Let’s Talk About The Greatness of Giant-Sized X-Men #1

It is hard to believe there was a time where the X-Men were considered a lost cause. Sure, the late 2010’s was a rough time for the X-Men with them taking the backseat in Marvel’s grand plan due to Disney’s corporate politics with Fox before the buyout. They were still printing new X-Men stories though. From 1970-1975 there were no new X-Men stories. Uncanny X-Men became a reprint title. For twenty-six issues, Uncanny was just a reprint.

Then in May of 1975 Marvel publishes Giant-Sized X-men #1 and changes the entire game. Well not right away but it set in motion one of the greatest runs by a writer in comics history—Chris Claremont. The funny thing is that Chris Claremont didn’t even write the story that we see in Giant-Sized. What Giant-Sized does is bridge the gap between the last original X-men from the Roy Thomas era to the upcoming “All-New, All-Different” Claremont Era. The way it bridges that gap is done quiet well.

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Giant-Sized X-men #1

“Second Genesis”

Writer- Len Wein
Pencils/Inks- Dave Cockrum
Colors-Glynis Oliver (Wein)
Letters- John Costanza

Second Genesis is an apt name for the story as it represents a new generation of X-Men characters emerging on the scene. The story revolves around the recruitment of several new team members to the X-Men by Charles Xavier to rescue the original X-Men from the clutches of Krakoa, the Island that walks like a man. Giant-Sized is very much about rebirth of a brand. The story opening with the recruitment of the various new X-Men was a wise choice by Wein. It really sells the audience on this new crew of mutants. The new team of recruits includes Nightcrawler, Storm, Banshee, Sunfire, Colossus, Thunderbird, and Wolverine. Each team member gets a small vignette showing their recruitment to the cause. Some are familiar faces to old X-Men readers and/or Marvel fans as a whole with Banshee, Sunfire, and Wolverine all registering previous appearances. The rest of the team are given some hints of backstory in each of their recruitments.

 Nightcrawler’s scene is the most striking of the bunch and leads off the story. It shows Kurt Wagner running from an angry mob in Germany. We see firsthand the type of mutant persecution to expect in this era. A lot of anger and vitriol at someone being different. There isn’t any real humanizing to the mob either. They are shown for the awful bigots they truly are inside and out. It even has Kurt questioning if he would even want to be accepted by these people.

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Other scenes set up future plotlines such as Wolverine’s departure from Department H and what will be known as Alpha Flight, Colossus family, and Banshee’s love for country western music. Joking on that last one. Still, would be interested in seeing that explored. Bring back Claremont for X-men: Legends and do a story on Banshee’s time at the Grand Ol’ Opry!

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Setting up the new team right away in the book does work wonders for the line-up. The original X-men had their fans, that’s for sure, but there is a reason why there weren’t X-men stories for 5 years. Quickly pushing the new cast upfront sells the audience on the new team, or at least in hindsight. I do not have access to the letter columns and such from this time frame. For all I know, it was deeply unpopular with X-fans of the time, but history shows otherwise.

Now, they don’t completely ignore the original X-men. We learn of their true fate. The newest X-men were recruited to help rescue the original X-men. To aid the new team on their journey is Cyclops, who managed to escape Krakoa after the original team’s mission fails.

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It is here we first get to see the team’s X-men outfits (the returning characters notwithstanding). They are vibrant and wonderful. Cockrum’s designs for the X-men have a Legion of Super Heroes feel, which is expected as many of them were rejected Legion pitches. They give the X-men a slick and modern update. Compared to the current costumes of the original X-men (Cyclops and Marvel Girl being the only notable one) the Cockrum designs just pop.

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Cockrum’ designs for the X-Men would become their iconic look. Colossus and Nightcrawler hardly ever deviate far from their original designs. Storm has changed costumes over the years, but the Cockrum design is one of her best. Cockrum is the first to draw interior art of Wolverine’s cowl changed from his original Hulk design. The story is that he drew it to model, but Gil Kane messed it up on the finished cover. This allegedly caused Dave to go back and ink the ears to be much larger.

Back to the story, it is shown that this the team doesn’t get along much at all. As the team quickly departs to Krakoa to save the X-men, Sunfire tries to quite the team and the team bickers all the way there with Sunfire, Thunderbird, and Wolverine being the instigators of the bunch. Chemistry in this isn’t perfect. It is a lot of rather gruff characters feeling each other out and it isn’t sustainable. It is no shock that within the next three issues the team drops Sunfire and Thunderbird.

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Last week, Starfire quit the team. Now, we are back together.

Heck, Sunfire quits the team twice in the span of two issues. The bickering provides some strife for the team and banter. However, you can see why changes were made later. You cannot have that many jerks on a team. There are some interesting pairings and chemistry that begins to develop. Storm and Colossus and Wolverine and Banshee begin to develop a decent rapport which will be carried over for years.

Once the team arrives to the island, the team tries to find the original X-Men. After splitting up only to reconvene at the mysterious and sudden appearing temple, the X-Men find the original team. It is revealed Scott was allowed to set the trap and that the X-Men are all doomed.

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X-men never say die (except when they do) and stand up to fight Krakoa. With the team fighting all out with the original X-men, they managed to reach a weird comic book physics power move and managed to lift the entire island of Krakoa back into space. Don’t worry, it comes back with the forgotten other secret team of X-men after Decimation. Deadly Genesis is a weird anniversary comic.

Either way the X-men save the team but now they have a problem. What are they going to do with all these X-men?! That is a story for another time in Uncanny X-men #94, but that’s not this article.

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Giant-Sized X-Men #1 reinvented a concept that failed and made it something more. Wein takes the idea of mutant being an international concept and runs with it. Gone are the Marvel whitebread team and instead we get a diverse team of mutants. The multiple nationalities are by design. With an X-man from nearly all continents represented it has a global feel. Though why wasn’t South America represented. Sure, we get three European members, but no South American? I get that Banshee, Colossus, and Nightcrawler represent different sides of Europe, but still. Either way, the increased diversity does bring out some problematic characterization with a couple characters, it is far more progressive than the X-men up to that point. It is one of the first Marvel teams that feels like it represents the world, albeit not perfectly.

Just to hammer home a point about the art here, I found Dave Cockrum art on this issue to be wonderful. The characters all look striking and the staging of the panels are dynamic. The image of Scott, powerless, returning to Xavier sticks in my mind. They are visually stimulating and sublime to look at. The line work is complemented by the colors.  Glynis Oliver (credited as Wein) did a superb job on the colors. All of them pop and look amazing. I originally read this story in a black and white, Essential Collection (you remember the phonebook size budget reprint collections) and getting to read it now in proper color just makes the pages pop even more.

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Just wanted to highlight layout of this page. IT SLAPS.

In one issue a team was reborn from the ashes of a failure to what will become a publishing and marketing giant. Without Giant-Sized X-Men #1 it is likely not many of us would know about the X-Men. They would be relegated to the levels of Challengers of the Unknown or Doom Patrol. Teams that have die hard fans but just never could establish a seriously deep run. Without Giant-sized, we likely wouldn’t have the All-New Teen Titans either as the resulting X-Men run inspired DC to revamp their own teen series. This issue is an all time great and one I always think fondly of. It doesn’t necessarily push boundaries in terms writing or art, but it pushes it in terms of team construction and dynamics. It would be a story that X-Men revisit time and time again. Heck, Krakoa is now back and provides the mutants their own nation-state. It is a wonderful ride and one I recommend checking out if you haven’t already.

For more information about the Cockrum designs I recommend checking out this article. https://uncannyxmen.net/miscellaneous/how-to-create-a-legend-dave-cockrums-designs-for-the-x-men

Jordan Jennings

Jordan has written for wide array of comic review sites over the years including Comicosity, Comicon, and Comic Book Revolution. He has been reviewing and discussing comics for over 10 years. In addition to comics, Jordan enjoys various types of games be it video games or trading card games.

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