X-Men (1963) #1-3
We’re introduced to the four X-Men training to use their powers. There’s Cyclops, with the deadly optic blasts, Iceman, made of snow, Beast, with large feet and hands, and Angel, with the wings of an…Angel? All instructed by Professor Xavier, the bald guy in a wheelchair. They are soon joined by a fifth member, a certain red headed woman whom you might be familiar with: Jean Grey (only a telekinetic at this time).
We go through some pretty standard training montages (I’m pretty sure there’d be an 80’s song here if this were a movie) until another new mutant shows up, threatening the Cape Citadel rocket base! It’s Magneto!
The X-Men rush off and with the permission of the military, they drive Magneto off. Not bad for their first mission?
In X-Men #2, the X-Men are somewhat celebrities but now they must face the most fearsome villain of all…the… VANISHER! Wait…the Vanisher? Never mind…they must face the worst dressed villain of all.
The X-Men once again train for their encounter with this new mutant who is robbing banks and the pentagon. But when they encounter him, his teleportation ability is too much and he makes them look like fools. So Xavier steps in and uses his telepathy to completely wipe the Vanisher’s memory of his powers.
On to X-Men #3 where the X-Men find another new mutant: the Blob! Working at a circus, of course. The X-Men offer him a place on their team but when he turns them down, they…attack him?
The Blob returns with his fellow circus workers to attack the X-Mansion until Xavier once again steps in and wipes not only his mind, but all of the circus folk’s as well.
In 1963, we were introduced to five teenagers, each with powers they were born with (supposedly because Stan Lee hated coming up with origin stories by now). This was the “big bang” era of Marvel comics, coming only a couple of years after Fantastic Four and released the same year as the Avengers. This was a very different time of comics than what most of us know, with styles in both art and writing much simpler than what many of us grew up on.
With X-Men #1, Iceman is a snowman. Seriously. The writing is, for lack of better description, cringe-worthy. Nobody talks like this. But I think that’s what Stan Lee was going for. He had a different vision of what superheroes should sound like. The characters are fairly one-dimensional at first. For “x-ample”, Xavier is a taskmaster (not THE Taskmaster, that’s more of a Captain America character), but when you think about how new they are meant to be at using their powers, it kind of makes sense, although we’re treated frequently to how much of a “jerk” Professor Xavier is (#KittyWasRight).
And *of course* when Jean arrives at the school, she’s portrayed as little more than just eye candy (this was a problem with almost all female characters written in the 60’s). She’s someone for most of the guys to pawn after (I say most because Iceman seems completely uninterested…*hint*hint*).
We don’t get to experience much of their personalities, but a few traits stand out. Iceman is a prankster and Cyclops is a gentleman. But for the most part, it’s clear that Stan Lee doesn’t care about creating fleshed out characters, at least with this first issue (they do start to develop later on).
When Magneto shows up, he’s as long-winded as ever. In his effort to simply demonstrate his power he attacks the Cape Citadel laboratory (and demonstrates his ability to write cursive in the air which, let’s face it, is hard enough under the most ideal circumstances).
The involvement of the military is perhaps one of the largest differences from how I remember the X-Men. The military is all too willing to accept their help and Magneto is caught off guard and retreats. And amazingly, the X-Men are even invited back if Magneto should show up again!
X-Men #2 does start to give dimensions to some of the other X-Men. They’re still fairly uninteresting at this point, but we can see the playboy attitude of Angel and his flirtation with Jean. What’s oddest, though, is how these X-Men are hailed as heroes by the public. That may change within a few issues, but early on, it’s really weird to see.
The only other thing to stand out here is Xavier and his “demerits”. I laughed when he issued a demerit to Iceman, remembering how at the start of the Dark Phoenix Saga some 15 years later, he would once again issue demerits to Wolverine. I’m not even really sure what these demerits amount to, but it made me appreciate Claremont’s call out even more.
X-Men #3 has a few moments that stick with us, though, including the fact that CYCLOPS’ REAL NAME ISN’T SLIM. That’s right, for issues #1 and 2, he was called “Slim” as Stan Lee wanted that to be his real name, but here he’s called “Scott” for the first time. And of course there’s the Blob and ONCE AGAIN, XAVIER VIOLATES SOMEONE’S MIND (I’ll be revisiting this concept when we get to X-Men #9).
The X-Men are given a little more depth. We really start to see Cyclops as the stern field leader, but on top of that, the immense responsibility he shoulders due to his uncontrollable eye beams. This would be a recurring theme all the way until…well, pretty much current day.
The other big moment is the revelation that XAVIER LOVES JEAN GREY??? I mean, I get that at least she’s supposed to be eighteen here… But he’s her teacher (and we find out later that he’s known her since she was a child, reinforcing the idea that he’s an authority figure). This is just furthering the Xavier-is-a-creep belief. But this does get to be a pretty cool call-back decades later at the start of the Onslaught series.
Reading these early issues can feel like a chore sometimes. The writing is sometimes one-dimensional (although fairly typical for the time) and extremely corny, but in retrospect, the action is extremely intense (maybe not quite as dynamic as these days, but for the time, I can see why Kirby was considered so amazing and influential). Some of the beloved characters are really horrible when you think about it (I’m talking about you, Xavier!) but with all the problems, there’s still something endearing about these early issues. I mean, we see the introduction of Magneto and the Blob, villains who would persist until modern ages. We see the seeds planted in the personalities that would manifest not just for years, but decades longer. There’s a certain beloved feel of nostalgia with these beginning issues.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, every X-men fan should read these.
Most people reading this probably weren’t alive when these first issues came out, and they certainly don’t hold up to bronze age or even later silver age stories, but every comic book got its start somewhere, and the X-Men are no different. It’s a fun introduction and while there’s plenty of eye rolling moments, it’s worth every page.
X-Men (1963) #1-3: Return to the Silver Age
Writing - 5/10
Storyline - 4/10
Art - 6/10
Color - 8/10
Cover Art - 10/10
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