Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Because I was bored and avoiding work

One of the things I like to do when avoiding work is re-read the early Lee/Kirby original five X-Men issues. I mean, they're kind of gloriously silly, but there's something oddly appealing about them.

I always find myself returning to being a huge Scott/Jean 'shipper reading them. And it always works the same way. I always start rolling my eyes by the first melodramatic "Oh Scott/Jean I wish you'd feel the same way about me that I feel about you!" and then by issue fifteen or so, I'm just rooting for those two idiots to get a clue.

Especially Jean, who's TELEPATHIC.

It's like behind all the overblown dialogue, there's something genuinely teenagery in there and it gets me EVERY time.

I always like to appreciate how Xavier is an incredible asshole who likes to rewrite his backstory every few issues, fake injury/impairment/death even more often, and just set up scenarios that he could fix in a second just to send his kids into combat against opponents who wildly outmatch them.

I mean, take the first Avengers/X-Men crossover in the ninth issue. Granted, HE knows that no one can fight Lucifer (alien, not fallen angel) because the criminal's life force is tied to a giant bomb, so he has the kids go off and delay the Avengers so they can't come in and kick his ass. He of course a) does not tell the kids his reasoning, so that they could EXPLAIN to the Avengers why they can't fight Lucifer yet, b) does not telepathically contact ANY of the Avengers until the fight is well underway, and c) kind of ignores the fact that the Avengers really don't tend to KILL their opponents anyway.

I'm just saying, if I were Captain America and found out that this knock down fight I've been having with a bunch of TEENAGERS could have been avoided, I'd hold a grudge.

Other things I've noticed this time around: Scott faints. A lot. It's actually pretty entertaining. Usually it's the psychic girl who swoons in this kind of thing. Jean has her moments, but generally gets to stay on her feet. It is funny that the battle plans seem to take it into account though, Hank usually doesn't even blink before scooping up his field leader.

Hank has nothing to complain about with his original power set. Granted, he's not really uber-powered or anything, but he can do most of what Captain America can. He's got awesome strength/dexterity/intelligence, looks normal (if slightly big hands/feet, and well, you know what they say about those) and doesn't have to risk killing people.

Jean, from her first appearance, interacts with Xavier more as a social equal than any of the boys. (A friend of mine actually pointed this out to me first, but it really is true.) It's kind of interesting. Especially considering later on where she ends up being the only one who knows he's faking his death. I'm not sure whether I think it's more that Xavier prioritizes psychic ability over any other mutant power or his creepy fondness for Jean, or a bit of both. It's interesting that the set-up from day one seems to be Scott as military leader (since he pretty much is even before Xavier tells him he is. Which makes his shock when that happens very endearingly cute) and Jean as Xavier's spiritual successor.

Why does Warren keep his wings strapped down at Xavier's school? (Also from my friend, which is a very good question!)

Bobby is a fucking sociopath. Seriously. I could make a post of all of the crazy shit Bobby pulls throughout the early issues, just called "What the fuck, Iceman?" Because, holy crap. I'd remembered his worse stuff started when Alex and Lorna joined, but honestly, he pulls just as much assholish stuff before that. To his own teammates! And they LET him!

Xavier SUCKS at recruiting people. I mean, a good portion of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants are people he TRIES to recruit and fails utterly in such a way that they, sometimes understandably, lash out. It says something that the ONLY new mutants recruited during the entire run were Alex and Lorna, and they were recruited while Xavier was faking his death.

Scott's clothes are even worse than I remember. Purple. Plaid. Suit. And inexplicably, Jean is not scared off by this. Granted, her costume design sense is pretty bad, but her regular clothes at least are decent. His are...not. And it can't be explained entirely by color-blindness, because when would even a REGULAR plaid suit be appropriate?

The danger room is basically just a giant room of death traps. Maces popping out of walls, pits of spikes, giant weights, MISSILES! It's insane. He trains his students with DEATH TRAPS. It's like Saw as run by a telepath with weird eyebrows.

Except for Jean. The others get like pits of spikes and lasers, she gets telekinetic needlepoint. If I were Jean, I'd be pissed.


  • At January 04, 2010 4:46 AM, Blogger James Ashelford said…

    I don't know, I think Jean's just doing the needlepoint, watching the boys running away from missiles and wondering: "Equality or survival? Equality or survival?"

    It'd take me a moment, I'll tell you that.

  • At January 04, 2010 4:54 AM, Blogger Menshevik said…

    A few random thoughts:

    One of the things I dig about Stan Lee's writing in the early issues of the classic 1960s series is how he at first still is finding his legs, as it were, exploring his characters through the course of a few stories and to some extent seeing what will stick and what won't. You get that with a lot of characters (e.g. Spider-Man in his first appearances is a scientific genius on a level with Reed Richards et al., mixing up his web-formula, constructing webshooters and Spider-tracers at the drop of a hat and whipping up a (temporary) cure for the Lizard in a matter of hours while still a high-school student, later on he really was just of somewhat above-average intelligence), but with some of the X-Men it was most pronounced:

    Xavier was so much younger at the beginning, in X-Men #1 he says his parents worked on the first atom bomb project when he was born, which would have put him in his early twenties in 1963. (At that time, his secret yearning after Jean was not quite as creepy as it became when some writers decided to revive it some 30 years after Stan Lee dropped it.) But soon he started to age before the readers' eyes, first with the revision of his origin after the introduction of the Juggernaut, when he became a veteran of the Korean War (still, that would only have meant that he was a little over 30 during the remainder of the original run). And later still (in the 1980s) he was shown as belonging to the same age group as Holocaust survivors Magneto and Gabrielle Haller and is now one of the "elder statesmen" of the Marvel Universe...

    Lee also took time to find Hank's proper voice, in X-Men #1 he still comes over as a boorish lout, it took a while for him to become the humorous intellectual with a taste for sesquipedalian words that we know and love.

    In X-Men #1, Jean not only converses as a near-equal to Charles Xavier, but actually from a position of slight superiority to her teammates. Unfortunately she was watered down a lot in subsequent issues, becoming rather a typical meek 1960s Marvel superheroine despite the cliché about fiery red-haired women. Somehow there was something about women and superpowers not mixing well for Stan, which may explain that even though he wrote successful series with female leads (e.g. Millie the Model), he did not launch a successful solo superheroine title in the 1960s.

    Re. Bobby: As the youngest, he was also the team clown and played a role not unlike the Human Torch's in the Fantastic Four. And when you think about it, Johnny also was a bit of a sociopath.

  • At January 04, 2010 5:49 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I'm not sure I agree that Jean was EVER written as meek. Occasionally she'd end up doing the "girl" type thing (such as playing nurse or cooking) but she pretty much got to keep the "superior" role at least to the end of the original five run.

    (The faked death, for example, stretched out over a good thirty issues or so, and her role in being the only one who he could trust with it was revealed toward the end of the run. I always thought they forgave her a bit too easy for that. :-P)

    For all that Lee sometimes resorted to the occasional sexist cliche, Jean never quite suffered the same way as Sue or Jan. In fact, as the sixties heroines go, I'd place her right behind Sharon Carter in terms of awesomeness. (Sharon gets ahead a bit because, well, grown-up superspy.)

    Possibly an additional help to that was, of all of them, only she, Scott and Bobby had powers that could remotely be considered offensive.

    I do agree that a lot of Xavier's behavior is less creepy when you consider the age thing. But then even if he were in his early to mid twenties while expressing love for Jean, she WAS still his student. So still creepy.

    And there's no excused for all the faked deaths/impairments. :-)

    (It's also funny how the ages migrate. For example, Bobby has his 18th birthday during the original run, but when Storm/Logan/et al join, he sulkily states that he's not old enough to drink. Since this was 1974, he inched back a year or so. And Alex Summers graduated COLLEGE in his intro, but after that his older brother gives his age as 19. Which means that Alex is either a genius or "college" may have been a stretch.

    I like the inconsistencies though. When you can string up a good explanation for them, it adds to the characterization. Such as Hank playing jock to impress the new girl...or increasing the big words to show off later. (Hank Pym actually kind of calls him on that in the first team-up/fight as I recall.)

    Either way though, Xavier's still creepy.

  • At January 04, 2010 12:05 PM, Blogger Sleestak said…

    Jean being telepathic knew exactly what was going on with her and Scott. She was just waiting for him to man up. Plus, there is probably a whole 'Lost Years' series about Jean's unknown boyfriends waiting to be told.

  • At January 04, 2010 12:57 PM, Blogger Menshevik said…

    Well, it is a matter of perception, and things looked a bit different to me when I read those stories back in the 1970s (in German translation, which was very much like reading them in the US in the 1960s). Maybe Jean did not appear that meek compared to the other X-Men, but then the X-Men were the meekest of Marvel's team. And to readers at the time her role in Xavier's faked death was a piece of information, in effect a retcon that came a little bit too late - shortly before the cancellation of the title. (Also a lot of her greater weight towards the end of the original series was due to Roy Thomas).

    Speaking personally, I found Jean rather bland at the time - I found Wanda more interesting in a a melodramatic way and Jan was more fun (Stan Lee wrote her a bit like the heroine of a 1930/40s screwball comedy). But my favourite Marvel heroine at the time was the Black Widow, who (like Sharon Carter incidentally) did not have superpowers.

    Speaking of powers, I don't really see those of the others as non-offensive. Warren for instance essentially had the same powers as Hawkman, Hank in your words could do most of what Captain America, and the powers of the Mimic, Havok and Polaris of course can be used offensively. I think the problem was that Hank, Bobby and Warren did not make more of their potential in the 1960s...

    Re. Xavier's yearning after Jean: Well, the thing was that in the 1960s Charles did not express it at all, we only learned about it by becoming privy to his innermost thoughts - he kept it to himself and by all appearances overcame these feelings without coming into danger of doing anything unethical. Given that apparently every male in the original series at some point felt attracted to Jean (some obviously more strongly than others), it probably would have been unusual if he hadn't felt something like that. ;-)

    Another instance of an X-Men suddenly growing younger was Jubilee, who seemed in the 14-15 bracket when Chris Claremont introduced her and abruptly was changed to a 13-year-old by Lobdell (shortly before he transferred her to Generation X).

  • At January 04, 2010 2:05 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I wasn't counting Havok and Polaris in my "offensive powers" thing as they joined later. There were a good fifty-some issues before that, after all. (They DEFINITELY have increased firepower).

    But while Angel and Hank may have powers of Hawkman and Captain America, that doesn't necessarily make them offensive powers. Hawkman needed a mace, after all. And Cap, well, granted, he CAN punch things, but Cap's capability as a hero is more about his mind/spirit and the WAY he uses his powers. And the villains he faces tend to be different and less of the mutant-style superpowered types themselves.

    Difference being Scott, Bobby and Jean (and Alex and Lorna) have powers that are in and of themselves weapons.

    We'll have to agree to disagree on Jean. :-) Looking back, I definitely find Jean the (second) most tolerable sixties female. Jan was too shallow, and Natasha was too busy with the amnesia and side-shifting to work for me. (To be fair, both women DID improve greatly since, but I don't find myself impressed with either of their initial appearances.)

    Moreover, Ragnell pointed out an interesting comparison between Jean, Jan and Sue, which is that of the three superpowered women, Jean was the only one whose powers didn't make her literally disappear.

    And some of the "weaker" parts of her/the team can be broiled down to the fact that they were, at the time, teenagers. I mean, if you think about the Marvel Universe at the time, the X-Men weren't comparable to the Justice League, they were pretty much the Teen Titans. This only shifted after Krakoa, and that's because, except for Colossus, all of the new members were older than the original five.

    (I've always liked however that whenever they'd come up against the old team/facsimiles of the old team, the new team would get their asses kicked. Having more experience solo, and with generally better powers, is not the same as having training and experience in team tactics.)


    And dude, no matter how you spin it, Xavier's attraction to Jean is pretty creepy. Most younger teachers attracted to students at least SHOW some shame about it.

    Contrast to Hal Jordan continually reminding himself that Supergirl was only 17. Xavier might not have acted on his attraction, but he didn't really acknowledge that yes, it's wrong.

    Also, it gave those times when he'd maneuver Scott into position to confess his feelings a really really creepy undertone.

  • At January 04, 2010 4:11 PM, Blogger SallyP said…

    Xavier IS creepy. Always was, and probably always will be. It's part of his...*ahem*...charm, if you will.

    Because in addition to being telepathic, he was and is one HELL of a manipulator. Especially since he always goes out of his way to babble about how telepaths should NOT "influence" people, and then goes right ahead and does it anyway.

    J'onn on the other hand, practically always apologized when he read your mind.

  • At January 04, 2010 5:10 PM, Blogger Menshevik said…

    To use a real-world analogy, I would not say that e.g. an airplane is something that could not remotely be considered an offensive weapon because the actual damage would be done by the bombs, guns or other weapons installed in it. When I look at superhero powers, what I generally find more important is versatility vs. multi-purpose. And here to me it seems Scott and Havok are more limited, because they can't often use their powers in ways that are not offensive or weapon-like, while e.g. it is perfectly possible to use powers like super-intelligence, super-strength, telepathy, telekinesis or magnetism for defensive and constructive (therapeutic in the case of telepathy) purposes as well as for offensive and destructive ones.

    A word about the Wasp: Another thing I found fascinating about her is that she started as a knock-off and indeed protegee of an established hero - Ant Man - and in effect proceeded to take his niche from him. She became better at being Marvel's minuscule hero, and ever since Hank Pym was in trouble (and suffering from a recurring inferiority complex) because when he became Giant-Man/Goliath he still was weaker than Thor, the Hulk and Hercules, and as the Avengers leading scientist he was not quite in Reed Richards' and Tony Stark's league.

    Otherwise, we'll have to agree that tastes differ. Re. Ragnell's comparison: And that is why one possibly could have considered Jean special among Marvel's superpowered heroines for less than two years, i. e. from her introduction in X-Men #1 to the Scarlet Witch joining the Avengers (if we ignore that even a less than half a year after Jean's debut Sue Storm first discovered that she could use her powers in ways in which she herself stayed visible). ;-) And after that all new superpowered heroines of that decade stayed visible.

    When I talked of the X-Men as meek, I was also comparing them to people in their own age-group. The X-Men were a lot more docile than some of the more "rebellious" youngsters you got in other books (think of Johnny Storm, Spider-Man and Rick Jones, possibly also Hawkeye (how old was he supposed to be then?). Part of the problem again is that some ages were again changed later - for instance, Quicksilver, who shared the Avengers' loose cannon spot with Hawkeye, at that time was still written as being in the same age-group as the X-Men and the Human Torch.

    Re. Xavier's attraction to Jean: At the time it happened, the problem was not so much the age factor (it was only about five years difference as far as I can see) as the fact that Xavier was Jean's teacher. Then the matter was dropped like a hot potato (IIRC it was only shown in one or two issues of the original run), so Charles did not really get a chance to be shown feeling ashamed. But the real creepyness was the result of a heap of later alterations, especially to Charles Xavier's age and a 1980s retcon, when it was revealed that far from meeting Jean for the first time in X-Men #1, he had known and treated her since she was ten years old!

    I'll leave it at that.

  • At January 04, 2010 5:34 PM, Blogger kalinara said…


    Meekness is in the eye of the beholder, but I think my definition of "offensive" is clear. The one whose powers are THEMSELVES weapons have offensive powers, by my standards.

    As for Xavier, you're missing my point. It's not the age difference that makes it creepy. It's the power dynamic. Even if he's 25, she's 16. Underage and HIS STUDENT.

    Hell, there's one panel (which I'm posting later, to mock Scott's horrible suit) where Xavier goes on about how he loves her "if only" he wasn't leader of the X-Men or in the wheelchair.

    Now if instead he said "if only she were a little older and I wasn't her teacher" in that same bit of dialogue, then I'd be okay with it. That's all it needed.

    Granted, it's probably Stan Lee's writing that's the problem, but the writing defines the character. As written, the character's love for Jean Grey (which granted, he got over and good for him) is creepy.

  • At January 04, 2010 5:41 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I'll add that in terms of "meekness", we should acknowledge the difference in environment.

    Johnny Storm is the "kid" of a "family" of superheroes. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are ex-villains.

    In contrast, the X-Men were, even at the time, a thinly veiled paramilitary group, who spent most of their day training with deathtraps in a very clear hierarchy-type system. And all of them had very specific reasons to be grateful to Xavier for saving them from abusive criminals, catatonia, mobs and the like.

    I'm not saying it's particularly healthy. But it's always been an interesting aspect to the X-Men how the original five were almost never really permitted to act like the kids they were.

  • At January 04, 2010 7:36 PM, Blogger Menshevik said…

    By your definition I'd say: A swan can break a person's arm by a beat of its wing, Warren could do that as well, ergo his wings constitute an offensive power. (That he comparatively rarely uses his wings as weapons is his choice).

    Re. Xavier/Jean: Well, you stressed that Hal Jordan kept thinking of Supergirl being 17, not of his being her teacher, so you made your point unclear. We also seem to disagree quite a bit about the ages, based on what Xavier said in X-Men #1 about his mutation being due to his parents working on the American A-bomb project he could not have been born before 1942, so he would have been at the most 21 or 22 at the time the panel you referenced was published (#3, cover-dated January 1964). And by my estimation Jean was at least 17 when she joined the team, so he would not have had to wait that long for her to become of age. As we both agree, it's the power dynamic that is the problem.

    We also seem to read the panel in question differently. What Xavier thinks is this: "'Don't worry!' As though I could help worrying about the one I love. But I can never tell her! I have no right! Not while I'm the leader of the X-Men, and confined to this wheelchair!"

    Now the way I read it, "leader of the X-Men" is here used as a general description of his relationship to Jean - being her teacher is only one aspect of it, being her commander, the guy who sends her out to risk her life on his missions is just as important (and fraught with power dynamic perils as well - in the military they frown on sexual relations between officers and their subordinates, I believe). And that he chooses to think of himself as "leader of the X-Men" and not "her teacher" is totally unsurprising as he is just sending Jean and the others out on a mission to look for a possibly dangerous mutant.

    (Here one should also perhaps not forget the space aspect. The panel is crammed full with thought bubbles and speech balloons, they even cut off the top of Bobby's head. Maybe otherwise Xavier would also have brought in the teacher aspect, although perhaps Stan Lee thought of that as obvious - after all in the preceding panel Jean said: "Don't worry, Sir! Remember how well you've trained us!").

    I am also beginning to wonder about the the significance of Xavier thinking that he must "never" tell Jean while he is in his wheelchair? Was Stan Lee implying that Xavier's at that point unspecified injury had left him incapable of having sex? (It was only later established that he was not paralysed from the waist down but had his legs crushed by Lucifer, IIRC). That would at any rate provide a further explanation why he gave up so soon and (apparently) completely on his infatuation...

    Re. the environment: Later young X-Men and New Mutants reacted less meekly to Xavier's authoritarian tendencies. And as written by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas in the 1960s, Jean actually had no reason to be grateful to Xavier - the catatonia thing was only added much later, after the Dark Phoenix Saga in fact.

  • At January 04, 2010 9:08 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Okay, honestly Menshevik, you're starting to sound a little creepy yourself.

    I've said many times it's the role of teacher, not age, that makes it creepy. If they were the same age and he were her teacher, I'd probably say that.

    And I'll say it now: you might be able to make the case for Hank's super-strength being an offensive power, but Warren's power (at least as it was in the original five) will NEVER be offensive by my criteria.

    And you pretty much lost that debate when you bring swans into it. :-) Now if Warren had a BEAK. I'd consider it.

    As for "meekness", I think you're completely ignoring my actual point, but I'm finding the discussion too tedious to argue with you. We'll leave it with: different kids, different backstories, different environments. Prior to catatonia, you can explain it as Jean being really grateful for him teaching her to use her powers or providing sanctuary where she wouldn't be chased by mobs like the guys. Whatever. :-)

    (It did occur to me that my last response was a bit too harsh, so I changed it now that I've replenished my blood sugar. :-))

  • At January 05, 2010 11:05 AM, Blogger Menshevik said…

    Sorry you feel that way and in particular that you found the discussion tedious. I on the other hand found it quite stimulating and thought-provoking; it got me to reconsider a lot of things about the original five X-Men, to look at some familiar facts afresh and from different angles, to reassess and to some extent re(de)fine my positions on a number of subjects, not all of which I could begin to mention in my posts. (To briefly touch on one of them, I now realize that one important reason why I found Jean so uninteresting pre-Phoenix was how ill-defined her character was - unique among the X-Men, maybe even among Marvel's 1960s and 1970s heroes, Jean had no biography before she became a costumed vigilante and before Bizarre Adventures #27 no-one offered a discernible or plausible reason why she joined the X-Men in the first place). But you certainly made me realize just how insane and creepy the original setup was. (I guess Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch never got enough credit for saying "thanks, but no thanks" to the X-Men's request to join them). So let me close by thanking you for continuing that discussion so long and saying I'm sorry that this in the end took it past the point of your enjoyment in it.

  • At January 05, 2010 4:27 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    :-) Honestly, it's not your fault. Papers make me cranky. I did enjoy the discussion for the most part. :-)

  • At January 10, 2010 7:11 PM, Blogger notintheface said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At January 10, 2010 7:13 PM, Blogger notintheface said…

    "I'm just rooting for those two idiots to get a clue.

    Especially Jean, who's TELEPATHIC."

    It's kind of like in Superman: World of New Krypton, where the writers sometimes forget EVERYONE ON THE PLANET HAS SUPER-HEARING.

    Supes: "How did you know that when I only told Zod unless Zod told you?"

    Labor Guild Guy: "Hellooo, I've got SUPER-HEARING, genius!"

  • At August 21, 2011 12:36 PM, Anonymous Pierce said…

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