Friday, December 5, 2008

The Thomas-Adams X-Men: X-Men 59

X-Men 59-Neal Adams-Roy Thomas
X-Men #59  (1969)

X-Men #59 (August 1969)
“Do or Die, Baby!”
Scripter – Roy Thomas
Artist – Neal Adams
Embellisher –Tom Palmer

Karen: This is our fourth and final review (for now) of the Roy Thomas –Neal Adams X-Men stories. I can say without hesitation that it has been a real pleasure to read these stories, and they are a great example of how to do comics right. There’s plenty of action, characterization, and just excitement in these books.

Doug: An interesting note from my reading source, X-Men Classics #1 – the story that is in X-Men #59 is cut off right in the middle and left as a cliffhanger, actually continuing in X-Men Classics #2! Here I was, settling in to finish up this little series of reviews, when Whoa! An unsolicited return to the basement to retrieve more comics!

Sharon: The division of the story struck me as odd in X-Men Classics #1; there’s even an “intro” page summarizing X-Men #56 at the start. I’ll stick with the Adams Visionaries tpb and my recollections of the original issues! These stories (and the entire Thomas-Adams X-Men run) will also be included in the forthcoming Essential Classic X-Men volume 3 (in black and white).

Karen: Adams again gives us a wonderful, almost theatrical experience. There are so many good scenes in the book I almost don’t know where to begin. I think the panel of Cyclops cutting loose on a Sentinel on page 8 really conveys raw power, and the full page shot of the Sentinels flying into the sun is spectacular. I also liked Roy’s captions on this page – it was dramatic yet poetic: ”On the surface of this world of solar winds…of moment to moment thermonuclear cataclysm…a handful of humanoid forms will make but the most imperceptible of ripples…!”

Sharon: In an interview in Comic Book Artist, Adams himself cites this passage as a great example of how well Roy and he meshed, and of how Roy’s text complemented the art perfectly.

Doug: Agreed on all points. About the only bone I’d pick with Roy in this book is the continued effort of Marvel to play down their female characters. Jean is just portrayed as a dope – never knowing what to do unless Scott tells her, unsure of her abilities, etc. She is characterized here in much the same way we’ve seen the Silver Age Scarlet Witch and Invisible Girl. It’s interesting, though, that as the Bronze Age got under way (and into the Modern Age) other writers would take these three female supporting characters and make them the most powerful members of their respective teams.

Karen: I also really like the coloring job Adams did here. He wasn’t credited in the book, but the Bullpen Bulletins page mentions him as coloring his own work. His work has a sense of light and shadow, warmth and coolness. Of course, Tom Palmer’s inking also helps out in these areas, providing so much texture to the work.

Sharon: Adams made it a point to learn about coloring and printing technologies; he always wanted his work to be presented in the best possible light (as we know, he’s very hands on with his reprinted work and how it’s presented). Anyway, back then when he started to pencil for Marvel, he noticed that Marvel had a slightly larger color palette than DC did. As Neal has related in interviews, he advised DC to expand their palette (DC had thought it would be more expensive but it was not the case). So in the late 60s-early 70s you’ll start to see some DC coloring changes, such as DC’s “skin” tone changed from a pink to a more flesh color, or Batman’s costume from purplish to gray.

Doug: Yes, and I’d just reiterate what I think I’ve said for each of the previous three issues – the camera angles that Adams chose, the pacing, etc. is just so good and for its time largely revolutionary.

Karen: We see a ton of mutants in this issue, although unfortunately they are all cameos, as none of them get anything to do! Cyke, Jean, and Beast exchange costumes with the captured Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Toad, in order to throw off the Sentinel’s ability to adapt to powers. But unfortunately the three now free mutants don’t help out our X-Men! It would have been nice to see all six running around together.

Sharon: Yes, I never understood why the X-Men didn’t want at least Pietro helping out (Wanda was depowered at the time). I also had a hard time believing the X-Men would have donned the trio’s clothing, and I assume vice versa…ughh (thinking of sanitary issues). Also, isn’t the Beast a lot larger and taller than the short, puny Toad? Anyway, I liked how Adams made Wanda’s face slightly different from Jean’s (when they were shown in nearly identical panels, identically dressed in Wanda’s costume and tiara, in different panels on the same page); Jean’s face was a bit narrower and more angular.

Sharon: It was great to get a glimpse of how Wanda and Pietro would look in Adams’ hands. The shot of Pietro battling the Sentinels calls to mind the profile shot of Magneto later on at the end of X-Men #62; there’s a facial similarity between the two characters…in hindsight, of course! I’ve never read that Adams had intended a resemblance, but others sure picked up on it or may have been influenced by it. Too bad when Adams penciled the Avengers book later on, Wanda and Pietro were mostly comatose throughout his short-lived stint.

Sharon: And I loved the shot of Jean as Wanda using her “hex” (really telekinetic) power. In this instance, I felt Adams’ flourishes were warranted; style served substance, instead of distracting from it.

Karen: In order to stop the Sentinels, Cyclops pulls a play straight out of Captain Kirk’s playbook: he talks them into destroying themselves, by seeking out the source of all mutation, the sun itself! This could have felt like a cheat, but the way it was handled it, I felt it was a satisfying conclusion.

Sharon: The idea of the Sentinels flying into the sun, and the sun as the source of all mutation, was suggested by then-Marvel intern/office assistant…a fellow by the name of Chris Claremont. He was also included in the credits of Avengers #102, which continued the Sentinels’ story. Never one to rest on his laurels, later on Claremont famously supplied the plot point of the Living Island in a little book called Giant-Size X-Men. Talk about a fertile imagination!

Doug: Do either of you recall another Sentinels story where the constructs are able to carry on a conversation with non-Sentinels? It seems to me that their speech in this story is more akin to the Master Mold and not to ordinary Sentinels. I could be wrong, and admittedly haven’t gone to look up any other examples. But I found the conversations with Judge Chalmers to be a little more sentient than I’d recalled them having in other books.

Karen: After reading these issues, it seems like a shame that this creative team could not have stayed around for many years. I’m really curious where the book would have gone. But then, we might not have gotten the equally wonderful Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne years.

Doug: The heritage of this collaboration lives on in reprints – how many times? X-Men Classics 1-3, X-Men Visionaries: Neal Adams, Essential X-Men, Marvel Masterworks, the X-Men DVD-ROM, etc. That Marvel has gone back to this particular well so many times speaks to the “classic” nature of this creative team. As you said, Karen, although they weren’t together long, it seems that whatever they touched (Avengers, X-Men, Inhumans) turned to gold!

Sharon: In an earlier entry I mentioned Adams’ Ben Casey work and wished aloud that someone would package it—well, just TODAY I see my prayers have been answered! IDW Publishing has just announced a two-volume collection of the Adams Ben Casey strips, to be published in the summer of 2009. Ah, there is a God…

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