Open Mike Night: Uncanny X-Men #1 (1963) and Uncanny X-Men #1 (2013)

Uncanny X-Men #1 (2013)

Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencilled by: Chris Bachalo
Inked by: Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey
Colored by: Chris Bachalo
Lettered by: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Published by: Marvel
Cover Price: $3.99

Maillaro: I will admit, I had a lot of hesitation on Bendis taking over the X-Men books. I don’t hate on Bendis like a lot of people, but I am not sure “superhero team” book is the right fit for Bendis. I never really liked his Avengers. Though I love his Powers, Ultimate Spider-Man, Alias, and many other books I’ve read by him.

I did try All-New X-Men very cautiously, and I have enjoyed that book quite a bit. So, I thought it was only fair to give Uncanny X-Men a try.

I am starting with a major spoiler, but I do want to talk about my favorite part of this book. I love the parallel that just like in the original Uncanny X-Men 1, the main conflict between this book will be between Magneto and Cyclops. I kept trying to guess who the mystery figure was throughout the comic, and when it was revealed to be Magneto, I was pretty blindsided. It just fits so well, and his motivations are definitely well in line with the Magneto I’ve always loved.

Weaver: You’re kidding me. I got that it was Magneto right away. I actually was beginning to second guess because I thought Bendis might be going for a situation where you think it’s one guy and it turns out to be someone totally different. The San Diego flashback cemented it for me beyond the shadow of a doubt, though.

I am one of the few people who actually kind of liked Disassembled, and Avengers Finale was great. But I couldn’t get back into the book even though I gave both New and Mighty a shot. I don’t hate Bendis either, but what I’m seeing here worries me about his ability to write a team book. Beyond Magneto and Cyclops, the characters don’t seem to have real distinctive voices. The main plot was good, and the dialogue between Hill and Magneto was good, but once it expands beyond a one on one conversation, that flaw starts to show.

There’s some very interesting parallels here between this and the Uncanny #1 that came out 50 years ago. Magneto vs. Cyclops is the obvious, but think about the military too. In volume one, it was the X-Men cozying up to them, here, the tables are turned.

Maillaro: What threw me was the guy was bald…and I had no idea Magneto was bald now, to be honest. I kept thinking “clone Xavier” or something like that.

I am actually really glad to latched on to the fact that there were parallels here. I was starting to think I was the only one who noticed them. Or that I was just nuts.

I totally agree with you about the lack of distinctive voices for a lot of the characters. Emma was the worst. Her art was kind of strange, and with her dialouge sounding nothing like the Emma I’ve read for years, I genuinely thought it was a different character at times.

Also, the book was a little narration heavy in the dialouge. Read like an old Claremont issue of X-Men at times, “Not so long ago, I would have had the power to fold these nightmares into themselves, but it seems, those days are behind me. But I can and will use what power over Magnetism I have left.” WHO TALKS LIKE THAT? A lot of people gripe about Bendis’s staccato form of dialouge he uses in a lot of his titles, but I genuinely think that reads much better and sounds more natural that what he was doing here.

Weaver: Yes! Both Emma’s voice (Emma referred to the Sentinels as “puppies” when talking to Magneto, as the worst example) and Magneto’s super narratives during the fight scene really bugged me. Sometimes, you have to let the action tell its own story. Speaking of which, the title page which gave the little “hated and feared” description of the title…was it me, or did it feel like they kept adding extra clauses onto that which were unnecessary? I was half expecting “But I ate Subway for lunch” to end up there. If you can’t give a description in two sentences, three more aren’t really going to help you.

It’s certainly possible that Bendis can recover here and make this a great title. The plot is good. Magneto and Hill is good. The rest…is kind of hot mess. I’m going to give it a 2.5/5 on writing, because I feel there’s enough positives to balance some of the negatives, but not enough to outweigh them.

Maillaro: I definitely wouldn’t go that low. I had some minor annoyances, but over all I really enjoyed this book a lot. I might just be setting the bar so low because X-Men hasn’t appealed to me this much in a long time, but I would go a solid 4/5 on the writing. I liked the new characters quite a bit, and am very curious where this is going with how powerful and in control the newest manifesting mutants are…while the old mutants are having so many problems with their powers. I just really thought this was a solid first issue in terms of story.

Artwise, I am torn. I like Bachalo’s art…and if I was looking at this as a new comic with no connection to anything that has come before, I would have been fine with the art on this comic. It’s a little stylized, but I typically like that. But Cyclops, Emma, and Magneto just looked really different to me. Like completely different characters. I also don’t think it helped that this book had three different inkers (yet Bachalo did the coloring himself, oddly enough).

Weaver: I haven’t read X-Men since just before Onslaught, so I’m comparing it to some generally well-regarded stories. Maybe that’s part of the difference. If these were just a few minor things, I might forgive them and be more lenient on the score, but to me, this title needs to deliver with inter-team dialogue, as all the best team comics do. Two of your three best known characters have awful dialogue when the three of them are stuck together, and that’s not good. It’s also not good when I’m not sure where a word balloon is coming from and decide, ultimately, it doesn’t matter.

I like Chris Bachalo’s work here. Magneto in the field being completely opaque helmet looked great to me. Granted, people out of costume like Maria Hill and Emma Frost were difficult to recognize…I would not have recognized either if I wasn’t told who they were. The Sentinels actually looked terrifying, which is somewhat rare. Only Neal Adams has made the giant robot style Sentinels look this imposing. He sold me on the fight scene completely. I’m going to give Bachalo a 4 here. He gives me what I expect him to give me, and raises me awesome Sentinels.

Hey, I also wanted to talk about Dialogue-Based Continuity. This is something you and I discuss a lot. As a quick definition to readers, this is a term Mike and I use to indicate that characters may not be telling the whole truth, so when they narrate something, it doesn’t automatically make it factually correct, or even factually correct from the character’s perspective. This sprang up for the first time in our discussions of Dr. Strange’s “No such thing as chaos magic” in Disassembled, and I think it’s important to think about here. Hill even points out that it seems there’s a possible flaw in Magneto’s story about Cyclops’ ability to control his powers, and Magneto gladhands it away.

Your thought. Is Cyclops out of control, both of his powers and mentally? And if so, is he as out of control as Magneto says?

Maillaro: I would go 3.5/5 on the art just because it sort of felt inconsistent with other books I’ve read over the year with these characters. But on it’s own, 4/5 would be a fair score. And yes, I did love those Sentinels!!

I have some info you don’t on this, so I am sort of cheating. In All New X-Men, it has definitely been shown that something is wrong with Cyclops’ power. But, the what and why are just speculation on Cyke, Emma, and Magneto’s part. It was suggested that it was the members of the Phoenix Five (though it only seems like Cyclops and Emma…Namor seems fine, Magik seems fine…and I don’t think we’ve really seen much of Colossus), and Magneto because Phoenix kicked his ass during Avengers Vs X-Men.

Honestly, I think there is a lot more to this story than any of them realize, so I don’t think Magneto is lying as much as he believes information that is just incorrect. Bendis seems to love those kinds of twists and turns in his story, which is primarily what makes me think that.

Weaver: Well, there is a piece of that, but I also suspect that Magneto is spin doctoring it to a certain level. He wants Hill to react, so he’s phrasing it in ways that makes him think she must. After all, who knows better about what the military brass consider a threat than the captor of Cape Canaveral?

Maillaro: I didn’t consider it that way, but it is Magneto, and he is always up to his own agenda…or at least was back when he was written well (which I think he is here).

Uncanny X-Men #1 (1963)

Written by: Stan Lee
Pencilled by: Jack Kirby
Inked by: Paul Reinman
Colored by: Uncredited
Lettered by: S. Rosen
Published by: Marvel
Cover Price: 12 cents ($1.99 on Comixology)

Weaver: Our other Uncanny X-Men #1 here is a classic, the comic that started it all. Poor Scott doesn’t even have a name here, but he doesn’t need one because the main hero focus is on Iceman and Jean. I was kind of surprised rereading this, Xavier has some pretty violent ideas for a major pacifist. He more or less says that getting beat up is good for Iceman and Beast, for instance. I actually felt that all seven major characters came out of the box with distinct voices, even if Magneto’s distinct voice was as a cartoony Snidely Whiplash sort.

Maillaro: Yeah, it had been a long time since I read this book. There has always been this myth that Stan Lee intentionally created Magneto and Professor X as stand in’s for Malcolm X and MLK, but they never really dealt with a lot of those issues directly back then.

One thing that really surprised me is that Xavier and the X-Men have a huge superiority complex over humans. Xavier makes it sounds like humans are children that need to be protected by mutants, and Angel goes out of his way to point out “Mistakes are for Homo Sapiens.” It almost feels like Xavier is the United States, Magneto is the USSR, and humanity are just the smaller countries that should be pushed around as pawns in their bigger chess game. Well, okay, I am sort of extrapolating that based on later comics. Xavier and Magneto having a relationship or even knowing of each other before this issue is not even hinted at here.

And what is with The Sexual Harassing Beast? I like that they show Jean can stand up for herself, but seeing Hank as a big groping goon is just plain wrong!

Weaver: I want to think it is kind of like how you can watch, say, Goldfinger and they add a sound effect for James Bond slapping a girl on the ass. In the sixties, standards were a little different. But here, something else is going on, which you touch on a bit. The guys are obviously played to be the buffoons, whereas Jean is just totally together and almost Audrey Hepburnish. She’s totally poised and in control. Adding to the sexual harassment  note how right after she changes into uniform ALL of them are peeping up on her. And while those sorts of things were more common in 60’s entertainment, good on Stan for having her stick up for herself.

Not only do the X-Men buy into the “mutants are better” rhetoric, even the non-mutant army seems to just nod and smile along with it. Yes, we suck compared to you, thanks for displaying your awesomeness to our unworthy eyes. It’s kind of a shocking thing here, because it almost feels like the reverse of what the X-Men became. They’re not hated and feared because they’re different. They’re seen as something incredibly awesome due to their difference. I want to think that some of this early swagger led to how the perceptions of mutants changed.

Maillaro: Yeah, at the end of the issue, the general seemed ready to drop down on his knees and provide Scott with a hell of a thank you…

Which is kind of amusing when you consider, the X-Men never even landed a solid blow on Magneto. They basically just managed to chase him off. Magneto comes off as so powerful, but at the same time, a bit of a coward. It’s not how you expect to see Magneto portrayed, but definitely fits how villains acted back then. Damn comic code!

I would give the writing on this issue a 3.5/5. A good first issue…and a hell of a lot better than a lot of early X-Men which is just painful to read.

I have to admit…I have never been a huge Jack Kirby fan. His characters either have no emotion or too much emotion. Magneto through this entire comic has his mouth wide open in shock. Xavier’s expression never changes…and Xavier often has a really big head, which I found creepy as a kid. I think Kirby has some cool designs and his stories flow great, but the art itself has just never really worked for me.

Weaver: It was obvious that Stan and Jack weren’t feelin’ this title much after the first few issues, and a lot of Silver Age was therefore done by other people. They bailed quickly. Then again, they also bailed quickly on Avengers, and that only got better when they left. I’m going to go fours on both writing and art. I like Lee/Kirby. Say what you want of him, but Kirby was doing like four titles a month at this time. Of course his guys are going to be kind of blocky and generic. His design for Jean in civvies was awesome. And he knew how to tell a story with his art.

Maillaro: It was also a very different time for comics, especially in terms of art. I grew up on comics in the 90’s, when artists were really the rockstars of the industry. Liefeld, Lee, McFarlane, Larsen… Reading comics from the 60’s, it never fails to surprise me how the art was much more functional…but to me, much less exciting looking.

I feel bad, but I am hard pressed to give the art on this book higher than a 3/5. I am obsessed with faces and emotions in my comics, and Kirby just doesn’t seem to do much with those.

Weaver: You’re spending so much time looking at the trees that you don’t understand the forest. What Kirby does is use sequential art to tell a story with the assistance of Stan Lee. He doesn’t need to show you the characters’ emotional states very much because Stan’s got that covered. To me, many of those 90’s comics were searching for that “splash page pin-up” and Kirby decidedly avoids giving you that. I like that for this type of comic. It’s not overly stylish, it sticks to telling the story instead of being the story.

Which isn’t to say all 60’s comics were like that. You know what, I’m going to challenge you to read a Steranko Nick Fury story for next week. For all that we want to look at the 90’s as the age of rock stardom, Jim Steranko was very much a stylized splash page driven art machine before that was cool. And then at the tail end of the 60’s you could add Neal Adams, but Steranko is something that people who aren’t familiar with his work are surprised to find in that era.

Maillaro: How about a Sterenko X-Men issue instead. Comixology has a few of those, and no Fury. BOO!! And I definitely take that challenge!

Understand though, I am not saying Kirby’s art is bad, just “not my kind of thing.”

Weaver: Let’s do X-Men #50, since I’m pretty sure I know where my copy of that is. Although…51 is in a lot of ways a better story, and lets you troll people easily. Here’s a splash page from it just to give you an idea of what you’re in for.

Bear in mind that this is the 60’s…but the acid tripping end of the 60’s rather than the relatively cleancut Kirby era, so…

Maillaro: Sounds good. You wanted to do a retro review each week anyway, so we might as well get them going more often.

As for a new book….hmmm…Nova come out next week. Not ever sure if I want to read that. Up for a DC book? We actually haven’t done any yet. Justice League of America #1 comes out.

Weaver: …didn’t JLA just have a #1? Sure, I’ll do it, sign me up.

Maillaro: DC is expanding to two Justice League books (well three if you count Justice League Dark..which isn’t really a Justice League comic). Justice League, which is the big seven, and Justice League of America, which is a more quirky team. Green Arrow, Hawkman, Catwoman, Stargirl, Martian Manhunter, the new Green Lantern (who is a real cool character), Vibe, and Katana. BTW, Justice League of America is launching with 50 variant covers…one for each state. Gotta love comics.

Weaver: Isn’t J’onn one of the big seven? Also, yay Michigan cover. I hope it’s a bunch of burned out old houses and factories, because that’s the best way to represent my home city.

Maillaro: In new 52, J’onn was replaced by Cyborg. J’onn has never been a member of the Justice League. Go figure.

Weaver: Oh. Okay then. Huh. Well, I guess I’ll sign off with a note that this will officially be the first real comic featuring Martian Manhunter I have ever read.

Maillaro: I, on the other hand, have read many. Including his solo series by John Ostrander. Peace out, Open Mike readers!

Post Script

Maillaro: While I was doing final edits to post this column, I remembered two quick things I wanted to mention regarding the original 1963 X-Men #1:

– Yes, we know the series wasn’t actually called Uncanny X-Men back in the 60’s, but for simplicity sake that is what we went with for the column.

– I really hate that Marvel throws all kind of text on the covers of their digital books. Does a comic from 1963 really need: “” and “(c) 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved”? It’s just so tacky!

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