Uncanny X-Men, Part 13: Englehart’s Bronze Age Monster Horror – The Beast
Welcome to Part 13 of my complete reread of the X-Men. We’ve covered all the original X-Men run, many guest appearances and side stories. We’re now in 1972 and in my last post, Gerry Conway and Tom Sutton had taken the moribund second-strong superhero Beast and thrown him solo into the world of Jekyll-Hyde monster horror. In this post, we’re going to cover the remaining five issues of Amazing Adventures that follow Hank McCoy’s sundering from the X-Men.
Amazing Adventures #12 opens with Hank McCoy’s most obvious problem: His Jekyll and Hyde moment has permanently turned him into a twisted, inhuman beast, and he can’t change back. He can’t even pass for human. And he needs to pass for human to have a chance of marshalling his biochemical skills to cure himself. The artwork by Tom Sutton and Mike Ploog is perfect for a horror story, and we’ve seen Ploog do beautifully eerie with Doctor Strange’s contemporaneous stories in Marvel Premiere. Check out the splash page below.
Hank breaks into a library and a costume shop to get materials to make himself a realistic face and hands that he can wear over the monstrous pieces of himself he can’t hide. A lot of real estate in the issue is devoted to the problem of passing for human and it’s a potent emotional fear for a comic.
Steve Englehart, who will write the rest of this Beast run in Amazing Adventures, begins some interesting psychological work. While Hank McCoy suffers from a kind of body horror and physical dysphoria few people could imagine, he’s also more consciously comfortable with himself. He drops all the big words he used to cover insecurities he felt earlier. Becoming something else entirely is frightening, but in other ways, he feels free. It’s an interesting psychological turn.
Hank goes back to the Brand Corporation and tries to cure himself. At night, he tries to work more, but runs into Iron Man, who’s snooping. We get our normal Marvel hero-on-hero violence, but Englehart takes this as a chance to further explore the Jekyll-Hyde dynamic. Hank becomes more bestial, prone to lose control to savagery, and it shows in this fight.
Hank’s descent into savagery becomes strong enough that he kills Iron Man. (Spoiler: Iron Man didn’t really die, but still…)
And the end of the issue, we find out that Iron Man didn’t even get beaten – it was all an illusion in Beast’s mind, planted there by Mastermind, of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
Amazing Adventures #13 has Blob, Unus, Mastermind plotting to control the Beast whose memories have been temporarily damaged by Mastermind, little realizing that Hank is the same hero they all fought in the 1960s. The writing is unfortunately phoned in. I’ve read many comics Englehart was invested in and this doesn’t feel like one of them. This is perhaps not surprising; recall that he didn’t invent this version of the Beast in Amazing Adventures #11; he was handed the gig with issue #12. And given the rotating cast of inkers (see below), I wonder how much editorial cared about this book.
I also wonder if, under the Marvel method, the art might have come in unclear, forcing the writer to skew more to clunky exposition to make sure the story was readable. The C-list villains with Republic Serial villain dialogue is bad in any world though. I won’t retype any of it, but you can read some in the images. The interactions between the three members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants are somewhat fun if you’re into Three Stooges. They’re three super-powered versions of Turk from Daredevil, each certain he has a plan, when in reality they wouldn’t know a plan if it slapped them.
There’s also one piece of this issue that has implications for the story to come. We’ve been tracking Mastermind since X-Men #3, and his power set seems to have changed. Amazing Adventures is the first place I see references to him planting illusions directly a victim’s minds.
This will be how he abuses and corrupts Jean Grey from Uncanny X-Men #116 to #134, removing all the controls and discipline that separate Phoenix from Dark Phoenix. I bring this up because I’m pretty sure Claremont’s run mentions that Emma Frost had made him a device to do that. We’ll see when we get there.
Another part in this issue has implications for the Avengers and the Defenders. Patsy Walker (Mrs. Patsy Baxter at this moment) makes an appearance. This isn’t the first appearance of Patsy Walker, of course. It’s always funny to realize that Patsy is like the third or fourth oldest member of the Marvel Universe, beaten out only by Captain America, Bucky and the Submariner; Patsy first appeared in Miss America Magazine #2 (Nov, 1944), a romance book, and was a regular in Millie the Model for decades. This is her cross-over from romance to the superhero world I believe. We’ll know her as the Hellcat later, and if I remember my history right, Hank helps train her and bring her into the Avengers for a time (in issue #144). Then, later on, Hellcat welcomes Hank into the Defenders.
Personal Memory: In grade seven in Toronto, near my school was a store called The Paperback Shop. It sold books and comics at half cover price. As a kid on an allowance, this was a giant affordable doorway for me to explore the Bronze Age of comics. I bought my copy of Amazing Adventures #14 there for a dime. Ahhh, childhood…
Amazing Adventures #14 begins with Hank chasing Iron Man man in the most ridiculous, dangerous way possible (on a live fire range to test Iron Man’s new armor) to apologize. That’s good, and paves a relationship that will pay off in the future. There are some nice artistic touches – like all the mirrors curtained off in his apartment. Tom Sutton is still penciling with Jim Mooney on inks, which makes for a different feel which isn’t entirely to my taste.
In this issue, Hank also gets into sitcom-level disguise problems with his girlfriend and Captain Baxter looking for him. Patsy is constantly hanging around her husband, I guess learning military procedures even though he tells her to go home (hashtag: sexism). The monster of the week is the robot Quasimodo. The story unsatisfyingly ends with Beast’s defeat, and then, for some flimsy reason, Quasimodo decides to kill himself (hashtag: gofigure). It seems lame, but for my twelve-year old self, this comic book find, seeing Hank solo at the dawn of being beastly, was a huge and fascinating contrast with the mature furry Beast I knew from Uncanny X-Men #112 when they fought Magneto, or during the Dark Phoenix Saga.
Amazing Adventures #15 starts with an injured, delirious Beast knocking on the door of Patsy Walker (Baxter). Why? How did he know where she lived? Does it matter? Beast’s fur has gone from gray to black, although the way comics are colored, it looks blue like we’re used to.
Tom Sutton is still penciling, but inks in this issue were by Frank Giacoia and John Tartaglione, and the rotation of the inkers is getting worse than Hogwarts trying to staff the Defense Against the Dark Arts post. This is nearly a study in the impact of inkers on the art, which has definitely switched tonally from horror to superhero. Visually, issue #15 feels nothing like issue #11 or even #12. Marvel has definitely chosen what genre Hank belongs to. And in the superhero genre, he has more friends – and he has a heart to heart with Patsy.
He has other friends too. Warren Worthington at the X-Mansion is sick of waiting for news and suspects that the hairy Beast in the newspapers is the Beast they know. So despite Xavier’s warnings (hashtag: #ProfessorXisaJerk – see Uncanny X-Men #168), Warren goes to find his friend.
It’s heart-warming and the team-up is emotionally fulfilling for both characters. Incidentally, I think we can all agree that in the early 1970s, Warren just skipped a costume and flew around bare-chested in his corduroy pants. It’s a style. Not one I would pick, but I’m not a billionaire.
The monster of the week is the Griffin, a D-lister sent by the Secret Empire, who are Dr. Evil-level villains we’ve seen a few times in The Defenders and Captain America. I think he also made an appearance in the Champions. The Griffin is going to be the last of Hank’s lame, lamer, lamest villains. It’s been said that the hero grows in stature to the villains they face. The Joker elevates Batman. Luthor elevates Superman. Magneto elevates the X-Men. Nobody has been elevating the Beast in this story, except maybe for Quasimodo, who at least matched the the monster tone of Jekyll-Hyde. That will change in the last original issue of Beast material in Amazing Adventures when he faces the Juggernaut.
Beast is certainly not Juggernaut-level, but they are old foes and it’s on. Now, with a hero-villain power level mismatch, you can do one of three things – you can strengthen the hero, through brains or brawn; you can team them up with someone else; or you can diminish the villain. In this case, I think they elevated the Beast. Beast doesn’t have allies to recruit, he doesn’t have a way to weaken the Juggernaut, but Hank’s always been a smart guy and I was pretty satisfied with the solution that depended on his having become monstrous.
Issue #16 was the last original story on this run. I guess sales were not awesome and one way to sell comics without laying out cash for creative teams is to reach into the back catalogue and reprint something. Luckily, the backup stories of the X-origins running from the late 30s to the mid-50s of X-Men are great and Hank’s fits handily into one issue. And that was the end of Hank McCoy’s run. Beast was replaced in Amazing Adventures by the fantastic science fiction series War of the Worlds starring Killraven that I collected almost in its entirety in grade seven.
It’s too bad Beast didn’t have a longer run, but given the unevenness, and sometimes downright disappointing quality, of this run, it’s also not surprising. I love me some X-Men and would have loved for Beast to get a better gig soon, but by 1972, the X-Men hadn’t even done half their time in the wilderness yet. Hank McCoy would begin appearing in the Avengers in issue #136 (cover dated Jun 1975, written by Englehart), which is a while off yet. But, there are a few more Bronze Age gems co-starring the X-Men before we get to the big relaunch. See you in two weeks!
If you want to catch up on any of my other posts about the X-Men, they’re below:
- Part I: Introducing The Strangest Super-Team of All: Uncanny X-Men #1 (Nov 1963) to #20 (May 1966)
- Part II: Early Guest Appearances (1964-65), Uncanny X-Men #21-23 (1966), and X-Men: First Class Volume I (2006)
- Part III: X-Men: First Class, Volume II (2007) and First Class Finals
- Part IV: Uncanny X-Men #24-39: The Middle Years of the Original Team
- Part V: Uncanny X-Men #40-48: Death and Separation
- Part VI: Uncanny X-Men #49-53: Reunion and Family and Steranko
- Part VII: Uncanny X-Men #54-58 — Havok and Neal Adams
- Part VIII: Uncanny X-Men #59-66: The Savage Land and the End of the Silver Age X-Men
- Part IX: Filling in the Corners of the Original X-Men with Savage Hulk #1-4
- Part X: John Byrne’s The Hidden Years #1-4
- Part XI: Storm, the FF and Phoenix in John Byrne’s The Hidden Years
- Part XII: X-Men Guest Appearances in 1971-1972 and Hank gets Furry!
- Part XIII: Englehart’s Bronze Age Monster Horror – The Beast
- Part XIV: 1973 and 1974 – Magneto, the Hulk, Banshee and post-Watergate Captain America
- Part XV: 1974 and 1975 – The Last Tales of the Original X-Men
- Part XVI: Enter Wein, Claremont and Cockrum in 1975
- Part XVII: 1976 — Sentinels in Space and the Rise of Phoenix
- Part XVIII: Juggernaut and Magneto — For the Very First Time
- Part XIX: Phoenix, Firelord and the Imperial Guard
- Part XX: Iron Fist, Blame Canada and Some Strike-Outs
- Part XXI: Epic Magneto Triumph and more X-Men Death!
- Part XXII: 1978 — The Savage Land, Japan and Psionic Throwback Thursday!
- Part XXIII: 1979 — Chaos in Canada with Alpha Flight!
- Part XXIV: Arcade, Murderworld and their First King-Sized Annual
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. His third novel, The House of Styx, got a starred review in Publishers’ Weekly and is finishing its run in Analog Science Fiction and Fact right now. Solaris Books will be releasing the audio and ebook editions in August, 2020 (pre-order link), and the hardcover release in April, 2021. He also has a novella in the Jul/Aug, 2020 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction called “Tool Use by the Humans of Danzhai County.”
It appears our prime comic reading years (& material) overlapped. While I enjoyed The Beast, I came to view the follow-up Amazing Adventures series War of the Worlds as a brilliant & inspired take-off on Wells’ original. I could not wait for each new issue to arrive. And when art was taken over by P. Craig Russell, well, the heavens sang.
Hey Jeffrey! Agewise, sounds like it! So I would have been about 12-13 while visiting the Paperback Shop for the year I went to Runnymede Public School, 1983-1983. For some reason, they kept on getting Bronze Age comics that they put on their spinner racks and I bought up Strange Tales (Brother Voodoo, It), Marvel Spotlight (Son-of-Satan), Amazing Adventures (Killraven + one Beast issue), a bunch of Marvel Super-Hero reprints, plus probably a bunch of late-70s, early-80s B-list things. So I was buying it all 10 years after the fact, but to me it was a time machine in comics history.
I *am* tempted to reread The Ware of the Worlds – I think I tried last year. Soooooo many words and sooooo much purple prose. I might like to blog about it, but X-Men will keep me busy for quite some time – lol