Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On the Coffee Table: The X-Men

Title: The X-Men (Marvel Masterworks, Volume 1)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Image via BARNES & NOBLE

After making my way through the stack of Spider-Man books Mock gave me a while back, I started on a couple of superhero teams: the Avengers and the X-Men. Having grown to appreciate the beauty in simplicity of The Amazing Spider-Man, I was overwhelmed by the cast of thousands in the group stories. Once I'd finally feel invested in a storyline, it would end and the next issue would move on to something completely different, centered on characters I didn't even know yet. As a newbie, my head was spinning. Not only did I feel the need to go back to the beginning with these stories. I felt I should do so with scorecards in hand just to keep track of everyone!

Masterworks, Volume 1 includes the first ten X-Men comic books, covering September 1963-March 1965. The group is consistent to that point. In addition to the leader/paternal figure of Professor X, there are five X-Men by the end of the first issue:

Cyclops/Scott Slim Summers
Iceman/Bobby Drake
The Angel/Warren Worthington III
The Beast/Hank McCoy
Marvel Girl/Jean Grey

The Beast image via Comic Vine

In issue #4, an arch-nemesis group is introduced: The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. I love bad guy teams. The old Hanna-Barbera Super Friends show improved tremendously with the addition of the Legion of Doom! The Evil Mutants lineup:

Magneto (leader)
The Scarlet Witch

Evil Mutants image via The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century

As I've written before, Marvel's greatest advantage over DC Comics is superior character development. It was all part of a creative philosophy launched by Stan Lee and his colleagues in the early '60s. The benefit of a team title is seeing the impact of various personalities on group dynamics. Each of the X-Men is distinct, and not just in mutant powers (though, in my opinion, Iceman and Angel are more or less interchangeable - at least in the early stages). If anything, the group dynamics of the Evil Mutants are even more interesting. Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are both reluctant followers of Magneto and the X-Men make their pitch to the pair to join their side instead.

There are definitely some signs of the times within these issues. Nuclear missiles, for instance, are referred to as "democracy's silent sentinels" in The X-Men #1. You've gotta love the Cold War! There's no shortage of Mad Menesque sexual politics, either. The boys can't help but openly and shamelessly slobber over Marvel Girl every time she appears. And, naturally, she's the one who must fill in when the cook has a day off in issue #6.

As with the early Spideys, it's fun to see some of the early ideas. In the first issue, the X-Men, Angel included, have to drive to the airport before they jet off to save the world. Mind you, they get to ride in a Rolls Royce but the idea of superheroes having to fight their way through Westchester County highway traffic like everyone else is highly amusing.

Image via Alternate Cover

Thank goodness the Department of Special Affairs donated a convertiplane for the team's use in issue #2.


  1. It's always funny to see how comic books changed. I read the first volume of Superman and Batman comics and the plots were definitely a lot more simplistic back then. They were the good guys, they beat up the bad guys, end of story. Then as society changed the characters changed so there had to be all this drama and all these issues for the hero.

    I have to agree Superfriends was much better once the Legion of Doom came along. Before that every plot involved either aliens or a mad scientist doing something. I mean really every single time! It was pretty repetitive.

    1. Agreed. Much the way the Star Trek crew encounter spacial anomalies so often that they can hardly be considered anomalies anymore.

  2. Great stuff!! Comic books were a treasure I kept hidden from my 3 brothers (who treated such as fly swatters, or paper planes). They completely destroyed my Super Man collection 1959-1963.

    My husband loves the things as well. Love the note about the X Men driving through traffic in a Rolls, on the way to a commercial flight, to save the world.

  3. I adored X Men growing up :D

    I've tagged you in a post on my blog.

  4. I never did much comic book reading but after reading this, I have a new appreciation for the whole lot of writers. Sounds like they evolved, just as all writers do.

    Yes, I too liked the idea of Professor Xavier driving his super heros to the airport to fight crime! That's sweet indeed!

    This is my first visit to your blog, but will see more of you, especially in April for the A to Z Challenge.