The Essential X-Lapsed, Episode 1 – X-Men #1 (1963)
Kicking off a brand-new X-Lapsed offering… in which we go all the way back to 1963 and revisit with our Original Five! Lookitus being actual fake-ass comics historians, ova hea’!
Today we meet Professor Xavier, Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Angel, and Jean Grey… as they do battle with the first ever Evil Mutant — Magneto! I mean, I ain’t blowin’ any minds here… this is X-Men #1, of course you know what happens in it!
It’s my hope that this program will run concurrently with the main X-Lapsed series while we wait for shipments of new books to arrive.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these Silver Age stories — if there are any that especially stand out to you and you’d like to chat about ’em on the air – please don’t be a stranger!
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2 thoughts on “The Essential X-Lapsed, Episode 1 – X-Men #1 (1963)”
My plan was to skip over Essential X-Lapsed just as I do with the Sunday Specials in the hope of one day getting close to catching up with you. Everytime I open Podbean I'm told I have 30-odd podcasts outstanding and the vast majority are Chris-related and I just feel so guilty for falling behind. But the next regular X-Lapsed available on Unlimited is another Excalibur and I really wasn't in the mood for that so I had to decide whether to time travel to the Hellfire Gala or 1963. Clearly I chose to go to X-Men 1.
Your history with the early X-Men is very different to mine. My first superhero comic was a Marvel UK comic called Thor & the X-Men which reprinted the late 60s Thomas/Roth stories. The era they were covering included the origin back-ups so I was familiar with them. I then got into US comics in 1986 via X-Factor which featured the same characters but later in their careers. I didn't read X-Men 1 until years later when I got a reprint edition of number 1 which was released in 1991 to coincide with the Claremont/Lee X-Men number 1. By the time I read it I was steeped in X-Men continuity so my main reaction was that there was so much missing from the story. No actual origin story in the first issue.
My other main takeaway was how garish the art looked. It was reprinted on clean white paper and they clearly didn't adjust the colours to look more like they would have looked on newsprint. For this reread I went to Unlimited and the colours had definitely been adjusted. They're still much brighter than they would have looked on newsprint but far less garish than the 1991 reprint. Within the episode you ask who would have coloured this story. My understanding (as a fake-ass comics historian) is that all Marvel books from 61 to 69 are usually credited to Millie the Model artist Stan Goldberg who was the in-house colourist during this period. I have seen exceptions noted, though, apparently Jim Steranko tended to colour his own art and I have read interviews where various writers and editors have mentioned having to colour a few pages here and there when deadlines were short. We also know that Marie Severin was in the Bullpen throughout the 60s. I have seen the suggestion that she coloured more comics pages than anyone else in the history of comics. She famously coloured the entire output of EC Comics and then worked at Marvel for decades. She would often do a page or two in a comic uncredited and some people argue this makes her the most prolific.
Talking of being a fake-ass comics historian, I feel this book really shows some and the push and pull of the Kirby/Lee relationship. At times the art and the script are going in slightly different directions. Clearly Kirby was drawing Xavier as an older man but Lee complicates it with his reference to his parents working on the bomb. That makes Xavier 20 at the oldest which really doesn't fit. I think we see an element of Lee cranking it out. Xavier's mood swings suggest that the book wasn't dialogued in one session. Maybe he was writing them piecemeal as Kirby delivered the pages and he didn't really have the characters set.
It also seems to me that Kirby definitely intended Cyclops to be the leader and the most effective character and Lee added in the rivalry with Angel. All the decisive actions in the battle are taken by Cyclops. Similarly Jean is given more agency in the art than the script where she has a bad case of "the girl" which was one of the weakest elements of Lee's writing. They never really had any individual charcteristics.
It's also interesting to note that this is a book about teenagers produced by two men in their 40s and therefore falls into some of the traps of these stories. The main teenage characteristics that come to the fore are being sex-mad and wearing hideous clothes. As you go through it will be interesting to see if these get better when Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich (who were in their 20s) write the book.
I loved the Silver Age Silliness of Magneto signing his metallic dust message. You know in a modern re-interpretation that would be his logo which he would sell merch of. I love the idea of the US Military just letting a group of teenagers have a go at defending their base. Doesn't feel very authentic today. It is also weird to see the X-Men embraced as heroes by the establishment. There is no anti-mutant feeling at all in this story. It's just mutant supremacy versus co-existence. We're not seeing any hatred or fear yet.
Overall rereading this was a great source of joy despite the iffy sexual politics. It was just fun. I definitely enjoyed it far more than I did in 1991. Clearly 47 year-old Damien has different taste to 17 year-old Damien. I don't own the Essentials for this era so I will be reading these issues for the first time beyond issue 1. I'm looking forward to it even though I know there is some ropey stuff coming up.