The X-Men Beat a Graceful Retreat From Marvel Unlimited

We’ll struggle on without them for four years

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So the X-Men, perennial underdogs of the Marvel lineup, breathed their last – temporarily – in March of 1970. Though the title continued for another 26 issues, those books were filled with reprints. Things turned around at #94, when a fella named Chris Claremont was allowed to start telling new X-Men stories. Let’s take a peek at where Mr. Thomas and the rest of the Bullpen left the mutants before sticking them on ice.

Jean Grey's psychic mojo at work

Uncanny X-Men #66

Date: March 10, 1970
Read on MU

Creative Team:
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Sal Buscema

Story:

“The Mutants and the Monster”

So, quick up-to-speed bringing: The X-Men hit a pretty good stride at the end of 1969. An epic Savage Land story saw them fighting Magneto and Sauron. After that, they kicked off 1970 by meeting Sunfire in a surprisingly non-racist introduction. And then last month … the Z’Nox happened. Professor Xavier reappeared after a two-year fake death and brought with him a warning about a dire alien threat. The team fought the Z’Nox off, powers were used in improbable ways, and it all wrapped up with credulity-straining quickness.

This month the X-Men are back in the tender care of Roy Thomas, and their chief concern is that Professor X is still comatose after the tremendous strain of psychically channeling all the world’s positive thoughts to beat the aliens last month. Well, that’s what most of the team is worried about. Bobby only cares about the way that his babe Lorna Dane seems to make a better romantic fit with Alex “Havok” Summers.

Bobby Drake, green-eyed buzzkillBobby being a gump burns up precious pages, as do two redundant attempts to make contact with the Professor. Hank tries a Pym-tech brain-a-matron and Jean uses mutant psychic powers; both efforts just reveal a strange fixation with the Incredible Hulk. The team zips away to Las Vegas, last known stomping grounds of the Hulk. Lorna and Havok stay behind, as does Bobby. I guess he’s just gonna glare at them all day.

On the Strip, the mutants throw down with the Hulk. First Angel and Beast literally bounce off of him, then Cyclops deploys his eyebeams to little effect. It falls to Jean Grey to shut the Hulk down psychically. She tries to call this a team effort, but she totally just saved everybody’s bacon.

Psychically sending the Hulk to sleepy-land automatically reverts him to Bruce Banner. That’s the sort of handy info that should be hung onto. Does Major Talbot, rolling up with a box of army men, care? He does not! All he wants to do is take Dr. Banner into custody and possibly arrest some mutants.

Bruce wakes up for long enough to mention the tremendously convenient fact that he built a gamma ray device for treating mental exhaustion based on Professor Xavier’s notes. But then the threat of Talbot’s troops brings the Hulk right back out. He bounces off after fulfilling his contractual obligation to Smash a tank.

The X-Men catch up with him somewhere in the desert. He just happens to make his stand on top of Bruce Banner’s secret lab. When Beast knocks him off a cliff and starts a landslide, the lab is exposed and Angel swoops in to grab the gadget in the nick of time. The team departs, noting explicitly that Bruce Banner obviously still exercises some control over the Hulk’s actions.

Back in Westchester, zapping Xavier with Banner’s gizmo does the ticket. He’ll be right as rain with a little bed rest, and he’s eager to get back to the business of saving the world. As noted in the intro above, though, it’ll take the team five long years to get back to it.

Professor Xavier cured via gamma radiation. That'll work!

Discuss!

One of the things that strikes me about these 1970 crossovers is that there’s great consistency in the way characters are portrayed. It does help that they’re almost always in the hands of the same writer – Roy Thomas is the regular author on the Incredible Hulk at this time.

I also like the fact – which did not pass unremarked in the plot summary – that Jean Grey saves the day and knocks out the Hulk. That’s definitely a line to include on your heroing resume at this point in the Marvel universe.

Bobby Drake is the grand prize yutz of this story, effectively benching himself because he’s jealous. Of course, he does have good reason to be. Lorna and Havok make an excellent couple, even in the few appearances together they’ve had so far. Lorna and Bobby, in contrast, is a match without chemistry. (Add your own comments here based on the 2016 status quo regarding Bobby’s sexual orientation.)

This comic is pencilled by Sal Buscema. I don’t think he has a regular berth in the Bullpen at this point; he bounces around with commendable skill. Here he does an excellent job of pinch-hitting for Neal Adams. Though nobody can draw faces with quite the same level of tortured pathos as Mr. Adams, Mr. Buscema stays very close to the established Adams models of the characters. His op art Steranko-style psychic panels – both reproduced in this article – are little desserts on top of a solidly-drawn issue.

So, this is the X-Men’s last hurrah. The initial temptation is to say that it’s a shame to lose the book with all the hits it’s presented in the past year – the Savage Land trip, the introduction of Havok and Sunfire, some ripping good Sentinel fights, etc. I think there are two things that get overlooked, though: One is that the high points are far, far, far above the title’s average quality. The other is that this might be the Bullpen’s most soap operatic title, in an entirely bad way. Every story drags on at a time when the rest of the line-up is running one or two-issue stories. It takes a truly atrocious amount of recapping and exposition to bring new readers up to speed every month.

The Marvel line-up was busy imploding in 1970. X-Men was just one of many titles killed around this time; others included Nick Fury, Dr. Strange, and the Silver Surfer. The Bullpen was feeling a significant manpower shortage with the departure of Jack Kirby. The one artist who might have a personal stake in fresh X-Men stories, Neal Adams, was still working both sides of the street and had plenty of DC books to draw.

It’s a testament to the good work Mr. Adams and Mr. Thomas did do in that last year on the title that news of the X-Men’s cancellation provoked a modest amount of fan backlash. That tick of interest was enough to get the title placed on reprint-stuffed life support for the next 26 erratically-scheduled issues. This – combined with regular guest spots in Marvel’s ongoing titles – prepared the ground for greatness when Chris Claremont took over in 1975.

Who Will Love X-Men #66?

I think this issue has broad appeal. It’s a cracking good story on its own and there’s plenty of history to consider as well. Add in the fact that this is the last X-Men watering hole on the early side of a considerable drought, and you definitely have a reason to stop and drink deeply. A must-read for X-fans and a worthy investment of time for anybody who wants to see what Marvel was like (warts and all) at the end of the Silver Age.


Images snipped out of Marvel Unlimited by yours truly.

Author: CMMIV

Reader of comic books. Semi-professional writer.