Three guys talking about comic books, sports, movies, TV shows and the numerous other pastimes that make us Gentlemen of Leisure.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

X-amining The Uncanny X-Men at the State Fair of Texas

"Battle at the State Fair of Texas"
1983

In a Nutshell 
The X-Men search the Texas State Fair for a new mutant before Magneto can recruit him. 

Plot: Jim Salicrup
Script: David Kraft
Pencils: Kerry Gammil & Alan Kupperberg 
Inks: Chic Stone
Letters: Rick Parker
Colors: Marie Severin
Cover: John Romita

Plot
The X-Men are training in the Danger Room when Professor X suddenly announces that Cerebro has detected a new mutant. Determined to find the mutant and persuade him to join the X-Men before Magneto can recruit him into his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Professor X sends the X-Men to the mutant's location, in the vicinity of the State Fair in Dallas, Texas. At the horse barns, a mysterious figure approaches a young man named Daniel Wiley. Daniel tells the man about his love of horses and the first time his mutant power to transform into a Centaur manifested. Later, inside a secreted airship, the mysterious figure reveals himself as Magneto, and expresses his determination to recruit Daniel. Shortly thereafter, the X-Men arrive in Dallas and explore the fair, searching for the new mutant. With so much to see, the Professor X resolves that the X-Men will need to continue their search the next day.


The following day, Magneto takes Daniel to the Cotton Bowl, and when they enter, Professor X, also attending the game with Colossus and Kitty, senses the presence of Daniel. Recognizing Xavier, Magneto and the boy flee, but Kitty follows them. In the horse barn, Magneto reveals himself to Daniel, telling him he's come to rescue him from the X-Men. The X-Men arrive and a fight breaks out, with Daniel fighting alongside Magneto. But when the battle threatens the horses in the barn and Magneto expresses disregard for their well being, Daniel turns against him, allowing the X-Men, with a little help from the fair's mascot Big Tex, defeat Magneto. Professor X offers Daniel a place at his school, but he declines, preferring to stay in Dallas with his horses.

Firsts and Other Notables
Given it's nature as a free supplement intended on the one hand to pimp the State Fair of Texas and on the other hand to introduce new readers to the X-Men and Marvel Comics in general, there's not a lot out there about the impetus behind/creation of this comic (in fact, Blam's mention of it in a comment to my post on X-Men #150 appears on the first page of Google results for the issue). Marvel did this kind of corporate synergy thing a lot, but I have no idea how this particular comic came to be, how the X-Men were selected to star in it, etc.

There was a time when this was a particularly difficult issue to find on the back issue market, given it's (presumably) low print run, relative to the main title, and the demand of X-Men completists. I finally found a copy for a couple bucks at a local comic book store a year or two ago, so like many back issues, it seems the demand has dropped more recently.  

As far as I know, this issue isn't considered part of the official X-Men canon; the events within are never referenced anywhere else, there are some anachronisms relative to how some of the characters were being depicted in the main book around the time this was published (see below), and neither the official Marvel handbooks or indexes reference the issue.

In terms of the creative team, Jim Salicrup is a long time writer and editor at Marvel, mainly in the Spider-Man office (he's the editor who hired Todd MacFarlane for Amazing Spider-Man), though he did have a brief stint as editor of X-Men during "The Dark Phoenix Saga", while scripter David Kraft is most well known for his work on The Defenders and the original Savage She-Hulk. Art comes from Alan Kupperberg, another long time Marvel staffer who tended to mainly handle fill-ins and one-shots, Kerry Gammil, a journeyman artist whose art we'll see again in the Fallen Angels limited series, and Chic Stone, who inked Jack Kirby on Fantastic Four and X-Men back in the Silver Age. 

The cover to this issue is drawn by Marvel legend John Romita. 

I guess if we're being technical, this is the first appearance of Eques, a mutant with the power to transform into a centaur that also has wings for some reason, and is saddled with a pretty crappy codename by Magneto. As mentioned above, he's never appeared anywhere else, as far as I know.

The only place the state fair is a bigger deal than Texas is Minnesota, and many Minnesota State Fair aficionados like myself resent the Texas State Fair for claiming it's the largest in the country despite the Minnesota State Fair consistently having a higher average daily attendance (the Texas fair runs for nearly twice as long, hence it's larger overall attendance number, whereas the Minnesota fair, with the higher daily numbers but fewer days, comes in second overall).

A Work in Progress
Storm is depicted in her traditional costume/appearance, not surprising given the recentness of her punk look and this comics' purpose in introducing new readers to the X-Men.

Similarly, Magneto is operating in his more traditional "ranting super-villain" mode. 


Though in her Ariel costume and using that name, Kitty is depicted more like she was in her earlier appearances, tentative about her place on the team.


Nightcrawler disguises himself with a hat while at the fair, not via his image inducer, a nice (likely accidental) bit of continuity.

The X-Men are said to be flying their "strato jet" to Texas, not the Blackbird.

I Love the 80s
Look, Colossus is from Russia, not the 1800s...


Given this comic's dual purpose of shilling the Texas State Fair, there's a handful of hilarious lines about how awesome the fair is. 


The famous mascot of the Texas State Fair, Big Tex, helps defeat Magneto.


The comic includes several games, like a word find and connect-the-dots.


It also includes a one page guide to the X-Men.


For Sale
There's a lot of ads in this book that feature Spider-Man wedged into what I imagine are more local-to-Texas businesses.


There's also an ad for Chi-Chi's restaurant, which makes me sad. Chi-Chi's was my favorite restaurant as a kid, and the place I went to with my family for every birthday through 2004, after which the last Chi-Chi's in my area went out of business. As I understand it, the entire chain has been shut down, though you can still buy their salsa and seasoning at some grocery stores. 

I would come to a fiesta at Chi-Chi's if I could, Spider-Man...

Teebore's Take
This is the kind of story in which Spider-Man would usually star, a team-up between Marvel and some commercial partner that would serve the dual purpose of bringing Marvel comics to new readers and pitching the wares of Marvel's business partner du jour to comic book readers. For years, Spider-Man was Marvel's go-to character for that kind of thing. And while, in 1983, he still was (and remains) so, by 1983 the X-Men had grown in popularity enough that Marvel was apparently comfortable tossing them out in attempt to show potential new readers what Marvel Comics are all about. Unfortunately, the demands of the format (a cross-selling giveaway comic) prevent much of what was making X-Men so popular from shining through.

We can excuse the somewhat dated characterization of Magneto (his reformation was still very much a work in progress even in the regular title), while the plot is a simplistic-but-representative one (it's basically the plot of the first dozen or so issues of the main series). But the story fails to take advantage of the book's strengths: the art is standard house style, lacking any of the dynamism or personality brought to the book by Cockrum, Byrne or Smith (a casualty of the format, which requires broad, agreeable, simple art), the characterization is almost nonexistent (you could sub in any group of six superheroes and the story wouldn't noticeably change) and none of the prevalent themes of X-Men are on display: Daniel is a mutant, and he's fought over by Magneto and the X-Men, but no notion of society fearing and hating mutants, that the X-Men fight to protect humanity despite that prejudice, that mutants can represent marginalized minorities, is suggested. As an introduction to the basics of superhero comic book storytelling, this probably works, especially for a younger audience. But as a primer on the X-Men for new readers it fails, making it little more than a kitschy relic of its time.   

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the New Mutants team up with Spider-Man and Cloak and Dagger in Marvel Team-Up Annual #6. Then we return next Wednesday to Uncanny X-Men #174 to deal with the fallout from Wolverine's wedding and the escalating mystery of Madelyne Pryor.

24 comments:

  1. Wow. I don't have much to say about this, as I've never read it, but it sure sounds like... something. It's weird to me that around this time, when Marvel comics had become a bit more sophisticated, all the tie-in stuff like this still has that very simplistic, Silver Age feel to it. It almost has to be intentional, but I'm not sure why. Obviously something like this couldn't be too crazy with sub-plots and such, but you would think they would want to write it in a style closer to the actual X-Men comics, to better prepare the readers who would (hopefully) inevitably pick up an issue of the monthly series after reading this.

    Heck, I would go so far as to say that maybe one or two sub-plot tie-ins might be a good thing, to try to spark some interest in the casual readers who might be checking this out. But I guess there's always the chance it could backfire and turn folks away. That's one area where I've always found myself torn -- if I pick up a random issue of something and am intrigued by the randomly mentioned sub-plots, I will likely start seeking out back issues and reading regularly, even if the issue's main story doesn't impress me all that much. But if the same unimpressive story also had sub-plots that don't interest me, I'm far less likely to ever bother with another issue.

    "Given this comic's dual purpose of shilling the Texas State Fair, there's a handful of hilarious lines about how awesome the fair is."

    I notice that Professor X seems to be particularly enamored with the fair. Maybe he just doesn't get out much. Did anyone else have anything to say about it? It'd be kind of funny if it was only Xavier.

    "The comic includes several games, like a word find and connect-the-dots."

    Yeek! What's with the professor's oversized cranium in that picture??

    "There's also an ad for Chi-Chi's restaurant, which makes me sad."

    I've never heard of this place. I gather that it's a Mexican restaurant. Seems odd that if it was in both Texas and Minnesota, it wouldn't be out here in California, too.

    Anyway, I just Googled it, and if you type in "Chi Chi's restaurant", the second option for Google auto complete is "Chi Chi's restaurant hepatitis". So that may explain why they closed down...

    ReplyDelete
  2. @Matt: it sure sounds like... something

    It definitely is something.

    It's weird to me that around this time, when Marvel comics had become a bit more sophisticated, all the tie-in stuff like this still has that very simplistic, Silver Age feel to it.

    That's a good way of putting - most of these tie-ins did seem very much in the style of the Silver Age. I suppose the thinking was that the Silver Age style was better introducing new readers to the characters, but at the same time, it sacrifices a lot of what was making the books good (and worth reading) at the time.

    Did anyone else have anything to say about it? It'd be kind of funny if it was only Xavier.

    It was pretty much just Xavier. He must have really liked the fair.

    Seems odd that if it was in both Texas and Minnesota, it wouldn't be out here in California, too.

    That is odd. I guess I always figured it was a pretty national chain, but maybe not.

    the second option for Google auto complete is "Chi Chi's restaurant hepatitis"

    Aw, that makes me even more sad, though maybe it's for the best they shut down...

    ReplyDelete
  3. There was a Chi Chi's here in Huntsville, Alabama for god's sake, so it was evidently pretty widespread.

    Also, the game being played in the Cotton Bowl must supposed to be Oklahoma and Texas who play annually at the Cotton Bowl during the Texas State Fair. The Cotton Bowl bowl game is played on January 1st. As far as I know, there is no fair then. :(

    ReplyDelete
  4. @Anonymous: Also, the game being played in the Cotton Bowl must supposed to be Oklahoma and Texas who play annually at the Cotton Bowl during the Texas State Fair. The Cotton Bowl bowl game is played on January 1st.

    I wondered about that too; I know there's a big college football game during the Texas State Fair (it's one of the things that helps goose their attendance numbers; you have to buy a ticket to the fair to go to the game); I'm no expert when it comes to college football, but I'm pretty sure all the bowl games don't happen until late December/January.

    ReplyDelete
  5. It's entirely possible we did have Chi Chi's out here, and I just never noticed. The extent of my Mexican dining when I was a kid was pretty much just Taco Bell. I don't think I discovered "real" Mexican food until I was in college!

    ReplyDelete
  6. @Matt: I don't think I discovered "real" Mexican food until I was in college!

    True statement: I much, much prefer Americanized Mexican food like Taco Bell (and Chi-Chi's...)to authentic Mexican food.

    I'm just weird like that.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This had such an aura of mystery around it while I was growing up....it seemed to be one of the higher priced books in all the print ads...a semi-local shop had a copy for $60!

    I definitely am not a completist and having read this I probably wouldn't pick it up for a few bucks....

    ReplyDelete
  8. @Mock: This had such an aura of mystery around it while I was growing up

    Yeah, I know what you mean. When I first started collecting comics and didn't know much about supply and demand, I always wondered what was so special about it, like if some major character debuted in it or something (I was very obsessed with first appearances early on).

    Eventually, I figured it out, and while I never expected it to be very good (I mean, for it's high price on the back issue market, it was still a commercial tie-in comic), I'd say the $1.99 I eventually paid for it was worth it, if for nothing else than to see Professor X shamelessly shilling the Texas State Fair. :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Alright, I suppose I should try to knowledgificate.

    During the Texas State Fair the Univeristy of Texas plays the University of Okalahoma in football. That game is played on the State Fair grounds in the Cotton Bowl. (The Cotton Bowl is the name of the stadium.)

    To watch this game, which is always sold out (half of the stadium is OU fans, half of it is Texas fans) you must purchase a ticket to the State Fair. These ticket sales count towards Texas' overall State Fair attendance numbers thus helping them keep the fraudulent claim that they're the biggest State Fair in the country...but I digress.

    For college football's "post season" bowl games, there is a bowl game called "The Cotton Bowl" (technically, I believe it's call the Cotton Bowl Classic...and properly has some sort of sponsor by now). The Cotton Bowl is, naturally, played in stadium named The Cotton Bowl.

    ReplyDelete
  10. @Dr. Bitz: I suppose I should try to knowledgificate.

    Thanks, I was hoping you would.

    The Cotton Bowl is the name of the stadium.

    Ah, that explains the confusion then.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Teebore -- "True statement: I much, much prefer Americanized Mexican food like Taco Bell (and Chi-Chi's...)to authentic Mexican food."

    I'm kind of the same way. People think I'm an idiot when I say that I would rather have ground beef in my Mexican food instead of steak, chicken, pork, etc. I enjoy food from real Mexican restaurants, but I enjoy it most if they offer the ground beef option, which most authentic places don't have.

    ReplyDelete
  12. @Matt: I enjoy food from real Mexican restaurants, but I enjoy it most if they offer the ground beef option, which most authentic places don't have.

    We're kindred spirits - I am exactly the same way (everyone thinks I'm nuts because I prefer Taco Bell to Chipotle, and it's pretty much because of the ground beef thing). Good to know I'm not the only one...

    ReplyDelete
  13. This is making me nostalgic for my 7-11 tie-in comic that starred Spider-Man, Captain America, Hulk and for some reason Spider-Woman. And I'm cursing the day I got rid of my set of Marvel Slurpee cups.

    ReplyDelete
  14. @Anonymous: And I'm cursing the day I got rid of my set of Marvel Slurpee cups.

    Man, 7-11 used to have the best tie-in stuff, didn't they?

    ReplyDelete

  15. It was June of 1985.

    I was 14.

    My sister, my mother, and I were in New Hampshire to visit a family friend.

    Talking Heads' Little Creatures had just come out; I remember that and, whenever we switched on MTV, the music video for Prince & The Revolution's "Raspberry Beret" playing in heavy rotation at the house.

    Although my mania for X-Men was on the wane, I was thrilled to at long last find a copy of this elusive thing, The Uncanny X-Men at the State Fair of Texas, at a small comics shop.

    Then I read it.

    I had filled a hole in my collection, oh, yes I had, but the satisfaction was purely material.

    ReplyDelete

  16. Would you believe that I don't think I've read the issue again since I bought it? I bet you would.

    Anyone who ever wanted to play Six Degrees of Separation with Charles Xavier and Lena Horne, I say you're allowed to use that panel. Surely the Texas State Fair is so awesome that Ms. Horne was hanging around before and after her shows. She must have bumped into some of the same people as the undercover X-Men if not the X-Men themselves.

    he declines, preferring to stay in Dallas with his horses

    I don't remember my mind going there at the time — and I couldn't dig the issue out to reread, sadly, so I'm only going by your synopsis — but I have to wonder if Daniel wasn't involved in a, uh, stable relationship as it were.

    in fact, Blam's mention of it in a comment to my post on X-Men #150 appears on the first page of Google results for the issue

    Huh... Yay us? That page doesn't come up for me in even the first three pages of a Google search on the title now, but this writeup of yours does (which is all that matters).

    Given this comic's dual purpose of shilling the Texas State Fair, there's a handful of hilarious lines about how awesome the fair is.

    I love that deadpan hype and I'm amusing myself even more by picturing a skit on SNL with Patrick Stewart playing Patrick Stewart playing Xavier (if you follow me) recording a TV spot for the Texas State Fair and not understanding why.

    Every ridiculously trenchant line of Xavier's is funnier in Patrick Stewart's voice.

    It's a shame that the country song didn't come out 'til 1987, so we couldn't get some kind of "All my Xs live in Texas" joke.

    ReplyDelete

  17. I'm pretty sure that the word find of ridiculous ease is drawn by Owen McCarron of Marvel's Fun and Games. The "oversized cranium" is obviously to accommodate said word find. Duh.

    @Matt: I've never heard of this place.

    We have (or had, maybe) Chi-Chi's here in Philadelphia too, so it was fairly broad-based.

    @Matt: Anyway, I just Googled it, and if you type in "Chi Chi's restaurant", the second option for Google auto complete is "Chi Chi's restaurant hepatitis".

    That would probably be the funniest thing I've read all day even if I weren't typing this at 7:30 a.m.

    @Teebore: you have to buy a ticket to the fair to go to the game

    Isn't that like Prince having SoundScan count the sale of CDs bundled with concert tickets? Score one for Minnesota there, by the way.

    @Anonymous: This is making me nostalgic for my 7-11 tie-in comic that starred Spider-Man, Captain America, Hulk and for some reason Spider-Woman. And I'm cursing the day I got rid of my set of Marvel Slurpee cups.

    You answered your own question, kind-of: Slurpee cups. Spider-Woman wasn't around during the first round of Marvel superheroes on Slurpee cups in the mid-'70s (or at least not the first round I remember; there may have been even earlier ones) but I do recall a slightly later promotion that focused on the characters you mention. Marvel didn't really have a big female character to merchandise, unlike DC who had not only Wonder Woman but female counterparts to Superman and Batman, so Marvel killed a few birds (including locking down a trademark) with one stone thanks to Spider-Woman. Voila! Slurpees and Underoos and stuff for girls!

    @Teebore: 7-11 used to have the best tie-in stuff, didn't they?

    Hells
    yeah! I used to walk to one with friends in New Jersey, to get Tastykakes and Drake's Cakes (Philly-area rivals to Hostess) and Slurpees and, of course, comics from that blessed spinner rack. I had quite a Slurpee-cup collection at that age, including Bobby Clarke (despite not caring about hockey) and Super Stan — Stan Lee in a Spider-Man costume, minus mask, plus a cape.

    ReplyDelete
  18. @Blam: I had filled a hole in my collection, oh, yes I had, but the satisfaction was purely material.


    Needless to say, I'm glad I didn't get ahold of this until well after any burning desire to read it had passed.

    I have to wonder if Daniel wasn't involved in a, uh, stable relationship as it were.

    Haha! I'd be lying if I said the thought hadn't occurred to me as well.

    That page doesn't come up for me in even the first three pages of a Google search on the title now

    I may have had some other terms in there that skewed it in our favor...

    Every ridiculously trenchant line of Xavier's is funnier in Patrick Stewart's voice.

    True statement.

    Isn't that like Prince having SoundScan count the sale of CDs bundled with concert tickets?

    Pretty much yeah. So I guess our hands aren't entirely clean either. :)

    Super Stan — Stan Lee in a Spider-Man costume, minus mask, plus a cape.

    Of course he had a cape. I love it.

    ReplyDelete

  19. @Teebore: Needless to say, I'm glad I didn't get ahold of this until well after any burning desire to read it had passed.

    I wasn't too young to, like, understand the deal with it being so dippy, but there was disappointment.

    @Teebore: I may have had some other terms in there that skewed it in our favor...

    Like I said, I got this post in an early hit; I'm not trying to whaddayacallit harsh your mellow. And I've noticed that I get different Google search returns for the very same thing in Safari and Chrome, I suppose depending on what's in my cookies 'n' all that, so the best judge is a clean-slate browser.

    @Teebore: Of course he had a cape. I love it.

    Have you seen it, then? I remembered the pose, but I thought that the cape and gloves were red, not yellow; then again, I'm going back 35+ years to an item long gone.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I think that may specifically be the Vision's cape since it's yellow and has the big flared collar-thingy.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Holy cow...has anyone seen this? Big Tex is gone!

    http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/home3/55116457-200/tex-fair-cowboy-structure.html.csp

    ReplyDelete

  22. I just caught that on the news, MOCK!. Stay tuned for The Fantastic Four at the State Fair of Texas — Chapter One: The Human Torch in "Things Go Horribly, Terribly Wrong".

    ReplyDelete
  23. Don't take this the wrong way, but reading this week's entries were a bit like going to the comic shop on a 5 wednesday week as a kid and finding nothing but Ka-Zar and a bunch of annuals are the only things that came out.

    And apparently Chi-chi's still has a European presence, specifically in Belgium, if you're ever in Brussels craving Tex-Mex.

    ReplyDelete
  24. @Mock: Big Tex is gone!

    Aw! My issues with the Texas State Fair are well documented in this post, but that's still a shame.

    @Blam: Have you seen it, then?

    I hadn't, so thanks.

    And I think Matt's right: that's totally the Vision's cape.

    @Dobson: Don't take this the wrong way, but reading this week's entries were a bit like going to the comic shop on a 5 wednesday week as a kid and finding nothing but Ka-Zar and a bunch of annuals are the only things that came out.

    Can't really disagree; reading/writing about them felt pretty much the same way. :)

    And apparently Chi-chi's still has a European presence, specifically in Belgium, if you're ever in Brussels craving Tex-Mex.

    Looks like I'm going to have to make a trip to Brussels...

    ReplyDelete

Comment. Please. Love it? Hate it? Am mildly indifferent to it? Let us know!