Today’s post is the third and final entry in a spring crossover with my original blog, Some Fantastic Place. Appropriately so, since it concerns mid-Sixties reprints of the X-Men, which I first read fifty years ago, in the black and white weekly comic Fantastic as a “pre-schooler”. I read them again, when they next appeared in the pages of The Mighty World of Marvel, nearly forty years ago. And, most recently, at the beginning of this year, in a collection entitled Lonely are the Hunted.
The first story today is from the US X-title’s fortieth issue but I first read it in a wildly miscoloured reprint in the 1970 Fantastic Annual. The Mark of the Monster is a goofy and oft-derided story but I’m fond of it since it represents my childhood fascination with the team. In this Thomas/Heck/Tuska collaboration, the Monster of Frankenstein is an alien android on a survey mission.The Frankenstein family and their creations would be folded into the MU later in the pages of Silver Surfer, Iron Man and of course, the eponymous fright-mag of the 70s. This story, I suspect, shows off Thomas’s literary expertise and may be an homage to the Frankenstein comics of the 40s and 50s.
Oddly, the mini-arc which follows also features a monstrous antagonist. Now Strikes the Sub-Human/ If I Should Die introduces Grotesk, a mutated subterranean who wants to obliterate the human race. He’s clearly Thomas’s tribute to Kull the Beast-man, the Marvel Family villain. His origins are reminiscent of Sub-Mariner’s reintroduction in the FF but in a Marvel Universe where Mole Man and Tyrannus, not to mention the obscure Kala and even the Lava Men rule their own netherworlds, Grotesk is an unnecessary addition.
Professor X sacrifices himself to defeat the would-be world-beater in a climax which is still sombre and dramatic even if Angel isn’t sure that it is Xavier …and observant readers who paid attention to the Changeling in the Factor Three saga might also be doubtful…
The Origins of the X-Men back-ups recount Xavier and Scott Summers’ first meeting and their first Evil Mutant nemesis- Jack O’Diamonds, who with further mutation becomes The Living Diamond. I’m not convinced crystal-fisted teleporter Jack Winters is any more a mutant than Electro or Sandman however. The first two parts of Iceman’s origin have a flavour that reminds me of S.E Hinton’s Outsiders or Rumblefish.
The next story arc is a crossover with the Avengers, where Magneto escaped his captivity on the Stranger’s planet. With a dynamic Buscema cover, Xavier’s lonely funeral is depicted in The Torch is Passed and Pietro, now back in the Brotherhood, pays his respects. However, the pursuing X-Men are soundly trounced by Magneto. George Tuska’s mutants are pencilled more excitingly than Heck but I prefer the latter’s design sense.
Angel escapes from Magneto’s island stronghold in an odd interlude. Red Raven, Red Raven reintroduces an obscure 1940s hero and his sunken city of birdmen. The tragic Raven will return in the pages of Sub-Mariner and later as a member of the homefront Liberty Legion. This pause in the narrative makes sense when you discover (as Alter Ego magazine attested ten years ago) that Thomas intended to team Red Raven up with Quicksilver and Rick Jones as Bucky. This was allegedly a collaboration with Barry Smith but it has a Forties flavour of the Invaders or Liberty Legion. Ironically, Thomas had a habit of killing off his wartime idols before retroactively introducing them in The Invaders ( c.f. Toro, Miss America – and Marvel Boy, although he was from the Fifties.)
When Mutants Clash is the last colour issue of the original X-Men before the Cockrum team take over the bi-monthly title. I got it in the market in Morecambe in 1978 and it’s a conflict between Cyclops and Quicksilver by Heck and Roth In Battle Joined. Meanwhile, Angel musters the forces of the Avengers- somewhat depleted at this stage and comprising Hank, Jan, Hawkeye and brand-new recruit the Black Panther. Magneto exacerbates a Mighty Marvel Misunderstanding between the two teams but he is hoist by his own petard as the much-maligned Toad betrays him.
Magneto won’t be seen again until the Neal Adams era and post-Sentinels, Wanda and Pietro rejoin the Avengers a couple of years after these issues. John Buscema’s art is gorgeous and Angel is looks more heroic than he’s ever done before. The final images of the fleeing Brotherhood on a spiral staircase, the Toad stamping on Magneto’s hands and Mags’ helmet bobbing in the waves stayed with me for life, from whatever Power Comic reprinted them.
This collection is rounded out with two 60s reprints from Not Brand Ecch, one of which features a cheeky cameo by the Doom Patrol. The other parody features the Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles and represents “college boy” Marvel at its hippest height. Although these stories represent, in part at least, my formative experience of Marvel mutants, it’s clear that X-Men was a title that was struggling. Shaking up the status quo, debuting new costumes and, playing it, at least from the covers, as a series of solos ( as Arnold Drake would do subsequently and as John Byrne did initially with Alpha Flight in the 80s ) really did little to revitalise the title until the epoch-shattering Adams issues.
I wonder if a new member wouldn’t have been a good idea- and a female one at that? Angel’s romantic interest Candy could easily have been revealed as a mutant, although any powers she had would probably have been of the “point and faint” variety. A new master villain was needed with Magneto written out and the Conquistador from the Beast back-up tales might have been a possibility, with some development. Unfortunately, everything post-Factor Three was a little dreary, with the exception of the Buscema crossover.
Coming soon: the many loves of Doctor Strange- and on Some Fantastic Place, Batgirl and Spy Smasher
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