Tuesday, March 29, 2011

124: The X-Men #4

The X-Men #4
January 3, 1964

  • Finally: The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants! Having gathered a few like-minded individuals, Magneto has assembled a true foil to the X-Men, and one of the major themes of the series can now be seen in this war of ideologies. The civil rights movement of the 1960s is an oft-cited point of comparison, with Professor Xavier - committed to the dream of racial integration - standing in for Martin Luther King, Jr., and Magneto representing the "by any means necessary" approach of Malcom X. Was the parallel an intentional metaphor, or accidental brilliance? Who can say? But it should be noted that MLK's famed "I Have a Dream" speech (audio here), its compelling rhetoric delivered on August 28, 1963, would have predated this issue by just a few months - and thus could very easily have been on the minds of Stan & Jack.

    You can just tell that half of their meals end in a food fight.

  • In only his second appearance in the title, Magneto is clearly upping his game. In the very first issue he captured the military base at Cape Citadel, taking control of its rockets & missiles. Exactly how far he was willing to go was never explicitly spelled out, but that's a pretty ambitious move for one's opening gambit! This time out, perhaps realizing the usefulness of strength in numbers, he's enlisted several others to his cause - and then swiftly conquers the South American nation of Santo Marco, putting himself in charge of their army. This guy doesn't have small goals....

    What was Magneto doing in a rustic European village anyway?
    That may have been the first clue that later developments picked up on.

  • Although it took until issue #3 for Stan to figure out the compelling personalities for several of his X-Men, the new baddies introduced here are in many ways already concretized as the characters they would be known as for years to come. For instance, The Toad is already a sycophantic, groveling figure; always a servant in search of a master. And the illusionist Mastermind is a sleazy, amoral sort with little regard for others. (He would later play a significant role in 1980's classic "Dark Phoenix Saga", in which writer Chris Claremont deftly realized how much sleazier a character with mind-altering powers could become.)

    We'll be seeing these mental battles much more in the future.
    But this is a pretty good early appearance!

  • But the most important development, of course, is the introduction of the two reluctant members of Magneto's Brotherhood: Pietro and Wanda, otherwise known as Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Wanda, as written here, is a bit too "damsel in distress"; her powers at this early stage simply create disasters, which she fearfully shrinks from. (She would develop into a much stronger character, though - and soon!) Pietro, on the other hand, is already massively arrogant and overly protective of his sister, yet with a trace of real nobility too. But what's not indicated - because, at the time, it wasn't intended - is the later revelation that Magneto is actually their father. The connection, heavily implied in 1979 (if not explicitly confirmed until 1983), was due in part to the physical similarities between father and son. But note that we wouldn't see Magneto without his helmet until a Neal Adams-illustrated story in 1969, which means that Quicksilver was not accidentally drawn similarly to Magneto. Rather, Mags would eventually be drawn to look like Pietro!

    Wait - the Prof is powerless?!  I guess we'll never see him in action again....