Tuesday, May 31, 2011

142: The X-Men #5

The X-Men #5
March 3, 1964

  • After the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants debuted last issue, they're back again. (And note how similar this is to the introduction of Doctor Doom, who also returned in the issue immediately following his first appearance. Stan & Jack are certainly sticking to a formula!) In fact, Stan seems so excited by these new foes that they won't be absent from the title until issue #8. But, oddly enough, that's not the only return this month! See that cover? See that goofy "flying Angel" placed strategically above the logo? That new bit of iconography debuted the previous issue too, perhaps with the idea of flight as the most visually instinctive signifier of mutation. In any case, this unusual symbology seems to have been incorporated as part of the logo now ... and, improbably, it will stick around!

    Asteroid M.  An idea so good, it will still
    be an active part of the X-mythos five decades later.

  • We can conjecture that the Brotherhood's omnipresence these next few issues might have something to do with the danger in introducing any new team; after all, with a limited number of pages, the ability to introduce each new member in a way that's both effective and resonant is vastly reduced. (Recall that the X-Men themselves didn't really start to develop personalities until their third issue, and Stan has already taken pains to spotlight individual members such as Iceman and the Angel.) And in addition to again featuring the team as a whole, this issue highlights arguably the least member of the Evil Mutants, the sycophantic Toad. Seemingly possessed of no greater power than the ability to hop around, we might wonder if he was thus conceived as a dark reflection of Hank McCoy, the Beast, with his simple-mindedness an additional inversion of Hank's mighty intellect. And noteably, when a crowd watches the Toad engage in leaps and bounds which clearly mark him as Something Else, the first grumblings of fear and distrust begin to emerge. Perhaps Stan was finally beginning to figure what this book was about!

    The new race war takes its first steps.

  • As the story opens, the parents of Marvel Girl pop by for a quick visit, passing through on their way to the 1964 World's Fair (which bore as its theme "Peace Through Understanding" - clearly relevant to the subtext at hand, yes?). When Jean Grey greets them at the door with a typically teenaged mix of affection and nervousness, and we see through her eyes these everyday parents visiting their beloved daughter at her (supposedly normal) boarding school, it strikes us that this is the first time it's seemed like a real school! Still, their quips as they leave do cause us to wonder if they're perhaps too easily accepting; not only did they change their mind about sending Jean to Xavier's after receiving a letter from Washington, D.C. strongly urging them to do so, but the fact that some of the school courses are labelled as TOP SECRET seems to impress them, rather than arouse any suspicion! Readers eager to reinterpret Xavier as a far more sinister force than was ever intended could find easy fodder in this scene, wondering if the professor gave subtle telepathic nudges to Mr. and Mrs. Grey in entrusting their daughter to his care. (And, to be fair, we've certainly seen such grey ethics from Charles already.) But in all fairness, any surprise we may feel at their blind acceptance is more a commentary on societal attitudes, and how they've so radically changed; fifty years ago, the average American may have just felt more inclined to implicitly trust their government, as opposed to the healthy skepticism in greater prevalence today.

    Were the creepy implications of telepathy and mind control as apparent
    to readers in the 1960s as they are today?

  • Finally, in evidence for the case of "Professor Xavier is a Jerk!", we get the resolution of last issue's bewildering cliffhanger. Upon the X-Men's return from this latest mission, which involved battling the Brotherhood on Asteroid M and retrieving their captive teammate Angel, they're greeted by Professor X - who, it turns out, didn't lose his powers after all! Instead, he tells them, he was just faking it to force them to get by on their own, as some sort of (potentially ill-advised) "final exam". So the good news is: They've graduated! But, er, they do so in the same issue in which Marvel have only just convinced us it can feel like a real school? Great timing, guys....

    See, you can tell it's magnetically powered because of the--
    Oh, never mind.