Deck Log Entry # 199 So, You Want to Join the X-Men . . . .

If you lived in the Marvel Universe during the Silver Age and you wanted to join the Avengers, you had to be a super-hero, or a super-villain who promised, cross your heart, to reform---the Assemblers were take-your-word-for-it sort of guys---then participate in any number of the team’s missions before one of them would say, “Hey, ol’ what’s-his-name has been hanging around, anyway . . . let’s make him a member!”  And that might take a while.  (Just ask Hercules.)

 

Compared to that, joining the X-Men was duck soup.  There were only two qualifications:

 

1.  Be born with a mutant power.

2.  Get found by Professor X.

 

Really, that was it.  And, as would be shown, the first criterion was negotiable.

 

When we first meet the group, in The X-Men # 1 (Sep., 1963), its members---four-fifths of them, at least---are already in place.  As characters, if not entirely in character, yet.

 

The Angel, Warren Worthington III.  The stereotypical rich kid, with looks, money, and charm; the regular kids probably hated him even before he grew a large pair of wings out of his back.

 

Cyclops, Scott Summers.  Tagged as “’Slim’ Summers”---until his staid, button-down personality develops, making it clear that he isn’t the kind of guy to pick up a nickname.

 

The Beast, Henry McCoy.  It’ll take a couple of issues before he becomes the team’s resident intellectual; right now, he sounds like a longshoreman.

 

The Iceman, Robert Drake.  The youngest X-Man; he’s sixteen, but exhibiting the same arrested adolescence as Beaver Cleaver in the last two seasons of Leave It to Beaver.

 

And they’re all on hand to meet and greet the newest member, Jean Grey, Marvel Girl---because every super-hero group has a hot redhead, or should have.  Jean’s introduction provides the exposition for informing the readers what the X-Men are all about.

 

The wheelchair-bound Professor X, Charles Xavier, informs the girl that he is “possibly” the first mutant, which is a rare qualification from a man who likes to proclaim his ability to “read minds and project [his] own thoughts into the brains of others” is the greatest mutant power ever.   He collected these teen-age mutants to train them in the use of their powers, which generally manifested during adolescence.  To that end, he founded Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

 

There, right from the start, Professor Xavier was misleading his students.

 

He wasn’t entirely motivated by altruistic reasons.  Yeah, sure, training the youngsters how to control their mutant abilities and how to blend in with us normal folk was part of it.  And to be fair, during Jean’s welcome-aboard, Xavier did mention that there were some evil mutants walking around.  But the most-likely real reason he formed the X-Men didn’t become apparent for another nineteen issues, when we learnt of the villain Lucifer and how he was an emissary of an alien race bent on conquering the Earth.  Lucifer was the one who turned Professor X into a paraplegic.

 

Stuck in that wheelchair, Xavier probably spent those countless hours collecting and training the X-Men with one thought preöccupying his mutant brain:  get Lucifer!  He practically admits so to Marvel Girl in The X-Men # 20 (May, 1966).

 

You see, Charles Xavier was an ends-justify-the-means kind of guy.  He was constantly hoodwinking his students.   In The X-Men # 5 (May, 1964), the still fairly inexperienced X-Men are forced to tackle their deadliest foes, Magneto and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, without the aid of their mentor.  Professor X, it seems, lost his mental powers in the previous issue’s run-in with the villains, and all he can do while his students are risking their lives is putter around the mansion workshop, looking for some WD-40 to make his chair wheels stop squeaking.  The X-Men survive, though the Angel loses a few pin feathers, only to discover that their headmaster was faking the whole time.

 

It was their final exam, with a simple “pass/fail” grade system.  Or, in the X-Men’s case, a “live/die” cut-off.

 

Then there was the locked door in the mansion’s cellar upon which Xavier refused to comment or even acknowledge.  For it was there he was keeping his step-brother, the Juggernaut, unconscious, after defeating him by a mere gnat’s eyelash back in issues # 12-3 (Jul. and Sep., 1965).  Xavier mind-zapped the authorities holding Marko and spirited him back to the school.  There, he kept the nigh-invincible menace hidden in the basement.  The X-students were essentially living over a ticking bomb until Professor X was forced to reveal the truth when Juggy escaped, in The X-Men # 32 (May, 1967), demolishing most of the mansion’s foundation in the process.

 

Perhaps most unforgivable were the countless deceptions Xavier employed on regular people.  He kept the parents of his pupils in the dark about the true nature of the school and of how he risked their still-minor-aged lives on a constant basis.  If any of the moms and dads found out about it by chance, Xavier used his mind-control powers to make them forget.  He was more than willing to brainwash any parent, authority, or functionary that got in his way.

 

The root of these manipulations was Xavier’s absolute belief that he possessed the greatest mind in the world, so if he did it, it was justified.  It was arrogance disguised as paternalism, and sometimes, not all that well disguised.  That’s why he was so up-ended by the Blob.

 

In The X-Men # 3 (Jan., 1964), Professor X mentally detects the near-by presence of a new mutant.  The subject of Xavier’s brain-waves is the Blob, a sideshow attraction of a travelling carnival arriving in the vicinity.  In mufti, the X-Men visit the carnival and discover that the Blob is aptly named; he’s a squat mountain of corpulence, whose layers of fat cannot be pierced by blade or bullet.  Nor can he be moved by any force, once he plants his feet.  The youngsters persuade the Blob to accompany them to Xavier’s school.

 

After confirming that their morbidly obese guest is, indeed, a mutant, Professor Xavier wastes no time soliciting his membership.  After a verbal prospectus of the team’s purpose, he gives the Blob a full tour of the place.  As a capper, he introduces Blobbo to the other X-Men in their civilian identities.  He does all of this before he extends the invitation to join, and that’s when the low standards for becoming an X-Man come back to bite him the ass.

 

The Blob’s response, in a nutshell:  Hell, no!  What do I need you bums for?

 

You’d think the Most Powerful Brain in the World would be prepared for this little eventuality.  But, no!  When he realises that he’s told the Blob ‘way too much, all the apoplectic Xavier can do is spout that they can’t let him leave.  But the Blobbish One out-muscles the X-Men and escapes to the carnival where, concerned over a possible retaliation, rounds up some carny folk to attack the school.  The X-Men hold them off long enough for Professor X to mind-wipe the invaders and send them scratching their heads back to camp.

 

“O.K., the Blob was a misanthrope,” Xavier probably thought.  But he wasn’t any more prepared for rejection the next time he offered membership in the X-Men.  In fact, he probably already had assigned them lockers in the X-mansion gym.

 

“The Triumph of Magneto”, from The X-Men # 11 (May, 1965), doesn’t go as advertised.  A cosmic entity calling himself the Stranger decides to add Magneto and the Toad to his souvenir collexion.    He wraps them up in anti-magnetic cocoons and shoots them spaceward, to his own world.  This is after he transmutes Mastermind into a statue of inert matter.  This effectively breaks up the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, as Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch have lost interest in the whole dominate-the-Homo-sapiens thing. 

 

Seeing as how they’re free agents again, Cyclops makes a pitch for them to join the good-guy team and winds up sputtering when the mutant siblings turn him down.  (Probably Professor Xavier was, too, since you know he had to be telepathically monitoring the whole thing.)  They’re going to take some personal time, and besides, they hear the Avengers are going to have a few slots opening up in a couple of weeks.

 

 

 

Silver-Age Marvel trivia question:  Who was the only non-mutant X-Man?

 

Answer:  the Mimic.

 

The X-Men first encountered the Mimic in issue # 19 (Apr., 1966).  Rebellious youngster Calvin Rankin was snooping around in his scientist-father’s laboratory when he accidentally spilled the contents of a beaker, releasing a strange gas.  The exposure imbued Cal with the ability to temporarily assume the mental and physical skills of anyone within a ten-foot radius.  Growing up into a bullying college student, Rankin encounters some of the X-Men in their civilian identities and adopts their super-powers.  As the Mimic, he then confronts the entire group, but at the conclusion of the struggle, Cal loses his mimicry power, seemingly for good.  Ever to form, Professor X mentally launders the boy’s mind, erasing his knowledge of the X-Men’s secrets.

 

Rankin’s powers, and his memories, would return at a time when Professor Xavier was desperate to beef up the X-Men’s strength.  So much so that he even offered Spider-Man a slot, in The X-Men # 27 (Dec., 1966).  But having already been jerked around by the Avengers during their recent membership drive (The Amazing Spider-Man King-Size Special # 3), the wall-crawler was in no mood for team sports and told the mutants to find somebody else to sign up.  (Thus missing out on the chance to be the answer to the trivia question above.)

 

Xavier’s jockey shorts were twisted in a bunch over a mega-mutant threat detected by his Cerebro device, and with the Angel temporarily grounded by an accidental jolt from Cyclops’ eye-beam, Professor X turned to the only other experienced mutants he could trust---Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.  But when Pietro and Wanda turned him down, pleading Avengers duties came first, he had to take help wherever he could find it.

 

That meant the Mimic.  He not only joined the X-Men, but Xavier appointed him as deputy leader of the team, replacing Cyclops.  (Cyke was feeling more woe-is-me than usual, thanks to his aforementioned accidental blasting of the Angel.)  Enlisting the Mimic was another one of the imperious telepath’s more questionable moves.  Rankin was hot-headed and abrasive; he seemed to cause rancour just by breathing the same air as the other X-Men.  Anyone could have seen putting Rankin on the team was a bad idea, but of course, Xavier knew best.

 

To no-one else’s surprise, though, Cal’s unruly nature antagonised the rest of the group from the get-go.  They had no use for him, nor he for them, re-doubled.  Finally, two issues after the Mimic joined, even Professor X could stand no further disruption of the team and expelled him. 

 

At that point the X-Men had faced only a preliminary attack from the immense threat before them (Factor Three), and the main bout had not even begun.  As fearsome as the menace of Factor Three was, it’s noteable that Professor Xavier didn’t ask the help of established super-heroes.  For all of his talk about living in parity with normal Homo sapiens, Xavier could be terribly elitist.  He seemed to regard humans the way an ordinary man would regard a particularly well-trained chimpanzee.  Interesting, and useful at times, but you wouldn’t think of getting to know one at your dinner table.

 

As far as the long-underwear crowd, non-mutant division, was concerned, they were probably just as glad Xavier didn’t come tapping at their windows.  The super-hero community is a close one, for sure---and they had likely heard of how shabbily Professor X repaid his gratitude.  In Tales of Suspense # 49 (Jan., 1964), Xavier promises to repay Iron Man for saving the Angel’s life at very nearly the cost of his own.  Yet, shortly thereafter, in The Avengers # 3 (Jan., 1964), when Iron Man calls in that marker, asking for the X-Men’s help in locating the Hulk, Xavier responds with a really-can’t-be-bothered attitude.

 

 

 

Charles Xavier was not done with manipulating his students’ feelings, and the next time would be in the most callous way.

 

The X-Men # 42 (Mar., 1968) finds the X-Men locking horns with Grotesk, a sub-human denizen of one of those underground civilisations that Marvel never got tired of discovering.  Grotesk is using a machine to transmit vibrational tremours to the Earth’s core, in an attempt to blow up the world.  Preferring not to see that happen, the X-Men attack.  The super-powerful sub-human is able to hold the mutants at bay; however, Professor X gets close enough to the device to mentally reverse its operation.

 

Using that time-honoured method of home-repair, Grotesk tries to get the machine to work right by slamming his fist into it.  Instead, it explodes, killing him---and Professor X.  Xavier lingers long enough to gasp out some last words---none of which express any pride or affection for his students---then dies.

 

By my reckoning, the Silver Age ended in 1968, so technically, Professor X was really, most sincerely dead within the scope of my Deck Log.  And he was meant to be.  As Roy Thomas disclosed in an interview published in The X-Men Companion I (Fantagraphics, 1982), sales on the title were precipitously low, and killing off Xavier was intended to jump-start new interest.

 

But just as Murray Boltinioff’s genuine effort to scratch Red Ryan off the line-up of DC’s Challengers of the Unknown got reversed by fan furour, so was Professor Xavier’s demise, turning it into one sick hoodwink by the Greatest Mutant Brain Alive.

 

Following the death of their mentor, the X-Men drifted apart, operating in pairs or separately.  That was another notion with the hope of generating sales attached to it, but instead, only drove off some of the title’s remaining faithful.  So by the beginning of the post-Silver-Age period, the X-Men were back to operating together, a bit older now, and significantly wiser.  For all of that, they still weren’t prepared for the shock that awaited them in The X-Men # 65 (Feb., 1970) . . . when Charles Xavier turned up alive and well!

 

While the X-Men stand there slack jawed, Xavier explains that, sometime before their adventure against the ill-fated Grotesk, he had been exercising his mental powers by telepathically scanning for life in outer space.  That’s when he discovered an impending invasion of the Earth by an alien race known as the Z’Nox.  Instead of, say, alerting his X-Men, and notifying the Avengers and the Fantastic Four while he was at it, Xavier opted to go into seclusion for the several months it took him to come up with a defense plan on his own.

 

In order to keep from being bothered by pesky super-villain attacks or Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on his front door, Xavier needed somebody to fill in while he was squirreled away in his basement, planning away.  The perfect solution arrived when the Changeling, remorseful over his criminal ways, offered to help by using his mutant power of disguise to take the Big X’s place.  To complete the imposture, the professor imbued the Changeling with a portion of his mental powers.

 

When the Changeling-as-Xavier got blown up fighting Grotesk, well, those were the breaks.  And now, for sure, nobody was going to be looking for Xavier-as-Xavier.

 

There was no real reason for all the secrecy or to let the students who cared for him go on thinking he was dead; it was just another jerk-move by their merry old prof.  For once, the X-Men didn't take being screwed with all that well.  They resented being kept in the dark for almost two years.  Xavier deflected some of their ire by telling them that Marvel Girl had been in on the scheme from the beginning.  That left poor Jean holding the bag.

 

The indignant X-Men only had time to gripe about it before going off to fight the Z’Nox and save the world, again.

 

During that immediate post-Silver-Age period, Lorna Dane and Alex (Havoc) Summers had joined the X-Men, but left the team right after Professor X returned.  Clearly, they wanted no part of his conniving.

 

* * * * *

So, if you’re a mutant in the Silver-Age Marvel universe, you can let yourself get recruited into a group led by an arrogant, controlling, deceitful sociopath who incessantly boasts that he wields the greatest power on Earth . . . .

 

or

 

You can join up with Magneto.

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Hmm...even more similarities between the X-Men and the Doom Patrol. 

Great article, as usual, Commander!

The first 66 issues of The X-Men are the ones I know the best, and I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of Professor X. While a lot of his actions fit into typical comic book logic, when taken objectively as a whole, he was an abusive jerk. When he came back from the "dead," even the Li'l Capn -- all of 12 years old at the time -- was outraged by the callousness of his "plan." And making Jean the fall guy was the topper.

And your nominal topic is one close to my heart, too. While the Avengers would take anyone with a pulse it seemed -- or even The Vision, who might not have one -- The X-Men were remarkably stable in their membership. It became hard after a while to believe the world was exploding with mutants when the Xavier School seemed incapable of attracting more than five students.

And those five weren't exactly world-beaters. I guess Beast was supposed to be the "strong man" of the team, but he wasn't all that strong. Cyclops ended up being the team's biggest gun, and he was something of a one-trick pony who could only fight in one direction at a time. Angel was about as dangerous as a canary, Iceman was comic relief and Marvel Girl was a typical Stan Lee heroine -- she had a pose-and-point power where would faint if she used it too much.

I remember when I first saw the cover of The X-Men #9, where they fought the Avengers. Even the Li'l Capn thought, "That should be a short fight." I wanted more mutants to join the X-Men, just to make it plausible they'd survive one fight with Magneto, much less the umpty-jillion they did.

As you note, during the original 66-issue run of The X-Men, only three other characters joined the team, all of whom were pretty short-lived.

Mimic was a strange aberration, in that not only was he not a mutant, but he didn't add any new powers to the mix. What was the point of that character? Just to add friction?

I was pleased to see Havok and Polaris start hanging around toward the end of the run, although I don't remember them formally joining. (Did they?) At any rate, to the young Captain each was individually more powerful than the rest of the original five combined, so they were welcome. (Havok was only as powerful as Cyclops, but at least he could aim his power with something other than his face.)

But then it abruptly stopped. I remember my anxiety when I didn't see the book for months on end. I recognized the B-list nature of The X-Men -- that was partially why it was one of my favorite books, as I tend to favor underdogs -- so I had no illusions about its long-term viability. But I wanted it to continue, and it just disappeared.

Eventually I ran across The X-Men #67, months after it had been released, at a store I didn't usually frequent. Evidently, now that the book was reprint, it wasn't making it to my usual stores. Or maybe some other factor was involved -- who knows in those days of spotty distribution?

Anyway, alerted to the fact the book still existed, I was able to search for and find what I was missing and continue collecting the book as a reprint, crossing my fingers that others would do the same and lead to new stories. Little did I know was was on the horizon ...!

Thanks for churning up all those memories!

Professor X was saved the day far too much in those early issues.

But the main problem with the premise of Cerebro and him constantly searching for mutants made no sense if given any thought. There were mutants older than the X-Men in the Silver Age though in other books like the Human Top/Whirlwind and the Owl. The Blob, Mastermind, the Vanisher and Unus had years on the Teen Tyros yet Professor X never sought them out as he did the youngsters nor knew of their existence.

It's worse when you hit the Bronze Age as all the "New" X-Men were already using their powers for a lengthy period of time before Xavier signed them up, especially in Wolverine's case.

I do recall getting an issue of X-Men in its reprint phase where the Merry Mutants took on Spider-Man and he cleaned their mutant clocks!



Philip Portelli said:

I do recall getting an issue of X-Men in its reprint phase where the Merry Mutants took on Spider-Man and he cleaned their mutant clocks!

That puts me in mind of one of the DC/Marvel crossovers where Batman fought an entire team of X-Men to a standstill.

And Spidey did it again with the New X-Men in the first Secret Wars!

The Baron said:



Philip Portelli said:

I do recall getting an issue of X-Men in its reprint phase where the Merry Mutants took on Spider-Man and he cleaned their mutant clocks!

That puts me in mind of one of the DC/Marvel crossovers where Batman fought an entire team of X-Men to a standstill.

Kitty speaking for all of Xavier's students:

X-Men #3 introducing the Blob was my first issue of that comic. I actually "met" the Angel the previous month at the same time I met Iron Man when Angel guested in TOS #49.

When he realises that he’s told the Blob ‘way too much, all the apoplectic Xavier can do is spout that they can’t let him leave.

Why didn't Xavier, I dunno, read the Blob's mind before showing him all of their secrets? Did he think that he and his school were so wonderful that no one would turn him down?

So, if you’re a mutant in the Silver-Age Marvel universe, you can let yourself get recruited into a group led by an arrogant, controlling, deceitful sociopath who incessantly boasts that he wields the greatest power on Earth . . . .

or

You can join up with Magneto.

bwah ha ha photo bwah.gif

Captain Comics said:

when taken objectively as a whole, he was an abusive jerk.

Speaking of abusive, Stan had him drooling over the (presumably) underage Jean Grey.

I suppose the bit about Jean knowing was there to explain why she didn't realise the truth due to her telepathic powers? When did she first display telepathy?

Commander Benson said:

As Roy Thomas disclosed in an interview published in The X-Men Companion I (Fantagraphics, 1982), sales on the title were precipitously low, and killing off Xavier was intended to jump-start new interest.

One might attract back readers by a such an event, but you'd be less likely to snare new ones. Also, to keep them, you'd need a good product. What they needed to address was the title's low quality.

The stories were poorly-written, the action unexciting, the art unexciting to poor. And it kept getting worse rather than better.

A big change can potentially improve a series by getting it out of a creative rut or exciting the creators. And it might open up story possibilities which are more interesting to readers. Apart from Marvel Girl's college attendance, and a little dating, prior to Xavier's death the X-Men didn't have independent lives. Upon his death they became young adults embarking on adult life. That might've been a decent direction, but the writers didn't bring it off well.

One of the issues might've been the younger X-Men lacked motivation for superheroing. Xavier had motivation: he wanted to train mutants, protect mankind, head off anti-mutant prejudice. The team's goals were his. Without him they were just this group of young people. Presumably they wanted the things young people want. The only member who had some other strong desire was Cyclops, who wanted to be free of his eyebeams.

Since Xavier employed the X-Men as his personal strike force he should've paid them a salary.

Every time this gets mentioned, I want to scream "It was ONE TIME only!" but giving it further thought, I have a few theories.

  • Professor X was probably in his early thirties at the time and it was relatively normal for girls to marry young so maybe he had a brief crush on her.
  • He was probably lonely as well as his disability would hamper his dating chances, not to mention his condescending attitude!
  • Living with four hormone-fueled teenage boys, their desires got absorbed subconsciously by his telepathic powers!

Still in those first few issues, Jean Grey learned how to use her powers better and what sexual harassment was!



Richard Willis said:

Captain Comics said:

when taken objectively as a whole, he was an abusive jerk.

Speaking of abusive, Stan had him drooling over the (presumably) underage Jean Grey.

Thanks for the commentary, Cap.  I appreciate the fine words and glad this entry jogged some old memories.  As to this:

I was pleased to see Havok and Polaris start hanging around toward the end of the run, although I don't remember them formally joining. (Did they?)

Lorna Dane joined the X-Men with reasonable formality in "In the Shadow of . . . Sauron", from The X-Men # 60 (Sep., 1969).  Havoc's membership was somewhat less official.  He was with Lorna to wrangle the other X-Men in on the Z'Nox situation and the revelation that Professor X was still alive, in The X-Men # 65 (Feb., 1970).  He also worked with the other X-Men to drive off the Z'Nox fleet.  

As a consequence, some websites state that Havoc joined the X-Men with this issue.  I don't consider that conclusive, though.  Marvel super-teams were especially fond of having hangers-on join in their missions without the benefit of official membership. However, virtually every X-Men-related site includes Havoc as an X-Men, so at some point---almost certainly, behind the scenes---he did join.

I took piano lessons for a little while when I was a lad, and the teacher had a few comics around for her students who were waiting. That was my first exposure to the X-Men around about 1972-1973. I remember reading the story (I don't remember the issue offhand, but it was the original team and thinking, "these guys are really weak sauce." I thought I'd like Angel--I liked Hawkman, so why not--but he had seemingly no personality to speak of, nor did the others. I couldn't figure out what Beast's powers were, Iceman seemed weak, and only Cyclops seemed to be a guy that should have been in that fight. I think they were going up against someone that really shouldn't have put up much of a fight against non-powered humans like Batman and Robin, and they were having a really hard time.

The X-Men at that time just were not cool. Jean being hot meant nothing to my 7-9 year-old brain.

Captain Comics said:


And those five weren't exactly world-beaters. I guess Beast was supposed to be the "strong man" of the team, but he wasn't all that strong. Cyclops ended up being the team's biggest gun, and he was something of a one-trick pony who could only fight in one direction at a time. Angel was about as dangerous as a canary, Iceman was comic relief and Marvel Girl was a typical Stan Lee heroine -- she had a pose-and-point power where would faint if she used it too much.


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