The Things I Do For Comics – The First X-Men #1
Oh, brother… this one’s a doozy.
Pull up a chair, gang. And you’re gonna want to make yourselves a stiff drink for this one, because today’s selection is neither an oldie nor a goody. Today we’ll be having a look at 2012’s The First X-Men #1 by Neal Adams and Christos Gage.
Now, X-Men devotees would be quick to name Neal Adams as one of the essential artists on the original run of X-Men, and they’d be right to do so. Adams brought a then-unseen level of realism to the page with his attention to anatomical detail and expressive faces, he set a new standard for comic art. And for that, he deserves heaps of praise, I want to make this clear. I think that Adams’ work in the 60s and 70s is in a class of its own, just beneath Kirby and Ditko in terms of relevance and right alongside/just a bit above Steranko. Hell, nearly every notable artist who came up in decades to follow cited Adams as a major inspiration, and his influence was evident on the more talented of them. Just take a look at some of the art he and inker Tom Palmer created during his run on X-Men:
Keep in mind, this was 1969. Picture 60s comic book art in your head and then imagine this next to it! Also, he designed Havok’s costume. I’ve spoken on this in the past, but this was a guy who understood that less was more, he had an eye for composition and he had hands that could make his vision a reality.
That’s what makes this book especially depressing. I hold Neal Adams’ classic work in very high esteem, and that makes his modern output all the more unpleasant to look upon. I’m certainly not going to fault the guy for getting old, it happens to the best of us. However, I do think he could benefit from an inker and an editor with some balls. A bold inker could clean up the art substantially and touch up Adam’s once-famous proportions and anatomy. And the editor? The editor could just tell him “No.” every once in a while, potentially stopping this book from ever having existed. But that’s a fantasy world, why don’t we have a look at the reality of this comic?
Without giving too much away at the outset, let me hit you with the premise of this series. This story takes place an unspecified amount of time before Xavier formed his original team of X-Men, consisting of Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Angel, and Marvel Girl. This story is about Wolverine’s super secret team of mutants, which includes Xavier and Magneto. It’s not a hoax, not a dream. not an imaginary tale. With one vanity book, Neal Adams has shoehorned a writhing mass of continuity problems right into the beginning of the X-Men mythos. Christos Gage is credited as a writer on this book, but interviews published well before the book came in seemed to imply it was Adams’ baby, so I would imagine Gage was working on the script rather than the plot.
“Many years ago” tells us that it’s before the X-Men were around, but doesn’t let us put a number on that time period. I respect that, there’s no sense in trying to line the history of the Marvel universe up to an actual calendar anymore, one would only walk away with a headache. But this brings up another question… are the strangely anachronistic selection of clothing styles on the background characters intentional, to obscure the time period of this story? Or are they just the out-of-touch conceptions of an aging man… Some of the characters dress like it’s the 70s, some like it’s the 50s, some the early 90s. The cars seem to be from the 80s. I can’t help but suspect it’s not a clever attempt at masking the time period a la Batman: The Animated Series. I’m leaning towards out-of-touch old man writing, for more than one reason.
Anywho, Logan finds the teenager he was looking for, and just as he extend a friendly clawed hand to comfort the lad, the kid goes and blows up, leveling most of a city block. Looks like Wolverine’s not the only mutant in town anymore. He’s a pretty savvy customer, so he notices that the FBI showed up at the scene of the kid-splosion, as if they were prepared to handle it. He surmises from this that the U.S. Government is hunting down Mutants, He decides that he needs to reach out and help these newly powered kids to come to terms with their powers and their place in the world. He decides that Sabretooth is just the man to help him, and talks him into coming on board.
What the fuck? What’s the nature of their relationship at the time of this story? I would assume it’s post CIA, but pre-Weapon X. They seem awfully pally with one another, but as I recall, their time together with the outfit ended thusly:
Again, though, I’ll let this slip since Marvel’s history was good and convoluted, especially regarding Wolverine, long before this book was published. One thing I would like to address, though, and it’s not the fault of this book, is how Sabretooth sucks nowadays (and in the past, according to this book). I blame this on the first X-Men movie, actually. They transformed Sabretooth from a sadistic mercenary into a growling brute for one reason or another and it seems to have stuck in the comics universe as well. I miss the days of the Sabretooth who’d pop up performing a contract killing in an issue of Spider-Man from time to time. .
Moving on, Logan and Creed infiltrate the government facility responsible for these experiments, based on Wolverine’s Toucan Sam level willingness to follow his nose, and happen upon the corpse of Anthony, the missing teenager from the opening scene, being… fired upon by a bunch of glowstick guns? Being kept warm under a series of heat lamps? Threatened with an array of unlicensed Star Wars vibrators? You be the judge,
Logan and Creed manage to steal a list of experimentation candidates, which they intend to use for their own recruitment purposes. However, just as Wolverine tosses it into his man-purse, building security shows up to handle them. Now, in the time between this story and current events of the Marvel Universe, robotic armor has come a very long way. These guards wear very cumbersome suits with visible wiring and hydraulic tubing at every joint. Wolverine’s bone claws are enough to handle the wiring but he resorts to a sword in order to slice off the arms of the soldier’s suit. By teaming up on the other guard, Wolverine and Sabretooth buy themselves enough time to escape the compound with a file folder full of mutants rife for the recruiting. If they’d only stayed a moment longer, however, they’d have seen that Anthony was, despite being poked with a bunch of lava lamps, very much alive after all.
Logan and Creed steal a couple of motorcycles and head for Washington D.C. to try and reach one of the targeted mutants, one Holly Bright, before the government does. Thankfully, this particular wing of the United States Government doesn’t have a major presence in our nation’s capital, so they arrive with time to spare and the audience is introduced to Holo, whose power allows her to project three dimensional images. She’s first seen selling these gifts for profit on the streets, allowing a desperate man to be temporarily reunited with his deceased daughter. Just as Wolverine and Sabretooth arrive to offer her a spot on their new team, the clunky body armor bad guys show up in the same alleyway. There’s some more smashing and slashing and most notably…
This terrible design features two foot mounted propulsion jets AND a third one located squarely beneath the operator’s anus. It really looks as if these thugs are pooping fire into the street of Washington DC in this scene, and as a red-blooded American man it made me root for Wolverine and friends that much harder.
Another awful thing about this atrocious scene is the monster that Holo conjures up to scare off the thugs. Neal Adams has, in his recent outings in the comic book industry, insisted on working in enormous, bizarrely proportioned horror beasts in every story he touches. He did it Batman, he did it in his New Avengers annual, and then he did it in First X-Men.
So with his obligatory tooth beast out of the way, the three mutants escape in the confusion and we learn that Holo is not a buxom purple-haired Amazon after all, but in fact a human-sized blonde woman. While the art doesn’t really give any indication of this idea, Sabretooth’s dialogue implies that she is a minor (he calls her “Jailbait”). Thankfully, Wolverine has a storied history of hanging out with minors… or at least he WILL have one in the years following this wretched storyline’s setting. Holo is only the first in a club that will eventually include Shadowcat, Jubilee, and currently an entire school full of children.
Anywho, let’s not dwell on this book any longer than necessary. The sooner we finish, the sooner we can wedge bamboo shoots under our fingernails, or whatever else we’d rather do than read this goddamn train wreck. Wolverine, Sabretooth, and Holo arrive at Oxford University where a very bald, very ambulatory Charles Xavier is discussing wedding plans with an uncharacteristically horse-faced Moira MacTaggert.
Surprisingly, Charles Xavier is not at all interested in joining Wolverine in his crusade. Xavier is at this point still happily in the closet about his mutation, and he intends to stay that way until the day he dies… he actually mentions that in their discussion.
And, in a bit that I actually liked, he says it response to Wolverine’s thoughts rather than words. In a heated argument, Xavier lost track of what was being said and what was only being pondered in his opponent’s mind. He’s gonna want to get a handle on that if he ever wants to have a successful marriage, it’ll be in his own best interest.
With Xavier out of the way, at least for the time being, the next stop on the list is Erik Lehnsherr, otherwise known as Magneto. I’d like to talk for a moment about Magneto’s goddamn haircut. If I were a Nazi hunter, and I relied on being able to inconspicuously observe targets from afar before moving in and exacting my own personal revenge on them… I’d consider a haircut that at least one other person on the motherfucking planet had. Magneto looks like some New Wave frontman and dresses like an L.L. Bean model. I would think that even Sabretooth would be uncomfortable with this dude’s bizarre fasion sense.
If you somehow have any interest in finding out what happens after the end of this first issue, you’ll have to ask someone else. I suffered from six nosebleeds and two blackouts while working my way through this nonsense. My brain demanded that I stop, but my devotion to comics and to you, fair readers, guided me all the way to the end of this book.
I would like to close this review with a Jock Joke. First X-Men? Yeah, more like WORST X-MEN!!!
I hope the next selection is a pleasant surprise… I really do.
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Posted on August 18, 2013, in COMICS!, Reviews, The Things I Do For Comics and tagged magneto, Marvel, neal adams, Professor X, Reviews, Sabretooth, The Things I Do For Comics, Wolverine, X-Men. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.