Sunday, 5 June 2011

UXM #1: "The X-Men"

“The past is a foreign country”, goes the old Hartley quote.  “They do things differently there.”
So it would seem.  Mostly, they do things differently in terms of their promotion of chauvinism and tolerance of borderline sexual harassment.  Professor Xavier is supposed to be a teacher, entrusted by the guardians of his charges to mould these impressionable minds into the best shape possible.  I’m not sure how that’s served by announcing a new addition to the class with the words “I sense a taxi approaching the main gate.  Within... is a most attractive young lady!”  Even Cyclops, usually the paragon of respect, offers his first opinion of his future wife thus: “You’re right, sir! Wow! She’s a real living doll!”
What a charmer.
This behaviour continues throughout the issue, dismissed by the narrator (i.e. Stan Lee) as “bantering”, but which could probably be more fairly described as “actionable”.
I’m also not entirely sure how Cape Citadel operates.  It seems to be a nuclear missile base, but one that announces its test launches to the public, and which has at least one NASA employee on staff.  Maybe the military want a rocket man on hand as an advisor.  Or maybe NASA just wants its own missiles, in case the moon starts steppin’ to.
Despite all that, there is some impressive work in establishing the character ground rules: Cyclops as the uptight swot, Angel as an arrogant show-off, and Iceman as the class clown.  Only Beast doesn’t really make much of an impression (well, and Marvel Girl, but then that never really changes in any case).  I’ve also got to hand style points to Magneto.  Not only does he deliver messages in sky writing using ionised particles, but he takes the time to ensure his signature is in cursive script.  Now that’s a dedication to detail sorely lacking in most super villains.
This story takes place over two days.
Iceman is identified as both sixteen years old, and the youngest member of the pre-Marvel Girl team.
Xavier notes that he was born to parents who “had worked on the first a-bomb project”.  Only ten pages into the first issue, and we already have our first thorny issue.  The Manhattan Project occurred during the 1940s, which would put Xavier at most in his early twenties at this point (I know I said we would ignore specific historical references, but this is the first freaking issue, for crying out loud).  That doesn’t really feel right, given how he’s portrayed, even granting that, for example, I was given my first class of A-level students at twenty-three.
There are a number of possible ways out of this, actually:
·         Xavier has been prematurely aged by his mutant power;
·         The first experiments with nuclear weapons occurred earlier in the Marvel universe;
·         Xavier is deliberately making shit up to test his student’s knowledge of basic history;
·         This comic is set, from Stan Lee’s perspective at time of writing, in the future.
The first of these is only a surface patch, which doesn’t really explain Xavier’s attitude and breadth of experience.  The second is a distinct possibility, but Marvel generally likes to leave major historical events more or less in place; moving Alamogordo into the mid ‘30s seems like a bit of a stretch (and would raise all sorts of questions about the way the war went, and why Berlin never got a face full of mushroom clouds).
I quite like the third explanation.  It’s short, simple, and pretty funny (I wish I’d tried something similar when I was teaching in the mid ‘00s: “I was born of parents who had worked on the demolition teams for the Berlin Wall”).  Even so, though, I’m going to go for door #4, if only because it will help with the significant time dilation effects we’re going to have to deal with long-term.
I am therefore declaring that this issue took place on:
 Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd of September, 1978.
 X to X+1.
Contemporary Events
Negotiations continue between Chile and Argentina over the Beagle Channel.
Stand-Out Line
 “Just as the hunter missiles are attracted by heat, so are the Iceman’s ice grenades attracted by the missiles’ speed...”  I know that neither the superhero genre nor the works of Stan Lee are sensible places to seek out scientific accuracy, but this line sticks out as particularly ridiculous.  The X-Men and the laws of physics will never be closely acquainted, but it’s going to be tough to top this one.

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