Monday, June 28, 2010
Giant-Size June! G-S X-Men #1
Giant-Size X-Men #1 (May 1975)
Len Wein-Dave Cockrum
Doug: To close out our month-long look at some of the oversized comic goodness that brightened our lives back in the Bronze Age, we'll be peeking between the covers of one of the Holy Grails of the 1970's -- Giant-Size X-Men #1. Yes, back in the late spring of 1975, you truly could have had your senses shattered by this 1st issue! As my resource -- I'm not one who was lucky enough to ever own this tome -- I'll be using the Marvel Milestone Edition from 1991, which is an exact reproduction of the original issue, ads and all.
Karen: Although I do have a copy of GS X-Men #1, it's not in the greatest shape any more (too many re-readings), so I'm using the paperback edition of Marvel Masterworks X-Men for this review.
Doug: I re-read this last night (as I type this) before sitting down to comment. I'm not sure where to begin... I had a Mego playmate who owned this off the shelf, and I had X-Men #95-96 as they came out -- I knew about this story and these characters "back in the day". In fact, I'd venture to say that in 1975 I had little to no knowledge of the original X-Men beyond what was mentioned in the issues I've named. In my world, Beast was an Avenger, Angel and Iceman were Champions, and Cyke and Marvel Girl were X-Men. So for me, these were "my" X-Men, and Dave Cockrum was the artist. When I read this last night, I had all of the same emotions -- the excitement, the geeked-out fanboy giddiness -- that I felt 35 years ago. Whenever youngsters argue that Silver and Bronze Age material doesn't "hold up"... send them to this one. Shoot, send them straight through the All-New, All-Different era all the way to Byrne's departure after "Days of Future Past". Then tell them that's what it means to "hold up" after a long time.
Karen: I can still remember when I got this issue. My brother and I were out running errands for our folks on a Saturday and we stopped at The Book Nook. I was really taken with this book because 1) it was a giant-size, and 2) these were not the X-Men I knew from the reprints I had been reading. Once I read it -and saw the beautiful Cockrum art -I was just like you Doug: giddy with excitement.
Doug: The reader with a little history knowledge can grab a real sense of appreciation of where Dave Cockrum had been prior to joining the Marvel Comics Group. From the opening pages of this story, a world tour begins that brings a slight smile -- this wasn't a team culled from the United Planets, but one taken from the United Nations. All of the introductory segments for the new characters are nice -- I particularly liked the three pages spotlighting Nightcrawler. It was straight out of a 1930's horror movie with the crazed villagers setting upon the misunderstood monster!
Karen: Oh yeah, Nightcrawler was definitely in the Frankenstein role there!
Doug: I found it curious, though, in the Wolverine segment, that Charles Xavier could offer Logan (whoops -- not called that yet!) the chance to "become a free agent". The Canadian military officer was right to protest, and loudly. Crazy Americans...
Karen: In retrospect, do we have to wonder if there was a little bit of mind control there, to even allow Charles to get on that base?
Doug: Ha! Yeah -- Jedi mind trick... I thought it was interesting that Xavier recruited Banshee (other than Cyclops, the only new X-Man with ties to the old team) in Nashville, TN. That is the city where we last saw him, in the pages of Captain America during the "Secret Empire" storyline.
Karen: Oh yeah, that was great - Marvel continuity at its finest! And in that same panel are three distinct looking background characters -I'm not sure who the two guys are (Cockrum and Wein, maybe?), but the girl is a dead ringer for Tinya Wazzo, aka Phantom Girl from Cockrum's recently departed Legion series!
Doug: I believe that is Cockrum at top and Len Wein in the foreground, yes. I recall being amazed that Storm was drawn topless -- I'm not sure if I thought it was dirty or not... but I do remember staring at those panels! Her's was an almost-pitiful story, and Xavier was right to term it a "fantasy". Cutting then right to Japan and Xavier's audience with Sunfire -- what a jerk! I'm glad to this day that he didn't stick around. Later, Thunderbird and Wolverine would provide enough brashness that the team did not also need to deal with Shiro.
Doug: Next to Storm, the introduction of Colossus was the most sentimental. Len Wein and Cockrum really did a nice job in these little vignettes. Peter's care for his sister and his parents was very touching. Of course, I'm sure at the time the USSR would not have let Piotr leave so easily!
Doug: Lastly, John Proudstar was appropriately named. Wein targeted the emotions of a young, disenchanted Native American in a quite believable fashion. This part of the story, and future exchanges involving Thunderbird, was rife with racist language which was, again, appropriate.
Karen: Maybe I'm just being nostalgic, but I loved all of these introductions. They did what they were supposed to do: define the characters for the reader. With Storm we get a sense of her regal bearing and power; Colossus shows his great strength and humble spirit; and we can feel the rage and frustration boiling inside Thunderbird. While I liked Thunderbird from the outset, reading his dialogue today he sounds just like Wolverine to me. It's no wonder they decided to give him the ax.
Doug: Once the team was assembled (in a very nice splash by Cockrum), they are introduced to their leader, Cyclops. Right away I noticed the change in his visor, and thought it looked great! Cockrum's pencils were just outstanding throughout the book -- I've always felt he was underrated in comparison to his contemporaries, and perhaps it's due to his too-short stints on the Legion and here with the X-Men. But it's hard to find something of his that I don't like. His also very short run on the Avengers was solid. The man just poured passion into his pages, and I think that's mainly to do with his having been a fan before he entered the field professionally.
Karen: His art here is fantastic. I've always appreciated his attention to detail, and the scenes of the big battle later on just resonate with power. Another one of his virtues was his ability to handle large numbers of characters in single scenes. He was such a great artist.
Doug: So the mission is for the new team to go to the island of Krakoa and rescue the original members. We get a nice recap of what had transpired, a little taste of mystery, and some outstanding characterization of all 14 of the characters in this story. You think of the X-Men, you think of Chris Claremont -- but it's Len Wein here who really has his finger on the pulse of these characters. Just outstanding dialogue, etc.
Karen: You're right, most of us do think of Claremont when we think of this team, but here Wein gave us the basic personalities of these characters.
Doug: As the mission begins, the team is broken up into pairs, sort of like the old JLA/JSA team-ups. Again, this serves as moments for characterization, measurements of powers, etc. I have to say, the cliche "jumping on point" is used way too often these days; however, this issue truly was a start-up, and anyone coming to this title shouldn't have had any doubts about what had gone before with the original team, nor about who these new folks were and where the book was going. Really, about the only thing that was dropped by Claremont, and I find it curious since it involved Nightcrawler (who Cockrum had had in store for years), was Kurt Wagner's bestial qualities -- howling, growling, etc.
Karen: I have to say, both then and now, I thought that "Krakoa -the island that walked like a man" was about the dumbest villain I'd ever seen. Seriously, while everything else in this issue gets an A, Krakoa does bring things down a notch for me. I don't care for the concept, and I don't care for the look. He looks like Man-Thing's big brother. Not the best idea in the world.
Doug: As the story reaches its apex, we see for the first time a plot device that would be employed off and on in subsequent adventures, and that is the linking of energy-powered characters -- in this case it's Storm, Polaris, Havok, and Cyclops. I thought here that Polaris was really over-powered, to the point where I wondered if she was stronger than Magneto. This was soon dropped, as the Sentinels story would show just a few months later.
Karen: Yes, the X-Men combining all their powers in to an all-out assault did seem to become a staple for the book. Even the cover to issue 126 shows the team in this manner.
Doug: Karen's mentioned that the production of these Giant-Size issues wasn't always reliable. While some books ran to a 5th or even 6th issue, X-Men reached only a second G-S issue, and it was a reprint of the Thomas/Adams issues. What's advertised in the "next issue" box is a story to be titled, "When the Doomsmith Strikes!" I'm pretty sure that was X-Men #94. The magazine concludes with three short reprints of the origins/powers of Cyclops, Iceman, and Marvel Girl; these stories ran in X-Men #'s 43, 47, and 57, respectively.
Karen: At the end of the story, Angel says,"What are we going to do with thirteen X-Men?" That answer would come swiftly in X-Men 94, as all of the original team left, except for Cyclops. Although we would see Jean return relatively quickly, and Lorna and Alex would also make appearances. But the baton had been passed - the Silver Age team was gone; the Bronze Age team was here. And the X-Men's domination of the Marvel universe had begun.