With Essential X-Men volume 9 we start to reach the end of Chris Claremont's epic run as writer of the X-Men; a run that took them from being a mostly-forgotten Silver Age relic to a decades-long reign at the top of the sales charts. Not to mention multiple TV series and movies. This volume covers stories from 1989 and 1990 a year or two before the 'X-odus' that saw Claremont and most of the book's artists leave.
With art by Marc Silvestri, Jim Lee and a host of others (even a credible fill-in issue by Rob Liefeld) this is one of the best looking volumes and the B&W reproduction sacrifices none of the detail.
The story is very complex and daring. At the time Claremont was writing the most successful comic in America but rather than stick to safe storylines he took chances. Popular characters like Wolverine and Storm are absent for months at a time. Instead the focus is on more obscure ones like Longshot, Havoc, Dazzler, Jubilee and Psylocke. Halfway through the book the handful of remaining X-Men are demoralized and faced with a deadly threat...
And they give up. Using a magical amulet they instead choose to go through the 'Seige Perilous' and emerge with new lives. So the rest of the book is spent covering their diverse storylines (some disappear for the rest of the book) and introducing a new cast of X-Men.
So why only 4 stars? Well not every gamble pays off. The story-telling risks in this book make it very scattered and hard to follow. Even with 552 pages, there just is not enough room to cover Wolverine's adventures in Hong Kong, Storm's in the midwest, Dazzler in Hollywood, etc, etc. Although the X-Men franchise in 1989 was not as unmanageable as it is in 2009, there were still 4 monthly books out in addition to Uncanny X-Men (New Mutants, X-Factor, Wolverine and Excalibur) characters and plotlines from those books sometimes fold back into this one making it confusing for all but the most dedicated X-fan.
Still, this is the penultimate volume of Claremont's epic run, a sprawling superhero soap opera that might never be equaled and it's worth a look.