Among Marvel's most recognizable heroes, the X-Men have endured -- and even flourished -- for more than five decades, reaching beyond comics to movies, television and video games. With colorful characters and a malleable metaphor, the uncanny franchise finds an audience, no matter the medium. However, if Stan Lee had gotten his way, the property would've been introduced in 1963 under a different name.
Appearing over the weekend at Wizard World Nashville, the legendary writer and editor recalled the genesis of the X-Men, which he created with artist Jack Kirby.
"Oh, I've got to tell you about my boss," Lee said, referring to publisher Martin Goodman, his cousin's husband. "My publisher said, when I brought him the idea, he said 'Yeah, I like the idea but you can't call them the X-Men' and I said, 'Why not?' He said ... No, I'm sorry, hold it. I wanted originally to call them The Mutants and he said, 'You can't call them The Mutants' and I said, 'Why not?' He said, 'Our readers, they aren't that smart.' He had no respect for comic book readers. He said, 'They won't know what a mutant is.'
"Well, I disagreed with him, but he was the boss, so I had to think of another name," he continued, relating a story told, in a slightly different manner, in Son of Origins of Marvel Comics. "So, I went home and I thought and thought and I came up with the X-Men, and I mentioned it to him the next day and he said, 'That's OK' and as I walked out of his office I thought, that was very peculiar. If nobody would know what a mutant is how will anybody know what an X-Man is? But he had OK'd the name and I used it."
Of course, in the years since then the name X-Men has become known around the globe. But initially, the title, and the concept, didn't exactly set the world on fire. The X-Men lagged in sales behind other Marvel series, and despite a brief boost in 1969 from the team of Roy Thomas and Neal Adams, the following year the title shifted to reprints. It wasn't until the release of Giant-Size X-Men #1, which introduced a new lineup that included Wolverine, Storm and Colossus, that the property really took off. The rest, more or less, is history.