Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

370 – The Sound of Evil (feat. Max Carleton)

Art by David Wynne. Wanna buy the original? Drop him a line!

In which Max Carleton and Miles take a trip back to the Silver Age, the origins of Marvel Girl’s telepathy are questionable, the nature of Polaris’s parentage is also questionable, and the quality of Sauron’s origin story shall never be questioned.

X-PLAINED:

  • The Locust (Dr. August Hopper)
  • Uncanny X-Men #46, 52, and 60
  • Genuine tragedy
  • Funereal fashion
  • Frederick “Amos” Duncan
  • The Juggernaut (Cain Marko) (again)
  • The Crimson Cosmos
  • Energy globules
  • Charles Xavier’s telepathy lending library
  • Jean Grey, spiteful seamstress
  • Erik the Red (the first one) (Scott Summers)
  • Lorna Dane, fashion icon
  • Filially-obligated villainy
  • Psychic-delia
  • The sadly short-lived Roy Thomas / Neal Adams run
  • Suspension of disbelief
  • Pteranodons
  • Sauron (Karl Lykos, fantasy nerd)
  • Alex Summers, perpetual captive and/or villain battery
  • Miles’s favorite two-page spread
  • How to choose the perfect supervillain name
  • X-Men: The Animated Series, 1960s Edition
  • Our Silver Age X-creator wish list
  • Magnetism

NEXT EPISODE: Excalibur!


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22 comments

  1. If there’s one thing I dislike about Sauron the Marvel villain, it’s that he didn’t check the pronunciation guide. The LOTR character is pronounced like cow, not saw.

    Also, anDUril. Oin and Gloin are closer to Owen and glow-in, rather than like coin. Some people, even when making big budget movies, completely ignore these things.

  2. I love that every time a writer needs to retcon something in it ends up making Xavier look even more like a terrible person. I don’t think anyone worried about it too much in the Silver Age, but things like Deadly Gensis… ugh.

    1. I think a lot of that in Deadly Genesis and some other things in its general early 2000s era is coming off the ‘90s. Xavier is so absurdly, over-the-top, idealized in the ‘90s. Or he’s meant to be anyway — people are so worshipful of him that in practice, they sound like they’re in a cult. So that there would be a reaction is not terribly surprising. Especially as the 2000 movie Xavier is heavily based on the ‘90s version.

      But I personally feel that the 90s Xavier is a bit of a misguided retcon. Not in the literal continuity sense, but in the sense that it’s a revision that makes Xavier much more important to the X-books than he mostly had been.

      Original Silver Age Xavier was mostly a setting feature who existed to send the X-Men on missions, not to be a focus of interest in his own right. When they kill him off, he’s gone for essentially the rest of the book’s original run (which admittedly is only a little under two years). I’m not even sure that Roy Thomas didn’t contrive his ridiculous reason to bring Xavier back to give the book’s original stories an ending. He’s only necessary to the extent that you’re doing the book’s original remit of going out and defeating “evil mutants.”

      Then, when the book comes back, Xavier is absent for long, long periods. When he’s around, he’s not even particularly important in the Silver Age way of sending the X-Men to do stuff. Which is not surprising, as the book initially doesn’t really go back to the Lee/Kirby “Go out and fight ‘evil mutants’” remit, and when Claremont does eventually (after some time) pick up on mutants-as-metaphor as a theme, he approaches it differently. Arguably, the place prior to the ‘90s where Xavier was most important as an an actual character was in early New Mutants, which revived the Lee/Kirby “school story” stuff and had a role for Xavier as teacher — and there too, Claremont ended up replacing him with the more interesting Magneto.

      This is not an indispensable character to the X-books. When he’s there, he tends to be part of the furniture, and he absolutely doesn’t *have* to be there. There’s obviously nothing wrong in principle with making him more important, as the ‘90s do. But I think it’s arguable that there were good reasons why he had not been so important: Xavier as good guy mentor is a bad combination of not actually being all that interesting with having very powerful powers that are specifically powerful in ways that stop plots.

      And what feels a little off to me about the ‘90s is that it’s written as if Xavier had always been the central figure around whom everything revolved, without any sense that he’d had periods where he had, e.g., gone off for years to be the consort of a Space Empress, and people had been basically OK and gotten on with things.

      1. I am honestly amused by the retcons. Despite the fairly well balanced portrayal or Xavier in the early to min-’90s, I always found Xavier to be at his most boring during this time frame. I always preferred him to be either the “out-of-touch” leader (giving Wolverine demerits) or as someone who is blind to his own arrogance and foibles. It’s much more fascinating to see him as someone who believes that because he stands for something it makes him a moral figure. It’s especially fun when he gets called out on it and doesn’t seem to understand where it’s coming from.

  3. After the last year or so, it is really jarring to hear the phrase “lettered by” followed up with something other than Richard Starkings and Comicraft.

  4. On the perennial question of who really created the X-Men as everyone knows them, mutants as a marginalized minority fighting for a world that hates and fears them.

    I think our host and his guest made some very sharp observations about the importance of the second Roy Thomas run for that.* One can add that Thomas’s role is also visible at the other end, in his first run on the title.

    You get a very little of mutants as objects of fear and suspicion in the Lee/Kirby period, but very little. There’s a very noticeable uptick with UXM #21 and Thomas taking over — it becomes a real theme, with the X-Men framed for robbery and everyone believing it because they’re mutants. Including the police: “We’re going to catch us some mutants” — which is a contrast with how Lee/Kirby had the X-Men working with the FBI. There’s even a hint of the importance of the media on which our host and his guest commented (although only a hint) — there are a lot of appearances of radio and television news coverage. I haven’t checked the earlier issues to be sure, but it might even be Thomas who invents the “mutie” slur, and again it’s in his very first issue.

    And the later Thomas/Adams run perhaps even redefines the Sentinels a bit, making them the Sentinels as we know them. Visually, that’s certainly true: it’s Adams who makes the Sentinels really colossal, which I think brings out something in Kirby’s design that Kirby himself hadn’t successfully brought out.

    But also, the Lee/Kirby Sentinels aren’t clearly about indefensible prejudice against minorities. It feels more like a McCarthy excessive-anticommunism sort of thing: it’s explicit in the text that Trask was not fundamentally wrong in his aims, but was a “fanatic” who went too far. And that really only seems incongruous in hindsight, because of how subsequent creators, starting with Thomas and Adams, went on to present Trask and the Sentinels. The Lee/Kirby X-Men was premised on the idea that there really are “evil mutants” who are a serious threat and normal humans really do need to be protected from mutants.

    I’d be really curious to know if someone has ever asked Roy Thomas about this — how conscious he was that he was amplifying this theme and making it more central.

    *Although, in the unlikely event that our hosts feel the need of covering more things, it would be really interesting to hear them discuss Englehart’s Secret Empire from this perspective.

    1. The Thomas/Adams run is so good, much better than it has any right to be. For me it’s on par with Nicieza/Kubert or Lobdell’s runs. It’s certainly much better than the Lee/Portacio/Byrne run. I always regretted that the podcast skipped over those issues. I always hoped you’d loop back around or maybe do a Patreon special. Glad to see at least one issue get some love.

      Miles — you had mentioned the Angel costume thing… the issue you covered was only one issue off from him receiving the suit, but it wouldn’t be confirmed that it was syphoning energy until Avengers 110-111.

  5. One minor correction to something brought up in the episode: The Magneto robot (actually android) is not a Factor Three creation. He ..it … he? … was created by the Captain American villain Machinesmith, who was also formerly the Daredevil villain Starr Saxon. This is sort of confirmed by the presence of a mostly lifelike Magneto robot in Captain America 247-249 by Byrne & Stern. Byrne and Stern, as well as Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio, were the major contingent at Marvel that loved taking disparate parts from across the Marvel Universe that sort of made no sense and weave them together in a way that made some sort of sense.

    Cap fights a Magneto android again in Gruenwald’s Captain America 368 (while the real Magneto is burying the Red Skull alive in revenge for the Holocaust, for what it’s worth), and it’s insinuated again that it’s the same android.

    I’m trying to find the exact issue they confirmed Saxon created the Magneto robot but I’m having problems finding it. I thought it was X-Men 138 during Cyclops’ flashbacks but it doesn’t seem to be. But I’ve had this useless fact in my head since at least the mid-’90s so I read it SOMEWHERE.

    1. STARR SAXON’S ALIVE?! Was alive, whatever… and he was Machinesmith?! This is why I should read the comments. He’s been dead for half a century in my mind. I think I see a rabbit hole ahead. Thanks!

  6. I did a Silver Age deep dive during early COVID and, man, those Thomas/Adams issues are an amazing reward at the end. Definitely agree that there’s a “what could have been” aspect to those.

    I’m gonna go ahead and take credit for mentioning the Professor is in his late 20s or early 30s to you when you were guest hosting. Mainly, the big time stamp is when nuclear energy starts getting tested (and the fact that Xavier’s father has to be doing that before he gets his wife pregnant).

    Arnold Drake was actually a pretty big DC silver age staple who was guesting on X-Men (actually wrote all the 60s Doom Patrol) and, man, I DO love his way with words. His slang is RIDICULOUS (as you note) but damn, it’s charming. I really would have loved to see his frequent artists do X-Men. Bruno Premiani has such a good knack for panel layout that I’d love to see him work with telekinesis/telepathy or iceman’s powers. Likewise, he’s great with teh grotesque. Bob Brown, meanwhile, is great at doing teen art (he did the first Beast Boy story).

  7. I’m sort of sad I didn’t post earlier because then my gushing over Neal Adams artwork might not look like it was caused by the announcement of his passing, aged 80.

    Because it was SO good. I first saw his work in black and white reprints of his X-Men run in an old “Marvel Superheroes” magazine that came out in the UK, and included black and white reprints of Avengers and X-Men stories, and I was lucky that the first issue I picked up was the introduction of Alex Summers and the Living Monolith. I was blown away!

    I had the pleasure of meeting him at a convention in London a few years ago and though his ice-breaker comments about the standard of British dentistry were clearly just to get a rise amongst the assembled fans, he soon settled down and it was mesmerising to watch him work on sketches. He made it look easy, but it so obviously wasn’t (And this would have been Neal in his mid 70’s, still casually producing art that any other artist in attendance would probably have offered up a kidney to achieve)

    I asked him which artists he enjoyed visiting when he walked around the other tables at a convenion like this and without even having to think about it he replied “Bill Sienkiewicz. No question, I could watch him create for hours and always learn something new”. I leave you to imagine the colour Bill S. blushed when I told him story that later.

    And that’s not even counting his work for creator’s rights.

    We’ve lost a legend. RIP Neal Adams.

    1. Seconded.

      I also picked up some disconnected back issues of that Marvel Superheroes magazine, and there are images that are fixed permanently in my mind ever since then.

      Neal Adams also should be remembered for his role in campaigning for creators’ rights. There are more people who can say that they contributed to making specific comics more enjoyable for the reader than can say that they did something that improved the exploitative practices of the comics industry for the people who work in it.

  8. Arnold Drake’s dialog is totally bonkers… Not just what the characters are saying (and thinking), but the words and phrases they’re choosing.

    And it seems to me that the artist nearly forgot that Magneto was there — he’s totally absent until the fifth page, where a tiny Magneto head (barely more of a presence than the headshots in a cover corner) pops up in the lower corner of a panel as if to say, yes, I am here! and then he’s barely present for the rest of the issue.

  9. Oh, and I’ll posit again my theory that Xaiver was never meant to be old, but artists assumed he was, and that became the norm.

    In X-Men #1 he says that he is a mutant because his parents worked on “the first A bomb project” which would have been the Manhattan Project in 1942. So in 1963 he’s have been 20 years old AT MOST, but losing his hair when pubety hit, and the whole “telepathic super genius” thing, made him seem a good deal older than he was.

    Jean being revealed to know that Xavier was alive sort of makes me think of “Children of Dune” where Ghanima deliberately sets up an impenetrable false memory about watching her brother die (seen as a near impossible feat of self hypnosis), and at the end of the process regrets that her brother didn’t live to see her create this false memory, and doesn’t see that as a contradiction. When a telepath wants to live in denial, I imagine they are REALLY good at it.

    1. That would be confirmed in the Bendis run when Xavier erased the knowledge of future events after his interactions with Eva Bell.

    2. I agree with this, I don’t believe Xavier is supposed to be old. I think he’s supposed to be 40s at most in the beginning. And there’s a few things that back that up.

      Pre-sliding timescale, he’s supposed to be fighting as a young man in the Korean Conflict when Cain Marko finds the jewel of Cyttorak. That issue was published in ’65 which is only 12 years after Korea ended. (Now post-sliding timescale, we know that wasn’t Korea but Siancong, but we can assume it’s roughly the same amount of time between military service and Juggernaut’s attack on the school .. .also MArko consistently looks to only be in his 40s with the exception of the issues when the Crimson Cosmos pre-maturely ages him).

      Also in that same issue, Xavier is shown going bald pre-maturely, in high school, and he pretty much looks like normal Xavier from that point forward.

      Another thing to back that up is the Amelia Voght stories during Lobdell’s run on Uncanny. She nurses him back to health after Lucifer crippled him. In these issues, he’s not shown to be very old — his beard is still blond — and she stays with him until the first night Scott Summers sleeps in the mansion, which we’re led to believe is not a very long relationship.

      So my estimation, best guess — late30s-early 40s in the silver age, pushing 50/mid 50s in current modern issues.

      1. Whilst I hope 40’s isn’t old (since I passed that a while back) I mean that he was supposed to be barely in his 20’s in X-Men #1, so 40’s would still be roughly twice as old as he was apparently supposed to be when Stan Lee created him.

        But the more backstory they fill in, the more it seems that part is completely forgotten and he’s very quickly old enough to have fought in a war that ended in 1953 when based on #1 he’d have been 11 or so.

  10. Xavier’s supposed age in the Silver Age is interesting. As you say, he’d have to be very young in UXM #1. I suspect that Lee and/or Kirby did not quite realize when exactly the Manhattan Project began.

    They certainly raise Xavier’s age a little in UXM #12 (1965) when they give his full origin. His father is killed at what appears to be the Trinity Test in 1945, and child Xavier at the funeral is definitely not a three-year old. More significantly, he served in the Korean War, meaning that he had to be born by about 1935 — maybe 1937 if we suppose that he lied about his age and signed up when he was 16 because of his superpatriotic desire to go out there and kill the goddamn reds.

    But still, UXM #12 suggests that Lee and Kirby thought of Xavier as being no older in 1965 than about thirty. I can’t look at Kirby’s drawing of him at the funeral and see him as older than about ten. He was obviously always envisaged as significantly younger than his closest authority-figure equivalent, Reed Richards.

    1. Also, not to go on about this forever, re-reading UXM #12 I noticed something (which no doubt has been exhaustively discussed somewhere else already, but anyway).

      I think it’s possible that Kirby intended the car accident with Marko to be how Xavier lost the use of his legs. Otherwise, it’s pointless — why is it even there?

      The snag is that Xavier is still walking a little later, in the Korean War sequence. But looking at those panels, the other soldier is not clearly Xavier. There’s only one panel (top left, p. 16) that gives me any pause in supposing that Kirby may not have intended this to be Xavier telling a story at which he was actually present. (There’s no particular reason why Xavier and Marko would be serving alongside one another, after all.)

      But, of course, as indeed UXM dialogue and editorial caption tells us, it had already been established that Xavier lost the use of his legs due to Lucifer, in UXM #9. But going back and looking through UXM #9, that’s purely in the dialogue there too — Xavier practically says it in passing on one panel and then says, “I’ll tell you the story some day.” There’s nothing in the *art* that reflects it.

      So, this is speculative, and I haven’t done a careful read through the first 12 issues with this in mind, to see if there’s other stuff that bears on it. (It’s possible that I missed something in UXM #9 or even #12, too.)

      But still, I think it’s not impossible that things went down like this.

      Lee gets the pencils for UXM #9, the rather drab Lucifer story, and decides that it needs something to make it more personal, for emotional reasons and also to explain why Xavier is going after this guy himself. He adds the stuff about Lucifer causing Xavier to lose his legs to one panel — Kirby never intended that, and maybe never even saw the completed UXM #9 before he drew UXM #12.

      At any rate, if Kirby had seen that panel in its final form, he’d forgotten about it when he came to UXM #12, which is all about being the big Xavier origin issue. What would be more natural than to tie the loss of Xavier’s legs to Marko? Especially with Kirby’s interest in making things be about brothers: Thor and Loki, Black Bolt and Maximus. This makes sense of the extensive space given to the car accident sequence, and explains why it forms the conclusion to the narrative of Xavier and Marko’s relations when Xavier was growing up.

      The story about how the Juggernaut got his powers would then have been a McGuffiny afterthought to explain those powers, with Xavier narrating events that he learned of after the fact, but at which he wasn’t present. Note that it’s a very short sequence — Kirby devotes much more space to the car accident.

      Lee then comes along and sees what Kirby has come up with, and then remembers that, no, he’d established this whole bit with Lucifer three issues earlier. So he writes the terribly awkward stuff on p. 13 (top left panel):-

      – Jean asks Xavier if the car accident was how he lost the use of his legs

      -Xavier replies that no, that was Lucifer (footnote caption directing the reader to UXM #9)

      “I managed to survive the crash by harnessing my brain power to its fullest extent..! by creating a mental shield around me! Though I was badly hurt, I lived!” Even by Silver Age standards, this is a pretty extreme use of Xavier’s telepathy.

      – And finally, “But I’ll never forget the shock, the pain of that terrible moment.” This looks a lot like Lee trying desperately to justify the panel that Kirby has drawn, with a Xavier, overcome by grief, burying his face in his hand. Which is a panel that would make complete sense if Kirby intended it as Xavier remembering the moment when he lost the use of his legs.

      There’s no way to confirm that reconstruction of events, of course. But I do think it makes sense of the comic. And it’s always interesting to examine Lee/Kirby comics in this way, at least for me.

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