Monday, June 9, 2014

X-MEN #1 - October 1991

Credits:  Chris Claremont (story, script), Jim Lee (story, pencils), Scott Williams (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Joe Rosas (colors)

Summary:  In orbit, SHIELD agents pursue a space shuttle stolen by a group of mutants.  They land near Asteroid M, where Magneto rescues both groups.  Inside, SHIELD member Deke apparently kills the mutant Annemarie.  With Fabian Cortez’s prompting, Magneto decides to make a statement to the human population.  He raises the Soviet submarine Leningrad and steals its remaining nuclear supply.  The X-Men arrive to stop him, after receiving word from Nick Fury.  Magneto tries to leave peacefully, but detonates one of the bombs after Rogue is hit by Soviet aircraft.  Rogue awakes in Genosha, where the mutant Acolytes are waging war.  The X-Men soon arrive to defend Genosha.  Suddenly, Magneto appears.  He didn’t condone the Acolytes’ actions, but announces that he will offer them and all mutants sanctuary on Asteroid M.  Meanwhile, a tearful Moira tells Banshee that this is all her fault.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Magneto sunk the Leningrad in Uncanny X-Men #150.
  • Everyone remembers that X-Men #1-3 takes place before Uncanny X-Men #281, right?
  • The mansion has been rebuilt in the months following “The Muir Island Saga.”  Forge has also designed a new Blackbird since the team’s last appearance.
  • Xavier uses his futuristic hover-chair for the first time.
  • Jean Grey is no longer using her “Marvel Girl” code name.
  • Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, and Rogue all debut new costumes, most of which will last the rest of the decade.  Storm's hair has grown several inches (feet?) since her last appearance.  Colossus is wearing his original costume, although it seems slightly modified.  The rest of the team goes back to the outfits they wore circa the “X-Tinction Agenda” crossover.
  • Jubilee is absent, without explanation.  She won’t appear again until X-Men #4.  Forge and Banshee are now working in the mansion as technical support.  Moira MacTaggert is apparently now living at the mansion, as well.  (But where’s Stevie Hunter?)
  • Rogue playfully shakes her fist at Gambit following a training session, the first hint of a potential romance between the pair.
  • The division of the Blue and Gold teams is mentioned for the first time.  According to Xavier, it was Cyclops’ idea.  Cyclops’ Blue team consists of Cyclops, Gambit, Wolverine, Beast, Psylocke, and Rogue.  Storm is referenced as the leader of the Gold team, the implication being that the other members are on her team.
  • The Acolytes debut.  The only ones given full names are their leader Fabian Cortez and Harry Delgado, who is apparently a sleeper agent within SHIELD.  (This was never definitively resolved.)  There is also Annemarie, no last name given, who seems able only to shoot large guns.  The final member is an unnamed male who can fly and alter the molecular density of others.  
  • Annemarie is believed dead after Deke shoots her inside Asteroid M.  Fabian Cortez later tells Magneto he used his powers to heal her.
  • Wolverine comments that Fabian Cortez has a familiar scent but he can’t place the face.  I believe this has never been resolved.
  • The anti-human slur “flatscan” is used by the Acolytes for the first time this issue.

I Love the '90s:  Asteroid M is hovering over the USSR at the issue’s opening.  George H. W. Bush is also the American President at the time, and there are two references to him being “prudent” in the story.

Creative Differences:  A re-lettered balloon on page ten emphasizes that “telepathic” and “psychic” mean the same thing, as Jean telepathically attacks Colossus during a Danger Room session.

“Huh?” Moments:  
  • Speaking of which, we learn a few pages later that this “Jean” is actually a robot.  So Xavier can build robots with telepathic powers now?  
  • Gambit is somehow able to grab a missile shell shot by Annemarie with his bare hands during their fight in Genosha.
  • Rogue is shot down by fighter jets over Russia, and yet lands in the tiny African island of Genosha.
  • Magneto appears to be speaking through a hologram at the end of the issue, but suddenly appears in the flesh at the start of the next issue.

Gimmicks:  There are five different versions of this comic, each with a different cover.  The $3.95 special edition version of the issue includes all covers as a fold-out, pin-ups, a sketchbook, and it’s printed on glossy paper with no ads.  The standard version is printed on newsprint with a $1.50 cover price, with ads.

Review:  Where to begin on this one?  X-Men #1 is the highest selling comic of all time, with orders reaching eight million copies in the summer of 1991.  The initial X-Men storyline has stayed in print for around two decades now in the “Mutant Genesis” trade paperback, receiving at least one re-coloring in its numerous reprints.  As many people are eager to point out, X-Men #1’s high sales are owed mostly to speculators; many readers purchased more than one copy of the comic, a practice encouraged by the multiple cover gimmick.  Also, numerous retailers over-ordered and were left with unsold copies of the book, leading to its continued presence today in the dollar bins.  Looking back, those ubiquitous copies in the cheapie bins could be a reason why “Mutant Genesis” has stayed in print for so long.  X-Men #1 exists as a cheap commercial for the opening arc, an arc that can easily be read in one collected edition.   Given the numerous printings of “Mutant Genesis,” you would think the market would’ve been saturated by now, but it seems to live on forever, much like “The Dark Phoenix Saga.”

Intended as a new-reader friendly introduction to the X-Men, the story takes a lot of liberties with the status quo of the era.  The X-Men and X-Factor teams have merged into one, various events have occurred in-between issues (including one member apparently leaving the team), no one seems that concerned with the loss of Cyclops’ son, and existing readers are just expected to roll with the changes.  I personally found all of the changes exciting as a kid, most likely because I wasn’t old enough to reach the status of “entitled fanboy” yet.  So much change so abruptly was rare during these days, especially when the creative team has remained virtually unchanged.  (I wonder now if Claremont didn’t even know how Nicieza was handling the end of “The Muir Island Saga” at the time.)  And as a new-reader friendly comic, of course the characters are very quick to describe each other’s powers or say their teammates' names at regular intervals.  This has never bothered me as much as it does other readers, and I still maintain that Claremont’s better at the forced exposition than most writers of this era.  As annoying as the obvious exposition and that gap between issues might’ve been to established readers, it’s hard to deny that visceral feeling an X-fan feels when he or she sees almost all the X-Men together on one team, living in the mansion, training in the Danger Room, all under the tutelage of Professor Xavier.

As the “ultimate” X-Men story, so to speak, it’s no surprise that Magneto is the villain.  This is another element that I’m sure irritated Chris Claremont to no end, although he tries his best to make it work.  Jim Lee, apparently, doesn’t share too many reservations about casting Magneto as the foil.  Just a few pages after Wolverine defends Magneto to Cyclops, adamant that a person can truly change, Lee draws him charging after Magneto “on the verge of a berserker fury” with little provocation.  Claremont has Magneto later point this out during a conversation with Fabian Cortez, using his sense of betrayal as more fuel for Cortez, who’s manipulating Magneto into playing the villain role again.  Perhaps a stricter editor would’ve removed Wolverine’s earlier defense of Magneto, or tossed in some rationalization for why Wolverine suddenly turns on him so violently, but I prefer the frayed edges.  The audience is just as bewildered as Magneto, which helps to make him more sympathetic.  (And I realize that Magneto is trying to steal nuclear missiles in this scene, but Wolverine as characterized just a few pages earlier wouldn’t assume that Magneto would actually use them against the public.  A tossed-in line about nukes going “too far” might’ve worked to justify Wolverine’s actions in the scene, though.)

The creative team’s inconsistency on Magneto turns out to be the strongest element of the storyline.  Claremont will use every word balloon and narrative caption to remind us of Magneto’s humanity, while Lee’s art either has him staring pensively or attacking the X-Men.  The art’s ambiguous enough to create some doubt over which side started the fight, which thankfully leaves the door open for Claremont’s more thoughtful interpretation of Magneto.  Bringing back the Leningrad is a great decision, regardless of which creator dreamed it up.  It serves as a reminder of Magneto’s only (on-panel) lethal action during his villainous days, while also working to humanize Magneto, who only now realizes that the people he killed were flesh and blood.

I also like the role the Acolytes play in pushing Magneto back towards the dark side, and the ambiguity over whether or not Harry Delgado is an Acolyte sleeper agent within SHIELD is a nice Claremontian touch (and I suppose it’s fitting that we never received an answer.)  The unanswered questions regarding SHIELD and the Acolytes are intriguing.  Was Deke’s “murder” of Annemarie a stunt from the beginning?  What if there’s more than one mutant mole within SHIELD?  Were the Acolytes ever sincere about seeking sanctuary with Magneto in the first place?  Is Fabian Cortez the only Acolyte with ulterior motives, or is his entire group running a scam?  Having Magneto declare at the issue’s end that he isn’t condoning the Acolytes’ violence, but he’s still offering them and all mutants sanctuary, might be the best way to split the difference between old and new Magneto.  Not necessarily villainous, but certainly not a positive force in human/mutant relations.  (Years later, Grant Morrison will have Professor Xavier be the one to make a very similar proclamation in New X-Men, leading Claremont to present the opposing point of view in the X-Treme X-Men arc “Schism.”)   

While the ping-pong Magneto portrayal is just coherent enough to be interesting, the plotting towards the end of the issue gets annoying sloppy.  How exactly does Rogue end up in Genosha?  And how is it that in the time it takes the X-Men to fly from Russia to Genosha, the Acolytes have already adopted a name, picked up uniforms, and declared war on Genosha?  And somehow left Magneto’s orbiting space station without his knowledge.  I can understand the appeal of connecting Magneto to Genosha, especially at this point in continuity since I don’t think he’s ever even been aware of its existence, but all logic has been thrown out the window to get here.  It is a decent fight scene, made all the better by the collapsed buildings and fiery, war torn backgrounds.  In retrospect, it might be the only credible fight the Acolytes ever put up.  As a kid I ate this up, but the plot mechanics are remarkably dumb for a comic that’s been fairly elegant up until this point.


Jeff said...

This was my first X-Men comic and every time I read it it takes me back to being nine years old. I don't think it's the best comic ever, but it's probably my favorite. Claremont is so good at referencing old stories in a way that makes you want to go back and read them to fill in the gaps and gets so much out of the Magneto portrayal. The Jim Lee art is great, even if he and Claremont aren't always on the same page. (I'm pretty sure the Delgado plot is just Claremont trying to make sense of the artwork)

There is just a ton of energy in the comic and Claremont manages to throw in some great emotional beats, too. Pretty much everything I look for in an X-Men comic.

j said...

I'm pretty sure Jim Lee just wanted to draw Genosha and Claremont had to figure out how to make sense out of it in the dialogue

Matt said...

I somehow never really thought about Rogue's plummet from Russian airspace to the ground in Genosha. Weird.

The telepathic robot, on the other hand, has bugged me forever. My only thought is that Jean was telepathically attacking Wolverine from safety while he fought the robot, and she stopped when it was "killed".

Harry Sewalski said...

I bought the reprint of this issue when it came out a few years back, and honestly, even though you can tell that Claremont was getting frustrated with his lack of creative freedom, I think that he nevertheless did a great job with this issue (not to take anything away from Lee, of course).

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