Retrospective: The X-Men #4 (March 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.

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Issue 3 was a marked improvement in the X-Men comic, presenting the issues new villain (The Blob) with more of a personal story and character rather than ‘ready-made villain arrives to do mischief’ which both Magneto (Issue 1) and The Vanisher (Issue 2) felt like.

Hopefully Issue 3 was the start of things to come and it’s with that in mind that I move to X-Men #4. X-Men #4 sees the return of Magneto and introduces us to The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants – and four new characters : Toad, Mastermind, Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch.

I’m not quite sure what’s up with The Scarlet Witch on the cover as her costume is green (it’s her usual red/scarlet inside). Anyway, let’s see if my 12c of 1964 money will be wisely spent…

We kick off the issue with the X-Men back in the Danger Room in the middle of a training session. Beast is getting a good workout but gets over confident and falls foul of a strip of paper that he mistook for a rope… “Think twice before trusting a sudden means of escape!” warns Professor X. Next up is the forever confident and cocky Iceman – who manages to complete what he thinks is the exercise until its end, only to put his guard down and gets blasted with steam, melting his icy protective coating and leaving him brooding “Looks like I really blew it that time.”

The Professor then surprises the team with a birthday cake, as the X-Men took their first class one year previously. The team dig in to the cake, with Cyclops using his energy beam to cut the cake.

The X-Men are not the only ones enjoying a meal as we discover when we cut to four characters we’ve not seen before – Toad, Quicksilver,The Scarlet Witch and Mastermind. The four, gathered around the table, are feasting and bickering. Quicksilver complains about Toads chomping, to which Mastermind changes Toads head in to that of a pig. Scarlet Witch gets up to walk away in disgust, “I’ve had enough! I find your illusions as repulsive as the Toad’s table manners!” she shoots at him to which he replies “Hah! You are spunky, my little Witch! I like that in a female! Someday I may even decide that you would be a worthy mate for Mastermind!”

As you can imagine this doesn’t go down well, with Wanda (Scarlet Witch) spilling a jug of water over Masterminds lap, Mastermind threatening to “create an illusion so realistic that it will drive you to the point of raving madness!” only for Quicksilver (Pietro, Wanda’s brother) to intervene by punching him. Toad joins on the sidelines, urging all three to destroy each other so he can be the only one at the Leaders side. This mention of The Leader brings Mastermind and the siblings back to earth, and they stop fighting. But who is this mysterious leader….?

…well, that is revealed in the next few panels as we shift locations to the office of a large shipping company that has been receiving bids for a decommissioned old convoy freighter. They’re out of luck though, as Magneto appears and informs them that the ship is now his – no need to go through the bids. He then goes to the ship and sails off. The ship is spotted, moving fast, by The Angel who is on a routine long-range test flight. Angel thinks the ship is manoeuvring out to a firing range to be used as a target ship, so leaves the area quickly, whilst on board Magneto thinks a seagull may have just passed overhead.

Back at Xavier’s Mansion Angel reports in and mentions the ship whilst being debriefed and medically checked over. Meanwhile the ship arrives at the uncharted island HQ of The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants somewhere in the Atlantic.  Toad greets Magneto and informs him that Mastermind and the others had been fighting. Magneto puts Mastermind in his place and goes to speak to Wanda and Pietro. Quicksilver informs him that the siblings are leaving, to which Magneto reminds Wanda that she owes him as we’re presented with a flashback scene of Wanda being hounded by people from her village in Central Europe , complete with pitchforks. Magneto saved her from the mob, and she now feels she owes him her life. Her brother, Pietro, doesn’t agree with what Magneto is doing but is staying and going along with things to look after his sister. Thus showing that not all of the ‘Evil Mutants’ are inherently evil.

Days pass, and we catch up with The Professor reading a paper with the headline “Tiny Republic of Santo Marco Shelled By Mystery Naval Craft!”. He realises what’s going on, and that evil mutants are behind it… calling the team away from their downtime to suit up. We see Hank (The Beast) once again doing math, Jean (Marvel Girl) doing exercises, Warren (The Angel) listening to music and Bobby (Iceman) once again eating ice cream… (no giraffes to interrupt this time though). No idea what Cyclops was doing, perhaps the writer and artist felt he was best left alone on this occasion…?

As the team gather we find Professor X mentally engaged with Magneto on the astral plane. The two chat, with Magneto unable to understand why Xavier and his X-Men oppose mutants taking over and making humans their slaves.

Santa Marco, the tiny South American Republic, falls to the Brotherhood… with Mastermind using illusions of hundreds of soldiers marching through the streets to subdue the local military and population. Scarlet Witch asks if it’s necessary to plant so much fear into the people to which Magneto responds “Of course! Humans are like sheep! They respond to certain stimuli… and fear is one of the most potent!”

The X-Men arrive by car, posing as students on a goodwill visit from America. The border guards let them in (“We have orders to admit such visitors! The Leader feels they can be fooled into thinking he is a kind and beloved ruler!” but Magneto senses their presence (“I feel them in my brain!!”) and sends his underlings to intercept. The Beast is the first to come in to contact with the Brotherhood as he scales the walls of the Presidential compound only to be met with Toads feet – knocking him off. As he grips the side of the brickwork, avoiding rocks that Toad hurls at him, Mastermind creates an illusion of a wall of smooth glass, which results in Beast losing grip and tumbling down.

The Angel is doing far better, taking out a variety of guards until he is forced to use all his agility to avoid a moving blur that comes out of nowhere trying to attack him. He manages to lead Quicksilver into a wall, which knocks Pietro out as he hits it with speed, only for The Scarlet Witch to come to her brothers aid and quickly subdues the Angel. Magneto joins them, congratulating them on capturing an X-Man (“you got the one with wings”) but they’re interrupted by Cyclops who blasts through a wall. Quicksilver grapples him, but Cyclops energy beam is still active and shoots through the ceiling and explodes an ultra-powerful electric generator, causing it to send electricity throughout the castle, and everyone running. Cyclops uses all his power to shoot the generator out of the castle’s walls, narrowly missing Iceman. The team gathers but are all surrounded by fire, trapped, only for Professor X to show up and dispel Mastermind’s latest illusion.

Meanwhile Magneto has had enough. He’s booby trapping a bomb and also setting up a nuclear device to take out the city – and the X-Men – if his booby trap fails. Quicksilver is aghast, “But what about all the innocent people that will be killed?”, but Magneto is not bothered about simple homo-sapiens.

The X-Men rush up to try and diffuse the weapons. The Professor sensing a trap and flinging himself forward to protect his students, taking the brunt of the explosion. The Brotherhood make their escape, with Wanda not believing Magneto would be willing to harm all the innocent civilians. Quicksilver seems to have less certainly of Magneto’s humanitarian side though and stays behind “no matter what the consequences” and disarms the nuclear device before making his own escape. Quicksilver’s heroics are witnessed by Cyclops “Quicksilver just destroyed the fuse! He saved us!” but the teams attention is on the fallen Professor X. The explosion has deadened his mutant powers, the X-Men will be on their own… possibly forever if his powers don’t return…

It’s good to see some actual story progression after the first few issues of character introduction. This issue is obviously the first multi-issue story arc and leaves on the cliffhanger of Xavier losing his powers and the Brotherhood still out there. Not only does it introduce new characters, but it also for the first time indicates differing opinions within the Brotherhood with both Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver obviously not being comfortable with their Leaders plans. All-in-all this was another solid step forward for the comic.

This issue “The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants!” was written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby.

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