I have been diving deep down into the well of Marvel Comics lately because fnord has ended his magnificent work on his site of putting all his Marvel Comics in order online and before too long he’ll stop paying for the site and it will all be gone from the web.

I also recently finally got a copy of Son of Origins, which I have known about for decades (I remember reading my Uncle Dave’s copy at his and my Aunt Melinda’s apartment the morning of their wedding which was in 1981) which reprints The X-Men #1 (also sometimes known as Uncanny X-Men #1 because the title was changed with issue #142 to Uncanny X-Men and because a new X-Men title was launched in 1991 and it distinguishes it from that one).  While reading it, I was amazed at how many things presented in that first issue have been changed or altered or ret-conned away or into something different.  It was cover-dated September 1963, so for it’s 55th anniversary, I thought I would look at some of those things.  (Note:  For those unfamiliar with the term, ret-con is short for “retroactive continuity change”, changing something that is established and saying it was always the case.  There will be several examples below.)

The X-Men have always been one of my favorite comics with many of my favorite characters.  And obviously, while their films don’t compare to the Marvel Cinematic Universe anymore, it’s important to remember that Marvel made many failed attempts at getting their characters onto the big screen before the first X-Men film was a massive financial success, leading to a franchise that has eleven films with two more coming out next year and that X-Men #1 from 1991 is still the biggest selling comic book in history with over five million copies sold.

So let’s look at the issue, starting with the beginning.

After two small panels introducing Professor X, the rest of the first page covers the introduction to the team.  First of all, before we get into any retcons, let’s look at this picture and wonder where the hell Iceman is sliding from.  Was he traveling inside Angel’s wing?  For that matter, why is he called Iceman when he seems to be covered in snow?  It would be several more issues before he actually started icing over (although a later origin issue would move his first time icing over to before this issue takes place).

By the bottom of page two however, we’ve already gotten into things that will eventually be changed in at least some formats.  First of all, Professor X says (or, more accurately, telepathically communicates) “You are receiving my thoughts perfectly!” and on page 7 he will say “You have mastered reading my thoughts perfectly!”  The suggestion there is that people have to learn how to hear Professor X in his head when he communicates telepathically, something that will be dropped very quickly and will never be used again for any of the (numerous) telepaths that will develop throughout the Marvel Universe.  The second part of the panel is that we haven’t actually moved locations from the first page.  So, while we have a nice Danger Room set-up that is there from the very beginning (hell, it’s introduced before we even complete the original team), as drawn by Kirby, it’s located in some large room on the ground floor next to a window, a room that must be absolutely enormous given what we see Angel doing in his routine on page 4.  In fact, this has already been changed the very next issue, when it gains its actual name as the Danger Room and is a large enclosed room that seems to be underground.  Years later, it will embrued with advanced technology and will even become sentient but those are developments and not retcons.

Let’s look at the Danger Room scenes for a minute because while it’s not a retcon it’s one of the odd things I commented on on fnord’s site.  Angel says “First time I ever flew the spanner with a slip!”  But look at that device and how fast it’s spinning.  If this is the first time that he ever flew it without a slip how he has not just been a big splat upon the wall?

Now we’ll get to a scene that I could have commented on before because it’s something that runs through the first few pages that will also be one of the first things changed.  Look at the panel to the left of the way Beast is talking.  Does that sound like the Beast that you know and love?  Well, of course not.  The first two issues of X-Men have Beast talking like a big lug.  But then Stan Lee decided that he already had that kind of hero with The Thing over in Fantastic Four so he changed gears completely.  In issue #3, he’s reading an Advanced Calculus book and when told it’s time to go, he replies “Angel, although your colloquialisms are extremely colorful, they are completely unnecessary!  I will be fully garbed at the ready before you shut the door!”  That’s the intellectual with a sense of humor that will become a mainstay of not only the X-Men but also the Avengers.

Page 8 is where things really start to get complicated for what will be going on in the future.  First of all, the four existing X-Men get their first glimpse at Jean Grey when she gets out of a car.  Actually, it’s only three because Iceman walks away, noting “A girl . . . Big deal!  I’m glad I’m not a wolf like you guys!”  I’ll write more about that below.

But it’s when Jean actually comes inside and we meet her that the retcons really start to hit in full force.  “What kind of school is this, Sir?  I have a right to know!” she insists.  That’s because in this issue, she’s just arriving at the school and has never met Xavier before.  However, a story published in Bizarre Adventures #27 in 1981 will completely wipe that idea away.  Revealed in that story is that Jean first exhibited her power (more on that below) when she was young and her best friend was killed by a car and her parents eventually sought out Xavier to help her.  This revelation also changes the notion of Xavier as developed in the early X-Men issues.  He was mostly a recluse who was little known while many later retcons have settled on the notion that he was already well known as an expert of mutation and genetics.  This panel, more than any other in the book, has been so thoroughly changed as to make it laughable.  But we’re not done with the changes to Jean yet.

But before we get to that, we get our actual introduction to the boys outside of their costumes.  That just brings the next change.  When we are introduced to Cyclops, he is introduced as “Slim Summers”.  It won’t be long before we learn that his name is actually Scott and it won’t be too long before they drop the “Slim” nickname entirely, but there’s no indication in the first issue that his name actually isn’t Slim.

While we’re on this panel, fnord commented “Scott “Slim” Summers should not be allowed to dress himself.”  I argued in the comments “To be fair to Scott, in theory he should be color-blind. Everything should just look red to him, since the optic beams are always firing. So he SHOULD have terrible taste in clothes.”  One commenter then said that “I’ve always wondered at what Cyclops sees through his visor. If it blocks the red portion of the light spectrum, shouldn’t what he sees through it be actually bleached of red? Because the beams coming from his eyes are red? And they’re being cancelled out?”  That’s an interesting thought that surely someone who writes one of those “Science and . . .” books has probably addressed.  There will actually be more about him and his visor down below.  But, for now, we’re gonna start to get our first demonstration of Jean’s powers and that will bring forth some big changes.

On the panel to the right is the first demonstration of Jean’s powers.  First of all, note that she discusses her “able to practice teleportation”.  Yes, the power of telekinesis was originally described by Stan Lee as teleportation.  Now, in the comments on fnord’s site, I commented “When Phoenix powers up the stargate in #109 (or so), Scott thinks to himself ‘She used to be the weakest X-Man.’ How in the hell can telekinesis be considered a weaker power than having wings? I’ve never understood that.”  One other commenter mentioned “as for Jean being the weakest member, she really was portrayed that way at the beginning. She could not lift a lot of weight, and she had to see where she was moving objects.”  But that just brings up more retcons.  First of all, that commenter is correct and by the mid teen’s of the series, Jean couldn’t lift very much, often described that she couldn’t lift with her mind more than she normally could with her arms.  But that was contradicted in this very first issue because when Hank kisses her (again, his personality wasn’t really developed yet), Jean lifts him up (even though he’s supposed to weigh quite a lot) and spins him around, without looking at him.  So, she originally wasn’t the weakest X-Man, yet her powers were weakened (one of the weaknesses of Stan Lee’s writing was that the female super-heroes, what few there were (Jean, Invisible Girl, Wasp, Scarlet Witch) all had quite weak powers and were often used as hostages) so that she could later be described as the weakest, but she was only the weakest because her powers were later weakened.

Confused yet?  Well, it’s gonna get worse.  Because as I mentioned, Jean originally met Xavier when her friend died and her telepathic powers came into being and she was traumatized by the experience.  But telepathic?  It says nothing about that here.  Well, in fact, she was developed just a telekinetic and then later was supposedly given some of Xavier’s telepathic powers before he died (that was later retconned, of course).  Then, when she became Phoenix, her powers were magnified (that was later retconned so she was never Phoenix).  But, in that issue of Bizarre Adventures, it was suddenly declared that Jean had always been telepathic and that Xavier had put mental blocks on her to keep her from being overwhelmed by her power, so that issue of Bizarre Adventures retconned both the original X-Men issues (where she had no telepathic powers) and the later issues (when she supposedly got some of Xavier’s powers).  So, basically, everything said between Jean and Xavier in this issue is contradicted (read: retconned) by a later issue.

In the next panel, as Professor Xavier explains to Jean about how came to be a mutant, he mentions “I was born of parents who had worked on the first A-bomb project!”  Um, what?  First of all, this is 1963.  How old are we supposed to believe Xavier is?  The Manhattan Project didn’t even begin until 1939.  Hell, nuclear fission wasn’t even achieved until 1938 and that was in Germany.  So is Xavier supposed to be 24 or younger?  That makes no sense.  Plus, by issue #12, which introduced the Juggernaut and his history as Xavier’s step-brother, it was explained that they fought in Korea.  So, Xavier was born, at the very latest, in 1935.  He claims that he was possibly the first such mutant.  Except for, given his meeting with Magneto that will be retconned in in issue #161, he knows Magneto had powers and was using them at an early age, so there’s no reason for him to believe that and there is also his meeting with Amahl Farouk, the Shadow King, who he had battled, shown in a flashback in #117 and was clearly older than Xavier.  Xavier explains as well that he is in a chair due to a childhood accident.  By issue #9 that will already be rewritten that he was fighting against an alien named Lucifer when a block was dropped on him, crushing his legs.

Now, nowhere in these pages does Xavier flat out say that this is his first class of mutants, so it can’t be considered a direct contradiction that we will later learn that there were earlier mutants that he taught, but certainly it is implied that these are his first students.  Indeed, throughout the years we are constantly introduced to characters who it will turn out Xavier knew, worked with or taught long before the actions of this issue, including the most important, who is about to debut.  But before we get to that, let’s talk about sexuality.

First of all, there is Xavier’s sexuality.  By #3, he will be thinking to himself that he is in love with Jean but “I can never tell her!  I have no right!  Not while I’m the leader of the X-Men and confined to this wheelchair!”  Right.  That’s why you can’t tell her.  Not because you’re her professor or twice her age.  Why bring up those objections?  That love, by the way, will be basically dropped for the next 30 years until it becomes part of what turns Xavier into Onslaught and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry, the less you know, the less confused you will be.

Second, there is Bobby’s sexuality.  This is important because, for many years, there was an “Iceman is gay” theory that eventually Marvel decided to embrace and make the character gay, but did a poor job of it, because when the young X-Men travel forward in time (don’t ask), Jean will say that Bobby is gay as if she read his mind.  Never mind the various women he dates over the next 50 years.  While some people point to this issue as evidence that he was gay “A girl . . . big deal!  I’m glad I’m not a wolf like you guys!”, he is also one of the team ogling Jean in her new uniform later (“Wowee!  She looks like she was poured into that uniform!”).  So, if you want to use one piece of evidence, you have to balance it against this one.  Bobby, in his early appearances, was written as a young heterosexual who wasn’t yet that interested in girls (though, in his origin story, written over the course of issues #44-46 he did have a girlfriend).  If they want to change him to gay, that’s fine, but they shouldn’t pretend that he’s like Northstar and was always written to be as such because it’s clearly a retcon.

So, now that we have that out of the way, let’s turn to the villain of the piece.  Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had already created a lot of excellent villains by this point (Doctor Doom, Marvel version of Loki, Doctor Octopus, Sandman, Vulture, Radioactive Man) but they didn’t necessarily introduce them along with the villains.  Yes, the Fantastic Four got The Mole Man in their first issue but Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, Wasp and The Hulk would all debut with really forgettable foes (unless you want to count Spider-Man’s burglar).  But Stan and Jack really hit one out of the park with Magneto, a foaming at the mouth villain who takes over a missile base in his first appearance, will have a group of evil mutants at his beck and command by #4 and will bedevil not only the X-Men but the Avengers, Thor, Captain America and even Doctor Doom before too long.  He also will eventually become the most morally gray of the original Silver Age Marvel villains and that makes him all the more interesting.  But that will all come later, including all the evidence that he was more complex than he seemed in his first appearance or that he had known Xavier years before.

After five pages where Magneto basically comes in and takes over an army base single-handedly, it’s time for the X-Men not just to work in the Danger Room but to show what they can do in actual combat.  So, Xavier sends them in with the comment “A crisis has occurred at Cape Citadel which leads me to believe the first of the evil mutants has made his appearance!”  Right.  The first of the evil mutants has made his appearance.  And you are lead to believe.  As if he hasn’t announced his presence and name to the world.  And as if you don’t know he’s your old friend.  Of course, the writers hadn’t decided that yet.  Like I said above, that wouldn’t be decided until #161 which wouldn’t be published for another 29 years.  So, for years, Xavier and Magneto act like they had never met to the point where in #4 they will meet on the astral plane (in the early issues Magneto had some telepathic powers that would be mostly dropped but would occasionally resurface over the years) and talk as if neither knows who the other is.

That’s the thing with retcons.  Some of them have to work against the evidence you see before you (not just the Bobby is gay theory or that Magneto and Xavier knew each other, but, to give a non-comic example, that Obi-Wan was unfamiliar with R2-D2 and C-3PO) but some of them are still really good.  I personally think the way that Chris Claremont would develop the existing relationship between Xavier and Magneto was a good choice and it helped to establish the moral ambiguity of Magneto that would, over the course of five years, change Magneto from the group’s arch-foe into a trusted alley and the replacement for Xavier as the head of the school and is a big part of why Claremont’s 15 year run on the title was so damned magnificent.  But that doesn’t change that it was not the intention of what was written here and does not fit the evidence we have before us.

On the way to fight Magneto the team is on a plane that is being guided by Xavier’s thought impulses.  Because we only get an exterior shot of the plane, it’s unclear if there is a pilot and he is just being guided or if Xavier is somehow making the plane move.  It’s just an odd panel that is never again, as far as I know, referenced again.

Most of the last few pages of the issue deal with the team attacking Magneto, which is mostly straight forward panels that show off the team’s abilities, though there is still one odd panel among those.  That’s the one where Cyclops switches to maximum power.  Now, earlier in the comic, we saw that Cyclops’ visor rises for him to utilize his optic blasts (using a switch at the side, though later comics will establish there’s a button in his gloves that also work but later comics will often show him using them in situations where that clearly wouldn’t work).  Here, Jack Kirby shows the beam as if it covers his whole face.  But, since the beam comes from his eyes, they shouldn’t ever be any larger than his eyes.  I don’t recall ever seeing an effect quite like this again, but it was memorable.

In fact, that’s part of what made the whole issue memorable.  Something about Cyclops and his power struck a nerve in me and later, when I would see what he went through in The Dark Phoenix Saga, he would become one of my favorite comic book characters, something that would last long past the point where Marvel decided that since Wolverine was a more popular character that they would completely destroy Cyclops’ character in a variety of ways (leaving his wife, psychically cheating on his wife, killing his mentor) and build up Wolverine as the one true character who is true to the dream.

Nothing that Marvel would do later takes away my enjoyment of this original book or the magnificent characters that were all created in one fell swoop.  This is seven magnificent characters, all created in one issue, all of whom have been characters in multiple films and television shows.  That’s one hell of a legacy.  And even if the next few years of the comic didn’t match up to this first issue (in spite of some memorable villains in the first year – Blob, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Mastermind, Toad), the writing on this comic would be some of the worst at Marvel and the art wouldn’t be much better, at least until Neal Adams would take over (to get an idea of the difference between the other artists and Adams look here, which starts with other artists and then ends with Adams).  It wouldn’t be until the New X-Men were created in 1975 that the comic would really start to move towards the kind of popularity that I discussed in the opening.  But this is still an issue that stands strong, one of the most important and seminal and yes, strange, and completely altered in most of its intentions and a lot of its details.

As a bonus, here’s a picture of the original X-Men as illustrated by one of my favorite comic artists, John Byrne.