Godel x Uzumeri #1: Giant-Size X-Men & X-Men 94-95 (or, Claremonty Pile-on’s Flying Caption Circus)

David: Alright! Welcome to a debut feature on Kangarat Murder Society, where my high school internet buddy Addison Godel and I are going to present comic book runs (usually ones that one of us is more familiar with) to each other and pick them apart. This week we’re kicking it off with the beginning of the All-New, All-Different Uncanny X-Men!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, including Giant-Size X-Men #1 (Len Wein & Dave Cockrum) and X-Men #94-95 (Chris Claremont, Len Wein & Dave Cockrum).

Addison: This is, in spirit, a followup to the recent ComicsAlliance piece by Chris Sims in appreciation of extended runs by creators on single titles. There’s just something really nice about following this kind of title, where you can watch both the creator and the characters evolve from storyline to storyline over, in this case, a fifteen-year period. In the case of the X-Men, this was the period where they went from being kind of a minor, fondly-remembered 60s title to being one of Marvel’s flagship properties, so this is also a chance to look closely at this influential run and discover, hopefully, interesting things in it – – – unexplored avenues for the characters, different themes for the whole book, all that kind of thing. At a moment when the big new idea to launch an X-Men #1 is “they’ll fight vampires,” I think this could be a pretty lucrative project.

Plus, I’m just a huge X-Men dork and I’ve been bugging David about this forever.

David: So we’re going to kick it off with the one-shot that started it all and dwarfs all of your Absolute Editions and Oversized Hardcovers, Giant-Size X-Men #1, plus the two-issue arc immediately following.

Addison: What happens in these issues: Most of the old X-Men cast is kidnapped by a “Living Island” named Krakoa. Cyclops and Professor X assemble an “All-New” team of mostly brand-new mutant characters to go on a rescue mission. They succeed, but the old X-Men mostly opt out of the franchise to go back to appearing in things like Defenders and Champions of Los Angeles. The new team goes on a mission to save the US nuclear arsenal from the deranged Count Nefaria (a minor villain from the ’60s run) and one of their number, Thunderbird, is tragically killed in action.

David: Due to the fact that Wein plotted 94 and 95, I think it’s pretty clear even from Giant-Size that he’d already marked Thunderbird for death. It’s appropriate we’re ending our first section with the first major X-death, because this is a franchise that’s always been known for its high body count.

Addison: It’s a classic early twist, “no one is safe.” You get the sense that they’re trying to up the stakes here, make this a more x-treme type of book. It’s too early for “grim and gritty” to be the official formula by any means, but clearly by killing off one guy and basically making the theme be “it’s a team of assholes who don’t get along in the slightest,” Wein is injecting some juice into the sort of dorky premise of mutants who hang out at boarding school.

David: The first few pages of Giant-Size – indeed, its entire format – is very reminiscent of the sort of superhero comics Wein was just doing at DC with JLA, featuring the tried-and-true format of splitting up the team into groups of two to focus on specific character interactions, even though in the context of the story I really have no idea why the characters did that.

Addison: Yeah, the Scooby Doo splitting-up-teams thing is dopey, but it’s really crucial; as the dialogue itself notes, “What are we going to do with thirteen X-Men?” Even in a giant-sized book it’s hard to get all these people into focus, especially since most of them are new characters.

David: Yeah! He was always a big idea guy, and that’s pretty obvious from the list of characters he’s created, and it’s amazing just how much of the formula Wein threw down in this very issue, since this is the only one he scripted himself.

Addison: When they start fighting Krakoa in Giant-Size, Wein basically says “Words can’t possibly describe this….so we won’t even try!” which is a very different sensibility than what we already start to see with Claremont. I like the efficiency of the little vignettes that introduce everybody, though. With very few page space we get a sense of where they come from and what kind of person they all are, although to be fair all we really learn about the Banshee (a pre-existing character) in Giant-Size is that he…goes to shows at the Grand Ole Opry?

David: Also, I’m being incredibly unfair speaking about Len Wein in the past tense, considering he puts out high-profile comics to this day. I noticed that, and I mean — what else were you going to do, show him bombing churches? I mean, this was ’75.

Addison: It’s actually kind of hilarious, like they’re going so far out of their way to avoid offending any Irish people in the context of the Troubles that they put him in the furthest context from Ireland that they could think of.

David: Considering what was going on, it was probably the safest plan, to be honest – but yeah, in retrospect it is really funny.

Addison: Whereas with Thunderbird, they’re tapping into the whole Native American pride and civil rights thing that had been going since the 60s. I have to say this gets larded on pretty thick but it’s an interesting idea. There was this whole idea, by the way, with the multinational cast that it would help them sell the comic in all these markets.

Which is nuts, I mean, could you even buy Marvel comics in the Soviet Union? Did German comic-buyers in 1975 really see themselves as torch-wielding villagers in the alps?

David: Maybe less that, and more to new immigrants? I mean, you didn’t have to sell comics in Nigeria to target black people. That said, I do have to wonder if there were that many disaffected German and Irish youth who couldn’t identify with existing lily-white superheroes.

Addison: Hahaha, yeah, exactly. Not to mention Canadians.

David: Yeah! And now every year Marvel makes a point of putting Alpha Flight in the slideshow at the Toronto Fan Expo, and then switching to a slide of their dead bodies and “STILL DEAD! GOTCHA!” on it.

Addison: So it turns out some small minority of Canadian comics fans will read comics about American superheroes. But they’re really missing out on that Sasquatch fanbase.

Wolverine actually gets the clearest introduction here, I think, and no surprise since he had just been created by Len Wein in Incredible Hulk #180. But of the three “asshole” members of the team he’s the most fun, cutting up his old boss’s tie and basically pulling the whole “I’m quitting this job, and you know what, FUCK YOU!”

David: Storm’s never been a character I’ve been huge on, but I really like Xavier’s speech to her. I also love how apparently Weapon X is a bunch of total pansies in 1975.

Addison: Yeah! It feels like Professor X recruited Wolverine from a small liberal arts college. But that’s the great thing about these stories – NONE of the Wolverine mythos exists yet. He’s just a guy with claws who never takes off his mask. I think in the original concept the claws were part of the gloves, and basically Dave Cockrum or somebody objected on the grounds that anybody who got the gloves would be Wolverine.

David: Yeah — you can see that in the Ani-Men fight, when the cat one taunts Wolverine that HIS claws are REAL!

Addison: I love that thing with the cat, especially because the whole premise of the Ani-Men is that they’re working for Nefaria only because he’s promised to restore them to their human forms. So to be proud of the claws is really strange.

David: And Sunfire’s xenophobic dickishness is almost cryptoracist in and of itself.

Addison: Sunfire is totally baffling here. He says no, then he says yes for “reasons of his own,” then he says he won’t go to Krakoa, then he catches back up with the team. The only thing that saves it is that there’s no speech about his “honor code” or something – he just seems like a passive-aggressive jerkoff.

David: Colossus is honestly pretty boring in his intro.Oh no my sister! Will I serve the state or this bald dude in a wheelchair? Let’s go, baldy!

Addison: Haha, yeah, I see that, but I actually think it’s kind of an interesting premise for a character – – especially when you have this team that otherwise feels kind of like, I dunno, the Thunderbolts, all they do is squabble and so on. You sort of need the good-hearted farmboy whose main concern in life is how the neighbors will replace the tractor that he wrecked saving his sister. I wish they would go back and do more with the idea that his heroism is based on his Communism, like, he has this obligation to the State and to the Triumph Of The Heroic Agricultural Patriot and so on. But I think we’ll have a chance to revisit that in a few issues.

David: It’s difficult because of the timeframe…. It’s no longer believable that Colossus left Russia even as late as 1991. He hasn’t been an X-Man for 19 years.  And then man, Proudstar is just a total dick. “YOU can stuff a CACTUS, mister!” I also love how Xavier gets Thunderbird on his side with straight-up schoolyard insults.

Addison: Xavier’s pushy manipulation is actually a pretty smart idea for kick-starting the book – – – you sort of WANT the team to all be there for flimsy, idiosyncratic reasons, because you want them to have interesting conflicts. Plus the suggestion that the lineup might change at any time, people quitting, people dying – it makes you want to keep reading.  Meanwhile, it sort of makes you feel like Brubaker’s retcons to this issue aren’t so bad – it was always part of the plot that Professor X was manipulating everybody – we just didn’t know how much!

David: I was wondering when we’d get to that elephant in the room! Yeah, it’s really difficult to think about this book without taking Brubaker’s retcons into account, which are, as usual for him, very well thought out but in this case just didn’t execute all that well.

Addison: I’d need to reread Deadly Genesis. Giant-Size is actually ripe for a retcon for several reasons: the villain is ridiculous and we have different ideas about what a hive-mind entity might be like today, and also so much key information is just what Cyclops and the Professor tell everybody. So Brubaker really inserts his retcon in there by saying, “actually they were just lying.”

David: I was about to say that the years between the end of the ’60s incarnation and the beginning of Giant-Size should be ripe with storytelling possibilities, but then I remembered that was a John Byrne comic nobody gave a shit about.

Addison: By all accounts it’s a charming and entertaining book in the whole tradition of straight-ahead Silver Age superheroics. Kinda what you would want out of a book like that.

It’s hard to do continuity inserts into that period because the book was actually just running reprints.  So there’s not, like, curious corners of stories that you could open back up and expand upon. I’m more hopeful that we’ll find windows like that as we work through the Claremont canon, though. Back on the Wein issues though – – what do we think of Cockrum’s art?

David: Cockrum’s art is fantastic throughout, with the exception of his Beast face, what the living hell is that?

I mean, otherwise the storytelling is crystal-clear, everything’s kinetic, there’s a palpable feeling of motion, the characters are easily identifiable, it’s VERY well-colored for a ’70s comic…

Addison: (I’m still trying to figure out the deal with the colors – I’ve seen them treated differently in different reprints, so I don’t know if the original had the “Marvel Graphic Novel” color sensibility of these excerpted panels.)

As for the Beast: I kinda have always hated Cockrum’s faces.  I know this is sort of heretical but I just think everybody looks really lumpy or something. Look at Angel when he’s talking about quitting. It’s well drawn but, I dunno, maybe I just want it to be more stylized. It’s absolutely as good as 70s Marvel style gets, he’s a great penciller.

I think the inking is sort of oppressive though, everybody has these giant black patches just landing on their faces and arms and stuff.

David: Which issue? If you look at the credits, all three have different inkers – and colorists, for that matter. Cockrum inks Giant-Size himself, #94 is Bob McLeod, and #95 is Sam Grainger. #94 seems to be the most like what you’re describing; McLeod over-renders the faces, it almost gives it a Gene Colan look.

Addison: Giant-Size is actually what I was looking at, maybe just because it’s so much less subtle compared to the coloring. Look at Professor X in the last panel of page 5, it looks like he has grease paint on. But I do have to say that Cockrum’s character/costume designs are phenomenal. I mean, basically from these issues til 2010, nobody ever managed to come up with a better costume for Nightcrawler. Jury might be out on Colossus but this is basically his definitive look too.

David: There’s a reason Cockrum’s considered the premier costume designer of…. shit, probably of comics. I know he did the definitive Legion of Super-Heroes costumes, too.

Addison: Yeah, I mean, look at the splash page in Giant-Size where everybody is modeling their new costumes and they all look really great, very distinctive, very unique, nice use of color too so everybody has a different palette on the page.

David: I don’t think ANY of those costumes on that splash page have been considerably modified, though, other than getting rid of the fringe on Warpath.

Addison: Well, Storm went through a few versions, I can’t remember what she’s wearing now.

David: Other than the ridiculous Astonishing outfit? Let me see… basically the same damn thing.

Addison: She went through a skintight white spandex phase, and the cloak became more like big white drapes. Early 90s I think. And Cyclops’s costume here is what he was wearing in the later 60s stories. But yeah, it says a lot that Thunderbird’s costume has remained canonical even though he died.

David: Well, the fact that Warpath wore it for years certainly helped.

Addison: Well, sure, but even there – like, Warpath won’t be created for several years after this story, so even though the idea is specifically that he’s honoring his dead brother, it would never have happened if the costume weren’t strong enough to still look good on a cover in 1985.

David: They’ve all had small modifications — an “X” here or there, some elements modified, some piping – but they’ve always gone back to variations on these outfits.

Addison: Storm’s headdress, if nothing else, has been damned constant. We will hit a moment where she gets a major makeover, but that’s a ways off.

David: And yeah, as to the scripting – wow, the difference between Wein and Claremont. We’re still working off of Wein’s plots for the Claremont issues, so I can’t judge the plotting, but the script itself sees a huge decrease in the number of exclamation points, not to mention far more introspection and poetic license. The tone becomes far more somber. Wein’s narration is excited and adventurous, while Claremont’s is almost resigned.

Addison: This is somewhere where I’m really curious about your reaction, because Claremont is certainly known now for being really exhausting to read, and I wonder, like, is that apparent immediately, or is it something that perniciously snuck its way in over time. Agreed totally about the tone, and again I think it’s a smart move for the book – – this is gonna be the comic book where nobody gets along and they’re bummed out all the time. Already we’re getting the big theme of mutant powers as this thing that curses you to a life of isolation and misery.

David: Well, he’s far less indulgent here. Maybe later on we can do some kind of panels/word balloons per page comparison, but while certainly Claremont’s already engaging in masturbatory metaphor-laden narration, it doesn’t cover the page like X10 popup ads like it does in a modern Claremont book. There’s also the fact that, at this point, the team is a complete sausagefest, so Claremont can’t fall back on his nauseating girl talk.

Addison: Good call on the sausagefest! Worth noting that for the next, like, hundred and twenty issues, every new X-Man is actually an X-Woman, unless there’s one I’m forgetting about.

There’s also this thing already developing here which will become a major implicit theme of the book, where being a mutant is about not fitting in with your family or your peers, and instead finding this surrogate family of other weirdos who accept you. All the stuff with Cyclops calling Nightcrawler “friend” for example. It’s basically the prototype for Harry Potter.

David: I also found it funny how the asshole characters kept referring to Ororo as “the chick.” Which made it very convenient that there was only woman on the team, since then the antisocial bad-boy characters would have had to identify her by race if they wanted to be dismissive, and that probably wouldn’t read very well.

Addison: Oh, God. Yeah, when the premise is that you have all these backwards, violent, ill-mannered bozos on a team, you really don’t want to make race a central theme, except via the metaphor of mutancy. Which we don’t see at all here, by the way.

David: We do in the intros, with Nightcrawler and Storm especially.

Addison: OK, you’re right about that, nevermind. Your Storm comments remind me of another question: Why is Sunfire in this comic?

David: I have to imagine Wein had long-term plans for Sunfire that he didn’t get to stick around to see through. I mean, keep in mind that the vector that Giant-Size is traveling on is not the vector that the story went. The clues being dropped here, the stories being started, none of them really came to fruition.

Addison: Yeah, true – in hindsight, all his “reasons of my own” talk just seems like nonsense, but presumably they could have actually developed into a storyline where we find out what the reasons were.

I guess what’s really odd about Giant-Size is that the villain isn’t Magneto. Like, part of why the new X-Men #1 seems dumb is that it has nothing whatsoever to do with their core themes because they’re fighting vampires. But it turns out, here, they’re fighting a living island, it’s just an ordinary superhero story in that sense.

David: I had the same thought; at least Krakoa is actually a mutant menace, though, and the idea of an island mutating like that is actually pretty cool. It doesn’t make sense in the modern context of the X-gene and all of that, though, which is probably part of why Brubaker retconned it.

Addison: Good point – the retcon is both to insert the Gabriel Summers story at a key point in continuity, and also to try and resuscitate that key point of continuity so it’s not such an embarassing thing for people to refer to later.

David: Like, Wein could have been planning to stretch the definition of mutancy, at a point where “radioactive shit, whatever” is the only in-continuity reason for being a mutant. As a matter of fact, he DEFINITELY was – consider that Wolverine was supposed to be a mutated wolverine!

Addison: Actually, that’s a little bit backwards – in the Silver Age, mutants were basically people who got powers one day at random, without being bit by radioactive spiders and so on.

David: Well yeah, but didn’t they usually explain it as their parents being in accidents?

Addison: Oh, right, yeah. That’s true, Professor X’s parents working at Alamogordo and stuff. Basically, they were making this up as they went along.

David: Yeah, totally. The fact that it’s 2010 and all this shit is tied in with like Jack Kirby’s Eternals and a cosmic fire bird is probably nothing Len Wein had in mind in 1975. Or Stan Lee in 1963, for that matter.

Addison: The mutated wolverine thing was going to involve the High Evolutionary. And I guess on some level Count Nefaria’s goons, who seem to have the same origin as Bebop and Rocksteady do in the Ninja Turtles, are being offered as some sort of opposite number? It’s all still really hazy though.

David: Yeah, it seems like Wein wanted to switch the theme from prejudice to evolution years before Morrison tried to pull it off.

Addison: Claremont starts to hammer that stuff into shape once he gets around to writing stories about new mutants getting discovered.

David: You’re totally right about the Ani-Men, they back that up on a thematic level too.

Addison: But to go back to your earlier point, the prejudice theme is also being hit harder here than before, though. Like, the Sentinels did get introduced in the 60s, but I think Nightcrawler’s origin here is the first time we’ve really done the “angry mob chases down mutant freak” thing. I think the Toad got booed for being suspiciously good at basketball or something but that’s about it. I’d have to review POB’s indexes though.

Addison: To be fair on the evolution point, though, Wein seems to basically be inventing science panel by panel in a very Silver Age way. Like, apparently Earth’s gravity is actually magnetism.

David: Wein did that shit ALL THE TIME, and it was always awesome. He did one of my favorite JLA arcs EVER (#111-112), where a super-machine was made that took half of all the Justice League’s powers, with some dumb bullshit explanation. What made this great was that, you know, OK, Superman is half as strong, Flash is half as fast, Green Lantern is half as… willpowery, whatever. But Batman was half as smart, which made him practically short-bus by Batman standards. So for a whole issue, the JLA are letting this completely incompetent Batman who keeps forgetting things, apologizing and coming near tears accompany them on this near-death adventure where he continually breaks down.

Addison: That’s awesome! So like if you pointed the machine at a comedian, they’d become half as funny? It has nothing to do with suppressing an x-gene or anything specific to superpowers, it’s just whatever you’re good at.

David: Yeah! Total BS silver age science, but the human drama it led to was totally worth the handwaving. That’s always how I’ve felt about Wein.

Addison: So much of the fun of 70s comics, and the reasons why people are interested in reviving them, are encapsulated there, I think. Like the Silver Age is just overflowing with ridiculous, genius ideas but the human drama is often a little bit surface-level. Obviously, exceptions abound. But I feel like the ’70s, the soap opera stuff gets much more developed but people still feel comfortable with wack pseudoscience and hand-waving. This might be 19th century armchair anthropologist talk though.

David: Well, I think we’re in a mood now in comics where that willingness to say “fuck it, whatever moves it forward” with regards to science is back, you know? I’d really love to know where he would have taken the franchise, but wherever it would have been, I doubt it would have been as successful long-term as what Claremont was going to do. That desire to get a bit more abstract. It’s something Fraction, Morrison and Hickman have always been doing, and now we’re seeing Bendis start take it up in Avengers, you know? Ground it in a little bit of real science, and then go totally crazy.

Addison: Well, not to say that comic book science ever got particularly accurate or anything. But I know what you mean. It’s the whole return-to-fun thing that maybe has the Heroic Age as its most visible symbol, but I think it’s a whole generational thing with the creators, what they grew up on, all that. I mean you could also compare it to shit like Michael Crichton, right? Like, you read Crichton’s scifi and there was always this evident research, or at least something beyond skimming Popular Science, where he’s trying to convince you that all of this is grounded in some thing that’s actually happening in real life, with “genetic engineering” and “chaos theory” basically being used to pull off the thrill-powered premise of DINOSAURS WILL COME BACK AND RUN AMOK, which is going to be awesome no matter what.

David: I know you don’t read DC, but it’s something big there, too. Who CARES why different colors of kryptonite do different things to Superman? Getting rid of them was dumb, they’re fun!

Addison: Yeah, it’s almost like a backlash against the general geeky tendency towards systematization, to build really complex organization webs where all the Star Trek technology actually makes sense and there are, to an admittedly really limited extent, coherent rules as to what it can and can’t do. Or at least the appearance of that is important. Whereas, basically, I don’t care. Bring on the kryptonite that turns Superman into an elephant.

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6 Responses to “Godel x Uzumeri #1: Giant-Size X-Men & X-Men 94-95 (or, Claremonty Pile-on’s Flying Caption Circus)”

  1. About the international but non-commercial cast: Les Daniels says in his coffee-table book on Marvel that the marketing department had the idea to do a superhero book they could sell to foreign markets, and Roy Thomas figured they could revamp X-Men because nobody was doing anything with it…but by the time it got to Len Wein, either nobody told him about the marketing aspect or he decided to ignore it, and he just put in who he thought would be interesting.

    The book also paints the picture that being the editor-in-chief of Marvel in the 70s was a nigh-impossible task because the editorial structure was different than it is today, with one guy theoretically responsible for directly editing all the books, so under those conditions I totally buy that even something as big as THE ENTIRE POINT OF THE NEW COMIC YOU’RE PUBLISHING could slip between the cracks like that.

    I haven’t read Deadly Genesis, so I don’t read these comics any differently. I was kind of disappointed to read about Xavier psychically screwing with people’s heads. I know he did it in the 60s, but by the 70s, as you can see in these issues, the cool thing about Professor X is he COULD dance you around like a puppet with his mutant brain, but he’s such a smooth operator he’ll do it the old fashioned way, by pushing your buttons with well-chosen words.

  2. Addison Godel Says:

    Justin, thanks for the info! The book in question is this behemoth, which I don’t own anymore but which is packed full of fun information, not to mention great illustrations.

    I’ve also read somewhere that the multinational-hero book really had been kicking around for two or three YEARS before Giant-Size, so there was a lot of time for the idea to get transformed and jumbled-around. The idea of revamping the X-Men had also been in circulation as well. As you say, there was an awful lot on the EIC’s desk.

    As for Xavier, I agree that the character is probably most interesting/unique as the guy with the power to change your mind by force, who chooses to relinquish that and persuade you with words instead. To be entirely fair to Brubaker, the “jerk Xavier” characterization was a pretty well-worn theme by the time he came in; it shows up a lot in ’90s stories.

  3. doctorcasino Says:

    Incidentally, I have no idea what I was saying above about Nightcrawler being the first mutant chased by a torch-wielding mob – – this is a trope going back to issue #4, in the origin story of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Oops!

  4. doctorcasino Says:

    (I was basically right about the Toad though – that’s in #5.)

  5. […] plow through Chris Claremont’s classic 16-year tenure on the not-yet-Uncanny X-Men. Last time we really covered the prologue: Len Wein and Dave Cockrum’s unveiling of the “All-New, […]

  6. doctorcasino Says:

    So it turns out that the Banshee being in Nashville isn’t just a desperate attempt by Len Wein to avoid dealing with the Irish situation – – – it’s actually acknowledging an Englehart Captain America story that dumped him there the year before. It still reads very strangely, but I guess it made sense to give more page space to introducing the new characters, rather than clarifying what was going on with Banshee.

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