Welcome to part 18 of my Quixotic reread of the X-Men, starting with issue #1 in 1963. We’re now in 1976 and I ended my last post partway through #101 because Phoenix’s introduction is the real climax of the last arc and it made sense to stop there.
After Phoenix’ appearance and the hospital reunions, a new story arc starts, insofar as one can ever say a story starts or ends in Claremont’s braided narrative. In this post, I’m going to cover the last half of Uncanny X-Men #101 to the end of issue #104 because it covers the new X-Men’s meeting with two hugely important and iconic villains: the Juggernaut and Magneto.
Personally, this set of stories fits into my life in that I read issue #101 in French in B&W as an 11 year old in 1982, and couldn’t afford to read issue #102-#104 until the summer of 1987 when they were reprinted in the Classic X-Men. So I’d been waiting 6 years for these stories. The Classic X-Men reprint series was great — it allowed me to fill out all the story gaps in my collection; by then, by trading with friends or buying from the comic shops in Toronto, I’d already gotten a complete run from #134 onward.
With Phoenix in the hospital in issue #101 (October, 1976) the X-Men, led by Banshee, go to Ireland on a forced vacation. Jean needs rest and support the Scott and Professor X can offer, and the new X-Men need to get out from underfoot.
And Banshee has just inherited Cassidy Keep, his ancestral home (Above). All is going fine as far as they’re concerned, until they fall into a trap set by Black Tom, and his partner the Juggernaut. Juggernaut is already an iconic X-villain and Black Tom Cassidy, cousin of Banshee, is a neat expansion of the X-Men mythos. Also, this issue introduces Storm’s claustrophobia.
There are a couple of things I noticed about issue #101. The first is that this is still early enough in the series that Nightcrawler is still using his image inducer (a Reed Richards’ invention that allows him to appear in illusion as anyone – mostly as movie stars from the 1930s and 1940s). For a long time, the earliest X-Men comic I owned was issue #112, and by then he’d already stopped using it, so it was a late comedic discovery for me.
Also, this issue is *short* – like 16 inside pages. They must have had a lot of adds in those days. Now we complain about 22 pages. But, on the flip side, storytelling is more decompressed now. In this issue, Cockrum does a few splash pages, but the rest tend to average 6-7 panels, and when you consider all the words used in 1976 comics, there’s still a lot of story in those 16 pages. I did a post a couple of years ago comparing and contrasting page layouts and density of panels, so if you’re super nerdy about layouts and the evolution of storytelling, check it out.
Lastly, there are real leprechauns in Cassidy Keep and they have an important plot role in this two and a half issue story. As far as I knew, they were never ever mentioned after this storyline, but in researching for this post, I found a web page that shows them appearing in Generation X in the 1990s. So I learned something today. #personalgrowth
The December, 1976 issue #102 (remember that the X-Men was not even yet popular enough to go monthly) opens with classic superhero-supervillain fisticuffs. It doesn’t go well for the X-Men. Of all of them, only Banshee knows the Juggernaut and Black Tom is immune to Banshee’s scream. Colossus tries hard, but in this period, he was only 18 and not yet grown into his full strength.
Incidentally, I was sound-tracking my reading again to try to feel more of the historical cultural context of the era. Some of the songs that were on the radio in 1976 include Wings’ Band on the Run, ELO’s Livin’ Thing, and Thin Lizzy’s Cowboy Song. To add further context, at the end of 1976, Marvel was also publishing 2001: A Space Odyssey, DC was publishing the 6th appearance of Power Girl in Wally Wood’s Earth-2 All-Star Squad, and The Flintstones and Richie Rich got shelf space too.
Issue #102 gives us a few new things. Cockrum and Claremont treat us to a 5-page flashback origin of Ororo, from the time she was 6 months old in 1951 in New York to when she was 5 years old in Cairo when her parents were killed among other civilian casualties of the Suez Canal crisis.
They show the start of her thieving on the streets of Cairo as an orphan (something that we’ll see more of in issue #117 from a young Professor X’s perspective) until the eventually makes her way to her mother’s land, Kenya. It’s excellent mythos building and is sophisticated character depth for the time, and explains her claustrophobia. Marvel was always good at angst, but this is a step further.
We’re also treated to the continuing hallucinations of aliens and possible descent into madness of Professor X that we were tracking in previous issues. At the same time, Misty Knight is visiting Jean (her roommate) in the hospital. She asks Jean “How are you?” and Jean ominously responds “How would you feel if you’d died and brought yourself back to life?” I often wish that as a reader, I’d gotten to know more of Phoenix, because she was such an interesting character, but her story was already done by the time I started buying off the spinner rack.
And like Claremont and Cockrum are tuning the course dial on a microscope, some of the characters continue to come in and out of focus. This is the issue where page-space is devoted to the realization that in shadow, Nightcrawler basically becomes invisible. This was not an ability that made much of an impact in the 1981-1993 period I collected Uncanny X-Men, so like the image inducer and the leprechauns, it feels like something they tried and decided not to keep.
Issue #103 opens with Nightcrawler as the only X-Men still free. He hears that Eric the Red is behind Black Tom and Juggernaut laying a trap for the X-Men, and he goes to the rescue. Interestingly, knowing that Juggernaut wants Professor X, Nightcrawler uses his image inducer to appear as the Professor for a time, which turns out to be an excellent distraction and the X-Men get free.
This also becomes the first issue we see Ororo’s lockpicking skills, along with the revelation that she was once the best lockpick in Cairo. Storm isn’t the only one who gets developed either. In the hands of Claremont and Cockrum, Juggernaut becomes more rounded – he actually cares about Black Tom – deferring to him and leaping after him when Tom is lost in a fall.
And this is the first time we hear that Wolverine’s name is actually Logan. And one of the funnest moments of the this book is when Wolverine calls Storm a “stupid broad” after having been warned by Peter. An angry Peter throws our Canadian friend from the bottom of the castle parapets to the other side of the castle to get him into the battle and to remind him to be more respectful (below).
X-Men #104 is the new X-Men’s first encounter with Magneto, the X-mythos’ greatest adversary. The cover is a nice homage to the classic X-Men #1 where the original team met Magneto.
The story starts with the X-Men racing from Ireland to Scotland to a massive fortified research lab on Muir Island (its first appearance, for those who track those things). There, they are attacked by Magneto. At the same time, Cyclops and Moira McTaggart race from New York.
They find Jamie Madrox, The Multiple Man who tells them that Havok, Polaris and Eric the Red overpowered him and went into the lab looking for the baby Magneto to bring him back to adulthood. Recall that he’d been de-aged into a baby in Defenders #16 – covered in my X-Men post XV.
Cyclops is freaking out, telling Moira to get the jet ready to go. Cyclops never trained the X-Men on how to fight Magneto and he’s just too powerful. Turns out, Cyclops is right, as the rest of the issue is the X-Men getting their asses handed to them by the master of magnetism.
I have to say that Claremont did a great job of elevating Magneto as a villain, making him into someone whom the X-Men should run away from. He obviously can toss around Colossus and Wolverine due to the metal in their bodies. Storm’s lightning does nothing to his electromagnetic powers, and Claremont has given this younger, stronger Magneto the power of flight and the ability to take control of even the finest fragments of metal dust floating in the air, much to Banshee’s distress.
The decision to retreat is a sign of growing maturity in Scott, is a major personal accomplishment for Magneto’s psychology, and becomes another source of friction between Wolverine and Cyclops. Claremont once again shows that in his X-Men, the heroes can meaningfully lose, that the stakes are bigger. Again, yes the Avengers and the Defenders are fighting to save the world or the cosmos, but for the same gut-punch of these stakes, I’d have to go to Jim Starlin’s amazing cosmic run on Warlock.
The retreat is also a demonstration of Scott’s strategic and tactical thinking. He realizes that Eric the Red was trying to kill Professor X in New York, and he’d gotten Juggernaut to try to lure the Professor to his death in Ireland. And now, with Magneto fully grown and strong, the X-Men are tied up the Scotland, meaning no one is there to protect the professor. #cliffhanger
Issues #101-104 are a great run, full of the energy and inventiveness that would soon make the Uncanny X-Men a monthly series and would in a few short years, propel the title to outstrip all other comics in sales.
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. Solaris Books released the audio and ebook editions in August, 2020 (buy link), and the hardcover will 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.”