Mondo Marvel #16 - September 1963A column article, Mondo Marvel by: Paul Brian McCoy
So this is it, folks!
September, 1963 is where we really get a first glimpse of how the Marvel Universe is going to work as a whole. It's been a long time coming. We've had just over two years worth of comics (that's fudging it a little bit, since Fantastic Four was all by itself and bi-monthly for the first six months) introducing characters, concepts, and all manner of storytelling genres.
With this month's introduction of The Avengers, Marvel's Justice League hits the ground running, but in the Mighty Marvel Manner, with creaky foundations and plenty of grousing. Plus, The X-Men introduces the no-brainer narrative result of living in a world where nuclear weapons have proliferated like rabbits. Mutants take the stage, making the traditional superhero origin story take on a whole new level of mystery and tragedy.
The next step will be in two months time (November 1963), when Stan Lee takes over full writing duties on EVERYTHING, Doctor Strange returns, and Captain America shows up, sort of, in a Human Torch adventure! The final piece of the puzzle comes four months after that, when the real Captain America returns to the pages of The Avengers #4.
Then we'll have the debut of Daredevil and later in 1964, the return of The Hulk to a regular ongoing series. I keep forgetting about Daredevil.
Anyway, we're well on our way watching the Marvel Universe really come together as a shared world with actual, organically developing continuity. That'll last for a good long while before the passing of time forces the introduction of sliding time and retcons of events and character bios established by the original round of Marvel creators.
But we'll talk more about that years from now, if I can hold up to the wear and tear of this column.
Oh yeah. I'm Paul Brian McCoy, and this is Mondo Marvel!
Strange Tales #112
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: Joe Carter (Jerry Siegel)
Art: Dick Ayers
We'll jump into this month's stories with a surprise appearance from a comics legend.
Superman co-creator, Jerry Siegel, using the pseudonym Joe Carter, takes the scripting reins for the Human Torch's adventures in issues 112 and 113, and with his first dip into the Marvel Pond, he provides one of the best Torch adventures yet.
It also turns out to be one of the wordiest.
Once again the citizens of Marvel New York prove to be a fickle bunch. In the same month where the Fantastic Four are treated as Beatles-level celebrities over in their own book, here all it takes is the rantings of one fellow with a grudge to make the Torch's neighbors decide he's a showboat and possibly a menace. It doesn't go so far as to involve the military (like it usually does), but the police do ask Johnny to lay low for a while based on the poor public opinion.
But what can make the public come back around to loving our flaming hero? Why, saving them from a nuclear holocaust, of course.
The Eel, a costumed thief with a slippery, electric-shock inducing costume (like an eel, get it?), steals a device he hopes will be worth bags of cash, but it turns out to be a miniature radioactive atomic pile that will explode one hour after being exposed to air. Luckily, The Eel gets it to his fence quickly, who lets him know just how he's screwed up.
Being a thief and not a megalomaniac, The Eel (the living bomb of the story's title) ditches the bomb on the outskirts of town where he thinks it won't hurt anyone. The Torch, after a strange run-in with The Thing, who's also trying to help save the city, confronts The Eel, discovers where the bomb is, and learns that there's a veteran's hospital nearby.
I guess The Eel didn't know that.
Anyway, long story short, Johnny nearly dies while forcibly drawing "the super heat and devastating radiation" of the nuclear blast upward into the stratosphere. The Fantastic Four show up just in time to catch his unconscious body as it drops back to earth, and then the entire world realizes just what a cool guy Johnny Storm really is. Well, everyone but the criminal underworld, of course.
Ben Grimm even does some soul-searching about how he's treated Johnny in the past, vowing to be nicer to the teen hero. Then Johnny survives, everyone loves him again, and Ben pleads temporary insanity and promptly starts giving him grief.
Gruff and lovable grief.
It's a pretty good story, with a solid beginning, middle, and end that at least tries to raise the stakes for the Torch while making the reader, as well as the people of the Marvel Universe, take him a little more serious.
All in all, it feels like more attention than usual is being paid to The Human Torch's adventures this month. Next month sees the introduction of a girlfriend to the cast, and then Stan Lee takes over full writing duties. So maybe Lee decided to start laying some plot groundwork for when he'd be stepping in and taking over.
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: H.E. Huntley (Ernie Hart)
Art: Don Heck
There's not really a lot to say about this adventure of Ant-Man and The Wasp. They take on an evil jazz musician just back from India where he learned secret mind-controlling notes. He can also control snakes. And his name is Trago, the Man With the Magic Trumpet.
Hart's scripting is a lively and fun as ever, but the story really feels like it's just treading water until Lee can return to full scripting the month after next.
We do learn, however, that Jan loves jazz, but Hank is pretty square. It seems Jan may not be all that hip either, really. Sure, she namedrops Count Basie, but gets Wild Bill Davison's name wrong, calling him Wild Bill Donovan. Donovan was a baseball player at the turn of the century. Or maybe she was confusing him with the Bill Donovan who's considered the father of the CIA.
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: R. Berns (Robert Bernstein)
Pencils: Don Heck
Robert Bernstein's contributions this month both introduce ideas and concepts that will be fully fleshed out and expanded upon in The X-Men's debut. The first is the villainous Jack Frost. You see, Jack Frost designs a suit that allows him to frost himself up and freeze things around him. Where will we see that again?
This issue is most notably, though, not for the villain, but for introducing Iron Man's supporting cast: Chauffeur/Bodyguard, Happy Hogan, and secretary/personal assistant, Pepper Potts. If nothing else says this was Stan Lee laying groundwork for taking over the full writing duties the month after next, it's the alliteration in those names.
Not only does this expand the cast of Iron Man's adventures, it also introduces a love triangle as Happy immediately falls for Pepper, who's carrying a torch for Stark. If only Stark was secretly eying Happy when his back was turned, it would be perfect. Oh well.
And have I said lately how good Don Heck's art is? Well, lets say it again, just for good measure. Heck does an excellent job with characterization and design.
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: R. Berns (Robert Bernstein)
Art: Joe Sinnott
In a strange turn of events over in Thor's latest adventure, the ancient coffin of Mad Merlin the Magician is delivered to the local museum, much like the Mad Pharaoh's sarcophagus was in last month's Iron Man adventure. And guess what? Just like the Mad Pharaoh, Mad Merlin isn't really dead, but in a trance-state. And guess what else? He wakes up and causes trouble for our hero!
At least this time he doesn't drag Thor back in time with him.
Instead, he reveals that he isn't really a magician, but a strange being called a mutant, with powers of levitation, telepathy, and teleportation. He just mixed up smelly brews to fool the rubes in King Arthur's court.
Years later, we'll find out that he was only posing as Merlin. He'll be called Warlock when next he's seen in X-Men #30. But that'll be a while.
For now, though, for all intents and purposes, he's Mad Merlin and he's arrived in America's version of Camelot. Seriously.
After doing what just about every bad guy in the Marvel Universe does to demonstrate the extent of his powers, interfering with the test launch of an American missile, he teleports to the White House to find King, I mean, President Kennedy. Luckily, when he finds Kennedy, he can't believe that someone so young could be President, so he keeps searching until Thor arrives and chases him away.
Their battle takes place in Washington D.C., and their weapons are the Washington Monument and The Lincoln Memorial. Then Thor does what all Marvel heroes do when they find themselves outclassed powers-wise. He tricks Mad Merlin into going back into a trance.
And that's that.
Next month Lee and Kirby return and we start really getting a taste of what a Thor adventure can be like. I mean, the "Thor vs. The Lava Man" story is fairly standard, but Lee and Kirby launch the excellent back-up series, "Tales of Asgard!" Those are worth the price of admission on their own.
Story: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko
With that, we'll take a brief pause, before launching into the All Lee, All Kirby portion of this week's column, and take a look at Amazing Spider-Man #4, which introduces the classic villain, The Sandman.
What's actually more interesting to me than Flint Marko's radiation-induced transformation into a being of living sand, is the way that this issue really focuses on Peter Parker's more mundane crime fighting problems. The first takes place in the opening pages, as Spider-Man is out on patrol and spots some shady characters casing a jewelry store.
Before they can break in, Spidey intervenes, but the quick-thinking crooks turn the tables on him, not by fighting, but by calling for the cops themselves and accusing Spider-Man of assault. And not only that, they ask if he feels like a jerk running around in his costume. So our hero is forced to run away when the police show up, which triggers a reaction appropriate for someone his age.
Blaming J. Jonah Jameson for stirring up hostility against him, Spidey pranks him, leaving a webby surprise in Jameson's office chair.
At least he didn't take a crap on his desk.
The second mundane element occurs when Spidey's mask is torn while fighting Sandman for the first time. He practically has a brief nervous breakdown as he flashes on what could happen if people discover his identity, not the least of which is going to jail and leaving Aunt May to fend for herself by selling cheap ten cent shoelaces on the street. Then he has trouble trying to sew up the rip in his mask which keeps him out of commission for the rest of the night, allowing Sandman to get away with his bank robbery.
Lastly, we find out that Pete has worked up the nerve to ask a pretty girl named Liz out. Sure, she only agrees out of pity and is quick to take Flash up on his date offer when Pete has to cancel, but it's a step forward for our nerdy hero. When he ends up capturing the Sandman and is free to go out with Liz after all, she refuses, and Pete very nearly gets into a fist fight with Flash before realizing that with his power, he'd pulverize Flash.
So he's forced to back down and look like a coward in front of Liz.
On the plus side, we're also introduced to Jameson's secretary, Miss Brant, this issue.
On the minus side, we find out that Jameson is a boxers guy. Which is better than briefs, I guess.
As for Sandman, this is another nice moment where Pete starts out trying to simply overpower his opponent before getting his ass handed to him. Once again, he has to use his brains to figure out a way to stop a guy who can turn himself hard as concrete or into an intangible mass of floating sand. Thanks, industrial strength vacuum cleaner!
Ditko's design for Sandman is an interesting one. Without access to Unstable Molecules or weird technology, Flint Marko is pretty much stuck "wearing" whatever clothes he was wearing when he was caught in the nuclear explosion that created him. Not only that, but his ability to convert his body into pretty much any shape or density he can think of is disturbing as hell.
Doc Oc's creeping through the darkness on his mechanical legs was bad, but watching a guy's body just disintegrate when Spidey tries to grab him is freaky. As is when Spidey's arm goes through Marko's body only to get stuck when he solidifies around it and he then proceeds to head-butt our hero with his concrete head. Luckily, Pete is able to smash Marko's head against an iron stairway post, shattering it into sand.
Freaky, I said.
But if you really want nightmares, take a look at Marko turning himself into a huge sand worm with his human face and writhing out of the grasp of the police! Ugh!
Ditko's inking also serves to set Sandman apart from the rest of the characters in the story. Whereas all the other characters are shaded with smooth edges or longer dashed lines, Marko is usually shaded with short dashes and dots, emphasizing his grainier structure. This really comes across in the Essential Amazing Spider-Man, Volume One, where the lack of color allows Ditko's inking to really stand out.
By the way, according to the letters page, Spider-Man is such a hit it's going monthly, starting with the very next issue! It's also made clear that they plan on keeping Spidey mainly in his own title, with only occasional guest appearances around the MU in order to keep anything from "interfering" with the things they have planned for the character.
They also recommend asking your local "dealer" to reserve the comics you want, since they've gotten letters saying that due to sell-outs, some fans aren't getting copies of the comics they crave.
Story: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Dick Ayers
Lee and Kirby provide yet another high-octane World War Two action adventure that shows that even when given some down time, the Howlers are most relaxed when beating the crap out of somebody. It almost doesn't matter who.
This issue opens with our heroes stopping a group of Nazi saboteurs from making it off the beach, where they're trying to sneak into England. It's a quick burst of action that leads directly into the boys getting a little bit of R&R. But a night on the town turns into a barroom brawl, which turns into a night in the guard house at the cost of practically a platoon of MPs. Luckily they had a tank to back them up.
This is the kind of over-the-top craziness that makes me love this book so much. The Howling Commandos are a force of nature, more exciting than anything else in the Marvel Universe.
The characterizations of every soldier is distinct and I could easily see this as a feature film. I continue to stand by my belief that Inglourious Basterds was inspired by these comics as much as it was by the original Inglorious Bastards. Hell, this issue we even get a moment where the gang needs someone who speaks Italian, and they've only got one guy for the job; which immediately made me laugh out loud, remembering Brad Pitt's Lt. Aldo Raine slaughtering Italian with is accent.
After getting out of the guard house, the Howlers are sent on another suicide mission (as if there were any other kind for them), to land in Italy, meet with the O.S.S., and ultimately to get a message to a division of American troops bottled up behind Massacre Mountain, letting them know that there's a way out.
This involves lots of Nazi-fighting, the discovery of a traitor, the subsequent gunning down of said traitor with gusto by Dino Minelli (who grew up in Italy), and then even more Nazi fighting.
There's not a lot of over-thinking or intellectualizing of the War. There's not even really a lot of sentimental looking back. It's just lots and lots of action. Every issue just explodes off the page.
And I almost forgot. The O.S.S. officer who shows up to pass on information to the Howling Commandos? One Major Reed Richards. I agree with Sgt. Fury. That Joe is gonna make a name for himself someday.
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Dick Ayers
Speaking of which...
That Major Richards sure did hit the big time. Why, he and his lady friend are able to take their experimental passenger Intercontinental Ballistics Missile for a holiday in Hawaii. It's kind of funny that in the very same issue where the team gets mobbed by fans, when the missile takes off, a couple observing from their apartment window have mixed feelings about it. The husband is excited, but the wife complains that they haven't even paid off their second-hand Chevy while the FF ride around in spaceships.
There's definitely some resentment mixed in with the hero-worship that goes on in this book. It's a nice, realistic touch, that serves as a reminder that even when things are going great for the heroes of the Marvel Universe, there's always something about them that can serve to swing public opinion against them. Kind of like the real world, eh?
Anyway, yet another classic Marvel villain debuts this month as the Skrulls reappear to cause trouble.
It's been a little over a year and half (real-time) since the FF tricked the Skrulls into retreating rather than invading Earth, and the Skrull Emperor can't wait to take some revenge. In order to do so, he's emptied the treasury, devoted all his scientific talents, and worked his people like slaves, all to create the Super-Skrull: a huge, beefy Skrull with a power set that matches each member of the FF and more. As far as Reed can stretch, the Super-Skrull can stretch farther; as hot as Johnny can burn, S.S. can burn hotter; as strong as Ben is, S.S. is stronger; and as invisible as Sue can turn, um, well, ah... Super-Skrull can turn invisible, too. Plus he's got a special secret power that Sue doesn't: The blinding power of irresistible hypnotism!
It's a pretty good, action-oriented issue of Fantastic Four, that, if I'm not mistaken, is the first time an alien race gets a callback. Now that I think about it, we haven't had any Commies in a while either, have we? I think the last time we saw them, they were worried that once Doctor Doom was finished conquering America, they'd be next. It's nice to see the Marvel Universe creators focusing more on developing characters, and in this case, fleshing out the culture of at least one alien race.
I also approve of the twist ending. Turns out that the Super-Skrull doesn't just naturally have such overwhelming power. He's receiving a special energy beam, transmitted from the Skrull Homeworld, that boosts his strength in all areas. Of course, once Reed figures that out, very little effort is needed to develop a blocker.
Then each member of the team throws themselves at the Super-Skrull to distract him while Sue sneaks around and plants the "jammer" on him. It's a nice, vaguely suspenseful moment as each member of the team falls to the Super-Skrull's surprise hypnotism before Sue succeeds and he suddenly loses most of his power.
Not too sure about the ending, though. They drop Super-Skrull in a hole and melt an airtight dome across it?
Um. Does that seem like a good idea to anyone?
Story: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Dick Ayers
Next up, we've got the debut of the first Marvel All-Star Super Group.
Unlike the origins of DC's Justice Society of America, who originally just got together to swap stories about their individual adventures in All-Star Comcis #3 (Winter 1940/41), or the Justice League of America, who teamed up to battle an alien invasion in The Brave and the Bold #28 (1960), The Avengers come together by accident to do battle with The Hulk.
There's something just kind of naturally right about having Loki as the secret threat that brings together "Earth's Mightiest Super-Heroes" given all the talk over the years about Superheroes being a sort of modern mythology. Particularly when they credit him on the cover as the "God of Evil."
But that intellectualizing of comics isn't really on display here. This begins as a simple revenge plan as Loki plots a way to draw Thor back to Asgard where they can do battle and he can defeat the Thunder God once and for all. While casting his mystical gaze Earthward, he spots The Hulk leaping through the desert. Hulk is a perfect tool, since, as Loki notes, he has no evil in his heart yet mankind still fears him.
A little imaginary dynamite later and Loki has tricked Hulk into wrecking a railroad trestle. Hulk is able to repair it before anyone is hurt, but he's seen and the wreckage is blamed on him. And with that, the game is afoot!
Here's where things get a little confusing, though.
The last time we saw Hulk was six months prior, in Fantastic Four #12 (March 1963). At the time, Doctor Banner was still working for the government, his transformations were under control, and Rick Jones was hanging out with him on the military base.
For some reason, six months later, Rick is hanging out with The Teen Brigade (who formed in Incredible Hulk #6) and they decided to contact the Fantastic Four, asking them for help in finding and proving The Hulk's innocence. To stop this from happening, Loki intercepts the radio waves, magically shifting them to the wavelength of the station to which Doctor Donald Blake is listening.
What Loki doesn't realize is that not only does Thor get the message, so does Iron Man, Ant-Man, and The Wasp, all of whom drop whatever they're doing and speed Westward.
Where The Hulk is hiding out, working for a circus, disguised as Mechano, "the most powerful, lifelike robot on earth?"
What the hell?
But you can't fool Ant-Man's ants, who figure Mechano is really The Hulk and let Ant-Man know. So, Ant-Man, Wasp, and Iron Man head off to the circus, while Thor has slipped away, figuring that Loki might be up to something.
The rest of the issue is split between the two fights, with Thor actually seeming to be in danger, particularly from a nightmarishly hideous Troll. Loki made a deal with the Trolls, promising them Thor as a slave if they obeyed him. It looks like the Troll might actually drag Thor under the ground, but at the last minute Thor uses lightning to blind the creature, driving it away.
Then it's all over for Loki. Thor grabs him (magnetically???) and takes him back to Earth to face the other heroes.
Meanwhile, Hulk has been on the run with Iron Man hot on his trail, and just as they begin to face off for the last time, Thor arrives with his prisoner. Hulk, always the charmer, asks Thor to let him beat Loki into a pulp. It's a funny moment, but lacks the edge that Hulk had back in his own series. He's not even really as threatening as he was in Fantastic Four, to be honest.
But it doesn't matter. This story is all about bringing our heroes together, and when Loki turns himself radioactive (!!) Ant-Man saves the day by opening a trap door which leads directly to a lead-lined tank used for the storage of radioactive waste.
You know. Before they eventually dispose of it in the ocean.
Naturally, this all leads to everyone deciding to form a team. Jan suggests The Avengers and history is made.
Not much of a story, really, and whatever's up with Hulk/Banner is never addressed. And while the characterizations are fairly one-note, I can't help but think that it's Jan's attraction to Thor, more than feeling kind of under-powered compared to the rest of the team, that leads to Hank's identity change to Giant-Man before the next issue.
In his solo adventures I never really got the feeling that Pym had any sense of insecurity, except for when it comes to Jan. He's still fighting his feelings, trying to pretend that they're just partners and he's too old for her (which he kind of is). Once Stan Lee starts writing his adventures rather than just plotting, the first thing he does is jettison the Ant-Man identity to become Giant-Man.
Interesting, but we'll talk more about it two columns from now.
Story: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Paul Reinman
Now I understand that there's some controversy about the originality of Lee and Kirby's X-Men. Specifically, the notion that it was a shameless rip-off of DC's Doom Patrol.
I can understand where that could be argued, to a point. Particularly the fact that The Doom Patrol were being called "The World's Strangest Heroes" beginning on the cover of their first appearance, My Greatest Adventure #80 (June 1963), and carrying on through their run in that title and their own. The X-Men debuted three months later (September 1963) with the tagline, "The Strangest Super-Heroes of All!"
That one's kind of hard to argue against, although it could just be a marketing lift, rather than something the creative team did on purpose.
The other point of contention is that the basic ideas of each series seem pretty similar. With Doom Patrol, you had a group of misfit heroes regarded as freaks by the rest of the world, but led by a wheelchair-bound genius to fight for and protect the very people who fear them.
X-Men, as you probably already know, is about a group of misfit heroes regarded as freaks by the rest of the world, but led by a wheelchair-bound genius to fight for and protect the very people who fear them.
Okay. You've got me there, too.
I don't know what the lead time was on putting these books together, so I don't know just when the latest Lee and Kirby would have had to have been working on this first issue compared to when Doom Patrol debuted. I think that given the three month difference in start-up dates, it's not too hard to lean more towards the idea that Lee heard about The Doom Patrol and thought he could do it better, rather than it being an outright steal.
One thing that sometimes gets overlooked in this discussion is that The Doom Patrol was DC's first really Marvel-style super-team. In fact, Doom Patrol creator, Arnold Drake was specifically tasked with creating a super group similar to what was going on across town. For the previous year plus, Marvel's sales had been growing and growing as fans flocked to the new, edgier, more believable and relateable characters that Lee, Kirby, and Ditko were creating.
So, if anything, I'd argue that The Doom Patrol was DC's attempt to cash in on the Mighty Marvel Style, Lee and Kirby heard about it through the grapevine and decided to show them how it was done.
Sometimes you'll also hear that Lee ripped off the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants name from the Doom Patrol's nemeses The Brotherhood of Evil, but if anything, that one is almost definitely a coincidence, as The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants debuted in X-Men #4 (March 1964), and the Brotherhood of Evil debuted in Doom Patrol #86, also in March, 1964. With no lag time in between, it's impossible to say which name came first.
So enough of that jibber-jabber. X-Men is really nothing like Doom Patrol in execution.
The end results and levels of quality and fan enjoyment of both series are debatable. I, personally, enjoy both. Doom Patrol is much more of a horror show of insanity, but never really hits the super-hero genre like it maybe wanted to. X-Men, on the other hand, is super-hero action from the get-go, and introduced a concept that literally changed the landscape upon which the Marvel Universe was built.
I don't know the specific release dates of all the Marvel books that hit this month, so I don't know if Mad Merlin mentioned being a mutant before this book hit the shelves, or if it was a way of spreading the mutations around once The X-Men hit. Either way, in one month, Marvel found yet another way to expand the possibilities in the Marvel Universe.
By making mutations a naturally developing source of super powers (extra powers, and thus X-Men), no longer did Lee and Company have to rely on absurd coincidence or characters with billions of dollars to invest in special technology. Plus, with the amount of nuclear energy lingering around the Marvel Universe, naturally occurring mutations provide another level of verisimilitude.
It was getting a little difficult to look the other way with all these atomic accidents creating super powers. I mean, come on. In the real world, The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and The Hulk's origins would have all ended the same way. Instead of powers, their hair would have fallen out and they would have died horribly.
So, now you've got characters who didn't just happen to stumble across powers or make some sort of scientific breakthrough. You've got characters who were born this way. We don't get into it with this issue, but usually mutant powers manifest with puberty, so we go one step beyond Peter Parker's science-nerd accident, to Hank McCoy, Bobby Drake, Slim Summers, Warren Worthington the Third, and Jean Grey all just being born that way.
That's a resonance that reaches just about anyone, anywhere, at one time or another. A resonance that just isn't possible with The Doom Patrol and their more traditional origins of car wrecks, and what have you.
Plus, by making this a genetic issue, the fear response by society at large is much more visceral. There's a difference, however subtle, between the fears that are being addressed by each of the books. Doom Patrol is more about victimhood. The fears raised are awful and hurtful, but aren't necessarily moral issues. The main characters see themselves poorly before anyone in the outside world does.
The question of morality, as well as the parallels to any and all sorts of bigotry, are inherent in the situation of the mutant.
With the introduction of the villain, Magneto, in this first issue, Lee and Kirby do a fantastic job laying out a central dialectical conflict that can drive this title for years. Although, I have to admit, without more variety in characters and attention paid to relationships, this could get old pretty fast.
I'm a mutant who hates humanity for being prejudiced against me and I want revenge. Well, I'm a mutant who forgives humanity for its prejudices and want to make friends. Let's fight!
Anyway, more on that later. Let's see how this plays out, shall we?
Not only did mutations get mentioned in another title this month, Jack Frost (in Iron Man) is pretty similar to Bobby Drake, Iceman. Except, of course, for the origin story and moral choices they've each made. It's almost as though Lee was trying to spread out some of the ideas in this comic for some reason. Maybe to make them more immediately acceptable? I don't know. It's odd, though, whatever the reason.
Bobby is the youngest of the team members, at 16. The rest of the X-Men all seem to be around 18-ish and on first glance seem to come from all walks of life. Setting the story in a school also provides an original approach to telling the story. Their lessons don't only involve typical school subjects, but also training in how to use their powers effectively.
Which comes in handy when Magneto shows up and, wait for it, tampers with a military rocket test.
See? It's all the rage in power hungry evil-doers these days.
Magneto is clearly defined as the "evil" one, right from the start. His agenda is simple. Mutants are the next stage in evolution and should be ruling the Earth, subjugating humanity.
Needless to say, it's not a popular notion.
Hell, Communism is a lesser threat, really.
But he's powerful, to say the least. If you couldn't guess from his name, Magneto controls magnetism. He's able to manipulate magnetic waves, creating force fields as well as just controlling anything metal, so while I'm not sure about the exact science (I'm sure an argument could be made for the effects of manipulating electro-magnetic fields) it makes for an intriguing power set.
When the army proves powerless to penetrate Magneto's force field (after he takes over their base), The X-Men show up and politely request a chance to see what they can do. I'll just lay it on the prevalence of super-powered heroes popping up all over the place that influences the army's decision to give them a fifteen minute shot.
Of course, they bust through, taking the fight to Magneto, and with minutes to spare force him to retreat, abandoning the base. This makes quite the impression on the military leaders who promise the name, X-Men, will be honored in his command.
I know Magneto is evil and all that, but I have to admit, The X-Men seem a little too butt-kissy for my liking. Surely there's a middle ground between, "Die, puny humans!" and "Thank you sir, may I have another?" They're trying a little too hard to be liked in this first issue and the good guys come off a little square. There's also not really a clear field leader, which means that the characters tend to lose their individual voices once the costumes go on.
I'm already seeing some interesting parallels with the Civil Rights Movement and some of the identity politics/conflicts that developed there, after just this first issue. I look forward to seeing how this all develops over the next few issues.
And did I mention how cool Magneto's helmet is? I like.
We've made it across the finish line again, folks.
It looks like this is the format for the next batch of columns. One week there will be six books released, the next will be nine, then back again. Of course, once Doctor Strange returns, it'll be seven and ten stories depending on the week.
Ugh. I don't want to think about it. I'll just need to be less wasteful with my time.
Anyway, stop by the message board and let me know what you think about these issues. Did I miss something obvious? Do you have a different interpretation of something? Let me know!
I haven't decided yet, but there might be a special Mondo Marvel #16.5 next week, as both The Fantastic Four and Strange Tales have Annuals released this month. I can't find an exact date, so I may just squeeze them into the column for October, 1963. But we'll see.
Keep your eyes peeled!