We are finally back in the saddle here on Arcs & Runs and we will start the year with a look at some comic books that were connected from their first publishing date or “birth”. Twins if you will. In today’s post, the two titles both began in September 1963 and through a few fits and starts are still running today.
My inner efficiency coach told me I could start a new series but could also continue with “The First Six” series I began last year if I did this right. Let’s get to it.
Rick Jones and the Teen Brigade have sent out an S.O.S. looking for help finding the Hulk. Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp respond. None of them know Loki is using the Hulk as a pawn to trap Thor. It’s a pretty weak story. Thor defeats Loki like he does every second issue in Journey Into Mystery with a little help from the Wasp and Ant-Man. The important part though was bringing these guys all together for the first time. They see the benefits of having a powerful team like this and so do we. The Wasp comes up with the name “The Avengers” and the team is formed. I figure Stan or Jack had a crush on Honor Blackman and the British TV series of the same name, when they came up with this team name. Needless to say, a very hot comic book right now.
The Space Phantom arrives on earth via a meteor and his plan is to destroy the Avengers so his people can take over the planet. His plan is to exchange identities with the Avengers and pit them against each other. He starts with the right guy The Hulk and moves on from there Avenger to Avenger creating mistrust and division amongst the team. It all ends when the Space Phantom tries to change places with Thor a non-human and he himself is sent to limbo. The damage is done though as the Hulk felt the hatred of team members when they were battling each other. He leaves the team, and so begins a constant theme within the Avengers – a changing roster.
The next two issues #3 and 4 are covered here in Undervalued Spotlight #209. I’d like to add Avengers #3 is still a terrific book. Another great place to read this book in reprint form is Marvel Super-Heroes #21 which sports a cool cover and additionally features a reprint of X-Men #2 also in this post.
Avengers #4 is still in my Top 10 Marvel keys. This book features the return and revival of the Captain America to Marvels Silver age. A fantastic cover. Plus, Captain America and the Avengers battle with a race of aliens and the Sub-Mariner. It sure beats a tilt with the Space Phantom.
Tough act to follow on the last two issues but Avengers #5 is another solid issue. The menace this time is the Lava Men last seen in Journey Into Mystery #97. The gang is all here as well, the Hulk returning and the newly added Captain America. A one of kind team cover. The team saves the planet from an ecological disaster with the Hulk delivering the decisive blow….
The Avengers face a team of bad guys led by villain from Captain America’s past Baron Zemo. The man who (until recently) had killed his partner Bucky Barnes. Baron Zemo reads that Captain America is still alive. He blames Captain America for having his hooded mask sealed to his head with Adhesive X and craves revenge. He rounds up old foes of the Avengers team – The Black Knight, The Melter, and the Radio-Active Man, the “Masters of Evil”. They attack the city with Adhesive X knowing it will draw out the Avengers. The first battle goes to the bad guys with the Avengers getting caught in the adhesive and having to run for cover. They re-group and call one of my favourite named villains of all-time Paste-Pot-Pete for a dissolving agent to Adhesive X, which he agrees to provide for a shortened jail sentence.
Next the Teen Brigade swap adhesives with the bad guys (don’t ask). Finally, Captain America changes strategies with each hero attacking a new foe – Thor/Black Knight, Giant Man/Radioactive Man. Iron Man still has the Melter and of course the main event Captain America battles Zemo. The tactic works and the good guys get the upper hand and the Masters of Evil make a hasty retreat. The Wasp saves a prone Captain America from being shot as Zemo escapes. This is just round one in a battle that carries on for several issues culminating with Zemo’s death in Avengers #15 and 16.
As a kid, I could never “get” Baron Zemo and his mask. So many questions and no answers. How did he eat and drink? How did he brush his teeth? How did he cut his hair? I still chuckle at all the arguments it started on the school grounds.
The Avengers had a thirty year plus run in their first go around, and are still going today. The Avengers had a pretty open door policy in terms of membership and I think it served them well. It kept the line-up fresh. In addition to the team that started the Avengers, future members like the Vision, The Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, The Beast, Black Panther, Black Widow, Wonder Man and many others, they have had a great run. They are as popular today as they have ever been. On to the X-Men…..
The first issue of the X-Men introduces us to the team of unusual “students” known as the X-Men. They are led by Professor X a wheelchair bound teacher. We meet all of the X-Men individually and their unique power. Cyclops (Scott Summers) with his powerful eye beams, The Angel (Warren Worthington III) and his extraordinary wings, The Beast (Hank McCoy) and his acrobatic skills, and the young Ice-Man (Bobby Drake) and his frosty talents. Jean Grey is the last to arrive at the school and she quickly demonstrates her telekinetic powers on Hank McCoy. She will be called Marvel Girl. It is on page 8 of the issue we first hear the word “mutant” applied to this team of youngsters. Professor X explains they are people born with an extra power hence the name X-Men. He himself is a mutant (possibly the first) with the power to read minds. A nice power to possess, however not one I would want used on me – especially by your teacher!!
The story switches to our first meeting with the evil mutant Magneto who plans to take over an army base. The next few pages are dedicated to his battle with the army/ base and we are witness to his fantastic powers. The X-Men are called to their first battle and the final seven pages of the book are an all-out donnybrook with Magneto. The X-Men prevail and the army base is saved. In this issue, unlike many in the future the X-Men are treated like heroes.
This is really a terrific 1st issue of a comic and unique in a couple of ways. First the characters (seven of them) – all new and are introduced in character ready to go. Many first issues spend so much time with the origin of the character in the story, there is little time for anything else. The X-Men’s origins were revealed much later in the series as back-up stories. Second and I think most importantly was the appearance of Magneto. Take a look back at the first appearances of your favourite comics Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Iron Man etc. Who were the bad guys? Burglars, Gangsters, Monsters from Space, Communists? The only book I could think of with a genuine baddie of note was Captain America #1 and the first comic characterization of Adolf Hitler. He was a real flesh and blood human being (of sorts) so I have trouble counting him as a comic character. Magneto has been an important long-standing bad/good guy in the Marvel universe since this appearance and for me at least makes the book X-tra special. Love to hear of other super baddies making their first appearance in a number one issue I missed.
In the second issue of the X-Men we get The Vanisher. This book should be listed in Overstreet as a prototype issue for the character Nightcrawler as the Vanisher is a mutant who has the ability to teleport himself pretty well wherever he wants. He is quite honestly one of the worst used characters ever devised in the early going of the X-Men. His appearance and hideous uniform did not help. His teleportation power does confound the young X-Men team though, and it takes a Professor X mind intervention to put his disappearing act on hold. I can only remember the Vanisher appearing in X-Men #38 after this book. I think the creators at Marvel hoped the audience would forget him as well and they did a much better job with the Nightcrawler character. Someone please tell me the Vanisher isn’t Nightcrawler’s father in present day Marvel…
Once again, our story opens with the X-Men in the training room (three issues in a row) sharpening their skills. There is bit more spice in this early going on at school with Jean Grey at the heart of it. Warren Worthington and Scott Summers are clearly smitten by her, and Professor X professes to be in love with her as we read his mind. Professor X sends the team out to search for an unknown mutant he has detected. The gang in civvies tracks down the Blob working at a carnival. They do a poor job of asking the Blob to come to X-Men headquarters, until Jean Grey asks and the Blob is more than interested in coming home. Once there the Blob is tested by Professor X and the rest of the X-Men and he impresses them with his powers. However, the Blob is not in any way shape or form interested in leaving the carnival and joining the team. This was not anticipated by Professor X and he tries to prevent him from leaving with all of their secret identities and the location of the school. The X-Men try to get to the Blob but he has rounded up his gang from the carnival including the trained elephants, and they capture the X-Men. Once again Professor X takes down the Blob with the power of his mind, erasing the Blob’s experience with the X-Men. Issues #2 & 3 are both pretty ordinary comic books. The title gets a big boost in issues #4-6 with the return of Magneto. They are covered in a previous post on Arcs & Runs featuring X-Men #4-7 and can be read there. X-Men #4 remains my favourite book from the first sixty-six issue run of the X-Men.
The X-Men success, unlike the Avengers has seen more lows and highs throughout its run. The initial X-men were a team of young students very loyal and obedient to their teacher Professor X. This probably was an OK premise in 1963 but by the end of the sixties was definitely out as teenagers had become very anti-authority. The X-Men were also “different” which did not fit in with the “in crowd” mentality of the day. The X-Men lost there audience somewhere along the line or didn’t establish a large enough one and the title was suspended. When they returned four and half years later they had a different look. An older team, many new characters, they embraced being different and were an independent anti-authority (Wolverine) team. They played this off against straight arrow Cyclops/Professor X and it was extremely popular with fans of all stripes hitting its peak through the 80’s. The Jean Grey/Cyclops/Wolverine love triangle didn’t hurt either. Neither did two terrific movies.
The Avengers and X-Men have both had long, long, runs of books and are still being produced today.
The 46th Overstreet Price guide prices for the books reviewed today are listed below.
Imagine coming up with two winning titles like these in the same month!! Still wish I knew what Stan Lee was putting is his coffee a way back then…