Friday, January 02, 2009

SHAMED BY YOUR ENGLISH? 40 Years of X-Men will fix that; thigh-rubbing optional

Cyclops is in no position to give an opinion.The
Locust, one in a very long list of silly X-Men villains,
backhands him.

DD received "40 Years of X-Men" -- the DVD collector's edition for Christmas. It's quite a bargain -- over 400 issues in .pdf format. And although reading comic books on the computer isn't convenient, having them on one disc is a better proposition than downloading them from the web piecemeal.

For a couple decades DD was an avid reader of Marvel Comics. Then grad school and the Eighties ended.

In the mid-Sixties, I thought the X-Men were thrilling. In retrospect, I was a pretty gullible kid. Although the X-Men movies have made the group seem hip to a mass audience, truth be told, much of the comic book run is dominated by long stretches of patience-exhausting and/or intelligence-insulting trash. (How 'bout the seemingly endless war against the Brood, interstellar aliens ... copied almost directly from the "Alien" movies, right down to poor man's H. R. Giger conceptions and eggs put in the bodies of characters? Or, Lockheed, Kitty Pryde's pet fire-breathing dragon from the same stretch?)

If your impression of Marvel is dictated by what's been recently made in Hollywood, the occasional glimpse of Stan Lee on the SciFi channel ("Who Wants to Be a Superhero," more accurately entitled "Look At The Neurotic Egomaniacs!") or articles in entertainment sections about the marvelous goings-on at comic book conventions, you've had no glimpse of this sad history.

Your host will dive into the barrel of X-Men fail for the best apples bobbing around in the bunch.

1. Pathetic and silly villains. See The Locust above, anile human! The Locust was one of many in the rotten swarm. (My opinion is that he was a feeble attempt by Marvel to duplicate the Beetle, an early arch-enemy of Spider-Man. The Beetle, however, was only barely worth more than the paper he was printed on, falling somewhere in weakness between the Vulture and Mysterio. In truth, one can really get going and rip a new hole in Marvel for use of excessively shabby villains in any decade. Do you remember Stilt Man from Daredevil, the Man Without Fear?)

Showing up in Uncanny X-Man #24 in 1966, the dialog in this issue is often WORSE than "Away clod! You shall be the first to feel the bite of the Locust!"

On page 4, the Locust is introduced, overseeing his pet giant grasshoppers eating through a corn field. Spell-binding!

"Eat heartily my six-legged subjects!" exclaims the villain. "Too long have lesser mortals lorded it over the abundant planet! It is not the weak who must inherit the earth ... but the strong! And we are the strong!"

Stan Lee, in a separate explanatory box, adds: "If, as you read on, it seems to you that our orthopterous antagonist has a distinct fascist fixation, please forward all analyses to mighty Marvel..."

Uh, no, I won't do it.

Second place for wretched villain from the Sixties mag was Count Nefaria. The Count was a prop across a number of Marvel publications. With no obvious powers -- a good beating by any strong man could have taken him out -- for X-Men 22, the Count assembles a team of even more unmenacing villains than himself: the Unicorn (a refugee from Iron Man), the Scarecrow (another Iron Man castoff), Plantman, the Eel and the Porcupine.

Nefaria would show up again in 1975 with a crew of flunkies called the Ani-men. One of these was a man-frog, reinforcing Marvel's early yen for pulling villains from the ranks of the most unthreatening specimens of the animal world.

The bronze medal for worst villains goes to ... Frankenstein. Marvel editors were apparently desparate for filler in 1968. It's a mistake they wouldn't repeat for more than a decade. Until pulling Dracula from the mothballs for one issue in 1982.

2. Dialog. Closely related to silly villains, it's consistantly dreadful, even by the hokey corn pone standards of comic books.

"If only I could tell [Jean Grey] the words I really want to say," thinks the teenage Scott Summers in 1964's issue 8. "How gorgeous her lips are ... how silken her hair is ... how I love her! But I dare not!"

Equally horrible was everything that came out of the word balloons written for Hank McCoy, the Beast. The Beast had a double handicap: He not only talked too much, he also looked bad -- a man with the physique of a disproportionately tubby gorilla thrust into an ill-fitting uniform. Had they never seen Mighty Joe Young!? Marvel saddled the Beast with the affected vocabulary of a supernerd, one who would never use one word where two with a total of six syllables would do. The only thing Marvel editors couldn't deliver for him was head-turning bad breath.

"It's a pleasure to be divested of the encumbrance of our X-Men uniforms," McCoy says in issue #7. "I wish you would learn to speak English, Hank," says Ice Man.

By this time, even the most devoted readers were thinking: "I wish Magneto would kill you in this ish, Hank!"

3. Dealing with female characters.

By the Eighties, X-Men was dressing most of its superheroines in variations of dominatrix gear. Marvel Girl had started the original Marvel tradition of women with pathetic powers. Making too much use of her telekinetic abilities often made her weak in the knees during a fight, just like the Fantastic Four's Invisible Girl.

By the late Seventies, however, Marvel overreacted, turning her into the Dark Phoenix, a woman creature with the power to destroy worlds. But just before that (and killing her off as a menace to the galaxy), they put her into a black corset, G-string and spike-heeled boots. (Think of it as Marvel jerking Jean Grey between the two poles of stupid-looking nerdy girl and menacing sexual predator.)

The way DD figures it, this was catering to the growing X-Men fanbase of young white men, guys who secretly harbored desires their girlfriends -- if they had them -- would never consent to: The trampling of their johnsons under thigh-highs, smothering, face-sitting, things of this nature.

(See also "Two Girls Out to Have Fun" -- issue 189 in 1985. Corsets, bondage collars, maid uniforms, fuck-me spike-heels and fishnets -- it's a thigh-rubbing fest of superhoines in soft pornographic jeopardy. The only thing missing is a frank girl-on-girl sado-masochistic erotic play scene, presumably ruled out by the comics code.)

Cat-fights were also big. Callisto, the leader of the Morlocks, who lived in the sewers under New York City, dressed in tight leather pants and boots. With eye-patch and a got-it-at-Heidelberg-style dueling scar on her face, she was always ready for a close-in knife-fight with Storm, who'd be wearing almost nothing.

Even characters not originally cast in their underwear were dragged into things. The handling of Kitty Pryde surprisingly encompassed both the icky and the prurient. For one adventure, she was left behind as a hostage in an alien spaceship -- in her bikini swim suit. What, no other clothes or bedsheets on the Shi'ar spaceship?

In "What Happened to Kitty?" (Uncanny X-Men #179), the answer is given in the first full-page panel. Well, Kitty Pryde was knocked woozy in the previous issue, dragged into the sewers by Callisto's crew, stripped and dressed in a torn wedding gown slit to show a garter belt and stockings. Two punkettes in similar wear restrain her, presumably to keep the girl from running to the sex crimes division.

Why is Kitty dressed like this? To marry some weird living-in-the-sewer asexual ogre (pulling back on the thigh-rub at the last minute) named Caliban -- another famously pathetic X-Men character. Caliban has mercy at the last minute and says he still wants to be her friend. Kitty says OK, because putting her in a Hustler mag bridal gown while she was unconscious was just so much water ... through the sewer.

Now all of this has probably given you the impression I don't like X-Men.

Far from it! Electronically paging through the collection furnishes a touchstone to many things forgotten. If you collected these issues before a parent threw them out in a fit of pique, you'll have a similar experience. Things long buried in the mind jump up in their musty old sockets as one revisits comics long vanished themselves from near memory. At the very least, it furnishes proof the brain is not yet crippled by dementia.

Indeed, there's much to like about "40 Years of X-Men." And, for the purposes of this post, I haven't covered any of it.

Advertisement from your Marvel mags, ca. early Seventies.


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