Let's Talk Comics

 
 
Let's Talk Comics
With Rob Lamberti
It's been a blockbuster movie season for Marvel Comics. Captain America, Spider-Man, and most recently X-Men, Days of Future Past.
 
The current X-Men film, the seventh in the mutant franchise since 2000, is based on a time-travelling plot that originally appeared in X-Men issues 141 and 142 in 1981.
 
Written by Chris Claremont and Canadian John Byrne, penciled by Byrne and inked by Terry Austin, the story bounced between 1980 and to the dystopian future of 2013 that is ruled by the giant robots known as Sentinels. Mutants are considered enemies of the U.S., if not humanity, and are numbered and kept in internment camps.
 
The comic story centres on Kitty Pride, the X-Men member who travels from 2013 to 1980 where she alerts the X-Men, including a younger Kitty Pride, about the future.
 
The story line in 1981 resonated with the readers of the era, because I remember it sparked discussions about how the plot reflected the unfortunate true-to-life prejudices and hatreds of minorities.
 
It was easier for the writers to bring to life these social issues because unlike other super-characters who gained powers because they were an alien (Superman), through some sort of natural phenomenon, an act of a god (Thor or the original Captain Marvel), a scientific experiment (Captain America or Doctor Octopus) or an industrial accident (Daredevil or Electro), X-Men and their evil counterparts were born that way.
 
Their powers and abilities were based on genetics and passed on by birth, just like the colour of one’s skin, a trait, or possibly a deformation caused by genetic mutation. Claremont described the X-Men in 1982 as a group that are hated, despised and feared only because they are mutants: “So what we have here, intended or not, is a book that is about racism, bigotry and prejudice."
 
Sociologists Kelley J. Hall and Betsy Lucal wrote in 1999 in the journal Teaching Sociology that “normal humans” fear mutants, but also try to control and eradicate them from earth.
 
“The anti-mutant sentiment in X-Men titles easily corresponds to institutional and everyday racism, (hetro)sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism… X-Men titles also demonstrate the politics of separatism and assimilation as various mutant leaders try to find solutions to the hatred and ignorance of ‘normal’ human beings.”
 
They also said the X-Men stories also show how mutant haters use institutions, legislation and violence to eradicate mutants.
 
The overarching story line is deeper and headier stuff than the routine Good versus Evil plot lines of the traditional comic book. Escapism met reality.
 
The X-Men, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, first appeared in 1963 and was part of the explosion of characters from Marvel that helped usher in the Silver Age of comics. Unlike most other characters, the group was made up of outcast teens that attended Prof. Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters at a Westchester, N.Y., mansion.
 
But rather than being gifted in biology or math, Cyclops emitted potentially lethal rays from his eyes, Iceman was a frozen human, Marvel Girl had telekinetic powers, the Beast was ape-like in physicality and the Angel had wings. They were promoted on the cover as being the “Strangest Super-Heroes of All.”
 
Kirby and Lee are both Jewish and whether anti-Semitism was overtly on their minds when they developed the story line is unclear. Kirby - who also fought in Europe during the Second World War - may have just answered the call by then Marvel boss Martin Goodman to match DC’s Doom Patrol.
 
Nevertheless, the result was a format that allowed storytellers to explore the issues of hate, prejudice and conformity.
 
X-Men wasn't among the best sellers in the early days and despite the uniqueness of the concept and a last-ditch effort by enlisting great comic artists, including Neal Adams and Jim Steranko, the book went into reprints between issues 67 in 1970 and 93 in 1975.
 
It was in the Giant-Size line that a new X-Men line-up (a mix of original and new characters) was introduced by Claremont in May 1975. New material in the regular book resumed with issue 94 and by the mid-1980s, the X-Men became among the top sellers in the industry, leading to the too-many-to-mention spin-offs and cartoons and movies.
 
Expect the original series of X-Men comics to command a premium, in part because the newest movie received good reviews. It will heat up the back issue market. The first issue from 1963 ranges in prices from about $3,000 in Good to about $44,000 Near Mint, but two copies that were graded and sealed in a plastic sleeve as Near Mint by a third party each sold for $89,625 at auction in 2012. That same year, a Mint copy realized $492,397.50 at auction.
 
The Days of Future Past issues, Numbers 141 and 142, range from about $9 in Good to $125 in Near Mint. Giant-Size X-Men 1 ranges from $100 in Good to $1,400 in Near Mint. Those books and others from the original series are among the best Silver and Bronze Age comics to invest in higher grades.
 
Illustrations
1 - Giant-Size X-Men 1: This comic revitalized the comic book and is now considered one of the most important key books in Marvel's line up.
 
2 - X-Men 142: Despite what it says on the cover, not everyone dies.
 
3 - X-Men 1: The "Strangest Super-Heroes of All" appear for the first time in this issue. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the teenagers would set the foundation for one of Marvel's most successful and enduring story lines.
 
Next column: War comics

Let's Talk Comics with Rob Lamberti, who started collecting comics when the going price was 12 cents an issue and Peter Parker really was a teenager. He dabbled in the comic convention circuit in the Toronto area for a while, but stopped to concentrate on his career as a not-so-mild- mannered crime reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, where he hoped he managed to record a little bit of history the past three decades.
 
You can reach Rob at lamberti@cogeco.ca
 
 
 
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