Hello discerning X-Fans. In my new series (check out Rosie’s previous series, Daddy Issues –Ed.) I’ll be exploring some of the best and strangest licensed X-Men books that don’t fall under the direct market comic book mantle. Join me on this *spooky referential comic book voice* Journey Into Mystery.

Uncannily Licensed X-Men #1 – Enter The Best X-Men Book of All Time

Beautiful watercolour renderings of your favourite mutants. A stripped down ultra deconstructed version of one of the most iconic X-Men runs of all time. Classic character designs reimagined as something akin to religious icons. Without a doubt, the best X-Men book I ever read, at 30 pages long, was published by Random House and hasn’t been in print since the ’90s. Oh, and it also happened to be illustrated by Marie Severin, one of the most important comic book artists of all time.

X-Men: Enter the X-Men is a 1994 kids book published to tie in with the 1992 smash hit cartoon, and it might just be the best X-Men book ever made. Maybe that sounds hyperbolic, but there’s something incredibly special about this cultural artifact. It reimagines the “Night of the Sentinels” pilot episode of X-Men: The Animated Series, which itself was a reimagining of several classic stories from Chris Claremont’s legendary run on Uncanny X-Men. The book features lush watercolour illustrations by the aforementioned underrated and oft forgotten comic book creator of the Golden Age, Marie Severin. This is a legacy Kevin Wanda is tapping into– let’s not miss the history!

Just the fact that this book exists is exciting enough, but the reality of it is even better than its concept. There’s something so unfathomably strange and satisfying about the challenge of stripping a story down to its bare bones to make it accessible to the youngest audience all whilst still working within the the recognisable and iconic world of the X-Men. Mark Edward Evans’ teleplay from the pilot works surprisingly well here, deftly distilling the drama of the Saturday morning staple into readable kids book size chunks, whilst Severin’s art is devastatingly great. This is a book which is constantly a pleasure to read, over and over again. Trust me, I’ve done it.

As great as the books surely were for kids in the ’90s, they’re even better to read as an adult. The language of the X-Men translates so surrealy to the simplistic format of children’s books, one of the highlights being Jubilee’s worries about her parents struggling marriage. “Was it her fault that sometimes when she laid her hands on a machine plasmoids shot out of her fingers, destroying everything she touched?” Has there ever been a better or more odd line in a kids book? Enter the X-Men also includes a useful glossary to explain words like plasmoids, mutants, and of course X-Men. What an utter joy.

Every page is a complete treat, with Severin choosing to illustrate the book in the style of a classic romance comic, each image dripping with drama and emotion. The soft colour palette makes this an X-Men book unlike any you’ve ever seen. It’s a truly unique reading experience, which is never something you think you’ll say about a kids book adaptation of a TV show adapted from a comic. Each illustration is astounding and many even look as if they’re from a meta gallery exhibit where an artist imagined the characters as if they’re painted by the romantics, like Jean Grey as Ophelia, the way it should’ve always been.

The ’80s and ’90s were an interesting time for licensed books, one that would see huge landmark creators like Severin working on offshoots and spin-offs. I mean, who could forget Steve Ditko’s star turn drawing Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos? Or Gil Kane and George Perez on Topps’ horrendous Jurassic Park book? Unlike Ditko and the G’s though, Severin dedicated much of her later career to creating work outside of the comic book canon yet still utilizing iconic Big Two characters. With the announcement of Ed Piskor’s recent six issue retelling of the X-canon, my mind immediately wandered back to Severin’s superior work creating beautiful, engaging, and authentic condensed versions of these classic stories.

Though Piskor’s vision will inevitably be lauded, Severin’s long forgotten work on these children’s books stands on its own as a visionary piece of condensed storytelling that made the X-Men accessible to so many kids who couldn’t afford or otherwise access weekly comics. I was lucky enough to rediscover this gem in my local thrift store and would highly recommend, if not demand, that you (if possible) do the same. It’s about time that Marie Severin’s X-Men got the respect they deserve.