Monday, October 22, 2012

Second Time's The Charm

My Very First Issue of:

X-Men #72

Though this issue's story actually first appeared over 50 issues earlier:

This reprint of X-Men #21 occurred during the time when the book had ceased publication of new stories and was republishing older stories bimonthly during the early 1970s. It was a strange decision, to cancel the book and then begin to republish stories that apparently hadn't caught on with buyers the first time around. For some reason, Marvel felt it was important to stick with the X-Men as a viable sales concept. And it seemed recycling the issues was the only way left to do that, in the hopes that somehow, the group would catch on with newer readers.

Marvel had already tried practically everything else to increase readership, to no avail: Crossovers with other titles. New costumes. High-profile guest-stars. Killing off Professor Xavier. Bringing back Professor Xavier. Assigning new artists. Splitting up the team. Tinkering with the masthead:

So I can't tell you what made me pick up this particular issue, since X-Men wasn't even on my radar during all of that. Maybe I was one of those "new readers" who just happened to come across the title at the right time. Though, ironically, there was no "right time" for this particular team, since, unknown to me, these X-Men had already evolved considerably past the strictly-trained and deferring pupils of Charles Xavier. But since I'd later read the back issues of most of the titles I'd come to collect, it was a minor point.

The book at the time was being written by Roy Thomas, who peppered almost every panel with dialog, dialog, dialog. Have a look at the sheer amount of chatting in just these few panels:

I'm all for giving every character their development time, but ye gods. Professor X is wearing a special helmet to protect him from the villain Lucifer's mental attacks--but I really think he slapped it on to filter out the incessant chatting of these don't-know-when-to-shut-up students.

Anyway, the teaser for the story, as you can see by the added caption on the cover of the reprinted issue, is "Dominus"--a giant machine that's moved from planet to planet by its alien creators in order to enslave whole populations. Though as you can see, artist Jay Gavin is no Jack Kirby when it comes to jaw-dropping machine design and detail:

The story tells us that Dominus is so complex that only a specially-designed team of robots can operate it--but honestly, I've seen Irwin Allen designs that are more impressive.

Of all the X-Men, only Cyclops and Marvel Girl really appealed to me. The Angel's ability is to fly--and fly--and, well, just fly. The Beast is a glorified acrobat, with abilities we've seen in any tumbler. The Iceman may be underused on this team, but Marvel and I both seem to have the same impression of his power. But while Marvel Girl is no Cyclops, she's just so damn fascinating in that costume and that mask. If she were a villainess, she'd probably be more aggressive with her powers and less hindered by the limitations Marvel imposes on its women super-heroes. As it is, Marvel Girl's telekinesis is being limited to:

Levitating herself:

Using an opponent's clothing against them:

Activating alien switches that, conveniently, function just like our own machinery:

And, because it always works since most villains don't fight naked, using an opponent's clothing against them:

Yet when a less stealthy approach is called for, where her abilities really need to be counted on in a pinch, Marvel Girl isn't defeated by a villain, but by weakness:

The really interesting part of this story, however, is at the point where Angel disobeys instructions from Professor X (not fully believing the Professor issued them) and attempts to damage Dominus--forcing Cyclops to actually fire on him. It's the first crack in the armor we've seen in Xavier's little foot soldiers, and in the midst of battle it's an excellent change of pace.

Eventually, though, explanations are made, and the team makes headway by destroying the robots that Lucifer had set against them. Unfortunately, it's already been made clear--by Lucifer himself--that the robots were indispensable to the operation of Dominus. So the fact that Lucifer sent them into battle against the X-Men is bad enough. But when that results in their destruction, it brings an almost instant inquiry from his alien brethren.

Lucifer's pleas fell on deaf ears, I'm afraid. Though I wasn't focusing on the ears so much as the fact that chin beards seem to be the fashion trend for Lucifer's race. I'd probably argue that it's more important to know how to operate the machinery you build to conquer worlds than it is to be well-groomed.

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