This week, we lost Stan Lee, not only the man perhaps most synonymous with Marvel comics and comic books in general (though he irritatingly called them “comicbooks”), but also the co-creator of the subject of this column, our beloved X-Men.
Lee’s legacy is a complicated one, one which has been addressed at length in dozens of thinkpieces this week and dozens more in years prior. He was, indisputably, the “voice” of Marvel Comics in the formative days of the Marvel Universe, his personality more than any other giving life to comics as an entity, making the reader feel welcome, more than just a customer, a part of an exclusive club of like-minded lovers of adventure.
That Stan himself might have at first preferred to be a respected author of the great American novel (even if he actually already was), or a Hollywood mover and shaker, he never gave the impression, when speaking directly to the fans, that comics were anything other than the greatest form of entertainment available today. To hear Stan tell it, whatever Marvel comic book you were holding in your hands at any given moment surely contained the most momentous story you’ve ever read. It was an infectious love and one that played as important a role in Marvel’s success as anything inside the books themselves.
That Stan’s personality, his ambassadorship on behalf of comics to the world, contributed to minimizing the contributions of his collaborators like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko is also undeniable. When I personally think about Stan Lee, the human being, not Stan Lee, the bombastic, larger-than-life personality, I often can’t help but think about his interview with Jonathan Ross in Ross and Neil Gaiman’s ghoulish In Search of Steve Ditko documentary. Asked about who really created Spider-Man, Lee insists that he’s happy to call Steve Ditko the co-creator, even sent him a signed letter saying so and says Ditko earned it. But pressed further on what he truly believes, he says:
Lee: I’m willing to say so.
Ross: That’s not what I’m asking
Lee: No, and that’s the best answer I can give you.
Ross: So it’s a no then.
Lee: I really think the guy who dreams the thing up created it. You dream it up and then you give it to anybody to draw it.
Ross: But if it had been drawn differently it might not have been successful or a hit.
Lee: Then I would have created something didn’t succeed. Heh heh.
Ross: Ha ha. Valid point.
Lee: But I don’t wanna– You made me say that in this documentary that you’re doing, and I’m sorry I said it, because I’m happy to say that I consider Steve to be called the co-creator. I think if Steve wants to be called the co-creator, I think he deserves to be called the co-creator because he had done such a wonderful job.
If Lee had truly believed that Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby were the co-creators, even that they, as many believe, did most of the heavy lifting, would things have turned out differently? Would his relationship with Jack and Steve have been less estranged? Would those guys lives have been better because of it? Maybe. But then again, we still grapple today with properly crediting artists, colorists, letterers, and editors properly, even though we should all know better by now. Jack Kirby has been dead a long time. We lost Steve Ditko earlier this year. And now, Stan Lee is gone too. And the world is a profoundly sadder and less magical place because of it. All that’s left of them now is their legacies.
History will sort out what those legacies will be, but for now, we can choose to remember them through the work they created, which still provides joy and wonder for anyone who reads it and will do so for centuries to come as some of the greatest works of art and literature of the 20th century.
If you want to honor Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and their peers, do it by reading their comics. Do it by appreciating the smile each one of Stan’s silly cameos in Marvel movies brought to your face. Do it by sharing that Stan’s Soapbox column where Stan takes a more decisive stand against bigotry than some in comics manage to muster half a century later. Do it by celebrating comics’ living legends who are still with us today, and by donating to the Hero Initiative so that those who have been sucked dry by this industry can get the help they need at the end of their own lives. Do it by crediting entire creative teams, as they deserve. And do it by honoring the one thing Stan Lee, at least in his public persona, wanted more than anything else for his entire life: for everyone to enjoy “comicbooks.”
Goodbye, Stan, and thanks for everything.
Well, that was depressing. Welcome to X-ual Healing, the weekly X-Men recap column where we tell you what happened in all of the X-Men comics that came out this week. Look, it ain’t highbrow, but what better have you got to read on the comics internet on a Sunday? Of course, this bittersweet week contained both the death of X-Men co-creator Stan Lee as well as the long-awaited relaunch of Uncanny X-Men that we’ve been hyping up for months. Did it live up to the hype? We’ll find out.
But first, we’ve got a very special guest for this week’s intro. We have in our collection a copy of the Dark Phoenix Saga trade paperback from way back in 1984, either a first or second printing, known then simply as Marvel Comics #2: The Uncanny X-Men, and selling for a whopping $6.95 USD, $7.95 Canadian.
Perhaps ironically enough, you won’t find the names of Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin, Glynis Wein, or Tom Orzechowski on the spine. Instead, it’s listed as simply: The Uncanny X-Men – Presented by Stan Lee.
Stan Lee writes the foreword for the book, and we took a look online and couldn’t find a digital version of it. So we’ve typed it out word for word and posted it below, with some commentary. Enjoy, true believers…
FIRST OF ALL, let’s get one thing straight. I’m not writing this as Stan Lee, Publisher, or Editor-in-Absentia, or even Honorary Living Legend! Nossir! These wondrous words are lovingly being written by an unabashed, unwavering fan of Claremont, Byrne, and Austin! Speaking as a typical reader, I just wanna give you my own gut-level feelings about one of the greatest comicbook sagas ever presented — the startling chronicle of Dark Phoenix!
It’s comic books, Stan. Two words. We’ll die on that hill.
It’ll come as no surprise to you to learn that The X-Men is one of Marvel’s most popular and best-selling series, and has been so for years. And, if you’ve been faithfully following the adventures of Professor’s Xavier’s gregarious little groupies, then you surely know the reason why.
Never in the history of comicdom have there been stories more filled with human interest, believable characterization, and far-out fantasy combined with stark, shattering realism. Never have hard-hitting action-packed adventures been more skillfully intertwined with exciting philosophical concepts and provocative moral Issues. And never has any series more accurately symbolized the mighty Marvel credo — “Anything can happen — the more surprising the better — but it must be realistic, it must be dramatic, it must be exciting, and above all, it must be intelligent!”
Sure, any writer can say, “Hey, here’s something the fans aren’t expecting. Let’s do it ’cause it’ll be a surprise.” But that’s the easy way out. One of the reasons the landmark sagas of Claremont, Byrne, et al., are so great is because they don’t toss surprises at you for the sake of keeping you off-balance. Every new, daring development in every X-Man thriller is the logical result of what has gone before.
That’s still great advice today that Marvel would do well to listen to. Though, perhaps, it’s a bit tougher given the X-Men’s complicated continuity.
The ultimate fate of Phoenix was one of the most traumatic, unexpected events in the history of illustrated series. Fans around the world still debate its many ramifications in heated arguments. And, if you wanna know the true measure of this series’ amazing impact, even in the Bullpen itself the arguments still continue.
Of course, one of the most important qualities that Chris and John have been able to bring to our marvelous mutant magna-series (I can’t bear to call such powerful masterworks “mini-series”) is the element of flesh-and-blood characterization. If Phoenix didn’t seem real, if she wasn’t as believable to you as the girl next door, if you didn’t feel you knew her, you understood her, you cared for her — then her startling destiny would have meant nothing to you; you’d have shrugged it off and reached for another Twinkle.
(You’ll notice, of course, that I refer to Phoenix’ fate, or destiny, without telling you what it actually is. There’s a reason for that. It just occurred to me that somewhere in the universe there may actually be a culturally-deprived unfortunate who hasn’t yet read, or heard about issue #137 of the X-Men. ‘Tis for the benefit of that improbable individual that I dare not prematurely reveal the wonderment that yet awaits thee!)
Stan Lee hated spoilers! Somebody tell Marvel and the New York Times.
Still, fire greatness of the X-Men is exemplified by more than the fate of one of its stars. Have you ever thought of the storylines themselves? I’m constantly amazed by the sheer complexity of the plots, by the way each single element dovetails so perfectly into the whole, by the way we the readers are shown countless seemingly unrelated facts and incidents, and then, as the story progresses, every random thread is cleverly joined together until there are no loose ends. The plotting and conceptualizing are as skillful, as innovatively brilliant as that which you’ll find In any award-winning motion picture or best-selling novel. Nuts! Why pussyfoot around? Let’s not speak with forked tongue! They’re a lot better than you’ll find in most of today’s books or movies!
And when comics are at their best, they still are today!
But let’s change the subject before Capricious Claremont and Burgeoning Byrne suspect I’m trying to butter ’em up for a free subscription!
Let’s talk about the treats you’ve got in store for you in the pages that lie ahead. For starters. you’ll witness the first time the bedazzling Dazzler has ever guest-starred in the X-Men. And this is no mere token appearance. The gorgeous Dazz is very much a part of the action, the drama, and the cataclysmic chain of events which are destined to shake the superhero world. You’ll also see the first appearance of another of Marvel’s most unique and empathetic characters, the youthful and extravagantly appealing Kitty Pryde. This is the neophyte Kitty, still discovering her own fantastic powers, still confused and bewildered by the role she seems destined to play in a conflict she cannot fully comprehend. And there’s more, much morel You’ll see the return of the Beast, the Angel, Lilandra, the gorgeous Majestrix Shi’ar who must battle the man she most loves!
Sheesh! It isn’t fair. I could go on yappin’ all day, but why merely hint at the brain-blasting thrills in store for you when you can read ’em yourself on the pages that follow? And if it sounds like I’m being noble by cutting this intro short to let you get to the real stuff, forget it! I’m just thinking of me! I’m itchin’ to re-read these sagas myself! So let’s go, mutie-lover! Wonderment beckons, and the universe entire will be our arena! The best still lies ahead!
The best still lies ahead. Excelsior to you as well, Stan. Now let’s read some X-Men comics!
Sworn to sell comics for Marvel executives who feared and hated the fact that Fox owned their movie rights, The Uncanny X-Men suffered great indignities, but with a corporate merger on the way, the X-Men can finally get back to doing what they do best: being objectively the best franchise in all of comics.
Uncanny X-Men #1
(W) Ed Brisson, Kelly Thompson, Matthew Rosenberg (A) Mahmud A. Asrar, Mark Bagley, Mirko Colak (CA) Leinil Francis Yu
THE CHILDREN OF THE ATOM ARE BACK!
New ongoing series kicking off with a 10-part weekly epic, the flagship X-Men series that started it all is back and better than ever! Starting with a mysterious and tragic disappearance, the X-Men are drawn into what might be…their final adventure?! X-Fan favorite writers Ed Brisson (EXTERMINATION), Matthew Rosenberg (PHOENIX RESURRECTION) and Kelly Thompson (MR. & MRS. X) and all-star artists Mahmud Asrar (X-MEN RED), R.B. Silva (X-MEN BLUE), Yildiray Cinar (WEAPON X) and Pere Pérez (ROGUE AND GAMBIT) join forces to bring you…X-MEN DISASSEMBLED?!
In Shops: Nov 14, 2018
Our long-awaited Uncanny X-Men relaunch finally begins with Jean Grey at the Xavier institute having a vision of Jamie Madrox trying to find Kitty Pryde and then the X-Men murdering a swarm of Jamie duplicates. Bad things to come? Asking in the kitchen, Jean learns that Kitty took some students on a training mission ahead of a press conference the X-Men have planned. Kitty is flying the blackbird with Armor, Pixie, Rockslide, Anole, Oya, and Glob Herman to a pharmaceutical lab in North Carolina to hunt down Liefeldian mutant Forearm (he has four arms). Suddenly, something goes wrong with Kitty’s powers and she phases through the ship, shorting it out and disappearing. In the chaos, Pixie bumps her head and is unable to teleport the team out of the ship so they crash right into the lab they were trying to save.
Meanwhile, in the Kalahari Desert in Africa, Storm and Beast are investigating a strange occurrence. A lake has popped in the desert, fully populated with fish and other lifeforms as if it had always been there, and there’s a rainstorm that Storm is unable to control. Back in North Carlina, the X-students are confronted by a new Mutant Liberation Front, consisting of Forearm, Dragoness, Strope, Samurai, and Wildside. During the ensuing battle, X-pository dialogue reveals the lab has been working on a cure for mutants, and the MLF was there to stop them. Has anyone told Beast about the cure? That traitor will be on board. Jamie Madrox also shows up to question Anole about the location of Kitty Pryde, but no one knows what happened to her. A team of X-Men including Nightcrawler, Polaris, and X-23 show up and quickly subdue the MLF.
At City Hall in Manhattan, the X-Men’s latest evil anti-mutant politician, Senator Ashton Allen, is giving a speech about how the cure for mutants could prevent children from becoming weapons of mass destruction, blah blah blah. The X-Men are dispersed throughout the audience, and Jubilee points out to Bishop (and the readers) that we’ve seen this kind of thing a million times before. Angel, Psylocke, Northstar, Cannonball, Jean Grey, and Iceman are all there as well, but Kitty Pryde is still missing, which is a problem because she was set to address the crowd after Allen’s speech. Jean is about to do it in his place when Jamie Madrox appears and steps up to the podium.
Back at the X-Mansion, Beast is treating Oya and Anole, who were injured in the fight. Glob and Armor are wondering if the MLF weren’t in the right on that mission. Before that can be explored, Anole wakes up and points out that the guy on the television was at the battle, which clues everyone into the fact that Jamie Madrox is on TV giving an awful speech about how humans and mutants are basically the same. A horrified Jean gets ready to stop him but before she can, a bunch of crazed dupes begin attacking from the back of the crowd, claiming they’re trying to help. A chaotic battle takes place, and we see a few important things in there. First, since Psylocke is back to her British body, she now has a psychic claymore sword and a shield instead of a psychic katana as the focused totality of her telepathic powers. Angel hears a command from somewhere and flies off, apparently under someone’s control. Finally, a bunch of dupes tackle the Senator, and Jean saves him, but then he disappears, leaving the Jamies to remark that they’re “too late.” They disappear too.
Elsewhere, Kitty and the Senator are both tied to chairs in a nondescript white room, and Kitty’s powers aren’t working. Also captive there, crucified on a giant X, is Apocalypse, and he’s not pleased. And that’s the end of the main story… but there’s a multi-part backup story called What Tomorrow Brings as well.
In the first part, set three days prior to the main story, Bishop is staking out an apartment building in the Bronx where Dark Beast from the Age of Apocalypse timeline is hiding out. He sees a group of assailants scale the wall and then there’s an explosion. He rushes in, but Dark Beast and the intruders (minus one who was fried to an unrecognizable state) are gone. Two days later, Bishop investigates a building in Queens where he finds Sugar Man, who is paranoid Bishop is there to kill him. Bishop is zapped by something from behind, and while he’s incapacitated, someone kills Sugar Man. Bishop wears a spacetime catastrophe warning device on his wrist, and it’s going crazy.
In the next part, Jean Grey is waiting for Storm at a coffee shop when a mysterious old woman sits down to have a conversation about optimism with her. Bot are pessimists, but Jean still thinks there’s hope for the world. The woman disappears, and then Storm arrives, but they barely finish hugging when a man crashes through the ceiling and fires an energy blast at them. All of the people in the coffee shop suddenly have powers and they’re all ready to attack the X-Men.
Meanwhile, in the third part, Armor and Anole are on assignment in the sewer for some reason when they’re attacked by Dark Beast, who believes they’re there to kill him. He asks “has he got his claws into you as well?” which might tell us our villain is a man, and also that he has claws? It must Wolverine! Dammit, we knew that guy couldn’t be trusted! Before Dark Beast can confirm our suspicions, he sticks Armor in the armor with some kind of needle, disrupting her powers, and escapes. The X-teens head to the surface where Jean, Storm, and Bishop are battling the suddenly mutated customers from the coffee shop, plus anyone else in the vicinity.
They’re being controlled by some psychic entity which communicates with Jean, apologizing for hurting anyone and claiming to be there to “fix a mess.” The X-Men continue to fight, doing their best not to injure anyone. It’s only getting more chaotic though, until an energy blast knocks a wall down on the woman Jean was talking to earlier, apparently killing her. All of the people revert to normal, except for… apparently a duplicate of that same woman, who watches creepily before slinking off into the shadows, where she shapeshifts into someone else, but we only see their silhouette from behind.
And that’s it. So was it worth the wait?
We’re gonna say yes, it was. We’ve seen some of the complaints about this issue, most centered around all of the plot elements that we’ve seen before and the fact that the X-Men making meta-references to these things doesn’t excuse the repetition. But in the modern comics landscape, we already have some idea of what’s going to happen 12 issues from now, and it seems bananas. The X-Men appear to be divided after the 10-part Disassembled storyline takes place, split off into six Age of X minis that show a very different X-Men than we see in this issue, while in the main book, Cyclops and Wolverine are “the last X-Men” (presumably on Earth or in this reality). There are clearly big changes coming for the X-Men, but to get there, we need a starting point, and that’s the purpose of this issue: to establish who the X-Men are today so that they can be “disassembled” over the next nine issues. Personally, we can’t wait to see what happens next.
And of course, this book is winner of the most coveted weekly grilled-meat-themed award in all of comics, the Wolverine’s Weiner X-Pick of the Week, awarded to X-cellent X-Men comics which provide the reader with the filling satisfaction that only a hot grilled weiner on a razor-sharp adamantium claw can provide.
As if this issue weren’t enough, we have two more X-Books that came out this week, so let’s see what happened in those.
(W) Gail Simone (A) David Baldeon (CA) Lim, Gang Hyuk
A REAL PAIN IN THE NECK!
• Pale skin…long hair…skintight black bodysuit… No, not Domino…it’s Morbius the Living Vampire!
In Shops: Nov 14, 2018
In a hotel room in Norway, Domino, Outlaw, and Diamondback unlock the box containing Morbius the Living Vampire, who promptly wakes up and attacks them, calling them “temptresses.” They manage to subdue him, at which point he explains that he was trying to stop the evil campires from wiping out the human race. He agrees to tell them everything, but only after Domino lets him drink some of her blood because he’s weak. She does, and as they take a train to Barcelona, Morbius explains that the evil vampires used his blood to create a virus that will wipe out humanity within fourteen months. They head to a nude beach where the evil vampire king, who is also some kind of sea monster, is hiding out. Highlight of the issue is Outlaw complaining that she saw a guy’s butthole, which she refers to as a “saddle gullet.” They head into the ocean where a battle breaks out with sea vampires, but Domino eventually manages to use Diamondback’s explosives to kill the vampire king. Back on the beach, a vampire hunter has arrived and wants to kill Morbius, but Domino helps him escape. The issue ends with Domino getting a call from Shoon’Kwa, the teenage Wakandan girl who hired them to find Morbius in the first place. Now she wants them to kidnap Longshot.
Domino continues to be a fantastic series which avoids getting pulled into various crossover events and instead concentrates on telling satisfying stories within its own contained continuity, and it’s really nice. One could follow Domino without reading any other X-books, which is a rarity in this day and age. The stories are fun and packed with action and humor and personal relationships. What more could you ask for in a comic?
(W) Saladin Ahmed (A) Javier Rodriguez (CA) David Nakayama
THE COURT OF CALIPH DOOM!
Even in a world of magic carpets and wish-granting lamps, Doctor Doom rules with an iron fist! And strangers are not welcome in this fairy-tale land. Can Blink’s growing team escape this eternal Arabian Night before Doom gains ultimate power?
In Shops: Nov 14, 2018
The Exiles (Blink, Iron Lad, Valkyrie, Wolvie, Nocturne, Peggy Carter, and Becky Barnes) are stuck in an alternate reality where various Marvel characters are trapped in the world of the One Thousand and One Nights. Particularly, they’re facing off against Caliph Doom, who believes Nocturne is his wife, Shahrazad. Doom accuses Nocturne of using witchcraft to bring the Exiles there and threatens to have her killed in the morning, but the Exiles aren’t down with that, so they attack, but are swarmed by doombots and forced to escape on a magic carpet. They head off to an oasis where they’re met by Black Cat, leader of the Forty Thieves, and Doctor Strange, the evil sorcerer from the Aladdin story, enemies who explain that they need to put their differences aside to take on Doom.
But that’s going to be even more difficult than before, because Doom has now gotten his hands on a magic ring which grants him control over Mephisto, the most powerful djinn. The Exiles confront Doom, but Mephisto can’t harm them as long as Blink possesses the Talus, so he conjures some robots to fight them instead. Things look bleak, but Blink notices the ring on Doom’s finger, teleports close to him, and steals it, leaving Mephisto to take his revenge on Doom. But before he can, Doom’s mom shows up and scolds him for being a bad boy. Overcome with shame, Doom agrees to accept his punishment in hell, freeing his mother’s spirit, but first he implores Nocturne to take his place as ruler to protect the people from other villains.
Nocturne agrees, tired of the Exiles life anyway. Goodbyes don’t last long because the Talus teleports the rest of the Exiles away, apparently to a reality that’s equally between all of their home realities, and also is New Jersey. Most of the Exiles are homesick and want to check on their own homes, but that will have to wait because they’re confronted by post-apocalyptic Kamala Khan, who is leading a team consisting of a skeleton Thor, an X-23, a Kang, a Black Panther, and a bizarro Captain America of her own. Khan explains they’re the “mother!@#$ing Exiles, and we’re here to kick your ass.” Well, that’s a cliffhanger.
Things wrapped up pretty quickly in this story, and the reader kinda has to go with the flow on rapidly resolved plot points and not ask too many questions, but that’s the nature of having just one or two issues to explore an entire alternate reality. What’s important is the evolution of the Exiles themselves as characters and as a team, and at that, this book is very good.
Well, that’s all for this week. See you next week with the second chapter of Uncanny X-Men and more!
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