Sunday, March 3, 2013

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #15

The X-iles
Mutants Wandering in the Wilderness
By Matthew Bradley

During the five years between the last new issue featuring the original team, X-Men #66 (March 1970), and the new team’s debut in Giant-Size X-Men #1 (May 1975), while their home turf was in reprints (#67-93), the X-Men and their affiliated mutants made scattered appearances in other titles, singly or in groups.  Unlike with the recently orphaned Doctor Strange, these were not attempts to tie up dangling plot threads from their cancelled book, but rather an effort to keep the characters in play, as Marvel did with the Inhumans before giving them their own long-delayed strip.  Ranging from guest-shots to a short-lived solo series, this mutant diaspora is a tribute to the tenacity both of a team that—in one form or another—grew from failure into one of Marvel’s biggest successes, and of the writers and artists who labored to keep them alive in the first half-decade of the glorious Bronze Age.

Significantly, the event that many scholars mark as the transition from Silver into Bronze, namely the long-dissatisfied Jack Kirby’s defection to DC, ties in here, because Fantastic Four #102 (9/70), the King’s last issue of Marvel’s flagship title, began a three-part story featuring the X-Men’s nemesis, Magneto, whom they had defeated just nine months ago.  Discovered unconscious by the Sub-Mariner, Magneto has survived his apparent death in X-Men
#63 and—like another super-villain in the years ahead, Dr. Doom—persuades the Atlantean to wage war on the surface world yet again.  In addition to fomenting hostilities between Subby and the FF, Magneto takes Susan Richards and the Lady Dorma hostage before Reed saves the day with a new frammistat; Stan Lee wrote the entire arc, complete with a Nixon cameo, and art chores were assumed by John Romita and John Verpoorten.

I’ve only just become aware of, and thus have yet to peruse, what appears to be the first post-X-Men manifestation of an actual X-Man, the Angel, another three-parter that began as a backup feature in Ka-Zar #2 (12/70); this seems only fair, since the Tarzan wannabe made his debut with X-Men #10, and guest-starred as recently as the aforementioned #63.  But the next issue of Ka-Zar—wherein his earlier escapades were reprinted concurrently with his solo strip in Astonishing Tales—turned out to be the last, so the trilogy had to be concluded in the pages of Marvel Tales #30 (4/71), which, the Marvel Comics Database (MCDb) notes, was the only issue to contain new material.  According to their synopsis, the plot has diamond smuggler Burtram Worthington, the Dazzler, kill his brother Warren Jr. (the Angel’s father), and then abduct Warren III and longtime gal pal Candy Southern.

Lee and Romita, who collaborated on the concluding segment (the story was initiated by Superman’s co-creator, Jerry Siegel, with art by George Tuska and Dick Ayers), slipped another X-Man, the Iceman, into Marvel’s other top book with Amazing Spider-Man #92 (1/71), which Jazzy Johnny inked over Gil Kane’s pencils.  This issue interpolates Bobby into an existing plotline from the previous month involving Sam Bullit, a shady candidate for D.A., who dupes Iceman into trying to capture Spider-Man after the youthful mutant misconstrues what he witnesses and unwittingly “rescues” Gwen Stacy by driving off her arachnid boyfriend.  The Daily Bugle retracts Bullit’s endorsement when Joe Robertson uncovers damaging revelations about him, and he has Robbie kidnapped, thus forcing our two heroes to compare notes, mend fences, rescue Robbie, and blow the whistle on Bullit.

The next X-manifestation, encompassing both the greatest change undergone by any of the characters and the most substantive interim appearances, begins with the start of the Beast’s seven-issue solo strip in Amazing Adventures #11 (3/72), scripted by rising star “Merry Gerry” Conway and illustrated by Tom Sutton and Syd Shores.  It is here that he mutates further into his furry form (the inspiration of ex-X-writer Roy Thomas), initially gray and later blue, revealed to be an unintended consequence of Hank McCoy’s research into the chemical causes of mutation after he left the X-Men—seen in flashbacks—for a job in genetics with the Brand Corporation.  Hank uncovers evidence that some shadowy organization has infiltrated the Brand Corporation, and in subsequent issues we will learn that this is the new Secret Empire, a reconstituted form of the erstwhile Hydra subsidiary.

The series then became the first regular super-hero assignment for one of Marvel’s best Bronze-Age talents, Steve Englehart, who had already dabbled in stories—some of them uncredited—in various horror, romance, war, and Western titles.  Subsequently paired up with Mike Ploog, Frank Giacoia, Jim Mooney, and John Tartaglione, Sutton was replaced with Bob Brown (inked by Frank McLaughlin) on what was to have been the last issue of the cancelled series, #16 (1/73), a cliff-hanger that Englehart was later able to conclude in Incredible Hulk #161 (3/73).  But when the premiere issue of the Killraven SF series that was supposed to supplant the Beast missed its deadline, Englehart cobbled a replacement together for #17 (3/73), cannibalizing Hank’s origin from the back-up features in X-Men #49-53 with a two-page framing sequence hastily drawn by Werner Roth and Verpoorten.

In its brief lifespan, the series pitted the Beast (who would join the Avengers after a two-year hiatus) against Iron Man, Quasimodo, and X-foes the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and Juggernaut; introduced a colorful heavy, the Griffin, against whom Bill Mantlo pitted McCoy and Spidey for a rematch in Marvel Team-Up #38 (10/75); and, for the first time, brought future Hellcat Patsy Walker, previously a fixture in Marvel’s comedy-romance line, into its super-hero universe.  One of its greatest claims to fame is the three-part story plotted by pals Englehart, Conway, and Len Wein for, respectively, #16, Thor #207 and DC’s Justice League of America #103.  Perhaps the first true cross-over between the two industry giants, the plotline features all three writers—plus Wein’s then-wife, Glynis—as characters, and is one of the Halloween tales featuring Tom Fagan and Rutland, Vermont.

One month after the Beast began his solo stint, auxiliary mutants and literal power couple Havok and Polaris (neither of whom I remember gaining formal X-Men status, but never mind) guest-starred in Incredible Hulk #150, a yarn written by Archie Goodwin, with art by Herb Trimpe and John Severin.  Although all three characters appeared in X-Men #66, their paths did not cross at that time, since the others went into action against Greenskin while Alex, Lorna, and Bobby watched over the comatose Professor X; in the interim, we are told, their long-simmering romantic triangle boiled over, and Havok disappeared into the desert after quarreling with, and injuring, Iceman.  Seeking the man with whom she is falling in love, Polaris is mistaken by Jade-Jaws for his lost love, Jarella, because of her green hair, and the ensuing melee involves a motorcycle gang as well as the Hulkbusters.

For the first time since losing their own book, the homeless mutants went into action en masse in Marvel Team-Up #4 (9/72), shoehorned into Conway’s existing plot involving Hans Jorgenson, a former colleague of both Xavier and Michael Morbius, now the living vampire whose mutated blood rid Spidey of four extra arms in Amazing Spider-Man #102 (11/71).  When Spider-Man is wrongly accused of kidnapping Jorgenson, Charles sends the Angel, Iceman, Cyclops, and Marvel Girl—who fight in their civvies—out after him, while the Beast begs off due to his ongoing adventures at the Brand Corporation.  As the misunderstanding is gradually sorted out, Jorgenson is rescued by the X-Men and in turn cures Spidey, who was dying from the toxin in Morbius’s blood; Gil Kane’s pencils were once again inked by Romita, this time sharing the credit with Steve Mitchell and Giacoia.

The most celebrated storyline featuring our X-iles ran from Captain America #172 (4/74) to 175 (7/74), and was actually the conclusion of a larger arc concerning the same Secret Empire seen in Amazing Adventures; all four issues were written by Englehart (working with Mike Friedrich on #172), with art by “Our Pal Sal” Buscema and Vince Colletta.  In Nashville to investigate the background of their foe Moonstone, Cap and his partner, the Falcon, are incapacitated by the mutant Banshee, who also knocks out Cyclops when the latter intervenes.  After Banshee takes a powder, Marvel Girl levitates Cap and Falc into the presence of Professor X, who believes there is a connection between the Moonstone case and his own investigation into the disappearance of mutants both good (Iceman, the Angel, Polaris, Havok, the Beast) and evil (Mastermind, the Blob, Unus, and Mesmero).

The arc, which unfolded in parallel with the real-life Watergate scandal and ended shortly before President Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974, climaxed with one of the single most talked-about comics in history, as Cap traced the identity of the Secret Empire’s #1 straight to the White House.  In #175, this high-ranking government official, implied but never stated to be the President, commits suicide to avoid capture, so disillusioning Steve Rogers that, for a time, he gives up his Captain America persona for that of the Nomad.  As Englehart wrote on his blog, “People often ask if Marvel hassled me for the political vibe in this series and others, and the honest answer is that they almost never did.  It was a wonderful place to be creative.  Here, I intended to say the President was Nixon, but wasn’t sure if Marvel would allow it and so censored myself—probably unnecessarily.”

That same month, Bronze-Age workhorse Wein paired Iceman with the Human Torch in Marvel Team-Up #23 (7/74), one of the few issues not starring Spider-Man, who has only a cameo at the beginning; the fire-and-ice combo, with Energizer Bunny Kane now inked by Mike Esposito and David Hunt, was aptly suited to the tale that introduced the villainy of Equinox, the Thermodynamic Man, whose powers mimic both of theirs.  When Johnny Storm is attacked by an ice projectile, a typical mistaken-identity-and-fisticuffs scenario follows until Bobby’s teammates confirm that he was not responsible for the assault, and he joins forces with the Torch to find out who was.  Quintessential X-Men collaborators Chris Claremont and John Byrne would bring Equinox back for a memorable two-parter featuring Spidey, Yellowjacket, and the Wasp, beginning in Marvel Team-Up #59 (7/77).

Finally, Professor X had his own inter-X-Men moment in the sun when he guest-starred in the two-parter that kicked off in Defenders #15 (9/74), courtesy of the mix-and-match creative team of Wein, Buscema, and Esposito (part one was inked by Klaus Janson).  He joins Dr. Strange, the Hulk, Valkyrie, and Nighthawk against the Brotherhood’s Lorelei, the Blob, Mastermind, and Unus, plus Magneto’s newest creation, the “ultimate mutant,” Alpha, who holds the U.N. Building (literally, in mid-air) hostage until mutants are given control of the planet.  But the best-laid plans of mice and Evil Mutants gang aft agley, so when Alpha’s rapid evolution surpasses that of homo superior, he stops wiping the floor with the Defenders—who were no match for his reality-warping power—deems the Evil Mutants, uh, evil, regresses them all to childhood, and seeks his destiny among the stars.

Immediately after those “all-new, all-different” X-Men premiered, another new era began when Englehart made the Beast a mainstay of the Avengers in #137 (7/75), having set the stage in the previous issue with an edited reprint of his fight with Iron Man from Amazing Adventures #12.  Like Hank, the Angel and Iceman didn’t exactly retire after declining to re-up with the X-Men, and it would be only a few months before they joined Ghost Rider, Hercules, and the Black Widow in The Champions #1 (10/75) as the members of a short-lived new team, which was created by Tony Isabella and financed—à la Tony Stark and the Assemblers—by Warren’s millions.  Marvel Girl also quit the team in the debut issue of their revived monthly book, #94 (8/75), but rejoined Cyclops and Xavier soon enough and, transformed into Phoenix, would be integral to Claremont’s historic 17-year tenure.

[Author’s Note:  I have not jumped ahead and re-read these stories out of order to prepare this article, so I have leaned heavily on my memory and the more reliable yet still fallible Marvel Comics Database, and take full responsibility for any errors or omissions herein.]


  1. Thanks for this walk down memory lane! It seems like the X-Men never really gelled as a team until Giant-Size X-Men #1. The earlier version seemed to work better when they broke up and appeared individually. I still remember my excitement at the new version of the team. I reread the first few issues a few years ago and they still hold up.

  2. Great piece Matthew. I didn't realize the X-Men made so many appearances during the "missing years." However we have an unsolved mystery, (where's Robert Stack when you need him) namely, the three part Angel story?

    The Jerry Siegel/George Tuska tale is inconsistent with Marvel chronology. Warren is wearing the costume created in X-Men #39, but he ditched it for his old "Avenging Angel" outfit in issue #60, to be replaced again two months later with Neal Adams blue and white design. All this makes me think this is an inventory story, but where did it come from?

    When the X-Men split up, the Beast and Ice Man featured in #47, and Cyclops and Marvel Girl in #48, but no Angel solo story ever appeared. Clearly the decision to re-unite the team was abrupt, so it's just possible the Angel three parter is a re-jigged version of a solo story intended to appear in the X-Men.

    However, a more likely scenario is that this was a shelved story originally intended for Marvel Super-Heroes. There is only a narrow window of opportunity. The story must have been created after X-Men #39, but well before Neal Adams X-Men tenure, so we're talking some time in 1968. At the time, Jerry Siegel was working for Stan as a proofreader.

    I'm speculating here, but I can't think of any other explanation for the existence of this strangely out of place story.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  3. Jack: Much as I love the "all-new, all-different" (uhm, except for Charles, Scott, and Jean...) X-Men, I'm also a big proponent of the beginning and end of their original run. But I'll gladly join in heaping abuse on the middle.

    Glenn: Thanks so much. I have yet to lay eyes on that Angel three-parter (or the Hercules story from KA-ZAR #1 that was wrapped up in SUB-MARINER #29), so I can only go by the MCDb, but that's a fascinating conundrum. Partly due to the title treatment on its cover, I always assumed that X-MEN #44 was Angel's solo story, comparable to the others you cited.

    Slightly less mysterious, because it can presumably be attributed to a mere editing error, is the gaffe in the Beast/Spider-Man panel reproduced from MTU #38. Although Spidey could be forgiven for not recognizing Hank in his new blue and fuzzy form, the Beast already knows Spidey from their encounter in X-MEN #35, or at least ought to.

    1. The X-Men were split up by Agent Duncan in issue #46, but before then, individual members were featured on the cover, with their name added to the banner ... Angel on #44 and Cyclops on #45. The "real" split only lasted for two issues, #47 and #48. The story announced for #49, Beast and Ice Man Vs. Metoxo The Lava Man didn't appear. Instead, the group got back together and Lorna Dane was introduced into the storyline.

      The art team for issues #44-49, where all this takes place, is unusually stable, with Werner Roth pencils over Don Heck layouts, which is why I suspect the Angel three parter, illustrated by George Tuska and Dick Ayers, was originally a 30-32 page one off story probably intended for Marvel Super-Heroes.

      All the best,

      Glenn :)

  4. Nice job, Prof Matthew! I remember how excited I was to get that MTU #4 as a youngster.

  5. Those framing pages to the Beast's origin in Amazing Adventures #17 were actually drawn by Jim Starlin and while the main content of the mag was so so I would have loved to have seen an entire issue featuring the Beast as drawn by Starlin but the closest we'd ever get to that was in Avengers Annual #7, the first part of Starlin's conclusion to the Warlock/Thanos epic.