Before You Go: X-Men First Class

Welcome to the second installment of our new segment, “Before You Go,” in which I fill you in on all the essential background — and then some — before tomorrow’s big nerd movie opens.

You might think I don’t need to do a segment on a film series that is now in its fifth outing, but if you think that — then you don’t know Jack about the X-Men.

Class is in Session

The X-Men came about because Stan Lee and Jack Kirby got lazy. Tired of having to come up with clever origin stories for superheroes, they glommed onto the genetic concept of mutation. If people can be born with super powers, then you don’t need radioactive spiders or magic canes.

Marvel launched “The X-Men” in 1963. Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound telepath, has opened a school for “gifted youngsters.” (mutant abilities manifest at puberty, hence the school. Imagine having to cope with wings sprouting out of your back along with acne and your voice changing).

Xavier’s first class consisted of Scott Summers (Cyclops), Iceman (Bobby Drake), Angel (Warren Worthington III), Beast (Hank McCoy) and Marvel Girl (Jean Grey). In addition to learning how to cope with their powers, the X-Men were being trained to keep the world save from Evil Mutants. The ringleader of the evil mutants was, of course, Magneto.

FUN X-FACT: Professor Xavier and Magneto were not friends from the old days in the original comics. That was a retcon (remember retcons? we discussed them recently) inserted several years later.

Lee and Kirby were busy with a lot of other books by this point and didn’t stick with the X-Men very long. The book floundered about under lesser talents for some time although Roy Thomas and Neal Adams did show up to breathe some life into it, but by that time it was too late.  New stories in “X-Men” ended with issue 66, and the book became a reprint title for the next 26 issues.

The X-Men maintained its original lineup throughout, with two additions near the very end: Lorna Dane (Polaris, read more about her in the February installment of What’s on Ronnie’s Calendars) and Cyclops’ little brother Alex (Havok).

Marvel relaunched the X-Men in 1975. The second class of X-Men included Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, Banshee, Thunderbird, Sunfire and, oh, who was that other guy? Oh yeah. Wolverine.

The book started slow, but then Wolverine caught fire and “X-Men” became Marvel’s hottest selling title for the next 20-30 years. Later additions to the second class were Kitty Pryde, Dazzler, Gambit, Psylocke, Longshot and Bishop.

Gone Hollywood

In 2000, the X-Men were brought to the big screen. Typically, superhero movies always start with the origin story and go from there. But to do that with the X-Men would mean No Wolverine. And you can’t make an X-Men movie without Wolverine. Especially when this was Marvel’s first major attempt at bringing one of their top properties to the movies.

So the first “X-Men” movie starts in the middle, with a cherry-picked cast of the most popular (at the time) X-Men: Wolverine, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, Rogue and the Professor. It’s a hit, leading to two more movies and a Wolverine spin-off.

So now, 11 years later, they decide to do the origin story. But you see the problem: They’ve already introduced all the first class members in earlier films so they’re unavailable, and in fact all the A-Team and B-Team X-Men have appeared on film by now so what do you do? Make do with what you’ve got.

Hence, the bizarre lineup that makes up the movie version of the X-Men’s First Class:

Beast (the only original to make the cut),

Mystique (who, I’m sure you remember, is a villain),

Banshee and Havok (both of whom date back to the original series)

Angel Salvadore (not to be confused with the real Angel, this character first appeared in 2001 and was quickly forgotten about. At least by me and the people who write the X-Men comics I read)

and finally, Darwin. To give you some idea how obscure Darwin is — I have never read an X-Men comic with Darwin in it. And I’ve read many an X-Men comic, I assure you. As I understand it, Darwin was another of those “retcon” characters who was created as part of a story to help make Professor X look bad, which was a popular thing among X-writers a few years ago.

The new film also brings in the equally obscure Azazel, Nightcrawler’s father. I have read the Azazel story and believe me, I wish I hadn’t. The movie also brings in the infamous Emma Frost in all her glorious underwear. Her appearance here seriously contradicts “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” but I think a lot of people would prefer to think that movie never happened.

Read More About It

If, after seeing the movie, you would like to read more of the adventures of Beast, Havok, Banshee, Mystique, Angel S. and Darwin — well, you’re screwed. In its almost 50 year history of publishing “X-Men” comics, Marvel has never published a book with that lineup. I can’t even think of an X-Men lineup that comes close to this one.

What’s interesting about this is that for the past year Marvel has glutted the market with Thor and Captain America comics to support their upcoming movies. So why not “X-Men First Class?” Partly, I suspect, because it would be hard to bring those characters together for a story — Banshee is currently dead and Havok is in outer space, just to name two stumbling blocks. Also, who would want to read a comic book with those characters?

It’s also worth noting that Marvel Studios (which gave us Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and the upcoming Captain America) does not have the movie rights to the X-Men. Those rights were sold to 20th Century Fox years before Marvel decided to start making their own movies (and being bought by Disney didn’t hurt). Marvel would like to get the X-Men back from Fox, so they’re probably not going to go out of their way to promote the X-Movie. In fact, if you go to Hot Topic or Target and look for X-Men First Class T-shirts, the guys at left are the ones you’ll find.

For Marvel Comics the “First Class” brand still stands for the original five X-Men. In fact, Marvel launched an “X-Men First Class” comic back in 2006 that told new stories with the O5. It was a good series that ended all too soon. There are various collections of the books available so pick them up if you want to read about the real first class of X-Men.

And that’s all you need to know. Before you go.

 

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