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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

X-amining X-Men: The Silver Age

Before we leave the X-Men's Silver Age tales behind for good, let's take a look back at some of the highs and lows.


My Five Favorite Issues

X-Men #3
The first appearance of the Blob, this issue is notable for its over-the-top zaniness in which the X-Men fight carnies, zoo animals and act like all around jerks from start to finish. It's Silver Age through-and-through, and while not the best issue from Lee and Kirby, it's definitely the one I enjoyed reading the most. 


X-Men #29
The Thomas/Roth run that occurred after Lee and Kirby left the book ranged wildly from awful to average, and some of their best stories (like the relatively-epic Factor Three story) haven't aged well. This issue,  featuring Mimic's battle with the Super Adaptoid and subsequent departure from the team, is my favorite of the bunch, and is a quintessential Roy Thomas issue (at least during his first run): brimming with angst (the power of Cyclops' angst almost literally awakens the Super Adaptoid), featuring a villain from another comic (in this case, The Avengers), and downplaying the involvement of the X-Men (Mimic saves the day more or less singlehandedly).
 

I also love it for the scene in which Iceman tells the other X-Men about his battle with the Super Adaptoid and they flat out don't believe him, to the point where Iceman himself questions whether it ever happened. That's Silver Age hilarity at its finest.    

X-Men #50
This issue makes the list for one reason and one reason alone: Jim Steranko's art. A breath of fresh air, Steranko turns in the strongest art the book had seen since Jack Kirby left, and it was art like nothing the book had ever seen before. After several months of middling stories and lackluster art, this issue stands out simply for being visually exciting (the story, featuring the whole "Lorna Dane is Magneto's daughter business, isn't terrible but isn't that remarkable either).


X-Men #57
The beginning of Thomas/Adams stellar Sentinel story, which returns the defining thematic element of the X-Men to the book by ramping up the anti-mutant rhetoric, once more making the X-Men sworn protectors of a world which fears and hates them. This issue, of all the Thomas/Adams issues, stands out for the unrelenting assault of the Sentinels as they travel the world, scooping up all the mutants that had appeared thus far in the series, and for a couple of visual devices that have come to represent the impact Neal Adams had on comic book art: the use of television talking heads as narrative captions and the famous "Beast falling out a window" sequence.


X-Men #64
 The first appearance of future X-Man Sunfire is a rare fill-in that doesn't suck and doesn't feel too much like a fill-in (guest artist Don Heck even pulls off an impressive Neal Adams impersonation). Very much a product of its time, what with Sunfire's Hiroshima-related origin, it manages to tell a complete, satisfying story that sees Sunfire progress from a raving and antagonistic to mournful and repentant by the end. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one.   


Teebore's Five Least Favorite Issues

X-Men #30
The X-Men battle Merlin, a villain who comes complete with the whole Silver Age villain routine: secret headquarters, themed henchmen, vague world domination plots. And he gets defeated by having his cape wrapped around his head. As I said in the original examination, it's Silver Age silliness with none of the fun.

 
X-Men #40
The X-Men fight Frankenstein's Monster. Except he's an alien android designed to look like Frankenstein's Monster. Also, the X-Men know from the get-go that he's vulnerable to extreme cold, but they hold back their teammate, Extreme Cold Man, er, Iceman, until the very end. All the better to fill the pages of this awful fill-in issue. 


X-Men #44
The X-Men are being held captive by Magneto, and only Angel can reach the Avengers in time to save them. He stops for a rest on a rock in the middle of the Atlantic, which turns out to be the hidden bedroom of a race of Bird People. So Angel fights (briefly) Red Raven, then listens to his origin, then leaves. I know Roy Thomas loves resurrecting and reviving old Golden Age characters, but Red Raven, at least as depicted in this issue, barely seems worth the time. Meanwhile, the big X-Men/Avengers vs. Magneto crossover story gets some pointless padding at a time when the book was trying to showcase a different character each issue. 


X-Men #47
Despite the setup of the X-Men's new status quo in the previous issue (Professor X is dead and the X-Men have disbanded, going their separate ways in order to battle evil mutants as agents of the FBI), this issue reads like it could have taken place at any point in the X-Men's history: Beast and Iceman brush off their dates in order to battle a villain, the who-asked-for-him-to-return Merlin, who gets defeated the same way he was the last time he showed up (getting wrapped in fabric).


The whole "X-Men as roving FBI agents" plot was odd, but had potential. It was aborted almost before it began (by issue #49) and with this issue serving as one of the only two stories told under that new direction, and doing nothing with it, we never really get to see it play out.   

X-Men #53
Another awful fill-in in which the X-Men fight Fantastic Four villain Blastaar at his most overwrought, Cyclops flies, and Marvel Girl has an orgasm.


The Five Lamest X-Men Villains (so far)

Unus the Untouchable
Most of the Lee/Kirby villains have stood the test of time, and while Unus, in one form or another (his daughter was once one of Magneto's Acolytes) has hung around through the years, he's certainly not on the level of Magneto, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, the Blob, Juggernaut, the Sentinels, or even Toad and Vanisher. Unus' power is largely defensive, a suitable obstacle in the Silver Age when it meant the X-Men couldn't just punch him enough to defeat him. As time went by however, "dude with a force field" just wasn't distinctive or threatening enough.

 
Mekano
An attention-seeking rich kid with an exoskelton, it's a wonder it took the X-Men an entire issue to defeat him, though there's no wonder why Mekano never appeared again after his debut. 


Lucifer
The Marvel Universe is filled with would-be world conquering aliens, and Lucifer was the X-Men's first contribution to that field. However, by making Lucifer the instrument of Professor Xavier's crippling injury, Lee and Kirby anchored the origin of arguably the most important character in the book to a one-note, one-dimensional villain who otherwise barely deserves a footnote entry in the Marvel Handbook.


Merlin/Warlock
A themed villain with no thematic or character connection to the X-Men, what's surprising about Merlin isn't that Roy Thomas decided to use him in X-Men (he loved pulling in existing villains with no thematic connection to the book) but that someone else decided to use him again


"Frankenstein's Monster" 
The X-Men fighting Frankenstein's Monster had some potential for an oddball Silver Age story, but by the time we learn the truth about the villain, it's so convoluted and ludicrous that any and all goofy charm has been sucked dry, leaving the X-Men with a villain who inspires little more than head shakes.   


The Five Silver Age Trappings I'll Miss the Most

Professor X's Mechanical Leg Braces
Remember when Professor X devised a means to walk again via special braces that could have made him a fortune and helped disabled people the world over, let alone keep him out of his wheelchair forever? That's okay, neither does Xavier, apparently, as the braces will never be seen or heard from again. 


The Coffee-A-Go-Go
The X-Men's Silver Age hangout, I'll miss the bad poetry (especially from Bernard the Poet), frequent bar fights, and the sight of the hopelessly-square teenaged X-Men relaxing in full suits. 


Zelda
While Beast's girlfriend Vera and Angel's childhood friend Candy Southern will both re-appear in later stories, Iceman's long suffering waitress girlfriend Zelda will never get a chance to tell off Bobby for frequently cutting out on their dates and dumping her for Lorna Dane without a second thought.


Fred 'Amos' Duncan
A secret alliance between the X-Men and the FBI is a story with tons of potential, but like many such stories in the Silver Age, it was never properly developed before getting swiftly swept under the rug. While Duncan's work with the X-Men will be referenced slightly again in future stories, the dually-named agent himself will never bee seen again. 


Ted Roberts
Poor Ted Roberts, another victim of the Silver Age's fast and loose plotting. Jean Grey's college chum and slightly-stalkerish would-be paramour during her ultimately pointless foray into public college, Ted amounted to little more than a vehicle through which to introduce the "belongs in Iron Man's comic" villain Cobalt Man. I remain terribly curious as to what Roy Thomas' ultimate plan, if any, was for Ted. And seriously, if by some miracle I ever find myself writing X-Men, the first thing I'm doing is bringing back Ted Roberts.


With that, we complete our look at the sometimes brilliant, sometimes goofy, sometimes awful but mostly mundane run of Silver Age X-Men comics. Next week, the first of two posts examining what the X-Men did with their "time off", encompassing Amazing Adventures #11-16, Incredible Hulk #150, Marvel Team-Up #4 and Incredible Hulk #161.

9 comments:

  1. awww, i'm going to miss all those things about the silver age. And i will miss the zaniness. We had many a good laugh

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  2. @Falen: And i will miss the zaniness. We had many a good laugh

    Oh, don't worry, there are still laughs aplenty ahead. The 70s don't immediately shed their Silver Age idiosyncrasies, after all, Scott's always gonna angst, and new tropes and styles will pop up that, out of context, are just as chuckle worthy as the Silver Age stuff.

    If nothing else, there's the not-too-far-ahead issue where the X-Men team up with leprechauns.

    And eventually, we'll hit the 90s, and then we'll have a whole new batch of goofy stuff to laugh at (like Gambit).

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  3. Don't forget Count Nefaria and his Ani-Men coming up! Or Krakoa the Living Island!

    Once Byrne comes along is when the cheesiness really drops out.

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  4. Time you learned some manners, Tubby!

    My goal for the next week is to work this into a casual conversation. It will undoubtedly be between myself and an inanimate object: "Damn jar won't open...time you learned some manners, Tubby!" I like how Jean slaps Tubby's backfat while Orbo zaps him. Those are the type of wounds that never heal, Jean.

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  5. @Jeff: Don't forget Count Nefaria and his Ani-Men coming up! Or Krakoa the Living Island!

    Oh yeah, Krakoa! That's definitely a Silver Age throwback!

    @Joan: My goal for the next week is to work this into a casual conversation.

    Let us know how that works out. Try to avoid using it on your husband or other loved ones. ;)

    BTW I absolutely love that you still call Cyclops 'Orbo'. Cracks me up every damn time.

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  6. first- you shut your poop mouth when talking about Gambit

    second- Joan, spot on as always

    Do we see Xavier's magical leg braces in all of the cartoons multiple times? I feel like they're always around and was suprised to see that they don't show up in the comics again

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  7. @Anne: you shut your poop mouth when talking about Gambit

    There it is...

    I was waiting for that. :)

    Do we see Xavier's magical leg braces in all of the cartoons multiple times?

    I don't remember ever seeing them in the 90s 'toon, which is the one with which I'm most familiar, but I could be forgetting them.

    Variations on the idea will show up in the comics from time to time (most notably the psi-powered exoskeleton he wears to take the fight to Magneto in the early 90s X-Men (v2) #25), and of course, he'll eventually enter into a period where he can walk again, period, but the braces, such as they were depicted in these issues, won't appear again.

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  8. "Iceman's long suffering waitress girlfriend Zelda will never get a chance to tell off Bobby for frequently cutting out on their dates and dumping her for Lorna Dane without a second thought."

    ***Oddly enough, she DOES tell him off for the Lorna thing, in John Byrne's "Hidden Years."

    Also, is it fair to blame the Silver Age for the "fast and loose plotting" that plagued the X-Men once they hit the 40s? I get the impression Roy Thomas didn't really forget much, and that a lot of his plots were dropped simply because he left the title. (And that kind of thing happened in the 70s and 80s and 90s a lot too.)

    Sorry I seem to always comment just to be contradictory. I used to hate that when people did it on my Claremont blogs, and now lookit me. What a hypocrite!

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  9. @Jason: Oddly enough, she DOES tell him off for the Lorna thing, in John Byrne's "Hidden Years"

    Ah, yes, I had forgotten about that (I think I've read through "Hidden Years" once at most). It was one of the few dangling threads from the Silver Age that Byrne actually resolved.

    Also, is it fair to blame the Silver Age for the "fast and loose plotting" that plagued the X-Men once they hit the 40s? I get the impression Roy Thomas didn't really forget much, and that a lot of his plots were dropped simply because he left the title.

    No, not in the 40s; there was a revolving door of writers by that point, and changing editorial directions seemingly every month.

    I was thinking more of Thomas' first run, where things like "Jean goes to college" and Ted Roberts got introduced then dropped with little resolution. Maybe he had a long term plan for them that got axed when he left the book the first time (and if so, I'd love to know what it was) but as it stands, it seems like he had plenty of time to go somewhere with those threads and never did, which, in the absence of any other info, I chalk up to the style of the time.

    Sorry I seem to always comment just to be contradictory. I used to hate that when people did it on my Claremont blogs, and now lookit me. What a hypocrite!

    Ha! No worries; all comments are appreciated, even contradictory ones, especially contradictory ones that help cover for my increasingly-spotty memory. ;)

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