To commemorate, the culmination of their long-running and successful X-Men movies, 20th Century Fox declared May 13th as “X-Men Day”, a day to celebrate all things Mutant and X-Men and celebrate Marvel’s iconic collection of superpowered beings who fight to protect a world that hates and fears them.
Story Titles: “Second Genesis!”, “…And When There Was One!”, “Assault Force!”, and “Krakoa…The Island That Walks Like a Man!”
Published: May 1975
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: Dave Cockrum
In 1963, after achieving success with characters like the Fantastic Four, Tony Stark/Iron Man, and, of course, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee and Jack Kirby dreamed up the concept of “Mutants”, ordinary people who developed extraordinary powers once they hit puberty. In contrast to lauded superhero teams like the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, the X-Men were hated and feared by the general public and thus used to tackle variety of social issues, most notably racism. Unfortunately, the X-Men initially struggled to find an audience and the comic was cancelled by issue sixty-six in 1970. Five years later, under the direction of Chris Claremont, Len Wein and Dave Cockrum collaborated on a revival of the title, which saw an international team of Mutants join the team, breathed new life into the title, and the X-Men have been an enduring and popular team in comics ever since, influencing an entire generation with a much-lauded animated series in the nineties and, of course, a series of massively successful live-action movies.
The story opens in Winzeldorf, Germany where a torch-carrying horde of bigots are chasing after Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler; despite his demonic appearance, Nightcrawler pities the braying crowd for their “mindless prejudices” and laments that they are so blinded by their hatred of him that they’re risking their own safety. Rather than teleport to safety, Nightcrawler opts to leap into the crowd and fight them off with the only language the bigots understand: violence. The numbers game is too much for the young Mutant, however, but he is saved from a fiery death by the timely intervention of Professor Charles Xavier/Professor X, who freezes the horde with his incredible mental powers and offers Kurt a place at his school in order to both shield him from such hatred and help him “find [his] true potential”, an offer that Nightcrawler gratefully accepts. The story then jumps over to Quebec, Canada where Xavier meets with another Mutant, Logan/Wolverine (also codenamed Weapon X by the Canadian government). Having been impressed with Wolverine’s recent fight against Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Xavier offers the abrasive Mutant a place on his team to help other Mutants in need. Wolverine jumps at the chance to be freed from the shackles Canadian government, resigning in typical Wolverine fashion and happily leaving alongside the wheelchair-bound professor.
After Xavier quickly recruits former ally Sean Cassidy/Banshee over the course of three panels, the story jumps over to Kenya where a group of African tribesmen beg Ororo Monroe/Storm to use her powers of weather to end the drought that has ravaged their lands. Revered as a Goddess, Storm conjures winds and rain to help out the struggling natives and, after informing Storm of her Mutant status, Xavier appeals to her curiosity enough to recruit her to his cause as well. Siro Yoshida/Sunfire of Osaka, Japan is recruited even faster and easier than Banshee and then Xavier heads over to Siberia to draft Piotr “Peter” Rasputin/Colossus (despite his reservations about leaving his family), a muscle-bound patriot who is able to cover his skin in an organic metal that renders him strong and impenetrable enough to shield his sister from a runaway tractor. Finally, Xavier travels to Camp Verde, Arizona to recruit the last member of his new team of X-Men, John Proudstar/Thunderbird, a Mutant swift and strong enough to catch up to and bring down a charging bison. If Wolverine was a bit rough around the edges, Thunderbird is down-right rude as he offers Xavier little more than ridicule and boastful pride; Xavier is able to convince him to his cause, however, by questioning his courage.
The team assembles at Xavier’s school in Westchester, New York, now garbed in uniforms made of “unstable molecules” that Xavier obtained from Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic. Sunfire demands answers and Xavier provides them by introducing them to Scott Summers/Cyclops, who informs them all that the X-Men have disappeared. Cyclops relates how the team were alerted to a new Mutant (who was “so powerful as to defy classification”) on the island of Krakoa by Xavier’s Mutant-detecting machine, Cerebro; Cyclops lead Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, Warren Worthington III/Angel, Bobby Drake/Iceman, Alexander Summers/Havoc, and Lorna Dane/Polaris to Krakoa but, shortly after landing, they were attacked by an unseen foe. Cyclops awoke disorientated, his costume in tatters, and without his visor and briefly unable to project his trademark optic blasts; he took the Strato-Jet back to Xavier’s mansion to alert the professor (finding his powers to have increased in the process) and assemble a new team to rescue the X-Men.
Although Sunfire initially refuses to go along with the mission, claiming to hate his fellow Mutants as much as humans, he intercepts the jet on the way to Krakoa to join the mission anyway. This, as noted by both Storm and Thunderbird, calls attention to the fragility of this new, untested team and they’re right to point this out as Xavier has effectively slapped together a team of egos, misfits, and strangers who have even less field training as a unit that the original X-Men. Regardless, the team soon arrives at Krakoa and Cyclops splits them into teams of two: Storm and Colossus head to the North, Banshee and Wolverine the East, Sunfire and Nightcrawler the South (much to Sunfire’s chagrin), and Thunderbird and Cyclops take the West. Upon landing, Cyclops and Thunderbird note that strange temples have suddenly erupted from the ground and, as they move to investigate, they are attacked by living vines. Over on the East side of the island, Banshee and Wolverine are similarly attacked by a giant crab but, thanks to Wolverine’s viciousness and Banshee’s scream, they make short work of the crustacean. Meanwhile, on the North side, Storm and Colossus manage to fight their way out of a seemingly sentiment landslide and, finally, Sunfire and Nightcrawler battle through a flock of raging birds on the South side all while Sunfire continually berates Nightcrawler with sarcasm and criticism.
Regardless, the team all rendezvous at the temple, break their way in, and find the X-Men being held captive and, apparently, fed upon by vines. After the X-Men are rescued, their prison crumbles to pieces and Angel scolds Cyclops for coming back for them as the island comes to life around them. It turns out that Krakoa itself is the Mutant Xavier detected, having been brought to ravenous life by an atomic blast, and referring to itself as “we” as it details its plan to feed upon “Mutant energies”. Krakoa attacks the two teams of Mutants, who struggle to co-ordinate their strategies and to make a dent on the Mutant’s considerable hide. Thankfully, Xavier telepathically contacts Cyclops and informs him of Krakoa’s one weak point; while Xavier mentally battles the creature, Cyclops directs the team from the ground, channelling Storm’s ability to conjure lightning into Polaris and then adding his and Havoc’s energy blasts to the building magnetic force. The result is a surge of magnetic energy that disrupts Krakoa’s ability to retain its humanoid form and, as the island breaks apart around them, the team blast their way to safety on an ice float. As they watch, Krakoa is hurled off the planet’s surface and away from the planet and the Mutants survive the tumultuous seas thanks to Iceman’s ice-bubble and are left united and victorious.
Those who read my review of The X-Men #1 (Lee, et al, 1963) will remember that I wasn’t exactly impressed with the X-Men’s debut appearance. Setting aside the sexist attitudes and outdated dialogue at work in that comic, the story was a plodding, laborious read that ended right as it was about to get interesting. Additionally, you may recall that I’m not exactly the most well-read of X-Men fans; I find the lore to be somewhat impenetrable because there are so many characters and so many stories that even trying to read the most famous arcs can leave you scratching your head in bemusement at the density of the mythology. Giant-Size X-Men #1 is therefore far more accessible, in some ways, as it acts as a soft reboot for the comic that features some of the most iconic X-Men ever created.
What makes Giant-Size X-Men #1 a better read than The X-Men #1, though, is that the characters are much more visually interesting and distinct in their personalities. Wolverine, Thunderbird, and Sunfire are all different levels of abrasive, with Sunfire openly clashing with Nightcrawler, Wolverine resorting to violence at the drop of a hat, and Thunderbird offering criticisms on the stability of the new team. Conversely, Storm, having lived a sheltered life where she was worshipped as a Goddess, is somewhat naïve and Nightcrawler just wants everyone, human and Mutant alike, to be accepted. Banshee, Cyclops, and Professor X are, of course, some familiar faces to long-time X-Men readers. Thankfully, both Professor X and Xavier are far less annoying than in their debut comic; Xavier is less of a stern, uncompromising teacher and more a worried father-figure desperate to rescue his students from their mysterious fate and Cyclops, rather than trying to force his authority over the new Mutants, is similarly concerned only with holding the fledging team together long enough to rescue his friends and loved ones.
Similar to The X-Men #1, Giant-Size X-Men #1 is more concerned with introducing and assembling its team of Mutants rather than all-out action but, as I say, it does a far better job of doing this than its predecessor as the new team is introduced in interesting ways rather than just expositing their abilities in the Danger Room. Although little is made of Nightcrawler’s teleportation abilities or Wolverine’s heightened senses, each of the new characters get a bit of time to shine, although the final battle against Krakoa boils down more to Polaris channelling various energies into herself rather than a concentrated group effort besting the island-sized Mutant. Still, I much preferred the dialogue, characterisations, and presentation here than in the X-Men’s debut story, though I’ll admit that a lot of that has to do with me favouring these characters and the move away from redundant exposition and storytelling from the sixties.
What are your thoughts of Giant-Size X-Men #1? What did you think to the new X-Men and their introduction? Which of the new characters was your favourite? What did you think to Krakoa as the main threat and the way it was defeated? Which era of the X-Men is your favourite and who is your favourite ever team/character? How are you planning on celebrating X-Men Day this month? Whatever your thoughts, leave a comment below, and be sure to come back every Saturday for the rest of May for more X-Men content.