George Rears I was late to the X-Men party. Being a DC Guy, I was always a bit hesitant to pick up extra Marvel books as it could potentially stop me from buying more DC stuff.
But by 1978, DC had pulled back their line, and I started buying Marvel books. I started with books that were either "mainstream" such as Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, or books that seemed like DC could publish them like Captain America and Iron Man.
I also picked up Avengers because my mom bought me a lunch box, and I couldn't identify the green and red guy (The Vision). I enjoyed these books (especially Avengers and Iron Man) and they opened up a brand new social world to me: The Marvel Zombies. The Zombies loved to talk about a book called The X-Men. The little I knew about the X-Men was confined to the book Son of Origins published in the early 1970s. I figured that I was OK with my 7-8 Marvel purchases a month, and went on with my life.
Finally, however, they wore me down. I gave in and bought X-Men issue 138. This is a strange, but great book. Strange, because I had never seen a non-anniversary book use the mono-color back issue cover montage as a background image before. Strange, because it is a standalone story right in the middle of two of the most important storylines in the history of the Marvel Universe ("The Dark Phoenix Saga" had just wrapped up, and in just two more issues, the "Days of Future Past" story would start). On top of all that, the issue was a recap issue...of the entire X-Men history to date!
I read later that this issue was supposed to be very different since Jean Grey was not supposed to die in the issue before. Instead of reflecting on his loss, Scott would be preparing to leave the team to take care of Jean. In retrospect, the recap of the history of the team probably required less re-work, since after the introduction sequence, the story jumped immediately back in time. I find it interesting that despite the re-work done to 137 to change the ending, that this book was even finished. I remember thinking at the time that it always takes longer to do a history paper than creative writing, so this book must have taken forever to put together. Combine that with the last second changes done to "The Death of Phoenix" in 137, and it is amazing this book made it out.
To some it seemed odd that the Byrne/Claremont team, firing on all cylinders, would stop and do this little history lesson. However, to me, it was a great jumping on point. I knew nothing about the X-Men before the issue, and after reading it, I knew their entire history. I even immediately bonded with one of the lead characters (unfortunately, it was Cyclops, who left the team in that very issue). There was a certain sense of reality to this book that other comics didn't have.
Reading their history, I felt that these characters could be real people that I would eventually meet when I was in my early twenties. With other comics, I always felt the characters were just that, characters. Spider-Man, the poster boy for the "this could be you character" never seemed to be as real as these guys. The X-Men seemed like they could be older brothers or sisters, given, of course, than an older brother could shoot force beams out of his eyes.
It wouldn't take long for John Byrne to become one of my favorite artists--right up there with George Perez--whom I had discovered on The Avengers and followed over to the New Teen Titans. Within a year I had bought the entire "Dark Phoenix Saga" in back issues, and had become a die-hard X-Fan.
I was shocked when John Byrne left the book, but I kept reading the book though the Dave Cockrum (second time around) and Paul Smith eras. I kind of lost interest with the Brood storyline and the Morlocks, and I just eventually stopped buying the book. However to this day, X-Men 138 is probably the more read book in my entire collection.