Monday, July 25, 2011

Uncanny X-men #1

One of the comics I had originally planned to cover during my X-men marathon was, quite logically, the very first issue of X-men. While the title was not yet called "Uncanny X-men," the series would eventually evolve to have that name. In a couple months, for ridiculous reasoning, Marvel is cancelling this series and starting the numbering over. They claim it's because the team will be different, but given the very large number of times the team has changed, it's an excuse. They're pretty obviously trying to compete with DC's reboot.

But for right now, let's forget about all that and take a look at the issue that started it all.

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As you can see, I'm using a reprint for this review. I got it very early on in my comic collecting days, though I honestly don't remember where I found it. This is a nicely done reprint, as the images look crisp and clear and the coloring is high quality and much better than it could have looked in the 60s. They still use the old ads inside though, so you're still getting something close to authentic. This reprinting was done in 1991, so I'm guessing it was in coordination with the fact that the new X-men series had just debuted.

I remember the first time I read through this comic all the way through, I thought, "Man, everyone in this comic seems really excitable..." See if you can figure out why:

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(click for a larger version if you need it)

If you've read enough golden or silver age comics you probably already know the answer to this, but for those of you who were like me in these days, it's because every single sentence in this comic that isn't a question ends in an exclamation point. I finally found out in more recent years that this happened because the printing quality of the time made it hard for a period to show up properly, so they ended the sentences in exclamation points to make sure you knew where the breaks were. While understandable from that perspective, it can't help but effect your reading experience. It makes the stories seem a little more shallow, in my opinion.

The story is 24 pages and as such wastes no time in telling us who these characters are. We join the X-men as Professor X calls them to class to train their powers. There is no danger room present here, but they do use machines to help them practice their abilities. We see Beast, Angel, Iceman and Cyclops each use their abilities one by one while the professor over-explains them to us telepathically. We also learn that Angel is a little overconfident and that Iceman is the youngest of the group and a bit of a jokester.

Training is brought to a halt when the professor senses that Jean Grey has arrived.

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There's simply no way I can do this review without getting a little preachy. I've seen multiple reviews of it elsewhere that usually use this point to rant about the "blatant sexist nature" of the way Jean's arrival is handled. This is definitely not politically correct at all, so I suppose it's easy for people to get offended. However, if you think there aren't guys who do this kind of stuff today when they are alone, you are very, very naive. I also think the way Iceman is leaving the panel and calling the other guys wolves is a pretty clear indication that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are not actually condoning this behavior.. they're just using it for comedic effect.

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It's interesting that Cyclops is introduced as Slim Summers. He is not referred to as Scott at all within the issue.

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I remember being very surprised the first time I read this to find out that they did in fact blame their mutant powers on radiation exposure after all.

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Though it is good to know that the idea of a world that hates and fears them was at least present from day one.

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And then we turn right around and have another difference in the very next panel - later on it would be established that it was not a childhood accident that handicapped the professor, but rather a fight with an alien known as Lucifer.

Perhaps the most striking difference, for me, was the characterization of Beast.

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His behavior throughout the issue reminds me much more of Ben Grimm aka The Thing from the Fantastic Four. While I haven't read the issues myself, I've been told his trademark genius intellect does not show up until a couple issues later. My guess is Lee and Kirby themselves also realized just how similar the two characters were and wanted to add something to Hank to set him apart.

I also think the sequence above is another clear example of Jean being shown perfectly capable of taking care of herself and punishing Hank appropriately for his behavior.

Soon after, Magneto makes his appearance. He really isn't much more than a generic supervillain here, with no sign of any history between him and the professor and some pretty basic goals - take over a missile silo and make fools of the humans running the place. The X-men head out on their very first mission to stop him, and we find out they've got some pretty interesting machines at their disposal.

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Essentially their own Batmobile... I also just noticed the typo here for the first time.

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And.. um... wouldn't he have to be a telekinetic in order to control something with his mind? I guess because the X-men are supposed to be teenagers, none of them would actually know how to fly a plane, and they didn't want the professor to go with them... but it's still quite a stretch.

The lack of logic continues during most of the battle with Magneto, but that's pretty much a given for superpowers, so I'm not going to nitpick. It is however interesting to see that Cyclops using his beams full blast makes him pass out momentarily. The X-men use great teamwork in taking down Magneto, but he does make his escape.

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Perhaps this is where the "uncanny" comes from?

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Apparently, for the moment at least, the military doesn't hate and fear them too much...

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Were the X-men really that much stranger than other superheroes? I'll admit I haven't read that many comics from this era, but looking at this issue, they just look like generic superheroes to me.

It's hard to judge this comic not only because of the time period it was created in but also because it really isn't much more than an introduction. As such it does its job well, introducing us to the characters and their reason for fighting. While the professor does tell us people were afraid of him, we're not otherwise seeing any evidence of the metaphors for social issues the X-men would later be known for. While interesting from a history perspective, I can't say this issue is a "must own" for an X-men fan - just for hardcore collectors who want bragging rights.

4 comments:

  1. Yeah, most of the first issues from the Marvel Age are fun and occasionally clever, but feel a little thin. It usually took Stan and Kirby/Ditko a few issues to really sort out who the characters are and what the heart of their concept is. Then they were off and running strong... until Roy Thomas took over writing most of them. I love Roy as a historian, but his Silver Age comics are awful. With X-Men, there's a few good stories by Gary Friedrich and Arnold Drake, but it didn't really become something great until the Chris Claremont/Dave Cockrum era.

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  2. I know there's a digital collection on CD that collects the majority of these older issues that I'd like to get my hands on eventually, but I'm not expecting much until Claremont shows up.

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  3. Yeah, I've got that CD. They also released ones for Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Captain America, Hulk, Ghost Rider, and Avengers. Unfortunately, Marvel decided not to renew the license (in favor of their own Digital Library?) and they went out of print rather suddenly. They're worth tracking down if you like the titles, but I'm also finding a subscription to the Digital Library to be a worthy investment. It's incomplete, but there's still a ton of great stuff in there.

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  4. +JMJ+

    Wow. You're right. There's nothing very X-ish about them here. I guess their unique selling point as superheroes evolved just as much as their genes did!

    I usually start reading comics after the characters have been well established and rarely hunt down rare issues, but I like that you're looking at the early nuances.

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