X-Men (Volume 1) # 1 - 93
This inaugural blog starts with X-Men # 1 published July 2, 1963 and goes through # 93 which was released on January 14th, 1975. These issues tell the tale of Professor X and his band of 5 young mutants. The X-Men (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Angel, Iceman), led by Professor Charles Xavier, learn to control their powers and protect the human race, who also happen to fear them.
What is it about the X-Men that pushed the to the top of comic sales in the 70's and allowed them to stay there to this day? I will spend the next few years reading every issue of X-Men (and most X-Men related comics) attempting to get the bottom of that question.
The X-Men have always done more than offer pure escapism for it's readers. For starters, the X-Men live in a very real world that mirrors our own society. At its heart is a story of a group of outsiders who are persecuted by others simply for being born different. One can draw big picture connections between the plight of mutants and those who have fought for equality through the ages, be it equality of race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, gender, or more. But I would argue that everyone has felt like an outsider at one point in their life and that these comics pulls at their heartstrings, making this world feel strikingly lived in.
In addition to the larger concept of mutantdom striking these emotional and societal chords, the creative team themselves have been progressive in their own rights. It's pretty common nowadays to kill off major characters, but the X-Men were doing it long before Game of Thrones made it cool. In fact, you can argue it was the brave act of killing Jean Grey during the Dark Phoenix Saga that served as the turning point for the popularity of the series. Readers started to realize that this was something different and the concept of reading something with true, unpredictable stakes made the stories irresistible.
In addition, Chris Claremont and others didn't hesitate to create a multi-cultural team, focus on strong female characters, explore unique sexual relationships, and most importantly focusing more on characterization than simple plot development. X-Men is one of the rare comics where the best issues of the whole series can take place in "slow issues," just because of how captivating it can be to catch up with internal conflicts or relationship shifts as the result of plot driven events.
All in all, there is something special about the X-Men and I intend to track these themes over decades of publishing to help me better understand why this group of outcasts holds a special place in the hearts of so many.
Welcome to NerdSoup's X-Men Blog
Hey there! This is NerdSoup’s (Mostly) X-Men blog! I invite you to join me as I take a journey through every X-Men (and most X-Men related) comic series from the very beginning through present day. This blog will appeal to 3 different groups of readers:
Someone who has no interest in reading the comics (or at least not all of them), but is still interested in learning about the X-Men comic experience through an abridged, insightful, and humorous rundown of every issue from start to finish.
Someone who is going to go on the same journey and plans on using my blog as a reading order and companion along the way.
Someone who is already a comics expert and wants to see how a fellow X-Men fan experienced the comics as they progress through their journey.
I decided to start this journey because I heard the internet freaking out about Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men re-launch in 2019. I picked up the full 12 issue series (House of X & Powers of X) and loved it, but quickly realized that there was WAY too much stuff (characters, backstory, etc) that I didn’t understand. My end goal is to set myself up to jump back on board with modern X-Men comics, but this time with the prerequisite knowledge. I will break the issues into their various arcs and write a blog broken down into a few parts: The Headline: A catchy title for the Blog that clarifies the theme of this arc. What's Covered: Which issues, quick overview of plot, years covered. Roster Watch: A visual representation of the X-Men (or other team) Roster during this time. It’s so fun to see how the group changes over time! My Connections: This is where I gush about how the story I'm covering relates to my personal fandom. "Oh, oh! I remember that from the Animated Series! or "I had this character's trading card but never knew who they were!" This is also where I'll continue to track things like "Is Professor X still a dick?", "How does Magneto currently rank on the evil-o-meter?," and "When am I supposed to start liking Cyclops?" Creators: A quick note about the creative team. Where possible, I try to provide direct quotes from the creative team in addition to my own analysis. My Rating and Review: A rating out of 10 and a short explanation. Synopsis: A recap of the main plot points, complete with screenshots from the comic itself.
Let’s face it. Stan Lee is a great guy who did amazing things for comics, but these original issues were....not great. Roy Thomas and Neal Adams did a lot to improve the quality, with Peter Sanderson's quote from the X-Men Companion # 1 summing it up well:
"But perhaps Thomas's major achievement during his first term of writing the X-Men was his emphasis on characterization. He humanized the X-Men, making them clearly identifiable as people in their late teens or early twenties, who apart from their powers, were much like their readers of the same ages."
Ironically, Dave Cockrum said
"Marvel had actually cancelled it prematurely because the Neal Adams/Roy Thomas issues ended up selling quite well, but the company hadn't gotten the sales results back before they cancelled it."
The X-Men really started reaching their stride when Len Wein (soon replaced by the infamous Chris Claremont) and Dave Cockrum (eventually replaced by John Byrne and others) took over with Giant Size X-Men # 1, but we'll save that for next time.
These issues introduced us to Professor X, who brought 5 young mutants together to form the X-Men: Cyclops, Marvel Girl (Jean Grey), Beast, Iceman, and Angel.
My Rating and Review - 7/10
Unfortunately, I really don't think these comics hold up to well compared to modern times. However, I still enjoyed seeing so many characters and themes introduced at the very beginning. Whether it was the Sentinels, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Havok and Polaris, or just the beginning through line of a human race that fears them...it was worth the read, but I'm ready to get into the Claremontian era.
Professor X is a Dick
Let’s get this one out of the way. In this early run, Professor X is a dick. Patrick Stewart, James MacAvoy, and the 90’s cartoon did a good job of making him sympathetic because all he does is yell at, trick, and exhaust his students. Not to mention, constantly putting a bunch of teenagers in harm's way. I was really shocked by this because I was expecting a nurturing leader, but he is more like a drill sergeant.
The character is actually killed by Lee and Kirby, but Thomas and Adams decided down the line to invent a convoluted plot which explained that he had actually faked his own death. Roy Thomas, the writer who took over for Stan Lee said
"Our original intention was that he (Xavier) would remain dead. I don’t think we intended to bring him back."
This may have been one of the earliest X-Men retcons.
You learn how he lost the use of his legs, yet it’s very anticlimactic. Basically some bad guy named Lucifer (who I had never heard of) dropped a heavy object on him. He also explains how bad it is to invade people’s minds without permission and then he constantly does it anyway.
This is something I want to keep my eye on as I progress through the years. Do other writers make him more relatable or did the adaptations I’m familiar with just do him a solid? We’ll see. For now, enjoy this collage of him being a jerk in different ways...
Cyclops is Needy
Scott Summers as Cyclops is the orphaned teenager who slowly becomes the inevitable (field) leader of the X-Men and slowly falls in love with Jean Grey, but boy is he needy!
He is absolutely obsessed with how much his eye beams make him a freak and a burden to those around him. He takes forever to get with Jean because he can’t get over the possibility that he could hurt her with his eyes. I don’t recall this being a plotline in any of the adaptations so this was kind of a shock. He’s also emotionally stunted from his time in the orphanage, but the way this sternness makes him a good leader is actually pretty well done.
Jean Grey, AKA Marvel Girl
Jean was known as Marvel Girl in this initial run and shockingly starts out as only having telekinetic abilities, with her nascent telepathic abilities manifesting (in an odd manner) by the end of the run.
Sometimes It can be uncomfortable to read old comics and get a glimpse of what society was like at the time. Jean is constantly cooking meals, cleaning, and getting both hit on and berated by the other members of the team (and some villains). There’s a real “Hey babymaker, get back in the kitchen” vibe that has not helped these comics age well. This is one major reason I’m skipping through 93 issues in one blog.
Dave Cockrum had the following to say in Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story:
"I don't want to say anything bad against Stan, but when he was creating the characters of the early 60's, all the girls characters were simps. The housewife heroes. They were there to be looked at rescued, mostly."
Hank McCoy is known as the blue, furry, genius...Beast, but that’s not how he started. Ironically, he doesn’t come across as being especially smart in the first few issues. I’m guessing that after a few issues, Stan realized that Scott was stoic, Warren was a rich playboy, Bobby was immature, but Hank didn’t have a unique personality trait...so let's make this guy smart! Beast becomes a blue furry genius eventually, but he remains as a normal looking nerdy human with big feet throughout this entire run.
Iceman is a youngling
There’s not too much to say about Bobby Drake as Iceman. His whole schtick was that he was by far the youngest X-man and he was constantly being immature. I had never previously had a strong connection to Iceman and these opening issues help me to understand why as he never gets strong characterizations and mostly lives to serve as comic relief. I also know that Iceman comes out as gay in the more modern era, so I'm interested to keep my eye on that as the years go on to see if any of that was seeded or if it was a straight retcon decades later.
Angel follows the rich, playboy archetype and spends most of his energy hitting on Jean. He will eventually get developed further, but characterization was hit or miss in this initial run and he won't make the cut when Claremont takes over.
Magneto is a straight up psychopath
Hey, Magneto is introduced right away! That’s cool. Too bad it’s not the Magneto I know. In the first 93 issues he’s not a holocaust survivor and he has no past relationship with Charles. He’s just a straight up psychopath who wants to take over the world. That’s it. This will be another thing I’ll be watching closely because I’m curious to see how long it takes before they start filling in his backstory.
Here are some early iterations of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants:
Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch started out evil, but eventually came to their senses and joined the Avengers during this run.
There were lots of villains who appeared in multiple issues but will never (or rarely) be heard from again. To name a few...Lucifer (who is the one that broke the profs legs), Unus, The Vanisher, The Stranger, and Mimic.
Juggernaut and the Blog get introduced and it was actually a big relief that both characters stayed pretty true to how I’ve seen them adapted in more recent years.
I was also shocked that Polaris (Lorna Dane) and Havok (Alex Summers) both appeared this early in X-Men history. I had only vaguely heard of Polaris as I recall seeing her in X-Factor and seeing her in the Fox X-Men Show, the Gifted, so was shocked that she was introduced so early and continued to have a large role throughout the X-Men run.
Will Scott and Jean ever get together?!
Next up is the All New, All Different X-Men where we'll meet Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, and Nightcrawler in Giant Sized X-Men # 1!