Monday, February 27, 2012
Marvel Firsts: The Bouncing GREY Beast!
Amazing Adventures #11 (March 1972)
"Lo! A Beast is Born!"
Gerry Conway-Tom Sutton/Syd Shores
Karen: Welcome to the inaugural post in a little series that Doug and I will be running out from time to time called 'Marvel Firsts.' We'll be taking a look at the first appearance of a Marvel character, although, in the case of this review, it is a first appearance based on a new look for a character. Original X-Man The Beast got his own brief series in 1971 in Amazing Adventures, but rather than the red and blue suited mutant we all knew, he would now look much more like his appellation.
Doug: I'd be curious to see sales figures from the short time that X-Men switched to the solo format (issues 44-48); surely the issue with Hank and Bobby didn't sell better than the others. I just think the Beast was a curious case for a solo magazine. Surely the Angel would have more cover appeal; trouble there is, he really doesn't have an interesting super power. At least Hawkman looks cool with the medieval weaponry. But a change in form would basically change Hank McCoy, the character, irrevocably.
Karen: Enjoy that striking Gil Kane artwork on the cover while you can, though, because the inside is illustrated by Tom Sutton and Syd Shores, and it's rough going. Honestly, every time I see the Beast in this issue I feel myself scowling. I actually have always liked his hairy, ape-like (not cat-like!) form, but it just looks terrible here. The rest of the art is serviceable, but the Beast in particular looks appallingly bad.
Doug: Karen and I have had a few conversations through email ahead of today's publication of this post. To be honest, neither of us has been looking forward to the art. And I can't really put my finger on it. I'll agree that it's serviceable. The "humanoids" (for lack of a better term) hearken back to the X-days of Werner Roth. That's not a bad thing, just not up with some of the other Marvel mags of this day. One thought I told Karen was that this book looked at times like a pre-hero Atlas mag. Specifically in regard to Sutton's depiction of our hairy protagonist, my impression is that he never got comfortable with the Beast's look -- at times he resembles (I'm talking angular aspects of the body mainly) a gorilla, a werewolf, and at others a plain ol' wolf. There are certain postures that seem to run inconsistent even from panel to panel. But overall the lay-outs and camera angles are varied and there are some nice panels throughout.
Karen: This issue came out at the time when Marvel seemed to be struggling to figure out some way to use the X-Men. Their own title had gone into reprints, and the strangest teens of all would occasionally show up in other titles. Apparently it was felt that the Beast might do well, if there were some changes. I can't help but think that his new look was a part of the whole monster mania that swept through Marvel in the early 70s.
Doug: As an aside here, I am reading from the Marvel Masterworks - X-Men, volume 7. Marvel did a great thing with volumes 7 and 8 in this series by reprinting the interim appearances of the Merry Mutants between X-Men #66 and G-S X-Men #1. The book I'm looking at, for example, contains Amazing Spider-Man #92, Incredible Hulk #'s 150 and 161, Marvel Team-Up #4, and Amazing Adventures #'s 11-17. It's a cool book! I'm not going to buy the MM volume 8, as I have all of those issues reprinted in other formats.
Karen: Our tale opens in the dark of night at the Brand Corporation. From high above a bestial humanoid gazes down on an unsuspecting nightwatchman making his rounds. When the watchman gets to a door marked "Genetic Research Subdivision 12" the man uses a device to burn through the lock on the door. Just as he's about to enter, the shaggy watcher jumps down on him. The monstrous attacker slams the watchman/spy into a piece of machinery, and the spy pulls a gun and fires. The bullets hit him in the chest but still the creature keeps coming. He disarms the man but is then attacked by more guards. He high tails it to another lab but hears the guards fire on the spy and he knows the man has been killed. He feels filled with guilt.
Doug: Early here we're not completely certain that this Beast is Hank McCoy, so this display of nobility... well, if sorrow qualifies a guy who just attacked another guy as noble -- is a bit of a head-scratcher.
Karen: We soon learn that our protagonist is indeed the Beast, aka Hank McCoy, but he has undergone some intentional metamorphosis. However, he soon finds that he is unable to turn back to his human form. He's stuck in his hairy form. Anguished by the turn of events, he trashes his lab and we get a flashback (isn't that how it always works?). He recalls leaving his team-mates to go work for the Brand Corporation, a gigantic company. On his first day there, he's given a tour and meets both the attractive Miss Linda Donaldson and the belligerent Professor Maddicks. Hank soon starts seeing Linda and he's over the moon.
Doug: I really liked the flashback scene to the day Hank left the nest of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Gerry Conway made that a tender part of the tale, and as I said above about Sutton's art these panels really took us back in time. It is always a bit over the top, however, when we see our heroes all dressed to kill in their leisure time. Doesn't anyone own a pair of Levi's?
Karen: It was a nice scene, and helps to provide a reason for Hank's leaving the team. It is kind of funny though to see them all in their costumes as Hank drives off.
Doug: I enjoyed the new cast for their stereotypical natures. Professor Maddicks is a throwback to some of the commie nasties of the Silver Age, and Linda is appropriately pretty and smart. I also enjoyed the pages with Hank getting around town a la Spidey or DD, flashing the red-and-blues. I always liked that costume. When X-Factor began the costumes they wore were a nice homage to the "graduation costumes" of the latter years of the original five.
Karen: Hank's work involves the study of his own genetic structure. He's trying to isolate the cause of mutation. He has a breakthrough and discovers a way to turn any human into a mutant - "for a carefully controlled period of time." When I read this I really wondered why Hank would want to do this. It doesn't make much sense to me. Hank overhears Maddicks on the phone telling someone named 'Agent Nine' that Hank is on to something big, and they arrange to break into Hank's lab. Hearing this, Hank feels desperate. He's afraid if he shows up in his X-Men gear, his identity will be revealed -because of his unusual build. So of course he decides to drink the chemical extract and mutate further. I guess it was one of those, "It seemed like a good idea at the time" choices.
Doug: Question -- Hank claims that he's discovered the "chemical cause of mutation". How exactly does that fit into the whole "children of the atom" deal? Wasn't Stan's original intent with mutants to be some sort of commentary on the nuclear age? Additionally, would one really be a "mutant" if it was through chemical means and temporary? Because if that's the case, then Hank and Janet Pym would have been mutants whenever they were doing their bug stuff. So many queries, so few answers...
Karen: Yeah, it's more than a little weak! Hank drinks his serum and transforms into a still hulking but now grey-furred Beast. There's some indication that he may also have lost some of his intellect -he notes that he's no longer talking in polysyllables all the time. And then we're back to the present, with Hank once again growing angry over his inability to return to his human or at least human enough form. He recalls that Maddicks was going to meet Agent Nine at midnight, and as the clock strikes 12 the Beast bursts through the window to find him. He knocks a door off its hinges easily and begins pounding a half-dozen armed guards. Another interesting bit here: when the Beast is shot, he seems to recover almost instantly. I got the impression he had a healing power similar to that other wild X-Man, Wolverine -but of course, this was a good three years before we'd see that pesky mutant.
Doug: Hey, in my reprint of this story, the Beast is heading towards purple. You ever see a Daredevil with Killgrave the Purple Man? Like that color. Not a becoming look. Speaking of his intellect, there is a concerted effort on Conway's part to animalize Mr. McCoy, so the speech patterns decline in the smarts department. But it's not too bad. You want bad? How about what Walter Simonson did to Hank in the aforementioned X-Factor when he traded a return to plain old skin for Hank's brain? Rather than being animalized, Simonson vegetableized him. Not a fan.
Doug: As you mentioned, the healing factor was noticeable right away. Hank took quite a few bullets as well as a lot of other damage. This was an origin story of discovery for Hank and his readers alike!
Karen: When the Beast finally reaches Maddicks, he goes nuts and nearly strangles the man. He manages to stop himself in time but is alarmed at how wild he's become. He leaps off into the night, leaving Maddicks alive. But not for long -Agent Nine shows up and shoots him. And who should Agent Nine turn out to be but Linda!
Doug: Linda! All is not what it seemed! Oh, the intrigue! By the time this was over, I struggled a bit with the question "who is Hank McCoy?" I just wasn't certain. For most of Conway's script, at least the middle part, it was the Hank last seen in the Roy Thomas days. Now he looks different, sounds different, and certainly behaves differently. My first impression really wasn't all that favorable. What do you think -- is the only thing that separates this character from Werewolf by Night or the Man-Wolf is that backstory of the X-Men? Because I'm thinking they could have just made up a whole 'nother dude for this.
Karen: They seemed, at least initially, to be going for that whole "struggling to remain civilized" thing with the Beast. I'm glad that was dropped at some point. I much prefer the idea of the brainy guy trapped in the monstrous body. I think I would have enjoyed this tale a lot more if I wasn't cringing at the art. Sure, it doesn't make a ton of sense, but it moves along nicely and I'm sure it was an interesting direction for the character at the time.
Doug: You're right. In proofreading our comments (because we want to look good for all of our readers), it sometimes seems like we're complaining, but I think we're really just reacting to how different this depiction of a favorite character was. And I guess as we look at this through the lens of history, it's not only the X-Men's Hank McCoy at issue here, but the guy that became a favorite in the Avengers as well. I can say that since I now hold this series in my hands, I will be interested to see where next issue's scribe, Steve Englehart, takes our now-furry mutant.