Tag Archive: Phenomenon

The reason I started this blog is because I am a huge X-Men nerd, and have been for 17 years now. This is my continuing (if greatly delayed) attempt to try and compress the franchise itself, as seen through my eyes, into a nutshell.

After I get done with this, whenever it is, I’ll move on to individual characters.


The 1970s were a momentous decade for the X-Men franchise. So I’m going to split this chapter of their history into three parts: the formation of the new team, the Phoenix saga, and the World Tour, which culminated with the Proteus fight in 1979.

By 1970, the X-Men as a series was viewed to have run its course. New issues stopped coming out, and the series, while continuing its numbered run, started reprinting old stories. The only X-Man to have a life beyond the team was the Beast, who got a radical makeover and became a star of his own stories, printed in the book Amazing Adventures.

Image from kryptoknightcomics. The Cookie Monster dye job came later.

Apart from him though, the rest of the team seemed doomed to relative obscurity.

Finally, when the book was on the verge of cancellation, writer Roy Thomas suggested to the Powers That Were that an international team of X-Men would be a way to revitalize the book. Writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum were called to collaborate on a new set of characters, the first of which was created by Wein and artist Herb Trimpe for an issue of The Incredible Hulk:

The Hulk fighting some Canadian guy. He'll never catch on!

After the debut of this one-off character, Wein and Cockrum collaborated to bring in four other new X-Men: a Siberian farmer who could turn into steel, a Kenyan goddess with power over the weather, a Native American hothead with super-strength and toughness, and a German teleporter with a demonic appearance. Cockrum was especially proud of that last new addition, as he’d wanted to get him into a Legion of Super-Heroes spinoff team called The Outsiders beforehand.

Once a pair of sometimes allies-sometimes-enemies of the original X-Men were added to the ranks, all that was left was to choose a leader. The natural go-to-guy in this case was Cyclops, who’d grown from shy, closed-off teenage nerd to full-grown, capable leader over the course of the original team’s tenure.

New Team, Same Great Genes. Image courtesy of matador-bd.com.

Once the characters were in place, all that was left was to tell the story. That story was Giant-Sized X-Men #1, and when it was released in 1975, it was the first step in a whole new direction for the X-Men name.

Though they got off to a rough start, the new X-Men acquitted themselves singularly well alongside the old, fighting against “The Island Who Walks Like A Man!”. In particular, Storm and Lorna Dane (before she took on the name of Polaris), working in tandem to sever the gravimetric lines of force around the island, were already demonstrating the earliest signs of what would later become a recurring theme throughout the books…that of women who could contribute to the team as much as any male member.

However, as amazing as the combined forces of the original and new X-Men were, their alliance was not to last. Within the first couple of pages of X-Men #94, the new team’s debut in the mainstream books, every member of the original X-Men, including Lorna and Havok, had packed up and taken off, leaving Cyclops and Professor Xavier alone to deal with training the new recruits…not in the use of their powers, as with the original team, but in working together as a team. The friction in this transition was intense, and in some ways could be held responsible for the death of Thunderbird at the end of the New X-Men’s very first mission.

Writing duties were passed on as well…following the first story arc, Len Wein passed the writer’s torch on to Chris Claremont, at the time the writer of Marvel’s second-tier title Iron Fist. Claremont rose to the challenge enthusiastically, working with Cockrum to develop plots and twists that would take the characters in brand new directions while honing a new, soap-operatic approach to the psyches and motivations of the characters.

After only four issues, which included the sacrifice of Thunderbird, a fight with a demon, and the brainwashing of Havok and Lorna Dane (now finally getting the code name Polaris) by a hostile alien agent, the X-Men had been viewed as redeemed in the eyes of Marvel.

With the freedom they enjoyed as the creative team of a relatively obscure series, Claremont and Cockrum took the team to a place that was both familiar and brand-new…fighting Sentinels on a space station. Jean Grey guest-starred in this saga, more powerful and confident than she’d ever been before, and fans old and new were already hungry for more.

The icing on the cake, and one of the most historic events in the franchise, came with the book’s 100th issue, which featured an epic battle between the New X-Men and robotic facsimiles of the old. However, the real clincher was the book’s cliffhanger:

Jean Grey flies a shuttle through a solar flare. Image courtesy of stevedoescomics.blogspot.com

To a new reader unaware of future developments, this must have been nail-biting. Not even a year after the death of Thunderbird proved that the new writers weren’t shy about killing off their team, one of the original X-Men was being set up to make the ultimate sacrifice for her friends and the man she loved. These four panels set up a plot that would take years to culminate and leave an indelible mark on the book, for better or worse.

More on that next time…

MY VIEWS (part 1):

I’m not shy about expressing my love for Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum. These are some of the earliest issues it’s been my pleasure to read, and where, to me, the journey of the X-Men really begins.

I admit to a degree of disappointment at every old member of the team leaving when the new ones came along, but I can understand why it had to happen. No writer, especially a comics writer, wants to handle too many characters at once in a book that has to be released on any kind of schedule, and the new characters offered C&C the chance to form brand-new dynamics, rather than focus on old ones. Still, I wonder what the team would have been like had, say, Havok and Polaris stuck around, or Iceman. By contrast, Jean Grey was featured so often in the early issues she might as well not even have left…though Claremont wrote her much stronger and more self-confident than she had ever been before, which was an important clue that he had plans in store for her.

The All-New, All-Different team are some of my favorite X-Men in existence. Storm is my favorite X-Man, ever, and Nightcrawler remains a charmingly unique character to this day. Colossus is endearing in his gentility and intimidating in his strength, and back during this period, Wolverine was the gruff, sarcastic guy with a hidden heart of gold, much more so than he became later. Even Banshee took some levels in coolness; Thomas and Roth’s original depiction of the character as a walking stereotype of “Oireland” still held some influence, but he was also depicted as experienced, competent, and one of the team’s best players. I’d almost argue that he was Cyclops’ first second-in-command, before Storm had her turn in the spotlight.

I like that most of the team’s redundancies, like Sunfire and Thunderbird, were dealt with right away. Wolverine was hotheaded enough for everyone else there, and Sunfire served the X-Men better IMHO as a recurring guest star than an actual member. While there have been some interesting alternate-universe interpretations of John Proudstar, the original version isn’t all that riveting.

Next installment, I’m going to talk about the Phoenix saga, the Shi’Ar Empire, and how a Canadian artist named John Byrne helped turn the book from a cult classic into a phenomenon in the making.


The reason I started this blog is because I am a huge X-Men nerd, and have been for 17 years now. So over the next few days I’m going to try and compress the franchise itself, as seen through my eyes, into a nutshell. After that, I’ll move on to individual characters.

The X-Men started in 1963 as a way for Stan Lee to get out of writing origin stories. He’d done Spider-Man, the Hulk, and the Fantastic Four by now, and was starting to wonder how many gamma bombs, freak space accidents or radioactive spider bites he could use before people called him on it. So he came up with the answer: “They were born this way!”

Cue the term “Mutants.” Because mutations actually existed in nature, it was logical  for Stan to come up with the idea that humans could mutate, their bodies changing in weird and wonderful ways to give them superpowers.

With the origin set, he created the first six mutants: Professor X, Cyclops, the Beast, Iceman, Angel, and Marvel Girl. However, the company at the time didn’t like the term “The Mutants” as a title to a comic book. Their rationale was, “Who’s gonna know what a mutant is?” So Stan, in his infinite wisdom, changed the title to name it after Professor X, and called them “X-Men” (in the 60s he could get away with saying “For X-Tra Power!”, though most of us think that’s funny as hell nowadays).

Jack Kirby's classic blue-and-gold costumes. Who's the artist? If you know, I'd like to!

The characters came next, with obvious Fantastic Four influences. Iceman was a Human Torch with the dial set to ‘cold,’ so he was the smart-alecky youngest member. The Angel was the rich, handsome one, and at the time was the only character who could fly, so he fulfilled a unique niche in the group as it existed then.  The Beast started off as a Thing without rocks, speaking with the same “tough kid from Yancy Street” twist to his speech, but that changed quickly into being well-spoken and verbose, hardly ever using one syllable where five or ten would do, and thus became 1/2 of two “Reed Richards” archetypes…the intellectual. Cyclops was the social half of the archetype; at the same time as he was the leader, he was also the awkward, nerdy one who would be off by himself while the rest of the team went and had fun. And finally came Marvel Girl, the pretty redhead who could move things with her mind, and already came off as a lot stronger-willed than the Fantastic Four’s Invisible Girl. (I’m going to go into the individual characters themselves in future blogs)

The original X-Men were pretty standard superhero fare…fighting Evil Mutants as a counter-revolutionary force while working their best to coexist with normal humanity…from their private, upstate-New-York mansion-cum-academy. Yeeeah…Though to be fair, in the early days the team had plenty of nights on the town and periods where they were out-and-about. It read like a combination of superhero story and college book.

There were some additions and subtractions over the years under various writers. Mimic went down in history as the first case of “Marty Stu” in X-Men history (to my mind anyway), Havok and Lorna Dane (the future Polaris) signed up, Beast took off, and the pre-Mystique shapeshifter Changeling went from bad to good and died impersonating Professor X, becoming the first mutant to ever give his life for Xavier’s dream, even if he wasn’t an official X-Man.

Havok and Polaris by Darryl Banks

The book was entertaining for its time, and some creative teams, like Neal Adams and Roy Thomas, really stood out, but it never achieved quite the level of popularity as Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four at the time. A subsequent team book, The Avengers, was much better-received thanks to the use of many pre-existing characters, such as Hulk, Thor, and Captain America. However, there was a cult following for the book even then, which kept the book just above water, even if only in reprinted stories, long enough for the 1970s to hit…

…More on that next time.


Probably the era I have the least experience with. I’ve read maybe a dozen stories from the time. And while it’s awesome to see the building blocks of what would later become supremely important character traits, especially in Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Professor X, I have to say this era largely struck me as “by-the-book.” Though it did have some compelling stuff, like the first Sentinels story, the various backstories of the X-Men themselves, and the whole “is-Lorna-isn’t-Lorna Magneto’s daughter?” thing, a goodly portion of it seemed to be strictly formula. That said, it was a solid formula that worked, and there was even a bit of envelope-pushing here and there.

Even despite my relative inexperience with the era, I celebrate the fact that it happened, and that the groundwork was laid for what would become a worldwide phenomenon. This was the age that inspired some of the finest comic creators in the world, and if not for this shaky start, the book would never have found the footing it had that would cause such an explosion in later years.

Next time, I’ll tackle the 1970s, and the creative teams that turned the book into something to be noticed.
Thanks for reading!