Monday, October 28, 2013
Heroes and Horrors: X-Men 40
X-Men #40 (Jan. 1968)
"The Mark of the Monster!"
Writer: Roy Thomas
Penciller: Don Heck
Inker: George Tuska
Karen: Welcome to our final "Heroes and Horrors" review. I hope you've enjoyed this look at super-heroes
and monsters. As our last hurrah, we're digging back a little deeper -technically, into the Silver Age vault, but it's all good. It's a little tale that brings us the original X-Men and the Frankenstein Monster, before Marvel began their horror line. So here we go!
Doug: I just want to say up front that I used this cover in a tongue-in-cheek post a few years ago concerning what the House of Ideas would have been like had Scooby-Doo worked there!
Karen: Our tale starts with our mutant team having some fun in the Danger Room after a hard-won victory over Factor Three in the previous issue. The team has just received their new uniforms recently as well, so they're also pleased with them too. As they horse around, Beast and Iceman start to come to blows when a sudden mental message from Professor X puts everything on hold. The students run down the hall to the professor's room, where their teacher begins to tell them a strange story. The Professor was carrying out some mental experiments when he intercepted some radio messages from a ship in New York harbor. The vessel was claiming to be returning from an arctic expedition carrying the frozen form of -Frankenstein's Monster! The X-Men are incredulous but Professor X explains that he has always believed the Mary Shelley story to contain some truth, believing the Monster to be some sort of android created by a super-intelligent mutant of a bygone era. He's already checked things out with his astral form and he's able to make a mental projection of what he's seen - sure enough, the creature looks an awful lot like the Universal Studios version of the Monster, right down to the neck bolts! Boy, nowadays Universal's lawyers would be all over that. Anyway, the students are excited, and the Professor says they must get to the museum where the creature, in its block of ice, is being held. He is positive that it is still alive and could be a danger to the museum personnel.
Doug: Which new costume did you think was the best? While I always think the Angel (shoot, most winged characters) provided the best visuals, his costume upgrade was my least favorite -- until he switched late to the blue and white bodysuit. I think I liked the Beast's the best, followed by Marvel Girl. As to the early action, the All-New, All-Different team certainly had a cooler Danger Room than these guys back in the day. Scott was his typically uptight self, and the Beast's telling him to back off seemed in character. I thought Roy did a nice job for a new reader in framing the team's personalities early here. I did think it was interesting (not wholly bad) that penciler Don Heck chose to use two half-faces in panels showcasing Iceman and Cyclops on page 2 of this book. Seemed like he ran out of space! And as long as I brought up the art, I'll say that I really cannot find much influence by George Tuska on the inks.
Karen: I would agree, I liked the Beast's the most, but none of them were particularly exciting.
Doug: Questions: 1) What the heck are "mental experiments"? and 2) If the professor is a telepath, how could he intercept a radio message? I thought Professor X was really powerful in this episode, more than I remembered him being from this time period. He seemed like he was channeling a little Dr. Strange, too.
Karen: I know, when reading early Marvels, it seems like the astral projection thing crossed back and forth between being a mystical attribute and a purely mental one.
Doug: Roy's love of literature and background as an English teacher often shines through in his writing,
doesn't it? This issue ends up being somewhat of a promotion for the novel written by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, of course until we reach Thomas's conclusion. The introduction of the Monster was very reminiscent of Marvel's first issue of Monster of Frankenstein.
Karen: The X-Men (in their civvies), including the Professor, head down to the museum. They begin to ask the guard if they can gain entry. Now here something odd occurs. Rather than have Professor X use his mental powers to just control the guard and gain access, Professor X has Jean (Marvel Girl) use her telekinetics to push the man, causing him to fall and strike his head, knocking him out! That seems unnecessarily rough to me. In any case, it's a good thing they get inside, because one of the researchers in the museum has thawed out the Monster, and as the Professor suspected, the Monster lashes out. It should be noted however that this Monster has quite a vocabulary. After declaring that he will crush everyone like fleas, the Monster starts to make his way out of the museum backroom, when the Angel comes rushing towards him. But the Monster bats him away effortlessly. The Beast tries to take him on but can't budge the huge creature. The Monster refers to "the costumed ones" with extreme dislike, almost as if he recognizes them. Cyclops fires off his optic beams, but has little more effect than his team-mates did. It looks like Cyke is about to get stomped when he is yanked out of the way by Jean's telekinetic grasp. This confuses the Monster for a moment, but just a moment. He then responds by firing off his own eye beams! These put down the X-Men for the count, and the Monster wanders off to carry out his uh, well, whatever it is he's planning to do.
Doug: I had to re-read those panels where Jean knocks out the security guard. I guess folks back in 1968 weren't as concerned about concussions as we are today. Why didn't the Professor just pull a Jedi mind trick? I liked Heck's Monster -- he was able to take what he must have known from the Karloff films and apply a bit of a different personality, which to me is what allowed him to very slightly separate this version from what had gone before. But this story for me just begins to head south, and never really recovers. It seemed like the X-Men were intentionally depowered, and of course they never would have dreamed of cooperating as a unit should -- Danger Room? We don't need no stinkin' Danger Room! And what of Cyke's eyebeams? Aren't they considered assault by a deadly weapon? The guy blasts through Sentinels with them, for Pete's sake! Ahhh.....
Karen: The X-Men begin to recover and are confronted by the museum director, who screams at them for vandalizing his building. Not having time to deal with this, Iceman freezes the man (I hope he left him an air hole!) and they all take off, with Angel scouting ahead, looking for signs of which way the Monster went. The high-flying hero soon spots the path of the creature, with wrecked cars left in its wake. It has made its way to the docks, where it has jumped aboard a south-bound freighter. The team grabs a helicopter and lands it on the deck of the ship, upsetting the crew. They soon get things settled, mainly by beating the crew into submission, and then begin searching the ship. The Beast runs into the Monster in the cargo hold, and it chases him towards the deck, where the Angel manages to throw a lasso over him. Unfortunately for the X-Men's resident bird-man, it seems the Monster can somehow magnetize his feet to the deck! The Angel can't pull him off the deck. The Monster grabs a bunch of barrels and begins hurling them at Iceman, who freezes them in mid-air. The Monster seems especially threatened by Iceman and does his best to get him. Marvel Girl jumps in with her telekinetic power to give Bobby a break but she has little effect against the towering brute. The Professor tries to reach his android brain but with little success. Finally Iceman pops back up and begins spraying a sheath of ice over the creature, even as it struggles to be free. Suddenly the Professor tells him to cast a shield over the X-Men. He does, just as the Monster explodes!
Doug: Weren't the X-Men supposed to be unknown to the general public? I've never read the complete Silver Age run, so I am showing my ignorance here. But I thought there were very secretive about their very existence -- it seems like in this issue they're definitely "out". You know, you remarked above how callous it was of Jean to slam the security guard's head against the wall -- and here it sounds like the Professor just mentally coerces the pilots to give up the helicopter. Very strange doings in this one! And by the way, it's an ugly helicopter... Anyway, the Monster has: super-strength, eyebeams, magnetized feet, and at least average intelligence. Formidable, indeed. And I guess that's why I kept asking myself, as I read this back on October 12th, if Roy shouldn't have just created a new super-baddie for this issue. Of course, it's been documented that due to the fact that creators received no royalties in these days, Roy wasn't always forthcoming with new characters.
Karen: In the last couple of panels, the Professor explains he'd looked into the Monster's android mind and seen that he had been the creation of an alien race from a tropical word, sent to Earth to be an ambassador 150 years before, but had malfunctioned terribly. The aliens had chased him to the arctic regions, and somehow Mary Shelley must have learned of all this and written her story. What???
Doug: At this point I couldn't take it any more! I remarked to Karen in an email shortly after I finished reading this that I thought Roy might have been auditioning for a job with Silver Age DC. This would have fit in just great in the pre-"New Look" Batman. Is it any wonder that the X-Men teetered on the brink of cancellation in the late 1960s? "...and somehow Mary Shelley must have learned all this and written her story." Oh my...
Doug: A few days after I typed my comments to Karen's framework, her post on Bigfoot, et al. ran. And that got me to thinking -- was Roy Thomas's conclusion that the Monster should be a construct of aliens all that different from that same revelation concerning Andre the Giant's Bigfoot in the $6 Million Man? I'm trying to remember if I found that to be a cop-out when I was 10-years old... I know back then I really believed (well, at least was quite wary of the possibility) that Bigfoot was real. That television show sort of ruined it for me. I guess in the Frankenstein Monster's case, we should be glad that Marvel got it right just a few years past this story.
Karen: When Doug brought that idea up it was a real 'slap your head' moment. He was right, the two stories were incredibly similar, although of course the X-Men tale came first. I just felt like Thomas had forced two different ideas on each other. He could have had a fun Frankenstein story, or a fun alien robot story, but together, they just didn't make a whole lot of sense. I sort of like the visuals, but there's no there there, as Gertrude Stein once said. The whole thing is goofy. I think for Heroes and Horrors month, we went 3 for 4, buddy! Not too bad.