What’s that? You wanna review some more early X-Men? Well sure, I clearly haven’t hated myself enough today, why the hell not?
The thing you have to realize about early X-Men to understand why I hate this is how much it flies in the face of everything — everything — that we’ve come to associate with the franchise. When I set out to read all of the X-Men books in mostly chronological order, this stuff wasn’t what I was thinking about.
And to be clear, I’m not talking about the absence of Wolverine. Wolverine is awesome, but of the popular X-Men, he’s actually the antithesis or what the core reality of the franchise is, and he’s at his best when authors realize that. Although I won’t say that Wolverine’s absence isn’t part of it, which I’ll get to in just a second.
Rather than tell you what isn’t the issue or what isn’t missed, let’s see if I can articulate what is:
Intercultural-ness: The idea that the X-Men were not only a team of misfits, but a team made up of many different countries and even worlds, is something that Claremont brought to the title. This is what I meant when I said Wolverine was missed: the fact that he’s nationally diverse is missed. The X-Men are a team banded together for a common cause that is not limited by the boundaries of state, incorporating members from Canada, Russia, Germany, Africa, and Asia. And remember, it did this at a time when US relations with some of these nations were not at their best. This made the all-new, all-different X-Men heirs to the ideas of Star Trek under the same umbrella, and made it work very well.
Magneto: I love Magneto, but he isn’t anywhere near these early issues. There’s some guy called Magneto that wears Magneto’s clothes, but he’s got about as much in common with Magneto as I do with light margarine. Just try and think of everything you associate with the character Magneto — aside from the name and powers — and realize it isn’t here. That he’s best friends with his rival Charles Xavier? Nope, that was introduced around Uncanny X-Men #200, around the same time that Marvel decided to write out Xavier and have Magneto himself take over as the headmaster of the school.
Just think about that for a second: his friendship with Xavier was introduced at roughly that same time it became relevant. Please don’t misunderstand, I love that story in and of itself, but as planning goes that is damn lazy writing. That’d be like Joker taking over as Batman, and them both acting like they’d been friends all along, and giving the reader weird looks when they act as though this is new news. It’s not even the only time they pull this with Magneto: the first time he’s ever seen without his mask on is when it’s revealed that he’s Quicksilver’s father, and everyone goes “How did we never notice how much you two looked alike before?” It’s so cheap, because it acts like the reader is dense for not noticing, when really, it’s hard to notice what they didn’t show us.
Racial allegory: it didn’t exist. You can read into it all you want through the lens of 20/20 vision from almost 60 years in the future all you want, but it wasn’t present here. All the X-Men were, in these days, were generic teens with powers fighting generic bad guys with powers for no other reason than they were good, and the bad guys were bad. The bad guys were so bad they called themselves “Evil,” and that wasn’t an ironic term as it was later decided.
I think more than any other Stan Lee creation, these issues keep getting ret-conned and retold, and it’s because they’re the most broken. In Spider-Man. all you have to do is fix some references to now-antiquated technology and everything else pretty much just works. But with X-Men? You’ve basically got to throw the whole thing out and start again.
In X-Men #11, an enigmatic character called The Stranger appears who is all powerful, and Magneto wants that power. Because in these days, Magneto was basically a light version of Doctor Doom, and whenever somebody showed up with more power than him he decided he wanted it like a child wanting a toy he can’t have. The X-Men are basically regulated to spectators here, as the Stranger takes Magneto and toad away for ‘study.’ This also serves to free Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch from his servitude, meaning that they can now move on to much better things with the second incarnation of The Avengers.
X-Men #12 & 13 introduces nearly-constant X-men villain the Juggernaut. It does so in a pretty narratively cool way, where we the reader (nor the characters) actually see the character until the very end of issue 12, allowing the tension of what this thing is to build and build in their (and the reader’s) imaginations.
For a very long time, Juggernaut was the only X-Men villain that was actually a straight-up villain. He was Professor X’s evil step-brother who wanted the mansion, wanted the wealth, wanted the things that bad guys want. He robbed banks. He knocked over armored cars. He fought the Hulk because bad guys of Hulk-compatible strength always manage to fight the Hulk. He has no real hidden agenda, no stake in the mutant rights debate or feelings about the evolutionary pattern of society and the species. By the time the ’90s hit, this made him unique among X-Men villains… but here, it just makes him more of the same. Magneto, Toad… everyone in these early issues was just evil for evil’s sake. So even though he’s one of the only characters to remain pretty much unaltered from conception through the first 40 years of his use, he’s robbed of his uniqueness by virtue of everyone else being exactly the same at the time, and is therefore less interesting and special here than he would later be.
X-Men #14, 15, & 16 introduce possibly the greatest X-Men villains, the Sentinels. Like Juggernaut, they’re mostly intact, save for their positively klunky appearance. This story is told over and over again, and it rarely changes: a guy named Trask builds an AI called the Sentinels to destroy mutants, and save mankind. The Sentinels crazy robot-logic dictates that the best way to save humanity is to capture, control, and enslave it, and now the mutants have to save the day.
This might be the first hints of persecution in the title, which might be why the Sentinels are considered such landmark villains. And all that’s good, I can’t say much bad. There are weird examples of comic-book logic though, like: are you telling me Trask didn’t test the AI before strapping it to nuclear-level armaments? Wouldn’t he turn on the AI and just listen to it going “To protect humans, we must destroy them” and go: wow, good thing I haven’t hooked the brain up to the body or any weapons systems yet, or I’d have been fucked.”
Xavier discovers a way to disrupt the frequency that the Sentinels operate on, while Dr. Bolivar Trask decides to destroy Master Mold and causes major damage in the Sentinels fortress, which explodes.
In X-Men #17, on their way back to the mansion from their previous mission, the X-Men are picked off one-by-one by a mysterious… it’s Magneto. Of course it’s Magneto, it’s obvious it’s Magneto, every panel screams “Magneto.” I’m sure there were some kids back in the ’60s that were totally convinced they’d seen the last of Magneto in X-Men # 11, but we here in 2015 know better. It’s Magneto. This issue is a thirty-page tease for a last-page splash panel we already know the answer to.
Magneto captures all the X-Men except Iceman, who must work alone all through #18 to save them, and eventually does. Magneto didn’t really have a plan mind you. See what I mean by him being pretty similar to Juggernaut in these issues? Hell, the setup of this two-parter was pretty much identical to the Juggernaut two-parter: tension-building part one leading to a last-page reveal, followed by an all-action part two. Oh, and Magneto bounces off after defeated in something called a Magne-Car, because that’s totally something he’ll keep using. Not like he can fly of his own volition or anything.
The levels to which X-Men just rips off the other Stan Lee superhero books is frightening. If the Magne-Car/Fantasti-Car isn’t good enough for you, issue #19 introduces Mimic, a character that has all the powers of each of the five original X-Men. Sound familiar? It should! Over in Fantastic Four there was a character called Super-Skrull, who had all four powers of the Fantastic Four. But that’s really different: one is four, and this is five.
X-Men #20 & 21 expand on the weird, convoluted origin of how Professor X lost the use of his legs while fighting an alien invasion headed by a bad-guy who decided to call himself Lucifer, because all bad guys in X-Men are aware that they’re evil and have embraced that, just like in real life. Also, Unus and Blob dress as X-Men to commit crimes, because reasons.
Does this all seem pointless? Weird? The anti-thesis of everything that the X-Men is? Well, you’re right.
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
This is one of the only Stan Lee 60s creations where the stories do not age well. Or at all.