Nov 18, 2013

The All-New, All-Different X-Men: Diversity in Mutanthood

The All-New, All-Different X-Men
X-amining the X-Men Part 1: Diversity in Mutanthood
Ben Smith

If there’s any comic series in history that needs more focus and attention, it’s the legendary run of the new X-Men that began with Giant Size X-Men #1. While most of you have probably already read these classic comics that introduced the world to Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus, there are a few of you out there that avoid X-Men comics like the plague, and I write this for you. (More accurately, I’m writing this to force our illustrious editor Duy Tano to read the X-Men in at least some capacity, because I am just that evil.) (Dammit. -Duy)

The X-Men were one of the many books created by the legendary team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Introducing the concept of superpowered mutants into comic books, the concept never really took off like the rest of the early Marvel lineup. After Neal Adams tried and failed to save the series, the book was essentially cancelled, relegated to publishing reprints of earlier stories.

Then the X-Men were given a second chance, in the form of a giant-sized annual that introduced an all new team of characters into the series. A team decidedly (and I assume purposefully) more diverse in nationality, race, and gender than most other superhero comics at the time.

Len Wein was the writer of the issue (and not Chris Claremont as most would assume) with Dave Cockrum providing the art. The creators would pair previously introduced characters like Banshee, Sunfire, and Wolverine, with new characters like Storm, Colossus, Thunderbird, and Nightcrawler (Cockrum had initially intended Nightcrawler to be a new Legion of Super-Heroes character, and it was clear that he was the artist’s favorite of the bunch).

The story begins with Nightcrawler, devilish in appearance, on the run from an angry mob in the streets of Germany. Professor X intervenes before the mob can overtake him, and offers him salvation.

Next, the professor travels to Canada to recruit Wolverine, a character previously introduced in Incredible Hulk #181 (not surprisingly now one of the most sought after back issues of the Bronze Age). For some reason Wolverine almost immediately agrees to abandon his country and position in its government to run off with a bald man in a wheelchair (I’m sure this is explained at some point).

(Probable) First: Wolverine referred to as Weapon X
(I’m not going to look at Hulk #181 to verify)

This image of Wolverine slicing the man’s tie remains the thing I remember most about reading this comic as a kid. I have no explanation for this.

Professor X follows this up with a visit to Tennessee to recruit former ally Banshee. And then travels to Kenya, Africa , to recruit a “storm goddess” named Ororo, who would later come to be known as the mutant master of weather, Storm.

Following that is a trip to Japan to enlist former antagonist Sunfire into his mysterious agenda. Next up is Siberia, where Xavier convinces Peter Rasputin, and his mutant abilities as Colossus, to join him in America.

Professor X completes his world-wide tour of recruitment in Arizona, by practically taunting the Apache mutant John Proudstar, later known as Thunderbird, to join his cause.

An indeterminate time later, the ragtag new team is assembled for the first time, in full costume no less. (With Wolverine depicted in the back of the group, something that John Byrne noticed and would change later on during his time on the series.)

It was now time for Professor X to reveal why he recruited this new team of mutants, and it was to rescue his old team! (I can’t imagine this wound up being the greatest selling point for them, with all the promises of a better life and better understanding of their mutant powers.)

Cyclops enters the scene, and recaps how Iceman, Polaris, Havok, Angel, Jean Grey, and himself investigated a new mutant located on an island in the South Pacific, a mutant so powerful that it defied classification. Shortly after landing, the team is ambushed, with Cyclops having no memory of what happened. He was able to make his way back to the mansion and the Professor, leading Xavier to find new allies to help in the eventual rescue attempt.

Inexplicably, Sunfire is the only one to object being convinced to form a rescue team to go save a group of people they don’t (or barely) even know. Not only that, but this seasoned team of heroes was almost immediately ambushed and (presumably) captured, and yet they all speed off to save them. (I’m chalking this up to telepathic persuasion.) Sunfire winds up changing his mind and rejoins the team mid-flight.

They arrive at the island, and decide the best course of action is splitting up into smaller teams of two and searching the island.

Cyclops and Thunderbird land the plane, and then fight off some overly grabby foliage on their way to some temples that sprang up shortly after their arrival on the island. Storm and Colossus survive an avalanche before also arriving at the strange temples. (Why they all split up to go to the exact same location is beyond me, but it’s what the Justice League always does, so why mess with somewhat competent traditional tactics.) Banshee and Wolverine fight the menace of crabs (probably in more ways than one) with Wolverine using what may be his first mildly insulting nickname for a teammate, referring to Banshee as “Irish” instead of his, you know, name.

First: Wolverine referring to a teammate by an insulting nickname

Nightcrawler and Sunfire fight off some birds, where Nightcrawler reveals his teleportation powers for the first time (not the first instance of Nightcrawler continually displayed new abilities, he was Cockrum’s favorite after all).

They all arrive at the temple, and bust their way inside, where they discover Cyclops missing comrades unconscious and being fed upon by some strange network of organic tentacles.

Freeing their teammates, the group is shocked to discover that the powerful mutant they were searching for wasn’t an individual on the island, but the island itself. Thus marks the first appearance of the mutant island Krakoa.

Krakoa was birthed into existence after an atomic test (of course) granted the island sentience. It grew hungry, which worked out well when the X-Men arrived and it could feed on their mutant energies. Not satisfied, it let Cyclops escape and psychically manipulated Xavier into finding more mutants to satisfy its hunger.

The super-powered mutants form together to attack the massive Krakoa. Professor X joins the battle by attacking the mutant island with his telepathic powers.

Before the professor passes out for his efforts, he relays a plan to the team to defeat the (kinda innocent) creature. Combining their powers to augment the mutant abilities of Polaris, they sever the magnetic force of the Earth below Krakoa. With gravity ceasing to exist below the mutant island, it is sent spiraling into space, never to be seen again (until the next time Krakoa is seen).

Iceman whips up a quick ice-bubble to protect everyone, until their plane fortuitously pops up out of the water. They board the plane and head back to the mansion, leaving them all to wonder just what they’ll do with a team of thirteen X-Men.

(I understand why this is an out-of-story problem, but never understood why this would be an in-universe problem. If I was on the Avengers or X-Men I’d want as many teammates as possible. Mostly because I’m lazy and would pretend to be helping while doing nothing, as I’m known to do during any kind of activity that requires a large number of people. Oh, we’re all going to clean up the office? Let me wipe down these windowsills for an hour straight.)

Giant-Size X-Men is rightly one of the most historic comic books in superhero history. Not only was it the beginning of the X-Men becoming the dominant franchise at Marvel and in all of comics, it also introduced some of the most beloved mutants on their roster, that still remain immensely popular to this day. The Canadian Wolverine. Storm, the African goddess. The German Nightcrawler. Never before, or since, has a group of characters that diverse ever been so successfully introduced. (I watched and loved Extreme Ghostbusters. I just wanted to say that. -Duy)

Take a look at the letters page from Uncanny X-Men #95, which contains the feedback from Giant Size #1.

All three letters express approval of the new characters, along with praise about the diversity of the team. (Not to mention a slightly creepy comment about Storm’s “bewitching” eyes. From an Air Force officer, no less. Sigh…)

Diversity in comics has become a bit of a hot button issue in recent years. Many of the most iconic superheroes were created, at minimum, fifty years ago. Consequently, the majority of the most popular characters are white males. Many superhero movies have changed the race, or even the gender, of some of the supporting characters to reflect a more modern view of society. Most of the time this is limited to characters like Nick Fury, Electro, or Jimmy Olsen. Considering that iconic superhero characters are not easily created on a whim (with the last one arguably being Wolverine in the mid ‘70s) the subject has often been broached that the comics follow the example of the movies, and change their characters to more accurately represent the audience that reads them. While I am by no means qualified to determine what the correct answer is for such a sensitive topic, I do know that the arguments against such changes more often than not don’t cast the arguer in a positive light. Statements that include phrases like tradition and “forced equality” are thrown around, and I can’t help but cringe at them and exit the conversation as quickly as possible. Often times it will be said that if creators want more minority superheroes, than they should just create them themselves, which is a bit like saying the best way to build a championship basketball team is to create a new franchise from scratch (and we’ve all seen how well that has worked for the Charlotte Bobcats).

Anyway, I’m definitely not the person to determine the answers to such questions, or to decide if the questions should even be asked. All I know is that if you really take a hard look at the Avengers team featured in the blockbuster movie, the only diversity you’ll find is green skin, which seems more unrealistic than Thunder Gods or super soldiers.

Oh, and uh, read some X-Men comics. They’re great.

Marvel just released an Omnibus of the first stretch of All-New, All-Different X-Men:

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