Marvel Read-Through: X-Men First Run (Part 2)
I just finished watching the third episode of WandaVision and my mind is all Marvel right now. One of the things that got me so invested in the movies (and now shows!) and then in the comics in the interconnectedness of it all. Despite telling their own stories, every entry is a part of one big universal story. That’s why I think the 1960s original X-Men run didn’t click with readers, got cancelled in 1970, and the characters faded into obscurity for the next five years. It doesn’t feel like it’s part of the universe of comics that I have spent the past few months reading. There are cameos from other characters here and there, but it feels so separate. Even Wanda and Pietro are barely in X-Men after their time in Avengers; not seeing the continuation of their story was very disappointing for me because I thought it would carry over into X-Men. I know that the X-Men and mutants have always existed in their own corner of Marvel comics and have largely remained separate from the rest of the characters, but reading comics now I at least get the feeling that they exist in the same world as everyone else. Maybe it’s the decades of crossover stories and the constant tie-ins to major events, but 2010s X-Men comics are much more a part of the overall universe than 1960s X-Men comics.
I don’t want to sound hypocritical after praising Spider-Man’s 60s adventures, I know that they were largely separate from everything else too, but the quality of Amazing Spider-Man is so far above X-Men, which is why I think readers connected to Spidey and not the X-Men. Taking over writing duties from Stan Lee, Roy Thomas does a passable job with the issues I read, but it doesn’t match the quality of everything else I’ve read lately. It’s really too bad because I know Thomas can do better than he did here, and the comics aren’t bad by any means, they just aren’t good enough to fit in. He did a great job with the introductions of Banshee, Polaris, and Havok, adding more classic mutants to the X-Men family, and for that his contributions to X-Men comics can’t be overlooked. He also did the first major no-one-stays-dead-in-comics that I’ve come across when he killed Professor X in issue #42 only to reveal it was all a fake-out in #65. As much as this has become an often-mocked trope of comics, it’s a mainstay of the medium and I liked seeing what is probably one of the first major occurrences of this trope. I also have to say that Thomas’ best writing on this run comes in the story arc that introduced Polaris in issues #49–52. These are the only issues that felt like they could compete with the rest of Marvel.
I know a lot of things were different in comics in the 1960s, but I have to point out something that irritated me while reading. Text bubbles would cut mid-sentence and continue in another bubble. In my head I kept reading this as a pause even though it wasn’t meant to be. I believe it’s the work of letterer Herb Cooper, maybe Sam Rosen as well, and I hate it.
My main takeaway from the first X-Men run is that I’m very excited for Giant-Size X-Men #1 and its rehaul of the franchise. I haven’t read anything from the Chris Claremont era except for some of the Phoenix Saga, and as the defining writer writer of Marvel’s mutants, I’m looking forward to experiencing that part of comic book history. I know how great these characters are and how great their stories can be. Even though they didn’t hit those heights in the 1960s, I know they will in 1975 and beyond.
Next time I’ll be finishing up the 1960s with some solo adventures. Come back to find out what I think of Iron Man, Cap, Silver Surfer, and Mar-Vell’s exploits!
X-Men #28, #41–42, #49–52, #54–59, #65
Favorite issue: I love Polaris so I gotta give it to #52