X-Men: First Class

A while ago, I was talking to a friend and mentioned that I would love to see an X-Men book plotted that went back to the basics of the original team, but wasn’t mucked up with continuity. He responded asking wasn’t that what Ultimate X-Men’s purpose was? Sort of – but Ultimate X-Men started a brand new story with same old angst that the X-World has built up over the past 40+ years.

What I meant was taking the team – Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Angel and Marvel Girl – and putting them back into the happy world that was the dawn of the Marvel Universe. No anti-mutant races nuking Genosha, no Civil War ending with the death of Captain America – just five students being taught by a single teacher and exploring a world still enormous to them. But make it a little more interesting than it was back in 1963.

Sing your praises for Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Lord knows they’ve earned it. But in amazing creations that came in the period – Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, the Avengers – X-Men has to be the one less-than-shining example in which they dropped the ball. The only character that ever got some sort of characterization was Professor X. All the others were pretty much simple creations filling a specific role. Cyclops was the sulky, angst-ridden leader who couldn’t make it two pages without mentioning the curse of his eyes. Beast was the smart one who would always be reading a large book and speaking with unneccessary large words. Iceman was the young one who would ask a silly question and be promptly told to be quiet. Angel was the playboy who everyone mentioned how attractive he was. Marvel Girl was the girl – she served food and responded to whistles (hey, it was the 60s).

Put these characterizations in pretty much the same story every issue, and it’s easy to see why the book didn’t sell terribly well. Not to mention Jack Kirby’s art didn’t work for the book (teenagers always wearing suits?). It’s easy to forget in the old days that the X-Men were teenagers if you happened to miss the tagline about them being the strangest teens ever. Whatever the book’s purpose, it was lost in the repetitive, character-lacking, overly dull stories. By the time Werner Roth and Neal Adams began their stellar run on the book, it was a standard superhero book. It lacked what had made Spider-Man so special. It lacked what made most of the books at the time special.

So it’s funny when a book came out that did exactly what I had been thinking of, I almost missed it. I had decided not to buy X-Men First Class, but after flipping through the fourth issue, quickly changed my mind. Here was what the X-Men should have been like back then, adjusted to a more common era. It’s not rewriting continuity, but instead it’s pushing it forward and giving the characters the personalities they’ve been waiting 40 years for. Now you can see how the characters developed into what they are today. This is where they started. They’re finally able to be kids. Forget the angst of the X-World. It turns out that there was actually a time in which they were all happy to be there.

X-Men First Class has been a good (albeit jumpy) mini, and I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming regular series. I just hope it keeps what’s made it so good thus far.

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