Giant Size X-Men # 1 and X-Men (Volume 1) # 94.
In 1975, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, and Dave Cockrum introduce a new, multicultural, group of mutants who will step in to rescue, and later replace the original X-Men (save for Cyclops who sticks around). Wolverine makes his first appearance as an X-Man with Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Storm all being introduced for the first time. The team is initially rounded out by Sunspot, Banshee, and Thunderbird.
Giant Sized X-Men Synopsis
Cyclops and the OG X-Men traveled to the mutant Island of Krakoa, where all of them were captured, except for Cyclops. Professor X travels all around the world to find mutants who will (or may) become the New X-Men. This new group of super heroes don’t get along well at first, but they come together long enough to save the original X-Men, plus Havok and Polaris.
By the beginning of the next issue, there were too many superheroes for one team, so the original 4 (minus Cyclops) invent a thin reason to leave. In Comic Creators on X-Men by Tom DeFalco, Dave Cockrum shared the following about keeping Cyclops on board:
"The old members were going to leave, but we had decided to keep Cyclops: he was going to be the leader of the new team. We really felt that most of the original X-Men were not that strong as characters, even though the original book sold pretty well."
Sunspot also leaves because he’s a huge dick. Havok and Polaris have never really been X-Men so they peace out too. Jean leaves, but she'll be back shortly. That leaves a brand new X-Men team!
If you ask anyone (and I have) where you should start reading X-Men, most will tell you to start with Chris Claremont’s run. As you've seen in my mission statement about this X-Men reading and blogging journey, I'm driving blind about the future of X-Men in comics. However, it's pretty common knowledge that the introduction of the Giant Sized roster is one of the most pivotal moments in X-Men history.
Claremont, Wein, and Cockrum really started something special with this X-Men re-boot. We are about to enter an era where unprecedented approaches are taken and the comic readers could tell there was something different and special, leading to X-Men skyrocketing to the top of sales charts and becoming the face of Marvel for generations.
X-Men scholars will often start by pointing out how progressive and ahead of his time Claremont was. A good first place to explore is how he embraced multi-culturalism. The roster is rounded out by Storm coming from Kenya, Colossus of Russia, Nightcrawler from Germany, Banshee of Ireland, Susnpot from Japan, Wolverine from Canada, and Thunderbird serving as a representation of Native Americans.
Roy Thomas, former X-Men scribe and editor-in-chief at the time, had the following to say in an Inverse article about the formation of the new X-Men Roster:
"In 1972 I was associate editor at Marvel, which basically meant that I was the number two editorial guy. When Stan Lee was promoted to president of Marvel, I became editor-in-chief. One thing I wanted to do was to introduce more international characters. I had created a couple when I was doing X-Men — Banshee and Sunfire — and I wanted more. "
In the documentary, "Claremont's X-Men," Claremont said:
"You take these seven people, five of whom were immigrants, and you throw them into a world that, ideally, that is unlike anything they know."
It can't be overshadowed how atypical it was to take a Russian (Colossus) during the middle of the Cold War and make him a centerpiece on an American Super Hero Team. Or to take a black female (Storm) and put her in a position to usurp a white man (Cyclops) as the leader of the team, not to mention always serving as the moral compass for the team. Claremont doesn't hesitate to lean into real world problems, for example Thunderbird has a chip on his shoulder and is distrustful of the white man.
Future Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada had the following to say about the international approach in "When Business Improved Art: The 1975 Relaunch of Marvel's Mutant Heroes" which collected in "The Ages of X-Men":
"The plan was to create a team of characters that were not only diverse in their powers; their diversity would be compounded by their ethnicity, genders, political views and preferences within. A super-powered team that reflected the diversity of a world that was shrinking by the minute. A world whose future could be glorious if we all learned the lessons of tolerance and acceptance, or could end up as a black pit of despair if we let fear rule our lives. Needless to say, this struck a chord within all of us, and the X-Men were re-born."
We'll also see Claremont repeatedly prefer to focus on strong female characters at a time when masculine strength was the game plan for most authors (in all media, not limited to comic books.) Being a huge fan of the X-Men movies and animated television show, I missed out on some of the greatest story arcs involving Storm and later Kitty Pryde. I've read countless articles talking about how the editorial staff would often come up with ideas for Cyclops or Professor X, but Claremont would say something like "Yea maybe, but I've got another great idea for Storm!"
Claremont also focuses as much on character development as plot, famously turning in mammoth scripts and plot outlines for his pencilers. For instance, I mention later in this article that Colossus is"the team's wet blanked." While Claremont leans into this innocent puppy dog having a gentle heart, it's fascinating to watch him struggle over the years as he's forced to evolve and eventually kill to save the ones he loves.
You can argue that Claremont invented the concept of long formed storytelling in comics. He will often introduce a number of seemingly secondary plot lines in an issue, which will inch forward over the course of several comics before ultimately taking center stage for it's own arc.
We'll continue to examine these themes as we progress further through the comics.
Roy Thomas, former X-Men scribe and editor-in-chief at the time, had the following to say in an Inverse article about the formation of the new X-Men Roster:
"I went to a meeting with Stan and a guy named Al Landau, who operated a separate company that sold Marvel comics abroad. Al and I didn’t agree on anything, but in this particular meeting, Al made a great suggestion. He said, 'If we had a group book with characters from several different countries, it could sell really well in places we want to sell comic books.' I was trying to come up with ways to revive the X-men, so I said, 'That would be a great way to bring back the X-Men!'"
Giant-Size X-Men was written by Len Wein, however he quickly left the project and was replaced by Chris Claremont. In Amazon's documentary, "Claremont's X-Men," Chris has the following to say about taking over:
"Len Wein couldn’t keep up with the X-Men after it went bi monthly and he asked me if I was interested and I said “Hell Yes."
Claremont had originally come to Marvel as a student for an unpaid internship. In Amazon's documentary, "Claremont's X-Men," Claremont said:
"The minute I said ‘Since it’s school, I’ll work for free.’ I was in."
We'll come to learn that a common theme at Marvel (or at least in the X- Office), is that creators often got an opportunity simply by hanging around and being at the right place at the right time.
Wein had plotted the first 3 issues (94 - 96) but Claremont took over the scripting. So while the re-launch is commonly associated with Claremont, he didn't fully take over until #97. In the aforementioned Inverse article, Claremont said:
"Taking over the book at that time, where there were a half-dozen characters who had just been created, it was like getting the Fantastic Four when they'd just been born. There were also no expectations because the X-Men were a dead duck, so I was basically given the keys to the kingdom. It was a unique reality and one never to be repeated."
It's just about impossible for me to talk about this lineup without gushing about the guy who created them, Dave Cockrum. Claremont, when talking about how much he loved working with Cockrum, said:
"You would would ask him for a costume design and he’d come in with 40 pages of artwork. "
In addition to impacting readers, Cockrum had a big impact on the Marvel editorial staff. In Amazon's documentary, "Claremont's X-Men," Chris had the following to say about taking about Dave's influence:
"It was supposed to be a quarterly because Marvel wasn’t sure it would sell. After Dave had started working on the second issue, the editorial decision came down to make the book bi-monthly."
According to Comic Creators on X-Men by Tom Defalco, Claremont said that his goal was to expand on Stan's concept of being
"Hated and feared by a world that they're sworn to protect. The beauty of writing X-Men at that time was nobody had any expectations at all. We were like, 'What outrageous thing can we do next?"
So with that being said, let's dive into the issue itself.
Growing up, Nightcrawler was my favorite Super Hero. For this reason, you need to be prepared for me to talk more about him than I really need to. Giant Size X-Men # 1 shows a short snippet of his origin story, but I'm pretty sure we'll get much more in time.
Nightcrawler’s true mother (who we don’t know her identity at this point) put Kurt Wagner (Nightcrawler) in a basket and sent him down a river (kind of like Moses.) A gypsy named Margali Szardos finds him and raises him as her own. Kurt grows up as a traveling circus performer in Germany. One day he discovers that his adoptive brother is a asshole and killed some local kids, so Kurt steps in and accidentally kills him. An angry mom assumes the freak was the kid killer so they round him up to put him down. This is where the original issue picks up with Professor X showing up, using his mind powers to calm the mob, and offers Nightcrawler a fresh start with the X-Men.
Dave Cockrum's favorite character to draw was Nightcrawler, which is why we get a heavy dose of him in this early Cockrum era. Cockrum had originally intended to use Nightcrawler in a very different way, in a DC comic. However, it never saw the light of day so he brought him to the X-Men. In "Comics Creators on X-Men," Cockrum sheds some light on his original ideas for Nightcrawler:
" My idea at the time was that Nightcrawler had screwed up on a mission for Hell, and rather than go back and face punishment, he stayed on the mortal plane and hung out..."
I'm glad that didn't work out and we got our fuzzy friend to join the X-Men.
Wolverine's first appearance was actually in Hulk # 181, which included his rad whiskers.
Roy Thomas had the following to say about Wolverine's original creation in an Inverse article:
"Wolverine had to be introduced in Hulk because Hulk went all over the place. Bringing the Hulk to Canada was no big deal. Even though Wolverine was fighting Hulk, he was never meant to be a villain, that was just a good way to introduce him. I knew he’d be a hero eventually. So I called in [Hulk writer] Len Wein and asked him to, within the next month or two, bring in a character named Wolverine. I told him that he was Canadian and that he had to be short and bad-tempered because wolverines are small and bad-tempered."
"Separately, John Romita designed the character. He’s the one who had the idea to give him these three claws. Len decided later they were made of Adamantium, which I liked because I’d come up with Adamantium when I worked on Avengers. Creating Wolverine was really a combination of Len, Romita, and me, along with Herb Trimpe, who would first draw him in The Incredible Hulk. Marvel doesn’t consider Herb a co-creator of Wolverine, but I do."
Wolverine actually got his more current mask design by a complete mistake, as told by Roy Thomas:
"Romita had designed a cat-like mask for Wolverine, but Gil Kane, who designed the cover of Giant-Size X-Men, changed the mask by mistake! He was a wonderful artist but he had kind of a slap-dash attitude when it came to costumes, but it worked out pretty well, I’d say."
Marvel will eventually go out of their way to backfill his story, but this is where he first premiered as an X-Man. He used to be a member of the Canadian Special Forces (Department H/ Weapon Alpha) until Professor X shows up and “convinces” him to resign.
There was actually some disagreement on how to age Wolverine, as described by Claremont in Amazon's documentary "Claremont's X-Men."
Len had envisioned him as a kid, he was 19, 20 years old, and that the claws were part of the costume, not the body. The problem was that the didn’t look like a kid. And in the first episode he was presented as an officer. So I thought, why don’t we go in a different direction. Why don’t we try going older. But then if he’s older and he’s got a healing factor, how old are we talking about?
And then the third thing, well wouldn’t it be cool if the claws actually came out of his body, if they were a part of him? And the first reaction was ‘Oh, that’s disgusting. Oh man, that’s creepy. Oh, they are gonna love this.’
The reality for me, from the very beginning, every time he pops his claws, he is slashing open his hand. So there’s blood and there’s pain. To me that made him accessible and human. He wasn’t just a magic monster, he’s a guy who has a serious problem and he can’t escape from it and so how do we deal with it?
In a more recent Inverse article, Claremont actually comments on seeing this depicted on screen for the first time:
"It was epitomized onscreen in the first X-Men movie when Anna Paquin looks up at Hugh Jackman and asks, “Does it hurt?” Then he takes this marvelous five or ten-second beat and says, “Every time.” I remember jumping up at the premiere and saying “Yes!” at the top of my lungs. Not only because it was my line from the comics, but it also epitomizes the character."
Banshee! The greatest X-Man who ever lived! No, not really. Even the creative team didn't like him much during this early run, which is why he rarely gets any panels dedicated to him.
A little backstory, Banshee actually shows up as a Villain in one of the 93 issues that I glossed over in the first blog (1: Uncanny X-Men (UXM) # 1 - 93 (The Original, Slightly Crappy Run)). He eventually realized the error of his ways...yadda yadda...and now he’s a good guy! He can scream and stuff.
One important editing note is that Banshee’s presence in the X-Men 90’s run is a big part of what threw me off and made me realize I hadn’t gone back far enough. Banshee didn’t show up in any of the adaptations I was familiar with, yet he was a longtime member when the 90’s run started.
While we’ll get a lot of great backstory on Storm as the comics progress, Xavier finds her in Kenya as a weather controlling Goddess who is worshiped by the locals. As Storm joins the team you can quickly see that she is a peacemaker and motherly character who does a lot to bring the team together. While Storm's characterization will eventually become the shining example of Claremont's brilliance, one black eye on her early portrayal was the creative team's insistence on characterizing (and drawing) her as constantly preferring to be naked.
In Tom DeFalco's Comic Creators on X-Men, Dave Cockrum had the following to say about Storm:
"What wound up being Storm was originally a character called the Black Cat, and I had a character named Typhoon that had Thor's powers and cape. I kind of combined my Black Cat character with Typhoon and ended up with Storm. Marvel liked her, though Len [Wein] was worried that the white hair would make everybody think Storm was somebody's grandmother. I said, 'Trust me, they're not going to think she's anybody's grandmother."
Sunfirewas another character who I had never heard of before. He had a small arc in the original run as one of the “bad guys'' but Xavier goes to him and asks him to help out. While he does agree to help, he clearly doesn’t want to be there, refuses to play nice, and decides to leave as soon as the mission is done. To be honest, I’m not really sure why they bothered to even bring him into this issue. Oh, and he can shoot fire or something.
We are first introduced to Piotr Rasputin (Colossus) as a Soviet Farmhand who has the ability to change his entire body into steel. With Colossus being one of the 6 X-Men who stick around we’ll get much more into him as the comics go on but you can see early on that he’s clearly the team’s wet blanket. We should be happy that Dave Cockrun didn't stick his original character name of "Mr. Steel."
Thunderbird is a Native American superhero with a huge chip on his shoulder. It’s clear right off the bat that he’s pissed off at the White man and pretty much everyone. He appears to have super strength but doesn’t get too many lines in this initial issue. Thunderbird also appeared in Fox's "The Gifted" but it was clearly a very different version of the character in that show. Dave Cockrum gives us a little insight into why this character ended up being so disposable when he said:
"Thunderbird was made up pretty much on the spot. I just wanted to do a Native American character."
Quick shout out to the villain in this issue, the evil, mutant, living island Krakoa. As I mentioned in my mission statement for these blogs, I started by trying to read the Powers of X/ House of X 2019 re-launch before I realized how much backstory I didn’t understand. Krokoa ends up being a big part of that series so it was cool to see the original appearance here.
Next up we'll continue on with the new team as we face the death of an X-Man.
My Rating- 10/10
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