Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Thomas-Adams X-Men : X-Men #57

X-Men #57

X-Men #57 (June 1969)
“The Sentinels Live!”
Script – Roy Thomas
Pencils – Neal Adams
Inks- Tom Palmer

Karen: This is the second issue in our review of the Thomas-Adams X-Men, and here’s where things really get going. This issue (#57) kicks off one of the best Sentinel stories ever, in my opinion. While Cyclops, Angel, and Marvel Girl stay in Egypt trying to find Cyke’s brother Alex, who turns out to have a power even more destructive than his brother’s, Beast and Angel head back to America after an urgent distress call from Iceman’s girlfriend, the green-tressed Lorna Dane. What they discover is “The Sentinels Live!”

Sharon: Will someone please tell me why Lorna Dane was decked out in her Mesmero-donated costume, wearing a her headpiece, in the privacy of her own apartment? Was she suited up because she was supposed to be on call or something?

Sharon: That aside, I was thrilled to see her--she'd last appeared back in X-Men #52 and I was disappointed that she hadn't turned into a series regular immediately after that Magneto-Mesmero arc. IIRC, in #56's letter column Marvel mentioned she'd be back and I was glad, because at that time the original five were just too bland! . I was also glad that in #57 Roy wrote dialogue that specified Lorna had magnetic powers...in her first appearance; her powers weren't explicitly defined as such. (And Arnold Drake came up with a winner when he named her –I always get a kick out of her name!)

Karen: The art looks even better in this issue. Besides being a tremendous artist, Adams is a masterful storyteller. I often will just look over panels in comics without reading the words, to see if I can tell what’s going on by the pictures alone. Adams passes this test easily. His panels flow seamlessly and his choice of angles – how to “shoot the scene” – are perfect. I can only imagine what a revelation he was when he first hit comics.

Doug: I agree – the most impressive thing about this issue is its pace. On early pages where Lorna Dane is captured, there are five panels: a front-on shot, two ceiling shots, an upshot of Lorna’s face, and (although a thin vertical panel) a panoramic view of the Egyptian landscape. Adams really keeps the action moving not only through this intro. but through the entire story -- it never feels rushed. In addition to the pencil/ink art you’ve mentioned, the coloring is top-shelf. The aforementioned scene where Cyke lays into the Egyptian police, all colored in red tones, is quite effective. I can sense that a scene like that would have been influential on a young Alex Ross, who often prefers to paint in monochromatic schemes.

Doug: Also, the scene I mentioned in our previous post involving Adams’ mastery at the expense of the Beast is in this issue. The scene of a falling, very worried beast is shown as if it’s a movie film. Really moves the eye and creates the sense of speed and tension – powerfully rendered. Speaking of mood, just look through this story again and concentrate on the facial expressions in a given panel. Adams is amazing!

Karen: I don’t want to forget Tom Palmer. I’ve always been a big fan of his inking; I thought his work with John Buscema was some of the best comic art I’ve ever seen. Here, he applies shades and textures to Adams work and the combination is just brilliant.

Sharon: Palmer was basically just starting out back then and he'd already inked Colan (on Dr. Strange, which I didn't read so I was not familiar with his work); now Adams; soon, Buscema. Not bad!

Sharon: And as much as I like Palmer on Adams, Adams' work loses something when it's inked—by anyone. His line work just gets obscured by inks, color technology, etc. You have got to see his unadorned pencils (at least reproductions of such--unfortunately I don't have any original Adams artwork!) --I have seen somewhere a Magneto close up from #62 and a full page of several panels of Ant-Man in the Vision's body (from that famous Avengers issue)--the detail and delicacy is astonishing. Exquisite. Inks of any kind are too much. (Adams’ preferred inker—after himself-- was Giordano, because as he said it looked like he inked himself.)


Karen: The writing in this issue is also top notch; Roy gives us solid characterization and an interesting story. Everyone’s personality is clearly delineated without feeling like a caricature. It seems to me like Roy always had a good handle on Cyclops in particular, and with this storyline we get to see a few cracks in that stoic exterior, as Cyke worries over his new-found brother. With Alex, we get a chance to see how someone might react to finding out that they were not only a mutant, but one with an incredibly destructive power. His despair feels real.

Sharon: Adams did great job depicting Alex, here a “normal” person–there was none of that weird elongation I see in the costumed heroes. I also didn’t mind that Alex was half-naked throughout the story…

Doug: I would, however, argue that Roy couldn’t get away with a line like “You – you camel jockeys did this!” today. But you’re right – we realize that the X-Men are each different people. There certainly aren’t any cookie-cutter characters in this tale.

Karen: With this story, mutant hysteria is alive and well. Larry Trask, son of Bolivar Trask, the creator of the original Sentinels, has developed a new model of Sentinel and has sent them out to track down mutants. Although we only see them briefly in this issue, Adams’ Sentinels are truly threatening-looking; there is a real sense of mass to them.

Doug: I thought the element of surprise was powerful. In previous, and even some future Sentinel stories, they certainly don’t hide the fact that they are present. Of particular note was the emergence of the Sentinel that was in the cave with Alex Summers – that was a little creepy to think that something so large could lay in wait, especially during the melee that had taken place. This showed a Sentinel technology that would later become a hallmark – that they could be programmed to seize particular mutants, and would go to any measures necessary to nab their assigned quarry.

Doug: Also of note in this story is the use of a seeming “web cam” in Lorna’s apartment! Not bad, considering the technology was at least 30 years away from the time this story was written!

Karen: It’s funny, there’s no Professor X in the books at this time of course. I would have thought I might miss him, but I don’t. The team seems more than capable of performing without him. I kind of like that.

Doug: That’s a very interesting point, Karen, because when I think of the X-Men it’s the era of the All-New, All-Different X-Men and Professor X had such a prominent role on that team. Not only did he assemble the international mutant fighting force, but he mentored them for quite some time. In a way, it caused a regression of Cyke’s leadership ability, and perhaps provided the source of tension between Scott and Wolverine – had Cyke been completely in charge, Logan might have stood down (although I doubt it – it was Charles who kept him largely in check). But I digress with my senseless musings…

Sharon: In various interviews Neal has said he carefully planned the return of Professor X and the seeds were sown in this very arc…

Sharon: I cannot believe that no one has compiled Neal's Ben Casey strips into a collection, but perhaps there are ownership/copyright issues involved. I have the four collected volumes of "Mary Perkins On Stage" (a well-known syndicated strip by Leonard Starr) that was one of the first daily comic strips in the "photorealism" mode (back in the ‘50s), a style that was then used by many comic strip artists--including Neal.

4 comments:

Dr. Pym said...

Just want you three busy working bees to know, I do not own and haven't read any of these X-Men issues (Though I'd LOVE to have them -- it's just that the original X-Men series is impossible to find cheap back copies of...) but I am still faithfully reading everyone's wonderfully fun and insightful comments. Keep up the amazing work!

Sharon said...

Thanks, Pym.

You may want to check out the X-Men Visionaries: Neal Adams paperback, which I mentioned in a previous post. I believe it's avilable on amazon.com. And scheduled for release any second now is Essential Classic X-Men Volume 3, which also includes the Thomas-Adams run, though of course in the black and white Essentials format.

Karen said...

I myself don't actually have any of these issues. I had two in a reprint, but I read them all for our reviews from the X-Men collection DVD-ROM. Those dvds are invaluable for writing reviews or doing research! But I will echo Sharon's comments: find these stories in some format; they're fantastic!

Doug said...

Echoing what the ladies have said, good Dr. Pym! As I mentioned, I've read these tales from the 1983 X-Men Classics mini-series. It collects the entire Thomas-Adams run in three issues (although the covers and some splash pages are by Mike Zeck and Tom Palmer). You may be able to find this series cheaply as well, but your best bet is the tpb Sharon mentioned.

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