Greetings from the Odinson,
The Dismissal of the First Class
Exploding onto the Marvel landscape in 1963, the Children of the Atom were amongst the earliest characters to help establish what would become the Marvel Universe. Alongside the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Hulk, Daredevil, Doctor Strange and the Avengers – the X-Men were Marvel Comics’ first wave of super heroes. However, as the 60s turned into the 70s, unlike the other heroes from Marvel’s First Wave, the X-Men’s popularity waned greatly. Their comic series was all but canceled and for a while was only producing reprints of earlier material. Then in 1975, writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum decided it was time for a Second Wave of Marvel Mutant Heroes.
I’m a child of the 70s and 80s, so naturally my first introduction to the X-Men was the second generation of mutant heroes introduced in Giant-Size X-Men #1. Comprised of heroes gathered together from around the world, this team featured the powerful Storm, the demonic Nightcrawler, the screaming Banshee, the mighty Colossus, and the savage Wolverine. From 1975-1990, under the watchful eyes of Modern Masters Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, and a who’s who of legendary artists, this second generation of Marvel Heroes became the best-selling comic at the House of Ideas and a fan favorite, and left in their wake, and almost utterly dismissed, were the X-Men: First Class.
As Claremont’s All-New, All-Different X-Men were climbing the ladder of fame and breakout characters like Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Wolverine were quickly becoming fan favorites, the original X-Men were quickly becoming almost after thoughts of a bygone era. When I first started reading comics, there was no internet obviously, there really weren’t many trade paperbacks and hardcovers collecting old stories, and comic shops and stores hording much sought after back issues were priced out of my range.
I did however have access to a couple of fantastic sources of Marvel Comics History. The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and The Official Marvel Index to the X-Men were invaluable sources of information for the past adventures of the original X-Men, but before these, my exposure to the original adventures of Xavier’s First Class was minute, to say the least. I knew about Xavier’s first team of mutant heroes, but like Marvel, I had basically dismissed them to the backburner. To better explain what I am talking about, let’s take a look through the eyes of a young Odinson at where the original X-Men were as the 1980s began.
Cyclops – At the time, Cyclops was my least favorite X-Man. He seemed to be a product of a bygone era. He was a stick-in-the-mud, a straight-laced stickler who renegade and much cooler characters like Wolverine could bounce off. In the aftermath of the Dark Phoenix Saga, Scott Summer was reduced to a shell of a man and even lost control of leadership of his team to a, at that time, powerless Storm.
Ice Man – I associated Bobby Drake more so with super teams like the Champions and Defenders. I was even familiar with Ice Man from the great Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends cartoon more so than I ever was with him as an X-Man.
Jean Grey – Of all the original X-Men, Jean Grey had, hands down, the best and most dramatic story arc from her early days as a member of Xavier’s First Class to her untimely and traumatic demise in the climax of the Dark Phoenix Saga.
So, by the mid-80s, not one member of Xavier’s First Class was part of the X-Men. Angel, Beast, and Ice Man were facing down cosmic titans and old gods in the pages of Defenders, Cyclops was retired from the hero biz and trying to find himself in the arms of a woman who had a striking resemblance to Jean, and Jean Grey was dead. It looked like the original X-Men were going to become a thing of the past, but that all changed when the heart of the team began to beat once more.
In the tale Phoenix Rising, the Avengers make a mysterious discovery at the bottom of the Hudson Bay. They take their findings to the Fantastic Four where Mister Fantastic makes a startling discovery that not only puts a different spin on the events of Uncanny X-Men #101 and the entire Dark Phoenix Saga, but also sees the triumphant return of Jean Grey! This has to be one of the cleverest, albeit a bit controversial, retcons in Marvel History. What it led to was amazing! It led to the reunification of the original X-Men now called X-Factor! From the love triangle between Jean and Scott and Madelyne Pryor to the Mutant Massacre to Fall of the Mutants, the transformation of Angel to the diminishment of Beast, from the powerful artwork of Walt Simonson to the magnificent pacing of Louise Simonson, and from the introduction of Apocalypse to the introduction of Alchemy (a character that was a result of a Marvel fan contest, and a character that just recently played a huge role in the Inhumans vs. X-Men storyline), so many great storylines and character arcs came out of this wonderful time and all too underrated series.
Eventually, in 1991, the original team was absorbed back into the ranks of the X-Men, and for over a decade things were relatively good for Charles Xavier’s First Class. Jean and Scott got married. Angel overcame his Apocalyptic-influence. Beast discovered a cure for the Legacy Virus. And, Ice Man discovered some new tricks. But, all good things must come to an end, and it all started with the death of Jean Grey in the pages of New X-Men #150. After Jean’s second, and apparently real, death many circumstances have led to the original X-Men not only dispersing but becoming relegated once more to the backburner and all but forgotten by Marvel Comics and readers alike.
The story arc for Scott Summers is perhaps the most dramatic fall and a dismantling of a beloved hero in the history of comics. I go into great detail on this subject in a previous column (see The Rise and Fall of Cyclops). His tale ended extremely tragic as he joined Jean Grey in the beyond in the pages of Death of X. Angel has given up trying to fight his dark side and has now evolved into a hybrid version of himself that is neither Angel nor Archangel, but both. The Marvel U and the fans are waiting to see if this means he will be a champion for mankind, or its demise. Ice Man, one of the most powerful beings walking the planet, has been relegated to little more than a C-List character, a background visual joke, a supporting cast member in flavor-of-the-month X-title. And finally, Beast has played the biggest role of all in the devaluation of Xavier’s First Class. He used his super science to bring forth the original X-Men from the pages of Uncanny X-Men #1. Now, this young, vibrant team of teenage heroes from the past have replaced their older and in some cases deceased counterparts as the “original” X-Men.
NOTE: You know, with Thor being unworthy, Bruce Banner dead, the original X-Men completely dismantled, and the Fantastic Four MIA, it’s almost as if the current Powers that Be at Marvel Comics have no love for what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby established back in the 60s, or only as much love as what they can use to create their “new” derivative characters and call it their own. But, that’s just one Odinson’s opinion, and I digress.
I can remember one time debating with a friend in Junior High who was more powerful – the All-New, All-Different X-Men or the original X-Men. We were using Art Adams’ amazing cover from Classic X-Men #8 as our point of reference. I can remember arguing so hard and stating that there was no way a team comprising of Storm, Wolverine, and Colossus would ever lose to those old forgotten nobody’s from the 60s.
The Odinson is here to admit – I was wrong.
Not only would The First Class wipe the floor with the second, but the original X-Men are easily one of the strongest team of heroes ever assembled. To illustrate just how strong, in the pages of Uncanny X-Men #9, the neophyte X-Men fought Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to a standstill and they were only teenagers just discovering their limits and capabilities at the time.
Angel has the wealth and resources of Bruce Wayne and he can fly. Add to that the fact that he has been genetically altered by the super science of Apocalypse and transformed into a living weapon, makes Warren Worthington III one of the deadliest beings alive. Beast is one of the smartest men alive. His intelligence is only rivaled by names like Reed Richards, Bruce Banner, and Tony Stark. On top of that, he can bench press a truck and has superior speed and agility to that of the best Olympic athletes in the world. Ice Man, arguably the most powerful member of the group, is an Omega Class mutant with the immense ability to change the course of human history by triggering another Ice Age, if he so desired. Cyclops is a born leader with a tactical mind rivaled only by Captain America himself. On numerous occasions he has shown the ability to singlehandedly take down entire groups of super powered beings including his own X-Men. Plus, he has an optic blast that can shatter mountains, pulverize steel, and demolish entire city blocks. And finally, Jean Grey possesses a telepathic power surpassed only by Professor X (and maybe the Shadow King), and a telekinetic power that allows her not just to be able to move objects with her mind but also to break matter down on an atomic level, if she so choose. On top of that, she has an affinity and the ability to wield the Phoenix Force, the most powerful source of cosmic power in the entire Marvel Universe.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell
NOTE: The Odinson has written a book. It is my love letter to the slasher genre of the 1980s. For those interested, there are still FREE copies available to read online. Just follow this link – The Survivors: A Glen Haven Tale.