“It starts out okay, but all the plots just get dragged out far, far too long and become boring and stagnate. I found myself skipping or skimming pages.”
Those were my initial thoughts upon reading this volume, containing X-Men #94 and X-Men: The Hidden Years #s 1-12, and that hasn’t changed much. The main thrust behind this series is a simple and interesting one: as weird as it is to think today, the X-Men comic was once so unpopular that it was cancelled. Well, not “cancelled” exactly: it was switched to reprint only, meaning that they would still publish it but all the stories were just old stories again, but they didn’t have to pay to have the content generated. Kindof like re-runs.
Sidenote: wouldn’t it be interesting if they still did this today? Imagine if they still published Darkhawk, but just kept reprinting the same 50 issues in-sequence over and over again on a bi-monthly basis. I think it’d be hilarious.
So the X-Men title was all but cancelled, but that doesn’t mean their story stopped. Because the Marvel universe is a functional Universe in which time (loosely) continues to move for all characters, even if their stories aren’t being told at this exact second. So because Spider-Man and the Avengers and the Fant4stic (that is how we’re saying it now, right?) continued to be published, time marched ever onward for the X-Men even though their adventures were not being told. As such, when they did guest-appearances (which they frequently did do) in other titles, or when their villains showed up in other titles, there would often be unexplained alterations to their circumstances: which made sense: their lives moved forward and their stories were still happening, we the reader were just missing out on it.
That’s where The Hidden Years comes in, filling in the gaps in continuity between X-Men #94 and Giant-Sized X-Men #1.
That’s a cool idea, and scribe John Byrne really goes to town on it: things are meticulously researched so that they fit perfectly into the Marvel Canon of that time. References are made to the crossovers as though they were happening at the time.
The problem here is that all the same things that held the book back in the ’60s hold it back here. If you were a fan of it back in the 60s and were sad that it was cancelled, then I guess this book works for you… if, however, you look back on those days and go “yeah, I kinda get why this was cancelled,” this book is going to be a little tedious for you.
There’s also a fair amount of retconning going on. Things like Magneto’s alter ego as a friend of Xavier and the father of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch wasn’t around back then, but it can be alluded to here. Little touches like that make it an interesting addition, and if someone were, say, reading the X-Men right up through in order of where they take place in continuity, that could be really helpful in preventing the switch from Magneto-as-villain to Magneto-as-hero around Uncanny X-Men #200 from being quite so jarring.
The biggest issue is that these characters, devoid of the growth they went through under Claremount and the ensuing years. Aren’t that interesting. Angel without the history of the Mutant Massacre, his time as the Angel of Death, the loss of his loved ones, and his ongoing feud with Wolverine… just isn’t that interesting. Take all that away, and he’s just a rich kid who can fly who really doesn’t have many negative attributes to give his character any bite or make him interesting. Same can be said with the pre-blue fur/ Avengers Beast. Or Iceman. Or any of them. And Byrne can’t really fix any of these issues, because he’s trying to make these books fit into canon.
So much like Drowned in Thunder, this book suffers from being mired by continuity without being able to affect it: a fatal combination.