Thursday, August 21, 2014

Marvels: X-Men #3

"Beware of the Blob!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Paul Reinman
(January 1964)

One of Professor Xavier's missions is to to take in mutants and train them to use their powers for good, and here he interrupts the X-Men's training session to tell them he's detected a new mutant nearby. The mutant in question is the Blob, a carnival strongman. His powers seem to relate mainly to his mass: he cannot be moved by external force, he can use his mass to push heavy objects, and bullets cannot pierce his skin. As characters go, this one's a hell of a lot more interesting than the Vanisher.

The X-Men invite the Blob back to Xavier's mansion to test his powers. Impressed by his strength, the Professor offers Blob a place on the team, but the Blob turns it down. He's a real jerk and won't be bossed around. After a brief tussle, he escapes. Professor X (who previously erased the mind of the Vanisher) needs to remove all of the Blob's memories of the X-Men and their secret location, but can't do so from a long distance, so it's up to the X-Men to get him back.

Well, now that the Blob knows he's homo superior, he heads back to the carnival and roughs up the manager, taking over the place and turning all of the performers into his army. Man, the rules and hierarchy of carnival life are surprisingly complex. The Blob leads his army in an attack on Xavier's school. I won't get into a play-by-play, but the fight scene goes on for pages, and it's actually exciting and fun to read. I mean, the X-Men are literally fighting carnival performers out on the lawn. In the end, though, the Blob and his men get close enough to Professor X that he can use the electronic mass influencer he's whipped up to erase their memories of the school, and the Blob and everyone else just go back to work, bewildered.

Once again, a callous disregard for the mental integrity of others saves the day!

Stray notes:

:: This issue spends a little more time setting down the characters' identities. There's been some complaints in various letters pages that the X-Men are little more than a Fantastic Four re-tread, so I see Stan & Jack have given some more thought to what sets this team apart and what makes them individuals.

In short: Cyclops (called "Scott" here for the first time, rather than "Slim") is mopey and tortured by his powers; Warren/Angel is an arrogant hotshot; Bobby/Iceman is the excitable kid (he's the youngest); and Hank/Beast is a verbose intellectual.

(Is that the portrait of a certain sweaty-toothed madman on the wall? That's probably the only Dead Poets Society reference I will ever make in the course of this series.)

And Jean/Marvel Girl is... the girl. Sorry, I wish there was more, but this is Stan Lee we're talking about. Jean is the girl. And she can use her powers to float books around and such. As usual, the boys are dodging missiles and learning to use their powers defensively while Jean just floats stuff around.

Oh, and they're all in love with Jean. Even Charles.

Ew. Not cool, authority figure. I mean, I'm as much of a fan of Pretty Little Liars as the next teenage girl, but I know that teachers falling for their students is creepy, not romantic. In the stray observations I made of the first issue, I pointed out that--given the time frame of Professor X saying his parents worked on the atom bomb--it's a distinct possibility that he's around 21 years old. Again, that seems just this side of implausible. I mean, a professor at 21? Where did he get his accreditation? How does he run a school? We've seen that he's willing to manipulate the minds of others, so maybe he just used his telepathic powers to get his degrees. I'm just saying, she's about 17, I think, so 17 and 21 isn't that wrong-seeming, but only if you remove the fact that he's in a position of power over her. But, still... no, I don't like this at all, this just does me the wrong way.

Also, Jean's also a telepath, so maybe don't think about this while she's standing right next to you.

Oh, maybe if she finds out, he'll just make her forget about it with his powers.

Professor X is kind of a dick.

:: Oh, and the Blob is into Jean, too. He has exactly zero interest in going back to the school until he sees Jean, and then he just leers at her so openly and makes suggestive comments to the point where it pisses Scott off.

I really feel sorry for Jean. And she doesn't even do anything, she just shrugs it off and even excuses the Blob's behavior. Gross.

:: I do appreciate that, compared to the way future artists will often draw him, the Blob is recognizably human. However, having been the fat kid, it gets annoying the way the X-Men throw around slurs like "tubby" at him, and that's when they're still trying to be friendly to him! Somehow, "chubbins" hurts the worst. Not cool. Hate him because he's a lecherous asshole, not because he's fat, jerks.

:: There are two separate instances in this issue of someone falling victim to a mutant power and declaring "this place must be haunted!" I'm getting really, really tired of that. Citizens of New York, you live in a world of wonders. Stop being asses.

:: That fight scene is pretty great; it allows Kirby to show off the X-Men's powers in a visually interesting way, made more colorful by the fact that--and I cannot stress enough how great this is--they are fighting a battle with an entire carnival. The Beast gets to tangle with high wire walkers and a gorilla. The Angel evades aerialists and a lasso artist. Cyclops' concussive energy beam holds back an elephant. Acrobats, strongmen, even the barker almost bring the X-Men to defeat. It's pure comic book in the best way.

I'm still not that into this book, but this was a much better issue of X-Men than the previous one. Giving the characters real personalities goes a long way to making it involving (even though I still don't like Professor X), and the Blob is an interesting villain for the group. After a sophomore slump, the book seems to be back on the right track.

Next Marvels: Electro, no dubstep.

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