's. Like I said, it's a small but powerful bit of character that just works extremely well here.
It's the reason this list exists in the first place. Claremont wanted to kill the Morlocks, feeling that there were too many mutants running around for them to really be the oppressed minority they claimed to be (sound familiar?). Editorial stepped in and said the story was too big for one book; why not carry it over and tie it in with events happening in other books? Claremont complied, sales were astronomical, and the inter-title crossover event was born.
It's also hard to follow if you're not reading it in a collected edition. There's a handy flow chart at the back of Uncanny #210/ X-Factor #10, detailing which book happens in which order...approximately. It's not very useful when trying to piece together a collection years after the stories came out; I assume reading the books at the time, picking them up in the order they were published, was the ideal way to discover the story. Luckily, the massacre has been collected multiple times, most recently in a really lovely hardcover edition that should also be available at your local comic shop.
But the worst part is how much of the denouement happens outside the story. Wanna know how Nightcrawler recovers from his coma? So do the rest of us - he shows up in Excalibur a few months later, having spent some time on Muir Island that we never see. It’s the same with Colossus, who just shows up one issue having a hard time changing form, but doesn't bother mentioning his earlier paralysis. At least Kitty's condition is addressed - in the Fantastic Four vs. X-Men miniseries.
FINAL ANALYSIS: “The Mutant Massacre” is surprisingly casual-reader friendly; a great, dark story that shows our heroes fighting the good fight against even the most desperate odds.