I’m back! After having previously recounted the best X-Men stories of the ‘90s and then of the ‘80s, I figured I’d keep working my way back in time to the ‘70s and the ‘60s. However, the X-Men didn’t have as many stories in either of those decades as in the later ones- they didn’t start until 1963 and didn’t go monthly until late in ’65, and they weren’t featured in new stories from 1970 to ’75- so I decided to combine their first two decades into one big column. Or, series of columns, as the case may be.
The Juggernaut! X-Men #12-13, 1965: I know that there’s a lot of love for the one-and-done comic nowadays but for me the X-Men didn’t really get going good until they started expanding into longer stories. This Juggernaut story by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby is the first real two-parter in the series and it’s one of my favorites. There have been plenty of better Juggernaut covers over the years (Juggy’s kind of small in the first one; and only in profile in the second) but I’m not sure he’s been in any better stories than his first one. The X-Men weren’t exactly mutant powerhouses in those days. They usually had to outsmart their opponent rather than overpower them. So it was a real test for them to go up against an unstoppable force like the Juggernaut. Making the story even tenser is the fact that they don’t actually beat the Juggernaut the first time. They really have to overcome the odds and their own fears that they might not be good enough to beat this bad guy in order to win. Plus, making the story even more engaging is the fact that this is the first personal villain for the X-Men as Juggernaut is revealed as Professor Xavier’s step-brother. There’s the feeling that Juggernaut should be one of them, and would’ve been if his relationship with Charles had been different when they were children. Finally, a guest appearance by the Human Torch in the second issue is just an added bonus.
The Mimic as a Member, X-Men #27-29, 1966: Roy Thomas is sometimes accused of merely mimicking Stan Lee, but these three issues of X-Men show that he didn’t mind mixing it up a little. The Mimic had been previously introduced by Stan Lee in his final issue (#19). Now, Roy Thomas brings him back but in a new and interesting way. Lee had created the Mimic to be a natural foe for the X-Men, someone who combines all of their powers and can use those powers against them. Thomas turns the story around. He brings the Mimic in as an ally, asking if he can join the team. This causes a few unintended consequences for the team. They’ve never had a new member before and there’s a bit of a strain on the team dynamic. Plus, Mimic is easily the most powerful member on the team, leaving the founders feeling like second-class citizens. For one of their first missions, Thomas sends them out against the Banshee, showing he can create new characters as well. And again, Thomas shows that a villain just might have a ray of good inside of him. Then, Thomas pits the Mimic against his own perfect foe- the Super-Adaptoid, a robot capable of mimicking the powers of the Avengers. The Mimic’s departure feels a little forced. Perhaps Thomas felt like he didn’t have the authority to add a new permanent member yet. But even as a temporary member, the Mimic made for some memorable stories.
The Mutant-Master, X-Men #37-39, 1967: This is just a great X-Men epic by Roy Thomas and Don Heck. The story sets up the Mutant Master as a formidable nemesis for the team. Almost all of the X-Men’s former foes are either captured by the Mutant Master or working for him. There’s the Blob, Unus, the Changeling, the Vanisher and even the Juggernaut. Once again, the X-Men are facing almost impossible odds. Yet this story also marks a great step forward. By the end of the story, Banshee is working with the good guys instead of against them. And this is the story that hints that the Changeling could be an ally someday down the road as well. It’s also a step forward for those already on the team. They abandon their school uniforms and take individual costumes. They’re no longer students; they’re heroes in their own right and their costumes show it. The combination of overwhelming odds and positive developments makes this a story to remember.
Lorna Dane and Mesmero, X-Men #49-52, 1968: Arnold Drake is pretty much ignored as a writer of the X-Men. And it’s understandable. Certainly, his short run doesn’t have the momentous impact on the team’s history of the original Stan Lee issues or Roy Thomas’ larger contributions. Yet Drake managed to turn in at least one great epic during his time on the title. He creates a new love interest for Iceman in Lorna Dane. Then he gives her powers as Polaris. He creates a new enemy in the Demi-Men. Then he pulls a switch on you to reveal that the real enemy is actually Mesmero. He keeps the heroes, villains and readers guessing with the introduction of Erik the Red. Then he reveals that Erik the Red is actually Cyclops. He even brings in Magneto for some great confrontations concerning whether or not Lorna Dane is actually his daughter. Perhaps more than any other X-writer, Arnold Drake knows how to twist the reader around in a way that makes for a great story. Plus, these issues feature some stunning covers by Jim Steranko and even some Steranko interior art in issue 51.
Havok, Sentinels and
the Savage Land, X-Men #54-63, 1969: I could’ve broken this selection up into
several different entries, but the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams run hangs together as
a unit so well that I chose to keep it together. It starts with the Alex Summers/Living
Monolith trilogy in issues 54 to 56. It
continues with a Sentinels trilogy from issues 57 to 59. And it culminates with a four-part tale that
shifts from Sauron to the Savage Land to Magneto from
issues 60 to 63. Yet the stories overlap
and intersect in interesting ways. The
first section may deal with Scott’s discovery of his younger brother Alex and their
battle against the Living Pharaoh in Egypt