Tuesday

OMU: X-Men -- Year Two

After getting off to a somewhat shaky start, the X-Men soon found their stock decreasing in the Marvel Universe as sales remained tepid. After the eleventh issue, Jack Kirby turned the penciling chores over to others. He would continue to do rough page breakdowns for a further six issues before abandoning the book altogether. His replacement, Werner Roth, was a dependable, experienced illustrator, though his style was less than exciting. It was not long after that Stan Lee gave up writing the scripts as well, turning it over to his protégé, Roy Thomas. Roy had a lot of big ideas for improving the book, all of which were nixed by Stan, who remained as editor. Therefore, the work that Roy turned in was, perhaps understandably, rather lackluster. In fact, many of the Thomas / Roth issues are simply bad. Nevertheless, they managed to introduce some enduring concepts during the next twelve months experienced by the characters: Ka-Zar and the Savage Land, the giant mutant-hunting robots called the Sentinels, the Juggernaut, and the Banshee. Unfortunately, the downward slide would continue.

Note: The following timeline depicts the Original Marvel Universe (anchored to November 1961 as the first appearance of the Fantastic Four and proceeding forward from there. See previous posts for a detailed explanation of my rationale.) Some information presented on the timeline is speculative and some is based on historical accounts. See the Notes section at the end for clarifications.


Here, then, is the third installment of… The True History of the X-Men!


January 1963 – The X-Men battle the Blob again when Magneto attempts to recruit him for the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. The Blob rejects both groups and returns to the carnival. Mastermind then tries to recruit Unus the Untouchable, but the force-field projecting mutant is defeated by the Beast’s technical wizardry. Meanwhile, Professor X travels to the Balkans and confronts Lucifer once again. The X-Men follow him to Europe, where they have a run-in with the Avengers. Lucifer’s plans are then foiled as the two teams join forces.

February 1963 – Bobby Drake celebrates his 15th birthday.

March 1963 – The X-Men attend Sue Storm’s engagement party. Later, investigating mysterious sightings in Antarctica, the X-Men discover the prehistoric Savage Land and meet Ka-Zar and his sabre-tooth tiger, Zabu.

April 1963 – The enigmatic alien called the Stranger comes to Earth and Magneto attempts to recruit him into the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Irritated by Mastermind’s attempt to intimidate him with mentally-projected hallucinations, the Stranger turns the mutant illusionist to stone. Suddenly, the X-Men show up and a fight breaks out. However, the Stranger teleports away, taking Magneto and the Toad with him. Fed up with Magneto, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch tell the X-Men that they’ve decided to leave the group and return to Europe. As soon as the X-Men track down the Stranger, he kidnaps Magneto and the Toad and, transforming into energy, leaves Earth again. Professor X decides to take the petrified Mastermind back to his lab to see if anything can be done to help him. Soon after, Jean Grey celebrates her 16th birthday.

May 1963 – Cain Marko, magically transformed into the Juggernaut, attacks the X-Men in Charles Xavier’s mansion, where Marko’s father died twenty years earlier. With the help of the Human Torch, the X-Men defeat the Juggernaut, but only after he has smashed up much of the house. Xavier puts his comatose stepbrother in a room in the basement until he can figure out a way to make him less dangerous.

June 1963 – Once the X-Men have recovered from their injuries, Professor X decides to send his students on vacation. But first, they all attend the chaotic wedding of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl at the Baxter Building in Manhattan. Later that night, Professor Xavier debates Dr. Bolivar Trask on network television. Trask unveils his mutant-hunting robots, the Sentinels. The X-Men rush to the studio amid an outbreak of anti-mutant hysteria. Upon infiltrating the Sentinels’ underground headquarters, the X-Men are taken prisoner. They escape, but it is Dr. Trask’s self-sacrifice which destroys the Sentinels. Upon returning home the next morning, the X-Men are captured by Magneto, recently returned to Earth, but he is again defeated and re-imprisoned by the Stranger.

July 1963 – The X-Men’s next attempt at going on vacation is interrupted when they meet Calvin Rankin, a power-duplicating mutate who calls himself the Mimic. Rankin’s attempt to lure the X-­Men into a trap leaves him temporarily stripped of his powers and memory.

August 1963 – When Unus the Untouchable and the Blob commit a series of crimes dressed in X-Men uniforms, the X-Men battle them in the streets of Manhattan. Upon learning that the criminals were pawns of the alien Lucifer, the X-Men track him to his hideout within a mesa in the New Mexico desert and foil his plan for world conquest. Weeks later, the X-Men make yet another attempt at going on vacation, only to be taken prisoner by Count Nefaria and his costumed henchmen: the Unicorn, Plantman, the Scarecrow, the Porcupine, and the Eel. The battle takes place in Washington, DC. After the villains are defeated, the X-Men attend the famous rally at the Lincoln Memorial and hear Martin Luther King deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech.

September 1963 – Marvel Girl’s parents decide to transfer her to a private school in New York City for the new school year, where she meets the athletic Ted Roberts. Although having officially left the X-Men, she helps her teammates defeat the Locust and his horde of giant insects.

October 1963 – The X-Men (minus Marvel Girl) battle a soldier-of-fortune called El Tigre, who is mystically transformed into the Mayan god Kukulcán. They track him to South America, and in the ensuing battle, Cyclops inadvertently injures the Angel with an optic blast. Meanwhile, Jean Grey encounters Calvin Rankin at school.

November 1963 – While Angel is recuperating, Professor X tries to bolster the X-Men’s ranks. He telepathically contacts Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, but they say their first duty is to the Avengers now. He directs Beast and Iceman to make contact with Spider-Man, but nothing comes of it. However, Calvin Rankin regains his memory and demands the X-Men admit him as a member. Jean returns with them to Westchester and gives new, modified uniforms to her teammates. The Mimic defeats them single-handedly, but the team discovers he is being influenced by the Puppet Master. Once the villain is defeated, Professor X names the Mimic as the X-Men’s new deputy leader. Later, the team is shocked and saddened by the assassination of President Kennedy.

December 1963 – The X-Men come under attack by the Banshee and the Ogre, and with Marvel Girl’s help, the assailants are defeated. Banshee reveals that he was an unwilling participant, and that the attack was orchestrated by a shadowy organization called Factor Three, which is bent on world conquest. The Professor helps equip Banshee for a counter-mission to locate Factor Three’s headquarters. While the X-Men are away, Mastermind suddenly reverts to human form and awakens in the Professor’s lab. Hank celebrates his 20th birthday. Later, the Mimic’s attitude gets him kicked off the team. Suddenly, the X-Men are attacked by the Super-Adaptoid. At first, the Mimic cooperates with the villain, but then turns on him. Defeating the Super-Adaptoid causes him to lose his powers, so the Mimic agrees to leave the X-Men voluntarily.


Notes:

January 1963 – Uncanny X-Men #7 begins with the first of several “graduation” scenes that would be introduced, and later forgotten, whenever Stan Lee decided that the whole “school” aspect of the series wasn’t working. If anything, the students are here celebrating the completion of their first full semester together.

February 1963 – Bobby Drake’s birthday is established in Uncanny X-Men #32. Although that story claims to show his 18th birthday, in fact the X-Men are somewhat younger than Stan Lee at first led us to believe. Being able to keep track of the characters’ ages is one of the benefits of using a contextualized historical framework such as this. It’s also worth emphasizing that the X-Men are not all the same age.

March 1963 – The engagement party, attended by a variety of costumed adventurers, was featured in Fantastic Four #36.

April 1963 – Though it suffers from numerous violations of established continuity, the third story in X-Men Unlimited #42 (2003) nevertheless reveals that Marvel Girl’s birthday is around the same time as Uncanny X-Men #39, which places it in early to mid-April. The story is definitely non-canonical, but I welcome this minor biographical fact.

June 1963 – The wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm was presented in Fantastic Four Annual #3.

August 1963 – The historic rally at the Lincoln Memorial is not mentioned in the original story, but the X-Men’s presence is suggested by the date. That the X-Men just happened to be in Washington DC at this point in the timeline is one of those fact / fiction convergences that makes the Original Marvel Universe chronology so interesting to me. The intersection of the burgeoning civil-rights movement and the recent outbreak of anti-mutant hysteria would doubtless lead to a consciousness-raising experience for the teenage heroes.

September 1963 – Again, since the characters turned out to be somewhat younger than at first thought, Jean Grey is not old enough to attend “Metro College,” as claimed in the original storyline. Instead, her parents must have sent her to a private prep school in Manhattan that may have been affiliated with Metro College. Regardless, it is noteworthy that Jean spent the entire academic year (11th grade) not enrolled in Professor Xavier’s school. Incidentally, this would imply that both Ted Roberts and Calvin Rankin are slightly younger than they seemed, as well.

November 1963 – The X-Men’s modified uniforms, introduced in Uncanny X-Men #27, are virtually indistinguishable from their original costumes, except their belts are red instead of yellow. However, the dialogue suggests a more drastic color change was intended, but somebody goofed.

December 1963 – The revival of Mastermind was never adequately explained, and therefore presents something of an Untold Tale of the Original Marvel Universe. Unknown to the X-Men or their adversaries, Mastermind was transformed back into human form by the Stranger himself, almost as an afterthought, at the conclusion of the Hulk story in Tales to Astonish #91. In that issue, the Stranger changes his mind about destroying the human race, kidnaps the Abomination and leaves the earth, using his cosmic powers to undo much of the chaos he was responsible for. Since Mastermind had no way to know this, he assumed the “spell” merely “wore off.” After which, Mastermind must have wandered around the empty mansion trying to figure out where he was. He doubtless discovered Jean Grey’s bedroom, and this was the origin of his sexual obsession with her that would have such dire consequences—for everyone involved—six years later. Then, returning to his old haunts, Mastermind was immediately recruited into Factor Three by the so-called Mutant-Master and the Changeling. The Mimic’s battle with the Super-Adaptoid brings us up to Uncanny X-Men #29.


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