Monday, October 15, 2012

Original X-Men, Then and NOW

Brian Michael Bendis' new series "All-New X-Men" is shaping up to be one of the more exciting titles in Marvel's Not-a-Reboot Relaunch "Marvel NOW" event. Its exciting because its proposing an exciting new idea - of taking the original students of Xavier's - transporting them to the future - and having them meet their future selves - some of who didn't turn out like they would have expected. Bendis describes it as somewhat being like Pleasentville; obviously the picturesque 50s-style characters will be shocked to see the present day, and what has becomes of their individual futures (if they even have a future).

(Warning: Large Image)

There was a recent TPB I picked up, that intrigued me - called "X-Men: First to Last". (You can find it here on Amazon.) Written by Christopher Yost, with art by Paco Medina and Dalabor Talajic - this title proposed a similar back-to-the-past style story, featuring the original X-Men.

The story revolved around a new foe - self-described protectors of evolution, called the "Evolutionaries". They where augmented and hyper advanced apes - charged with the mission of protecting newly emerging species. How is a newly born race suppose to survive, given all the predators around it? They essentially pick winners and losers, in the fight for evolution. Where humanity was once a protected race, suddenly now mutants are. The Evolutionaries appeared before Xavier and Cyclops, seeking out a representative for the mutant race. Xavier of course shunned this position, given it's logical conclusion was the genocide of homo-sapiens.

Magneto, and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, where more than happy to claim leadership of the species. In the end the X-Men where able to convince the Evolutionaries to withhold their judgement. They did just that - but flash-forward to the modern day, after the House of M and a decimation of the mutant population, and suddenly Cyclops finds himself being held responsible for lying to the Evolutionaries - who where expecting mutants to be the dominant race by this point (or at least well on their way); instead they find less than 200 mutants still in existence. The X-Men of course fight them off - but the shifting between former and modern day made for a deeply compelling storyline. This series almost seems like a primer for what Bendis is doing - so it's well worth reading.

I thought I'd take a look back and where the original 5 X-Men started, where they have been, and where they are now.


You have to first look at the title itself, and it's beginnings. Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, the X-Men where presented as a very different super-hero team. Instead of cobbling together different heros, sometimes from other titles, this series instead focused on mutants - characters who, simply by a twist of fate, where born with their powers. Instead of a traditional super-team, this was a school of students, coming to Xavier's to learn how to control their powers - and to protect a world that hates and fears them.

Although it wasn't heavy-handed, the subject of bigotry, hatred, and race relations where discussed - but through the lens of a Super Hero team. Jack Kirby being Jewish, having fought in WWII - and knowing what horrible things where brewing in Germany - this was an extremely relevant subject matter. The series premiered in the 60s - so, imagine, before Kennedy was shot, there was still a 1950-style vibe to the country. While American citizens where general good upstanding people - any minority group during that time would tell you there was a level of ignorance, fear, and hatred among people. The X-Men merely took such topics, and placed the fight between homo-sapiens, and homo-superior - Magneto being akin to Malcolm X, and Xavier being akin to Martian Luther King. Those comparisons, though, generally where established later. They generally where Super Heroes and Super Villains.

The X-Men actually didn't fare that well in the market place - falling into the background of Marvel Comics for a very long time. It wasn't until the struggling title was taken over by Dave Cockrum and Chris Claremont, that the series exploded into one of the most powerful and vibrant franchises in comics, standing tall for well cover 2 decades as the most popular comic book series out there.

The subject matter of the series became more mature, more adult - but always action packed. It really was a wonderful way to teach children about prejudice, through an engaging and wonderful action/drama series.

The X-Men where so popular, with so many mutants running around, that Marvel decided to do something unexpected and very different: they made the mutant race an endangered species. Before that, it was being postulated that there where so many mutants, that within 4 generations humans simply would stop being born. Reduced to 198 mutants left on the planet, Cyclops and the X-Men began to become more isolationist and militant. At the end of the recent Avengers vs X-Men series, the effects of the House of M where reversed - and mutants are once again being born. Though they are now hated more than ever -- something Captain America is tackling head-on, forming the Uncanny Avengers - a mixing of both teams, to help make mutants more accepted by humanity.


How he started

Scott 'Slim' Summers was Xavier's first student - a young man with a mutant power he could scarcely control on his own, as whenever he opened his eyes - a well of kinetic energy was unleashed from his eyes - so powerful they would blast through steal. With a pair of Ruby Quarts glasses, Cyclops is able to contain his eye-beams, and is equipped with a visor allowing him to unleash his abilites at different power settings. He was the clean-cut leader of the group - which made many fans think he was rather dull - but he held the group together and lead them forward. He also formed an immediate attraction to the first female student at Xaviers, that of Jean Grey, the seemingly perfect girl next door.

Where he's been

Cyclops continued to lead the X-Men, but found himself challenged when Xavier's new multi-cultural students where added to the team. Wolverine, especially, challenged Cyclops on everything - and even acted as a rival for Jean Grey's affections. When Jean Grey tragically died, after being driven mad by the power of the Phoenix (a cosmic entity that bonded with her), Cyclops left the group and fled to his home state of Alaska. He found and married another red-headed woman, who bore a striking resemblance to Jean Grey, married and had a child with her. When the real Jean Grey surprisingly returned from the dead, Cyclops abandoned his wife and child - and helped to establish the new group "X-Factor", a government sponsored team, meant to help mutants. X-Factor, in all actuality, was a revival of the 5 original X-Men, together once again. They served on the team together for many years, until eventually re-establishing with the X-Men. As for Cyclops' wife and child? For a time he thought his wife was dead, having perished along with the X-Men (who where letting the world think they where dead, at the time).

Cyclops had reclaimed and was raising his son, along with Jean Grey. Nathaniel Summers, sadly, was infected with a terminal illness - a techno-organic virus, from the villain Apocalypse. To save Nathaniel's life, Scott and Jean where forced to send the baby to the future - where a group called the Askani, who in a future where Apocalypse has taken over the world, they have a cure for said virus. (Their lives where wicked complicated, right? ^_^) That son eventually returned to the present as an adult -- as the soldier Cable.

If you think that was a convoluted summery, things got more complicated. Cyclops' look-a-like wife, turns out, was a clone of Jean Grey, created by Mister Sister - a terrible villain who had an obsessive curiosity with the DNA of Scott Summers and Jean Grey. Sinister, in fact, shadowed Cyclops through his entire life - and his interest in both of their DNA is actually well founded -- as Cable, if not for the techno-organic virus he struggles to still suppress in adulthood, would have the potential to have nearly god-like powers. During a big event called "Inferno", Scott's wife and Jean Grey where merged together - containing memories of both their lives.

So, given the insane level of manipulation aimed at Scott, his leaving his wife and son for Jean Grey doesn't sound half as bad, right? (No, not really. But go with me on it.) Scott and Jean eventually married, and together helped shepherd the X-Men into the future. Jean Grey and Scott, though, gradually became more and more distant. Cyclops ended up having a psychic affair with Emma Frost - which ruined his marriage. It was OK, though - Jean was well on her way to achieving a high state of being, as the Phoenix, and after dying (AGAIN), achieved that higher state, while seemingly giving her blessing for Cyclops to move on with his life.

Where he is NOW

With Emma Frost by his side, Cyclops helped gather and protect the remains of the mutant race, after the mutant population was decimated. Facing near-extinction, Cyclops became willing to do anything to revive his species. The X-Men, under his leadership, began to be more militant. Cyclops, also, became a firm believer in the supposed Mutant Messiah, a young girl named Hope - the first mutant born after the decimation of the mutant population.

It was thought that Hope was destined to be the next host for the Phoenix - but in a battle between the Avengers and the X-Men, Cyclops, Emma, and three others accidently became recipients of the Phoenix's power instead. That power, of course, drove them mad - with Cyclops raining down destruction on the world. Hope fulfilled her supposed destiny, by defeating Cyclops - and obtaining the Phoenix Force for herself. She was, however, able to give it up - but not before restoring the mutant race.

Cyclops, meanwhile, is in jail - behind a ruby quartz jail cell, to pay for his crimes as the Phoenix. Cyclops is more than happy to accept that fate - because, end of the day, he was able to save the species homo-superior.

Jean Grey

How she started

Jean Grey was the fifth student to join the Xavier institute, taking on the code name Marvel Girl. At first her psychic and telekinetic abilities where limited, but over the course of her life she would reach new heights. During these early years she began dating Scott Summers.

Where she's been

Jean Grey notably became host to a cosmic entity called "The Phoenix". The creature, a raging storm of destruction and rebirth, helped save Jean and the X-Men's lives. The purpose of possessing Jean would later  become clear, as the Phoenix was instrumental in stopping the Shi'ar Emperor D'Ken from using the M'Kraan Crystal, which could destroy the galaxy.

The Phoenix force, at first benevolent, eventually became corrupted from being in a mortal form. The range of human emotions Jean allowed the Phoenix to accesses drove it mad - eventually becoming Dark Phoenix. The Phoenix went out of control, even destroying an entire populated planet! Things where made worse when the Hellfire Club, a group of mutants dedicated to their own self interest, tried to harness the power of the Phoenix - by manipulating Jean Grey. The X-Men broke Jean free of that hold, but the ability for Jean to control the Dark Phoenix was too far gone. In response to the planetary destruction, the Shi'ar arrived on Earth - demanding the life of the Phoenix. The X-Men fought to defend Jean, but ultimately Jean Grey killed herself - knowing she could never control the Phoenix, and let it run loose like it had done before.

Where Jean Grey's story should have ended, a new chapter began - as she mysteriously was found alive again, but without the Phoenix. Apparently the Phoenix, when it first possessed Jean, protected Jean's body - a copy of Jean's body was used during the Phoenix's mission, and into it's death as Dark Phoenix. Jean was rejoined by Scott Summers, Iceman, Beast, and Angel - coming together as the group "X-Factor".

As detailed in Cyclop's history, Jean Grey eventually merged with a clone of herself - which was used by Mr. Sinister to manipulate Scott Summers. Sometime after this, Jean Grey accepted a proposal of marriage to Scott Summers.

Jean and Scott continued to lead the X-Men, but their marriage began to drift apart. The power of the Phoenix was re-emerging in her body once again - though this time tempered and under control. Her abilities and powers surpassed Xavier, as Jean was slowly elevating to a higher form of life. She eventually discovered Scott having a psychic affair with Emma Frost, which ruined their marriage. During a crisis, Jean Grey died for a second time - and then reached a higher state of being, where she seemingly gave Scott her blessing to move on.

Where she is NOW

Jean Grey's death and subsequent resurrection is one of the most hotly debated subjects in X-Men lore. Even though she technically died, and was reborn, only once - she became a standard bearer for over-used superhero resurrections.

The Jean Grey of the past will see a future in which she is no longer alive. The repercussions of that, and finding Wolverine's new school named after her, will be quite interesting to see.


How he started

Bobby Drake, aka Iceman, was the youngest in his class at the Xavier institute - which lead to him being somewhat of a prankster. His abilities to control snow, and transform his body into ice, showed rapid improvement - even during the first year, changing from a frosty-the-snowman like appearance, to a more human icicle-type style.

Where he's been

Iceman served with the X-Men for a very long time, and later served with his fellow alumni in X-Factor. All throughout Iceman never really changed much. He was always the more juvenile of the group - a trait he retained into adulthood.

Iceman's powers would continually increase - but it was only on the occasion, when Emma Frost invaded and took over his body, that Iceman was revealed to be an Omega-Class mutant - turning into and commanding ice being only the beginning of his powers.

Where he is NOW

Over the years Bobby has demonstrated higher levels of his powers, but never stepped up to his potential. When Wolverine asked Bobby to help run his new school, he asked for Bobby to finally step up, and bring his A-Game to the table. Where once Bobby has essentially coasted through life, it was here that he lived up to his potential - creating and controlling an entire army of Icemen, to defend the institute from attack. On an impulse, during the attack, Iceman kissed Kitty Pryde; the two have been dating since then.

Essentially, Iceman is perhaps the most well adjusted of the original 5 X-Men. He is now acting more responsible than he has in his whole life, and is maintaining a solid relationship. His younger self meeting his future self, though, will no doubt not be as simple as you'd think.


How he started

Hank McCoy joined the Xavier institute, where he showed a true aptitude for science and study - earning a doctorate in genetics and biochemistry. The most literate and well spoken of his peers, his code-name of Beast, deftly contrasted with his high intelligence.

Where he's been

After his studies where over at Xaviers, Beast took a job as a genetic researcher for the Brand Corporation, where by using a formula Hank was able to enhance his mutant abilities - but at a horrible cost, growing fangs and grey fur (later is turned blue); becoming more Beast-like than ever before.

Hank McCoy was able to achieve a dream of his, when he was able to join the Avengers. He developed a long lasting friendship with fellow Avenger Simon Williams, alongside they where both compared to 'the odd couple' (Beast, surprisingly, being the messy one). Hank's jocularity and relaxed attitude perhaps was because he was on a team simply as a super-hero, and not an advocate for mutant rights.

Beast later joined "The Defenders", before rejoining the mutant cause, alongside his fellow alumni, in X-Factor. Beast was experimented on a man named Maddicks, who was attempting to discover a cure for his son's mutancy. This made Beast loose his blue hairy appearance. Beast would later be afflicted with his blue-form once again, when struck by the villainess Infectia.

When X-Factor folded back in with the X-Men, Beast was faced with several medical challenges - the biggest being his attempt to find a cure for the mutant-disease "The Legacy Virus". This work consumed him for several years, with a cure often times out of reach, or requiring a significant sacrifice.

Beast's mutation took another turn, when he underwent a secondary mutation - becoming more cat-like in appearance and form. His new form drove his on-again, off-again girl friend Trish Tilby away from him for good -- making him quite resentful of his beastly form. When the X-Men where faced with a possible cure for mutancy, Beast was temped to utilize the cure - though Wolverine (violently) talked him out of it.

Where he is NOW

Beast has been serving with Captain America on the Secret Avengers, while also helping to maintain Wolverine's school. Depending on which artist is drawing him, Beast will either appear more cat-like, or more like his appearance in the 90s. His cat-like form was notable for having only 4 fingers -- one of which apparently grew back. (Different artists simply have different takes.) While Beast's third mutation was debated quite a lot, it ultimately was embraced by fans -- much like designer Frank Quietly said people would.

As far as Beast's personality and disposition - he is much less care-free these days. He was very vocal in his opposition to Scott Summer's militant side of the X-Men - eventually leaving the team. He has found a seeming Yin to his Yang, in Abigail Brand - who has a hardline, take no prisoners personality, in complete opposition to Beast's more liberal and cerebral opinions. He also acts as an advisor to S.W.O.R.D., the world's space-focused intelligence agency -- alongside his girlfriend/boss, Abigail Brand.


Where he's been

Warren Worthington the Third comes from a rich family - who sent him to Xavier's when he sprouted wings. He is able to fly,  and through use of the Danger Room, is taught how to maneuver and utilize his flying abilities to their fullest.

Where he's been

After graduating from the X-Men, Worthington later joined Hank McCoy in the Defenders - and later in X-Factor. It was during his tenure with X-Factor that Warren suffered a severe injury to his wings, which was made worse when his wings where amputated. This created an opening for Apocalypse to take advantage of - bestowing Warren wing new Wings, made of techno-organic metal, able to retract fully into his back - and shoot his metal feathers like daggers. This process also turned Warren's skin blue. There was a deep price to all of this - as Warren was brain-washed into becoming Apocalypse's Horseman of Death - and fought against X-Factor.

When Apocalypse was defeated, Warren was free from his control - but the damage done to Warren's personality and soul where irreparable. Where once he went by the code-name Angel, he now went by the name "Archangel", and was tortured by his own anger and rage at what Apocalypse had done to him. Over time he would recover, with his attitude being tempered.

When X-Factor folded back in with the X-Men, Archangel found the seeming true love of his life, Elizabeth Braddock, who he began dating for quite a long while.

Archangel eventually underwent a mysterious change - where his metal wings cracked and shattered - revealing a newly grown set of feathered wings. His skin still remained blue for a long time, until another incident also reversed this. The dark mark left on his soul was seemingly reversing -- but it all was stripped away when he joined with Wolverine in X-Force - where his feathery wings morphed back into metal, his skin turned blue again - and he was consumed by an uncontrollable bloodlust.

Warren was able to maintain his cured appearance and attitude when with the X-Men -- but unleashed his inner fury and desire to kill with X-Force. The turn-around of his powers and personality, though, where leading to something. Betsy tried with all her psychic powers to cage and restrain the Horseman of "Death" personality in Archangel's mind - but it was a loosing battle.

After an attempt to eliminate Apocalypse for good, it seems the legacy of Apocalypse over powered Warren, as he betrayed X-Force, and took up the mission Apocalypse once championed. Finally willing to loose Warren, Betsy Braddock made the sacrifice of trying to kill him. Mad with power, and acting like Apocalypse more and more - a Life Seed was used to defeat Archangel. X-Force thought Archangel was lost, but from the wreckage of Apocalypse/Archangel's plan, came a mind-wiped Warren.

Where he is NOW

Archangel now has no memories of his former life, and is innocently naive - like a child. He is accepted into Wolverine's school, to relearn all the things he has forgotten. For a long while Warren thought he was an angel - and even demonstrated healing abilities.

Being a complete blank, after all the horrible darkness in Warren's life, will be quite a shock to his younger time-displaced self.

Professor Xavier

Xavier has dedicated his whole life toward peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants. His dream has been championed by an army of dedicated and loyal students, all of who started with the original 5 X-Men, of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Beast and Angel.

Xavier tragically died at the hands of his very first pupil, Scott Summers, when he was consumed by the Phoenix Force. Bendis has stated that he thinks Xavier works better dead, rather than alive; before this Xavier was cast to the sideline by Cyclop's militant push.

Being dead, though, things aren't done for Xavier. The new villain of Uncanny Avengers, the Red Skull, has big plans in store for Xavier -- or at least, for Xavier's brain, which has been harvested from his corpse. The most powerful mutant brain in the whole world is in the hands of the Red Skull now - and I'm sure this plotline will be tied into between Remenders' Uncanny Avengers, and Bendis' All New X-Men.


The foes the original X-Men faced primarily consisted of Magneto, the Brotherhood of Evil, and Sentinels. Inbetween they also faced more conventional villains, though it was the Brotherhood and Sentinels that would follow the team for years to come.

Sentinels, at first simple, become vastly more complex - with the potential and desire to destroy and take over the world. Several future time-lines show a future where Sentinels have taken over, running mutant concentration camps. The entire mutant nation of Genosha was wiped off the map by Sentinels, making these government-created abominations a long-feared threat to mutants and the X-Men.

The Brotherhood of Evil, as formed by Magneto, consisted of Toad, Mastermind, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch. Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch betrayed Magneto early on - with other mutants coming in, and claiming the name of the Brotherhood.

Magneto has changed often through the years, having been given back his youth at one point - and becoming Headmaster of Xavier's school. His tenure as headmaster would no lost long - as Magneto's temperament and legacy, ultimately, was that of a villain. Magneto, though, found new favor with the X-Men recently - when he began following Scott Summer's lead, in trying to restore the mutant race. When possessed by the Phoenix, even Magneto's harsh temperament and tactics paled in comparison to how far Cyclops was willing to go.

I'm sure the villains of the X-Men, new and old, will be dealt with in this new series.

I'm very much looking forward to this event. It is something different, harkening to the X-Men's past - but also used to push the X-Men forward. For anyone who doesn't know much about the X-Men (or got lost in the convoluted history I just wrote about) - this series might be an excellent jumping on point for new fans, as everything will be brand new to the 5 time-displaced students.

1 comment:

  1. Jean's going to be the most interesting to watch considering all that's happened to her, thanks for this write up.