Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Happy 45th Anniversary, X-Men!

45 years ago today, X-Men #1 was published with a cover date of September 1963 (comic book cover dates have traditionally been postdated 2-3 months).

In that very first issue, creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby set the stage for decades of stories by introducing the characters of Professor Xavier and his original team of mutant superheroes--Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, and Marvel Girl--and their arch-nemesis Magneto. The story was plotted by Lee and Kirby, scripted by Lee, and penciled by Kirby (with inking by Paul Reinman and lettering by Sam Rosen).

Their concept of superheroes feared and hated for being different elevated the X-Men from simple crimefighters to a powerful metaphor that later writers used to address racism, homophobia, and intolerance in our own world. This trait immediately set the X-Men apart from other superhero teams.

Lee and Kirby's creation has become one of the most popular and enduring teams of superheroes in comics, spinning off into many other comic book titles, animated television shows, and three highly successful Hollywood films that raised the profile of the characters even higher. Individual team members such as Wolverine have become arguably even more popular than the team itself.

Although Lee and Kirby only lasted three years on the series, they paved the way for creators like Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, Len Wein, Dave Cockrum, Chris Claremont, and John Byrne to carry it into the 1970s and the 1980s, despite the first half of the 1970s seeing it publishing only reprints of earlier material, and those creators paved the way for the continued success of the book and its spinoffs right up to the present, where creators like superstar writers Joss Whedon and Warren Ellis have put their own stamps on the characters.

The Claremont/Byrne creative team had a legendary run from 1978 to 1981 that produced one of the most famous and influential storylines in comics, "The Dark Phoenix Saga." A recent poll by Comics Should Be Good! ranked the Claremont/Byrne run as the second best in the history of comics behind only Neil Gaiman's run on Sandman. Five other X-Men runs by different creators were ranked in the Top 100. The legacy of the X-Men in comics history is assured.

I was first introduced to the X-Men in January 1980 when X-Men #135 went on sale. This was right in the middle of "The Dark Phoenix Saga," and immediately established for me what good comics storytelling was all about. I'd been reading comics for a little over a year, but X-Men #135 was when my love affair with the medium began.

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