X-Men #1 (next issue)

"X-Men"

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Inker: Paul Reinman
Letterer: Sam Rosen
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Cover date: September 1963
Cover price: 12 cents

Nowadays, Marvel can slap the letter 'X' on a bunch of blank pages and it will sell hundreds of thousands of copies, and you'll run out of digits trying to count all the spin-off books. So it's hard to believe that the X-Men were once a second string team which was not very prominent in the Marvel universe, more like the Champions or the Defenders than the Avengers. (It was one of the first books of the Marvel superhero relaunch that Stan Lee turned over to another writer, Roy Thomas starting with issue 21.) And it's even harder to believe the X-Men book was essentially cancelled in 1970 with their last new story in issue 66, and the comic was filled with reprints for the next five years.

The team as we know it now, largely the result of the lengthy tenure of writer Chris Claremont, was introduced in Giant Sized X-Men #1 in 1975, and new stories started up again in issue 94. Many familiar characters, like Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, etc. were not introduced until then. In the beginning, there were only five team members: Angel (Warren Worthington III), the Beast (Hank McCoy), Cyclops (Scott Summers), Iceman (Bobby Drake), and Marvel Girl (Jean Grey), who, 40 years later, still doesn't have a decent superhero name.

Yet many of the basic elements are still there. The team is based out of Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters near Salem Center in Westchester County, New York. A school for superheroes is a novel enough concept, but more important was Lee's concept that the school was for "mutants." Originally, Lee wanted to call the book "The Mutants", but it was nixed by Marvel head Martin Goodman because he thought no one would know what the hell a mutant was. Most superheroes' powers were the product of bizarre magical or pseudoscientific means, but Lee's mutants were simply born with them and usually manifested them during puberty. Lee took this one step further: since the mutants were born different, they were the object of fear and hate for ordinary humans. Some mutants responded to this by developing a hatred of the human race themselves, and it is these "evil mutants" that the X-Men will combat. Lee was tapping into human prejudices and fears of the atomic age, which is the cause of all those mutant births. Professor X notes that his parents worked on the first A-Bomb project.

"In the main study of an exclusive private school in New York's Westchester County, a strange silent man sits motionless, brooding…alone with his indescribable thoughts. Finally, his meditation comes to an end! Then, while he remains completely motionless, a sharp, commanding thought rings out, echoing through the great halls of the building!" And with that, class was in session. Angel, Beast, Cyclops, and Iceman promptly appear and Professor X puts them through their paces. This is the first of many "Danger Room" training sessions readers would see over the years, where the X-Men practiced the use of their powers against the room's equipment and each other. (Note that here the Danger Room is clearly on the first floor. Years later, after an attack the mansion was restored and the Danger Room was rebuilt with Shi'ar technology in subbasement two.)

The X-Men demonstrate their powers to the reader for a couple of pages, and Iceman briefly turns himself into a snowman. Then Professor Xavier mentions a visitor, an attractive young redhead which will be the school's newest student. The teenage horndogs quickly put on their best duds and are introduced to Jean Grey, who demonstrates her telekenetic abilities. Professor X explains some of the basic concepts noted above to Jean and the readers. He also mentions that he lost his legs in a "childhood accident". This was a little white lie; we'd soon learn that he lost them well into adulthood thanks to Lucifer, an alien Quist who'd be introduced in X-Men #9.

Meanwhile, in a "secret laboratory" near Cape Citadel, a US military installation, we meet Magneto, one of those "evil mutants" who plans on striking a blow against homo sapiens on behalf of "homo superior", which is what evil mutants call themselves when they're not calling themselves evil mutants. Magneto has control over magnetism, and since that is one of the four fundamental forces, he is one tough cookie. He interferes with a missile and causes it to crash, which prompts the amusing newspaper headline "Sixth Top Secret Launching Fails at Sea!" If it's top secret, why is it the headline in the Daily Globe?

Later that afternoon, Magneto stops by for some fun. Guns fire, tanks move, missiles fire, all under control of Magneto. He corrals the base personnel and surrounds the installation with a shield of magnetic energy. Professor X hears the news on the radio and sends his team into action about a jet he controls with "thought impulses". (Later, the X-Men would still use a jet, but pilot it using more conventional means.)

At Cape Citadel, Cyclops punches through the energy shield with his optic blasts. Magneto fires some missiles at them. Iceman knocks most of them out with "ice grenades", and the Beast even catches one with his oversized feet. So Magneto resorts to rolling a tank of rocket fuel at them, but Iceman protects them from the explosion with an "ice igloo shield". Apparently running out of things to toss at the X-Men, Magneto simply flies away. The X-Men are hailed as heroes, and for now they are to the public, instead of the outcasts and villains they'd be thought of as in later years.

Magneto would become the X-Men's most familiar foe, and his distinctive helmet even showed up in a Roy Lichtenstein painting. During the Chris Claremont years, Magneto became a more complex character. He was revealed to be a man named Magnus, a Jew who was interred in Auschwitz, making the book's themes of prejudice and hatred all that more powerful. His evil with a capital E days were over as he became allies with his former foes, even as the rest of the worst still thought him a villain. For a time, he even ran the school as "Michael Xavier", Professor X's fictional cousin, while the professor was away in the Shi'ar Galaxy.
X-Men (Second Series) #1
"Rubicon"

Writers: Chris Claremont and Jim Lee
Penciller: Jim Lee
Inker: Scott Williams

Release Date: October 1991

Heroes: The X-Men (Professor X, Cyclops, Rogue, Ice-Man, Colossus, Arch-Angel, Wolverine, Storm, Forge, Beast, Jean Grey, Gambit and Psylocke).
Villains: Magneto (kind of) and Fabian Cortez.
Cameos: Nick Fury

The Plot: The story begins with a shuttle of escaped mutants trying to find refuge on Asteroid M, Magneto's floating base. They are being pursued, but their pursuers quickly get into trouble when Magneto takes unkindly to people harassing mutans on his home. Magneto gives a few soliloquies about whether or not he is going to take any part in the Earth's affairs. Unfortunately, the decision is made for him as both the Soviets and the Americans get start making plans about what to do about Magneto.

The action cuts to the danger room, where two teams of X-Men are about to go into action against each other. After several pages of chasing each other, Wolverine leads his team to victory, leading to a tiff with Cyclops. Their squabble is cut short by Col. Fury calling up to tell them that Magneto is up to something.

The actions cuts to Magneto raising a sunken nuclear sub up from the floor of the ocean, with the X-Men showing up just in time to misinterpret his actions and to get in a philosophical squabble with him leading to an exchange of blows. Rogue flies off to try to reason with him, but when some Russian planes come pursuing, Magneto sets off a nuke in the upper atmosphere. Rogue is lost, until she is tracked to Genosha, where the X-Men and some mutant terrorists come to fight over her. Magneto shows up to end the issue in a dramatic splash page.

Chris Claremont checklist:

  1. Long narratives and exposition, including in mid leap...check
  2. Simmering interpersonal conflict...check
  3. Philosophical debate and introspection...check

After having described the plot (at too much length, since the entire issue could have been described as "The X-Men argue and fight amongst themselves, and then argue and fight with Magneto"), I will give a brief analysis.

This issue, the first issue of the second X-Men series, was seriously overhyped, even by comic book standards. X-Men at the time was Marvel's star franchise, something that had been accomplished through years of Chris Claremont's careful building up of the characters. At some point, they must have got greedy and believing their own hype. They then released this first issue of the second series, and millions of collectors thought it was going to be a collectors item. Which was just as well, because Marvel ended up printing up something like 10 million copies of it, which is why I managed to buy a copy for a quarter in the discount bin of my local comic shop.

Everything about this issue looks like the creators were trying to create a milestone, rather then trying to write a good story. Almost every single panel is dramatically and unrealistically posed. Every line of dialogue is overwinded, trying to emphatically recap 15 years of X-Men history. The philosophical and moral debate about "mutantkind" was already pretentious and overblown at this point. And the issue features no less than 3 double page action spreads. Some of Chris Claremont's best stories ("Pirate Kitty", for example) were small, creative flights of fancy. It was this type of overblown posturing that would ruin the artistic merits of the X-Men and would even cause Marvel to flounder, as fans who wanted good stories stopped wanting to buy overhyped "collector's items".

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