X-Men Classic Omnibus Review

Wolverine by Arthur Adams

No readthrough of the X-Men’s formative years would quite be complete without the X-Men Classic Omnibus. However, there’s a lot of confusion about what’s actually collected in this volume, and I think that leads to a lot of folks getting frustrated with it.

So I’m going to walk you through the omnibus, explain how it works, and take a look at the quality of the book itself. I’ll also give some quick thoughts on the stories contained within.

So let’s dig into the Classic X-Men Omnibus!

What’s collected in this book?

X-Men Classic Omnibus

I need to warn you that this is not like other Marvel omnibuses. This collects material from Classic X-Men #1-44, and material from Marvel Fanfare (1982) #60.

By “material from,” I mean that this doesn’t actually collect the full issue of each comic.

Let me explain.

Classic X-Men was a line that launched in 1986 to reprint earlier issues of The X-Men (A.K.A. Uncanny X-Men). The X-Men were becoming hugely popular by that point, so a lot of collectors wanted to read the beginning of Chris Claremont’s run to see the setup for later events. Unfortunately, some of those back issues could be hard to find.

X-Men - Sean Cassidy

Instead of merely reprinting these issues and calling it a day, Marvel would add new story panels (or even multiple pages, in some cases), and then they’d add a B story to each issue. The B stories are typically one-off tales that give you a more intimate look at the characters you’ll see whamming and powing their way through the A stories. And a few of these tales are absolutely heartbreaking.

A majority of these B stories were penned by Chris Claremont, but Ann Nocenti mostly takes over in the later portion of the book. There are also a few scattered throughout that were written by Jo Duffy, Tom Orzechowski, Daryl Edelman, and Fabian Nicieza.

The Marvel Fanfare story was initially intended to be part of Classic X-Men #45, but Marvel switched up the format and that particular story got lost in the shuffle for two years before finally getting printed in Marvel Fanfare. It’s a good addition to this book, because it’s the second half of the B story from Classic X-Men #44.

To be perfectly clear, when it comes to the A stories, this book only collects the parts that were altered or added (and only through issue #27 — beyond that, the A stories weren’t altered in the Classic reprints). Classic X-Men also skipped some issues; for example, it didn’t reprint Uncanny X-Men issue #106, which was a filler story. To get the full A stories in omnibus format, you’ll need to pick up Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1 and 2 omnibuses. The B stories, however, are complete.

The last part of the book features a cover gallery for issues #45 through #110, which were just reprints without the added stories or edits. Beyond that, there are even more covers from the reprints of the earlier X-Men comics that appeared in titles such as Amazing Adventures and X-Men Classics. And, of course, there are a handful of sketches, as well as short essays by Chris Claremont and editor Ralph Macchio.

This comes out to 1,040 pages of X-Men goodness, though a pretty decent portion of that is editorial notes about what got changed and why.

How is the quality of the physical book?

X-Men Classic Omnibus

This book was manufactured between August 4, 2017, and October 16, 2017, at R. R. Donnelly Asia Printing Solutions in China. I bought this book in early 2022, so it seems this one stayed in print for quite some time — it’s rare to be able to find a still-sealed omnibus almost five years after it was printed, especially when the X-Men are concerned. At the time of this writing, it does seem like stock is running a little low, and my gut says this probably won’t get a reprint any time soon. It just doesn’t seem like it’s selling as well as the mainline X-books.

So if you’re on the fence about this book, you’re going to want to make up your mind before it sells out completely and you’re left at the mercy of resellers and their jacked-up prices.

With all that said, let’s take a look under the dust jacket. Here you’ve got the same artwork that’s on the jacket, only without all the words and barcodes and such. And I have to say that I absolutely adore the art on the back of the book. Take a look at this:

X-Men Classic Omnibus

This piece of art was actually part of Arthur Adams’ submission package to Marvel, but it was also used as a pinup in Classic X-Men #23. It almost feels like a weird mashup between X-Men and Calvin & Hobbes, and it’s one of my favorite images from this entire book.

This book has 1,040 pages, as I mentioned earlier, and the paper quality seems a bit thicker than some of the other omnibuses I have (like the Doctor Strange omnibus that I recently reviewed). It has a smooth surface, but it’s not quite as glossy as the omnibuses that are printed in Turkey (like the aforementioned Doctor Strange).

And that means this book is heavy and thick, which is exactly how I love my omnibuses.

The binding is stitched, but it is a little flimsy. As you can see in the image below, there are some pages that look like they could potentially pull out (so far, that hasn’t been a problem, but that’s a matter of how long the stitching holds up).

X-Men Classic Omnibus

It does lay open pretty nicely (and, as I mentioned earlier, some of the art is freaking gorgeous).

X-Men Classic Omnibus

As a sort of reference book that goes alongside the Uncanny X-Men omnibuses, I do feel like this book is going to get used a lot. That makes me wonder what kind of wear and tear I’m going to put it through and how well it holds up through said wear and tear. I wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel doesn’t reprint this particular book for another decade, so I’m hoping this one is built to last that long at least.

Do I need to read this if I like X-Men?

X-Men - Nightcrawler

Reception for this book is super mixed. Some people love it, while others find the hodgepodge nature of the book to be off-putting. That’s because this really isn’t meant to be read cover to cover, like a normal omnibus. This is essentially like watching the deleted scenes on a Blu-ray or DVD.

This serves as a companion to the Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1 and 2 omnibuses rather than something you’d read on its own. If you’re super obsessive about this content (like I am), then you can jump in between those books and this one between every story to see what’s been changed, and then get the B story before jumping back to the mainline omnibus for the next A story.

It’s a bit inconvenient to read it this way, but some of these B stories are worth the trouble. Keep in mind that a good portion of these were penned by Claremont in the mid- to late-1980s, when he was at the absolute top of his game.

For example, the B story in issue #8 complements the Phoenix story from Uncanny X-Men #100, and it’s one of my favorite X-Men stories ever. It basically shows Jean Grey’s perspective of what happened when she merged with the Phoenix, and reading it immediately after finishing Uncanny X-Men #100 gives it this emotional heft that it doesn’t necessarily have if you read it later on. In fact, it didn’t really strike me until reading it a second time immediately after completing a re-read of Uncanny #100.

The B story from issue #12 is a really dark story that humanizes Magneto, and it’s another high point of this collection. Here we bear witness to some of the tragic events that shaped Magneto’s passion and drive for elevating mutantkind over homo sapiens, but we’re also shown that there still is a heart beating in there somewhere. This is a much more complex version of the character than you’d see in the 1960s or 1970s X-Men comics (and I would know, because I’ve literally read every issue from those two decades).

X-Men - Magneto

And if that’s not quite enough, there’s another story later in the book (issue #18) that shows Magneto as a Nazi-hunter in the years after World War II. This is another dark and disturbing tale that shows us just how gray the Master of Magnetism’s morality can be. This is a far cry from the genocidal, world-conquering version we saw in the X-Men comics of the 1960s and 1970s; this is a deeply troubled man who’s been betrayed more times than he can count by the people and systems that should have had his back.

And those are just some of the highlights, but there are plenty of really tightly wound and deeply important stories here. There’s one where Sebastian Shaw eliminates all non-mutants from the Hellfire Club’s Council of the Chosen (issue #7), one where Storm is consoling a depressed writer while being stalked by a serial killer (issue #11), and one where Wolverine is being hunted by both a grizzly bear and some crazy hunter in the wilderness (issue #25).

Classic X-Men - SNIKT

And then there are several lower-stakes stories, where X-Men just hang out with each other, getting drinks or going shopping or what have you. Even though those might sound uninteresting, they’re generally where the character development is richest, so they’re well worth reading.

For about the first three quarters of this book, the artist on those B stories is John Bolton, and he has this really cool style that makes his drawings look a little bit like photographs that were Xeroxed. It gives the stories some heft, I think, because tonally, the imagery seems more serious than the classic Marvel style you’ll see in the A stories.

And I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence if I forgot to mention that a pretty sizeable chunk of the new covers — as well as the frontispieces for these issues — were drawn by Arthur Adams. Some of this art is just incredible (though he admittedly struggles to draw legs a little bit), so it’s really great that it wasn’t omitted from this collection.

Starjammers by Arthur Adams

Personally, I really love this collection, and I’m glad that I own it. Sure, I would have rather had a version of this book that collected the complete Classic issues through #45, but that would have necessitated a second volume, and it would have rendered Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1 and a good chunk of Uncanny X-Men Vol 2 completely redundant. I get why Marvel collected this content like this, but I also get why so many people find this to be frustrating to read.

Ultimately, this is for people who don’t mind jumping back and forth between volumes to get additional context for the early years of Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men. If you just want the A stories, and you don’t care about what changed between the original printing and the X-Men Classic series, this book just wasn’t made for you.

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