Sunday, August 21, 2011

From the Top: X-Men #1

For those of you who know me, you know I put myself on a mission to complete an entire run of Marvel's X-Men series from 1963. I'm less than a handful of issues away, so I figure: If I have them, I might as well read them, right? And if I'm reading them, I might as well talk about them, eh? Nothing like starting from the beginning and working your way through classic comic books from over nearly the last 50 years and talking about them with modern day sensibility and my twisted cynical view of just about anything, eh?

So we'll start at the very beginning, the book that started it all (well, the book that started things relating to Marvel Comics' X-Men at least):

The X-Men #1 (Cover Date: September 1963)

For comic book fans, that cover is one of the most iconic images from the Silver Age, and while it may not command the values associated with Fantastic Four #1; Amazing Fantasy #15; or DC's Showcase #4, X-Men #1 is perhaps one of the most important and influential comics from its time (although no one would probably realize that for about 15 years or so).

What's interesting though is how that cover has changed over the years. Compare the original cover above to the recreated cover that pops up in collected editions and reprinted versions of the book:

See the difference? You may not at first, at least not what I'm talking about. The addition of the grass is nice, as it helps to give the X-men somewhere to actually *be* during their fight with Magneto, but what I'm actually referring to is Marvel Girl, and her place on the cover. On the original, Jean Grey is standing behind her male teammates in a pose that really doesn't convey anything specific. She's certainly not joining in the full on assault against Magneto's force bubble, but she's not really running in terror either. She's just hanging back, looking like she's extremely uncertain of herself, and maybe even a little afraid. Now compare that to the lower, remastered image. The artist has now added a force blast coming from Jean's head. Whether this was intentionally done to make her look more worthwhile, or if it was simply to add color to the new cover, I don't know. But considering that Jean "Marvel Girl" Grey ended up becoming the single most powerful member of the team about 100 issues after this was published, it only seems fitting that Jean is given a powerful pose on this debut cover (albeit retroactively).

The entire issue is amazing from a retro perspective, knowing what this comic will result in decades later, but perhaps the most entertaining image from this book is right on the first page...

Even with my crappy photography (any guesses which is the only picture in this entry that's a web grab, and NOT taken by my camera?) you should be able to make out Professor Xavier sitting in an empty room, and then the X-Men appearing in front of him. For some reason that is never explained in this issue or any other, Iceman decides to make himself a stripper pole and do a few twirls around it for Xavier. And people wonder why some fans suspect Iceman of being gay...

Speaking of things that seems a little bit gay, you can't help but find it a little odd that this bald wheelchair bound guy brings a quartet of teenage boys to live with him and be at his beck and call (while wearing spandex suits...), especially when the first thing they do after rushing to him is this:

"Sure Professor, we'll get you all nice and reclined and cover you with a blanket from the waist down right before we start doing all sorts of acrobatics and exercising in our nice spandex suits..." seriously, the Family Guy parody here almost writes itself.

Thankfully, Marvel Girl arrives at the school a few pages later and all of the X-Men (except Iceman...homo) stare at her out the window.

When Jean comes in and wonders what kind of school this is (because, as was so often the case in the 1960's, parents shipped their daughters off to a currently all-boy boarding school without telling them what the deal was at an alarming basis), and Xavier explains that his school is one for Mutants, humans born with unique abilities. As it turns out, Jean has a special power! She can move objects with her mind...her telekinesis is used to take a book off a shelf and turn the pages, and then replace it on the shelf (all described in a excruciating exposition, as if seeing a book float off a shelf, to jean, flip open in mid-air, and then return itself to the shelf wasn't self evident enough...should I explain it again?). And to save a little face, Xavier also works in the less than believable explanation that the X-Men are named for their "eXtra abilities"...apparently that his name is Xavier, and starts with an X, and he's an egomaniac that likes to be surrounded by teenagers in spandex with his initial on their belt buckles, plays absolutely NO role in the name of the team at all...(coughLIARcough).

The rest of the issue is pretty much straightforward. It seems like the whole thing takes place in a matter of minutes, but there's definitely some wiggle room for later writers to go in a play with working some 'in between the pages' story lines.

For example, Jean arrives at the school, tries on her uniform, and then a page later when Xavier is briefing them on Magneto, she thinks to herself "I've never seen the Professor look so grim before!" if it wasn't for the later reworking of these early stories, your reaction should very well be: "well of course you haven't you stupid bitch, you've only seen him once before!"

Speaking of Magneto...he attacks a missile base using his magnetic powers. Stan Lee, who wrote this book, certainly either didn't understand how magnetism works, or was under the impression that it can do anything and everything, since as we saw in this issue (and a few more between here and issue #20), Magneto can use his magnetism to work every trick in the book.

Of course the X-Men save the day and Magneto is 'defeated' (he runs away, and the X-Men consider that 'good enough'). The army personnel who are rescued by the team vow to always consider the X-Men heroes...we'll see if they keep that promise once Mutant hysteria starts to run rampant across the globe.

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