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X-Men, Part 3: X-Men: First Class, Volume II and First Class Finals

Saturday, January 11th, 2020 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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I am continuing my perhaps Quixotic reread of The X-Men. I started in 1963 and am working my way up to the present, and I’m including not just the main series, but some significant cross-overs and the series that retcon some good stories.

My first blog post covered X-Men #1-20. My second post covered X-Men 21-23, some early cross-overs, and the 2006 series X-Men: First Class. For this one, I read X-Men: First Class, Vol II, #1-16, which continued Jeff Parker’s excellent story of the original five X-Men, with art by Eric Nguyen, Roger Cruz, Nick Dragotta and others.

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The first limited series must have done well, because Parker came back for another 16 issues and they are mostly one-shots, all well-built, with charming, emotionally satisfying stories for new readers and lots of interesting Easter eggs for X-Men veterans. The first issue is a great example, with Jean trying out new things with her powers, while her well-meaning but adolescently awkward teammates are underfoot.

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So Professor asks Sue Storm to mentor Jean for a day. It’s an utterly beautiful story and gets to some of the character work Lee, Kirby and Thomas never got to: what it is like for a girl to be on a team full of teenaged boys. So much fun and so insightful.

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We get some great first encounters, like the X-Men meeting up with Swamp Thing in Florida because of something weird going on with the Nexus of Realities. And more heart-warmingly, on a vacation, Hank decides to stay and study (surprising no one), but the Professor notices that Bobby is staying because he doesn’t want to go home to an uncomfortable situation (Bobby’s mom is the one who says: “Couldn’t you just try not being a mutant?”). So the Professor sends them on a road trip in Warren’s car and it’s amazing.

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The X-Men have always had an interested armistice sort of relationship with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, and after the brief and unsuccessful Wanda-Warren romance in the last series, Jean and Wanda are hanging out. Then, along comes Natasha Romanov, who is looking to recruit the Scarlet Witch to S.H.I.E.L.D. Very fun issue. Plus A.I.M.

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We know Warren comes from a pretty stuffy family, and that his parents don’t know he’s a mutant. But in issue #12, we learn that he has a cool Aunt Mimi who’s a lot like Tomb Raider, and she knows and accepts him as he is. She’s lost in South America and Warren flies off solo to find her.

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The X-Men follow of course. They find Aunt Mimi is a hidden South American civilization that escaped contact with western conquistadors. Aside: I feel like I should track the number of pulp-inspired secret civilizations in the X-Men. Watch this space, because it will happen a lot. I don’t dislike it, but it is definitely a bit overused in the X-Men.

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Now, this could have been a straight up event story, but Parker is so good at getting at the insecurities of each of his characters. In the end, Warren decides to stay with his aunt in this secret civilization and the Professor asks the rest of the X-Men to understand how difficult it is for Warren to hide the fact that he’s a mutant. Its poignant and they have to go home short one X-Man.

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In issues #13-14, oddly enough, Machine Man shows up. I say oddly, because Machine Man isn’t the most obvious thematic choice, but once again, Parker is working his insightful and thematic magic. What the X-Men and a robot would have in common is trying to pass as normal.

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This is a great pair of issue, and they end up fighting Silver Age lava monsters. Machine Man has some obvious glitches, being able to neither be human nor man. It’s bittersweet and surprisingly moving in a Data/Daneel Olivaw way. But this connects to Machine Man’s canonical story in a clever way. We see the X-50 on the robot’s head, and if you remember your Machine Man #1, the robot in Kirby’s 1977 issue was X-51. So this is a nice Easter egg that shows some wonderful continuity and this will pay off in Kirby’s series, where X-51 will approach his identity in a way that learned something from this story. It’s a nice touch.

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Another fun look we get is Medusa in issue #15. I was never an Fantastic Four reader, so I had forgotten that Medusa originally appeared as a villain as one of the Frightful Four, and that she was lacking her memories. This encounter between Medusa with the X-Men is after she leaves the Frightful Four, but before the Fantastic Four help her find the Inhumans again, which will of course launch Marvel’s cosmic universe with the Inhumans leading to the Watcher leading to Galactus and then the Sentinel and the Kree Empire. And Parker just slipped an X-Men story into that continuity without disturbing anything around it.

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The series ends with a short bromance between the Human Torch and Iceman, which builds off their team up in Strange Tales #120. They hang out and fight crime together because they both feel underappreciated by their teammates.

These two series by Jeff Parker and handful of talented artists and colorists and letterers did an amazing job of raising my appreciation of the original team. The storytelling is solid and entertaining and occasionally moving. And I would have no hesitation in reading these two series to my 9 year old niece (with whom I last read the excellent Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur). The trades are out there in comic shops and libraries if you like physical copies. I own some of these, but read them on Marvel Unlimited for convenience and portability this time around.


Derek Künsken writes science fiction in Gatineau, Québec. His first novel, The Quantum Magician, a space opera heist, was a finalist for the Locus, Aurora and Chinese Nebula awards. Its sequel, The Quantum Garden is on sale now. He has work upcoming in the March/April issues of both Asimov’s Magazine and Analog Science Fiction and Fact. He also writes the webcomic Briarworld with artist partner Wendy Muldon, which is available to read for free on your phone here.

2 Comments »

  1. That really MUST have been the Nexus of Realities for the X-Men to have met Swamp Thing! But perhaps you meant Man-Thing?

    Comment by Brian Kunde - January 12, 2020 1:04 am

  2. Brian: Hahaha! You’re right. I’m tempted to not correct that for a couple of days and leave it in as a Derek Blooper. :)

    Comment by Derek Kunsken - January 12, 2020 9:44 am


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