The X-Men were my way into the Marvel Universe, as I imagine they were for many kids in the mid 90s. There was THAT animated TV Show, and for those of us in the UK, Panini published a book called Essential X-Men, which every month contained reprints of three issues of either Uncanny X-Men or X-Men, which had been launched a couple of years earlier with those interlocking Jim Lee covers. The only other UK reprint book at the time was Astonishing Spider-Man, so these were characters in their prime.

Later on, I searched out older X-Men stories such as Dark Phoenix, Days of Future Past, and one of my favourite comics ever, the 1982 4-issue Wolverine miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. And then I went back further. I read Second Genesis and stories of the original X-Men team. And boy was I shocked! Where was Wolvie? No Rogue? Who the hell is Angel? Why isn’t Beast furry? Ou est Gambit, ma cherie?

I felt it appropriate to revisit the early days of the X-Men, as that’s exactly what  Brian Michael Bendis is doing in the Marvel NOW title All-New X-Men. The reason I chose this issue, aside from it’s barmy villain, is that the confrontation between Scott and Hank is the moment that future Hank chooses to go back in time to in order to bring the original X-Men into his present in All-New X-Men #1. If you have a print copy of it you can use Marvel’s AR app to see the page from this issue and how it compares to Immonen and Bendis’ retelling.

So, the X-Men started off very differently to how we know them today. Five young people brought together by the mysterious and powerful ‘Mutant’ Professor Xavier. They are also Mutants, people born with special powers, the next stage in evolution. Xavier houses them at his School for Gifted Youngsters, where he not only teaches them to use and control their powers, but also to work together as a formidable superhero team: Cyclops with his powerful eyeblasts, the winged Angel, the super-chilled Iceman, the bouncing Beast, and the telekinetic wonder Marvel Girl. Xavier’s first class – The X-Men

What’s It All About?

Professor Xavier has made Scott Summers (Cyclops) interim leader of the X-Men since they passed his ‘final exam’. Worried about living up to his mentor’s expectations, Scott is working the team hard. After using his acrobatic powers in public to save a child, Hank McCoy (The Beast) is pursued by an angry mob in a wave of anti-mutant paranoia. Shaken by his experience, and strained by Scott’s increased training regimen, Hank quits the X-Men. He turns to wrestling to makes ends meet, but soon encounters the formidable Unus the Untouchable, a new mutant whose name explains it all: He cannot be touched by any force  unless he wishes it.  It soon becomes clear that Magneto is also aware of Unus’ power. Can the X-Men get to him first? And if they can’t, will they able to stand against him without Hank?

Sample Panel from The X-Men #8

Hank quits the X-Men, in a scene recently retold in All-New X-Men #1

Creatives

Script – Stan Lee
Pencils – Jack Kirby
Inks  - Chic Stone
Lettering – Sam Rosen

What’s Good?

The characters of the X-Men as we know them starting to emerge. The beginnings of the human/mutant rift that would come to drive the title during the height of it’s popularity. I also really like the way they resolve the Unus conflict.

What’s Bad?

As with a lot of this early Stan Lee suff, the dialogue is a little clunky.

Why You Should Pick This Up?

In all honesty the first few issues of The X-Men aren’t great, but this is where the series really begins to kick into gear. Kirby is on form with his art, and they’re really starting to get the dynamic of the X-Men. They’re great friends, but they bicker and disagree, and their individuality really starts to shine through. Unus is an interesting villain, and there’s a nice balance of drama and comedy. After this issue, I find Silver Age X-Men much easier to read. You can find this issue in Marvel Masterworks: The X-Men Volume 1, or in Black and White in Essential Classic X-Men Volume 1.

These used to be a regular feature in Silver Age books. I think they should bring them back. Just Sayin’.