onsdag den 14. december 2011

The all-new international X-Men

The new X-Men were actually born to tap into Marvel Comics’ foreign market.

“(In 1973, ‘74) Stan Lee and I had a meeting with (the President of Marvel Comics) Al Landau,” then Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas recalled in Comics Creators On X-Men. “Al suggested Marvel do a group of foreign superheroes… characters from countries in which Marvel sold a lot of comics. Stan and I liked the idea.”

“Al Landau had his own company called Transworld, which at that time was reselling Marvel’s work overseas by the page,” Thomas added in The X-Men Companion. “He knew that if we, for example, had big markets in three or four countries and we had a team that had three or four characters in it, one from each country, we’d have a terrific hit on our hands overseas.”

“I had been wanting to bring back the X-Men for a while,” Thomas told Comic Creators On X-Men. “I said, “Look, the group we should do as the international team is the X-Men. Take a couple of the original members, like Cyclops, and have them go looking around the world gathering up mutants from other countries.””

Mutant Blackhawks

“I had the idea that Cyclops and one or two others – I’d probably have gone for Marvel Girl, myself – would have a ship that would float around from one country to another, hidden by clouds,” Thomas revealed in Comic Creators On X-Men. “It could cross borders without having to go through customs.”

“Sort of a Noah’s Ark thing, that would fly around with a portable cloud around it,” Thomas added in The X-Men Companion. “It would hover over various countries in search of different X-Men and that would get them into adventures. However, I obviously expected to get up to about four, five, or six characters that would be pretty regular and then, of course, you bring others in, you take them out.”

“I was thinking of the international flavour of a team like the Blackhawks, who came from six or seven different countries,” Thomas told Comic Creators On X-Men. “I think I mentioned that to Dave Cockrum and Mike Friedrich, who were supposed to be the original artist-writer team.”
“Dave Cockrum was brought to it because he was a good, young, available artist who was interested in the assignment. He had been doing a lot of different character designs, and we were going to have to create new characters.”

“I was hanging around Marvel in those days looking for something to do,” Dave Cockrum recalled in The X-Men Companion. “One day I had a few minutes alone with Roy when he wasn’t doing anything and we started to kick around the idea of the X-Men. He said that he had always wanted to start a new group and sort of treat them like mutant Blackhawks, an international group. I think they would be based on the island that Magneto used to have that was invisible to tracking devices and radar and which you couldn’t see. Magneto had it in a Sub-Mariner crossover (in X-Men #6) and we had talked about the possibility of the X-Men appropriating that island and operating out of there.”

A different direction

“This all happened shortly before I left the Editor-in-Chief position,” Thomas continued in Comics Creators On X-Men. “I think the idea sat on the shelf for some months after that. When Len Wein came on as Editor-in-Chief, he sort of appointed himself writer.”

“I don’t know what the problem was, but the X-Men project went on hiatus for a while,” Cockrum recalled in Comics Creators On X-Men. “When it came back, Mike was occupied with other stuff and he had to pass, so Len was brought in.”

“By the time the book came out (in 1975), I was long gone from the Editor-in-Chief job,” Thomas concluded in Comics Creators On X-Men. “They completely lost sight of the idea of selling the book in a lot of different countries. I don‘t know why Al Landau let that whole part of the idea be ignored, but at least it was there long enough to have been an impetus to get the new concept going, and then somehow everybody lost the road map. I’m sure I mentioned that to Mike or Dave originally, but somehow or other, by the time Len was writing the book, the whole idea of having the new heroes be from countries where Marvel sold a lot of comics got lost.”

“Roy gave me some notion of what he’d like to see in terms of international characters, but ultimately, of course, the new team didn’t really wind up being what Marvel expected,” Cockrum revealed in Comics Creators On X-Men. “I got together with Len Wein and we kicked around some ideas and then I just went home and started drawing characters.”

Starting from scratch

“The principal idea was that if we had all of these foreign characters, we could export the books to their respective countries,” artist Dave Cockrum recalled in Wizard Magazine. “Then we went and picked a bunch of nationalities whose countries weren’t likely to take the books to market, places like Russia and Africa.”

“It had been cancelled with the old cast initially, and it wasn’t selling very well even when it was being done by Roy Thomas and Neal Adams and Tom Palmer,” Len Wein reasoned in The X-Men Companion. “If that group of talent couldn’t make that group of characters sell… The decision to keep even Cyclops was ours. We just wanted to tie the new series to the past, something to make it recognizable as the X-Men. Cyclops was the only great character among the old X-Men because of the eyeblasts, and the sense of tragedy about the character.”

“With the exception of Cyclops, I never considered the original characters to be all that strong,” Cockrum told Wizard #33. “So I was happy for the chance to reshape things. I practically started from scratch.”

The second try

“Marvel were going to continue reprinting in the regular title and do a Giant-Size series,” Cockrum revealed in Comics Creators On X-Men. “The first book, Giant-Size X-Men #1 – Len and I plotted it together, though there were also a number of other guys in the bullpen, including Chris Claremont, who sat in on the sessions and kicked in ideas. We hammered out the first story and decided we didn’t like it so we threw it out and started over again. The story that came out was actually our second try.”

“What I remember primarily is that the original story idea was absolutely horrible,” Cockrum told The X-Men Companion. “It was something to do with sending the new team down to South America to rescue the old X-Men and finding a whole bunch of Aztec gods walking around and raising hell and having to combat the Aztec gods who would wind up to be the original X-Men dressed as Aztec gods and I was going, “Nooooooo…””

“I don’t know if anybody else disliked it as much as I did, but I finally said, “Listen, I don’t think I can stand this” and Len went out and took a pill – he was taking a lot of tranquilizers in those days. And we all got up and walked around, and sat down and started thinking about it again.”

X-Men flunkers

“When we were first planning out that first issue, we decided what we were going to do was have it be an aptitude test or an entrance exam or something like that,” Cockrum revealed in The X-Men Companion. “They would be sent off to rescue the original X-Men, but the original X-Men would not actually be in any danger. We figured if it’s an entrance exam, theoretically, there are people who are going to flunk as well as people who pass, and so we had Banshee and Sunfire, and we were gonna flunk ‘em. Then, we thought, “Well, that doesn’t seem fair, we ought to have a new guy to flunk too, a new guy who’s unsuitable.” So that was what Thunderbird was for, to be a flunker. He was unsuitable because he was anti-social.”

“But at the last minute – well, I liked Banshee and we all liked Thunderbird, so we figured to hell with it. It turned out not to be a test anyway. So we had Sunfire, who nobody much liked, go off in a huff, and we kept Banshee and we kept Thunderbird. But then we didn’t know what to do with Thunderbird because we never thought him out. It was easier to kill him off than to think him out.”

“I liked the new characters and thought they were strong enough to carry the book,” Cockrum told Comics Creators On X-Men. “We actually got some angry letters when we came out with the new guys. “How dare you get rid of the old guys?” That sort of thing.”

“Len Wein wound up becoming Editor-in-Chief and had to give up a book or two. Len Wein and I had actually plotted the Nefaria story (in X-Men #94-95) before Chris was hired. It was originally going to be Giant-Size X-Men #2, but Marvel decided not to go with the Giant-Size title. The company re-established the regular X-Men title and broke the story into two parts.”

Len Wein’s unused X-Men ideas

“When I did the first few stories – Giant-Size #1 and the two-parter that Chris ended up dialoguing – Chris Claremont was very excited about things. He made some good suggestions,” Len Wein explained to Comic Book Profiles. “At the time, I was Editor-in-Chief and could only write a book a month with the schedule I was keeping. I was writing Incredible Hulk and the X-Men so something had to give. The Hulk was my favorite book and my favorite character so I had to find someone to take over the X-Men. Chris’ enthusiasm made him a logical choice.”

“Chris was chosen and that turned out to be a good thing,” Cockrum recalled in Comics Creators On X-Men.

“I was going to bring characters in and out of the book, to keep you on your toes,” Wein revealed in The X-Men Companion. “Professor X was going to erase knowledge of the X-Men from the rest of the world, any record of Colossus and Nightcrawler. The people in charge of those records would wander into the room one day and put them in the paper shredder and burn away the files and never notice they weren’t there anymore. I was going to have Professor X solve the problems of this international group by eliminating evidence. And then eventually someone was going to stumble over something and go. There was going to be a big conflict. He’d erased the evidence of their existence from the rest of the world, and other people would discover that these characters had been elsewhere first. (…) Chris did other things.”

Comic Book Profiles #8, Fall 1999
Tom DeFalco: Comics Creators On X-Men, April 2006
Clifford Meth: Ex-X-Man, Wizard #33, May 1994
Peter Sanderson: The X-Men Companion I, March 1982

mandag den 5. december 2011

Stan Lee's X-Men

The creation of the Mutants, and the true origin of Onslaught

Marvel Comics Group’s X-Men series started publication in 1963. It was created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby. What separated it from other superhero comics at the time was that the X-Men were mutants, Homo Superior. They were born with an extraordinary gene that manifested during puberty, resulting in super powers.

In the Marvel Universe, mutants weren’t deviations from humanity, but instead the next step in humanity’s evolution. That’s why mutants were hated by humanity, which feared that mutants would take over the world, which just happened to be what the X-Men’s archenemy Magneto wanted to do.

The X-Men’s mission was to find mutants and teach them how to deal with their super abilities, as well as to protect both mutants and humanity from the exploitation of evil mutants. The X-Men’s teacher was Professor Charles Xavier, and the X-Men consisted of Cyclops (Scott Summers), Marvel Girl (Jean Grey), Beast (Henry McCoy), Angel (Warren Worthington) and Iceman (Bobby Drake).

 “I wanted to do a new team of heroes and I said to myself, “I’ve run out of radioactivity and gamma rays and cosmic rays – what excuse can I find for these guys getting super powers?”” Stan Lee recalled in Comics Creators On X-Men. “I took the cowardly way out and said, “Wait a minute, what if they were just mutants? What if they were just born that way? Everybody knows there are mutations in real life. There are frogs that are born with five legs and so forth. I can get these guys to have any power I want. I’ll just say, “Well, they’re mutants. They were born that way.” Nobody can argue with that!””

“As with all superhero teams, I had to have an excuse for putting them together,” Lee recalled in Wizard: X-Men Turn Thirty. “The Fantastic Four were essentially a family, the Avengers were a club. What could the X-Men be that would be different? (…) I figured if they’re teenagers, what’s more natural than a school?”

The Mutants

“Now I had to decide what kind of powers the X-Men should have; what kind of people they should be,” Stan Lee told Wizard: X-Men Turn Thirty. “At the time, there was no character around (at Marvel) with wings, so I figured I’d design a guy who flies – the Angel. He was rich and conceited. Then I wanted a character sort of like the (Human) Torch. What’s the opposite of fire? Ice. Water might have been the opposite, but I couldn’t think of anything to do visually with water.”

“The Beast I loved – he looked like the crudest one, but he was the most well-educated and cultured. I enjoyed that contrast. I hated the name Marvel Girl, but I couldn’t think of anything better. Cyclops was another favorite, because I love tortured heroes – and he was tortured because he couldn’t control his power. He was the serious, brooding one.”

“I thought of Professor X as (actor) Yul Brynner. (…) I thought it would be good if he was physically limited, since his mind was so powerful. Even though he was confined to the wheelchair, in a way he was the most powerful.”

“I thought Professor X would want to get them all together without anyone suspecting what he’s doing as he trains them, so what would be better than what seems to be a private school? I figured anybody would drive by, see the sign and figure it’s a normal school. Little would they dream that there’s a Danger Room inside.”
“By the way, the Danger Room was Jack Kirby’s idea. I thought it was great because we could always open with an action sequence if we needed to.”

“I originally wanted to call the book The Mutants, but Martin Goodman, who was my publisher at the time, didn’t like that name,” Stan Lee revealed in Comics Creators On X-Men. “He said our readers wouldn’t know what a mutant was. So, okay, since their leader was Professor Xavier, and they each had an “X-tra” power, I decided to call them the X-Men. So I said to Martin, “How about X-Men?” He said the title sounded good so we went with it.”

The concept of the X-Men

“The X-Men were unique among all our characters,” Stan Lee stated in Comics Creators On X-Men. “With the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, you had groups of heroes that everyone liked. Nobody felt hostile to them. When I started out with Spider-Man, the police were against him and people were afraid of him. I wanted a team of superheroes that were treated like Spider-Man. Instead of being lauded by the public, they’d be feared and hated and hounded and shunned. (…) The more good things the X-Men did, the more the public hated them. I thought that was an interesting concept.”

“The whole underlying message of the X-Men was about “love thy fellow man”. He may have wings growing out of his back or beams shooting out of his eyes, or he may be a different colour or different race, but he’s still your brother. It’s wrong to hate or persecute people just because they look or act different than you, or because they worship differently than you do.”

“It’s tough for me to remember specific stories or villains, but I know I loved Magneto,” Lee confessed in Wizard: X-Men Turn Thirty. “I thought magnetism was a great power because there was so much I could do with it. Somebody points a gun at him and he gestures and the barrel bends. We figured out a way he could walk in the air. I like villains who are more than one-dimensional: He didn’t think of himself as a villain.”
“On the other hand, he did call his group “The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants”. We were kind of corny in those days.”

“I remember that I liked (Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch) very much and I thought it would be fun to have villains who aren’t really bad deep down,” Lee told Comics Creators On X-Men. “We already had a reluctant hero with Spider-Man so I thought it would be fun to create a pair of reluctant villains.”
“I had big plans for Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. I wanted them to eventually give up being villains and become heroes. That’s why I used them in Avengers after I left X-Men.”


Professor X’s crush on a student

In X-Men #3, Professor Xavier was revealed to suffer a crush on his student, Jean Grey. “Stan would falter occasionally like in that one weird balloon where Professor X suddenly is thinking, “I love you passionately” about Jean Grey,” subsequent writer Roy Thomas told in The X-Men Companion. “When I asked Stan about that a little later, he said, “I don’t know, it just seemed like something that made sense. I tossed it in to complicate things.” And the thing is that sometimes these things were best forgotten.”
“It came as quite a shock when Xavier admitted it to himself,” artist John Byrne recalled in The X-Men Companion. “Xavier used to be in love with Jean, but that was forgotten a long time ago.”

However, many years later writer Mark Waid took Jean Grey on a journey into Professor X’s mind in X-Men vol.2 #53, 1996, where she was confronted with this repressed memory – one of many that should have resulted in Professor X becoming the villain, Onslaught. When it didn’t, Mark Waid quit the title. “It was always my conception that Onslaught was Professor X, pure and simple,” Waid explained in Wizard #90. “The nonsense about adding Magneto’s evil to that mix to me weakened (the storyline) and made the whole situation a lot less interesting.”

“(Onslaught) was not the most well-received storyline in the world and there are a lot of reasons for that,” Uncanny X-Men writer Scott Lobdell admitted in Comics Creators On X-Men. “I can blame myself in that I was at odds with another writer over some of Xavier’s buried thoughts that became the basis for Onslaught. (…) The idea that Xavier would bury his yearning for a young Jean Grey? Way too creepy for me! I think it was an idea that Stan tossed into the earliest pages of X-Men and quickly realised that student/teacher mutant love was a bad idea. I agreed and thought it should never again be revisited. To that end, I was rowing strongly against the tide and the best crossovers are the ones where everybody worked together. The crossover that eventually saw print seemed more like a work-in-progress than a finished story.”

“The reason Stan Lee and Jack Kirby produced amazing stuff was because they didn’t have four or five people (editors and co-writers) looking over their shoulder, changing their dialogue willy-nilly, and making them re-plot stuff halfway through a script,” Mark Waid concluded.

Professor X’s brother

“The sales started to slip after (artist) Jack (Kirby) left the book,” Stan Lee confessed in Comics Creators On X-Men. “At some point I stopped writing the book, too.”
Kirby left with X-Men #17 and Stan Lee with #19 in 1966 after which the book suffered from bad stories and art until writer Roy Thomas and artist Neal Adams teamed up on it with issue #56 in 1969. However, that was too late to stop the series from cancellation. X-Men #66, 1970, became the final issue until it was revived as a reprint book with #67 in 1971.

 “I always wanted Magneto to turn out to be Professor X’s brother,” Stan Lee revealed in Comics Creators On X-Men. “If I had stayed with the book, that’s what I would have done. (…) I figured that I could come up with an explanation when I needed it: I always did. But I thought it would be fun if Professor Xavier and Magneto were brothers.”
While Stan Lee wrote the X-Men, they often guest-starred in others of Marvel’s books, but when he left the title, the guest-appearances also ceased, which probably didn’t help the flagging sales. Following X-Men #2, the Angel appeared in Tales Of Suspense #49 and the entire team had a cameo-appearance in Avengers #3. After X-Men #5, Iceman appeared in Strange Tales #120 and the entire group in Fantastic Four #28. A cameo appearance in Spider-Man Annual #1 followed X-Men #6, and after X-Men #7, they appeared in Journey Into Mystery #109. Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch appeared in Strange Tales #128 following X-Men #8, while the X-Men had cameo appearances in Fantastic Four #35-36 after X-Men #9. Finally, after X-Men #13, they had a cameo appearance in Fantastic Four Annual #3, and Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch joined the Avengers in Avengers #16 following X-Men #16. Stan Lee wrote all of these appearances himself. Collect them all.

James Busbee: Danger Room, Wizard #90, February 1999
Tom DeFalco: Comics Creators On X-Men, April 2006
Stan Lee with Patrick Daniel O’Neill: X Marks The Spot, Wizard: X-Men Turn Thirty, August 1993
Peter Sanderson: The X-Men Companion I, March 1982
Peter Sanderson: The X-Men Companion II, September 1982