Who is Adam-X the X-Treme?! Must he be so x-treme?! What does he have to do with the Summers family? Is he the mythical THIRD Summers brother?
Buckle up, '90s babies, and break out your JNCOs and Candlebox albums, because it's time to do the time warp and get the answers to all these questions and more!!
X-Men Legends #1 is, first and foremost, a nostalgia romp.
But in a good way.
With nearly sixty years of some of the trickiest, most convoluted continuity in comics, spread across dozens of titles and hundreds of characters, there’s always going to be a vocal contingent of fans that “just wants to read X-Men comics that are like they used to be.” That can occasionally metastasize into a toxic mindset, of course, but for the sake of argument, there’s nothing inherently wrong with occasionally reminding older fans that yes, they’re still remembered and matter. The current state of affairs in X-Men Land vis a vis Krakoa may be a tad alienating to some of us older, occasionally cantankerous readers, so it’s nice to just have a more straightforward, tights-and-fights iteration of Marvel’s Mighty Mutants, if only for one comic per month.
So, then, older fans: X-Men Legends is for you.
Crafted to fill in continuity cracks or tell stories by classic creators that never got a chance to meet publication for one reason or another, Legends is deliberately built to feel like a product of the era it hearkens to. Each story is by a different creative team representative of a particular era. Story one, plunking itself right into the halcyon days of the bubble-tastic ’90s, hits the ground running with god tier X-writer Fabian Nicieza joining forces with penciller Brett Booth, who, bless him, to this day has yet to draw a ball cap that isn’t turned backwards. Arc two will feature a jaunt to the late ’80s O5 X-Factor courtesy legitimate industry icons Louise and Walt Simonson… et cetera, et cetera. It’s a fun prospect that gets back to basics, but also reminds us all where the X-Men came from and strengthens the ties of continuity. For younger readers, it’s a chance to explore eras they may be unfamiliar with; older fans get a slice of that old school goodness. Legends is, in theory, the very embodiment of having your cake and eating it too.
But with all that table-setting out of the way, of course, there’s still the actual content of the issue to discuss. With the ’90s being the X-Men (and comics’) golden era in terms of both popularity and sales, it makes sense that a comic like this would choose that timeframe to start with. A little backstory, then, for the newcomers: with the X-Men’s popularity bursting at the seams from about 1990-1995 (it is not a coincidence that their peak popularity and sales coincides with the collectors’ bubble; the two are inextricably linked), multiple titles flourished: on top of the establishing cornerstone of Uncanny X-Men, there was ’80s holdover X-Factor, ’90s poster child X-Force, the X-adjacent Excalibur, plus solo joints for Wolverine and Cable, and enough attendant miniseries to paper over Guam. All of these teams had multiple characters, with multiple backstories, plot intricacies, relationships, and, most importantly, seeeeecrets.
By Xavier’s shiny dome, did ’90s X-Men characters have their share of secrets. Taking their cues from Wolverine’s booming success in the ’80s, more or less every character introduced had a litany of shady deeds and backstory that were ripe for the cliffhanging, and, to be sure, they had unexplored but oh so coyly hinted-at relationships with already-established X-characters. But, all of that cloak-and-dagger sold comics. And so more and more frequently, these tactics were used to intrigue readers and ensure they came back for more next month.
But by the middle of the decade, the X-Men were in something of a quagmire thanks to all of their increasingly incestuous continuity and plot points that were dropped but rarely followed up on. And at no point in time was this ever more evident than the holiest of all gnarled continuity knots, The Third Summers Brother.
Alluded to in a bit of throwaway dialogue from Mr. Sinister in X-Men #23 (written by the aforementioned Nicieza), the subplot quickly became the stuff of whispered legend due to the fact that it was never really followed up on for a number of years. Some thirteen years later in 2006’s Deadly Genesis miniseries, later writer Ed Brubaker (yes, he used to write things other than crime comics) revealed the third Summers brother to be a goober named Vulcan, half-Shi’ar and half Cyclops and Havok’s mom. And, so, after years of speculation and no follow-through, that was finally that.
But Nicieza had, in fact, planted seeds for one of the most ’90s characters of all, Adam-X the X-Treme, to have in fact been the third Summers scion, but Nicieza’s time as an X-Men writer was drawing to a close at the time he set that up, and subsequent writers never followed up on that thread (probably because they all knew that a guy with a nib and backwards baseball cap whose nom de superhero was “The X-Treme” was not a solid candidate for long-term viability as a popular character). And so it went. Adam-X fell by the wayside. But Nicieza is, now, being given a shot at rectifying this particularly wonky bit of continuity.
As a writer, Nicieza absolutely understands the tropes and mores of the particular era he’s channeling. Period-specific costumes aside, X-Men Legends simply reads like a time capsule from the time and age it’s invoking.. for better or worse. That includes garrulous and heavy-handed narration, action-first perspectives, and a gratuitous guest-star in Cable. Nicieza leans into these things and finds strength in them, as well as elsewhere: the interpersonal dynamics between not just Cyclops and Havok feel real and natural, but everyone else, too. When the Starjammers show up, their comradery feels familiar even though they hit the ground shooting and fighting with our heroes. There’s also a quick but sturdy reinforcement that the Summers family tree has roots that run deep; it’s not just Scott and Alex and Scott’s time-displaced kids, it’s also their father Corsair and even his parents, tucked away up in Alaska and living completely normal lives. They aren’t major players in any sense of the term, but the fact that we as readers are cognizant of their existence shows that writers care enough to give us a sense of investment in even the remotest of relatives. These sorts of things also serve to build a deeper connection to the main characters themselves; everyone has (or had) grandparents, so that’s an immediate relation between reader and character.
But these details are all secondary to Adam-X himself, finally getting his due after nearly three decades alternating between the Z-list and poster child for the 90s’ worst excesses. Adam is presented as something of a blank slate, a naïf who doesn’t know his place in the world. He isn’t Shi’ar, and recently, no longer strictly human once his mutant power manifested itself. In this way, he’s something of a surrogate for the reader, dropped headfirst into the X-Men’s crazy-ass world and not knowing what the hell to think or feel. How well this approach sticks the landing will have to wait until next issue, but for now, it’s a decent – if well-trod – set-up. Cyclops and Havok’s subsequent confusion over meeting him will have to wait until next issue as well, despite the bomb dropped on them by Corsair at the close of the issue.
Art-wise, Brett Booth is what Brett Booth is: a product of his era (ahem, the ’90s) who hasn’t really moved the needle forward in terms of both style, function, and page layout. (His page layouts are notoriously galling, panels laid out not for pacing or consistency of storytelling but rather for how “cool” they look). But he’s been getting steady work since his WildStorm heyday, so clearly, he’s doing something right that appeals to his fans. And aesthetically, he fits this story flawlessly – a far more natural fit than any of his other recent DC work was. There’s certainly something to be said for pairing artists on books that suit their inherent strengths; doing so brings out their best and that’s what appears to have happened here. Faults aside, there’s an inherent energy to Booth’s pencils that brings an energy to the page that’s undeniable even as it recalls flashbacks of ’90s excesses.
X-Men Legends is a tight little package, even if it is a product of its era. It isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t do anything new. But that’s the point: a deliberate callback to a different time. It’s a nostalgia romp.
But that isn’t a bad thing.
X-Men Legends #1 does exactly what it sets out to do: lure old readers back with a promise of some old school fun, while delicately balancing that fun in a way that appeals to modern readers. And while it falls victim to some of the era-specific storytelling approaches and art styles that it's deliberately invoking, nonetheless it's hard to read it with anything less than a smile on the face. It isn't perfect, but it isn't trying to be. And sometimes that's enough.
X-Men Legends #1: From Circa 1994 With Love
- Writing - 8/108/10
- Storyline - 7.5/107.5/10
- Art - 7/107/10
- Color - 7.5/107.5/10
- Cover Art - 6.5/106.5/10