Saturday, July 2, 2011

My X-Men First Class

I still haven't seen X-Men: First Class. I was skeptical when I first heard about the project, but everyone seems to dig it a lot.

In case you're not familiar with the X-Men, the premise is that there are all these mutants around, people born with fantastic super-powers, and the general populace fears and hates and persecutes them. So Charles Xavier, a telepathic mutant, starts a school where he can protect and train them in the use of their abilities. Which, of course, entails them becoming superheroes. (The X-Men exist in the same world as the Fantastic Four and Thor and Iron Man, who the world doesn't fear and hate, for some reason.)

The original team was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in 1963. The X-Men actually weren't very popular until 1975, when a new generation was introduced, and since then there have been multiple iterations of the group. X-Men: First Class, set during the Cold War, tells the origins of the team - the first class of X-Men. Get it?

I was only dimly aware of the characters as a kid. I was primarily a DC kid, probably because DC had done a lot more media licensing than Marvel, so you were more likely to see their characters on TV and cartoons, and in those pre-internet, pre-comic shop days, I only knew about what I saw on television and at the 7-11 spinner rack. Somehow I became aware that the X-Men was a popular title and bought X-Men #148, and was hooked.

The team at the time consisted of Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Cyclops, and Kitty Pryde. The X-Men were part of the Marvel Universe, but seemed to live in their own little off-the-beaten-track corner of it. The group was multi-cultural and multi-national. Storm was African, Nightcrawler was German, Kitty was Jewish, etc. While I probably wasn't cognizant of it and couldn't quite articulate it at the time, for this non-white kid in a nearly all-white town, that diversity substantially upped their coolness factor.

Unlike the professional associations of the Avengers and the Justice League, or the family unit of the Fantastic Four, the X-Men did indeed resemble a class. You didn't see them actually in class, except for their super-power training in the 'Danger Room,' and except for Kitty Pryde, they were past school-age. But they had the same group dynamics you find in any school clique. There were shifting friendships, romantic triangles, rivalries, and frenemies, the types of bonds that form between random people brought together in the common rubric of a school grouping.

It wasn't until a bit later that I learned that I'd just missed what is still considered the high-point of X-history - and superhero comics in general - the Claremont/Byrne run, culminating in the epic Dark Phoenix saga. And a few years later, I lost interest and dropped the books just before they became even more popular, due to the overall comics boom, a popular animated adaptation, and whatever it is that makes a property tickle the zeitgeist's fancy. That era featured characters like Gambit, Jubilee, Bishop, and Cable. I know their names, but really have no idea what the characters were about.

 Gambit and Rogue. Superheroes in the 90s always wore jackets 
with lots of pockets. I know he's Cajun and throws 
exploding playing cards, and that's about it.

It's been said that the Golden Age of comics is whenever you discovered them as a kid. I found the X-Men books of the early '90s unreadable, crushed under the weight of Chris Claremont's increasingly overwrought stylization, byzantine mythology, escalating spin-offs and crossovers, and over-rendered Image-influenced art. But to a certain generation, that is the quintessential X-Men. For kids right now, it's probably the movie franchise version. For me, the cast of X-Men #148 was always be my 'first class.'


  1. Mine was Uncanny 234... I eventually went back and got & read all the "older" Claremont stuff, but my heart is still in the low to mid 200s.

  2. Hey Andy, thanks for reading! From googling the covers, it looks like I dropped out a couple of months before that issue. At least, that's when the covers start to look to familiar to me.

  3. I almost always read, but rarely have anything relevant to say :)

    Such a gripping cover too - the cover is what drew me in, iirc. One of the most iconic X-Men covers, imho. Although... had I known that Wolverine had beaten the Brood once before it might have been less so? Then again, I didn't even know what the Brood where when I saw that cover.