16th May2017

Catching Up with the Classics: Giant-Size X-Men #1

by Dan Clark

Written by Len Wein | Art by Dave Cockrum | Published by Marvel Comics

giant-size-x-men-1-cover

Synopsis: Giant-Size X-Men #1 was a special issue of the X-Men comic book series, published by Marvel Comics in 1975. It was written by Len Wein and illustrated by Dave Cockrum. Though not a regular issue, it contained the first new X-Men story in five years

My Background:

The X-Men are the first comic property I ever had any true interest in thanks to the 90’s cartoon series. So I own a debut of gratitude to this book because of what it did for the X-Men franchise. Without it my love of comics may never have started.

In addition I have read X-Men: Deadly Genesis that retconned the events of this story. In that storyline Professor Xavier is shown to be capable of some truly evil actions  that I know caused some controversy at the time. Although that story had some issues it did lead to some truly amazing stories like The Rise and Fall of the Shiar Empire.

Regarding my overall experience with the X-Men franchise it is pretty wide. I’ve read this series more than any other. There are still big chunks in my list of shame, but recently I have started to go back from the beginning in order to see where it all started. Thanks in large part to Marvel Unlimited I have read a lot of the first issues when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had the series.

My Thoughts:

Reading this I could not help but wonder what the reaction would be from people if this same book came out today. I am sure many readers today would cause an uproar if a classic team was basically  replaced with an entire new group of multinational and multi-ethnic characters. If social media existed back then I wonder if there would have been a stronger negative reaction for fans based on the way community has reacted to similar changes recently. I understand that is a hot button issue, but reading this years later it was the first thing that came to my mind.

Regarding the actual content of the book it is clear the comic is mainly designed to be a character showcase for all these new individuals. The story opens with Proffesor X putting his new band back together with known mutants across the world. Some of the characters like Banshee and Sunfire had experience with the X-Men prior. Wolverine had just recently debuted in Hulk #181, while Storm, Colossus, and Nightcrawler where brand new to comics.

Getting a new character to stick in the world of comics is such a gigantic challenge. The fact that this comic had three of the X-Men’s most loved characters debut in the same issue is a remarkable feat. Much of what people love about them is there from the start. Colossus has his strong sense of morality, Nightcrawler represents the fear and hate mutants must endure, and Storm has that fierce will that will eventually make her a leader of the X-Men.

Writer Len Wein designs this new team to be very dysfunctional and full of conflict. Much of that conflict is a result of the character of Sunfire, whose arrogance and lack of sympathy come through time and time again. Wein pushes the boundaries with him as a character almost too much. By halfway through I found myself rooting for his quick demise. I was waiting for Kitty Pryde to show up and announce that “Sunfire is a Big Jerk!”. Alas, that never occurred.

As a costume junkie I also find it impressive how little the costumes of both NIghtcrawler and Colossus have changed since they first appeared. Considering Cyclops uniform is getting adjustments with every new volume of the X-Men having a timeless costume during this time period was rather rare.

Classic-Giant-Size-X-Men-Team

Concerns for New Readers:

Although you have to credit this book for making a point to create a diverse team of individuals it is important to note how heavy it relies on some cringe worthy stereotypes.  Thunderbird may be the worst of these examples. He comes off as a rejected villain from a John Ford western. There is nothing that defines him outside of his heritage. Considering how long he stayed with the series I feel the writers realized how flawed of a character he was.

Also a key point is the state of the X-Men title of the state of this release. This was the first new X-Men story in five years, and if it ended up not being successful there is a good chance the X-Men would have died then and there. This book made them relevant for perhaps the first time ever. Although the earlier books were done by Kirby and Lee they were nowhere need the level of the Avengers or Fantastic Four. After this where on their way to become the biggest thing going in Marvel and comics in general.

Worth the Hype:

All you have to do is look at the history of comics to see what a landmark issue this was. There is no questioning the importance of this specific issue. Comparing it to the previous X-Men comics you can see this is the start of a major transition to more complex and serialized storytelling.  If you remove the impact on the industry and focus squarely on the quality should it be considered amount the elite of the X-Men stories?

No it should not. Yes this works as a character showcase for this brand new team, but the actual story is rather basic. It is not much more than your barebones disaster movie with superheroes. The fact the villain of this story is barely ever mentioned by even the biggest X-Men fans shows the narrative is lacking in some key areas.

When you consider what it was attempting to accomplish it made sense. This book was designed to revitalize a team most had forgotten. In order to do that you need a broad story full of continuous adventure that will grab the attention of new readers. That goal was accomplished. Giant-Size X-Men #1 has the fun and excitement of a standard summer blockbuster.

You won’t find deep thematic meaning in-between the panels like you would expect from the best of the medium. If you were to hand this comic to someone who knew nothing about the history of the book I doubt they will hand it back to you with a proclamation of how amazing it was. Yes it should be respected as a landmark for the medium, but like landmarks what it represents is far greater than what it is on its own.

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