Classic X-Men #1-5 (1986, reprinting comics from 1975)

Man, this stuff triggers so many thoughts.

The first thing I think of is that it’s too damn bad that Dave Cockrum never got rich from his work on the new X-Men. Poor guy. It was a thrill to design his website to help raise awareness of his tenuous financial situation, but it’s a shame that was even necessary. Marvel in the mid-’70s was a strange place. It was a time of dramatic expansion in the line, and a time when many fans turned pro and happily created new characters for the comics they loved. The problem is that every character created on company time belonged to the company. That means that characters from Blade (created by Marv Wolfman) and Storm (created by Dave Cockrum) to Shanna the She-Devil and the Rocket Racer belong to Marvel Comics lock, stock and barrel. It was a situation as bad as the one that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster found themselves in after signing over their rights to Superman to DC Comics for next to nothing. The difference here is that the ’70s era creators didn’t even get a modest amount extra for creating these characters.

It’s a situation that slowly changed. I’m sure that Wolfman is getting royalties from DC for creating Cyborg, Starfire and Raven in the Teen Titans in 1980 or so. The cartoon is a hit and Wolfman is appropriately making a few bucks from his creations. But work from before that era is a complete gray area. Companies have the moral obligation to help those who created their greatest characters when they hit hard times. But how many corporations act unless they feel a financial imperative?

Marvel did sign an agreement with Dave and Paty Cockrum by which they have a nice little nest egg. I know that the Cockrums are happy with the arrangement. But it’s too bad that they lost out on so many years of royalties from Dave’s work on the early issues of X-Men. Giant-Size X-Men #1 has been reprinted so many times over the years that even a small pittance would have gone a long way.

Sure, and it would have been nice to have gotten a great job straight out of college, too. Reality sucks.

The next thing that I wonder is just what in the hell was in the mind of Marvel’s editors when they planned this title. For a comic called Classic X-Men, there sure is a lot of little bits of tinkering in these first five issues. For instance, instead of reprinting all of Giant-Size X-Men #1, we get only thirteen pages of the orginal story. That’s only a third of a length of the original. The rest of the 32-page comic contains a four-page prologue and 15 pages of epilogue. I suppose I can see the merits of adding extra supplementary material, and this makes more sense as the series rolls along, but why remove the original content to add new content? Was Chris Claremont jealous of Len Wein’s writing credit in the original story? Or was there a drive to add continuity implants in the back of the book to bridge the gap?

In any event, this approach is very frustrating. In some ways it gets worse as the series moved to 18-page stories with X-Men #94. In CXM #2, reprinting X-Men 94, we get three supplemental new pages mixed in with the originals. Whose genius idea was it to add new pages eleven years after the fact? Cockrum draws these new pages, but his style has changed so much in the intervening years that the transitions are awkward and frustrating.

But what’s most noticeable in these early issues is how Claremont is struggling to find his voice and style on the book. Wolverine hasn’t yet become the breakout character he would become, Phoenix wouldn’t appear until X-Men #101, and Magneto wouldn’t reappear until #104. In the meantime the comic features such lightweight villains as the evil Count Nefaria and his ani-men, and features a bizarre, unexplained battle with a demon in #96. We also witness the death of Thunderbird, surely one of the most pointless and most obvious deaths in comics history. I assume killing the character was meant to give the series a feeling of tension, that almost any character could die at any time – and perhaps make the death and resurrection of Jean Grey as Phoenix more dramatic heft. But killing Thunderbird feels kind of perfunctory in these issues. Oddly enough, TBird seems the best characterized of all the characters before his death. Sure it was a cliched characterization, but at least he seemed to have some some inner life compared with the other characters.

At least the art is wonderful throughout the comics. Cockrum’s art, especially in CXM #2/X-Men #94, where he inks himself, is just wonderful. The backup stories contain drop-dead gorgeous art by John Bolton in service of what feel to me to be mediocre Claremont stories Issue #2’s backup has Jean Grey horrified by the site of Ororo nude in her presence – guess she doesn’t go to public gyms – and #4 has a cloying story about Nightcrawler being at peace with his appearance, which seems its point directly contradicted by the pages added to X-Men #97 in CXM #5. At least the backup in #5 is nice, with a wonderful last page by Bolton.

I believe that almost any comic is worth a quarter. If it’s good, you’ve scored a prize. If it’s mediocre, it was worth 25¢. And if it’s crap, you only wasted a quarter. I picked up the first 22 issues of CXM for a quarter apiece at half price books. They’re definitely worth that much. Hey, that’s what I paid for the original comics back in the day!

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