X-Men Epic Collection volume 2 1966-1968: Lonely are the Hunted


By Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Werner Roth, Don Heck, George Tuska, Ross Andru, Jack Sparling, Dan Adkins, Tom Sutton, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9583-2

In the autumn of 1963 The X-Men #1 introduced Scott (Cyclops) Summers, Bobby (Iceman) Drake, Warren (Angel) Worthington, Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey and Hank (The Beast) McCoy: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier.

The teacher was a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo Superior; considered by many who knew him as a living saint.

After nearly eight years of eccentrically spectacular adventures the mutant misfits virtually disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics sales. Just like in the closing years of the 1940s, mystery men faded away as supernatural mysteries and traditional genre themes once more dominated the world’s entertainment fields…

Although their title returned at the end of the year as a cheap reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the ongoing Marvel universe, whilst the bludgeoning Beast was opportunistically transformed into a scary monster to cash in on the horror boom.

Even in their heyday the mutants were never a top seller and this volume reveals an increasing tendency for radical rethinks and attention-grabbing stunts that would soon be common currency throughout comics…

X-Men always enjoyed a small, devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek cosy attractiveness of Werner Roth as the blunt tension of hunted outsider kids settled into a pastiche of college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience.

By the time of this turbulent compilation (collecting in trade paperback and digital formats X-Men #24-45 and Avengers #53, plus spoof skits from Not Brand Echh #4 and 8 from September 1966 to June 1968), attitudes and events from the wider world were starting to inflict an era of uncertainty on the Merry Mutants and beginning to infuse every issue with an aura of nervous tension.

During the heady 1960s, Marvel Comics had a vast following among older teens and college kids, and youthful scribe Roy Thomas spoke and wrote as they did. Coupled with his easy delight in expansive character casts this initially made X-Men a very welcoming read for we adolescent baby-boomers. However, with societal unrest everywhere, those greater issues were beginning to be reflected in the comics…

A somewhat watered-down version of the counter-culture had been slowly creeping into these tales of teenaged triumph and tragedy, mostly for comedic balance, but they were – along with Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man – some of the earliest indications of the changing face of America…

Illustrated by Roth with Dick Ayers inking, the action opens with the recently departed Marvel Girl (yanked out of the Xavier School – and consequently off the team – and packed off to college by her parents) visiting her old chums to regale them with tales of life at New York’s Metro University…

Her departure segues neatly into a beloved plot standard – Evil Scientist Grows Giant Bugs – when she enrols and meets an embittered recently-fired professor, leading her erstwhile comrades to confront ‘The Plague of… the Locust!’

Perhaps X-Men #24 isn’t the most memorable tale in the canon but it still reads well and has the added drama of Marvel Girl’s departure for college crystallizing the romantic rivalry for her affections between Cyclops and Angel: providing another deft sop to the audience as it enabled many future epics to include Campus life in the action-packed, fun-filled mix…

Somehow Jean still managed to turn up in every issue even as ‘The Power and the Pendant’ (#25; October 1966) found the boys tracking new menace El Tigre. This South American hunter was visiting New York to steal the second half of a Mayan amulet which would grant him god-like powers…

Having soundly thrashed the mutant heroes, newly-ascended and reborn as Kukulcán, the malign meta returns to Amazonian San Rico to recreate a fallen pre-Columbian empire with the heroes in hot pursuit. The result is a cataclysmic showdown in ‘Holocaust!’ which leaves Angel fighting for his life and deputy leader Cyclops crushed by guilt…

Issue #27 saw the return of some old foes in ‘Re-enter: The Mimic!’ even as the mesmerising Puppet Master pits power-duplicating Calvin Rankin against a team riven by dissention and ill-feeling, whilst in ‘The Wail of the Banshee!’ Rankin joins the X-Men in a tale introducing the sonic-powered mutant (eventually to become a valued team-mate and team-leader) as a deadly threat. This was the opening salvo of an ambitious extended epic featuring the global menace of sinister, mutant-abducting organisation Factor Three.

John Tartaglione replaced Ayers as regular inker with the bright and breezy thriller ‘When Titans Clash!’, as the power-duplicating Super-Adaptoid almost turns the entire team into robotic slaves before ending the Mimic’s crime-busting career, after which Jack Sparling & Tartaglione illustrated ‘The Warlock Wakes’.

Here old Thor foe Merlin enjoys a stylish upgrade to malevolent mutant menace whilst attempting to turn the planet into his mind-controlled playground, after which Marvel Girl and the boys reunite to tackle a deranged Iron Man wannabe who is also an accidental atomic time bomb in ‘We Must Destroy… the Cobalt Man!’ (by Roth & Tartaglione).

‘Beware the Juggernaut, My Son!’ then augments an aura of oppression and dire days ahead as Professor X is abducted by Factor Three and the X-Men are forced to stand alone against an unstoppable mystic monster…

The blistering battle against Juggernaut is interrupted by a helpful guest-shot from Doctor Strange (and his mentor the Ancient One) leading to a life-saving trip ‘Into the Crimson Cosmos!’

Armed with crucial knowledge regarding the nature of their enemy, the mutants are able to vanquish the unstoppable Cain Marko, but when the dust settles the kids are left with almost no resources to rescue their abducted leader…

Dan Adkins – in full Wally Wood appreciation mode – memorably illustrated #34’s ‘War… In a World of Darkness!’ as the desperate team’s search for Xavier takes them into the middle of a subterranean civil war between immortal Tyrannus and the Mole Man, before he inked Roth on follow-up ‘Along Came A Spider…’

When absent ally Banshee is captured mid-sentence during a crucial communication with the X-Men, everybody’s favourite wall-crawler is mistaken for a Factor Three flunky. After the desperate and distraught mutants find the hero the webslinger is forced to battle for his life against the increasingly unstable teens…

‘Mekano Lives’ (with art from Ross Andru & George Roussos, nee Bell) sees the cash-strapped teens delayed in their attempts to follow a lead to Europe by a troubled rich kid with a stolen exo-skeletal super-suit, but his defeat happily provides them with the wherewithal needed to resume their search…

Don Heck stepped in as inker over Andru’s pencils with #37 as ‘We, the Jury…’ finds the mutants finally facing Factor Three – now in alliance with a host of their oldest and most venal mutant foes – and primed to trigger an atomic war between the Americans and Soviet Union.

Heck assumed the penciller’s role for ‘The Sinister Shadow of… Doomsday!’ (inked by Roussos), before the tense Armageddon saga concludes with good and evil mutants temporarily united against a common foe in ‘The Fateful Finale!’ (embellished by Vince Colletta).

Werner Roth had not departed the mutant melee: with issue #38 a classy and compelling back-up feature had commenced, and his slick illustration was perfect for the fascinating Origins of the X-Men series. Inked by John Verpoorten ‘A Man Called… X’ began unveiling the hidden history of Cyclops, also revealing how Xavier began his cosy relationship with human FBI agent Fred Duncan

The second instalment, ‘Lonely are the Hunted!’ displayed humanity in full-on mob-mode as terrified citizens riot and stalk newly “outed” mutant Scott Summers: scenes reminiscent of contemporary race-riots that would fuel the racial outcast metaphor of the later Chris Claremont team.

Back at the front of the comicbook, Thomas, Heck & George Tuska ushered in a new era for the team with #40’s ‘The Mask of the Monster!’ as – now clad in new, individualistic costumes rather than superhero school uniforms – the young warriors tackle what seems to be Victor Frankenstein’s unholy creation, whilst in the second feature Scott Summers meets ‘The First Evil Mutant!’

‘Now Strikes… the Sub-Human!’ and sequel ‘If I Should Die…’ introduce tragic survivor Grotesk, whose only dream is to destroy the entire planet, and who institutes the greatest and most stunning change yet to the constantly evolving series.

I’m spoiling nothing now, but when this story first ran, the shock couldn’t be described as the last page showed the heroic, world-saving death of Charles Xavier. I’m convinced that at the time this was an honest plot development – removing an “old” figurehead and living deus ex machina from a “young” series – and I’m just as certain that his subsequent “return” a few years later was an inadvisable reaction to dwindling sales…

From the rear of those climactic issues ‘The Living Diamond!’ and ‘The End… or the Beginning?’ (this last inked by neophyte Herb Trimpe) signalled the creation of The Xavier School for Gifted Children as solitary recluse Professor X takes fugitive Scott under his wing and begins his Project: X-Men…

Issue #43 instituted the true reinvention of the mutant team with ‘The Torch is Passed!’ (Thomas, Tuska & Tartaglione) as arch-nemesis Magneto returns with reluctant confederates Toad, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch to entrap the bereaved heroes in his hidden island fortress.

This epic action event was supported by educational back-up tale entitled ‘Call Him… Cyclops’ (Thomas, Roth & John Verpoorten), revealing the secrets of the mutant’s awesome eye-blasts, after which the next issue saw the modern-day Angel inexplicably escape and encounter a revived Golden Age Timely Comics hero whilst flying back to America for reinforcements against Magneto.

Rousing read ‘Red Raven, Red Raven…’ (Thomas and Gary Friedrich, with Don Heck layouts, Roth pencils & inks from Tartaglione) was accompanied by the opening of the next X-Men Origins chapter-play as ‘The Iceman Cometh!’, courtesy of Friedrich, Tuska & Verpoorten.

X-Men #45 led with ‘When Mutants Clash!’ as Cyclops also escapes, only to encounter the highly-conflicted Quicksilver; a battle latterly concluded in Avengers #53 as ‘In Battle Joined’ (Thomas, John Buscema and Tuska). This depicts Magneto’s defeat and apparent death. Meanwhile, back in the back of #45, Iceman’s story of small town intolerance continues – but does not here conclude – in ‘And the Mob Cried… Vengeance!’

Although the drama hits pause the comics do not as 1960’s superhero satire vehicle Not Brand Echh numbers #4 and 8 provide a brace of spoof sagas beginning with ‘If Magneat-o Should Clobber Us…’ (Thomas & Tom Sutton) whilst Friedrich & Sutton describe all-out mutant war in ‘Beware the Forbush-Man, My Son!’

This volume concludes with a glorious and revelatory selection of extras a batch of unused covers: Roth’s submissions for X-Men #25 and 33, Gil Kane’s banned (by the Comics Code Authority) take on #33’s and Tuska’s for issue #38.

After a brace of original art pages by Heck, a succession of pre-“tweaked” (modified by the Marvel Bullpen design team) covers follow – #40 & 42 – as well as three extra pages for X-Men #45, created for the story’s reprint run in Marvel Triple Action.

Closing down the mutant mayhem are a Kirby T-Shirt design plus previous Masterworks covers courtesy of The King, Roth, Tuska and painter Dean White.

These tales perfectly display Marvel’s evolution from quirky action tales to the more fraught, breast-beating, convoluted melodramas that inexorably led to the monolithic X-brand of today. Well drawn, highly readable stories are never unwelcome or out of favour though, and it should be remembered that everything here informs so very much of today’s mutant mythology. These are unmissable stories for the dedicated fan and newest convert. Every comics fan should own this book, so do…
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.