The X-men has always been my favorite Marvel Comics property. Iconically, they have always well represented the struggles that people with mental and physical differences undergo in their everyday life. The character have always appeared more human to me than other heroes. For example, unlike the Super Solider Captain America, a man with undying patriotism, the first class of X-men consisted a group of world-weary teenagers; inexperienced with the world around them and dealing with so much more than what normal teenagers go through. And although the X-men’s roster and social nuances have gone through some change throughout the years, I still feel that the first class remains a very important piece of the framework of what X-Men was always meant to be; a human interest piece.
The book that I am reviewing, is the first in a series of Marvel Masterworks for “The X-Men”, which if you are interested in pursuing the collection, consists of seven volumes, compiling all 66 issues of the comics original run. At $25 a book, I would argue that this is a worthwhile purchase. The paper is a high-quality glossy stock, allowing the retouched, colorful masterpieces to stand out; I was initially astounded by how bright the colors were. In addition to collecting the first ten issues of the original run, this book also includes the individual covers of each issue, special pin-up pages of the characters and a loveable campy introduction by Smiling Stan Lee. This is certainly a book that caters to the collector in me and I think would make a great gift purchase for anyone who has a real deep connection with the property.
Enough about the physical book though! What matters most is whats on the inside, right?! If there is one thing that I had to say about the writing in the original X-men, it’s that it hasn’t aged well. Stan Lee likes to write big and loud, creating sensational story lines and dialogue that just come off as goofy to someone who is more used to more modern, subtle works. While big stories fit the fantastical nature of the characters, the stories really subtract from the potential ethical value of the work. Most of the time, the X-Men, a group of extravagantly dress mutants, come in contact with other ridiculous looking groups (The Avengers, The Brotherhood) and then fight. There isn’t much of the X-Men, dealing with any social issues or interacting with human beings as mutants; when they are out in the world, they are reminded to hide their identities as superheroes which really detracts from the supposed personal struggles for mutants.
Another aspect of personal issues that this book has, is the character writing. While they all have something unique and inherently complex about their personalities (for example, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch disagree with Magneto’s beliefs but have to serve him out of gratitude for saving their lives), only one of the large cast of twelve grows during the course of the book. Scott Summers goes from being a quiet, uncompromising and almost insensitive jerk to a compassionate leader, who is willing to make personal sacrifices for his teammates. Most of the other characters, especially the X-Men, came across as very flat and repetitive; Beast is always the smart guy, Iceman the jokester and Angel is arrogant.
Moving away from my issues with the writing though, lets talk about the art. Jack Kirby has always been known as the King of Comics (American that is) and the X-Men is a real example of Kirby’s uncommon style. What I find most interesting about this book, is that there is a rigidity to the artwork, especially in the depictions of the people and not just the frost covered Iceman (where it makes sense), but all of them. From Beast’s feet to those pointy crests in Quicksilver’s hair and even the shading on the X-Men’s costumes, everything is very jagged and rough. It was so, so prevalent that it really made the characters unable to mesh together; I never felt like I was truly watching a group at work. There interactions came off as spiteful, furthering pushing them all into a state of isolation, when they should be helping one another.
After reading this review, you might ask yourself, “Why the hell did he buy this and why should I buy it?” as I’ve really only touched on what I didn’t like about the book. Well, here’s what I like/love about the book: this is a really fun and goofy comic, which is something that you can’t always come across today and this is the past revisited. This is a recreation of dreams realized, of history being made. The X-Men touched the lives of millions of young comics fans, propelling them to take the characters and tell their own stories. Thats what I love about this book is that it is a genesis to what comics have become today.