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Friday in the Danger Room

by  in Comic News Comment
Friday in the Danger Room

It’s really nice to be here, first of all. Of all the gang that post on this blog, I’m the only one that was already on the CBR payroll, sort of; I have helped out with CBR News at San Diego the last five years, and been a volunteer at the forums for even longer. CBR has always been home base for me and it just seems right for the blog to be hosted here. Plus, hey, WordPress has lots of cool bells and whistles that the old place didn’t.

For those who came in late, I’m Greg HATCHER, not Burgas. I’m generally only around on Fridays… though sometimes I put up the column on Saturday morning early, or even on Sunday. But technically I am committed to having something here every Friday. I have been reading comics for close on to forty years and I also teach comics and cartooning as part of a 6th and 7th grade after-school arts program here in Seattle. If you were at Emerald City Comic-Con this year you probably saw the class and got one of the student ‘zines handed to you. All caught up now? Good.

Today is Friday, May 26th. So naturally, there was no question where my wife and I would be this afternoon. We went to go see X-Men: The Last Stand.

We had sentimental reasons. Believe it or not, X2 was our first real date, three years ago. (Why yes, we ARE enormous nerds, since you bring it up.)

Like many comics fans, I’ve had kind of a love-hate thing going with the mutant books for years. I have old stuff I remember fondly, I have new stuff I’m not so crazy about, I’ve had my hopes raised and and then dashed, I have Sworn Off the X-books a number of times and then some stunt like getting a Grant Morrison or a Joss Whedon brings me back… and lately, every couple of years a movie comes along and reminds me why I used to really love the X-Men and still do, at least sometimes.

My first encounter with the X-gang was way back, when Reed and Sue Richards got married and the X-Men stole every scene they were in. I don’t know why they struck me as so cool but they did. Of all the guest stars in that story — and there were a LOT —

— Cyclops and the gang just seemed really cool to my little eight-year-old self. They had the best entrance, with Professor X springing them on the Mole Man and his minions when they attacked (I guess he had them standing by in case something went wrong — already he was way ahead of everybody else in the Baxter Building that day) and they were one of the most fun elements of an already fun story.

I don’t know why I never went looking for more. I might have, but distribution being what it was in the olden days before comics shops, there might very well simply not have been any to find.

At any rate that was it for me and the X-Men for a few years, till I was trading books with a kid up the street and somehow finagled him out of THIS little gem:

This was, as it happens, my first encounter with Steve Englehart’s work. I was instantly a fan. This was a great little run and really ought to get a trade collection… in fact, I’m amazed it didn’t, considering there was a time when anything X-related got hustled into paperback almost before the ink was dry on the newsstand edition. But it’s probably too ‘old school,’ or something. Considering the engine that drove most of the stories was Hank McCoy frantically trying to find a cure for his mutation — kind of funny, considering the movie we just saw — I suppose it wouldn’t really fit in with the current take on the mutant’s place in the Marvel universe. But they were great stories. Sadly, it only lasted six or seven issues before the book was given over to Killraven. (Yes, Virginia, there was a time when a hippie shooting at Martians was more successful in comics than an X-Men spinoff. I can hardly believe it myself, and I was there.)

So then no X-books at all for a while. The Angel and Iceman showed up in the Champions, a book I tried to like but could never really get behind, despite having the Black Widow in it along with the two X-guys.

The Champions were a team that had pretty clearly been assembled by committee, and no one really knew what to do with them. Musical writers and artists didn’t help. I think if someone were to try the book today, they’d probably call them “the Also-Rans” and riff on the idea that they never could make the Marvel big-time. Think “Formerly Known as the Justice League,” but played deadly serious. That was the Champions. It lasted a year or two and then stumbled to a halt and everybody went back to guest-starring in other books, except for Ghost Rider, who was the only one of the bunch at the time to show he actually could carry a book on his own.

So again, the X-Men were off my radar for a while. Then in the late 70’s the local grocery store changed hands and they started carrying comics. And one of the first ones I bought there was this one…

…and I was hooked, hard, for about the next six or seven years. It’s been a long time, but I am sure the deciding factor for me deciding on this over whatever else was on the rack that day was seeing Cyclops there on the cover. And the new kids I enjoyed reading about as well, except Wolverine, who struck me as kind of a jerk. (It wasn’t just me, either. You should have SEEN some of the nasty things people in the letter column were saying about poor Logan.)

Seeing the movie today got me reminiscing about all that, and you know, I think the reason I enjoyed it so much is because the new movie itself kind of evokes that same crazed melodrmatic vibe the older X-books had. Sure, there’s all the Claremontesque agonizing over prejudice and so on, but it almost feels perfunctory. Most of the movie is about super people with cool powers breaking stuff and throwing down with each other. It is great FUN. I don’t mean it’s played for laughs, though there are a couple of laugh-out-loud lines in there — but it just feels more adventurous and less angsty. Maybe it’s just that we don’t need so much setup for this one. Maybe it’s seeing the original five — Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Angel, and the Beast — on screen for the first time. (Though I was sad that the story never allowed for them to be all TOGETHER for a scene, but there were enough bones thrown to us fans that I got over it.)

And all the people who were sneering about Frasier Crane as the Beast? Well, sorry, folks, but Grammer is GREAT. I mean, come on, the Beast fight stuff is all stuntmen and CGI anyway, so who cares who’s in those scenes? You need someone who can sell the idea of a blue furry gorilla-man as being erudite. And Kelsey Grammer absolutely nails it.

I won’t spoil the movie or review it or anything, everyone else on the net is going to be putting their two cents in — except to say that seeing such a fun portrayal of the Beast almost makes up for my favorite X-Man, Cyclops, being screwed out of a star turn three times in a row now. Almost. I will save you my bitter fanboy rant about that, but except for that minor grump we adored it. Even my wife Julie, no expert in X-Lore, loved it.

And me, I came home to dig out all these old X-books and reminisce about how I used to love them, back when they were the non-selling underdogs at Marvel instead of practically a separate company. There was a time, believe it or not.

See you next week.

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