Stan Lee had many astonishing insights as to what would sell comic books, not the least of which was to pander to his audience.
“If my merry band of Marvel marchers are nothing more than lily livered teenage freakazoids,” He must have thought, “Then I’ll make half the heroes in the pantheon of Marvel teenage milksops, too!”
This notion worked brilliantly with the bookish Peter Parker in the pages of Spider-Man, worked so-so with hot head roast-master Johnny Storm from the Fantastic Four and slightly less brilliantly in the pages of The Hulk where the tremendous jade giant was shackled with annoying teen sidekick Rick Jones.
Nowhere was the “protagonist as teenage outcast” more successful than in the pages of the X-Men.
The X-Men were intended as an antithesis to the handsome, muscle-bound heroes of the golden age. Just as Lee and Kirby had done on the Fantastic Four, the X-men were created with internal struggles, awkward family dynamics and the strangest gimmick of all: they were all (supposed to be) ugly, freakish mutants unable to fit into society.
To audiences used to Superman and Shazam the X-Men must have looked far out. Angel was a thin teen with a frail body to support his massive wings, not the oiled up Hawkman of DC’s Justice League. Cyclops was Jimmy Stewart with a weird, one-eyed visor. The Beast was an overdeveloped muscle-bound ape more akin to gorilla than man. Iceman at this time looked more like a snowman.
They looked different and so they were shunned. THIS comic book reading teenagers could get behind!
Remember, the x-men premiered in 1963, around the same time that the pilot episode of Star Trek was getting slapped down by TV executives because Mr. Spock looked “too devilish.” This team of uber-weirdies must have perfectly scratched that itch for moody outsiders looking for a little more storm and drang from their funny-pages.
Of course, every dark cloud has its silver lining. To the X-family that silver lining was telekinetic, beautiful Jean Grey, a.k.a. the “Marvel Girl.” The perfectly proportioned red-haired token female of the group, Jean was loved both intimately or from afar by almost every character to walk in and out of the X-men title… including the creepy bald paraplegic they called their leader, Charles Xavier. Even today Jean is considered one of the hottest female comic leads of all time. “Well,” smilin’ Stan must have reasoned, “Just because my readers identify with mutants doesn’t mean they aren’t red blooded Americans!”
Right again, Stan!
The X-men struggled to save the world issue after issue even though the world hated them and thought them a danger. Physically bizarre and misunderstood, the X-men taught strength, heroism and teamwork to the sci-fi loving kids of the 60 and 70’s who could see through the wish fulfillment nature of their older siblings comic books.
The 70’s actually made the team more grotesque with the addition of Nightcrawler, the blue devil-eared teleporter with three fingers and a tail, as well as Storm the African weather goddess, Colossus the titanium skinned Russian and the worlds most famous Canadian Wolverine.
Under penciler and co/plotter John Byrne and beloved X-men super scripter Chris Claremont the X-men continued to rely on each other while living as walking posters for fear of the unknown.
But then something happened that no one had anticipated: By creating a new allegory for drawing strength from your differences The X-men became the number 1 selling comic book of its time.
RING IN THE NEW
The changes were subtle at first. John Byrne always drew Wolverine as a stunted 4’8” hairy beast, but as his popularity began to rise so did the mutant’s height. Few pencilers today draw Wolvie much shorter than any other teammate. The team roster also began to fill out with more beautiful women, including the fashion model Psylock, Disco singer Dazzler and beautiful southern belle Rogue.
Did you catch that? Far from being shunned for their freakish behavior Dazzler blends her powers into her multi-million dollar pop star stage act, and Psylock was a fashion model. NOT ONLY THAT but penciler Jim Lee redesigned the purple haired British beauty as a stealthy Japanese ninja with d-cups who always insisted on wearing a blue thong bathing suit.
The emphasis of the team dynamic turned from “Triumph through diversity with your family of freaks” to the ups and downs of a soap opera. Bickering and inner-team hook-ups were all the norm. Soon the emphasis was on “Who was dating whom, “ not on enemies, plots or powers.
The X-books were delivering on what Marvel’s marketing and licensing teams wanted out of the books, but it started to ring hollow with long time fans.
GRANT TO THE RESCUE
In the early 2000’s wackadoo British writer Grant Morrison came on board and with him a whole mess of changes; Mutants were freakier than ever, some so disgusting that hardened X-hands had to deal with intolerance from within their own ranks. The Mutant race soared in population and so people actually HAD something to fear. Grant not only brought back the miserable menagerie aspect to the comic, he also showed how these dark themes could be beaten through comradery and trust.
After a few years of what most fans consider one of the comic’s best runs Marvel retconned or eliminated most of Grants influences in order to clean the books up for Hollywood.
So were do we stand now?
WHO ARE THE X-MEN
The X-men are a team of bickering though beautiful mutants who keep to themselves because they feel the world hates them, though past issues of the comic book prove this isn’t true. The team has many attractive female members, most of whom current penciler Greg Land has been proven to trace directly out of porn magazines, and who make it a habit of breaking that old office taboo of “not dating co-workers.”
The X-men are usually too busy with internal struggles or surly at a world inferior to their dazzling attraction and powers to help regular citizens. They prefer to leave the super heroics to the Avengers or Spider-Man while they themselves have adventures in outer space or wait around for one of their own members to get powerful enough to destroy the universe.
They are all immortal beings, as no team member who has ever died has stayed dead for more than ten years. NOT ONE.
The X-men are the embodiment of the current generation of America’s willful ignorance, celebrity obsession and lack of self-improvement. They isolate themselves from normal people and bemoan their own problems while making no attempt to understand anybody or anything outside of their own little world.
They are all almost physically superior in ability and attraction, though they complain nonstop about being shunned and feared.
In short: The X-men is the Marvel team comprised of all the popular kids you’d like to hang out with but probably aren’t cool enough to talk to. Their lives are as empty and meaningless as you might expect because they’re too wrapped up in themselves to appreciate the gifts they have.
That’s too bad. Guy’s like Stan Lee, Kirby, Byrne, Claremont and Morrison knew there was a great deal of money and great stories to be told in heroic tales of the disenfranchised. Looks like they never counted on the huger piles of cash to be made by dumbing down the concept till it was nothing more than an episode of “Gossip Girl.”