Friday, May 23, 2014
I Reads You Review: X-MEN CLASSICS #1
MARVEL COMICS – @Marvel
WRITER: Roy Thomas
PENCILS: Neal Adams
INKS: Tom Palmer
LETTERS: Sam Rosen, Artie Simek
NEW MATERIAL: Mike Zeck and Tom Palmer
COLORS: Daina Graziunas
EDITORS: Stan Lee (original), Carl Potts and Ann Nocenti (reprint)
EiC: Jim Shooter
COVER: Mike Zeck and Tom Palmer
48pp, Colors, $2.00 U.S., $2.25 CAN (December 1983)
One of my favorite comic book miniseries is actually a reprint series. Originally published in late 1983 (with 1983 and 1984 cover dates), X-Men Classics reprinted writer Roy Thomas and artist Neal Adams’ celebrated run on The X-Men comic book series circa 1969-70. Adams drew The X-Men #56-63 and #65, while Don Heck was the fill-in artist for #64. X-Men Classics reprints The X-Men #56-63.
Already a freelancer for DC Comics, in 1969, Adams also began freelancing for Marvel Comics, where he penciled several issues of The X-Men. In 1969, The X-Men comic book was on the verge of cancellation. Adams joined Roy Thomas and inker Tom Palmer to produce acclaimed, award-winning work (the Alley Awards).
Adams not only penciled The X-Men, but he also colored and plotted the stories with Thomas. Apparently, some comic book historians consider the Thomas-Adams-Palmer X-Men a highlight of that era (late 1960s to early 1970s) for Marvel Comics. Adams’ work was popular, but it was too late to save The X-Men from cancellation with issue #66 (March 1970), and the title ended its initial run.
X-Men Classics #1 reprints The X-Men #56-58, in whole or in part. It also features some new material, including a new splash page drawn by Mike Zeck and Tom Palmer, which summarizes the story leading up to the reprinted material. Legendary X-Men artist, John Byrne, also provides an introductory piece for this series.
The X-Men, at the time of these stories, were Scott Summers/Cyclops, Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, Warren Worthington III/The Angel, Hank McCoy/The Beast, and Bobby Drake/Iceman. X-Men Classics #1 opens with a summary of the connection between The Living Pharaoh/The Living Monolith and Alex Summers, Scott’s younger brother. Beyond that melodrama, the story’s primary focus is the return of the mutant-hunting robots, the Sentinels. Larry Trask is the son of Boliver Trask, the creator of the Sentinels. Seeking revenge for his father’s death, which he blames on the X-Men, Larry restarts the Sentinels program. One by one, the Sentinels kidnap the X-Men and other mutants with whom the X-Men had interacted (which at the time of this story arc’s original publication was a small number).
I have read the Roy Thomas-Neal Adams-Tom Palmer X-Men several times, mostly in reprint form, but I have read a few of the original issues. I have never been disappointed. Reading the series again for the first time in ages, I wondered if I would realize that my love of these classic X-Men comics was really about nostalgia. That is not the case. They were great superhero comics, and they remain so.
I think what Thomas and Adams created was their take on the soap opera theatrics of Stan Lee and the dynamism of Jack Kirby. It as if the grand epic that was the Lee-Kirby Fantastic Four became a smaller epic, something like an intimately staged opera, in the pages of the X-Men.
Thomas has the characters scream dialogue, taking the saying, “wears his heart on his sleeve” as if it were some kind of comic book proverb. Larry Trask practically vomits rage and the spirit of vengeance is in every one of his word balloons. The X-Men yell at each other; to hell with discussion. They command, demand, order, and bicker. They are selfish and concerned about their own needs and interests. At the same time, they are a family, constantly fighting to save one another from a world that wants to destroy them.
Neal Adams’ page design early in his career (and even later) was like a mosaic of broken, jagged, and angled panels united into a single page of narrative. More diagonal and vertical than horizontal, the panels could be confusing.
There is another way of looking at Adams’ stylish and chaotic graphic design and graphical storytelling. He was creating the illusion of life and movement in static images. His art suggested 3D in what was clearly 2D. That 3D, sense of movement makes Roy Thomas’ loud exposition even louder and makes the melodrama seem imperative and immediate, and maybe even genuine. Pages 2 and 3 of The X-Men #57 form a splash page, in which Iceman seems to be flying off the page.
That splash page epitomizes the graphic and visual power of superhero comics. It is not fantasy grounded in realism. That power is a comic book in which the characters really seem to be exploding off the page. And X-Men Classics is a great way to experience the master of explosive comic book art, Neal Adams.
Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux
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