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An Uncanny Milestone

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It’s hard to believe that Uncanny X-men is the only Marvel title to be published continuously from Silver Age until today. It was never cancelled and rebooted with a brand new number one. And while some Marvel titles had more volumes than a set of encyclopedias, Uncanny only had one.

Of course, that fact is even harder to believe when you consider that at one time, Uncanny X-Men was almost cancelled. Even the fact that an X-Men book was almost cancelled is hard to believe in today’s mutant book-loving climate.  

Uncanny X-Men began its life as plain ol’ The X-Men, and, like many comics of Marvel’s Silver Age, it sprung from the mind of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963. The book revolved around a private school in Westchester, New York. It was an exclusive school, only five students, and they were extraordinary. Each one had super powers. How did they get them? They didn’t. They were born with them.

Stan Lee has said in interviews that he came up with the idea of the X-Men getting their powers through genetic mutation because he basically didn’t want to think up another origin. He used radioactive spiders, gamma rays, cosmic rays and Norse gods for inspiration. He just wanted these characters to have powers because they had powers.

But this lack of an origin gave the characters unexpected depth. They were different from everybody else through no fault of their own, through forces beyond their control. And all the “normal” people hated them because of their differences.

The series wasn’t a run away success like other Marvel series were. Even a stint by fan-favorite creators Roy Thomas and Neal Adams couldn’t permanently increase sales. By 1970, all original stories had ceased publications in the series. The title eked out a miserable existence as a bi-monthly reprint book for five years, essentially becoming just a place holder on Marvel’s schedule,

Needless to say, by the time 1975 rolled around, X-Men was one of those titles begging for a creative revamp. The characters stayed in the public eye through guest appearances, but it was so long since new stories appeared in the title that it was a case of anything goes. And anything did go.

Len Wein and Dave Cockrum shook the concept to its very foundations in Giant-Size X-Men #1. Almost all the original X-Men were gone, replaced by an international crew of mutants. They argue, the fought with each other, they doubted their abilities, in other words, they acted and behaved like you or me.

The realism of these characters was only enhanced when Chris Claremont took over and took off when Claremont was joined by John Byrne. They fleshed out the already well developed characters and made the prejudice against them a plot point.

Under Byrne and Claremont, the X-Men began to represent the disenfranchised. If you were picked on because you were different, you could relate. If you were discriminated against, you could relate. If you were a victim of prejudice, you could relate.

The title that once limped along the path to inevitable cancellation became one of Marvel’s best sellers. It spawned spin-off comics, tie-in TV shows, and helped jump start the comic book movie craze.

Now, the flagship X-book is turning 500. If that wasn’t enough, the 500th issue features a change of local for the team, an altered status quo, and new creators in Greg Land and Terry Dodson as co-artists and Matt Fraction, who joins Ed Brubaker as co-writer.

The X-Men barely made it to 100 issues. But a complete overhaul by a great bunch of creators made the X-Men uncanny. Now, it seems that 500 more issues are a given.

Also out this week:

Immortal Iron Fist #17:

Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker created the perfect mix of laugh-out loud humor with all-out action. It was a tough tone to master, but they did. And they were helped by the moody artwork of David Aja. Their work on this title made it a comic book equivalent of a Grindhouse movie in the best sense of the word. I pity anybody who has to follow them.

Yes, Duane Swierczynski and Travel Forman, I pity you. There, I’ve said it. You have almost impossibly big shoes to fill.

I don’t know much about Swierczynski’s writing to make a judgment, but Forman’s art in the preview pages seem more manga-esque than moody. And that is definitely a step in the wrong direction for me. I am hoping these guys can pull it off, but it doesn’t look likely.

Duane Swierczynski (W), Travel Forman (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Liberty Comics: A CBLDF Benefit Book:

One of my favorite charities is the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. They are a major weapon in the war to defend the freedom of speech and the first line of defense in protecting the comics medium from unnecessary censorship. If you think the witch hunts of the 1950s can’t happen today, then the CBLDF has some case materials to show you.

But even if you don’t wholly believe in the cause, how can you pass up a book that features new stories set in The Boys and Criminal universes, and an all-star line up of creators such as Darwyn Cooke, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier and many more? I know I can’t!

Various(W), Various (A), Image Comics, $3.99.  One-Shot.

Number of the Beast #8:

The status if the Wildstorm imprint is a concern of many fans. The recent attempted revamp fizzled out due to certain creators not being able fulfill on their obligations (and, no, Grant Morrison, I am not naming any names). So the label is forced to undergo another status quo changing event much too soon to their last status quo changing event.

This miniseries is the spark that changes the status quo. And how it changes! It looks like the Wildstorm Universe is going to have a blast in this issue and it’s going to be atomic. If you’ve ever wanted to see your favorite Wildstorm characters wander around in a post-apocalyptic Earth, then this is your lucky day. 

Scott Beatty (W), Chris Sprouse (A), Wildstorm/DC Comics, $2.99.  Last Issue.

Hack/Slash Annual: Suicide Girls:

When Virgin announced that it would be partnering with porn star Jenna Jameson to create a new comic book, I thought, “Where do we go from here? What’s next? Will there be a team-up between a comic heroine and an Internet porn site?”

Apparently, the answer is yes.

This week, Devil’s Due teams up their horror franchise Hack/Slash with the soft-core, Internet porn site, Suicide Girls.   Apparently, a killer has returned from a visit to the electric chair and is hunting one of the website’s models. Cassie and Vlad will have to go through any lengths to stop him, even if it means that Cassie has to drop trou to become a Suicide Girl herself.

I’d ask again “What’s Next” but I’d be afraid of what the answer would be.

Tim Seeley (W/A), Devil’s Due Publishing, $5.50.  Annual.

Hoverboy:

At last! It’s just what America, nay, the world needs—the first Republican superhero! A hero that’s half-John Wayne, half-Ollie North, and half-George W. Bush! The type of take charge individual who shoots first and forgets to ask questions at all! A hombre macho enough to wear a bucket on his head and dares you to say anything about it.

Unlike other right leaning comics that claim to be satire after the fact, this is a one-shot that has its tongue firmly in its cheek from the get go. And with humor comic legend Ty Templeton at the helm, it should be so funny that even arch-Republicans will get a chuckle out of it. If your comic shop is your polling place, vote Hoverboy!

Ty Templeton & Marcus Moore (W), Steve Molnar (A), Metallic Rose Comics, $3.99. One-Shot.

Marvel Adventures Super-Heroes #1:

If your kids loved Iron Man and weren’t too scared by the Incredible Hulk, they might be interested in this new title from Marvel’s kid-friendly Marvel Adventures line. The stars of both of this year’s Marvel blockbuster movies star in this series. But they have to share the pages with Spider-Man, who hasn’t had a movie out in, like, a year. Slacker.

This first issue guest stars Hercules and features our trio forced into dog watching duty. What’s so bad about watching a dog or two? Well, if the dogs in question are Orthus and Cerberus, the dogs that guard the gates of the Underworld, it can be pretty bad. But it seems that there is a dog show involved in here somewhere, and that’s gotta be good.

Paul Tobin (W), Alvin Lee (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

War Heroes #1:

The solictitation leads us to believe that this series illustrates what Mark Millar had in store for Ultimates 3 if he stayed on the book. I know this is supposed to make me think, “Ooh! I liked Ultimates 1 and 2! If this is like a sequel to those series, then I am so in!” But all I can think is, “Why isn’t Millar doing Ultimates 3?”

Well, anyway, Millar teams with Ex Machina’s Tony Harris for this story, and that can’t be a bad thing. What’s the series about? The U.S. Government has stumbled on the sure fire way to improve enlistment in the military during a long and drawn out war. You join, you get a superpower. Who could resist that?

Mark Millar (W), Tony Harris (A), Image Comics, $2.99.  Six-Issue Miniseries.

The Straw Men #1:

Ward Hopkins doesn’t know much about his past, and believe it or not, that’s a good thing. His past is best left unknown. Ward doesn’t think so and that’s a problem. When he tries to unearth the secrets about his past, all he does is expose a dangerous nest of killers. These are the worst of the worst and must be stopped at any cost. There is only one man who can stop them—you guessed it, Ward Hopkins. He’d better remember quick.

Zenescope adds to its list of media adaptations by bringing this New York Times best-selling thriller to comics. An authority no less than Stephen King called The Straw Men “brilliantly written and scary as hell.” When Stephen King says something is scary, I’d listen.

J.C. Tyler (W), Brett Weldele (A), Zenescope Entertainment Inc., $2.99. Twelve-Issue Miniseries.

Gearz #1:

What if the Metal Men were women? That is the question this comic book answers.

Karen Miller is a rather unpopular high school girl who longs for friendship. She wants to have a group of girl friends who are there to protect her, be her constant companions, and be someone she can hang around Westville with. The good news is that is exactly what she gets. Unfortunately, these friends are in the form of robotic bodyguards who are designed to protect and serve—killing if it becomes necessary. Luckily, they like Karen.

Who doesn’t like Karen are high ranking officials of the U.S. Government. They designed Karen’s new friends, spending a lot of money in the process. They will do what ever it takes to get these robots back and are willing to destroy anything that stands in their way. Guess where Karen Miller is standing?

Dan Rafter (W), Thiago Silva (A), Blue Water Productions, $3.99. Ongoing Series.

The X-Files Special #0:

The last time The X-Files graced comic book pages, Bill Clinton was president, the comics investment boom was in full swing, and the license was held by a baseball card company that decided to publish comics, Topps.

That original series lasted 41 issues, helped by the rampant cult popularity of the TV show it was based on.

Now, Topps Comics has been defunct for almost 10 years, the TV show has been off for almost seven, and we almost had the possibility of a different President Clinton. But The X-Files is coming back to movie theaters in the form of a summer blockbuster. Why shouldn’t it return to comics as well? This special from Wildstorm could be the start of more comic appearances by Mulder and Scully.  

Frank Spotnitz (W), Brian Denham (A), Wildstorm/DC Comics, $2.99.  One-Shot.

###

William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also writes periodic comic reviews for PopMatters, is a frequent contributor to Film Buff Online and writes title descriptions for Human Computing’s Comicbase collection management software. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

 

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