Underrated: X-Men: The Onslaught Saga

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way.

This week: the multi-part crossover event X-Men: The Onslaught Saga.

If I’m totally honest, my Golden Age of X-Men comics is from the mid 90’s to the early 2000’s. This wasn’t exactly when I first started reading the X-Men, that was around 98/99, but because I was largely reading UK reprints, I wasn’t reading the current comics – they were probably always a good two to five years behind what was being published and sold in comic shops depending on the story being presented in the magazine. The reprint magazine had space for three comics in it – this wouldn’t always be three concurrent issues, but was often an issue of Uncanny X-Men and X-Men that were published within the same month and an issue of Uncanny from the 60’s or 70’s). These reprint magazines are actually responsible for the weird dichotomy in my head of knowing the stories very well, but having no context for what issue they came from (yes, the reprint did tell you what comics they were reprinting, but it was much like a tpb; you don’t really notice unless you look in the fine print if the covers).

Over the years, I’ve slowly been picking up and working on completing a run of X-Men comics from issues 100-500, though my focus for years was around 250-400, but because I’ve been largely focused on Uncanny X-Men, I don’t have a lot of the issues that form the giant crossover – if I even have all the Uncanny issues (look, I was often going by cover art and price when picking books up, not sequential numbering, so I have holes everywhere in my collection), so for a story that I really want to read I’ve been picking up collected editions just to be able to read or reread them. There’s collecting for the joy of the hunt and collecting to (re)read the stories – sometimes those things are one and the same, and sometimes they’re not, because I have no intention of risking damaging the early Uncanny issues I own, I’ve also been looking for collected editions of The Dark Phoenix Saga and so on.

Despite having several issues of Uncanny X-Men that comprise the Onslaught Saga, there was a lot I didn’t have, and won’t be getting any time soon, so when I saw this trade for sale at my comic shop I decided to pick it up so I could scratch the itch I had to read it in its entirety.

The Onslaught Saga was a story that came was featured in the reprint magazines just as I had started to read them, and so I ended up missing most of what took place in the story (everything, honestly, other than the aftermath), and so consequently a lot of it was relatively new to me. Sometimes the journey is as important as the conclusion (especially given how two decades later most of the characters in the story are still around).

The basic plot of the story focuses around Xavier losing control after the events of Fatal Attractions (you don’t need to worry about having read that – I still haven’t, though it is in my To-Be-Read pile), and the combined efforts of New York’s heroes to put a stop to his rampage. It’s pure 90’s awesomeness – there’s more destruction that you can shake a stick at, but the story never pulls away from the core focus of the intimate struggle that the heroes face when dealing with an evil Xavier.

The version I read was the X-Men: Milestones trade (pictured above), and it told a very comprehensive story. There was at least one issue missing, but it was tangentially related (Wolverine #105 was a story about Wolverine helping rescue civilians during the battle), so I assume there could be other tie-ins skipped that don’t further the plot, which keeps the tale on point. Which is good because it’s a big trade, clocking in at over 200 pages (closer to 300, I’d guess without counting/checking). It’s easily the best way to read the story, unless you already have the single issues in your collection.

Which I don’t – yet. Oddly, despite my love of the X-Men from the 90’s, I’ve got a lot of holes to fill, which should be pretty easy given how many are in the back issue bins. After all, 90’s comics aren’t all bad, there’s just a huge number of them in longboxes across the country because so many were printed to satisfy a demand that disappeared almost over night. So that just makes them worth less than the comics from the 70’s and 80’s, but it doesn’t mean they’re not any good.

X-Men: The Onslaught Saga eventually leads into Operation: Zero Tolerance, another story I’m also fond of from that era of X-books, and likely subject of another column at some point in the future, as it holds up fairly well to this day.

Join us next week when we look at something else that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.

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