Thursday, December 16, 2010

95: The X-Men #2

The X-Men #2
September 3, 1963

  • Okay, it's their second issue, so now we need to re-introduce the team. Back in the day, the common wisdom was that "every comic is somebody's first", so it was understood to be vitally important to deliver all the information a first-time reader might require to comprehend the story, such as character names, powers, premise, etc. At the same time, you always want to find as elegant a way to do so as possible, so as to not alienate your returning audience with expository dialogue that sounds offputtingly artificial. Needless to say, it's a tricky business that doesn't always succeed in finding the proper balance. And in this comic it's a taller order than most, because it's a BIG team - five members of the X-Men proper, as well as Professor Xavier, their school and the Danger Room. So it makes for a healthy intro scene as our opening pages give us separate scenes of each of the X-Men using their powers in different ways while answering the professor's summons. (That said, a few pages later we then have a scene of Xavier testing them out in the Danger Room, one by one - which seems an unnecessary bit of repetition.)

    What a fantastically funky bit of perspective!  They almost seem ready to fly out from the panel itself.

  • It's interesting to see the ways in which the comic is finding its feet, as Stan & Jack still haven't realized what the book is about. This is most starkly illustrated in the opening scenes, when Warren Worthington III, the Angel, finds himself mobbed by adoring and love-struck fans - as if the X-Men are celebrity superheroes just like the Fantastic Four! This disparity between The X-Men's beginnings and what the book would later become is further emphasized by Professor Xavier's relationship with Fred Duncan, an FBI agent in the Department of Special Affairs who has been tasked to working with the X-Men in order to more efficiently combat mutant threats. In other words, the X-Men are not simply unfeared by the public at this stage in their development - they're in fact positively depended upon. Heck, the government's even loaned them a special plane!

    Y'know, with Warren's outer uniform pulled up like that, I'm struck by the similarity
    to the Golden Age Angel from
    1939's Marvel Comics #1.

  • On the other hand, if we wanted to conjecture a history detailling when the Marvel populi began to distrust mutants as a whole, we could argue that this was when it all started to change. After Magneto's very public plans for racial elevation in issue #1, we here see the Vanisher referring to the men who try to stop him as simply "homo sapiens", the disdain dripping from his voice. It could be argued that the public first thought of the X-Men as superheroes to be celebrated, just like the FF - but that the bad seeds of this new race, with their outright contempt for baseline humanity, soon turned the public perception against mutants as a whole.

    Sadly, the art in the background is just too tiny
    to make out the form of JFK agog at the window.

  • So, yes, the villain this outing is the Vanisher - and man, that is one weird looking dude. (Seriously: What's going on with his head?) His ability to disappear from one place and reappear in another is a surprisingly simple gimmick, and one that reminds us of the Living Eraser, or the aliens from the Fifth Dimension.  In fact, his one bland trick does seem like that of a Tales of Suspense foe, or a Strange Tales baddie ... which makes you realize that although Stan has begun giving the separate heroes their own quirks and identities, he hasn't yet started to ask himself: "What make a good threat to the X-Men?  What makes an Iron Man villain different from one for the Torch?"

    Mindwiped by the Prof.  You do realize that if Xavier
    tried that stunt today, he'd be sued?