Tuesday, February 15, 2011

112: The X-Men #3

The X-Men #3
November 5, 1963

  • The first two issues were notable for just how off-model the characters were, as Stan had not yet found their personalities. This time out, however, it's surprising to see just how many of them he's zeroed in on. Observe, for example, Scott Summers, the team leader constantly worried about his power's destructive abilities; this active, physical repression informs his psyche as well, and his ultra-serious tone stands in contrast to the clowning around of the other boys. Stan has also realized that Hank McCoy could be far more interesting if played against type - the powerhouse and the "big brain" rolled into one, rather than just a typical brute - and Warren Worthington, the Angel, is now clearly set up as the rich, flashy, glamorous one of the bunch (as suspected from last month's guest appearance). But there's still room for misstep: Professor X detects the activity of a brand-new mutant over a great distance, all on his own - no Cerebro yet - and in a horribly conceived internal monologue, he grapples with his unspoken love for Jean Grey. You know, his teenage student. Stan must have realized the hideous inappropriateness shortly after it went to press, because the entire subject seems to have been subsequently stamped "LET US NEVER SPEAK OF THIS AGAIN."

    Ew!  No!  Stop it!

  • Meanwhile, the villain of the piece is The Blob, an immensely large man who can't be moved when he doesn't want to be, can't be hurt, and is incredibly strong. (Also, his true power may lie in being a jerk.) Before the X-Men approach him, he's content to be a cranky sideshow freak. However, once they tell him his abilities stem from being a mutant, he gets commensurately large delusions of grandeur, and declares himself king of the carnival - and soon, to be sure, the world. In other words, this is one occasion where the X-Men's intervention made things worse than if they'd simply left well enough alone!

    I love these short sequences that end in a silent panel (aside from sound effects).
    Stan certainly knows when to shut up and let the art speak for itself!

  • So. The X-Men track down the Blob and, despite his snotty attitude, they offer him membership into their ranks. (Did they have no standards of admission?) Laughing, he turns them down. They're shocked that anyone would decline an offer of entrance to their school, as if the very possibility never occurred to any of them - and further, the Professor pronounces that there's no way they can let the Blob leave with knowledge of who the X-Men really are. Cue the ominous music: The Prof therefore has to mindwipe him. Yes, just like last issue. Actually, by this point the Blob is attacking the school with the entire carny workforce, which means Xavier has to mindwipe an entire crowd! To our modern eyes, this casual manipulation of others' minds can't help but read as morally gray at best, and sickeningly scary at worst. Did the readers at the time not feel the same way? Stan certainly didn't; from the rest of the Professor's portrayal, it appears he really expected us to accept these actions simply because the Prof was The Man In Charge.

    Even though the Marvel books are becoming known for the seriousness and realism
    with which its characters are treated, there's still room enough for punctuated comic relief.

  • Interestingly, by this time we've seen the setting of carnivals and circuses a number of times, from The Ringmaster's circus to the one in which the Hulk recently hid. "Interesting" because the 1960s was perhaps the last heyday of such venues, before losing out to the growing competition of mass-produced entertainment such as movies, television, video games and more. But that glimpse into a bygone era is what I find so compelling! One of the most fascinating aspects of reading these old comics, especially in aggregate and in publication order, is how clearly they evoke the period of the time, whether the automatic respect of the patriarch, the motion pictures that captured the nation's consciousness, or the looks and fashions of everyday men and women. Taken together, they paint a detailed picture of the times - if you only know how to look.

    Already, this is the Beast countless fans would know and love for years to come:
    bold, daring, astonishingly smart, yet with a casual and easygoing wit. Success!