By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
X-Men: First Class, the X-movie that premiered June 3, has been getting rave reviews. But it can be confusing to anyone familiar with the characters – because it’s not THE X-Men origin, it’s AN X-Men origin.
Specifically, it’s the origin of the current X-Men movie franchise, which consists of the three X-movies and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. X-Men: First Class is set in 1962, with Wolverine previously set in 1979 and the X-Men trilogy set in the present. But even that is complicated, as a teenage blonde named Emma who can transform into diamond appears in Wolverine, and a twentysomething blonde named Emma who can tranform into diamond appears 17 years earlier in First Class. We just have to ignore that, or assume there are two blondes named Emma with the same mutant abilities.
(Raven “Mystique” Darkholme appears in both First Class and X-Men, but you can forgive her for not aging, because she’s a shapechanger – in the comics, she may be more than 100 years old. Now that’s a super-power we can all get behind!)
Further muddying the water, Twentieth Century Fox has announced that the next Wolverine movie will distance itself from the X-franchise, which they want to reboot anyway. So this X-Men origin story, as good as it is, may soon be orphaned.
And it certainly bears no resemblance to the comics. There are two good reasons for that: One, if First Class introduced the familiar X-Men in 1962, they’d have been too old for X-Men, X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand. And two, that very trilogy makes the First Class of the comics impossible.
In the comics, the original team debuted in The X-Men #1 (1963) as Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Jean “Marvel Girl” Grey. But in the three X-isting X-movies, we saw Iceman and Angel join the team as teens long after the founding of the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters – so they’re out. First Class also excludes Cyclops and Jean, presumably to avoid having to explain why they didn’t age much in the 38 years that pass between First Class and X-Men. The Beast remains as a founding member, though, which might assuage disgruntled comics fans (and explain why he was essentially in superhero retirement at the beginning of Last Stand).
The movie features Charles “Prof. X” Xavier and Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr as young allies and friends, before their clashing ideologies lead them into the bloody conflict found in both comics and movies. What would surprise most is that, despite both Xavier and Magneto being introduced in 1963, nothing of their past together was known for decades. It was only in the early 1980s that their shared past was invented, and then revealed over time. For the record, the comics say a guy named Erik Magnus befriended Charles Xavier in the newly created state of Israel in the late 1940s (1982), before we learned his real name was Erik Lehnsherr (1998), before we learned his real, real name was Max Eisenhardt (2008). And he had nothing to do with the Cuban Missile Crisis.
But those aren’t the only changes. The film has cherry-picked an eclectic cast from decades of X-Men comics.
In addition to Mystique and Beast, this class has Cyclops’ brother Alex “Havok” Summers (introduced in 1969), who can fire cosmic energy from his hands. We also meet Sean “Banshee” Cassidy (1967), a mutant with sonic powers who joined the team in 1975. Also included is Armando “Darwin” Muñoz (2006), who can adapt himself to new environments and circumstances. First Class establishes CIA agent Moira MacTaggert, who was a human geneticist in the comics (1976), the significant other of Banshee and Xavier at different times, a staunch X-Men ally and, unfortunately, now quite X-pired.
The Big Bad is Sebastian Shaw (1980), leader of the Hellfire Club, who can absorb and re-direct kinetic energy. He’s allied with the telepathic Emma Frost, who was the villain White Queen for many years, until a series of traumatic 1990s events set her (quite plausibly) on the road to redemption. (Frost gained her diamond powers in 2001, the result of a “secondary mutation,” and joined the X-Men soon after.)
The upshot is that the movies are a clever re-mix of the comics, and both comics and movies stand alone as separate narratives. All of which, I hasten to add, should increase your enjoyment of First Class. It’s the X-Men, after all, where the only constant is change.
Photo Above: January Jones is Emma Frost, a telepath who possesses a diamond-like skin that can cut through glass. Photo by Murray Close/TM and ©2011 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Before Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, left) and Erik Lehnsherr took the names Professor X and Magneto, they were two young men who became the closest of friends. Here they enjoy a game of chess – the first of many they would play over their long and evolving history. Photo by Murray Close/TM and ©2011 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Emma Frost (January Jones) and Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) are powerful mutants scheming to trigger a nuclear war that will result in the demise of humanity – and the ascension of mutants. Photo by Murray Close/TM and ©2011 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender, left foreground) and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, right foreground) lead Sean "Banshee" Cassidy (Caleb Landry Jones, left), Raven "Mystique" Darkholme (Jennifer Lawrence), Dr. Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne), Hank "Beast" McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) and Alex "Havok" Summers (Lucas Till) in a battle to prevent nuclear war. Photo by Murray Close/TM and ©2011 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at firstname.lastname@example.org.