The Early Years: First Class
There is a lot of change ahead for the X-Men, including a very different roster. Some founding X-Men members are dropping off the team for a while, and they will be missed. This is the end of the “good old days” of the original five: Cyclops, Iceman, Beast, Angel, and Marvel Girl. So lets look back at who these characters are and what they accomplished in their first tenure with the X-Men.
Here they are all together for the first time, as Jean Grey arrives at the Charles Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters. She is greeted by Henry McCoy, Bobby Drake, Scott Summers, and Warren Worthington III, three teenage boys eager to know her better. They have all been accepted into this school due to their unique mutant abilities, given safe harbor and understanding from the Professor Charles Xavier. He is an honest friend and wise mentor, teaching them to control their abilities, sharpen their skills, and be a force of good. Each student has a unique relationship with their parents, but they are generally attending under the ruse that this is just your average prep school, different only in the quality of its education. Jean’s parents even pulled her out for a while, unaware that they affected a team of famous superhero mutants. There’s also a great scene where Warren’s parents arrive for a visit just as Magneto is infiltrating the school, and get caught up in the drama.
As they get to know each other, they begin to display their powers. There is a lot of comedy and character development as we see what they can do.
Bobby is forever the jokester, and the youngest of the group. Early on he throws a lot of snowballs and turns himself into a snowman. Lucky for us, he is instead known as Iceman.
Jean is just beginning to understand what she can do, and seems fairly frightened by it, or at least cautious of it. Her telepathic and telekinetic powers are in their infancy, but later she will mature into one of the most powerful mutants in history. Teenage Jean Grey has no idea the true power that lies within her, and neither did early readers. She’s moving small objects and just starting to read minds. Because her powers seem to defy explanation, her codename is Marvel Girl.
Henry McCoy, on the other hand, feels very comfortable with his abilities, and knows their limits very well. He proudly gives displays of strength and agility, almost as much as his vocabulary. He does hide his feet in public by stuffing them into small shoes, but he doesn’t mope about it. He complains about the discomfort, but he seems to do it to avoid unwanted attention as a mutant more than out of shame. Early on he faces a mob on the streets that more than justifies his decision. He and Bobby don’t seem to have many outward insecurities. He has always been called a Beast, and he owns it.
Scott is extremely insecure, and it makes him moody and cranky. Scott is very serious. I guess that comes with having a power that can easily kill everyone around you instantly if you slip up even once. He manages to slip up often, causing chaos and damage. He often manages to lose his glasses in public, terrifying those around him. Scott carries a lot of guilt from this, and fears hurting those close to him. It also really doesn’t help the mutant cause to have this scene on the nightly news. Even though Charles places him as the leader, Scott doubts himself constantly. For obvious reasons, his codename is Cyclops. It really sounds like an insult for a guy who is really insecure about having to wear glasses all the time, sort of the mutant high school version of calling someone four eyes.
Finally, we have Warren Worthington III. Despite coming from a rich family and basically having a great life all laid out for him, he carries a great shame in the form of two feathered wings. He rivals Scott in insecurities, but he masks it far better. Warren uses his money and his charm to give the appearance that he is arrogant and in control. He feels the need to hide his wings in public, signaling his willingness to remain uncomfortable with himself in an attempt to be “normal”. Unlike Hank, Warren seems to feel genuine shame for his mutation.
Still, the X-Men do get to act like “normal” teenagers a lot of the time, even if this time is usually cut short. There’s a lot of goofing around and down time.
There’s that time they had Thanksgiving dinner together like a family.
They take several trips to the Coffee A Go-Go, taking in the bohemian art scene happening in 1960s New York. Henry was worshipped for his huge feet. They fought bikers at Bobby’s birthday party.
In one issue they all went ice skating, in one of my favorite early scenes.
A lot of group bonding was also done through time spent in the Danger Room. The team trains constantly, and in a challenging environment.
Before very long, the team graduated, but for whatever reason they stick around, living in the same school. They do start acting more like graduates though, becoming more seasoned and more skilled.
Jean’s telekinesis is getting far more advanced. She’s gone from moving small objects to disassembling complicated machines. Impressive.
Later she’s performing far greater telepathic feats, tracking psychic signatures, reading minds, controlling thoughts, etc. As her ability heightens, so does the quality of her artwork. By the end of this run, I was eager to see her perform, because it always produced great panels like this one.
Bobby improves greatly as well. He learns how to use his power to create a lot more than snowballs, including boomerangs, bridges, walls, and spears. He uses his ice to create water and short out electrical equipment. Besides his power, Bobby also learns that he is an important member of the team, despite being the youngest. He gets them out of binds with several villains including Frankenstein, Sunfire, and even Magneto.
Hank proves his worth against several villains as well. He was instrumental in taking down Merlin and the Hulk, among others. His scientific mind is as much a benefit as his muscle, and his intellect gets the team out of many situations.
Scott is extremely emotional and crabby throughout much of the series, making many wonder why Xavier would have put him in charge.
But by the end he learns to man up, asserting leadership and strong decision making in several scenes. He punched Magneto right in the mouth.
Plus he ripped through sentinels like nobody’s business, and was a total badass.
Warren, however, lets his insecurities get him into trouble. He often shows poor, rushed decision making, running off to face a problem immediately and alone instead of forming a strategy. This gets him into trouble more than once, but I don’t think he’ll forget his run in with Sauron any time soon. We learned that Angel also went by the name the Avenging Angel before he joined the group, and he uses this name later on when he strikes out on his own.
Bobby has the worst change throughout this run. Instead of growing and improving as a character, he acts like a complete jerk. He becomes emotional and has outbursts. He treats Lorna like a piece of property, and just overall treats women like they’re disposable objects. He seemed so young and innocent once.
The team also went through a few uniform changes throughout this run. Some were great and some were terrible Their early costumes were quaint to today’s standards, but I enjoyed them. The blue and gold color scheme, a hallmark of the X-Men, sees its debut here.
Marvel’s current title “All New X-Men” does a wonderful job of making these uniforms shine. Seeing them represented by modern artists gave me a whole new appreciation of them.
Later they changed into these crappy uniforms. Is it any wonder the series lost popularity? Ok, Iceman looks the same and Jean and Scott look great, but damn. Hank and Warren just look so incredibly stupid. Suspenders? It’s just terrible.
Angel’s original costume as the Avenging Angel was a lot better than this, and it even used his signature halo.
The halo made a comeback after Magneto (yes, Magneto) designed Angel’s best uniform yet. The blue and white looked fantastic, and I hope we see more of it.
Another thing the X-Men experience in this early run is a lot of prejudice against mutants. They had conflicts with mobs on the street after using their powers to save lives. Time and time again, humans distrust them.
At one point, a group of men actually tried to lynch Scott and Bobby, and almost had them strung up by their necks. Still, the team keeps their promise to promote peace between humans and mutants, at any cost.
So who is going to stay the course and who’s destiny lies elsewhere? Just how many members will be leaving the team? We’ll have to wait and see when we reconvene with Giant Size X-Men #1! Before we do, lets continue with our retrospective of their early years.