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Thursday, February 12, 2009

X-amining X-Men #1

"X-Men"
September 1963

Writer: Stan Lee
Penciller: Jack Kirby
Inker: Paul Reinmen

Plot: Professor Xavier leads the X-Men in a training session before introducing them to their newest classmate and teammate: in the words of Professor X, "a most attractive young lady," the telekinetic Jean Grey. While the male X-Men gush over Jean, evil mutant Magneto takes control of the sophisticated missile launching facilities at Cape Citadel for...some reason. A show of force, presumably, to put the fear of mutants into humanity, or something. Professor X sends the X-Men to confront Magneto, who manage to defeat him, though Magneto does escape.

Firsts and Other Notables: Obviously, the original X-Men (Cyclops, Beast, Angel, Iceman and Marvel Girl) all appear for the first time, as do Professor X, Magneto, the X-Men's mansion headquarters in New York's Weschester County, and the notion of mutants as a new species of humanity with "x-tra" abilities that humans don't trust (but they don't "fear and hate" them quite yet). Professor X believes he might be the first such mutant. Magneto uses the term "homo superior" to describe mutants.


A Work in Progress: Professor X is training the X-Men to receive his thoughts, saying that soon he won't even have to speak to them. Obviously, the idea that one needs training to receive telepathic thoughts goes away quickly. Professor X refers to the cause of his paralysis as a "childhood accident." This is quickly retconned in issue #9. Cyclops is introduced exclusively as "Slim" Summers. No mention is made of Marvel Girl having any telepathic abilities. Iceman's "power on" form looks more like a snowman than look familiar to fans of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.

Ah, the Silver Age
: Professor Xavier's parents worked on the original A-Bomb project. The narrative caption refers to the missiles in Cape Citadel as "democracy's silent sentinels." The implication is that they're nuclear, with Magneto describing one as "the mightiest rocket of all." Professor X has a jet he can guide from the mansion by thought alone. Angel can strap his wings into an elaborate harness and thus pass himself off as entirely normal.


Also, magnetism is magic and can do anything.

"Professor Xavier is a Jerk!": As part of the X-Men's training session, Professor X instructs the super-strong Beast to hurl a bowling ball at a distracted Iceman, to test his reflexes.


Young Love: All of the X-Men, save for Iceman, fawn over the newly arrived Jean Grey. Beast even kisses her inappropriately, but she fends him off.


Human/Mutant Relations: The US Military at Cape Citadel takes orders from Cyclops, a masked teenager, with little reservation:

"No time to explain!"
"Fair enough, strange masked teen."

Teebore's Take: The story goes that Stan Lee, after crafting origins for the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Spider-Man and Thor was frustrated with having to come up with a new origin for every new hero he introduced (well, a new way for the hero to get bathed in some kind of radiation, at least) so he basically said "screw it" by coming up with the idea of mutants, people just born with special powers.

He wanted to call the title "The Mutants" but the publisher believed that was too strange a title and would scare kids away, so Stan changed it to the X-Men, so called, according to this issue, for their "eXtra abilities" and not because Professor Xavier has a massive ego.

The issue itself is a fairly straight-forward Silver Age first issue: the main characters are introduced and show off their powers, as is the villain, then the good guys fight the bad guy, saving the day while the villain escapes to fight another day. There really isn't much to it, even by Silver Age standards. It isn't even that goofy, relatively speaking. The concept of mutants being different from humans is introduced, and the distinction made between good and evil mutants. While it's made clear that Magneto believes in mutant supremacy, the basic philosophy of Professor X, that he believes in peaceful coexistence, isn't. In fact, there is little said on the subject of mutants as a persecuted minority; that will come in time, as will the exploration of Magneto's motives for mutant supremacy, such as his experiences in the Holocaust.

The X-Men themselves are given little in the way of individual personalities. As it stands, the biggest thing that separated the X-Men from other heroes on the market at that time was the fact that they were students and teenagers; though Marvel broke new ground with their teenaged Spider-Man, most teenagers in comic books at that point were sidekicks or supporting characters.

In the end, the first issue of X-Men holds up mostly for the novelty of being the issue that made all the major introductions; beyond that, it's a fairly pedestrian Silver Age tale.

4 comments:

  1. All right, Teebore. After years of seeing your comments on Not Blog X and Remarkable, at your invitation I have come to peruse your own X-Men reviews (and maybe some of that TV stuff, too -- we'll see).

    I'm starting from the beginning. I have to confess that I've never read the bulk of the original run of X-Men before Neal Adams came aboard, so a lot of this will be new to me.

    By the way, I can't believe you reviewed X-Men #1 and didn't post one of the greatest panels ever -- the shot of Magneto where 3/4 of his body (including his head!) is covered by a giant word balloon!

    ReplyDelete
  2. @Matt: After years of seeing your comments on Not Blog X and Remarkable, at your invitation I have come to peruse your own X-Men reviews

    Thanks for stopping by and giving us a read! I hope you enjoy it.

    the shot of Magneto where 3/4 of his body (including his head!) is covered by a giant word balloon!

    That is a great panel; classic Silver Age. I completely overlooked it when I did this post.

    ReplyDelete
  3. There is something about the original team that I liked more than later iterations. Maybe it was because they were teenagers at a school or maybe it was because they seemed like a somewhat random gathering of mutants that you would get if you didn't have the leisure of cherry picking super-powers to have on your lineup, draft/fantasy football style. I have to admit that I get annoyed by the tendency to treat a superhero team as if it needs a person to fill each role in order to get off the ground, and the charm with this book is that each X-Man can accomplish the mission but in a different way. Case in point is Banshee, one of my favorite members (for some reason, my favorite X characters end up dead) - he was written out of the team partially because the creative team thought they already had long-range blasters in Cyclops and Storm, but to be honest, none of their powers are as redundant as The Avengers powerset tends to be (flight or super agility, super strength and super durability get old after a while) - Storm can't replicate a sonic scream, and Cyclops couldn't fly, so it seemed like a waste of an interesting member IMHO.

    That being said, Professor X is the least media savvy person on the planet. The name 'X-Men' just makes it sound as if they used to be human but are now something else. Considering the time period, I guess it would be too much for a more edgy group name, such as 'X-Factor' or 'The League of EXtraordinary Ladies and Gentlemen', but at least it wouldn't reinforce the idea of mutants as being monsters!

    BTW I guess the 'I love the '60s' moment comes with the casual sexual harassment Marvel Girl is subjected to, including the non-consensual kiss and later on, the quarter of boys leering at her when she first tries on her uniform. Even Professor X plays into it, with his creepy 'most attractive young lady' comment.

    ReplyDelete
  4. There is something about the original team that I liked more than later iterations. Maybe it was because they were teenagers at a school or maybe it was because they seemed like a somewhat random gathering of mutants that you would get if you didn't have the leisure of cherry picking super-powers to have on your lineup, draft/fantasy football style. I have to admit that I get annoyed by the tendency to treat a superhero team as if it needs a person to fill each role in order to get off the ground, and the charm with this book is that each X-Man can accomplish the mission but in a different way. Case in point is Banshee, one of my favorite members (for some reason, my favorite X characters end up dead) - he was written out of the team partially because the creative team thought they already had long-range blasters in Cyclops and Storm, but to be honest, none of their powers are as redundant as The Avengers powerset tends to be (flight or super agility, super strength and super durability get old after a while) - Storm can't replicate a sonic scream, and Cyclops couldn't fly, so it seemed like a waste of an interesting member IMHO.

    That being said, Professor X is the least media savvy person on the planet. The name 'X-Men' just makes it sound as if they used to be human but are now something else. Considering the time period, I guess it would be too much for a more edgy group name, such as 'X-Factor' or 'The League of EXtraordinary Ladies and Gentlemen', but at least it wouldn't reinforce the idea of mutants as being monsters!

    BTW I guess the 'I love the '60s' moment comes with the casual sexual harassment Marvel Girl is subjected to, including the non-consensual kiss and later on, the quarter of boys leering at her when she first tries on her uniform. Even Professor X plays into it, with his creepy 'most attractive young lady' comment.

    ReplyDelete

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