Friday, 9 March 2012

X-Men #14-#16: The Mutant Menace

So, we've now finished the original Lee/Kirby run on X-Men, and although Kirby will continue doing layouts for a little longer (and thus contributing towards the storytelling, under the Marvel method), he has been replaced as penciller by Werner Roth (as Jay Gavin). In this run the X-Men have been introduced and mostly got their personalities, Scott has become field leader, we've met some villains, and the characters are starting to interact with the larger Marvel universe. We're even getting a bit of queer subtext peeking through. We're missing something, though. What this comic needs is a really long story about giant robots!

X-Men #14, #15 and #16 happily oblige, with the new character of Bolivar Task predicting the extinction of mankind at the hands of the mutants, just as the X-Men go on their first vacation. Xavier turns out to have a civilian identity as, if you will believe it, "one of the greatest authorities in the field of education", and goes on the tellybox to debate Trask. After a brief back-and-forth, Trask unveils his giant robots, the Sentinels, who then of course immediately malfunction and turn on him. Xavier telepathically summons the X-Men, interrupting their holiday. They intervene but the Sentinels take Trask away to their base, and plot to defeat all of humanity. At least until the X-Men save them, aided by the belated heroic self-sacrifice of Trask.

Trask casts a shadow to the present day, not only for his creation of the Sentinels (who play an important part in X-Men history right up to Schism and beyond), but his real legacy is his fearmongering about mutants. Before, the X-Men were just another superhero team, held in suspicion by the general populace just like Spider-Man or the Avengers, but now, mutants are seen as a global menace, and the tragedy of the X-Men is finally expressed by Xavier: that they risk their lives for the same human race which hates and fears them. We are shown that Daily Globe newspaper article that will go on to become so important to Grant Morrison's run, complete with the Mutant overlord costume that will be worn provacatively by Quentin Quire.

After Professor X's history was revealed last time, it's almost as if a dam has burst open, and we get a partial backstory for Warren (his wings started growing when he was at military school, which he then quit to avoid a physical at), and then the Beast goes in to quite some detail about his background. His father was a worker at an atomic project, and he believes this is the source of the mutation. Something from Children of the Atom is definitely leaking through now. His body was always shaped as it was, but he realised his agility one day when he was being bullied - later a newspaper article calling attention to his sporting prowess tipped Xavier off to his existence. These backstories, showing that our original team of six had to hide their true selves as children, provides a context for Trask's rhetoric to exist in. This is the first true X-Men comic - the first book really to live up to the name Essential X-Men.

Continuity notes

Introduction of Warren and Beast's parents. Warren has a Mustang, possibly the first hint at his wealth. Coffee-A-Go-Go in Greenwich Village is given a name. Also, my first sighting of the phrase "optic-blast".

There's a little nod at Superman's supposed habit of changing in phone booths, as Beast says "I somehow feel unfaithful to the super hero code when I change in an alley. A phone booth seems to be the accepted place."

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