Heather, “The Padawan”, Reviews X-Men From the Beginning
So…my background with the X-men. It’s really a tale of love and loss. Me and my brother used to spend a lot of time reading the comics when I was kid, right around when the whole Phoenix Rising storyline was a thing. Like most girls, I kind of had a crush on Gambit (it was the Louisiana drawl) and there were times, especially when I was grumpy, that I wanted to be Rogue and use her powers for evil. I also thought her hair was really cool.Oh, and she was in love with Gambit, so we totally had something in common. Things were never easy for the X-men and there was often no clear-cut line between good and evil, right or wrong; good guys would team up with the bad guys, bad guys would become good guys, etc. etc. Sadly, I had to get a job, graduate from high school, then college and keeping up with the X-men fell by the wayside. I’ve thought of them often though, occasionally checking up on them, and after years of missing them I’ve decided to come back and dedicate the rest of my life to the force. Starting with Issue #1 it’s time to get to know them all over again. It will be interesting to see what I remember and how my views of things have changed since me and my brother first started saving up our allowance for those weekly trips to the comic shop.
I was actually excited to read this issue, knowing that a) the X-Men were fighting the good fight, standing up against mutant prejudice and b) that Hank McCoy’s origins were going to be revealed. And while I ended up wanting to punch Hank by the end of the issue, the origins storyline is definitely starting to reveal some of the loneliness and alienation that our mutant superheroes battle with. Their otherness makes them all develop different ways to cope with the sting of being outsiders and by the end of the 60’s we might just see some real personalities emerge.
When we last left the X-Men they were dealing with Dr. Trask, an idiot who designed a bunch of robots he couldn’t control. His creation the Master Mold is dead-set on using him to enslave humanity (for their own good, of course) and destroy all mutants. Dr. Trask has recognized the error of his ways but it might be too late.
However, the biggest idiot this issue might be Hank McCoy. He “longs for the olden days when Jeanie would faint at the drop of a hat.” C’mon big guy, she’s been training hard at sorting shapes and if Issue#13 is any indication she’s an excellent nurse. It might not happen anytime soon, but “Jeanie” will be a force to reckon with. Some day.
In this issue shit gets real, as we once again face one of the core issues that defines the mutant struggle: is it worth fighting to save a world that hates and fears you? Claiming the “mutant menace more dangerous than cold wars, hot wars and the atom bomb!” Dr. Trask declares war on all mutants. But before I move on, I would like to take a moment to draw attention to the term “hot war.” Mr. Lee felt it was necessary in an earlier issue to clearly define what a “dust devil” was in the margin of a panel but felt no need to explain what a “hot war” is. So, I assumed he was making it up. He wasn’t. Thanks, Google. Apparently, there’s also such a thing as “warm war.”
So, Dr. Trask being human must invent a way to destroy the mutants. He foolishly builds a bunch of super robots that he can’t control and quickly finds himself at the mercy of his own creations. Oh, the irony. By the end of the episode he’s waiting for a bunch of teenage mutants to come rescue his sorry ass.
Just to be clear, reading The Uncanny X-Men from the beginning has been fun, but it has not come without challenges. For one, I find myself thinking almost exclusively in exclamations. I can no longer write emails or compose texts like a normal person. A good deal of my inner dialogue has also been compromised by the ever present exclamatory punctuation, so much so that it’s starting to slip out in conversation. I’m pretty sure it’s only going to get worse.
Anyway, the battle with the Juggernaut continues…and the X-Men need help from Johnny Storm to defeat him! This issue is primarily Lee just describing what Kirby has drawn, which now that I think about it might be what’s happened in all the issues? Well, to be fair, there is all that snappy dialogue between characters, so I suppose it’s not all exposition. At any rate, The Juggernaut is finally defeated; Prof. X just needed his team of teenage mutants to take the big guy’s helmet off, so he could use that super-mutant brain of his to bring his oaf of a step-brother down.
Notably, the cover art is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Kirby is definitely starting to come into his own as an artist.
Ah, The Juggernaut and the origins of Charles Xavier. Long story short, Prof. X had a super shady scientist step-dad that might have been responsible for his father’s untimely death. Charles also gains a brute for a step-brother when his mom remarries. In short, The Juggernaut is like the Macaulay Culkin to Prof. X’s Elijah Wood in the Good Son, a character that exists solely to ruin Charles Xavier’s life. Charles even goes out of his way several times to save his step-brother’s life despite the verbal and physical abuse by his shit of a step-brother. This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this, but Lee has yet to master character complexity. Charles and his step-brother are completely one-dimensional caricatures that I suppose represent good and evil but so far don’t come very close to approximating real human emotions or reactions. His step-brother’s name is Cain, for christ’s sake. Xavier’s actions are incomprehensible in the face of so much abuse, so much so that I found myself yelling to no one in particular, “Charles, YOU HAVE A SUPER MUTANT BRAIN.” That should count for something against his idiot brother transformed by an enchanted ruby, right?
Okay, I tried. Not even to page eight yet and I’m already drafting a letter to Stan Lee. “Women are fainting like flies!” and “Somehow when he (Scott) say(s) (to Jeanie) ‘good girl’ it’s better than Richard Chamberlain saying ‘my darling!’ No, it is not, Jean NO IT IS NOT. Besides, The Scarlet Witch apparently has a crush on him too. That being said, I’m hoping that there won’t be a cat-fight over Scott Summers anytime soon. I know it’s coming, but let’s get to Emma Frost and the 90’s before I have to see that, please.
I was so annoyed with all the fainting girls that I almost forgot all about The Stranger! He’s a super powerful and mysterious alien, that kidnaps Magneto and Toad and whisks them away to space to be studied. Lucky for the X-Men they don’t have to fight the Stranger, but for you dear reader, you are left with one of the most anti-climatic issues yet! I get that The Stranger is mysterious and Lee needed to figure out how to get some villains out of the way for a short time but why would a super-being want to study Toad?
The World That Time Forgot! Ka-Zar! Zubu the Saber-Tooth Stalker! Stan uses a lot of exclamations, yet Ka-Zar! remains completely unimpressed with the X-Men. Which in all fairness makes a certain amount of sense given his day job is fighting dinosaurs and neanderthals.
Let me just say, this was not a storyline I was expecting. I wasn’t expecting Jason Voorhees to be sent to space either, but that happened too. We really do live in a universe of infinite possibilities. Or the combination of financial pressure, maybe some drugs and no one around to be like, “hey guys, let’s REALLY think about this for a minute” can sometimes lead to bad decision making.
Another explanation is the old “it’s me, not you.” I’m simply accustomed to reading comic book series where there is always this arching story, and while we may meet new characters or new situations they typically serve the larger plot. And I get it Lee was young, the world was at his feet and he was tinkering with our beloved mutants to see what worked and what didn’t. I still love you, Mr. Lee just understand, I’m of a different generation.
And speaking of generations I’m starting to get a sense that Mr. Lee has got some shit to say:
“Personally, I have always believed that violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”. – Hank McCoy, AKA Beast
Is this a taste of the 60’s and support of the non-violence of the Civil Rights movement? The non-violence of the anti-war movement? Let’s hope the next issues take us back to dealing with the problems of our own world.
Our favorite masked teenagers team up with the Avengers!
We quickly learn that Prof. X has dumped his teenage charges so he can confront Lucifer, the man who took his legs away! While I still appreciate Mr. Lee’s editor’s notes for instance, *dust devil* is the idiomatic name for Western desert dust storm (thanks for clearing that up, Stan) I still have so many questions! Who is this Lucifer? Why does he have the same costume as Magneto? Is that a rule? To be a nemesis of Charles Xavier you must identify yourself by wearing purple? The Wasp has a crush on Hank? Who the hell is this Wasp woman? When will Scott and Jean do it?
But more importantly, I get the sense that the Marvel movies have misled us – the Avengers have not always been funny. In fact, they might actually hate fun. Maybe the 60’s were just a really, really dark time.
Aww…Beast, I love you, other humans are just dumb and scared. Don’t leave! While Hank has a temper tantrum this issue, Prof. X is hovering around a cave looking for Lucifer. It’s interesting to compare the Prof X. of the 60’s to the Prof. X I remember from later issues. I’m not sure how I feel about Daddy X and I hope he stops being so creepy and bossy before the end of the decade.
But back to Hank: never fear, by the end of the ish he finally comes to his senses and saves the day. The X-Men think he’s gone dark side and are trying to deal with his betrayal. Seriously guys and gal: clearly, he was just building a ray gun that would totally ruin Unus the Untouchable’s day. Duh.
Oh, Stan Lee you’re so cheeky. But what I really want to know is when are Jean and Scott going to do it? It’s akin to the waiting we all had to do for Buffy and Spike to realize their burning hatred of one another would be better spent with the sex.
Oh and the pin-up this ish? “Indubitably yours, Hank McCoy.”
“Oh, hey it’s Cyclops In Charge! This episode he wrestles with the weight of his awesome power and his new role as group leader by sitting at home feeling sorry for himself. Meanwhile, hippies on drugs are really into Hank’s feet. Why Mr. Lee? Get back to me on that one, please. Moving on…
Jean is looking at Scott funny. Apparently, they have no trouble risking their lives and hanging out in the Danger Room but neither one of them can work up the courage to ask the other one out for a soda with two straws or ice cream or whatever the hell courtship entailed at that time. You know what else is weird? Magneto hates his evil mutants and is constantly trying to kill them. This seems counter-intuitive to the whole mutants ruling the world plan, because it’s mutants plural not mutant singular. I know Magneto, words are hard.
Although, the X-Men and Stan Lee don’t want to believe Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are actually evil I just want to say, wait guys, Scarlet Witch will ruin your lives.
It’s fun to see all the *Editor’s Notes referring readers back to earlier issues and to other comics like the Fantastic Four and to watch the Marvel Universe expand before one’s eyes. Oh, and the special pin-up page feature they start this issue? Yowzers. Say hello to teen dream Scott Summers.
This issue we deal with a Prince among mutants and he has the condescending attitude to prove he’s royalty. Which leads me to a very important question: is Wanda a teenager too? Are most of the mutants we meet in these issues also teenagers? Or at least young adults? I think I’d have an easier time dealing with some of the jumps in logic if this is the case. Teenagers are dumb, even smart ones, no exceptions. It’s not your fault guys, frontal lobe development doesn’t quite finish until you’re in your twenties.
School’s Out for the Summer
Prof. X, you sly dog. By setting up a “final exam” for the X-Men he proves that all their hard work and practicing has prepared them to get out there and start saving the world full-time. And speaking of graduating, there is a certain shift to detail in Kirby’s art with Iceman most noticeably. Instead of being a mostly featureless white blob, Iceman is taking on detail and facial features not seen in past issues. In fact, most of the characters are becoming more refined on the page. Personalities are becoming less fuzzy too, so it’s much easier to tell who’s talking.
It’s crazy watching the X-Men grow up, right along with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The characters are finally starting to manifest themselves as individuals thanks to Lee’s flourishing narratives and the growing sophistication of the art. While reading Issue #2, I was reminded of how easy it is to be cynical, but by the end of Issue #5 I found myself getting invested. It’s old-fashioned and corny at times, Jean Grey is hardly the badass I want her to be, but in all fairness, women’s lib hadn’t really had much of an impact on our country’s cultural norms just yet. It’s still annoying but I have to remind myself of when it was written. At this point, my sincere hope is that the story lines will continue to mature and maybe even reflect the struggles that defined the turbulent 60’s. In the meantime, I’m content to let my crush on Beast grow and see where the X-Men go next.
The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants
Alright, this is where it gets real. We’ve got some serious grade A evil to deal with this issue, as we are introduced to the Scarlet Witch, her brother Quicksilver and the super annoying Mastermind. Toad also sucks, but you can’t help but feel a little sorry for the guy. His mutant power is hopping. Granted, it’s some powerful hopping but still, hopping. No wonder he’s such a little shit.
Magneto has formed this supergroup partly by coercion.We learn the Scarlet Witch is indebted to Magneto and hence, finds herself being dragged into his evil plans. I found myself rooting for both the Scarlet Witch and her brother, Quicksilver. In the end a “bad guy saves the day when he diffuses the nuclear bomb Magneto has set to detonate. Nuclear bombs, Magneto? Not exactly criminal mastermind material there, guy.
n which Cyclops becomes Scott Summers, and Hank McCoy becomes, well, Hank McCoy
Cyclops is growing up and will no longer be referred to as Slim Summers, thank you very much. There is also the dark shadow of the future brooding, annoying Scott Summers of future X-Men issues hinted at. I’m looking forward to Rashad telling me why I’m wrong about Scott Summers as the storyline progresses. But wait, what’s this? Prof. X is in love with Jean too? What. The. F***. I really hope Mr. Lee has an explanation for this.
YEEESSSSS!!!!! Hank McCoy, you lovable smarty-pants. Finally. I was starting to worry that The Beast from my childhood memories was going to be replaced by a giant dumb ape. The first couple of issues were not painting a very flattering portrait of Hank’s intellectual capabilities but there it is on page 14: Hank is hanging out wearing his familiar spectacles, and just brushing up on his Advanced Calculus. His banter even gets smarter this issue and his manners a bit more refined. Swoon.
Oh, X-Men, you are still so young. There are so many great moments in this issue, but I have to say the best is when Angel gets mobbed by a group of women on the street, Beatles-style. Luckily, Marvel Girl is there to save our winged friend from all that dangerous female attention. Only issue #2 and it’s hard enough for Warren Worthington III to fit through doorways with the wings; if his head gets any bigger the X-Men won’t be able to take him anywhere.
In this issue, we also start to see all the fellas fighting for Marvel Girl’s attentions. At practice, Cyclops must save “Jeanie” as her telepathic abilities weaken from the strain of levitating a boulder. This prompts retaliation in the form of an ice horse from Iceman. Jealous much, Booby? At first it was kind of cute, quaint even, but I’m going to start tallying the panels in which Marvel Girl is swept up in the arms of one of the X-Men as she faints.
“A strange silent man sits motionless, brooding…alone with his indescribable thoughts!”
Sterling: A ruse? (Ring) Hi, it’s 1930s, can we have our words, and clothes, and s**tty plane back?Rip: Let’s go, kid.Sterling: Call you back, 1930s. And, hey! Watch out for that Hitler, he’s a bad egg!
Overall, the first issue felt like what it would be like to read Saturday morning cartoons, and I mean the old ones, like 1980’s Smurfs. One of my favorite parts was when Magneto showed up and spells out his plan declaring, “the first phase of my plan shall be to show my power…to make Homo Sapiens bow to HOMO SUPERIOR!! And in a nice touch he signs his name in script beneath the message he posts in the sky demanding, “SURRENDER THE BASE OR I’LL TAKE IT BY FORCE!” Well, he doesn’t take the base since the X-Men are there to save the day, duh. But the Wiley villain escapes promising more evil deeds for issue #2. And while it was difficult at times to take the writing seriously, I still find myself looking forward to the next installment of THE UNCANNY X-MEN!!!