In which we begin at the beginning: everything clicks with #3, Professor Xavier is a jerk, Magneto is a fearless fashionista, Cyclops gets a name, Jean Grey has a chronic case of the Silver Age, and allegorical diversity is not enough.
- Mutant genetics and taxonomy
- Practical semantics of “X-Men”
- Charles Xavier’s equally dubious ethics and decorating choices
- Superhero couture of the Atomic Age
- Why Cyclops can’t control his powers
- The miracle of comic-book magnetism
- A problematic analogy
- X-books for beginners
- Snow grenades
- The word “yaybo”
- The mystery of the ubiquitous plaid suit
- How broadly should we define X-Men? Only characters who have been members of a team called the X-Men, or members of ancillary teams as well? What about supporting characters?
- If you were introducing someone to X-Men what comic/story arc would you give them?
- Yellow? Why in the name of all that looks terrible on cheap paper did their original uniforms have to be so yellow?
Transcribed by Erica, edited by Rebekah
[Editor’s Note: Rachel now goes by the name of Jay and uses male or neutral pronouns. This episode was recorded before Jay’s transition. At Jay’s request, we are using the name and pronouns they used at the time when this episode was recorded to keep the integrity of the transcript.]
Miles: Hey Rachel, is that the latest issue of Uncanny X-Men?
Rachel: It sure is, Miles!
Miles: What's going on?
Rachel: Well, see, the X-Men, n-now that's Cyclops' X-Men, and they're currently kinda terrorists, they're operating underground from the Weapon X bunker. Uhm... which is --
Miles: Wait, Weapon, Weapon X?
Rachel: You know, the mostly Canadian military organization, they were putting mutants in concentration camps, stuff like that --
Miles: So those, those were the ones who did the genetic branding things, with the big M's on their faces, like Bishop, and Layla Miller...
Rachel: Oh no, no, no, no. THOSE guys are from the Forever Yesterday universe. It's a splinter universe. THESE guys are from main continuity. Uhm, and the X-Men are hiding out in, in their old headquarters. Uhm, so they get a ping on their cobbled together Cerebro --
Rachel: That a new mutant has manifested in Chicago, and they all head down to check it out. But it's not actually a mutant, it's a ruse, and they get attacked by a Sentinel. No-one's powers work.
Miles: Uh...oh, that's not good.
Rachel: No, it's really not. But they've got Magik along, so that's cool. And she's been studying with Dr Strange, and she --
Miles: Wait, hang on, hang on! Magik? So Illyana Rasputin. That's Colossus' little sister, but didn't she die of the Legacy Virus after she got re-de-aged back in Inferno?
Rachel: Well, sort of. But this one's actually an alternate Illyana from a parallel universe, so it's cool.
[Intro: Excerpt of X-Men: The Animated Series theme song]
Rachel: Welcome, I'm Rachel Edidin.
Miles: I'm Miles Stokes.
Rachel: And we're here to X-plain the X-Men.
Miles: Because it's about time someone did!
Rachel: Welcome to the first issue of “Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men!” Where we'll gonna - we're gonna be taking you through the ins, outs and retcons of our very favorite superhero soap opera.
Miles: So there's a LOT of X-Men, right, fifty years, dozens of titles, literally thousands of issues, and that adds up to a continuity that's complex, even on the scale of shared universe superhero comics.
Rachel: What we're gonna be doing, over the course of, well, a while, is hitting the highlights, key characters, key stories, the best, the worst, and our personal favorites.
Miles: We're gonna be going in pretty deep, but we're not gonna hit everything.
Rachel: After all, the goal here is to cover the series in less time than it'll take you to actually read them all.
Miles: And for the low, low price of free.
Rachel: So, where do we start?
Miles: I guess we might as well start at the very beginning.
Rachel: X-Men #1.
Miles: So this was 1963, right?
Rachel: Yeah, this is, this is coming out at, at about the same time as Avengers #1. Um, it's fall of that year.
Miles: Yeah, so at this point, uh, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and also Steve Ditko, they were creating a LOT of comics, this is what's commonly known as the Silver Age of comics, I guess because the Golden Age came before and... y'know... metals.
Rachel: Uhm now at this point superheroes are still a pretty small part of Marvel's line-up. They're making most of their money off of, y'know, romance books, adventure, war comics --
Miles: All the stuff no-one cares about these days, unfortunately.
Rachel: And in come the X-Men, who are, you know, advertised as the "Strangest Superheroes of Them All.”
Miles: And basically --
Rachel: That's pretty strange!
Miles: [laughs] So the idea is that they're... a bunch of teenagers, and they live in a house, which is also kind of a school, with this guy named Professor Xavier, who's a bald dude in a wheelchair.
Rachel: Huge jerk.
Miles: Ah... we’ll be coming back to that. Like a lot.
Rachel: [crosstalk] Huge jerk.
Rachel: Professor Xavier's a jerk.
Miles: And uh, so they're mutants. Now that's different than anybody else in the Marvel Universe, you know, the Hulk gets his powers from radiation, Spider-Man's bitten by a radioactive spider - there was a lot of radiation going on at this point --
Rachel: [crosstalk] So, wait, so what's the difference between a mutant and someone who's mutated, because I mean, Spider-Man is a mutant, right? Like he's, he's been, he gets bitten by a spider. But then he mutates - that makes him a mutant.
Miles: Oh, so then this is a sort of nature/nurture debate of, uh, superhero powers right here. So a mutant, the deal, deal is, they're born with the X-GENE! Which is not the same as an X chromosome, that's, that's different.
Rachel: Some of them have those too.
Miles: Uh, that's true. Uh, not, not enough. Uh, well, not enough have two. Anyway, point being - uh, so, they're born basically with the, this random power, like you know, eye lasers, or being able to turn sound into energy, or flight, or whatever. And, uh, that usually triggers at around the time they become teenagers.
Rachel: Now, it's worth pointing out here, because this is gonna go back and forth forever, that mutants aren't actually a separate species from humans, no matter what Professor Xavier keeps insisting. The definition of a separate species, something that's, you know, genetically separate, but also can't.. breed with the parent species and produce viable offspring. Mutants can breed with humans, they can produce kids, who can then have kids, they're actually just a subspecies.
Miles: So this actually brings up something really important if you're going to get into X-Men. Suspension of disbelief is your best friend. This shit does NOT make sense a lot of the time, you just kinda have to go with it.
Rachel: And that's not just the science either. X-Men is where continuity goes to die.
Miles: We will also very much be getting into that.
Rachel: So let's jump into th-the actual team. Who do we have on the docket when we start?
Miles: Okay, so, uh, the first page opens with Professor X doing his "To me, my X-Men!" thing as he's sitting in a chair with the really ugly blanket on his lap.
Rachel: As he does.
Miles: [crosstalk] He, he calls in the team, and we get a little, a demo of each of their powers. So first we have Warren Worthington III! The high-flying Angel!
Rachel: And he's pretty much what it says on the tin. He's a dude who flies, he has big wings.
Miles: That's kind of it. Now one of the things we're gonna keep coming back to is early on in X-Men, like the first couple of issues especially, the characters' personalities are.. "Hey, they're teenagers and they have powers!" and that's pretty much the long and short of it. Any kind of metaphor, any kind of characters you can really connect with, like Spider-Man trying to support his uncle, his Aunt May [snaps fingers] after his Uncle Ben was killed due to his own negligence, we don't have anything like that yet.
Rachel: Nuh uh. They're just some dudes.
Rachel: [crosstalk] Uhm, next, we have Slim Summers. Cyclops, who shoots force beams out of his eyes.
Miles: Wait a minute. SLIM Summers?
Rachel: Yeah, so here's the thing. Cyclops' name, if you're familiar with the character, is SCOTT Summers. But he doesn't actually get called that until issue 3, because Stan Lee was originally planning to name the character Slim, and I think we can all agree that we dodged a bullet on that one.
Miles: [laughs] Although we did not dodge any alliteration bullets, we have quite a few of those still. Uh, so then yeah, we have Bobby Drake, now Bobby Drake, Iceman, he's probably the only character at this point who has much of a distinct personality, although his only personality is, "Hey, I'm younger and kind of immature!" and that's about the extent of it.
Rachel: And he's basically, I mean, he's called Iceman, but he basically looks like a snowman, he throws snowballs - he throws SNOW GRENADES at one point in this issue, which I think is kind of awesome.
Miles: I'm intimidated.
Rachel: They explode on contact into more snow.
Rachel: Um, and Hank McCoy, the Beast. Who is, uhm, super dexterous, super strong… and has super big hands and feet. Now, Hank McCoy is known mostly later on for being a really smart, really erudite guy, separate from his mutant powers. Um, and you see a lot of play with him with a duality of you know, the, the intellectual and the scientist, and um, most of the time, the Beast in combat. In this, he's really just sort of a big palooka. You don't really see him start to take on those characteristics until again, X-Men #3, which is where things start to kind of come together.
Miles: Right, so uh, we have those four, they start, and it's only a few pages later that we get the fifth member of the core team of X-Men, which is gonna be our team of X-Men for quite a few years at this point.
Rachel: Jean Grey, Marvel Girl, who's telekinetic. And at this point, and for most of the series, Jean - for most of at least the first series, Jean Grey's main defining characteristic is that she is the girl. Um, she gets, and I wanna talk about this because I feel like Jean Grey, like, gets major short shrift a lot of the time. And she gets written off as sort of this boring character, and I think a big part of that is that for the first, you know, sixty or so issues she appeared in and a lot later… like, all she was defined by was, was being a girl. Like, she didn't really have much of personality outside of that, you know, she was the one who helped with the dishes, and she was the one who everyone hit on, and... that was really it.
Miles: And you see a lot of that really in comics of this era, at least Marvel, that's mainly what, what I'm familiar with. But I mean, the Invisible Woman in Fantastic Four, the Wasp in the Avengers, they're the women. Everyone else can have interests, and sort of things they do with their lives, and the other characters? They're just defined in context of their relationship with men.
Rachel: Um, and that's something that I, I don't think Jean Grey ever entirely got away from that orish- [sic], original, bland characterization. Uh, and I think that, that's a lot of why she's, y'know, been consistently kind of a controversial character over the years.
Rachel: Now speaking of controversial characters, this brings us to the man at the center of it all, the X in the X-Men: Professor Charles Xavier.
Miles: Yup, he's a, he's kind of a jerk. Now this is something that Rachel and I aren't exactly on the same page as...
Rachel: I think he's a dick. I think he's actually, arguably, the biggest villain of X-Men, and we're gonna come back to this.
Miles: [crosstalk] And see... [laughs]
Rachel: And I'm gonna pr-, and I'm gonna prove it. But not yet.
Miles: W-we'll see if she can prove it or not.
Rachel: I can.
Miles: Um, but so Rachel, you mentioned, you keep mentioning X-Men #3 as this big turning point. Let's talk a little bit about kind of how the characters are defined there.
Rachel: Well, in X-Men #3, you start to see them kind of, disambigu-uh [sic], disambiguated for the first time. Um, you've got... Hank again starting to actually sound like Hank. Um, and y-you see them split up, I think, for the first time in the series. Where they're going off and doing things in pairs, so y-you see more of their dynamic, other than "we're all going to come together, we're gonna fight a villain." Um...
Miles: Speaking of the villains, the Blob? There's really no point in summarizing that. They fight the Blob, he's a jerk - done.
Rachel: And, and one of the ways in which Professor X is a jerk that's gonna come back later, is that as it turns out, he is telling hella lies from the START! Specifically about Jean Grey! Because she's not actually a newcomer! She trained with him secretly for years! To suppress her telepathic ability. That's gonna be retconned in later, and, um, y'know --
Miles: [crosstalk] So let's talk, let's talk a little bit about retcons. So retcon stands for "retroactive continuity".
Rachel: And it's the X-Men's second mutant power.
Miles: So basically, what that is, is, let's say a story element set up a certain way, and y'know, months to years later, Stan Lee or whoever decides, "No, actually, it would be cooler if we did it THIS way, that'll give us more storytelling opportunities, uh, later on."
Rachel: Now that's a deliberate retcon. The other thing to know about the Silver Age, is that no-one there gave a fuck about c-continuity. They didn't keep track of this stuff. There are a TON of things that are just straight up continuity errors, that ra-later got written in, like so for example, in this issue, number 1, Professor X mentions that he lost the loose [sic], the use of his legs in a childhood accident. A few issues later, you'll see a flashback where he is in the Korean War, walking, in his twenties.
Miles: Right, and actually, the X-Men movies have this exact same problem as you point out. But yeah, we, we get multiple explanations for just how that happened to Professor Xavier, and I guess the idea is that you're supposed to say, "Okay, that's how it really was," and ignore the previous stuff.
Rachel: Marvel's actually got, because their Silver Age continuity is so fucked, this thing called a No-Prize. Or they used to.
Miles: Right, so a No-Prize - that stands for No Prize, in that you don't get a prize. But the idea was that if you could find a continuity error in a Marvel comic, you could then point it out, but also explain, "well, actually, here's why it DOES make sense if you look at it this way", then you'd be congratulated and your No-Prize would be in the mail, which is to say: nothing.
Rachel: I thought you actually got an empty envelope.
Miles: I like to think you do, I'm gonna retcon uh, actual continuity to saying that you did.
Rachel: Once upon a time. But that was before there were budget cuts, yeah. There's a lot of rationalization in continuity. And again, the X-Men are kind of the heart of that. They've got, especially once the time travel comes in. But that's - we're getting way, way ahead of ourselves.
Miles: [laughs] Right, so for now --
Rachel: [crosstalk] Literally!
Miles: Um, one of the things I think is interesting about X-Men is that although it doesn't know it at the time, it finds a lot of the stuff that's gonna be important, both thematically and content-wise, in issue #1. Um, most specifically, Magneto, who you may have heard of, he shows up, he is THE villain for the very first issue of this new comic.
Rachel: Um, so Professor X is the guy behind the X-Men. He's super rich, he's got a huge mansion, and he uses it to collect mutant teenagers and try to kill 'em. Um...
Miles: I-I mean, n-not officially, but it does tend to work out that way.
Rachel: [crosstalk] No, that's totally what he does.
Rachel: He's got um, now later on, they're gonna have something called the Danger Room, which is where they do their training. Right now, he's just got a living room that's full of spinning blade traps.
Miles: Well, I mean, we, we do too, do people not?
Rachel: Uh... cool people do?
Miles: Oh, okay, well, I just figured he was like, like us. But um, actually, yeah, talking about, let's talk a little bit about why Professor X has these kids living in his house, and his, you know, doing all this reckless child endangerment --
Rachel: [crosstalk] 'Cuz he's creepy.
Miles: Well, more specifically, so they're mutants, we mentioned that. Um, people born with powers.
Rachel: [crosstalk] And so see, he's a telepath.
Miles: He thinks he may be the first one at this point, although he's not, and to his credit he says he's not sure, so at least that doesn't need a retcon.
Rachel: And he's, he's also the least ethical telepath, either. Like, three issues in, or no - in the second issue, actually, he solves the problem of a criminal by just completely wiping his memory.
Rachel: He's a dick.
Miles: But let's, let's talk about um, what's going on here. So, one of the things Professor Xavier mentions is that he's bringing the mut- these mutants into his school to train them, because there's this world that hates and fears them. Now, it's interesting because we actually don't see any evidence of that for quite a while within X-Men. Like, they're heroes! And people say, "Hey, thanks heroes!" and they fight against the bad guys.
Rachel: [crosstalk] Yeah, the military lends them helicopters.
Miles: Right, um, but, this is obviously, this is the central metaphor, that I think is why X-Men has, uh, stayed so compelling, for more than fifty years, like the "mutants as a species", or n-not species, or whatever.
Rachel: [crosstalk] Subspecies.
Rachel: [crosstalk] Population.
Miles: Yeah. They can really stand in for any oppressed minority group or individual, and the metaphor really really works. I think it was probably most clearly parallel to Civil Rights at the time, but gay rights, you can totally bring that in later, or really just... alienated teenagers who are gonna be a lot of people reading your comic, y'know? A lot of what it's about is, hey, we're, we're different, sometimes people don't like that - how do we handle that? How do we react to a world that's, y'know, given us the stink eye sometimes.
Rachel: The trouble with that, and something that I think is important to acknowledge, is that while the X-Men have consistently set themselves up as an allegory for marginalized populations, they ver-very rarely actually included members of those populations. So let's say that the X-Men of the '60s are a parallel for the Civil Rights, which is great! Except that they're ALL white kids. All of them!
Miles: And four of them are men, and only one's a, a woman.
Rachel: Later on, you can go with the gay rights parallel, and again, you have a team where, the OVERWHELMING majority are straight, and the only characters who are canonically not, are bit characters or villains. The, again, that's starting to change a little bit now, but... X-Men suffers from something really common to speculative fiction and superhero comics, which is again, diversity that's mostly allegorical.
Miles: Uh, if you look at Star Trek, that's certainly gonna be the case there as well.
Rachel: We've got Professor X at the center of this. And right off the bat, in the first issue, they also introduce the character who's gonna be set up as sort of his equal opposite acoss [sic], across the course of the series.
Miles: Yes, Magneto, the master of that magnetism! Or, as he calls himself, "Magneto, the uh, the Marvelous? The Magnificent?" They really love alliteration.
Rachel: [crosstalk] I think it's magnificent.
Rachel: Let me - let me actually find this panel because it's a great line.
Miles: Point being, um, yeah! So Magneto - who is Magneto? He is another mutant, he's the first evil mutant in continuity. And according --
Rachel: [crosstalk] And he calls himself, does he call himself an evil mutant? Or did they just call him an evil mutant?
Miles: I'm pretty sure he's just labelled as such.
Rachel: [crosstalk] Yeah, they just call him that. Later on there's a group who actually calls themselves evil mutants, because, yeah... Yeah.
Miles: [crosstalk] Well, again, we're, we're getting ahead of ourselves. So, he's uh, according to Professor Xavier, he's basically the first evil mutant who's emerged, so he's who Xavier has been training the X-Men to stop, you know, figuring that we're mutants, we should essentially take care of our, our... the bad guys in, in our group. Uh --
Rachel: Ah, the miraculous Magneto.
Miles: Oh, that's even better! Wow. He is miraculous. That costume is miraculous. Let's talk about the costume for a bit. Red, and purple, and a big bullet-shaped helmet and panties over his pants and a giant cape --
Rachel: Oh man, Magneto is amazing. And here's the really amazing thing about Magneto's costume is: it is HORRIBLE and it has had more staying power than I think any other single costume in the X-Universe.
Miles: Right, and I, I have to respect that. I think what this really shows is that Magneto, he's very full of himself - he also does not give a shit what people think about him.
Rachel: And that works.
Miles: It does. So --
Rachel: [crosstalk] He rocks it. He, he rocks that purple and red.
Miles: So getting back to the metaphor, um, Magneto's deal is, hey, so I'm a member of HOMO SUPERIOR which is you know, the species or... whatever name for mutantkind in X-Men, and he feels that you know, hey, we're different, humanity doesn't like us very much, so you know, let's just... w... [sic] if we're this powerful, let's just go ahead and rule humanity.
Rachel: And, at some point, an-and another point, so that's gonna expand into actual straight-up genocide where he's like, screw it, humanity had their chance, let's wipe 'em all out, start fresh, raise kids with eye lasers.
Miles: Yeah, but so basically you have these sort of opposed, dual perspectives, there's Charles Xavier, who believes no, we should really co-exist with uh, humans, and we should, uh, just make it clear that we can be awesome, and that these bad guys don't represent us, and there's Magneto saying, you know what? That is really too much effort, it's never gonna work, let's just go ahead and save ourselves some time, and rule the world.
Rachel: The parallel that gets brought up a lot, um, is Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. And we are not going to draw on that parallel, because it's reductive and incredibly offensive.
Miles: [chuckles] But yeah, really, the, that duality, I think that's what's really gonna drive a lot of philosophical considerations in X-Men from, y'know, the '60s, to even the present day.
Rachel: For now though, Magneto is mostly a really angry guy with a silly hat. He's also the epicenter of one of my other FAVORITE things about the Silver Age, which is that no-one has any. Clue. How magnetism works.
Miles: So let's, let's talk about some of the ways, some of what magnets can do in X-Men #1.
Rachel: Well, mag-, um, in X-Men #1, magnets can create force fields.
Miles: Uh, yup, magnets can, uh, create, they can, uh, bring little particles in the air to create a message in the sky that is basically his equivalent of "SURRENDER DOROTHY".
Rachel: And he actually signs it in cursive in iron filings in the sky, which I think is very classy of him.
Miles: Well, h-he's Magneto, of course. Uh, later on, I-I think he officially has the power of a magnetic personality...
Rachel: He does. He uses it to hypnotize Warren Worthington's parents into being his friends later on in the series.
Miles: [crosstalk] A-and like, he can, he can send a magnetic astral PROJECTION of himself?
Rachel: [crosstalk] Yeah, it's basically telepathy. Magnetism is just.. whatever-the-hell-we-need power. As far as Lee and Kirby are con- are concerned. And it's, it's still pretty dubious. So again, suspension of disbelief. The X-Men's powers don't make a lot of sense. Cyclops' neck should break every time he fires his eye-beams. And yet.
Miles: I should point out that one issue of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe --
Rachel: [crosstalk] Nope! Nope!
Miles: We're gonna come back to this - listeners, we are.
Rachel: No we're not, nope! Nope!
Miles: [chuckles] Give me time.
Miles: [exhales] Uh, y'actually [sic] talking about metaphors and talking about Cyclops, that's something that I really wanted to bring up. Um, so, let's look at probably the most successful Marvel character, Spider-Man. Like, right? Are his powers all that interesting? Well, they're kind of cool and I think everybody plays at swinging around when they're a kid who knows Spider-Man.
Rachel: Dude, he's got radioactive blood!
Miles: Ah well, who doesn't? Uh, but the point is, um, what really makes Spider-Man compelling is hey, he's this kid, he's, you know, there's the, "With great power comes great responsibility.” That's a character you can see as a character, yes, but also as an archetype. You can identify with this character, you can see how that applies to your own life, it's very powerful.
Rachel: And yeah, they - so Marvel characters o-often have you know, those short, summary taglines. So the "great power - with great power comes great responsibility" for Spider-Man, for X-Men it's "fighting p-pr- to protect a world that hates and fears them".
Miles: But uh, yeah, I think one of the, sort of microcosms of that, if you look at Cyclops himself and his powers, like, this doesn't - again - this doesn't come up until issue 3 - very little does - but uh, if he isn't wearing his glasses or his visor, his, uh, eye beams, his optical blasts are gonna shoot out uncontrollably, and just destroy whatever's in front of him.
Rachel: And I'm actually gonna pull in some brief X-planation here, because this is written up as basically part of his power set early on, but it's not, actually. Because when other people absorb his powers, they can control them. The reason Cyclops can't is that he has brain damage.
Miles: Right, and we'll get t-, we'll get to that part as we get to that part of the story. Um, that actually becomes a rather important part of continuity. Uh, but for now, the important part is, you know, he's this really straight-laced dude, like you'll see a lot of those Stan Lee thought bubbles about him talking about, y'know, "Oh Jean could never love me, because if I ever take these glasses off I would hurt her! Woe is me!" Etcetera. Um, so --
Rachel: [crosstalk] There's also a lot of humblebragging in there. The, "I AM CURSED WITH THESE POWERS! THAT ARE REALLY AWESOME!"
Miles: [laughs] Oh Cyclops, I love you. But anyway, I think that kind of, like, just needing to control yourself, having this immense capability, but realizing that if you don't completely keep a lid on it, then you're gonna fuck up everyone you love. And so for me, I see this as a, a pretty clear parallel to the appeal of werewolf mythology. Y'know, the idea that we all have this sort of beast within, and eh, without a kind of veneer of civilization, without just constantly paying attention, then we're just gonna go ballistic, and uh, do terrible, terrible things.
Rachel: Well, first of all, I wanna point out that there's an original X-Man who is about that duality specifically, who's Beast. But what I think makes, makes Cyclops more interesting, and what makes the X-Men more interesting in general, is that their powers aren't separate things. I mean, with werewolves, you've got a really divided duality. And with the X-Men, you know, they can, they can have normal lives, they can go to college, they can go about their daily lives, but being a mutant doesn't turn off. It's not something that just happens when they're in the costumes, it's as fundamental to their identities and who they are as, as being human, as having des- y'know, what-whatever else.
Miles: Uh, can we call Cyclops “Laserwolf” anyway?
Rachel: We can totally call Cyclops “Laserwolf.”
Miles: Okay, you can hold, hold us to this - Laserwolf. For the rest of continuity. For the rest of this podcast.
Rachel: Nope. On and off. When he earns it.
Miles: Okay, that's fine. When he deserves it. Good job, Cyclops. Good job, Laserwolf.
Rachel: [crosstalk] When he, yeah.
Miles: You know, [sighs] we keep talking about X-Men #3, I think, let's talk a little bit about what changes in there.
Rachel: Well, first of all, again, characters get distinct personalities. Cyclops gets a name. It also intra-, um, introduces what I think is what I think is one of the most important and enduring motifs of early X-Men.
Miles: Uh, what's that?
Rachel: That is the plaid suit.
Miles: [sighs] I knew we were gonna come to this.
Rachel: So, Jack Kirby really, really liked to draw plaid suits. He was really, really into it. And... in X-Men, and it's, it's, kind of subtle, and I don't know if it's a continuity issue or what, but there is this one plaid suit that keeps coming back on different characters. And it's the same one, it's this dark red plaid suit, um, Cyclops wears it, Iceman wears it, I think, um, Angel might wear part of it at some point...
Miles: Well y'know, he can't fit his wings, I would imagine, into the rest.
Rachel: Yeah, and it just - it just keeps. Coming. Back. And I rea-, I love that. Makes, makes me kinda happy. I like plaid suits.
Miles: [crosstalk] Oh, this brings up something important again about the Stan Lee era of X-Men. Stan Lee didn't know what the FUCK[whispering] he was talking about when he was writing teenagers.
Rachel: Yeah, he especially didn't know what teenagers were talking about. So you get the usual Stan Lee bombasticism, but you also get just amazing exclamations and words. My favorite from the first one is at one point, just out of nowhere, for no reason, Iceman yells - what is it --
Miles: [deadpan] Yaybo.
Rachel: Yaybo! Right. Now so, I - this, this, this, I, we, we sort of went back and forth on whether to bring this up, because it really sounds like an ethnic slur.
Rachel: But um, I Googled it, actually, and what Urban Dictionary says is just: "a person that is um, uber-keyed up and excited. A go-getter and jetsetter. A person with more energy and zeal than any-anyone else." So I-I think this should just be the new word for X-fans.
Rachel: [crosstalk] Yaybos.
Miles: So, so Iceman, was he actually breaking the fourth wall at this point? Addressing the fans?
Rachel: Uh, we could retcon that.
Miles: I-I, I say we do so.
Rachel: So the other thing about Stan Lee is that everyone he writes talks like a carnival barker.
Miles: And this is especially evident in again, X-Men #3, which features the Blob, he's sort of a circus freak.
Rachel: And it's got actual carnival barkers.
Miles: And you're like, "oh, oh this dialogue suddenly sounds perfect! Oh!"
Rachel: [crosstalk] "This is great! Oh - he's really good!" But the-, and then everyone else just talks like that too. It's also got a giraffe.
Miles: Uh, a, the gir-giraffe who eats Iceman's ice cream. Uh, apparently, being an irresponsible kid means you eat ice cream all the time instead of studying, again - Stan Lee --
Rachel: [crosstalk] For breakfast, even.
Miles: -- were you ever a teenager?
Rachel: No, no. He sprung, he sprung full-grown from, like, a marketing campaign.
Miles: Mustache already on his face, I'm assuming?
Rachel: Uh, he stole that from Jack Kirby. [chuckles]
Miles: [laughs] Um okay, so yeah, that's basically X-Men #1, and um, in the future, we're gonna be covering a lot more ground with each podcast, but we figured that this would be a good opportunity to bring up some of the, some of the big important parts of what early X-Men looks like.
Rachel: We're mostly gonna be going through the series in, um, in order, at least to begin with. For the first 66 issues from the Silver Age. And for a while past that, there was only one X-Men series. Later on, they're gonna fracture, and as we move ahead, again, we're not going to go through this issue-by-issue for the most part. We're gonna skip ahead, we're gonna look at storylines, we're gonna jump between series as we go. For now though, we're gonna keep it mostly linear. But we're also here, for you, as a public service. Because again, the X-Planation of the X-Men dov- [sic], I-I think is, is one of those essential areas in which government funding cuts have, have cut off the majority of resources. And so we're trying to fill some of that gap as a private institution.
Miles: I think it's because all the budget's going to the Sentinel Project.
Rachel: [softer] Man! Those jerks!
Miles: Stupid Bolivar Trask.
Rachel: So, we hit you up for questions on our blog, which is rachelandmiles.com, by the way, where you can find updates, you can find supplemental materials and you can find screenshots of some of the panels and pages that we've discussed in ev-every week's episode. And we also hit you up on Twitter and Tumblr, and we got a ton of questions but there are a few in particular we're gonna focus on, because we think they dovetail really nicely with today's, with today's episode.
Miles: Okay, so, uh, first off, we have a question from another-elle --
Rachel: On Tumblr.
Miles: Um, and that question is, "How broadly should we define X-Men? Only characters who have been members of a team called the X-Men, or members of ancillary teams as well? What about supporting characters?"
Rachel: That's a really good question Elle, um, and, we've actually talked about this a LOT in context of the podcast. The way we're defining X-Men for our purposes, is: characters, teams, and series… that spun directly out of, or are directly connected to, the team and the institution of the X-Men. So, for example, Excalibur would count, X-Factor would count, X-Force would count.
Miles: Um, Alpha Flight --
Rachel: [crosstalk] Uh, Runaways, Alpha Flight would not count. Runaways would not count, even those, those hav-have mutant characters and those would have some overlap, their association with the X-Men isn't, isn’t a defining characteristic.
Miles: Okay, so what about characters like say, Deadpool?
Rachel: [immediately] Fuck Deadpool.
Miles: [laughs] Uh, let's talk about Longshot.
Rachel: Longshot counts. Longshot didn't start out in the X-Men, but they were his primary association for the majority of the issues he appeared in.
Miles: Yes! Longshot's my favorite.
Rachel: Longshot is great.
Miles: Uh, how about [dramatic voice] Namor, the Sub-Mariner!
Rachel: Only when he's actually in an X-book.
Miles: Okay, uh, so next question.
Rachel: This is from um, Rustin H. Wright on our blog, and Rustin asks, uh, Rustin asks on the next page [paper rustling] ... "Uh, yellow?! Why in the name of all that looks terrible on cheap paper did their original uniforms have to be so yellow?"
Miles: So, I don't know what's going on in Stan Lee's mind, other than "I must make as much money as possible", but uh...
Rachel: Alliteration. There's a lot of alliteration going on in Stan Lee's mind.
Miles: I wish his name was alliterative. It should be.
Rachel: [crosstalk] Right?
Miles: Uh, but anyway, uh, one thing I like about their costumes being yellow, and especially ALL of their costumes being that sort of, y'know, uniform design, uh, you really get the feeling that they're in a school, they're all working for the same cause, and also, I mean, one of the taglines of the X-Men over the years has been "Children of the Atom". Uh, we mentioned earlier that radiation was on everybody's minds during the Silver Age for y’know, obvious historical reasons.
Rachel: And I think Professor X, Professor X actually mentions that he thinks that his powers and his mutations resulted from his father's work on the, on the atom bomb.
Miles: Right, um, so uh, to me at least, that kind of a bright yellow-black combination really conjures up images of a sort of, like, the radiation symbols, stuff like that.
Rachel: Even the lines of the costume, the yellow on the black, and the way it widens and tapers actually kind of evoke that. [Miles goes "Hmm" in the background] I don't know if it's deliberate or not, but it loo-, it definitely gives that impression.
Miles: And, one kind of cool thing about that, is, the X-Men just look different than the rest of the Marvel Universe. You know, they're all in bright reds, and bright blues, for all the heroes. The X-Men, thematically are supposed to be kind of on the side. Y'know, yes, they're superheroes, but they're the ones who people don't quite trust, don't quite see normally, and so I like the idea of that color scheme having been theirs for all of these years. You know, just making it clear that "hey, we like these guys, but they're a little off, maybe."
Okay, uh, let's go to our third question, um. This is from Skipjack.
Rachel: On Twitter.
Miles: If you were introducing someone to the X-Men, what comic or story arc would you give them?
Rachel: I would probably give them X-Men: Season One. This is a graphic novel that Marvel put out a couple of years ago, written by Dennis Hopeless and drawn by Jamie McKelvie. And… here's the thing. The Silver Age is definitive, but it's not actually very good. Um. We've talked a little bit about why, but it's also just, it's, it's people kind of getting a feel for that. What Season One is is a really good writer and a really good artist, going back with all of the years of X-Men continuity and all the established stuff in mind, and revisiting and rewriting some of the first few Silver Age stories. I think it covers about through X-Men #4. Um, in terms of material, because they've got, they've got Magneto, the Vanisher, the Blob, uh, Unus the Untouchable and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
Rachel: And just covering that briefly, in a really, really good, really, really succinct introduction to the first five X-Men and their initial dynamic. And the other thing it does that I really like is that it inverts the point of view, and it's actually all from Jean's perspective so you get a much stronger sense of her as a character. You get to see the other characters through her eyes, not just her, through like, the creepy old man leer.
Miles: And I think, um, one of the other things that I like about X-Men: Season One, it really gets across why these five characters, despite having very little personality to begin with, why they've stuck around. Y'know, why, each of the five of them, even the ones who are dead at the moment, uh, are still a very large part of X-Men continuity and beloved by the fans.
Rachel: Now, that's if you wanna, if you want something that's sort of evokes the beginning of the, beginning feel. What if you want something that's, that's, that's a means to jump into more current continuity?
Miles: So, I'd recommend one of two storylines for that. These are both much more modern. There is a run of uh, New X-Men, that was the title of the book, by Grant Morrison. Who you may have heard of, he's on a lot of uh, of really important and excellent comics work.
Rachel: And this was in the late '90s and early aughts, right?
Miles: Uh, yeah, early aughts I believe. And the first volume is called E for Extinction? And it's uh, y'know, it's Cyclops, it's E-Emma Frost, the White Queen, this is what made her a major character, uh...
Rachel: It's introduced a lot of major characters and bit parts who've since become major characters, I mean, I think Quentin Quire's sort of gu-, my go-to for that. He started out in that series.
Miles: Yup, uh, but yeah, it really, um, it makes X-Men feel modern, and very much acknowledges them in the context of the modern day, it's them almost rebranding themselves within the comic? Um --
Rachel: [crosstalk] Yeah, it's done explicitly, rebranding themselves within the comic book, they talk about that.
Miles: [crosstalk] Yeah, they're all wearing a lot of, u-uhhh, a lot of leather, they're more on the street, working with humanity, um...
Rachel: [crosstalk] It's the first book that took a really strong visual cue from the, um, from the early movies.
Miles: Uh, yeah, actually, I'm trying to remember which came first. But regardless, yes, that is an excellent, excellent run, with some truly stellar writing, and at the time X-Men was really flagging both sales-wise, and just, quality-wise? And Morrison really brought it back.
Now what came immediately after that, basically with the same characters and continuity coming directly out of it, was Joss Whedon's run on Astonishing X-Men.
Rachel: Which is one of, I'd say, probably one of my like, top 5 runs, on, on any X-book of all time.
Miles: [crosstalk] It is.
Rachel: And it's weird, because it shouldn't be good. This is, when you take someone who is coming from another medium, and who is a long-term hardcore fan, the odds of getting a really good book go way down, and this just completely blows that out of the water, because it's one of the best X-Men, well, sets of ours. But one of the X, best X-Men runs of the modern era.
Miles: Yeah, uh, it's, it's basically a direct response to Morrison's run, which uh, Whedon seemed to love, but basically saying, "Hey, you know, we were going for the gritty, leather-clad feel, and let's just remember that the X-Men are superheroes. Let's, let's just blow the readers, and the characters in continuity out of the water with how heroic, and impressive, and very human they are."
Rachel: If Morrison's run reinvents the X-Men for the modern era, Whedon's run does a great job of bridging that to their roots.
Miles: So yeah, basically uh, Hopeless' X-Men: Season One for the old stuff, or if you want to jump into the modern era, Morrison and then Whedon.
Rachel: I think that's all we've got for today. We'll um, we'll be back next week. Before we do that, some quick acknowledgements, um. “Rachel and Miles X-Plains [sic] the X-Men” is recorded, um, at the Roseway and produced by Bobby Roberts of “Welcome to That Whole Thing,” which is a much better podcast by people who actually know what they're doing, you should check it out at welcometothatwholething.com.
Miles: Thanks Bobby!
Rachel: Uh, Ming Doyle did our fantastic cover art and pin-up, you might've seen it around online, it got um, there's a great breakdown of the process over at the Robot 6 blog at Comic Book Resources. Sarah Giffrow, um, helped us a huge amount with getting our website set up, um, Indigo Kelleigh helped with, um, with the pin-up and with the logo, and has generally just been total bad-ass rockstar friend on this.
Miles: So yes, please uh, join us next week, and thank you for listening! We'll see you next time!
Rachel: We'll be diving back into the Silver Age, with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
[Outro: Excerpt of X-Men: The Animated Series theme song]