Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Marvels: X-Men #5

"Trapped: One X-Man" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Paul Reinman
(May 1964)

This issue really gets to the heart of the problem with X-Men: the X-Men themselves just aren't that interesting. Magneto, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch have a whole thing going on that feels more immediate and interesting than anything going on with the X-Men and Professor X, who are mainly an average collection of angsty teens with no interesting dynamics between them. It's too bad that Stan & Jack, who very quickly turned the Fantastic Four into a family with a complex emotional interplay, couldn't recapture the magic here. With every issue, you can almost feel them trying very hard to pull something out of this, and just not really finding it. This is like The Incredible Hulk all over again, but not as entertaining.

The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants are what make this issue work. And the previous issue. In fact, this is the second of four consecutive appearances by the Evil Mutants, so I'd like to think Sam & Jack could at least see what the problem is here. But who knows? Maybe they thought it worked great.

Professor X spends this issue sidelined after his injury last issue that left him unable to use his incredible mental powers, so he's unable to help as Magneto's Evil Mutants scour New York trying to find the X-Men's headquarters. When they can't, Magneto sends Toad to lure the X-Men out. It's a smart plan: Toad, in disguise, displays his abilities in a way the X-Men take notice of and, eager to continue Xavier's work, they'll come get Toad and bring him back to the school to test his powers (the way they did with the Blob). It almost works, too, but instead it leads to a pretty crazy fight scene between the two teams in Grand Central Station. The fight is so big and intense that I'm kind of surprised a bunch of civilians didn't die. It's not like Magneto cares who gets in his way.

This story really ups the menace of Magneto by portraying him as dangerously unhinged, and that's why the Evil Mutants dynamic is more interesting. No one really trusts anyone there. Magneto right now is an animal backed into a corner--albeit a corner that takes the form of a space station fortress called Asteroid M--raving about how the only way the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants will ever be safe is when the X-Men are dead. He's put aside his quest to conquer mankind until he's eliminated the X-Men.

There's a simmering hatred between Magneto and Quicksilver, too; Quicksilver comes right out and says that the only reason he's with Magneto is to protect his sister, the Scarlet Witch, who owes Magneto her life. Quicksilver is the most interesting character in this comic right now because he has actual dimensions--he hates humans, he hates the X-Men, he hates Magneto... he hates everyone but his sister, and feels like he doesn't belong anywhere. Magneto, right now, is the best of a bad situation.

Magneto is abusive and threatening to the Evil Mutants, especially the craven, simpering Toad, who is so devoted to his master that when he's captured by the X-Men and separated from Magneto for too long, he becomes catatonic. He needs to return to his master's presence so badly that he ends up taking the X-Men right to Asteroid M, where the Evil Mutants are holding the Angel hostage and trying to get the location of Professor X out of him.

The resulting fight is pretty savage, and this is another way that I find Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch interesting: they're pledged to Magneto, but they clearly don't want to kill anybody. At one point, Scarlet Witch hexes Magneto's control panel so that he can't flush the X-Men out of an airlock and into space. It almost seems like Magneto's going to kill her, too, simply for impeding him. He also more or less uses Scarlet Witch as a human shield and orders her to hex Cyclops even though Quicksilver's in the way.

As Asteroid M begins to break up in orbit, Magneto at least gets to throw Cyclops out of the airlock before retreating with his Evil Mutants. Iceman and Angel demonstrate some impressive ability to use their powers--and even speak--in the vacuum of space, but they rescue Cyclops, the X-Men make it back to Earth, and then Professor X reclaims the title of Biggest Dick in the X-Verse from Magneto by revealing that he never actually lost his powers at all, but merely pretended to in order to see how the X-Men would do without him. This was their final exam, you see, and now they've graduated. Surprise!

Professor X is such a dick. I really don't like this guy. This won't be the last time he pulls some kind of nonsense like this.

Stray observations:

:: There's a lot of time spent early in this issue with the X-Men trying to figure out what they're going to do without Professor X to guide them, which is interrupted by various business such as a surprise visit by Jean's parents and Scott accidentally getting trapped in the Danger Room. Scott in particular is pretty wangsty over the whole thing in a way that reminds me why so many people don't like Scott Summers.

I come from a different era, the "All-New, All-Different X-Men" era of the late seventies and early eighties. When I first started reading Marvel's non-Star Wars comics, I was really into the reprints of these issues in Classic X-Men, and that was my favorite comic for a long time. I really sort of understood Scott and felt close to him, and I missed a lot of the years when he became the character everyone hated, so I never quite get it. But when I read stories like this where he's humorless, driven and, well, kinda whiny, I understand.

:: If the X-Men thought Professor X was powerless, why would they risk bringing another mutant back to the school? I think it's noble that they'd want to continue the Professor's work and help other mutants, but didn't they just learn the danger of doing that from the Blob? The impression I got in that issue was that if a mutant refused the offer to join the X-Men, Professor X would use his powers to erase the mutant's memories of the mansion's location.

:: In the previous issue, I thought Mastermind's power of illusion seemed a little lame, but there's a moment in this issue when he turns the Beast's legs to dough. Of course, it's just an illusion--he's tricked Beast's mind into thinking that's reality when it isn't. The Beast even says so--he understands rationally that it's not real, but he still reacts as though it is. It's interesting to think how Mastermind's powers work on a primal/emotional level.

:: So, according to Professor X, the X-Men have graduated. Stan & Jack have given up on the whole school angle, which could've really been something interesting but, well, has failed to be.

:: This issue introduces the letters page, "Let's Talk About the X-Men."

Right now, X-Men is only fitfully interesting, and the most dynamic characters aren't even any of the main ones, but rather recurring villains. At least there are two more appearances of these characters coming up in the next two issues. And hey. the next one features the Sub-Mariner, so let's see what happens there.

But next Marvels: another classic Spidey villain enters the stage.

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