Honestly, comics have been a part of my life for so long that the details on where and when they first came in are fuzzy. They were one of the tools my cousin used to help encourage me to read, so I’m sure that I have a different, literal first, but the first one I remember, the first one I always come back to, is Uncanny X-Men #173.
As you can see, I still own my first copy. I picked it up in a quarter bin at an antique store during a family trip, along with some others. It was already pretty beat up then, but a fair few of those marks and creases come from me re-reading it over and over. It’s a hell of an issue: the second half of a two-part story about Wolverine’s trip to Japan to marry his love, Mariko. New readers often ask where to start with comics, but I had no such concerns. I knew who Wolverine was, and I knew enough to figure out that this was Rogue on the cover, even if she didn’t look too much like how I was used to seeing her. The issue started in the middle of things, and gave me everything else I needed—the pair were on the hunt for Viper and the Silver Samurai. Wolverine was using the hunt to test Rogue, who had just joined the team two issues prior. Storm was missing! (I knew who she was, too.)
The dynamic between Wolverine and Rogue was fascinating. I didn’t know at the time that Rogue had once been a villain; all I knew was that Wolverine didn’t trust her. He’s all business with her, a completely closed off individual. Is there such a thing as an anti-ship? This is that. He does not want her around, but he will make use of her skillset as long as she is.
As for Storm, she wouldn’t remain missing for long. The backup plot of the issue details her (mis)adventures with Yukio, a friend of Wolverine’s who I would later learn pops up from time to time. I didn’t need to know this then, so while I was curious, it didn’t really hinder my reading of the comic. Similarly, I didn’t know that Wolverine’s fight with the Silver Samurai later in the issue was a callback to the Claremont/Miller Wolverine miniseries. All I knew was that I got several pages of vicious, silent combat between two people who were not holding back. To this day these kind of moments still get me, even in bad stories–Schism was a terrible event, but I could study those pages of Cyclops and Wolverine fighting, completely ignoring the Sentinel that’s trying to kill them both, for hours.
It was brutal and curiously bloodless—sanitized for young readers, I imagine—so where it could’ve been traumatic, it was captivating. It was the first time I understood Wolverine—Logan—as a character. He wasn’t just the gruff, angry one who jumped into things when Cyclops was busy playing conservative dad, he could really fight. He had control, precision, and above and beyond his healing abilities, he could take pain. That upper-right panel, where he’s being stabbed, really struck me; it was the first time I’d seen a superhero take a blow that clearly should’ve been lethal. Paul Smith remains one of my favorite artists because of his ability to convey emotion in characters; he draws a Wolverine who’s in pain, and severely so. It was thrilling, and I was hooked. In the world of superheroes, where death is a temporary state, the stakes here felt real. Even Rogue, with all of Carol Danvers’ strength and durability, had limits, and those limits were tested in this issue–along with a gorgeous spread of her being literally faster than a speeding bullet–that most comic-book of powers (it is, honestly, hard not to just post every single page of this issue).
All of that still would’ve made it only a fairly standard action issue, were it not for the book’s final act. As Wolverine prepares for his wedding, we see the rest of the X-Men. By a curious function of Madelyne Pryor having to be introduced to the team as it was then, so too was I. Because she was bewildered by their strangeness and I had at least some familiarity, I could feel at ease with these odd incarnations. Because I felt at ease, I was immediately in love with Storm’s reappearance in the issue.
It was all over from this moment. I didn’t know how much of a big deal this change would be, but eight-year-old me loved it. I had seen a transformation occur, I had seen someone process the things they were going through and come out changed. It was an important, significant lesson for me. So was the lesson that not everyone will always be comfortable with that change. Kitty’s reaction to Storm’s new look was profoundly negative, and what’s more, it was a conflict that was not easily resolved—in fact it lasted for several more issues. It was an early lesson in the way that conflicts can be; they do not always go away neatly, as some stories would tell you. I respected the comic more for that, and again for the resolution of Wolverine’s marriage storyline; their lives were complicated and messy. That made dealing with mine a little bit easier.