Giant-Size X-Men #1 (May, 1975)
Writer/Editor – Len Wein
Illustrator – Dave Cockrum
Colors – Glynis Wein
Letters – John Costanza
Cover Price: $0.50
Time for another “DC Near-Miss”, and it’s one I’m pretty psyched to talk about. I hope the cover image isn’t a bit misleading, or anything… I’m certainly not trying to suggest that the All-New, All-Different X-Men were something originally pitched to Marvel’s Distinguished Competition… but there is a character (and a half) from that team who were!
Also, as to not “get things twisted”, I unfortunately do not own an original first-run copy of Giant-Size X-Men #1… this discussion piece will look at a reprint from (cover-date) November, 1998, when Marvel was celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the X-Men. Being a “speculator-era” kid, I definitely dug the wrap-around Chromium Cover! Today, being a grown idiot who likes to take pictures of comic book covers… Chromium is kind of a challenge.
Funny story about how I procured this copy. Well, maybe not “funny”, but kinda weird. Back in ye old 1998, the internet was still very much “Web 1.0”, static-websites, not much in the way of a “social” element… and, it seemed that anyone who started a website automatically assumed they were about to strike it rich.
Well, an X-Men fan-site opened… and I happened across it via a link from USENET. It looked promising, and also like something I might be able to eventually contribute to… and so, I “signed up” for updates. Hey, this very blog you’re reading has the same sort of feature! Anyhoo, I signed up… and one of the “perks” to signing up was, you’d be entered into a weekly raffle for some X-Men-related prizes… which, I gotta assume were coming out of the poor site-owner’s pocket.
short not as long, from that every week for about two-months, I’d receive an email informing me that I won the raffle! And over the course of the next few months, every week I’d receive a new goodie in the mail. T-Shirts, trading cards, comics, trade paperbacks, promotional pieces… you name it, if it was collectible and X-Men related, it was coming to my mailbox. Initially I was super psyched to be on such a lucky streak… and then I came to the realization that I was probably one of only a handful of folks (if not the only one entirely) who bothered to join this poor fella’s mailing list!
The site didn’t make it long… but I still have all of the goodies I won… including this very issue.
Now, what character(s) were originally pitched to DC Comics? Well, I’m sure I’m not blowing any minds here… it’s pretty widely known that Nightcrawler was initially created by Dave Cockrum as a member of a Legion of Super-Heroes offshoot called The Outsiders! No, not those Outsiders… or those other Outsiders.
Now, not being terribly knowledgeable on the Legion… I couldn’t tell ya what the(se) Outsiders might’ve been to them. Allies? Rivals? Arch-Enemies? Haven’t the foggiest! Some preliminary notes regarding Nightcrawler, at least, show him to have been imagined as a rather unsavory fellow… so, maybe they were baddies… or maybe ol’ Kurt just had a sassy “tude”.
I’ve included Dave Cockrum discussing his original intent for Nightcrawler in the Wizard X-Men Special (1999). He states that the editor he offered Nightcrawler to (reportedly Murray Boltinoff) turned down the character for being “too funny-looking”.
|From: Wizard X-Men Special (1999)|
I said that Giant-Size X-Men features one-and-a-half characters originally pitched to DC Comics… so, let’s talk a bit about the “half”. If you look at that Outsiders image above, you can see the team roster. Among those names is Typhoon… a character “who could control the weather”. Again, I’m certainly not blowing any minds here… but, this element (including some of the costume design) was carried over into the creation (re-creation, really) of the character we know as Storm.
In the above pic, you can see that the concept for Storm began as a character called the Black Cat… not that Black Cat. This is a shape-shiftin’ Black Cat, who could take the form of any, well… cat. Unfortunately (or fortunately, I suppose), Marvel was already knee-deep in cat-type-characters, and so… this character needed some zshuzshing up. By taking elements of both the Black Cat and the would-be Outsider, Typhoon… we find ourselves with Storm!
Now, I probably could’ve just covered an issue of the Dave Cockrum-Nightcrawler miniseries from the mid-80s… or one of the several halfhearted attempts Marvel’s made at giving him his own ongoing series post-2000… or, really any number of Nightcrawler-centric issues of Uncanny or Excalibur… but, it’s been a long while since I’ve read Giant-Size, and to be honest… I’ve been looking for an excuse to revisit it!
So without further ado…
Well, actually, just one more bit of “ado”. I’m really enjoying writing these Near-Miss pieces, and I hope you’re digging them too! If you have any recommendations for “Near Misses”, please let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts!
So now… without further ado, for real this time… Giant-Size!
Our story opens in Winzeldorf, Germany… where the fella we’re reading this for is being chased through the streets by a horde of torch-wielding folks! They shout that he’s a “monster”. This is, of course, Kurt Wagner. The crowd continues their pursuit, even hurling their torches at him, setting homes and roofs on fire, just in hopes of hurting him. Finally, Kurt’s had enough, and he lunges into the fray… thinking, if tonight is the night he dies, at least it will be as a man.
Suddenly, the mass of humanity… stops. They all freeze, and Kurt is quick to realize the source of this uncanniness. Among the flames, he is greeted by a man in a wheelchair. Naturally, this is Professor X… and he’s come with an offer. He explains to Kurt that he runs a School for Gifted Youngsters, and suggests that it might be the perfect place for Kurt to be all that he can be.
We shift scenes to a Military Installation in Quebec, Canada. A certain fella you might’ve heard of is called into an office of one of the “Bigwigs”. Inside, waits… hey, Professor X! He tells this stranger that he’d heard of his recent battle with the Hulk… and knows that he has powers and abilities that he needs at present.
“Weapon X” isn’t sure he can leave with the Prof, after all, he’s got a position here… yet, immediately agrees to go anyway. Just then, the Bigwig chimes in that he ain’t goin’ anywhere. Huh? Why would this geek even let Chuck visit, if he wasn’t going to let Logan leave? This feels kinda disjointed. Anyhoo, Wolverine does what any rational person might when pleading their case, he slashes at the Bigwig’s clothes, threatens him, then quits. Fair enough.
Next stop, the Grand Ol’ Opry in Nashville, Tennessee… where Sean Cassidy is taking in a show. Professor X rolls up, literally out of nowhere, prompting Banshee to bellow a “Begorra!” which, may or may not have ruined the show for everyone else in attendance. The Prof pleads his case, and it doesn’t take much convincing for Banshee to come on board.
Now, we’re off to Kenya in East Africa… where the offspring of the Black Cat and Typhoon is whipping up a storm… and being worshiped by a bunch of locals. She is looked at as a Goddess… which, I suppose stands to reason, considering everything she’s able to do.
After doin’ her thang, she is greeted by… guess who! He makes Ororo an offer, that she doesn’t refuse. So far, our man Charlie is four-for-four!
The whirlwind world-tour continues… as Charles checks in with a former acquaintance in Osaka, Japan. It’s the always irascible, Shiro Yoshida… otherwise known as pain-in-the-butt Sunfire. Shiro tells the Prof he owes him nothing… but, he’ll help out nonetheless.
With our fifth mutant in place, the Professor heads off to Lake Baikal, Siberia… more specifically, the Ust-Ordynski Collective Farm. He looks on while a runaway tractor from a neighboring farm barrels toward a young blonde girl, who appears to be completely out to lunch. I don’t think tractors are necessarily quiet or anything, but she’s still just filling her pail with dirt. Anyhoo… a large brute of fella notices this, and runs directly for the tractor. Along the way, his skin appears to change into an organic metal… with which he shields the young girl (his sister, Illyana) and stops the tractor.
After this exhibition, our young man, Piotr Rasputin, is greeted by the Professor… who makes him the same offer he’s been making to everybody else. Hmm… ya know, it’s been proven time and again that Xavier isn’t necessary the most savory of characters. Gotta wonder if he might’a sorta-kinda facilitated this weird runaway tractor scenario. Anyhoo, Piotr’s down with the cause.
Next, and finally… we’re back in the U.S. of A. Camp Verde, Arizona to be exact… which looks about as desolate and barren as most places in Arizona are depicted as being in the comics. To be fair, the only thing I know about Camp Verde is that it’s where you can find the world’s largest Kokopelli statue… and Kokopellis have always kinda freaked me out. Anyhoo, this is where we meet John Proudstar, an Apache… who is chasing down a bison… which, I didn’t think were native to central AZ… but, honestly, I’m probably not the most knowledgeable on the roaming habits of wildlife.
John’s hunt is interrupted by Professor X, who makes him that offer. Initially, John suggests this white man go “stuff a cactus”, which sounds wildly painful. He eventually comes around, however, after Xavier suggests he might be a coward. Welp, whatever works, right?
With our players in place, it’s time to begin Chapter II: “… And When There Was One!”. The team of New(bie) Mutants, are gathered in Charly’s living room… and they’re all dressed up in their gimmicks. We learn that the costumes were obtained from Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, and are constructed from those oft-referred to “unstable molecules”.
Sunfire, who doesn’t get any new gear… and might just be salty about that, demands to know why the Professor has dragged them all here. I mean, didn’t he explain all of this when he visited and recruited them? If not, these are one trusting group of goofballs. “Hey, wanna come with me to my weird school… no questions asked?” Yeah, sign me up, baldy! To explain the sitch, Xavier introduces… my favorite X-Man, Cyclops!
Scott explains that they were able to track down all the new recruits via the use of Cerebro before getting into the nitty-gritty of the present crisis. Ya see, sometime earlier Cerebro started buggin’ out… reacting quite violently to… something. The X-Men (original five – Beast + Havok and Polaris) all answered the call, and headed off to check out what all the hub-bub was about.
They wound up landing on an island… annnnnd, don’t see nothin’. Suddenly, however… something scary their way came.
Following the attack, Cyclops was the only one able to get away… or rather, was the only one not captured. He found his way back to the not-yet Blackbird… only to realize that his cursed-eyes were uncovered… and not blasting optic beams! This leads him to deduce that the rest of his teammates are still on this island… and are completely without (mutant) power! The “Strato-Jet” suddenly takes off, and the auto-pilot is jammed. Scott finds himself on a one-way trip back to Westchester, no matter how many times he punches the control panel to change course and return to his friends.
Upon arrival back that Mansion, he attempts to fill Professor X in on recent events. However… it’s here that Cyke’s cursed-eyes begin to produce optic beams again! Only now, the beams were stronger than ever… which, is a detail I’d long forgotten… and honestly, I don’t think it matters much anyway.
Cyclops wraps up his story… and pitches to the New(bie) Mutants that they head back to the island Krakoa, and rescue the rest of the Originals. Sunfire, being a complete d-bag flat-out refuses… for like a panel and a half. He catches up and rejoins the team en route.
Thus begins, Chapter III: “Assault Force!”. Our All-New, All-Different team arrives at the isle of Krakoa. They decide to split up and approach the threat from all angles… which, I mean… might be the dumbest course of action here, considering Scott’s got no idea what they’re even facing. Our tag-teams are: South: Nightcrawler & Sunfire, East: Banshee & Wolverine, North: Colossus & Storm, and finally West: Cyclops & Thunderbird.
Cyclops and T-Bird land the Strato-Jet… which somehow disappears immediately after they deplane. What’s more, some strange Temples have appeared to have just manifested nearby. Naturally, the fellas find this to be wildly irregular, and decide to check it out. They wind up in a battle with some vines and underbrush… which it takes them fourteen minutes to fight their way through.
Over on the East Side, Wolverine and Banshee are fighting with a weird stony-crab-thing. They defeat the beastie, and reconnoiter with… Cyclops and Storm? Da hale? I thought Storm was partnered with Colossus?
Well, our next scene occurred “minutes earlier”… where Storm and Colossus outrun an avalanche, and find themselves meeting back up with Cyclops and Thunderbird. Feels like this scene might’ve been an afterthought, no? Like, they forgot a scenario for the North team or something.
Finally, on the South side, Kurt ‘n Shiro fight some giant birds. Bor-ring. They, too, then rejoin the crew. Well, at least the “divide and conquer” approach was successful in… uh, eating up a bunch of pages?
The now-complete team enters one of those temples Cyclops and Thunderbird discovered… and inside, whattayaknow… they find the Originals! They’re bound to an organic-looking wall by some vines… and it would appear as though they’re being fed from!
Cyclops and Company free their friends… only to be informed by Angel that they never should have returned to this island! Ya see, it was all a trap… the “threat” only let Cyclops escape in hopes that he’d bring back more mutants… because, spoiler alert — the “threat” that caused Cerebro to go all ca-ca… is the Island Itself!!!
This takes us into Chapter IV: “Krakoa… The Island that Walks Like a Man!“, where the Living-Island finally presents itself… in all it’s glory! It’s here we learn that this bugger feeds off mutant energy… which explains, well… kinda everything.
The Amalgamated X-Men, old and new… listen to the Living Island as it confirms everything that Angel had alleged… so, at least it’s an honest island. Then, the good guys unleash… and go on an all-out assault!
In the heat of battle, Professor X telepathically communicates some information to Cyclops. Ya see, the X-Men are going about this all wrong… and, in fact, the Prof thinks he might’ve sussed out Krakoa’s weak point. Well, that’s pretty handy information, innit? And so, Xavier joins the fracas remotely.
From here, we get a couple of pages of putting all of the pieces in place to enact Xavier’s X-ploitative plan. Storm whups up a… well, storm. Polaris uses her magnetic powers to finagle the lightning… which, uh, does something that’ll hopefully make sense in a bit. Cyclops and Havok then both fire off their respective energy-type blasts into the ground.
The magnetized-lightning courses through the new hole in the island… and crashes through four thousand miles of Earth… until it hits its molten core! This causes Krakoa to lose control of its humanoid form… giving the X-Men the opportunity to git out of dodge.
Iceman creates a raft of sorts, and Cyclops and Havok use their energies as a means of propulsion to get away from the aching island. We learn here that, Lorna’s magnetism not only supercharged the lightning… but also caused, uh, gravity to cease on the island? Alrighty, then. Krakoa is sent flying off Earth… and into orbit, where I’m sure we’ll never, ever, eeeeeeeever see it again. The X-Men almost get swallowed up by a whirlpool… but the threat is short-lived, and honestly… almost and afterthought.
The seas finally settle, and the X-Men have survived… which leaves Angel with only one question… whatta we gonna do with thirteen X-Men? Hmm, nowadays, that’d only be like a quarter of an X-Team, wouldn’t it?
It’s been forever since I’d read this issue… and, it’s weird… I forgot just how, I dunno “procedural” it is? I won’t say it’s “boring”, necessarily… but, outside of the introductions, there really isn’t all that much to it. Let’s try and break it down by chapter, shall we?
The opening handful of pages was probably the most fun… in that we get to “meet” so many iconic characters for the first (or nearly the first) time. It’s the kind of thing we’ve become accustomed to, when we look at “gathering of forces” stories. I do feel like (most of) our New Muties might’ve been a little too trusting of Professor X right off the bat. I’m trying to remember if anyone ever wrote a story suggesting he was using his mental abilities to massage them into being a bit more amenable to the idea? The only story I can recall offhand that took any liberties with this story was Deadly Genesis… though, a) that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish, and b) I don’t recall if there was any mental hoodoo involved.
This take on the “New” X-Men was pretty cool overall. I’ve seen a bunch of interviews where the creators involved would say Roy Thomas wanted this group to be akin to a mutant Blackhawks team, playing up their international flair. I’d say they were, ya know, pretty dang successful in that regard.
The threat of Krakoa the Living Island was pretty neat. I remember the first time I’d heard of this story, long before I had the opportunity to actually read it (because reprints weren’t always so easy to come by) I thought the idea that the evil mutant was the island itself was such a cool idea! I mean, how can anybody prepare for something like that? It makes me wonder if the creation of Mogo might’ve been in some part inspired by this. Ehh, who knows? Feels like this might just be a tropey concept that I’d just never heard of before this.
The way in which the X-Men dealt with Krakoa was… I wanna say this in a way where it doesn’t sound dismissive… but, it was very “comic-booky”. That’s not bad… but, it’s also a bit “wonky”. I mean, it worked in a pinch, but feels like one of those Dagwood-Sandwich sort of ideas… so many added layers of powers and placement, where it almost feels as though my brain was beaten into submission, and I just stopped thinking and accepted the outcome. Does that make sense?
It’s funny… and, with the power of hindsight, damn near adorable that the X-Men feel like thirteen members might be too much. I happen to agree with them, but… jeez… have you tried looking at an issue of X-Men in the past 20 years?! You’re lucky if there are only thirteen X-Men in a given panel, much less the story.
So, let’s address the reason we’re here today… the “Near Miss” aspects of this issue. Nightcrawler as an X-Man rather than a Legionnaire (or Legionnaire-adjacent). I think we find ourselves in the “right” timeline in this regard. I think Nightcrawler as an X-Man afforded him the opportunity to be a more fleshed-out character.
I might just be projecting, or… ya know, selling an entire comics franchise short… but, I feel like Legion characters… outside of a “core” grouping, are really… I dunno… kind of interchangeable. Just a mess of characters in colorful costumes, where it’s more about that character’s individual power than their personality. You need a character that can bounce like a ball? Well, they got one. What’s his favorite color? Who cares… it’s all about the power!
Again, I admit I might just be selling the entire idea of the Legion of Super-Heroes short… and I know they have a very passionate fan-base, but in my (admittedly) limited reading of Legion stories, the field of characters included in a given adventure seems to be predicated in what each character can do… rather than who they are. I hope that makes sense… and doesn’t come across as (entirely) dismissive.
It’s strange, in a way… that “interchangeable” vibe is kind of how I view the X-Men these days. Rather than introducing characters one at a time… and allowing them to be fleshed-out (think Rogue, Kitty, Jubilee, Gambit, Bishop), it seems as though we get entire teams of new mutants dropped in our laps… and we’re expected to be invested in all of ’em. Ever since New X-Men (the post-Morrison series that spun out from the “Marvel Tsunami” New Mutants volume 2), new characters are constantly being introduced en masse… and, so many of them are just so damn generic. How many mutants with electric-based powers do we need? How many mutants with impenetrable skin do we need? How many mutants do we need with “ironic” or quirky powers that save the day exactly once? It’s just too much.
I suppose an argument can be made that the “drop a bunch of new mutants in our lap” approach started here… but, I dunno… it might just be hindsight overstepping my objectivity, but it feels like it was done more “right” here? Does that make sense? Each character gets a bit of a vignette, where we see where they’ve come from… and get a little bit of their personality. Nowadays, it’s just “here’s eight new characters, they’re quirky and sarcastic… care about them, now.”
I dunno, I’m probably babbling at this point. Suffice it to say, I’m happy we’re living in a timeline where Nightcrawler and the Outsiders was turned down by DC Comics. Add in Typhoon never becoming a “thing”, and having his power-set and costume commingled with Cockrum’s Black Cat to give us Storm, and I’d say this DC-Near Miss was a great thing for Marvel and comics in general.
Here is a piece from the Wizard Special Edition: X-Men Turn Thirty (August, 1993), that discusses some of Dave Cockrum’s inspirations and machinations when it came to creating some of these characters:
So, overall… was really happy to finally revisit Giant-Size, and actually find a way to finagle it into the blog! This issue has been reprinted six(hundred) ways from Sunday… you probably have it in some form already. If you somehow don’t it is available digitally for a buck-ni’ni’.
X-tra: Some (if you’ve read this far along, redundant) bits and pieces regarding the creation of Storm and Nightcrawler from Dave Cockrum in Comics Creators on X-Men (Titan Books, 2006):
X-tra: A Panel-Interview with Dave Cockrum, Jim Shooter, Roy Thomas, and Arnold Drake discussing the Silver-and-Bronze Age X-Men, including Giant-Size and the early days of the All-New, All-Differents… From Alter-Ego #24 (May, 2003):