Sun, 23 May 2010
So here we are. The first issue of The X-Men, with its famous snowball-throwing Iceman, eyebeam-shooting Cyclops, attack-launching Angel and Beast, and ... dancing Marvel Girl? What is she doing back there? I can't really tell. Looking mostly useless as far as I can tell. Unfortunately, Marvel Girl is often the odd girl out on this team. A bit ironic that she becomes the most powerful of the group so far down the road. Or is that spoiling? Hmmm... spoilers. You know, I'm gonna approach this blog as if you were I. That is to say, you have quite a bit of general knowledge of characters and the paths they take without necessarily knowing the specifics of all the stories. If something were to be seen as a spoiler to me, then I will leave it as unrevealed to you. Seems fair to me.
So back to The X-Men 1. (While access to the issue is not required, I'm also not going to be doing much in the way of inserting art into this blog. I'm gonna have to assume that, if you want it, you have an original, reprinted, or digital copy of the issues I discuss. As fun as it might be to include panels, if I were to do so for every panel I find of informative or humorous note, a) that would take forever to crop and upload and encode the images, and b) it might be so much content I'd verge on copyright infringement. So, have your book with you as we go or just go with what I have here.) We see right on the cover Marvel's efforts to sell this group to their readers. They're emblazoned as "IN THE SENSATIONAL FANTASTIC FOUR STYLE!" because, of course, The Fantastic Four was Marvel's lead title at this point 19 issues into its run. And the banner "THE STRANGEST SUPER-HEROES OF ALL!" will be seen, in one form another, for much or all of this book's intial run. (I think it's all, but I'm not gonna go check every single issue right now.)
Open up, and look at that Jack Kirby art. Simultaneously dynamic and....boring. Is it bad if I say that? I'm not a Kirby-hater. I just think there are some artists later who are going to do amazing things with these characters, but right now, looking at this art from 1963...I don't know. Yes, the characters are in dymaic poses. This is definitely a step up from Wayne Boring's work on Superman in 1955. But at the same time, it feels very dated to me.
(page 1) We see Profesor X sitting in his chair, calling his students to him telepathically. And in response arrive Cyclops, the Angel, the Beast, and Iceman.
The setting for pretty much the entire X-Men franchise is set right away in the first panel -- "an exclusive private school in New York's Westchester County." There will be turmoil and location changes later, and in recent years, this school got completely destroyed. But you can't think of the X-Men without thinking of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. It doesn't have that name yet, but this is the place.
(page 2-7) Class is now in session, and one by one, each of the X-Men is tested by Professor X. The Beast does obstacle course gymnastics with his over-sized, extra agile hands and feet. The Angel flies about, darting through attacks, but is hit by one blast. Yet he recovers and is able to hover in mid-air before falling. Iceman is told by Professor X that he has a five-minute recess by Professor X. He decides to spend it clowning around, but Professor X was testing him and has the Beast throw a bowling ball in his direction. Iceman is alert and is able to fashion a U-shaped chute to deflect the ball right back at the Beast. Professor X then tests Cyclops' ability to control his optic blasts by having him attack the Beast and Iceman without injuring them. Professor X then has the Angel join the others' efforts to subdue Cyclops, and it turns into a playful brawl before Professor X commands them to stop.
Ok, first, I realize that for the sake of the medium, we're never going to see extensive training of these guys. But theoretically, a class day involves much more than a single test of each student's abilities. There's no way these guys are going to get very good at that rate. That being understood, we get some awesome ways for each X-Man to showcase his abilities at the start of the comic.
Note that there is no origin story given here. That was part of Stan Lee's idea when he decided to use the mutant gimmick as an explanation for the X-Men -- these guys were all born with their powers, or at least born with the genetics that would manifest their powers at some point. Therefore, there would be no need for radioactive spiders, cosmic rays, magic hammers, atomic blasts, or heart-threatening shrapnel wounds. The origin stories that would eventually develop told of the circumstances surrounding the manifestation of those powers, not the source of the powers themselves. But Stan wanted to get right to the story of these teens. So let's talk about that.
Professor X is obviously intended by Kirby to be basically a powerful brain in an almost non-functional human shell. The Angel and Cyclops arrange his recliner and leg blanket for him, and the Professor makes several mentions of how well the students can read his thoughts and spoken words will soon be completely unnecessary. It'll be interesting to note if this interpretation holds through all of Kirby's run on the title. I honestly can't remember.
Iceman is such a kid in this issue. Very playful and childish. Icing up the Beast's arm (which is actually a very bad idea), dressing as a snowman, and in a few pages mocking the older boys' wolfish behavior toward Jean. It's almost like they're playing him off as closer to 12 than 16 or 17. Later, his origin story will contradict this.
(page 7,8) Professor X's command to halt was due to the imminent arrival of new student Jean Grey. The X-Men change into civvies to greet her and we learn their names as Hank McCoy (the Beast), Bobby Drake (Iceman), Slim Summers (Cyclops), and Warren Worthington the Third (the Angel). Professor Xavier introduces himself to the girl, and introduces Jean Grey to the team, including her nickname of Marvel Girl.
It's worth pointing out three things at this point. First, this is Professor X's first time to speak. Second, Cyclops's moniker is not yet Scott Summers. He's just Slim, a nickname that almost becomes derogatory in later usage, like when it's coming from Wolverine.
And finally, Jean Grey seems to have no knowledge of Professor Xavier or his school. This is one of the first and most blatant of retcons introduced by Chris Claremont, when he does her backstory in Bizarre Adventures 27 (1981).
(page 9-11) Jean demonstrates her powers, but when she gets a little too much attention from the older three boys, she sends Hank into the ceiling and then onto a couch. Finally, Xavier outlines the mission of the team for Jean and the reader -- they're out to stop the evil mutants, one of whom is becoming active even now.
So Hank's a complete jerk here. Never in all my days has it even been appropriate to steal a kiss from the cheek of a pretty girl on first meeting her. At least not in the States. I understand cheek kisses might be more common in Latin or some European cultures, but this is Westchester County, NY.
I can't help but wonder if Jean wasn't intentionally given a non-physical power. In fact, all of Marvel's superheroines right now have powers that are completely removed from their bodies' own strength. The Invisible Girl has her invisibility and force fields. The Wasp shrinks down and makes little pussy zaps that never seem to do any good whatsoever, at least not in the Avengers books (I haven't read a lot of the Tales to Astonish from this era). And Jean Grey has telekinesis. Is Stan Lee deliberately steering clear from girls having physical strength? And is that choice based in sexism or in a desire to avoid Supergirl-ish characters? Hmmm... As much as I respect Stan, knowing what little I do about his worldview at this time, I fear it might be sexism, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
(page 11-15) Magneto is in a secret laboratory near Cape Citadel, a fictitious military base in Florida. After months of planning, he is ready to launch his initial attack against the human race. When they launch "the mightiest rocket of all", he uses his magnetic power to knock it off course so that it plunges into the sea. This hits the news the next day, starting a rise of suspicion of sabotage. That afternoon, Magneto takes control of a machine gun and a tank and begins firing on the soldiers remotely through magentism. He then writes a message in the sky, commanding the base be surrendered to him. When no move of surrender is made, he uses an energizer to amplify his powers and opens a missie silo, which causes the missile to be automatically launched, and Magneto then causes this missile to land in the ocean. The base is now on full alert, but Magneto is able to walk in, and using magentic fields as defense and offense, he takes control of Cape Citadel.
Ok, yes, this scene is a great demonstration of the nature and magnitude of Magneto's power. I'll give you that. But I have sooooo many questions.
Why is Magneto pushing missiles into the sea instead of actually hitting sites with them? Not very terroristic, is it? What was "the mightiest rocket of all" supposed to do had he not tampered? Go into orbit? Make a circle and come back? Why the hell was there a LOADED MACHINE GUN at a missile launch site? Complete with sandbags as a defensive shield for the operator? And the tank, too, what the frak was it doing there, armed and ready to go? Is this really how the military works? I have a hard time believing that.
The message in the sky is one of those tropes of comics that I won't always complain about, but since it's the first time, I'll mention it here. Is there really enough dust in the air to write a huge message visible from below? If there were, wouldn't the air be generally more cloudy than it is? I have the same problem with Iceman's ice powers, pulling enough moisture out of nowhere to coat things in ice. In any case, Magneto now owns a military base. Good job, Mags. But now what are you going to do with it? (page 16) Back at the school, Jean Grey has tried on her costume, complete with cowl, and the guys are all peering around the corner mooning over her. She gets upset and shoos them away.
Ok, it says she's "in a dormitory room". So either a) she changed in her bedroom and is now in the living space of her private quarters and the boys are intruding, or b) she's in her one-room dormitory (which is what I think of when I hear "dormitory") and the guys are absolute perverts for snooping in on her while she's changing. I'm not sure which it is, but it's pretty uncool of them in any case.
(page 16,17) Professor Xavier summons the X-Men and fills them in on the situation at the Cape. They all suit up and travel by car and plane to Florida.
There are so many things that are weird here. First of all, we don't really know how long each of the X-Men has been training in the school. We find out later in what order they were recruited, but still don't really know how long it's been between or since those recruitments. The one we DO know is Jean Grey. Marvel Girl arrived yesterday. She's had enough time to settle in and get her outfit, probably run through a handful of training exercises with the boys, but that's it. And he's sending them all out to take on an "evil mutant". But hey, I guess if Batman can send Robin into danger, why not?
Warren says, "You're speaking ALOUD! That means it's important!" Again with the idea that the professor is simply a superbrain in a body-shaped jar. And Jean has the thought that "I never saw the professor like this before ... so grim, so intense!" That would really make more sense coming from ... oh, ... ANYbody else. She's only been there since yesterday. It only makes sense if we take into account the Claremont retcon of her past history with xavier.
Iceman is cute. "Hah! I can get ready faster than the rest of you! All I haveta do is ice up and put on my boots!" Of course, at this point, Bobby looks more like a two-legged snowman than the Iceman we'll come to know and love later. So I guess we know that when he goes out, it's in his plain clothes.
The Angel bothers me. This whole idea of him binding up his wings and just wearing clothes over them totally doesn't fly. On the one hand, they'd be bulging the back of his shirt very noticeably. On the other, can you imagine the cramping he must get? Like when you're riding in a car for hours and can't stretch your legs. Pretty soon all you want to do is just stretch those muscles. It has to be that way with his wings.
It says that the X-Men are driven in a specially-built Rolls Royce. Specially built how? So that Xavier can drive it? And if not, then who the hell is driving these guys? I guess I have to go with the paraplegic teach driving the car. Do such things exist, does anyone know? In a similar vein, their plane is remotely controlled by Xavier's thought impulses. I guess Slim hadn't finished his pilot's training yet. I'm glad they go to manual flight later, so much more believable. But I give them an A for effort at making these guys seem like they have cool tech.
(page 17-23) The X-Men arrive at the cape, break through Magneto's force field surrounding it, and avoid or deflect missiles, metal rubbish, and a vat of flaming rocket fuel in their efforts to get at Magneto. At last minute, he is able to fly away "by means of magnetic repulsion" casing another magnetic forcefield behind him so that the Angel can't follow. The base is returned to military control, and Xavier congratulates his X-Men as they fly back to New York.
After all the intros and setup, of course the fight is going to be quick and dirty. My problem here is that we have absolutely no clue what Magneto was planning to do with his missile base. Presumably he wanted it for the same reason I would want it -- to blow some people up. But whom, and was that his only purpose? He'd had months of planning, and believed humankind should no longer dominate the Earth. This effort was to show his power. Well, I guess that worked. But you kinda folded your hand kinda easily, Mags, y'know?
Basically, in the fight, each of the X-Men gets a chance to throw a super-punch or two. Cyclops blasts the field with his optic blasts and blasts a hole in the ground as protection against the rocket fuel explosion. Iceman stops the hunter missiles, and though the description makes no sense ("just as the hunter missiles are attracted by heat, so are the Iceman's grenades attracted by the missiles' speed" wtf??!!), his efforts are effective. The Beast catches a missile with his feet and then Marvel Girl hurls it into the sea. The only one who gets short shrift here is the Angel who has problems keeping ahead of the missiles and has to be bailed out by his teammates, and then he's taken down by all the metal debris hurled by Magneto.
The close of the plot is noteworthy because here, the X-Men are in good graces with the government, or at least with the military commander at Cape Citadel. Assuming this event gets reported by the media, it's a feather in their cap. The anti-mutant hysteria that will later become a recurring theme with the X-Men is not found here.
And that basically closes out my first X-Men Blog entry. I hope you enjoyed it. I'm gonna try to get several entries up this week to catch up to the books covered in the Spider-Man podcast. Leave comments below, even just a "I read it" if that's all you have time for. This is fun for me, and I hope it's fun for you.
Category:X-Men blog -- posted at: 6:11pm EDT