Retrospective: The X-Men #2 (November 1963)

Back in 1984 I’d just moved to America, had been introduced to Dungeons & Dragons, started listening to a lot more music, and picked up my first Marvel Comic. That first comic, an issue of Secret Wars, introduced me to a universe of characters who I quickly fell in love with. One team stood out for me above the others –The X-Men.

Now, almost 40 years later, I’m heading back to where it all began for our team of Mutant misfits. My plan with this column is to relook at each issue, starting with the September 1963 release of the first issue of The X-Men, and journey with them through their adventures, losses, personnel changes, good times and bad, throughout the years as they changed from The X-Men to The Uncanny X-Men on a run that would last 544 issues – and spawned dozens of spin-offs and introduced some of most iconic heroes and villains in comics, and wider media, today.

Last week we looked at The X-Men #1 that debuted in September 1963. This week we head in to The X-Men #2 which, being bi-monthly at its start, was released in November 1963. This issue introduces us to a new villain. One who has the power to be anywhere they wish to be. As well as the first glimpse of The Danger Room.

Issue #2 kicks off with our team of five teenagers (The Angel, The Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Marvel Girl) rushing back from, presumably, New Haven to Westchester due to a summons by their mentor Professor X. It’s not explained what the team was up to in New Haven but, as they are all in costume, it was obviously something more than downtime socialising and chilling out. Anyway, the team are certainly in a hurry to get back – I guess all of the admonition Professor X gave them about time keeping in the first issue has had an effect!

The Beast decides to hitch a lift from a passing train (“I’ve even got a train ticket… if the conductor doesn’t mind climbing to the roof of the car to punch it!”) which is the New Haven Commuter Special to Westchester (which is why I presume they’re in New Haven). The rest of the team aren’t so lucky.

The Angel tires and needs to land for a moment to rest his “over-taxed wings”. This has the unfortunate side effect of him being mobbed by a crowd of adorning women (“Look it’s The Angel!”, “Hold him! I want his autograph!”, “Autograph, nothing! I want a kiss! mmm mmm!”). Thankfully Marvel Girl is also on hand and uses her telekinesis to lift Angels Fan Club away from him, depositing them on top of a movie theatre showing “A Teen-Ager’s Tears”. “There!! If you’re looking for romance, try a movie!” she tells them. Angel thanks her, but jokes that he was beginning to enjoy it. The exertion of moving the girls leaves Marvel Girl worn out with Angel picking her up to fly her back so she can rest, reminding her that “The Prof warned you not to move anything that weighs more than you can physically carry!”.

Meanwhile Cyclops and Iceman are still on foot (and what is it with Iceman’s boots? I guess they needed to give him ‘something’ to wear so decided on boots at this point… He’s still way too much like a snowman for me at this point…). The pair spot a wall about to fall and crush a team of workmen, so Cyclops uses his power to shattered the falling bricks so they don’t hurt the guys below. The workmen surrounding them thanking them, although the mood changes a little as a couple of the guys start complaining that Iceman has ruined their gloves after they shoot his hand… and the gloves froze…. or turned into ice cubes… Cyclops and Iceman dart off and get a lift to Professor Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngster’s in an old ice cream van, with Iceman having to cough up some cash (where does he keep his wallet in snow mode?) for the three chocolate chip pops he ate whilst riding in the freezer compartment. Now it does strike me that for a team of mutants trying to keep their headquarters hidden and off the radar that hitching a ride to the front gate of your school for gifted youngsters might have some flaws in it… but luckily for all involved the driver doesn’t really seem to notice or care beyond getting Iceman to pay up for his travel snacks.

Now the team has assembled back at the school, with Professor X accepting Cyclops and Iceman’s apologies for being late, the Prof projects a series of mental images on a wall for the team to see… which if Prof X ever became penniless at least he could get some work as a movie projector…

Anyway, it transpires that Prof X detected a hostile presence earlier in the day that he’d kept tabs on. A possible evil mutant calling himself The Vanisher. The team watch the projection, now with mentally projected dialogue, as The Vanisher asks a couple of policemen for directions to a bank he wishes to rob. As there is no law for having intentions, the policemen walk with The Vanisher – who they are bemused at due to his costume – so they can be on hand to arrest him should those stated intentions turn into illegal action. The bank hand over the money, content in the knowledge that he’ll instantly be arrested but… he vanishes with it instead leaving the bank manager and police startled.

Iceman, being the eager sixteen year old he is, launches a barrage of “machine gun ice pellets” in a display to prove that he’s up for taking down The Vanisher when he sees him. This prompts Professor X to instruct Marvel Girl to show him how she’d defend herself against such an attack. This leads into Professor X to tell the team they’ll need a specialized form of training to help combat against The Vanisher which leads to the first ever appearance of The Danger Room! Although at this point it’s a vastly different room to the one I was introduced to 20+ years later when I started reading the comics.

The Danger Room in 1963 is “a huge unfurnished chamber which houses countless hidden perils!” Missiles, Mechanical hands punching up from the floor, hidden trap doors, and so forth.

The Angel is up first, trying to fly fast enough to catch a missile. But it’s too fast for him and he tires (“Exhausted! Too great a strain…! Can’t stay aloft! Must rest…”) which mirrors his lack to stamina earlier in the issue when he ended up being mobbed by his adoring fans. Prof X checks his heart and blood pressure – both fine – and says they have to build up Angels resistance.

Next up is The Beast, who navigates a range of traps but becomes over confident and falls foul of one of them, although he managed to escape using his strength which Professor X is pleased about “Your muscular tensile strength is increasing at a most satisfactory rate!” – although he does say that whilst lighting a pipe.

Meanwhile, a few hundred miles away, The Vanisher appears at The Pentagon and informs a couple of high ranking Generals, who had locked themselves in a secure conference room to go over top secret defense plans, that he’ll be back in a few days to take the plans. “He’s so sure of his powers that he didn’t bother taking the plans now! He prefers to let us worry about him for a few days first!” decries one of the Generals.

Due to the press coverage The Vanisher is receiving he’s besieged by “every denizen of the underworld who isn’t in prison” wanting to join and support him. Although I’m not entirely sure what the guy in the corner is doing bringing him a fruit platter? Anyway, The Vanisher decides it’s “only fitting that Homo Superior should be served by the inferior Homo Sapiens” and allows them to join as his lackeys.

We now discover that Professor X has contacts within the FBI, and one of the agents, Agent Duncan, has a scalp device that the Professor gave him that allows communication at pre-arranged times. Agent Duncan informs the Professor that The Vanisher intends to steal the governments continental defense plans which results in the team boarding a McDonnell XV-1 Convertiplane lent to them by the Department of Special Affairs and flying to Washington, D.C.

The Vanisher steals the plans from the heavily guarded Pentagon but is then confronted on the building steps by the X-Men. The team, overly confident in their abilities, tackle The Vanisher and are pretty much handed their arses back to them on a plate, prompting Iceman to claim “He took everything we could dish out.. and he beat us but good!”. This results in Cyclops telling the others “Maybe this’ll teach us not to think we’re so unbeatable!” and Marvel Girl adding “Professor X was right… we still need more training!”.

The papers carry the first bit of negative press that The X-Men have experienced, with some of the population being to moan about the team. The Vanisher then demands “ten million dollars, tax-free, from the government” as his price to not give the documents over to the Soviet Union.

Now, along with the ice cream van dropping Iceman and Cyclops off outside their HQ earlier in the issue, this bit also annoyed me a little. Has blackmail ever not been “tax-free”? Do blackmailers report their ill-gotten gains to the taxman on a regular enough basis that The Vanisher felt the need to ask for it tax-free? Has there ever been an instance where a blackmailer has asked for $10 million but was actually given $6.6 million (using todays US tax rate of 34% on $10,000,000)? Enquiring minds want to know… or atleast mine does now…

Anyway, Iceman and Angel get into another argument and fight. It does seem that Iceman ends up getting cocky and initiating things and then gets the rest of the team ganging up on him. But this is stopped by Professor X “Come to attention immediately, students! I’ve had enough of your childish antics!”, who then goes on to inform them, “I have left you to your own devices until now! Actually, you have not done badly, considering your youth, and your lack of experience, for you were up against a most powerful foe! But the time has come for me to enter the picture… to show you that sometimes brute strength is not enough!”

Professor X and The White House agree on a plan, after looking at strobe projections of The Vanisher disappearing as photographed at a speed of 20,000 frames per second. So off the team goes again to Washington, D.C. to confront The Vanisher again, this time with a legion of goons with him.

Initially greeted by the teenage X-Men Vanisher tells them they have ten seconds to clear off. The teens stand to one side revealing the wheelchair bound figure of Professor X who tells The vanisher to surrender. The Vanisher laughs, “What?? You?!! A helpless human… alone and defenceless, dares to threaten one who has defeated the X-Men??” … although he soon realises something is wrong… “His eyes! His voice! What is it that fills my soul with dread?” and realises in terror that his powers have gone and he can not vanish and flee.

As The Vanisher is taken into custody the criminals that pledged their allegiance to him grow angry that they’ve lost their meal ticket and attack the X-Men, who make short work of the goons, rounding them up for the military and police to take care of.

Afterwards, the X-Men teens reflect on Professor X “imagine if they knew you were the leader of the X-Men, sir!!” Beast says, as Cyclops adds “and it was you who defeated The Vanisher in the only way possible… mentally!”

“Always remember my X-Men!…” the Professor says, “The greatest power on Earth is the magnificent power we all of us possess.. the power of the human brain!”

This issue “No One Can Stop The Vanisher!” was written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby.

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