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Film Art: An Introduction
David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson
Marvel Masterworks: The X-Men, Vol. 1 - Stan Lee, Jack Kirby Ah, the very first issues of the good ole' X-Men. Back when the line-up was Cyclops, Iceman, Beast, Jean Grey, and Angel. Back when they called Jean Grey Marvel Girl and when Iceman looked like Frosty the Snowman. Where one of the most recognized superhero teams started--with the words of Stan Lee and the drawings of Jack Kirby, the two greats of the Silver Age.

In the first ten issues the quality varies a bit from issue to issue, but I can't say there are any really bad issues. An obvious favorite of mine would probably have to be issue #4, where we are introduced to The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, led by none other than Magneto, or issue #7 where Cyclops shows off some fabulous leadership. In these early issues we're also introduced to the likes of The Blob, The Vanisher, Toad, Mastermind, Unus, and the wonderfully mysterious Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Plus there's guest appearances from Namor the Submariner, The Avengers, and Ka-Zar.

The plots of each issue are, as so many comics of the time were, a bit simple. Silver Age comics are rarely praised for their complex plots. X-Men isn't an exception. Many of the issues boil down to an enemy with a crazy power or plan being presented, them showing off that power, you wondering to yourself how the X-Men could possible defeat such a power, and then the X-Men doing just that. Not to say that's a bad thing; it can be quite fun, interesting, and suspenseful. And for the most part that type of story is done pretty well in these early X-Men issues. Granted there are a few disappointing conclusions and Professor Xavier serves as a bit of a deus ex machina all too often, but for the most part it's pretty good; whether the X-Men be fighting against a master of magnetism, someone who can vanish into thin air, or someone who literally can't be touched.

As I mentioned there are some differences in quality between the issues. I think the main problem may have been that, even within a mere ten issues, there becomes a bit of a repetition...or perhaps better put: routine. Marvel had been so successful in the 60s thanks to the premiere of comics that still carry the company to this day like Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Avengers (which launched alongside X-Men), Daredevil, and the then popular Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. So many successful new series that Marvel's head writers and artists, such as Stan & Jack, were not only very probably over-worked but they also fell into a sort of formula (not to mention all that success probably made Stan a bit cocky), making their work seem, at times, very routine, both in writing and penciling. They knew the successful formula and they followed it, which, unfortunately, occasionally led to some pretty mediocre comics. This is evidenced even more when, after issue #21 of X-Men, Roy Thomas took over writing for Stan Lee (and then later Steve Englehart for Roy), and for a good while the X-Men series was pretty mediocre (until, of course, it was saved, and indeed reinvented, by the likes of Chris Claremont).

Luckily though these early issues still maintain much freshness and Stan Lee's writing, though somewhat formulaic (and arguably even sexist and soap opera like at times), still has its charm. The early Stan Lee X-Men comics may not be the best the X-Men have to offer and they may have been done better by the likes of Claremont or Whedon, but they're certainly far from the worst (see

Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart; not that they're bad writers, mind you, they just didn't write very interesting X-Men) and for having the disadvantage of being the very first in the series they do a damn fine job. Not to mention the added enjoyability to be had from the comics' historical significance and getting to glimpse back to a bygone age and see where a famous series found its start.

In many ways X-Men took the best aspects of Marvel's other comics. The coming-of-age element from Spider-Man, the team and family aspect from Fantastic Four, threw in some cool new villains (I find it very likely that X-Men as a series would have failed had it not been for Magneto, who himself is probably inspired by Doctor Doom from Fantastic Four the year prior) and, just as Fantastic Four reflected the Cold War psychology of the era and broke many comic conventions for the time (and created many as well), X-Men served as a metaphor for civil rights and racism and, above all, alienation in general. X-Men are also sort of the opposites of Avengers; whereas Avengers are beloved heroes to society, X-Men are outcasted heroes generally looked down upon by society. Where Avengers are composed of experienced men that possess incredible strength the X-Men are young kids who must rely on teamwork. Avengers are led by the gleaming blonde-haired god of thunder Thor, whose greatest asset is his strength, and the X-Men by a bald cripple whose mind is his strongest power.

Of course by today's standards the comics of the Golden and Silver age seem a bit silly and primitive, and indeed they were (they, after all, didn't have the advantage newer comics have of learning from the past). But for its time it was quite good and for us modern readers it's quite interesting.

Favorite issues: The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants! (#4), The Return of the Blob (#7)
Best Cover Art: The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants! (#4)
Rating: 3.00 out of 5