The X-Men #12, July 1965

Cover

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:

Klanntch

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:

Xavier Comparison

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.

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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.

home alone

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.

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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!”

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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?

Okay.

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.

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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!”

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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.

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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.

The X-Men #11, May 1965

cover

X-Men 11, May, 1965

“I’ve never seen an electronic device register such an extreme condition of panic! Every circuit is strained to the breaking point!”
Central Conflict: Magneto and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants Vs. “The Stranger”

The Stranger: Ron Perlman

Ron

(Before we start, a letterer’s error. The word they’re mutating here is meant to be “exemplary” right? “Exemplory” does not compute. Typical Artie Simek.)

error

Eleven issues in and the three act template has been firmly established:

  1. The X-Men and Magneto are both made aware of a new mutant.
  2. The X-Men or Magneto reach new mutant and begin seduction.
  3. Seduction goes awry for either The X-Men, Magneto, or both, and lively battle ensues.

It’s as if Lee and Kirby, aware that fatigue is creeping into the bones here, are now beginning to dial open the telescope of these X-Books and aim it starward.

The curtains open on the X-Mansion where Xavier is subbing a new “radar-image beam” for the Cerebro machine (a theory on the reason for this later). The radar beam is supposed to produce a hologram (or something) of whatever new mutant they’re about to locate. However, the “power” of this new mutant is too X-Orbitant to be reproduced in this flickering column of light. Xavier and Scott get a little alarmist about this.

Xavier: “Do you realize what this means? Somewhere with range of my detecting devices, a super-powered being exists! A being so powerful that my image-beam was shattered before it could project his picture!”

Scott: “This means that whoever—or whatever—he may be, he’s probably the most dangerous mutant we’ve ever faced!”

Relax guys, you’re superheroes. And hasn’t this pretty much always been the case? Magneto, Sub-Mariner, Unus, have all kinda been tagged as “the most dangerous mutant” the X-Men have ever faced, and things have worked out okay so far.

Elsewhere, an antebellum south plantation owner is renting a room from Barbara Bush. The land lady privately observes that this stranger is the weirdest of the “weirdos” to whom she’s rented rooms, but he quickly soothes her nerves by handing her a cash bouquet.

cash

This unnamed “Stranger” clearly has little idea how modern life works. He walks out into NYC and observes that the city is far too cluttered, crowded and noisome, so naturally he decides to levitate above the crowd and walk on air. So, no, he’s not that good at blending in.

Rattled by the attention this draws him, the Stranger finds himself Shadowcatting into a building’s second story.

shadowcatting

Where he finds…

magneto

Nearby, the X-Men are out canvasing the neighborhood for their new mutant. Angel, the natural scout of the group, is flitting above the towers dialoguing with bewildered window cleaners, while Scott (in his most suspicious “I am here to steal children” trench coat and slouch hat) gets approached by some cops.

slouch

Displaying the keenest powers of policework, the cops note that lasers fire from Scott’s eyes, destroying their guns, a fire hydrant, and some sidewalk. Beast arrives in full costume to lift Scott up by his shoulders and soon the two are off bounding over rooftops to escape the scene they’ve caused.

Back in Magneto’s hideout, Magneto tries to recruit the Stranger with the world’s worst pillow talk, “This is why you must join us!! Because I am—power!! I shall one day reduce the human race to slavery, so that homo superior can take over! And those who serve me, shall reap the rewards!”

Sycophantic Mastermind jumps into the act and begins showing off. He casts illusions placing the Stranger into the depths of the ocean, then inside a volcano. With tactics like these, it seems clear why the Brotherhood hasn’t successfully added a member in nearly a dozen issues.

ocean

So, basically, the Brotherhood is acting like a bunch of dicks. The Stranger (who until now has not displayed a single aggressive impulsive) has had enough. Our narrator explains: “In one brief micro-second, Mastermind’s illusion is completely dispelled, as the stranger emits a sudden blast of energy that severs his bonds and makes a shambles of Magneto’s temporary headquarters!”

But then, more marvelously, the Stranger delivers a particularly derisive blow to Mastermind by transforming him into a pillar of stone.

pillar

All this commotion alerts the (conveniently) nearby X-Men who come a-running.

angel

The battle is pretty rote, but the dialogue is hilarious.

Magneto: This time you will surely taste defeat!

Angel: Maybe so—but I’ll make sure that you taste it with me!

Quicksilver: Uhh! His flapping wing unexpectedly deflected my blow!

Scarlett Witch: Ice!! Forming on Pietro’s body—No! No!!

meanwhile

The Stranger, tiring of these antics, whips up some kind of cyclone into which he throws Magneto, Toad, and himself. The cyclone zips down the stairs and away from the battle, where the Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver find themselves alone with the X-Men. Siblings, the Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver decide to stick together and not go after the remains of the Brotherhood. “We have served Magneto for the last time!” “Wanda is right! We owed him a debt—but it has been repaid—many times over!”

Scott tries to talk them into joining the X-Men, “I always felt you didn’t belong with his evil band of mutants!” but they decline and determine to return to their “home in central Europe” where they will become street buskers or terrorists probably.

The reader then rejoins the Stranger’s cyclone spinning alone in the woods. “We have journeyed far enough! Prepare for dissolvement!” The Stranger adopts a challenger’s posture and begins tough-talking Magneto and Toad.

strnager

The Stranger has a bottomless trunk of powers it seems. So far we’ve seen him levitate, shoot power blasts, change his size à la Giant Man, conjure insane cyclones à la Lucifer, and now, generate films of “anti-magnetic-membrane” à la the gods from the machine. So, what are his powers? They’re anything.

membrane

 

Because this is their book, The X-Men show up, but to little result. Our heroes can do nothing but stand there open-mouthed while The Stranger gets stranger by revealing his cosmic nature and absconding spectacularly with Magneto and Toad.

shrinking

So, the Brotherhood—it seems—is broken. The Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver have retired, The Mastermind has been atomically reshuffled into a mineral, and Magneto and Toad have been captured and taken off-world by some kind of space god.

returned

Where does this leave the X-Men? Right back where they started, in Westchester, sitting at their Cerebro machine, pulling the lever like old ladies at slot machines.

beep beep

As always, the next mutant they’re about to face promises to be “the most powerful” they’ve ever encountered.

So what was The Stranger? Not a mutant, which this reviewer believes to be the reason for the substitution of Cerebro with the nonsensical “radar-image-beam” (because Cerebro only locates mutants *stares coldly at self in mirror*). Doesn’t matter. One gets the sense that these are microscopic steps or at least impulsive gestures toward a coming world out there that can go deeper and mean more than just the heretofore normative mutant on mutant violence. Bring on the space gods.

However:

This deep into the series, there’s something missing.

The art, character design, and vivacity of story is kind of immaculate. Jack Kirby’s biography has fallen on the sympathetic side of history, which, when combined with the pure, crackling festival of his artwork, makes his contributions to the X-Books pretty invulnerable. Stan Lee’s hilarious spiritual imprint buzzes hard throughout every panel. These comic books are, unquestionably, fun. But there is a very visible weakness in the armor.

After eleven issues,—all the amusement and mania aside—there’s a notable deficiency of character here. What characterization we do get, we peel from dialogue and thought bubbles, but it isn’t much: Beast is a wordy bookworm, Ice Man a prank artist, Cyclops a worrywart, and Xavier himself is kind of overbearing and tough to take. But that’s it. We don’t know anything about Jean except that she harbors a secret crush for Cyclops. We know even less about Angel. And all that can be said about Magneto is that he’s evil (it’s even in the title of his team).

You, reader, may now be shouting: This is a comic book for children in 1965! Correct. It’s not fair to judge these early issues against the staggering legacy they are about to engender. But it’s worth noting that the precision of character that we applaud in other books, films, art of any kind, is totally absent here. At least so far.

Today, the X-Men are popularly recognized as a more sophisticated alternative to other super groups (take your pick). But here, in its seeding-era, one can clearly see the distance it will have to travel to claim that crown.

The X-Men #10, March 1965

Kazar cover

The X-Men #10, March 1965

“Primitive warriors!! Mounted on giant carnivorous birds!! They’re about to attack us with rocks!”

Central Conflict: The X-Men Vs. “Primitive Warriors”

And the Noble Prize in Literature goes to…

quote

Everyone loves a Marvel Girl.

By now, nearly every X-Man has expressed in either dialogue or private thought bubbles a heart spasm for Jean Gray. And why wouldn’t they? She’s pretty much the only gal around the X-Mansion or these pages. But Jean, as we know by now, isn’t interested in Warren, Bobby, Hank or Charles. She’s hot for Cyclops. Cyclops, meanwhile, only has eye for Jean. The omnipotent lens of the comic panel confirms this for us early on in issue 10, while Jean telepathically assembles (why not?) a rifle.

Jeans gun

Like a rookie, Cyclops interrupts a moment of some heavy gazing with Jean to wonder why Warren (Angel) isn’t in the Danger Room training with them. The X-Men all scramble off to find Warren watching the news in the den. He’s absorbed in a story about an arctic expedition which recently spotted, and filmed, a wild man in a loin cloth, accompanied by a sabretooth tiger. Like all expert scientists confronted by something they don’t understand, they open fire. Tarzan and his tiger disappear into a crevasse.

Convinced that this bikini-briefed Tarzan-clone must be a mutant, the group campaigns Xavier to let them go after him. (Now, if you’ve seen the cover of this issue, you might expect that you’re in for an adventure with a Tarzan-knockoff. You’d be right. You probably wouldn’t expect them to go calling that out in the first panels, but they do. Hey, why front? I guess.)

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The X-Men’s charter is to locate other mutants and persuade them to join their ranks. Believing Tarzan to be a mutant, they’re hot to trot to find and palaver with the wild man. They lobby Xavier for the greenlight to go adventure, but the Professor pumps the brakes saying, “There is no need to concern yourselves, my X-Men! He is not a mutant! If he were a true mutant, my sensitive Cerebro machine would have recorded his presence! Also I would have mentally sensed it! And yet…  It is true that you’ve been inactive for weeks… and being young and adventurous, such a mission might be good for your morale!”

The X-Men are thrilled to be given permission. But… what is their mission then? If they know Tarzan isn’t a mutant, why are they going after him? What will they do when and if they find him? This doesn’t seem very thought-out, Professor.

But regardless, off our X-Men go to the arctic in some snappy winter gear.

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This is where things get a little unclear. The team travels to the spot where the scientists (where have they gone?) had their run-in with Tarzan. Finding a crevasse, Cyclops peers into it with his optic blast in order to “see how far down my power blast ray can penetrate.” Why? The unintended (and inexplicable) consequence of this: “Look! Your ray caused a geyser of snow to shoot up behind us!” This—somehow—reveals a hidden tunnel, through which our intrepid teens go spelunking.

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Now we’re in new territory. Plumbing the depths of this tunnel reveals a hidden, interior world of temperate climates, relict animal species, and outsized alien flora. We have traveled through the crevasse and passed squarely into the realm of Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Harryhausen. The speed picks up and the art becomes exponentially more vibrant. The narrative sticks with Angel for a while as we get a high-level tour of this savage land. “It’s like a vast animal burial ground! But the bones… they’re the wrong size! They’re the skeletons of… monsters!”

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Angel tangles with pterodactyls while Cyclops blasts them out of the sky. The team scampers about in this untouched wonderland taking stock of the outrageous species, wilderness and landscape before them. This all comes to a grinding halt with the arrival of some bipedal militant ogres riding terror birds and swinging bolos.

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The X-Men fall quickly to the machinations of the native force (slung rocks, volcanic gas bombs, stone arrows fired from quadratic bows). Jean Grey is carted off by the clan of the cave bear and only Beast is left conscious to witness the abduction. Enter Tarzan.

The wild man from the news footage arrives with Zabu his sabretooth tiger and introduces himself by repeating only “I am Ka-Zar!” (Tarzan).

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Turns out, it’s pretty tough to have a conversation with ol’ Tarzan. Immediately failing to explain why they’re even there (why are they even here?) Cyclops, Beast and Iceman find themselves grappling with the wild man and his tiger, trying futilely to explain to him that they mean no harm.

Conveniently, a ruder-looking villain than they shows up to antagonize and distract Tarzan. “Maa-Goor, the killer! Last of the Man-Ape tribe!”

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Even though the X-Men don’t know why they’re there, they know what they need to do now: rescue their team’s only woman. Motivated and airborne, Angel flies ahead of the pack.

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But even though Angel is scoping the landscape, searching for Jean, he fails to sight the pack of rough hominids until he’s—unfortunately—within their net-throwing range. Claimed and carted off, Angel wonders, “Hoo-boy! How will the X-Men ever find me now??” Score another point for the cavemen, they’ve now bagged two X-Folk.

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Our tribesmen take Angel and Jean atop a ziggurat where, horrifyingly, Stan Lee (or letterer S. Rosen) commits an error that no one on the creative team catches. Jean addresses Angel (whose real name, Warren Worthington III, was just mentioned a few panels back) as Scott (Cyclops). Mistake! Someone should write a letter. Or call it out in a blog post fifty years later.

Anyway, if you’re a rockbreaker just now reeling from the invention of the wheel, and you’ve got a couple off-world captives on your knuckle-dragging hands, what do you do? Like any good Skull Islander would, our cavemen take Jean and Angel to the sacrificial altar of Reptar. (How do you even get a dinosaur in a pyramid? And then once you let him out to feed, how do you get him back in?)

Luckily, Tarzan has tracked Angel and Jean to the cavemen’s nest.

Tarzan (whose own motivations are completely unclear) crows a rallying cry that summons a charge of mastodons.

eee

And so the battle begins in earnest. X-Men, mastodons, Tarzan and his sabretooth tiger lay waste to the cavemen and, presumably, Reptar. “Run swamp men… Flee the might of the Jungle Lord!!”

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The battle ends pretty swiftly. And the X-Men and Ka-Zar huddle. “We came here to find a true mutant, but the professor was right! Instead, we found a true friend!” Having had their fill of their weird-ass vacation, The X-Men return to their world and Tarzan’s mastodons crush the tunnels connecting their world to ours.

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So, this was the Savage Land, right? This writer’s fractured understanding of the X-Men and their Universe includes a dinosaur-saturated jungle somehow nestled in the arctic where a 90s cartoon Xavier and Magneto once wandered. Though it never gets named here, this has to be that. The mythology is coming together.

Oh, and how does this new character stack up? Tarzan/Ka-Zar? Uh, not well. There’s a rich history of theft in comics and literature, sure, but the successful knock-offs must add something to the lore that’s being hijacked, right? (Examples include Fu Manchu and Dr. No, Allan Quartermaine and Indiana Jones, a pair of sunglasses you found on the ground and Neo). So, no, Ka-Zar doesn’t pass that test right now, but we’ll see. As the final editorial lines of this issue claim, there’s more to come.

The X-Men # 9, January 1965

#9 cover

X-Men #9, January, 1965

“Giant-Man!! Would you mind modulating your voice to a softer pitch? The resonance from your oversized larynx is virtually deafening!”

Central Conflict: The X-Men VS. The Avengers & Professor Xavier VS. Lucifer.

How to defeat Jean Grey:

jeans hair

The last crossover between The X-Men and another pre-existing Marvel character from another book happened three issues ago when our mutants ran into and (battled to a standstill) Namor the Sub-Mariner. In Issue 9, it happens again; there’s a pattern brewing here.

The action starts right out of the gate. We join the X-Men in their civilian/nerd/prep garb. The team is hanging about a luxury ocean-liner bound for Europe through iceberg-studded seas. Cyclops breaks with his normal, nothing-to-see-here, dorky persona and shoots apart a mountain of ice blocking the ship’s path with an optic blast. This, presumably, saves the lives of all aboard but puts the real fear into the team. Nervous that they’ve just made themselves conspicuous (which they have), they retire to their cabins where Cyclops is struck by a psychic communique from Professor Xavier (last seen spelunking in the Balkans in a wheelchair DARPA could have designed).

mental image

Xavier states in his typically exclamatory way that his mysterious European journey is reaching its conclusion. All this time, he’s been in pursuit of a villain named Lucifer.

(Jack Kirby: Hey, Stan, what should we call this villain?

Stan Lee: What are his powers?

Jack: Unclear.

Stan: What’s his theme?

Jack: Also, unclear.

Stan: Does he have a motive?

Jack: Unknown.

Stan: Lucifer!

Jack: Genius!

Stan: I know!)

All we are told about Lucifer is that this is the man who cost Xavier the use of his legs years ago and that he poses a threat to mankind. Xavier gives Cyclops his location, saying “If I should be defeated, then you, my X-Men, must carry on! Lucifer must never menace mankind again. I have transmitted my location to you! I can do no more!”

Trundling through the tunnels on his jacked-up sled, Xavier faces a handful of Lucifer’s Mousetrap-like challenges including an “artificial dust devil” (get it?).

mousetrap

Xavier gets out of all this with some go-go-gadget tricks and then, disappointingly, a pistol.

murderer

Meanwhile, in Bavaria, another mighty team is snooping about. Alighting on the landscape is the vivid and outlandish squad of Thor, Iron-Man, Captain American, Giant-Man and Wasp. Following the water-witch’s intuition of his hammer, Thor proclaims, “We have followed these strange impulses all the way from America… but now… my hammer begins to quiver! Our goal is at hand!”

Elsewhere, Xavier is still struggling against Lucifer, who, in monologue, explains his plot: he has wired a “giant thermal bomb” to his own heartbeat. If he should die, the bomb detonates. But in the meantime, he’s also prepared an attack against The X-men themselves (a super-charged ionic ray). So. While the bombs and rays and charges are piling up into a robust and overstuffed word salad, Xavier (why not?) projects a mental ghost of himself out into the world to warn his team.

at stake

The X-Men, however, are occupied. They’ve run straight into The Avengers and, as per the indisputable and codified law of superhero encounters, they must commence with the fisticuffs. Thor, persuaded by the vibrations of his hammer, believes that whatever evil is nearby is so powerful it must be obliterated outright. (By the way, why are the Avengers going along with this? Nobody ever questions the hammer?) Warned by Xavier’s telepathic projection, Cyclops knows that Lucifer cannot be destroyed by the Avengers without igniting the bomb (which neither The X-Men or Avengers have seen).

avengers

The battle itself is pretty lively. Rather than a power-for-power face-off, the action sprawls all over the place. Beast, for instance, finds himself tangling with Captain American, Giant-Man and Iron-Man all in a swift tear of panels.

whoop

Underground and without support, Xavier does his best to take on Lucifer directly. Doing what he should have done in the first place, the Professor sends a mental hunter-seeker (Dune reference, ladies!) swimming through Lucifer’s brain to knock him out without affecting his heartbeat.

hunter seeker

The maneuver works and Xavier buys himself and his X-Men some time, “If only I could find a way to remove the bomb’s fuses while he is helpless! But, for such a task, I need my X-Men’s assistance!”

Xavier reaches out to the Avengers and basically tells them to cool it. After hearing the telepathic sitrep from Xavier (a mutant they have never met), the Avengers buy it and decide to abandon their fight against the X-Men, wishing them well, and heading out to enjoy Bavaria or whatever.

thor

Now freed up, the X-Men go spelunking themselves to find their leader and defuse his opponent’s thermal bomb.

accomodate

Cyclops and Xavier get to work defeating the doomsday device with a combination of their physical and mental powers. The telepathic/optic blast surgery gets intense, as indicated by Xavier’s maniacal, “It’s alive! It’s alive!” expression.

hairline

So, yeah, the bomb gets defused. But that’s about it. The X-Men and the reader get no real explanation and not much satisfaction from the issue aside from watching the X-Men and the Avengers dance for the first time.

retribution

But that complaint aside, at nine issues deep, the X-Men books are well on their way toward establishing an impressive and nuanced reality. Case in point: their leader is dynamic. Xavier comes and goes as he pleases. He withholds secrets, has a mysterious past, and privately lusts after one of his students.

Xavier may be the breakout character thus far. Unlike, say, other leaders of action squads, he is neither a disembodied voice warbling from a mysterious screen, nor is he a cheerful and vacant do-gooder hell-bent on merely saving the day. His is a darker shade, packed with complexities yet to be revealed.

After this issue it also seems like The X-Men themselves are doing a pretty bang-up job of proving themselves worthy of the title (and the books that bears their title): they scrap and survive, but more importantly, they display real depth and character. In their time so far, some of them have quit and come back, they’ve doubted, they’ve raged, they’ve crushed on one another and more. Has it been perfect? Not at all. But who wants perfect superheroes?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The X-Men #8, November 1964

 

unus

“I am in the heart of the Balkans, in Europe… Descending into an almost bottomless pit!”

Central Conflict: The X-Men vs. Unus the Untouchable vs. (sort of) The Beast.

Mutant Condom:
condom

So how goes it for The X-Men without the stalwart and stoic Professor Xavier? Pretty well actually. Cyclops is holding it down as interim leader (he gets plainclothes privileges apparently). Coach Cyclops walks the Danger Room floor, reminding X-Men not to die as they flit and hurl themselves through the ever-confounding game of human Mouse Trap where they spend most of their time.

But even X-Men need a break every once in a while. Whilst on their “off time,” Bobby and Hank stroll NYC (in barbershop quartet garb) where they stumble across, natch, a little boy trapped on a water tower. “He must have climbed up there as a prank! But now he’s frightened! He can’t make it down!”

watertower

Hank takes it upon himself to unleash the most dexterous pair of feet in creation and haul himself up the building to the rescue. “Tommy” is indeed saved in a jaunty and playful panel, but how does Hank know to deliver him to this window? Why is the “parent” waiting there? How does Hank even know the guy is the parent? Doesn’t matter. Kirby’s art is always delightful and he’s at his most piquant when playing with motion like this:

motion

But all doesn’t end well for our X-Men. After revealing himself to be more than human, the mob (previously gathered to stare and worry after Tommy) turns on and physically assaults Hank, who runs and jumps away while covering his face. Nevermind that Hank just saved a boy’s life. He’s a mutant and so he must be mobbed by people who were, moments ago, going about their everyday lives. It’s unnecessary to put too much emphasis on this, but it is cool to see that, again, these mutants are just allegories for any minority, any marginalized group, any “other” who is suspect or worse on sight. This comment is about fifty years late but the texture of societal fringe here really does seem admirable for a funny book.

angry hank

The experience ruffles Hank. Fuming and maybe a little humiliated, he decides he’s had enough of defending a populace that hates and fears him. Scott tries to talk him down but without success. Frustrated and fuming, Hank storms off, leaving the X-Men and the life he knows. Scott, at a loss, reaches out through a hidden machine to contact Xavier for advice. Xavier isn’t much help in this department because he’s busy spelunking in the Balkans in a motorized wheelchair rigged for caving. Xavier assures Scott that all will be well and to let Hank go for now—though he also offers almost no explanation to what he himself is up to.

balkans

Here the narrative jumps ahead in time (how far is unclear) to Hank’s new, ex-X-Man life. Hanging up the hero costume, Hank begins his career anew as—what else?—a professional wrestler. Makes a kind of sense: as a mutant with superhuman agility, toughness and the body of a gorilla, Beast would be an undefeatable contender in the ring. Except, Hank’s first match goes terribly. His opponent is—wouldn’t you know it—a mutant himself: Unus the Untouchable.

wresstling

Unus has the Unique ability to be not touched. Every strike and blow from Hank is answered with an automatic and unnegotiable deflection. Unus is pretty much wrapped in a force field.

mastermind

This power would be pretty useful for a team of supervillains, right? Unus thinks so. Turns out he’s been campaigning Mastermind pretty hard for a spot on the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants roster. But it’s not that easy, Unus needs to audition first. Like the boy trapped on the water tower, an opportunity to exercise his stuff comes along pretty conveniently when Unus finds himself walking directly into a violent bank robbery.

bullets

Unus decides he could do with the loot himself and takes it from the robbers. How does Unus’ power really work you ask? How, when his power is automatic deflection, can he touch anything? How can he grab the money bag? How far does his power go? Why is he even capable of wearing clothes? Well, that’s just how his superpowers work, okay? Conveniently.

 

powerblog

Somebody else is asking these questions too. After Unus successfully robs the bank robber, he returns to his apartment where he finds Hank (back in his X-Man uniform) awaiting him with the business end a ray gun.

raygun

The effect of the ray gun is instantly clear to everyone but Unus. Taking a page from the Xavier playbook, Beast finds a way to turn the enemy’s power against him. By dialing up Unus’s Untouchability to eleven, Beast delivers the death stroke.

cigarette

But then it gets kinda dark:

hunger

hunger end

It’s unclear what brought Beast back to the team, but everyone’s glad to have him back in the fold (even though he just nearly damned a man to starve to death in front of them).

So, no Magneto and a minimum of Xavier in Issue 8. But you know what? Their absence isn’t really felt. The focus on Beast feels organic and actually kind of balanced; unlike the case might have been in, say, Star Trek: this never really feels like a Scotty or a Bones episode. It reads merely like this just happens to be the unique jam the X-Men find themselves in this week. Maybe it’s the length of the book (thirty pages seems like a lot of comic), but these issues have actual narrative weight. Must be the jubilant art that makes ‘em feel so airy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The X-Men #7, September 1964

“Seconds later, in answer to the time-honored carny battle cry, a group of husky roustabouts charge the mighty mutant!”

Central Conflict: The X-Men VS. The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants VS. The Blob

The Beast: Robert McNamara

McNamara

“It’s come at last! The moment we’ve been waiting for! We are looking at the uncanny X-Men, accompanied by Professor Xavier as they pose before an automatic camera on their graduation day!” And so issue 7 begins with caps and tassels, scrolled diplomas, and much handshaking and congratulating. Now that he X-Men have graduated, what new rights and privileges are bestowed upon these strapping young mutants? They’re not just gonna keep fighting and going on the same monster-of-the-week style missions, right? Right?

Graduation

Well, no, something will change. Xavier turns to his team and says that now that they have graduated, he must say farewell. Like Gandalf, Xavier has some “unfinished tasks” that require his attention elsewhere. So, off he goes without explanation, but not before selecting a “group leader” to act in his stead.

Xavier pulls aside the natural choice, Scott Summers AKA Cyclops, and walks him through the mansion to the secretive west wing. Xavier introduces Cyclops to a byzantine contraption called “Cerebro” (“from the Latin “cerebrum meaning “the brain”!) explaining that its sole purpose is to scan brainwaves and find mutants. This device is necessary to locate mutants while Xavier is away.

cerebro

The action cuts away to the dark mirror version of the X-Men: Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Magneto, in full costume, walks a carnival seeking out a mutant we’ve seen before: the vividly named Blob. The next pages are a patent recycling of the courting/fighting of Namor we saw last issue. Magneto’s efforts to recruit Blob could use a little finesse (“Blob! I desire to speak with you!”). It’s not the most elegant seduction. Blob rejects the offer to join the BOEM, which causes—what else?—some rough-housing. One of Magneto’s assaults on Blob results in an impact that “jars loose part of the mental block which Professor X had previously put over the Blob’s memory–!” Blob, remembering his misadventure with the X-Men four issues ago decides to join the Magneto and his Brotherhood.

Blob

On the other side of the comic book, the X-Men are at play among the strange and brave frontier of humanity. Hanging in a beatnik club, Beast and Ice Man take in some jazz and a simultaneous “Zen poetry” reading.

Zen

This is as goofy, joyful sequence and it’s sad that it comes to an end so soon when Cyclops summons the X-Men to another battle with Magneto (and now, the Blob as well.) This battle carries on much the way other skirmishes in these books have so far. The X-Men take on a villain or group of villains whose machinations perfectly tee up opportunities to exercise their mutant powers. This is a typical X-Men/BOEM battle, but there is a clever ending: Magneto’s plot to take out the X-Men requires the sacrifice of his newest Evil Mutant, the Blob. The X-Men survive, as does the Blob (though he takes three missiles to the gut).

missiles

Magneto and his team fly off, foiled again. And the Blob’s arc ends on a decidedly sad note. The takeaway here is that life is rough for a mutant in 1964. Your choices are pretty limited: you can either get the crap kicked out of you by the X-Men and Magneto, or take your chances as a carny. It’s hard out there for a blob.

final

 

The X-Men #6, July 1964

 “Though I am prince of the deep, monarch of the sea, my titles are hollow… my kingdom is empty and meaningless!!”—Namor the Sub-Mariner, X-Men # 6, 1964

Central Conflict: Namor VS. The X-Men VS. The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants

Most Dramatic Crotch:

crotch

There’s really just no way around the fact that a lot of this seems pretty inchoate. It’s certain that in the course of the fifty plus years that lay ahead of the X-Men and their careers much of this will get ironed out, sidestepped, retconned, contradicted and/or ignored, but as of “now”—issue six—there are some inconsistencies. Questions a reader of this book series might have at this point include:

  • Exactly what are Magneto’s powers? He can, so far, demonstrate total (and pretty much telekinetic) power over any object that is even remotely magnetic (this includes rocks and people). But also, he can project himself metaphysically across great distance (just like Xavier can) and communicate telepathically (just like Xavier can).

Magneto Mystery Powers

  • What are mutants? Traditionally, they’re considered the “next generation of homo superior,” right? But in this issue, Namor—an Atlantean—is identified as a mutant which would indicate—one would think—that, by extension, all Atlanteans are mutants, no? And if that is the case, then that kind of upsets the idea of mutants being the next anything. Is there any reason to think Atlanteans are not older than humans? Maybe Mutants are the originals, and humanity is the next step. Maybe it’s devolution, not evolution. Or maybe it’s just not thought out. But in this issue Xavier and Magneto are both immediately pretty accepting of the idea that the prince of the undersea kingdom of Atlantis could be a mutant. Which. doesn’t. make. sense.

human

None of this matters much because the point of this comic book series (up through now) seems to be pretty much just to facilitate fun. And it really is doing a bang-up job so far.

Issue Six begins at home, with the X-Men clowning around a table set with a meal cooked by Jean. The requisite light comedy is enacted before Xavier retires from the scene. He withdraws to his study and, quite matter-of-factly—enters a trance state, whereby he projects a shade version of himself under the OCEAN(!) to seek out the never-before-mentioned (at least in The X-Men so far) character of Namor the Sub-Mariner. It’s not much of a surprise that these panels are the most beautiful and energetic of the issue. It’s pretty openly psychedelic.

psychadelic

However, Xavier leaves his tasked unfinished when he “senses” Magneto nearby, doing exactly the same thing. Again, how Magneto’s magnetic power allows him to do this is pretty unclear. It’s like if you were really good at badminton, and that somehow also enabled you to cause earthquakes with your mind. So anyway, Magneto gets to the undersea king first. Namor, it should be said, is really the star of this issue by the way. It’s clear from the editorial notes that this is a character who has recently shown up in Fantastic Four where he both antagonized the team and romanced its matron. So is he a villain, a hero, neither? Neither with a capital N.

The action finds its way to another of Magneto’s secret bases, this one a Magnetic island hidden away at sea. (The X-Men show up in a galleon which gets obliterated spectacularly.)

boat

There’s an impressive amount of tension in this issue. The X-Men and The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants are in pursuit of the same “mutant.” Namor is courted by, then pitted in battle against, both the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and the X-Men. The Scarlett Witch finds herself crushing on the underwater dude and also beginning to question the infallibility of her leader Magneto. Magneto is subsequently doubted and tested by nearly each of his underlings. And Jean Grey (abruptly) reveals herself to be jealous of the Scarlett Witch’s beauty.

Not much happens to or changes with our X-Men here. In this issue, they’re actually very much in the background for most of the narrative. The stars are, again, Jack Kirby’s utterly vibrant art and Marvel’s seaguy Namor—who, it should be said, comes across as a pleasantly dimensional chap. In a mere handful of panels he displays royal surety, pettiness, rage, and forlornness. It will be fun to see if (and how) the X-Men themselves dimensionalize to the same degree.

monarch