Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Giant Size X-men #1

I don't know how many people are aware of the fact that the X-men as a series almost didn't make it. Seven years after its debut, the X-men comic ceased publication with issue 66 in 1970. Nine months later, they continued production but they were simply reprints of older issues. It was in May of 1975 that Giant Size X-men #1 was released, and it was an attempt to revitalize the team.

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I'm going to apologize right off the bat for not having images for you beyond the cover. My copy of this issue is included in the first trade paperback volume of Uncanny X-men and as such doesn't make for easy scanning.

This issue pretty literally hits the ground running, as one by one the Professor travels the world to assemble a new team of X-men. First up is Nightcrawler, who is being pursued by a torch wielding mob in Germany. He is nearly ready to forsake his humanity completely due to the barbarous nature of the humans around him. Fortunately, the Professor jumps in just in time to shout "Stop!" mentally at the mob and save him. This Nightcrawler is nowhere near the comical lighthearted character who would later appear in the X-men, which is really quite logical given what he is dealing with. What surprised me most, however, was that twice writer Len Wein describes him giving out a "hideous howl," really playing into his demonic appearance. Obviously, much like Beast in X-men #1, they did not entirely decide to create his opposite nature until later issues.

Next up is Wolverine, showing up six months after his debut in The Incredible Hulk. He is an agent for the Canadian government, and there are even some hints that his adamantium skeleton was installed by that government, though now that I think about it I don't think the word adamantium is ever used. We also see no evidence of a healing factor - he's basically just a hothead mutant with retractable claws. The Professor basically steals him straight from Canada and the head of the department vows that they are not done with him yet.

Banshee is the next recruit, and he had actually appeared in older X-men issues as a villain. The professor asks him if he'd like to do something good for once and help him out. Banshee agrees. The Irish stereotyping here is atrocious - he uses "Begorra!" as an exclamation and tells the Professor "then sure an' I'll help ye!" Even his appearance bears a resemblance to the Irish cops I'm used to seeing in Looney Tunes cartoons.

Storm's debut, as you might expect, is even worse. She's being worshiped as a goddess in Africa, and as such she is shirtless, though amazingly has perfectly perky breasts. I'll give them credit - in the multiple panels where we see her appearing before her people and showing off her powers, they use a different technique to hide her breasts in every one of them. They were clearly having fun with it. As you probably expect, there is no mention here of the fact that she was born in America or that she was once a child thief on the streets of Cairo that pick-pocketed a walking Charles Xavier. All those details would be established much later. I also found it interesting that twice Len Wein narrates that her eyes grow dark as she uses her powers, even though we so often see them turn white now.

Sunfire is another mutant who had previously featured in X-men stories, and as such his introduction is very quick. He and the Professor have tea together, and he agrees to help him out. Sunfire will leave the team just as quickly in the next issue. He is yet another hothead, I suppose to fit with his heat powers. The sad part is there is yet another one to go...

Before that though we meet Colossus on his farm collective in the USSR. Peter's powers are revealed when his idiot sister just sits there doing nothing when a runaway tractor comes heading toward her. Seriously, the tractor is like right behind her and she just sits there playing with her toys. Even a deaf girl would have felt the vibrations. Peter manages to turn to steel just in time to grab her and save her. Colossus wonders if his powers belong to the state, but the Professor insists they belong to the world, and Peter agrees to join.

Now to our final hothead and perhaps the worst of the stereotyping - Thunderbird, aka John Proudstar, member of the Apache. John is upset that most of his tribe are just sitting like wimps on a reservation when he wants to be a warrior. The Professor wants to give him that chance, but John wants no help from the filthy white man. After a quick exchange where the Professor uses reverse psychology, John agrees to join anyway. Thunderbird's powers appear to be super-strength, but it is never clearly defined in the issue.

Once all gathered together back at the mansion, the Professor finally explains what is going on: Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Havok and Lorna Dane (I didn't see her referred to Polaris at this point) all went to find a mutant on the island Krakoa and now only Cyclops has returned, unsure of what happened to the others. Beast is not here because he had previously graduated from the X-men and is now a member of the Avengers. So even though they have no idea what they are up against, the Professor and Cyclop's plan seems to be "bring a bunch more mutants and maybe this time we can beat it.. whatever it is."

"It" turns out to be the island itself. Nuclear testing was performed on the island, making all organisms on it merge together into one life form. Don't think about that one too much, it will hurt your brain. Krakoa has been feeding energy off the captured X-men and now wants to capture the rest, but apparently they are too strong in a group, even though they can't get along at all. They bicker almost constantly, and only shut up long enough to fight the island.

Once again, their method to defeat the island makes no sense. Storm sends "electrical energy" at Lorna, who somehow uses it to channel her magnetic powers. It's apparently quite risky and could kill her, which upsets Havok since he loves her. Cyclops tells him too bad - he has to save the world, not worry about one woman. Once she is charged enough, the two brothers both fire their energy powers at Lorna, which somehow allows her to release her energy down into the earth. This force works against gravity and launches Krakoa into space. So really.. the only one of the new team they actually needed was Storm. No wonder Sunfire and Banshee are both so ready to leave next issue.

This issue is almost identical in pattern to X-men #1 - introduce a bunch of characters then throw them into a quick fight. Despite its "giant size" it really doesn't cover much more ground. It assumes you're already familiar with the old X-men, which is kind of surprising to me because I wouldn't think back issues were that easy to get in the 1970s. Perhaps the readership of the book in its reprinting stage was so strong they figured people wouldn't have much trouble jumping on and understanding it.

I suppose, much like the original Star Trek series, you have to applaud their attempt at introducing an international team, even if it is full of stereotypes. The simple fact that these characters were included here allowed them to be built upon and deepened into better characters later - well, except for Thunderbird, who dies the very next issue.

As I mentioned earlier, I read this as the beginning of the first volume of Uncanny X-men, and I have to make a confession - I have never made it all the way through that book. The stories that follow it all feel overly silly to me - they fight Count Nefaria and his Ani-mates in the next issue, and I think those names alone give you a feel for what kind of story it is. The issue after that features a giant red demon. This does lead into The Phoenix Saga however, so I guess I really should finish it. My future reviews will all be within the Chris Claremont era of X-men, and therefore contain much stronger stories.

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