Amazing Spider-Man Classics
The X-Men Blog -- The X-Men 4

Just got through geeking out about all the goodness coming out of San Diego Comic-Con.  The Avengers movies excitement is bleeding through the Intertubes and getting on my mousepad.  So I guess that means it's time for another entry in The X-Men Blog.

Today is another milestone, as they all are actually right now, cuz every issue is someone's first appearance.  But this is a great time for early Marvel as they started experimenting with continued stories in a lot of their titles this month.  As discussed in Amazing Spider-Man Classics episode 8, Spider-Man fought Doctor Octopus the first of two times in a row.  The Fantastic Four begin a two-part battle with the Thing.  The Black Widow returns to torment Iron Man for the first of two stories.  And the X-Men come face-to-face for the first time with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, which will also lead into next issue's story.

So, speaking of the Brotherhood, let's dive right in, shall we?

The cover is the classic Kirby trope of having a bunch of large antagonists looming menacingly over tiny versions of our heroes.  I hadn't realized just how often he did this until I saw a recent issue of Dark Avengers (#7) with a similar cover, and I thought "Hey, that reminds me of another cover I saw."  So I started browsing cover galleries at comicbookdb.com and wouldn't you know it, this design is used over and over and OVER and OVER again!!  Not just by Kirby either, though he liked it a lot.  I dare you to go browse through some of the first hundred Fantastic Four covers.  I bet you spot at least ten of these.  But anyways, I don't want to sound like I'm dogging on the design, cuz I'm not.  It's very effective.  That's why he used it a lot.  And back to our own cover for today, we see "the return of the dreaded Magneto!" He's back from the first issue, bringing some friends with him this time as "At last!! The X-Men come face-to-face with 'the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants' "!

Interesting side note about the Brotherhood.  Stan Lee said once recently that, although the readers and maybe the heroes referred to these guys as "evil" mutants, he didn't actually put that word in Magneto's mouth.  He wanted to portray a villain who believed his cause was right and just and proper for his people, albeit pursuing highly misguided methods.  So I'll be curious as we go through these early X-Men books to see whether Magneto uses the word "evil".

But I'm not done with the cover yet.  This here is what the Brotherhood would look like if they were on awkwardfamilyphotos.com.  Quicksilver is in his later hero color of blue, and the Scarlet Witch looks like she's going by the name Verdant Witch today.  Looks like someone gave the cover colorist the wrong instructions.

So we open up.  And wow, this splash page is so much better than what we've had so far.  Dynamic action flying off the page right at the reader.  This here is the way to start a story.  Though Jack Kirby has always had a good reputation as an artist, and though he's been in the business over 20 years by this point, I don't feel his previous opening splashes in this book have been a fraction as good.

(pages 1-4) The book opens on the familiar scene of the Danger Room as the Beast runs through some obstacles.  He's doing well, having lasted longer than ever before, but he grabs a rope to swing over some water, and the rope turns out to be a piece of paper that snaps under his weight, dropping him in the splash.  Next is the Iceman, who succumbs to a heat vent that melts off his snowy covering.  The Angel becomes the Assman when he picks up Bobby and hangs him on a hook by his shorts.  Professor X has Marvel Girl get Bobby down telekinetically and then open a box, removing the contents.  It's a birthday cake!

A few things here.  Iceman is still a walking snowman in appearance, wearing nothing but boots and shorts.  The shorts are under the snow, but the boots are visible.  So when he de-ices, he's not exactly presentable in public beyond a swimming pool or weight room.  So when Angel hangs him out to dry, I get kinda ticked off at him.  There's absolutely no way that should be acceptable behavior.  It's rude and risks Bobby falling out of his shorts, becoming even more indecent and possibly getting hurt in the process.  Warren is definitely not my friend here.

Secondly, the birthday cake is to celebrate one year since the school opened.  I think I said in a previous post that we didn't really know how long the other X-Men had been training before Marvel Girl joined.  At this point in Marvel's history, they would often reference past events as being as far back as the actual issues were on the release schedule.  So, since issue 1 was six months earlier (the books being bimonthly at this point), that would put the X-Men's inception (which I choose to identify with Cyclops' recruitment) at six months before Jean Grey joined the team.

Also, Cyclops is sweet by using his force beam to cut Jeannie a slice of cake.  She thinks it's endearing.  They're so cute.  Too bad it's gonna be 30 more issues before they finally hook up.

(pages 4-6) We are introduced to four new villains.  The Toad, Mastermind, the Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver are sitting at dinner, detesting each other's company.  Mastermind makes an ass of himself with the Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver slugs him for being rude to his sister.  The Toad threatens to tell tales to their Leader, and they all wonder where their Leader is.

I guess we're not supposed to know who the Leader is.  Except that he was on the cover, so...  Y'know, I've always wondered about that trope with older comics.  The internal story acts like something's a surprise, when in fact it was given away on the cover or opening splash.  Kinda silly.  Ah well.

Here it is, folks.  The first appearance of the Scarlet Witch.  Possibly the greatest impactor on the modern Marvel Universe's status quo, being responsible for both Avengers Disassembled and House of M, the effects of which are still being felt today.

And her brother, Quicksilver, who runs fast and is full of himself.

Mastermind is a pretty cool power set wrapped around a pretty obnoxious personality.  The first time he impressed me was the Dark Phoenix / Black Queen storyline in 1980.

The Toad is just that, a toadie to his Leader, who is SPOILER Magneto.

One other bit of note is that there seems to be confusion in Lee's early understanding of how Wanda's power was to work.  Pietro warns her not to point because that always causes something bad to happen, but Wanda replies that she would only use a little of her power against Mastermind.  So maybe Stan Lee isn't confused, but Quicksilver is, cuz he evidently thinks she can't control herself, but she thinks she can.  Ah well.

(pages 6,7) Magneto invades a large shipping line, takes control of an armed ex-convoy freighter, and takes it out to sea, controlling all operations via his magnetic powers.  The Angel is out on a long-range test flight and sees the freighter, notes that it's unmanned, and heads home.  He tells the Professor about it, who gets a hunch that not all is as it seems.

The vast, detailed extent of Magneto's powers is illuminated here, as he controls all the moving parts of a freighter's engine with his power.  I also think it's interesting the Angel's training includes distance flight.  It makes total sense, but I wouldn't have considered it.  (I also like Jean Grey in a lab coat here.  Somehow, loosely draping garments on a sexy form are very enticing.)

(pages 8,9) Magneto arrives on what we now see is an island fortress, where the rest of the Brotherhood is staying.  Toad immediately tells on the other mutants for bickering.  Magneto yells at Mastermind and is about to do the same to Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, when Pietro threatens to leave.  Magneto reminds them that they are in his debt because he saved Wanda from being killed by a fearful village mob.  And so they prepare to launch their first attack in world conquest.

The extent of Magneto's connection to the Mutant Siblings (as I shall now call them) is one of those cool bits of Marvel's history.  It's of course well-known and one of the first things you learn if you look for information on Quicksilver or the Scarlet Witch, but it won't be invented for YEARS after this point.  We don't know why Magneto happened along in time to save the Witch.  We DO know, however, that the Mutant Siblings are from the heart of eastern Europe and therefore (logically) should have an accent to their English, but of course this is never done when they're used in animation.

I will also take this moment to say that Marvel (especially and specifically Stan Lee) often gets credited for developing "superheroes with problems", but it's also worth noting that this villain team is similarly crafted.  There is bickering among them, which might not have been too unusual.  But you have two members (Q and SW) who don't even seem to want to be there.  Now, I doubt Lee planned to have them defect to the other side over a year later (as we joke on the show, Lee was very obviously making this up as he went with very little planning ahead for his stories), but that's definitely an organic extension of the characters as they were first created.  And I like that.  Making personable heroes is cool.  Making personable villains that grow and change over time is also cool.

And by the way, I think I want to include Q and SW in this blog, even when they go off to the Avengers.  If you have an opinion on whether you like that idea, tell me in the comments.

(pages 9-11) Days later, Professor Xavier reads of Santo Marco (a small South American country, fictitious of course) being attacked by a lone freighter.  He sends out a thought summons "RED ALERT" to all the X-Men, who come to his study, only to overhear him in mental communication with Magneto.  Mags and the Prof argue briefly before Magnetos swears eternal enmity between them, and Xavier vows to stop him.

"INCREDIBLE! One lone freighter attacking an entire South American nation! Who would DARE?? Who, except for the ones in hiding -- THE EVIL MUTANTS!!"  Classic example of insular storytelling.  I realize it's a common trope of the comics, but really this is a shared universe, right?  Hasn't Xavier realized there are other villains out there who could be responsible?  I mean, Spider-Man has fought...well, at this point we're on issue 10, so um...Electro? no...Doctor Octopus? ... no, hates Spider-Man but is in jail and not really the world-dominating type...  Oh, but I bet you the Fantastic Four have some villains...  let's see... Hate Monger died... Mole Man wants to conquer the surface world, but a freighter isn't really his style.  Same with Namor.  Dr. Doom seems more focused on hating Reed than taking over the world, and though I can see him enjoying being a global despot, again a lone freighter against a South American nation seems unlike him.  ... Hmmm...  Thor's villains suck at this point.  Same with Iron Man's.  Well.  Crap...  I guess Xavier is fully justified in his crazy leap to conclusions here.  Well no, I take that back.  There's all the NON-supervillain stuff in the world that could easily be behind an international attack.  So it's still a crazy leap in logic.

What's another crazy leap is Xavier's power set here.  He was able to tell, over a distance of at least 2000 miles, that someone was trying to contact him mentally.  And then, after he made contact, he took someone else's thoughts and amplified them from where he was sitting, apparently to allow the free-floating full-torso vaporous apparition conversation on the "mental plane".  This is the same guy who in a not-too-distant issue won't be able to talk to his students across town unless they have Jean (if I recall correctly).

I also think it's funny that when Cyclops and the Iceman are running past Warren still changing out of civvies, that Stan Lee could have put anything in that panel for dialog, and he chose to make Warren look like a lazy bastard.

Oh, and I'm rationalizing the Professor's vocal muttering while in communication with Magneto as a voluntary choice to keep the X-Men informed on his half of the conversation because it's already been well-established that his telepathic communications are silent.

(pages 11-13) The final setup scenes before the big battle.  Magneto finishes shelling the area around Santo Marco's capital.  He invades with a massive army, created by Mastermind's illusion, the size of which intimidates the populace into surrender without a shot being fired.  Once installed as dictator, Magneto recruits an actual army from among the populace.  The borders are closed and roadways guarded, but the guards admit representatives from Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters "on a good will trip from America" so "they can be fooled into thinking Magneto is a kind and beloved ruler".  Magneto is settling into his new role as despot when he mentally detects the proximity of Xavier and therefore the X-Men.  He prepares a trap for them while Xavier simultaneously prepares a plan for attack.

It's scenes like the invasion that make me wonder about the exact nature of plot planning between Lee and Kirby.  Did Kirby intend that all the soldiers after the initial invasion would be real, or still illusions provided by Mastermind?  One group looks identical to the other.

I guess I'm confused about what "closed borders" mean.  Cuz if they're closed, how are random tourists from America allowed into the country?  I don't get it.

At first, I was extremely confused by Magneto's reaction here.  "The mental emanations of their leader are so strong that I feel them in my brain!!"  Cuz Magneto has no innate telepathic powers.  But then Xavier says, "There is no need for further delay! Magneto must have detected our presence by now!"  So, Xavier was deliberately teasing Mags's brains.  That might not have been the wisest move, but at least the plot makes sense.

As usual, we'll be summing up the final fight scene in one go, cuz the details worth noting will be fewer.

(pages 13-23) The Beast attacks some guards on a turret but is repelled by the Toad and Mastermind.  The Angel likewise knocks out some soldiers before being attacked by Quicksilver, but the Angel dodges Pietro long enough to steer him into a wall.  The Scarlet Witch enters then and believes the Angel to have harmed her brother, so Wanda casts a hex that pulls a wall down on Warren's head.  They take the Angel captive to Magneto, and they are then attacked by Cyclops.  He wards them off successfully but loses consciousness from the strain.  The Iceman arrives, unties the Angel, and then uses ice to revive Cyclops.  They pursue the bad guys but are met by flying weapons, controlled by Marvel Girl who is coming from the other direction with the Beast.  They thought Cyclops and gang were the baddies.  Realizing they have accomplished a whole lot of nothing, they then run from a river of burning oil, but Professor X wheels through the flames, demonstrating that it's only an illusion.  Magneto sets two bombs to explode, one a simple detonation for the X-Men, the other a nuclear bomb to take out all of Santo Marco should the first fail.  They escape.  The X-Men trigger the first bomb, but Xavier throws himself into the way of the blast, taking all the force and falling unconscious.  Magneto sets the other to go off, but Quicksilver races back and disables the nuke.  The bad guys get away, and Xavier awakes to tell the X-Men that he is now without his mutant abilities.

So I guess I never realized, but the Scarlet Witch's red head dress isn't just a face-frame.  It is actually a wrap around her entire head, with her hair sticking out the top of what is essentially a shapely tube on her head with a face hole.  Weird.  Me no likey.

Everyone gets a good moment to show his powers in this sequence, except Magneto really.  But he got to drive that freighter earlier, so that's cool.  Now, though, all he does is set bombs.  Maybe he activated the nuke magnetically?

We do get to see Pietro's misgivings at murdering human beings.  Further confirmation that he and his sister don't really belong with Magneto.

And the little cliffhanger ending.  Xavier is now powerless.  Gasp!  Will the X-Men be able to make it without him?  On the one hand, it's kinda a clever plot device to show the heroes don't need their mentor but can make it as a self-supportive team.  But on the other, it also seems like that plot device is a bit too convenient and could actually be manipulation on the Professor's part.  But surely not, right?  We'll have to see next time.

Well, as I said, this is a two-parter.  The Brotherhood is back next issue for more fun and games, but before we get there, we have a detour to make next time.  See you then, and don't forget to comment below.  I love to know when people are reading!

Category:X-Men blog -- posted at: 1:16am EDT