There are comic book series almost every comic fan knows, there are comic book characters that most everyone knows, there are specific comic books most every comic reader knows, and then there are the more obscure issues that slip through the cracks. What makes obscure comics so interesting and vital is discovering those books that most don't know were ever printed or that top-tier creators worked on "that book" or on "that character." Obscure Comics are fun to find and interesting to know about, but that border between great reads and terrible comics.
An Annual Hardcover Event
The publishing efforts of Marvel UK and their oddities, be they stories or publishing approach, probably deserve several books dedicated to them. Marvel realized their publishing efforts could rake in far more money by publishing their books outside the United States in other English-speaking countries going back to the mid-1960s with Odahams through their Power Comics imprint. Then Marvel UK proper in 1972, followed by Marvel's first UK original creation Captain Britain in 1976, created a slew of magazine-sized material that only saw the light of day in the United Kingdom. Featuring a wide variety of primarily reprints, UK creators also produced original stories just for UK audiences in various ways. Some books had tons of material they could reprint, such as The Amazing Spider-Man, or Fantastic Four. Others, like Transformers, alternated between US reprint material and UK original material. Also, titles often received an oversized hardcover annual (about the same dimensions as a current Marvel Omnibus), though not every year. Some titles also got annuals that didn't have their own regular title but were spotlighting popular characters and reprinting two issues of the original US material and extra material, including sometimes original stories. These publishing efforts caught the attention of many readers worldwide, but most of the original material created is not well known and falls into the category of obscure. The Uncanny X-Men (UK) Annual 1992 falls into this category.
Obscure Comics: The Uncanny X-Men Annual 1992 #1
This 64-page annual, whose page count includes the front and back cover, included reprints of X-Men (Volume 1) #139 and #140, "Something Wicked This Way Comes!" and "Rage!", a classic two-part tale by John Byrne and Chris Claremont.
These two issues returned Wolverine to Canada to deal with the mysterious Wendigo he had fought during his first appearance back in Incredible Hulk #180 and #181. It also reunited Wolverine with Alpha Flight, laying the groundwork for Byrne's Alpha Flight series and focusing on the friendship of Nightcrawler and Wolverine. They are two crucial issues of Uncanny X-Men and led into the famous "Days of Future Past" two-parter in the next two issues (though the prologue pages from #140 are not reprinted in this annual). In addition to the two issues, there is other reprinted material included, most as background or pinup pages:
A "This Book Belongs To…" page takes Wolverine's central image from the cover of Classic X-Men #1 by Art Adams and "recoloring" it to his tan costume (along with his face…).
A "Contents" page takes the last page of X-Men (Volume 1) #17 by Jack Kirby and puts the contents of the book over Magneto, announcing his presence to the Angel's parents.
And a pinup page using the cover of Wolverine #3 by Frank Miller on page 27.
All of the material included is great X-Men material, but none of it is obscure; in fact, it's very well known and well-read. The original material included in this annual puts it in the obscure comics category with an all-new tale and interior artwork by Gary Frank. This two-page spread opens The Uncanny X-Men (UK) Annual 1992.
The Uncanny X-Men: "Professional Rivalry Part One"
In a story that is kind of X-Men #140.1 (can't be The Uncanny X-Men #140.5 since there is already one that exists, which will be covered soon), we get an immediate follow-up to X-Men #140 as Storm. Kitty Pryde returns from dance class (as seen in X-Men #140) to be greeted by Professor Xavier and Cyclops, Beast, Angel, and Iceman in their original blue and yellow outfits. Angel tells Storm and Kitty that the original X-Men are back, and Cyclops adds, "you new X-Men have had your chance to prove yourselves, and you've blown it. All of you have acted like amateurs in the field of battle, and it cost Marvel Girl her life." So now the remaining original X-Men are returning to their roots to protect Xavier's dream, so the All-New All-Different X-Men are out and left confused as the originals begin training in the Danger Room.
Kitty Pryde is in tears; Colossus wishes he could comfort her, and Storm believes the whole thing to be a joke. Angel and Professor Xavier, meanwhile are happy to have the other three X-Men back, but Phoenix's death leaves a large shadow, and Cyclops' return, along with Beast and Iceman, has seen the three acting very intense. The Professor also cannot read their minds either, something he dismisses as due to his training, but as he tries to bring together all the X-Men for dinner. The returned trio continues to behave odder and odder, insulting the absent Wolverine, and leaving Colossus with a clear feeling Storm, Kitty Pryde, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and himself, are not wanted. Packing in preparation to leave, Colossus responds to a message from Captain America. The Avengers leader informs Colossus that Wolverine and Nightcrawler are likely safe as Alpha Flight has informed the Avengers that their "top-secret" mission is wrapping up. The message strikes Colossus as odd, but he pushes the feeling aside, pausing to leave a note on Xavier's desk before returning to packing. Meanwhile, Xavier is utilizing Cerebro to locate any new mutants but decides to indulge himself and look in on all his students; however, in scanning the returned trio of Original X-Men, "he realized the so-called Original X-Men weren't."
CONTINUED ON PAGE 56…
The Uncanny X-Men: "Professional Rivalry Part Two"
Returning to the Xavier Mansion from their "mission" in Canada, Nightcrawler teleports himself into the mansion, with Wolverine close behind. Explaining to Wolverine he had forgotten his key, Nightcrawler's humor is quickly ignored as Wolverine smells scents he didn't know. Meanwhile, Professor Xavier is surprised by "Cyclops" and then knocked out from behind by someone else.
As Storm explains to Wolverine and Nightcrawler that Cyclops, Beast, and Iceman, have returned and have told the newer X-Men to leave, Wolverine explains to Storm that he doesn't smell Cyclops at all in the mansion and that the three different smells in the mansion aren't even human. Wolverine takes off to find Professor Xavier as Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Kitty Pryde go to confront the "original X-Men." Once again, in the Danger Room training, Storm reveals that she knows the "original X-Men" trio are impostors.
Wolverine arrives with a wounded Xavier in his hands, and Colossus realizes why the Avenger's message struck him as odd earlier, as all the Avengers were active in the background of the video, including the Beast. As "Beast" attacks Storm, the "original X-Men" trio tries to convince Angel the newer X-Men are lying, but Angel realizes he's been a fool and helps to attack the impostors. Outnumbered and overwhelmed, the "original X-Men" trio surrenders. The X-Men demand an explanation as to who the impostors are, explaining that the trio had better fess up or Wolverine will get the answers from them. Dropping their disguises, the trio is revealed to be Skrulls. "We came to Earth to fulfill the destiny of the Skrull race – galactic domination. By infiltrating the Earth's super-teams, we thought we could further that destiny." Content with their answers, the X-Men offer to let the Skrulls go, to which the three aliens laugh until Wolverine clarifies with his claws that staying is a bad idea. Apologizing to the team, Angel is forgiven by the other X-Men, who understand his recent return has made him more of an outsider than the other members. Storm, Wolverine, and Kitty Pryde make it clear that Angel is a member of this team of X-Men, and they need him.
The Original "Secret Invasion"?
The Uncanny X-Men Annual 1992 #1 is a very odd book. Its text story uses an idea that Marvel had done a few times before, such as during the Kree/Skrull War in the Avengers. Still, the idea of infiltrating the team is not quite the same, and except for replacing the members and storing them somewhere, this idea is most similar to the Brian Michael Bendis penned Secret Invasion. The idea also of pitting the All-New, All-Different X-Men against the Original X-Men had already been done twice by this point in continuity, in X-Men (Volume 1) #100 and #106, though by different "replacements," robots in #100 and mental constructs in #106.
This Rik Hoskin-written tale is serviceable and fits well into the continuity nook he's chosen, giving us a tale to explain Angel's integration into the team after the death of the Phoenix far better, but it is not a "gem" in X-Men lore. A prolific UK author who wrote for many Marvel Kid magazines, as well as the Doctor Who Magazine, and Star Wars UK comics, he also goes by the pen name James Axler for some of his work. The writing on this tale though is not the main reason to get this annual, but instead to check out the early art by Gary Frank. Wrapped up in a cover by Doug Braithwaite (credited at this time as Dougie Braithwaite and well known for working with Alex Ross on Universe X and Justice), if you have never read or don't own X-Men #139 and #140, this is a great way to get them and read them along with an accompanying related tale with some great art by a well-known artist from his starting days.
Copies of The Uncanny X-Men (UK) Annual 1992 #1 will set you back anywhere between $20 to $50, depending on condition (Mile High has a copy for $200 if someone wants near-mint), and most copies do ship from the UK. However, there are few that pop up on eBay for a reasonable price in the United States. Is it something that must be gotten and read? No, though it is an Obscure Comic worth a read for the right price.