by Professor Chris Blake
Part I: “Hey – where’s my reprints, man?”
So, why not simply cancel X-Men, if sales had gone feeble? Well, just because it might not pay to enlist Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, and Tom Palmer to create new stories, it didn’t mean you couldn’t re-run old adventures for little more than the printing cost. That’s exactly how Marvel handled it – following a nine-month absence from the spinner rack, X-Men reappeared as a double-sized bi-monthly, but showcased nothing other than retread stories from December 1970 to April 1975 (issues #67-#93), with even the reprints reduced from two to one per issue starting with #73. No one on the editorial staff seemed to have the heart to give up on the team completely, so benign neglect allowed the tottering title to trundle along.
Part II: “How’d all these muties get here, anyway?”
The seeds of the All-New, All-Different team go back to around 1972, when Roy Thomas was looking to form an international group he referred to as “Mutant Blackhawks;” part of Roy’s angle was to develop a team he could offer to foreign markets. Once Dave Cockrum came from DC to Marvel in 1974 (DC art director Carmine Infantino had refused to return a single, original piece of art that Cockrum had requested), he brought with him a few potential team members. Cockrum has been quoted as saying that inventing characters was “one of the things I loved to do . . . I had a huge stable of my own characters – I had this huge sketchbook filled with characters I had come up with” (interview by Cooke, TwoMorrows), particularly Nightcrawler and Storm. Nightcrawler originally had been envisioned as a demon who had failed in a mission, but who chose to remain on Earth rather than face punishment in hell. Storm had been thought of a having cat-like powers, but Cockrum changed his approach once Tigra and other feline characters began to appear.
Cockrum took the opportunity to develop his ideas, and others, with Len Wein for the new X-Men. Cockrum anticipated that “it was a potentially hot series and I looked forward to the opportunity to do lots of neat stuff. I worked closely with Len to start but it didn't stay that way too long” (Cooke), due in part to Wein transitioning over to his new role as editor-in-chief. Wein already had created Wolverine, and he is credited for having proposed the back story to go with Cockrum’s sketch for Colossus. Cockrum’s original illustration for Thunderbird featured him wearing a helmet, but the art department deemed that it made him look like an Air Force pilot, so Cockrum adjusted the design. The space required to properly introduce the new team contributed to the decision to position the story as a giant-size, rather than try to work within the limits of a routine 18-page story.
This is a moment when good decisions combine with good fortune to produce a fortuitous outcome. Consider for a moment: later in 1975, another new team will arrive, featuring work by Tony Isabella and Don Heck (soon followed by George Tuska and Vince Colletta); that’s right, it’s The Champions. At best, these creative people turned out material that was rudimentary, business-as-usual sort of stuff. Can you imagine if these industry pros had gotten wind of the new X-Men project, and successfully campaigned to handle the title?
Over time, the title was able to build momentum, as more and more readers took a chance on the new team, and found themselves pleasantly surprised by its unique qualities. It’s the nature of how so-called “grass-roots” interest in a product or idea is supposed to develop; it’s something marketeers attempt constantly to influence. In this instance, benign neglect paid off, as Claremont & Cockrum were given an opportunity to cultivate this title, and in time, it began to connect with its audience. As Claremont describes it, “you take all these little bits and slide them in, and build your edifice one layer at a time. You have a general sense of where you want to go and how you want to get there, but the details of how the pieces fit to evolve this three-dimensional character is very much a matter of organic growth rather than construction” (Irving).
: special thanks to the following online publications, for unknowingly contributing to this piece: