Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The X-Men #1 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby [1963]

I've been gone for quite some time, I know, but not because I was slacking off. I merely had to finish reviewing some novels, and the last issues of three New 52 Batman titles in the meantime; but all the while looking for online copies of certain classics from Claremont's The Uncanny X-Men run, and the very first Stan Lee debut issue. It took me only a few days to locate downloadable sources which are simply glorious. 

So in the last two weeks of April I'll be reading and reviewing six storylines, two of which are this debut story and the Giant-Size relaunch, while the rest are as follows: The X-Tinction Agenda (issues #270-272), The Trial of Magneto (#200)Fatal Attractions (UXM #304, X-Men vol 2, #25), and Legion Quest (UXM #319-320, X-Men vol. 2, #40-41). It's worth noting that both X-Tinction and Fatal Attractions also happen in several other X-titles but I'm only choosing to read and review the key issues from The Uncanny X-Men and X-Men volume 2 run (the latter of which is for very Cherik reasons, naturally).

Take a walk with me in the silver-age memory lane with Stan Lee's very first issue of The X-Men illustrated by one of Marvel's holy trinity Jack Kirby. It's only right to include this issue in my roster after all, considering its significance, posterity-wise. This was really the first time I read it again since I was...in high school, I think, and its simple sixties charm hasn't dimmed for me at all, not one bit. Featuring the original five (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, the Angel, and Beast) led by the powerful telepath Professor X, The X-Men  debuted as the 'strangest super-heroes of all." Clearly, a lot more eccentric than the Fantastic Four and the Avengers combined whose title runs are comparably more interesting. Most probably, I think. This is just the first issue and whatever makes the X-Men distinct and special nowadays hasn't been captured yet. Of course, the Chris Claremont era basically defined what the X-Men are, but we still owe it to Stan Lee for creating these characters in the first place. And they are absolutely an astonishing hoot in this debut.

The issue opens with a surly bald man hanging around by the window sill, alone in his private thoughts when he suddenly (and loudly telepathically) summoned his students so they can get some practice. Then came four boys with the youngest of them only at sixteen (Bobby a.k.a Iceman) who were already in their garish yellow uniforms upon entering the professor's room, ready to test out their unique abilities, these so-called "mutant" powers which we find very soon enough are fairly awesome as we spent an ample amount of pages with demonstrations of each of these boys' capabilities. The most appropriate adjective I would describe everything about this issue would be DORKY. The entirety of it all is just hilarious and oddly endearing in some places. Something about it just tickles me especially the awkward moments in between such as this panel with Angel and Cyclops politely yet sweetly trying to accommodate their dear old mentor with his reclining chair while said mentor sort of looks like he was drawn to look as if he would rather be elsewhere (preferably on a beach with his lover, Magneto, but I digress).

I'm giggling throughout the next pages of their "practice" as the professor purposefully does not even talk aloud but rather continues to communicate telepathically, justifying that it's also part of the training regimen but at this point it feels as if this frowning bald man just doesn't want to make any effort to open his mouth and would rather just sit down and watch the dorks almost successfully, sort of but not really attack and kill each other with their dangerous powers. This monotonous excitement was cut short when the professor brings the good news of acquiring another mutant to become a student in where I assume is a reclusive place (seriously, where is this school located?) Also, Iceman looks fucking ridiculous. He literally looks like a cheaply-made snowman. It's a bit distracting especially since he's wearing goddamn boots. Wouldn't the footwear stick to his frozen feet? Anyway, after a rather seamless transition of the Professor now sitting on a wheelchair in the next panel (I'll just assume Angel and Cyclops once again politely yet sweetly carried him and placed him there), they resume their 'normal' looks to go meet the lady, aiming not to scare her off. But Beast is quite the perv, calling her names like "gorgeous", "doll", "sweetheart" and even trying to peck her cheek out of goddamn nowhere. So...basically acceptable sixties behavior, I guess.

But Jean Grey is not your average lady. She's a telekenetic who can lift things and even a hefty man like Beast is no exception. After he outright attempts to affectionately molest her, she responds by dismissing Angel's chivalrous comments of trying to defend her honor, by casually suspending Beast with mind power alone, demonstrating to the boys that she is not some helpless damsel they can just touch and fondle when they feel like it. She lets him hover around in the air for a bit before she mercilessly brings him down to a sofa. Beast should consider himself warned at that point. Good for Jeannie. Again, I'll just assume that the professor simply did not give a fuck since he did not even react to any of this. He literally looks zoned out during this issue. And I'm just going to put it out there that it's because he was thinking about what Magneto is up to right now which, case in point, transitions to said super-villain as soon as the professor explains to Jean that there are evil mutants out there who are hell-bent on world domination. So right after that display of mildly amusing sixties sexism aside, the next panels now featured some hilarity concerning Magneto and the military and all that metal. The most impressive feat of which for me is the fact that Magneto can magnetize dust particles, and he then wrote the soldiers some love-me notes in the clear blue sky:

Now any respectable super-villain who can write his name in beautiful calligraphy like that using only dust particles is someone worth taking seriously, do you hear me? Magneto means serious biz. Y'all better surrender or he'll write another threatening letter..in CURSIVE WRITING!

Meanwhile, Jean Grey puts on her costume while the boys, from the corner of the room, watch her admire herself in a mirror, which begs the question: How long have they been there and did they watch her change clothes the entire time? Jeannie caught them in the act and Beast lamely makes an excuse when thankfully Professor X summons them to inform them on the attack from the previous scenes. Now, I assume that the X-Men haven't been training long enough for any sort of mission in the foreseeable future but the Professor I guess, definitely, if not quite literally, wants to throw them in a baptism of fire, including token-girl Jean Grey who JUST GOT THERE. 

"Well, sweetheart, since you had the costume on anyway, you might as well join the suicide mission, whatever, seeing as you can also lift things and stuff," chimes the professor nonchalantly.

Also, the professor neglectfully fails to mention that the kids will be meeting a man he has known for a long time (realistically, the Xavier-Magneto connection love affair hasn't been made canon yet) but let's just say he recklessly just sent away some youngsters who are very much green and ill-equipped to take on his murderous ex-boyfriend without even bothering to inform the powers of the foe they were going to face. And how do they react to this development? Well, Bobby was thrilled:

First off, "Yaybo!" should make a comeback. Am I the only one who thinks this is a timeless expression that must be utilized in every day life? Second of all, Bobby, you know what would help you get ready faster? Not put on goddamn boots because, really, how is that helping you walk better? Or maybe Bobby just wants to wear the uniform of his teammates even if it's just the footwear so he could still feel like he belongs in the group which would be heartbreaking if that is really the case then. 

So then they arrived at the scene of monstrosity (after the Professor flies them in his own private plane using his mind powers--which begs the question: can he not just will himself to walk if he is powerful enough to keep a massive aircraft afloat?). The kids then encountered Magneto for the first time. Pretty amazingly illustrated fight scenes happen as Magneto tries his darndest best to incapacitate the X-Men and almost succeeds too but then Cyclops cleverly dug a hole using his solar beam or something which enabled them to escape underground..or something. I'm really not taking anything about this issue seriously even though it's totes fun and charming all the way. 

Especially Magneto, who refers to himself in the third person like this:

*snorts* "Miraculous" Magneto...yeah, I bet that's Charles' pet name for him in the bedroom.

Overall, an uncannily entertaining debut issue. Personally, if you can't read the original run for yourselves, I recommend everyone to listen instead to the Danger Room podcast where the guys made it their personal mission to review each issue of the X-Men from the Stan Lee era. They also provided scintillating commentary along the way as they ask the hard questions concerning the subtlest loopholes in the narrative, characterizations and overall wackiness of the sixties run, all the while enjoying themselves with the content. I know I just did.


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