Retrospective: The X-Men #3 (January 1964)

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.

—–

January 1964. A new year, and one in which sees The Beatles stormed America, Martin Luther King Jr received the Nobel Peace Prize whilst President Lyndon Johnson signed The Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. The situation in Vietnam deteriorates, Albert DeSalvo (The Boston Strangler) is captured after killing 13 women over a two year period, and China exploded their first atomic bomb, joining the US, USSR, Great Britain and France as a nuclear power.

Away from world defining events issue 3 of Marvel’s X-Men hit the newsstands in January 1994, and in doing so introduces us to another new mutant, and one Professor X would like to join his teenage group of heroes.

“Beware of The Blob!” opens with our five teenage heroes, and their mentor, having a training session in the gymnasium of Professor Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters. I guess they use the gym for lighter workouts compared to The Danger Room which was introduced last issue. Every issue so far has featured at least one training session, which helps introduce us to the groups developing powers and is also a handy guide for any new readers picking up the comic for the first time. It’s also within some of these sessions that we learn more about the various characteristics of each of our heroes. Bobby the joker, The Beast being a bookworm, and also, as Professor X points out this issue, Cyclops dour demeanour (“Scott, you are probably the most powerful of all my X-Men! Yet, you always seem to grim… so unsmiling!”). This is also the first time in the comics Cyclops is called Scott, as opposed to the name we were introduced him by back in issue #1, Slim.

Training is interrupted as Professor X senses the presence of another mutant and uses his mental powers to try and locate their location. Unable to get more than a general area he orders the team into their civilian clothes to send them out to find the new presence. Iceman and The Beast rush to get ready, as they believe the first one to report will be able to escort Jean, the groups only woman (although The Angel is hoping the new mutant is “…a female! One just like Marvel Girl! Mmmm boy!”). This casual sexism and voyeurism among the team can largely be put down to the era the comics were written in, combined by the group being teenage boys, but it does feel out of place when reading the comics today. Scott is the only one of the team who doesn’t engage in the rush to Jean’s side, although he broods “Of all the girls I’ve ever met she is the one I’d give my heart to… but I don’t dare! Not whilst I possess my dread power!”.

The team starts to arrive to report in, to find Jean and Professor X already their talking, with The Prof telling Jean to be careful as he doesn’t know what powers the new mutant possesses and that could be a danger. Jean reminds him that he has trained them all well and he shouldn’t worry… which leads to a bombshell revelation in Professor X’s thought bubble…

“Don’t worry! As though I could help worrying about the one I love! But I can never tell her! I have no right! Not while I’m the leader of the X-Men and confined to the wheelchair!”

Hang on a moment? Professor X is *also* in love with Jean? That’s something I never knew, and whilst it’s not been stated how old the Professor is at moment he’s certainly a lot older than the teenage Jean Grey, not to mention her mentor. Get a grip Professor! You’re coming across quite creepy right now!

Anyway, Jean decides to team up with Scott… and then is quickly swept away by Warren (The Angel) and into his sports car and speeds off leaving the others feeling put-out.

The team all make their way to the city in search of the new mutant. Thinking they found them a couple of times, only to realise that the person holding their hand out burning a paper on the ground is actually using a magnifying glass, the person levitating up the side of a building is actually standing on a glass shield that protects an advertising sign, and the person being a crackshot at a carnival by shooting a gun over his head and hitting the targets behind him actually has an accomplish hiding doing the aiming and shooting.

Scott’s search at the carnival is on the right track though, and he ends up at their “main attraction”, a man called The Blob who is super strong and resilient to damage. Scott approaches him in his trailer, after watching his performance. The Blob, smoking a cigar, comes across as disinterested, arrogant and when Scott asks if he’s heard of the X-Men replies “those jerky juveniles in the corny costumes??”. Scott’s getting no where, and is actually pretty much told to get lost, before Warren and Jean arrive. Blob’s attitude completely changes when he sees Jean “Well, well! Now you’re talking my language! I’ll go if me and this cute tomato can sit in the rumble seat!” Scott loses his temper at this slight and zaps The Blob… although The Blob is completely unharmed by this and still agrees to visit the X-Men.

Back at the mansion The Blob is put through a series of tests, which show the extent of his truly superhuman strength. “In plain English I’m pretty terrific, huh?” The Blob replies to The Professor saying he’s extraordinary.

The Professor invites The Blob to become the newest member of The X-Men, but Blob’s not interested… “Thanks for nothing baldy! I’m stronger than all of you put together! Who needs you? I’m not gonna let anyone boss The Blob around…”

This provokes The Professor into losing his temper, and exclaiming out loud, “This is unheard of! No one has ever refused us before! You cannot be permitted to leave now that you know our identities… it is out of the question! Stop him, my X-Men! I must drive this memory from his mind!”

Rather rash in many ways. Sure, The Blob is a jerk, but he’s not indicated that he’ll reveal the X-Men’s location or secret identities. Stating the need to wipe his mind has the predictable effect of making The Blob decide to get out of there with haste. A fight ensues, with the X-Men trying to tacking The Blob and stop him from harming the Professor and escaping. Whilst Jean manages to move the Professors wheelchair out of The Blobs path with her telekinesis the rest of the team aren’t able to prevent The Blob from making his escape.

“My first mistake! My first really serious mistake! I foolishly took it for granted he would join us… I had you bring him here! He learned where we are located, who we are! If he talks, the secret I have sworn to dedicate my like to will be a secret no more! He must not talk!!” The Professor tells his students… although he didn’t seem to have that reaction when Cyclops and Iceman hitchhiked back to the school in an ice cream truck, in full costume, last issue – and I think the driver would have found that trip weird enough to have mentioned it to his mates, but anyway, I digress…

Unsurprisingly The Blob is rattled and knows that he is in danger, “I know the identity of the X-Men! That means I’m dangerous to them! They’ll never rest till they’ve recaptured me!” and decides the best way to defend himself is to strike first… “But I’ll out-smart them! I’ll attack them first! I know where they are – it won’t be hard!”. To assist him in taking on the X-Men The Blob takes control of the carnival and orders them all to take up weapons and get ready to march! At this moment some of them spot The Angel in the sky, but he’s too high and agile to be hit. The Angel heads straight back to the mansion and informs the Professor who is working on a machine that will intensify his thought waves so he can drive out all memory of the minds of an entire crowd.

Angel is in the process of letting the team know to suit up and get ready (we further see proof of The Beasts intelligence here as he’s seen relaxing reading an Advanced Calculus book) when the mansion is attacked… the first sign of this being when a giraffe pops its neck through a window to steal Iceman’s sundae that he was eating when Angel arrived to tell him.

The carnival folk attack – acrobats, strongmen, elephants, apes, human cannonballs, some of them carrying guns or other weapons. Considering The Blob is the only mutant, the carnival folk do incredibly well against the five teenage mutants who’ve got powers and had training. Eventually all the X-Men are subdued, and The Blob and his lackeys march down the corridor to get rid of Professor X.

Professor X helps free his students, using his mind powers, and they quickly rush to his aid. Surprising The Blob and co, and managing to overcome them all, allowing The Professor to strike when their resistance is at their lowest.

The Professor wipes the carnival folk, and Blob’s, memories of recent events and they wake up confused “What’s goin’ on? What are we doing here?”, “I don’t know! But we’d better return to the carnival before we get sacked!”

The closing scenes see The Blob back on stage at the carnival going through the same old routine of the show, whilst the X-Men are gathered with a warning written over, “…the brain of a mutant is an unpredictable thing! Professor X knows that, some day in the future, The Blob’s memory may return… but, when it does… the X-Men will be ready!”

—-

This issue actually felt a lot more in its stride than the previous two. The story felt a lot more compact and gave more attention to the villains motives – although if you could call The Blob a villain at this point is a little debatable. He hadn’t planned anything villainous, and wasn’t a menace to anyone before the X-Men showed up trying to recruit him. The only reason he ended up attacking the X-Men was because they’d threatened to remove his memories and had attacked him. Now, given The Blob’s temperament and personality that we saw in the issue, he’s clearly not a very nice guy… but would he have actually become an adversary of the X-Men, or a villain, if they’d never interfered?

The X-Men certainly don’t come out of this issue smelling of flowers.

Out of the first three issues I’ve covered in the last few weeks this has been my favourite so far. Next week we head to Issue #4, and the introduction of some new foes along with the return of Magneto.

This issue “Beware of The Blob!” was written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby.

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