X-Men #12, July 1965
“I can read his every thought! First, he’ll break my trophies… then he’ll beat me up!”
Central Conflict: Young Xavier VS Young Cain Marko
The Sound a Juggernaut makes:
Issue 12 is the first X-men book to not be drawn by “Jolly” Jack Kirby. Taking penciling duties here is Alex Toth who, it should be said, does an okay job; but when compared side by side against Kirby (who has been rightfully lionized) the art quality dips noticeably.
Consider the stern clarity of Kirby’s Xavier on the left against Toth’s staved and cross-eyed Xavier on the right:
Toth, who went on to have his own storied career in animation (he designed Space Ghost for Hanna Barabara), wields a scratchier line than Kirby—not better, unfair to say much worse, certainly less magnetic—that contributes to a less buoyant visual style for this issue. But it actually isn’t a major detriment: for the first time, the story picks up the slack.
The action kicks off immediately. At his desk, Xavier grapples with a squalling and panicked Cerebro. The X-Men come a-running.
As the narration informs, there will be no conventional first act, which—after the repetitive structure of the last, oh, eleven issues—is kind of a relief. Here, the issue start in media res and the forward action of the present day is braided with the story of Xavier’s tortured youth and maturation.
Per the norm, Cerebro senses a new “most deadly threat” on the horizon. In the final panels of issue eleven, we saw Cyclops and Xavier huddling in the office, examining the readouts of Cerebro (which were typically alarmist), and now, here we are again a moment or two later. Instead of detecting a new undiscovered mutant somewhere out in the world (usually New York), Cerebro seems to be warning of an impending threat close by. Whatever this new presence is, it is on its way directly to the X-Mansion.
The X-Men know what to do: start inventing and implementing weird-ass booby traps.
After they’ve accidentally invented the template for Home Alone movies, the X-Men regroup inside. There, Xavier decides that now is the time to tell his own Origin Story, and thusly explain (in the most roundabout way possible) who is about to kick their door in and kill them all.
Xavier says, “Perhaps I hoped I would never have to mention him! But now that we all share the same moment of crisis… I owe it to you to tell you the whole story… to take you back with me, in your imagination… to the beginning!”
That’s a pretty weird way to start a story, Charles. But okay, let’s party…
Here the narrative shifts to sustained flashback beginning with “an atomic blast, years ago… at Alamagordo, New Mexico…” The drama of Xavier’s childhood is a little rote: brilliant father dies under mysterious circumstances, father’s shadowy “friend” Kurt Marko steps in to fill husband and fatherly vacuum, new step-father also has a son—who is also the worst.
The new step-brother (cheesily named Cain Marko) has apparently jumped into these pages from a Little Rascals episode. He’s a pig-faced thuglet with limited quipping ability: “You must be my new step-brother! Wipe that look off your face!”
The memory is interrupted by the quaking of the X-Mansion as the Juggernaut—whatever it is—cometh. The art is rocked from the wall, a chandelier crashes, and “the first barrier” (Iceman’s ice-wall, which we’ve never seen) is destroyed.
Cyclops rightly questions Xavier, saying, “Shouldn’t we rush out and fight him now… before he comes closer??” But Xavier, bizarrely, responds with “No! There’s still time… time for me to tell you more about how it all began!” Really, professor? Now? As the building is coming down around your dome?
Back in the memory thread, Xavier—still an angelic little boy with the most Aryan features—spies on his step-father and step-brother in conversation. Cain accuses his father of murdering Xavier’s father. Kurt grabs his son around the collar and screams, “Don’t you ever say that again!! Do you hear?? For as long as you live, don’t ever say that again!!”
Young Xavier, eavesdropping, jumps out and confronts them both. Calamity ensues and Cain knocks over some test tubes that are, unfortunately, “unstable—explosive!” The “potent fluids” combine and explode, killing Kurt.
Years unspool, and though still forced to live with Cain (oh, and by the way, get it? A brother named Cain?) Xavier develops splendidly. His mutant power—not that he knows what is—blooms, and although it costs him his mane (“I began to lose my hair while still in my teens!”) it does bequeath him the ability to read minds, enabling him to outsmart teachers, and—somehow—win track races.
This is where the bildungsroman abruptly shifts into typical 60s Marvel zaniness. Xavier narrates, “The last time I ever saw him was in Asia, during the Korean War! We had been serving together… until the day that Cain deserted under fire!”
With zero foreshadowing, suddenly the action in Korea takes us into something called the “Lost Temple of Cyttorak” which sounds, y’know, not Korean.
Cain decides to handle a magical ruby which instantly imbues him with “the power of the crimson bands of Cyttorak”—whatever that is. While Cain is transmogrified into… something, “the Reds” begin shelling the temple, bringing it down on Cain while Xavier barely escapes.
Xavier ruminates: “Even if the cave-in doesn’t kill him… It will take years before he can dig out from beneath the gigantic mountain which covers him!… The crimson bands of Cyttorak will lead him to me no matter where I may hide!”
So here the memory ends and the reader is to understand that, driven mad by jealousy and the agony of solitary years spent unburying himself from a collapsed mountain, Cain has become “Juggernaut.” So, now, the slow-burning threat of the Juggernaut is fulfilled and the monster is at the door.
Sweeping aside the X-Men like “paper dolls”, the Juggernaut confronts Xavier directly. In a series first the book ends on a decidedly violent cliff hanger.
This is pretty cool to see. The usual antics (the madcap rompiness, the whacked-out inventions like “the Lost Temple of Cyttorak”, and the endless exposition) are all here in full bloom, but this is the first time the structure of an issue has been a point of interest. The retelling of the soapy childhood trauma is kind of trite and the on-stage tension of the Juggernaut’s arrival is goofily handled, but Stan Lee and Alex Toth wrap it all together in a braid much stronger than its individual strands.
Also, this story promises to be a two or three-parter. Villains and arcs have spread over multiple issues before, but never—it seems—as directly as is portended in the final panel here.
After twelve issues, the book has unquestionably found its voice. Now, it seems to want to change, to challenge itself, and to grow. It’s the right call.