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Thursday, January 27, 2011

X-amining Giant-Size X-Men #1

"Second Genesis!"
May 1975

In a Nutshell
When the X-Men are captured, Professor X recruits a new team of mutants from around the world to rescue them.

Writer: Len Wein
Co-plotter: Chris Claremont (uncredited)
Artist: Dave Cockum, Peter Iro (co-inks, uncredited)
Letterer: John Constanza
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Len Wein

Plot
After the the X-Men are captured by the living island Krakoa, Professor X travels the globe, recruiting new mutants to help rescue them. In Germany, he saves the demonic-looking Kurt Wagner from a lynch mob, who joins the X-Men as Nightcrawler. In Canada, he convinces Wolverine to leave Department H and join him. He visits former ally Banshee at the Grand Ol' Opry and recruits him. In Kenya, he convinces the weather-manipulating Ororo, who is being worshiped as a goddess, to come to America with him as Storm. In Japan, he asks Sunfire to come out of retirement. In Russia, he convinces the armored Piotr Rasputin to leave his family and the collective farm and join the X-Men as Colossus. Finally, in Arizona, he asks the hot-headed Apache John Proudstar to join him as Thunderbird. At the X-Mansion, the new X-Men gather and meet Cyclops, who managed to escape from Krakoa and fills them in on the situation.


The new X-Men arrive at Krakoa and search the island in pairs, each group encountering various threats along the way. Coming together, the new X-Men discover and free the old X-Men, at which point Krakoa attacks more violently. With Xavier's telepathic help, the X-Men devise a strategy and by augmenting Lorna's magentic powers, manage to defeat Krakoa and cast it into space. Returning home, Angel wonders, "what are we going to do with thirteen X-Men?"

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue is the first appearance of Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner), Storm (Ororo), Colossus (Piotr "Peter" Rasputin) and Thunderbird (John Proudstar), as well as Colossus' younger sister Illyana (who goes unnamed), and to a lesser extent, his parents. It marks the beginning of the "New X-Men" era and the subsequent rise in popularity of the characters to the point where they will become a line-wide sales and multimedia juggernaut.

Though his contributions to this issue's plots go uncredited and he'll only provide dialogue for the next two issues (working off Len Wein's plot), this issue marks the beginning of Chris Claremont's unprecedented run on X-Men, a run which will continue uninterrupted for sixteen years. 

Wolverine makes his second appearance, after his debut in Incredible Hulk #180-181.

Some comic book historians also mark this issue as, if not the end of the Silver Age of Comics, the beginning of the Bronze Age, though the demarcations and even the designations of the comic book "ages" beyond the Gold and Silver Ages remains a hotly debated subject. 

To a much, much lesser extent, it is also the first appearance of Krakoa, the island that walks like a man (sort of).

The original comic book reprints the backup features detailing Cyclops', Iceman's and Marvel Girl's powers; most reprintings of this issue leave those backups out.

On a personal note, I own an original copy of this issue, which I received as a gift years ago from Dr. Bitz. It is the crown jewel of my comic book collection, and remains one of the greatest gifts I've ever received.

A Work in Progress
New mutants Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, Thunderbird, as well as Wolverine, former antagonist/ally Banshee and former antagonist Sunfire are all considered to have joined the X-Men with this issue.

Though they were last seen wearing their old school uniforms, the original X-Men are wearing their unique graduation uniforms in this issue.


Professor X mentions that the new X-Men's costumes are made of unstable molecules, a creation of the Fantastic Four's Mr. Fantastic, which is Marvel's default answer to questions like "why doesn't the Human Torch's costume burst into flames when he does?" or "how come the Invisible Woman's clothes turn invisible too?". This is their first mention in X-Men.

Beast's absence is noted as the original X-Men depart for Krakoa. Since last we saw him, he joined the Avengers in Avengers #137.

The X-Men are now traveling via a specially-designed strato-jet.


This issue has been heavily, heavily retconned, with the events of dozens of issues crammed in and around its pages. I'll spare you the majority of the details, much of which deals with the new X-Men's reactions to their new surrounding and some lame business about Wolverine being programmed to kill Xavier, though it is worth noting that according to current continuity, the team of X-Men recruited in this issue are actually the third group of mutants sent to Krakoa. According to Ed Brubaker's 2006 miniseries X-Men: Deadly Genesis, after the original X-Men are captured by Krakoa and Xavier loses mental contact with Marvel Girl, he sends a group students that had been training with Moira MacTaggert (including Vulcan, the unknown-to-them brother of Cyclops and Havok) to Krakoa. They manage to free Cyclops (a retcon of this issue's stated explanation for his escape, which is that Krakoa let him escape to draw more mutants to it) but are then seemingly-killed. After Cyclops arrives back at the mansion, Xavier wipes his memory of the second team (claiming its to spare him the grief of having seen them killed) and goes about recruiting Nightcrawler, Wolverine, et al, many of whom are older and more experienced than the last group and thus, Xavier hopes, more likely to survive their encounter with Krakoa. Needless to say, the events of this story do not represent Professor X's finest hour...

Starting in September 1986 Marvel began publishing Classic X-Men (later retitled X-Men Classic) which reprinted the new X-Men stories starting with Giant Size X-Men #1. The first 27 issues featured some additional pages of story written by Chris Claremont and the first 44 issues featured backup stories written by Claremont (and in some cases Ann Nocenti) with gorgeous art by John Bolton. I will not be covering those backup stories in detail here, partially because this blog series has always, a few notations aside (such as the above), approached the chronology of X-Men from a publishing perspective rather than from a character continuity one (this is also why I skipped John Byrne's Hidden Years series during the Hiatus Years) but mainly because comics blogger Jason Powell (an author whose work you'll see cited here on occasion) covered them already during his recently-concluded Claremont retrospective with far more insight and passion than I could hope to achieve. You can find his issue-by-issue analysis of Claremont's X-Men run, including the Classic X-Men backup stories, here. By no means should this be considered a slight on those back up stories, as they are quite good, and I highly recommend them (the first 25 are handily available in two X-Men: Vignettes paperback collections).

I will, however, mention a tidbit or interesting note from a corresponding Classic X-Men backup story from time to time. The backup following the reprint of this issue in Classic X-Men #1, for example, mainly involves the interactions of the new team with the old team, in which Iceman makes something of an ass of himself and we see the first spark of attraction between Wolverine and Marvel Girl, which pisses Angel off to no end (apparently Angel's determined that she can have only one jilted would-be paramour, and that slot is taken).

That 70s Comic
Though not too big a deal is made of it, it's worth noting and bearing in mind that Colossus is a Russian joining an American super hero team at a time when the Cold War was alive and well.


Krakoa, the "island that walks like a man", is one of those kooky concepts that doesn't seem too outrageous until you realize how ridiculous the idea of a mutant island is. 

Young Love
Just to prove this is still X-Men, Havok and Iceman are still bickering over Lorna...


The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
Cyclops, who briefly lost his power while escaping Krakoa, is typically overwrought when his optic blast returns.


For Sale
The first Hostess Fruit Pie ad (well, the first that we've seen; there were probably some in the reprint issues)!

Click to embiggen

Also, this is the first time we've seen those little one sentence ads for other comics at the bottom of the page:


Roy Thomas on bringing the X-Men back:
“Stan and I had a meeting with Al Landau [Marvel’s then-president]…Al suggested Marvel do a goup of foreign superheroes…characters from the countries in which Marvel sold a lot of comics. Stan and I liked the idea. It was my idea to do that group with the X-Men… I said, ‘look, the group we should do as the international team is the X-Men. Take a couple of the original members, like Cyclops, and have them go looking around the world gathering up mutants from other counties.  I remember Al saying that if we did the book and just broke even in this country, we’d still make money overseas…But nobody had in mind that the new X-Men was going to be this breakthrough, revolutionary concept that would become so huge."  

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p33

Len Wein on bringing the X-Men back:
“Bringing the X-Men back ‘was something that that had been bandied about for several years…There were always discussions and offhand comments made around the [Mavel] offices about reviving the X-Men as an international group, like the Blackhawks.”

Lamken, Brian Saner. "The Phoenix Effect: 25 Years of the All New Uncanny X-Men." Comicology Fall 2000: 26.

Len Wein on writing X-Men
“I never intended to write it…Once I got involved with the creation of team, I liked the characters, but by that point I was editor-in-chief … and there weren’t enough hours in the day.”

Lamken, Brian Saner. "The Phoenix Effect: 25 Years of the All New Uncanny X-Men." Comicology Fall 2000: 27.
 
Chris Claremont’s involvement in Giant Size X-Men #1
“Most of the story had already been mapped out, with the existing X-Men…trapped at the mercy of Krakoa, only Cyclops having escaped to lead a new, untested assemblage into battle to save his comrades. What didn’t exist yet, said Claremont, was ‘a way to get rid of Krakoa,’ which he supplied."

Lamken, Brian Saner. "The Phoenix Effect: 25 Years of the All New Uncanny X-Men." Comicology Fall 2000: 28.

Teebore's Take
On the surface, the lead story in Giant Size X-Men #1 itself is typical fare for its time. Krakoa is very much a remnant of the goofier Silver Age which comic books were already leaving behind, and the structure of the issue is standard (though it does benefit from the extra pages): Professor X gathers a team, the team goes into battle, the team pairs off into duos to better highlight the new characters, before everyone comes together and unites to defeat the villain. The thing that sets this story apart from what's come before is the new characters, especially the fact that even in their brief interactions, they already bicker with one another far more than the relatively easy going original X-Men ever did. But still, taken out of context, this is an issue whose story in no way feels out of place amongst Marvel's other offerings from 1975.

That said, without a doubt this is the single most important issue of X-Men published since the first issue back in 1963. More new characters are introduced in this one issue than in any previous issue besides the first. And if the story itself is very much of its time, the impact of this issue will be timeless. Giant Size X-Men #1 opens a door through which Chris Claremont enters and, along with a host of uber-talented partners, proceeds to craft a 16 year epic in which the X-Men rise to the height of comic book sales, spread out into multimedia adventures and firmly embed themselves in the pop culture zeitgeist. That these character have been featured in numerous cartoons, countless action figures, trading cards and four (and counting) big budget X-Men movies, that the X-Men are even appearing in comic books today, that you're even reading these words because the X-Men were around to strike the fancy of a pre-teen boy standing in Shinders on his birthday many years ago can all be traced back to this issue.

"Second Genesis" is an apt title for the story; the X-Men will make the most of their new beginning.

16 comments:

  1. Woo Hoo! This is where it begins!
    Exciting times ahead!
    Zoom!

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  2. i know, right? I feel all energized and excited now that the 'foreigners' have shown up!
    WEEE!

    also, i cracked up at the 'not Xavier's finest hour' line, because i was just thinking about what a huge douche he was to send a team in, get them killed, and then just do the same thing all over again
    It's called Insanity, Chuck

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  3. @Falen: Zoom indeed!

    @Anne: It's called Insanity, Chuck

    Ha, indeed! The best part is that the second team (of students) got combat training telepathically downloaded into their brains, and still died.

    With the third, older group, Xavier said "screw that noise" and just let them have at it.

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  4. I don't have much love for GSX #1, as it's a very by-the-numbers Silver Age story. And since it wasn't scripted by Claremont, everyone's characterization is a bit off off (especially Nightcrawler).

    Krakoa suffers from the "Lucifer problem" : it's crucially important to the X-Men's chronology (causing the formation of the new team) despite being a very lame and awkward villain who was barely ever used again.

    It's not all bad : the recruitment scenes are pretty good (especially the Nightcrawler and Colossus sequences, however dated they may be).

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  5. @JD: I don't have much love for GSX #1, as it's a very by-the-numbers Silver Age story.

    Definitely; on its own merits, it's not a very good story, and is notable really only for historical reasons.

    Krakoa suffers from the "Lucifer problem" : it's crucially important to the X-Men's chronology (causing the formation of the new team) despite being a very lame and awkward villain who was barely ever used again.

    Well said, and agreed. I like the term "Lucifer problem".

    It's not all bad : the recruitment scenes are pretty good.

    Yeah, the recruitment scenes at the beginning are the best part of the book. In fact, I've seen this issue reprinted in places in which little more than those scenes get reprinted.

    (especially the Nightcrawler and Colossus sequences, however dated they may be)

    Oh man, I really should have drawn more attention to the Nightcrawler one.

    It's pretty good, but whenever I read it, I think, "a lynch mob with pitchforks and torches? Really? Well, I suppose this issue did come out years ago..."

    Then I remember that "years ago" means 1975, and realize the likelihood of Germany (even rural Germany) raising a pitchfork-and-torches lynch mob in 1975 was pretty small.

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  6. I was going to mention the day Dr. Bitz gave you that NM copy, but you already gave him props! Great write-up, I agree with the greater place in history vs. actual content.

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  7. As goofy as this issue is, I still love all the character introductions as Xavier rounds them up. Pretty much everyone gets an iconic introduction that was used for years and years of stories.

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  8. @Paul: Great write-up, I agree with the greater place in history vs. actual content.

    Thanks! And thanks for reading/commenting.

    @Jeff: Pretty much everyone gets an iconic introduction that was used for years and years of stories.

    Very true. Iconic is a good word for them. Claremont definitely made those characters into what we know, but Wein gave him a great foundation to work with right from the get go.

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  9. Falen: Woo Hoo! ... Zoom!

    Ayup!

    I'm happy that you own a copy, Teebore. Dr. Bitz is a true friend. I got a copy of X-Men #94 maybe a half-dozen years after it came out, when my personal mutant mania was at its height, but it was much longer before I owned a Giant-Size X-Men #1. The first new issue of the series I bought off the racks was #98, at the ripe old age of 5 — after picking up a used copy from the reprint years somewhere — but I didn't start buying it regularly until around #109 (and not obsessively until a while after that; back then, not only could you miss issues, however frustratingly, but you often did, at least if you were still living as I was in that twilight world between spinner racks and regular trips to a dedicated comics shop). My last issue for quite some time came a decade later with Uncanny X-Men #205, although I checked in on occasion after that.

    But this ain't my blog, so I'll just riff off of some of your remarks and parts of the issue that really stand out.

    VW: argar — n. Slang for "piratemobile".

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  10. Teebore: In Kenya, [Xavier] convinces the weather-manipulating Ororo, who is being worshiped as a goddess, to come to America with him as Storm.

    Yeah... Now that's a good trick.

    I got a kick out of Wolverine's line, "Any time you want me, you know where to come looking!" 'Cause [spoiler alert] they will.

    I love that Sunfire changes into his costume and stands outside by a tree to look meaningfully into the distance, away from Xavier, before he finishes his sentence. They used up pretty much all their poetic license on that one panel transition.

    I also love, but in a non-snarky way, that Colossus asks his parents' advice. One tends to forget that this new batch of students was supposed to be quite young, partly because they were never really written that way — with the exception of Peter (and that came across more as appropriate naïveté) — and partly because they just couldn't have been that young. Even absent what we'd learn about Logan, he and Banshee had clearly been around the block; with their non-traditional upbringings, Nightcrawler's and Storm's ages are harder to gauge, but it's not as if Xavier puts them in school for anything other than training in their powers and group skills the way he did previous and later, obviously teenaged, students.

    So one panel after Krakoa, the Island That Walks Like a Man (Except For the Part of Him That Remains an Island So That He Has Something to Walk Upon), attacks the X-Men with the line "Now it is time for Krakoa to feed!"... Wein refers to him as a "vegetarian monstrosity". I do not think that word means what you think it means, Len. 8^)

    VW: DeRay — Member of DeFreedomFighters.

    (continued)

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  11. Ororo channels her energy into Polaris, who can't stand the strain, and defeats Krakoa, which is sent flying into space. What do you want to bet it follows the trajectory of the last time the X-Men tried this trick and smacks the Z'nox right in their collective face?

    I've never read Deadly Genesis, but the story does ring a bell with me, so it must've been summarized for me at some point. What I definitely didn't remember was that the lost group included the missing Summers brother, a legendarily ongoing mystery; now, though, I'm getting a vague memory that somebody — heck, maybe it was you, Teebore, in an earlier post here — told me that they revealed Vulcan was a missing Summers brother but not necessarily the "missing Summers brother" who, back when I still followed this stuff even tangentially, was thought to be Gambit (which became less likely the longer the mystery went on if only by the potential-anticlimax factor).

    I might have to check out those blogs from Jason Powell on your recommendation.

    Teebore: ... Angel's determined that she can have only one jilted would-be paramour, and that slot is taken

    Good one!

    Teebore: ... one of those kooky concepts that doesn't seem too outrageous until you realize how ridiculous the idea of a mutant island is

    DC has a Green Lantern that's a planet. One more time: DC has a Green Lantern that's a planet.

    Teebore: ... even rural Germany

    Well, it was Bavaria. 8^)

    VW: Gledd — The Glee / Judge Dredd mash-up I'm suddenly dying to see.

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  12. I meant to remark on the lasting power of the cover to this issue — it's easily one of the most-homaged covers from the 1970s, mostly due to repetition on X-Men titles themselves.

    1938-40 brought us the first appearances and then first issues of Superman and Batman, all popular source material; the early '60s had Fantastic Four #1 (John Byrne made a cottage industry out of aping it all by himself) and Spider-Man's introduction in Amazing Fantasy #15; and 1985-86 gave us Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 and Justice League #1. I can't think of anything else from Giant Size X-Men #1's era that's as frequently referenced as it is, however.

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  13. @Blam: if you were still living as I was in that twilight world between spinner racks and regular trips to a dedicated comics shop

    As discussed in a later post, my time came a bit later than that, and while I've bought almost my new "off the rack" comics from a comic store, I still remember, if not buying them from the traditional spinner rack, at least buying comics from a variety of non-comic shop locales. I love my comic shop, but I miss those days when comic book availability was more widespread.

    'Cause [spoiler alert] they will.

    And they won't be happy...

    They used up pretty much all their poetic license on that one panel transition.

    Ha! Too true.

    but it's not as if Xavier puts them in school for anything other than training in their powers and group skills the way he did previous and later, obviously teenaged, students.

    Good point. And as you well know, that's something that will rankle Jim Shooter, who firmly believed the X-Men needed to be in school, and will ultimately lead to, amongst other things, the creation of the New Mutants.

    I also really like that Colossus asks his parents for advice. It's definitely a nice bit of characterization for someone we'll see to be something of a family man.

    Wein refers to him as a "vegetarian monstrosity". I do not think that word means what you think it means, Len.

    Haha! Good catch.

    What do you want to bet it follows the trajectory of the last time the X-Men tried this trick and smacks the Z'nox right in their collective face?

    Now that you've pointed that out, I'm frankly surprised we never saw a Z'Nox/Krakoa team-up. :)

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  14. I'm getting a vague memory that somebody — heck, maybe it was you, Teebore, in an earlier post here — told me that they revealed Vulcan was a missing Summers brother but not necessarily the "missing Summers brother" who, back when I still followed this stuff even tangentially, was thought to be Gambit

    I did do a post a while back about Professor X being a jerk and the whole "Deadly Genesis" debacle was #1 on that list, but I've always understood Vulcan to be the third Summers brother and for the issue to be closed.

    I too remember the days when Gambit was the running favorite for the third Summers brother. That was during a time when I was less jaded, comic-wise, and still believed everything that happened was part of some grand story outline, and that every mystery, when introduced, had an answer to it written down somewhere, and that writers certainly wouldn't throw something out there without knowing what the resolution was going to be.

    Ah, the innocence of youth... :)

    Looking back, it's kinda funny that Gambit was the favorite candidate simply because he had a mysterious past (like 80% of the characters in the 90s) and red eyes (like Cyclops, but not Havok...).

    Apparently, Fabian Nicieza intended for Adam X the X-Treme to be the third Summers brother, before he moved on without confirming that. "Deadly Genesis" was a bit hit-or-miss, but I'm definitely glad Vulcan is the "official" Summers brother rather than 90s poster boy Adam X.

    I might have to check out those blogs from Jason Powell on your recommendation.

    They're definitely worth it. Whereas with these posts I try to strike a style that encompasses straight recap with some fond mocking of the more ridiculous elements and a little critical analysis of the X-Men mythology as a whole, Jason's posts are much more exclusively critical analysis, specifically concerned with Claremont's writing, and very, very insightful.

    I can't think of anything else from Giant Size X-Men #1's era that's as frequently referenced as it is, however.

    You know, I can't really either. The best I've got is the cover to Uncanny X-Men #138 (the "Cyclops walking away" cover) but that was early 80s, or some of the Neal Adams Batman covers from his run with Denny O'Neil, but simply because some of the artwork from those got used in marketing materials through the years rather than because any one has been specifically referenced a lot.

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  15. Krakoa, the "island that walks like a man", is one of those kooky concepts that doesn't seem too outrageous until you realize how ridiculous the idea of a mutant island is.

    Man, when I first read this issue, I could slowly see the hints building up to this, and I remember thinking how much I hated the idea at the time. I don't mind it so much now, since it is kinda quaint and it works well enough, but it's still so unrealistic.

    (For, y'know, a comic book).

    Another thing - is it just me, or is Nightcrawler a real prick in this issue? I remember reading something that waaay back in his conception (back when he was going to be a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes), that he was going to be an actual demon who acted courageous, but was still pretty much demonic in every other way, particularly his personality. I'm assuming that that's why he's so hostile here.

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  16. There was no second team of mutants. There is no third Summers brother. I don't believe any of it. No no no.

    I give you: Thunderbird, the original redshirt.

    Still very late to the party...but catching up.

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