Writer: Howard Mackie
Art: Dan Lawlis & Tom Grummett
Inker: Ian Akin
Colors: Matt Webb
Letters: Comicraft & Richard Starkings
Release Date: 8/1/1995
I am a firm believer that one of the best eras to be a fan of the X-Men, was in the 90’s. After that landmark issue of X-Men #1 by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee, the X-Men seemed to reach an all-time high in terms of popularity. Numerous of spin off titles to include Generation X, X-Force and X-Men Unlimited covered newsstands and comic shops for many years to come. It was at an antique fair, that I came across X-Men Unlimited #8 by writer Howard Mackie. This issue demonstrated to me why once again, Marvel’s Merry Mutants balances drama, pain, and love in such an unique way. Let’s dive into this amazing issue of X-Men Unlimited.
*Spoilers to follow*
This issue takes place squarely in the 90’s. The 90’s X-Men had to deal with multiple tragedies to include the removal of the adamantium for Wolverine, the Legacy Virus, and even the Onslaught Arc. However, the most important tragedy of 90’s Marvel is simple: being a mutant. That is exactly where this issue opens at.
Like many countless X-Stories, Jean and Gambit are dispatched by the Prof to talk to an emerging mutant teen by the name of Chris Bradley. As Mackie wonderfully puts it, Chris is an average freshman teenager whose main concern at the time, was asking the girl of his dreams out. After a mishap in the bathroom one morning, Chris finally asks the girl out and to his surprise, she says yes. This seems to be the exact opposite of most mutant stories, right? Normally there is some type of tragedy or stressful event that triggers the mutations (think of Jean when her friend (Annie Richardson) was struck by a car). But one thing we also have to remember, is that mutations normally happens at the beginning of puberty (which is where Chris happened to be).
Sensing another emergence of his electrical powers, Chris rushes to the bathroom and promptly has a meltdown. At this point, I figured he was going to end of killing the entire school or another extreme as that’s how drastic Marvel’s Mutants were portrayed at the time. Instead, the exact opposite happens. He is saved by Jean and Gambit.
After gaining permission from his parents, Chris is introduced to the Blue Team (Archangel, Storm, Beast, and Iceman) and Prof X. One thing that stood out to me, was Chris’s initial reaction when he met the prof. He immediately is taken aback due to the Prof being in a wheelchair, however, he also has a silent respect for him. He senses the power that lies within Xavier. This is the version of Xavier that I like to see. Calm…Collected…Yet always in control. Chris also was taken aback at the X-Mansion itself. He immediately notices Storm hovering in the middle of a thunderstorm, Archangel zipping around, Beast peering out of the window, and of course (my favorite) various ice trails left behind by Iceman. The little day to day nuances of being a student at Xavier’s, is sometimes lost in my opinion. Could you imagine wanting to sit on a couch but there’s a pile of blue fir or slipping in melting ice puddle around the grounds? This attention to detail made this issue shine even more.
Like most of us, once Chris witnesses a Danger Room session, and he immediately wants to join the X-Men. After staying with the team for a few weeks, Chris feels as if he truly belongs with the team. He has developed a mentor/mentee friendship with Bobby and has seemingly gained control of his powers due to the tutelage of the Blue Team. This seemingly happy issue quickly plummets us back down to Earth when it becomes known that Chris has the Legacy Virus. Distraught, he pushes himself away from everybody to process this new life changing event. In the end, Bobby is able to calm him down and he once again tries to lead a normal life. Luckily for him, the girl he likes still wants to date him!
I often try to pick certain issues that highlights the best character traits for certain characters. Storm has Life Death (or Uncanny X-Men #186) and Jean arguably has the Phoenix Saga, the Dark Phoenix Saga and a few others (yes, we know there was a retcon). X-Men Unlimited #8 serves as an example of what makes Bobby…Bobby. When Chris was late to a Danger Room Session, Bobby cleverly uses his ice power to shock Chris awake. He even was the one who ensured that Chris made it to his final “test” to prove control of his powers. This is a side of Bobby we rarely see. He is often written as the goofy jokester of the X-Team…Well, he was the youngest of the Original 5. However, we must remember that Bobby is an original member. He has certain experiences that puts him in a league that only 4 other X-Men are in. Seeing him take care of Chris in a big brother role was quite different to see. This characterization of Bobby is one that I would like to see a lot more often (even in the Age of Krakoa).
I loved this issue. The art was amazing. Perfectly colored without the blurred lines that sometimes appeared in the older 90’s comics and of course the writing. If you have an extra $1 or so, I recommend reading this issue. It is definitely a self-contained story; however, Chris Bradely eventually becomes Bolt and later Maverick. In the mainline comics, he was one of the dead mutants that were a part of the Necrosha Storyline. Check out this issue, you will not be disappointed.