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Friday, August 27, 2010

X-amining X-Men #50

"City of Mutants"
November 1968

In a Nutshell: The X-Men battle Mesmero as Lorna's power is activated. 

Editor: Stan Lee
Writer: Arnold Drake
Artist: Jim Steranko, Werner Roth (2nd Story) 
Inker: John Tartigalone, John Verpoorten (2nd Story)
Letterer: Herb Cooper

Plot
Hypnotized by Mesmero, Iceman and Lorna Dane are taken to Mutant City, Mesmero's headquarters, hidden in the desert. Iceman is imprisoned while Lorna is is placed into a Mutant Energy Stimulator in order to activate her latent mutant powers. Back in San Fransisco, the other X-Men locate Mesmero's mansion base and swiftly gain the upper hand against a group of Elite Guard stationed there. But when Marvel Girl receives a telepathic call for help from Iceman, she tells the other X-Men to throw the fight so that they'll be taken to where Iceman is being held. Quickly knocked out by gas, the X-Men are captured and taken to Mutant City.


They arrive just as Lorna emerges from the Stimulator, crackling with energy, and hailed by Mesmero as the M-II weapon, Magneto's daughter, queen of all mutants. Marvel Girl frees Iceman and the X-Men attack Mesmero, who orders Lorna to blast them with her power. Instead, she turns on him, and attacks him and his henchmen with waves of magnetic force. The X-Men and Lorna flee, but are stopped when the metallic floor beneath them uproots itself, and Magneto emerges from the shadows.

2nd Story: This Boy-This Bombshell!
As Hank grows up, his strength and agility becomes more and more obvious to his family. As a freshman, he's recruited by the football coach. Thanks to his abilities, Hank leads the team to victory after victory as its star player. On the night of the big game, three thieves rob the ticket booth, but are cornered by the police. They flee across the football field and Hank takes action, knocking them out in front of the crowd and the TV audience. Elsewhere, the villianous el Conquistador sees Hank's exploits and is thrilled to have discovered the final tool needed for his master plan.


Firsts and Other Notables
Jim Steranko fills in on art, and he's easily the most dynamic artist to work on the book since Jack Kirby left (and arguably, the most dynamic in the book's history to this point). More well known for his work with Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD and his brief stint on Captain America, Steranko was one of the Silver Age's greatest innovators, being one of the first artists to work the principals of surrealism and graphic design into comic art (also, when he was younger, Steranko was an escape artist, a career which inspired the DC character Mister Miracle as well the Escapist in Michael Chabon's excellent novel The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay). Here, Steranko throws the Marvel house style out the window, replacing it with striking page layouts and backgrounds.


 The Silver Age logo is replaced with the now-classic logo (designed by Steranko). It is the logo most closely associated with the book, and will be used for decades to come. 

Magneto returns (but not really). Issue #58 will reveal this Magneto to be a robot. Furthermore, the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #7, in its entry for Starr Saxon, the Machinesmith, establishes that Saxon is responsible for creating the robot Magneto and using it to hoodwink Mesmero into doing Saxon's bidding (for some reason). 

In the backup story, ZZ-list villain el Conquistador makes his first appearance, a one panel cameo in which he goes unnamed. More on him next time. 

A Work in Progress
Lorna's mutant power is activated and she allies herself with the X-Men (though it will be a bit before she takes the name Polaris). 


Arnold Drake seems to think telepathy works like a telephone switchboard, as this is the second issue in a row in which a non-telepathic X-Man telepathically calls Marvel Girl for help.

Ah, the Silver Age
Once again, Marvel Girl defeats an opponent by using his cape against him. 
 

The men robbing the ticket office are wearing suits and ski masks, and use gas and grenades.


For Sale
I'm still not sure what this is, but it sure sounds trippy.


Teebore's Take
The plot of this issue isn't any livelier than the last (Lorna's power gets turned on, the X-Men fight, then Magneto shows up) but it stands head and shoulders above its predecessor thanks to the Steranko art. I can only imagine what someone reading this issue in 1968 thought when they opened it up, expecting the serviceable and workmanlike art of Heck and Roth only to get Sterankoed right in the face instead. While Steranko's dynamic art is energetic enough on its own, it's made even more so coming on the heels of the general malaise that had infected the book in previous months. The re-assembling of the team in a traditional X-adventure last issue brought new verve to the book then, and Steranko adds to that here. While this issue and the next (Steranko fills in once more) represent the book's post-Kirby artistic high water mark thus far, thankfully it won't be too much longer before that mark is surpassed.    

4 comments:

  1. muhahaha! LIVING LIGHTS!! ACK!!

    I've been listening to Vintage Radio here at work and they have all the old commercials. They're crazy entertaining. I need to write down one of the names and research it.

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  2. instead of sticking her in some sort of stimulator machine, why didn't they just smack Lorna around a bit. I'm pretty sure that would have accomplished the same results and been a lot cheaper

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  3. I tend to forget this brief blip in X-Men history, like everyone else, in favor of crediting Neal Adams' collaboration with Roy Thomas as the first real, if also short-lived, explosion of innovation on the title. Even Polaris and the new logo are usually associated with the pre-cancellation resurgence; Steranko's work must've been a heck of a shock, indeed.

    Arnold Drake seems to think telepathy works like a telephone switchboard, as this is the second issue in a row in which a non-telepathic X-Man telepathically calls Marvel Girl for help.

    Once the New X-Men era launches, Jean will not only share an ongoing psychic rapport with Scott but regularly link the whole team using her powers so that they can communicate silently and across long distances. I'm not sure if that's where it began, although it feels very Claremont; it's certainly something that was later seen with the Justice League via Martian Manhunter and on lots of other teams that had telepaths. You're probably right, though, that heretofore neither Marvel Girl nor Professor X received distress calls as opposed to originating commands or conversations — and as you've pointed out in the past, originally Jean was not telepathic, merely telekinetic, until Smilin' Stan in his usual fashion couldn't keep that stuff straight and later writers either didn't understand the ground rules or stretched them for story points.

    VW: loiti — Latin loiterers.

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  4. @Hannah: One of my favorite things about this series of posts is the old ads. I can't wait 'til we get to the era of the Hostess Snack Food ads.

    @Falen: instead of sticking her in some sort of stimulator machine, why didn't they just smack Lorna around a bit.

    Duh, you don't just smack around the Daughter of Magneto, especially when you don't know the Magneto telling you she is his daughter is a lying robot.

    @Blam: Even Polaris and the new logo are usually associated with the pre-cancellation resurgence

    It's true. Heck, up until I re-read this issue in advance of this post, I thought the classic X-Men logo was designed by Adams and first deployed on one of his early issues. Then it popped up on this issue and a little research later, I discovered that sure enough, Steranko designed it!

    Once the New X-Men era launches, Jean will not only share an ongoing psychic rapport with Scott but regularly link the whole team using her powers...I'm not sure if that's where it began, although it feels very Claremont

    I'm not sure if that's when the team rapport originated, but I bet you're right. It definitely feels very Claremontian; he had a knack for coming up with new and inventive uses of super-powers.

    The idea of the X-Men communicating telepathically through a rapport created by one telepathic "operator" is definitely an idea I associate with Claremont's X-Men, even if he didn't originate it.

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