X-Roulette: Uncanny X-Men #9

In which Stan Lee and Jack Kirby pitch the X-Men against the Avengers in a five-on-five battle, whilst Professor X takes on a villain called Lucifer – the man who injured him and left him a wheelchair user. Cyclops also beats up an iceberg, in the standout moment of the issue.

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Can you imagine an issue of Uncanny X-Men which is drawn by Jack Kirby, written by Stan Lee, guest-stars The Avengers AND brings in the secret arch-nemesis of Professor Xavier all in one place? Sounds pretty amazing, an iconic moment in comics history – and yet issue #9 of the series is one of the most boring comics I can remember reading in years. What happened? It’s a matter of stakes.

Whenever two groups of heroes fight each other, there’s always a sense that the stakes are low, which is perhaps part of the reason why recent superhero comics have lost the interest of readers. When heroes fight heroes, there’s typically only ever one result: stalemate. If heroes fight villains, anything could happen. They could lose, most excitingly, as they’re fighting people with no regard for morality or life. They could win at a cost, they could win easily and show off in the process. There are more options open, and the characters are at a greater peril than otherwise. No publisher, especially at the time of Uncanny X-Men #9’s publication, are going to be willing to have Captain America murder one of the X-Men in cold blood.

That bloodlessness (the issue was approved by the comics code authority, unsurprisingly) results in an issue which knows it cannot pay off the big exciting clash that the cover promises. In fact, the Avengers barely seem aware of where they are at any time, taking an overextended length of time to even confront the X-Men halfway through the story. That time is spent, for some reason, showing them trying and failing to convince a civilian to leave the area – for his own safety. If the Avengers aren’t even able to get a man in a highly-recommended jacket and hat combo to leave them alone, it’s hardly a great victory if the X-Men are later able to stop them!

Not that they will, of course. This issue was always going to end in a stalemate, with both teams realising they have more to gain from working together than in fighting each other. So instead we have what primarily amounts to filler, with lacklustre fighting between the two sides which fails to ever ignite into something exciting, even with Jack Kirby pencilling the battle. The team have so much they could work with, but Lee offers a surprisingly bland script for Kirby’s slow and soporific pages. Even with this being a very early meeting between the two teams, who aren’t yet aware of what the other side can do, we don’t get much in the way of invention.

Angel tries to pick up Thor’s hammer, for example, but finds himself unable. Cyclops scores a hit by deflecting his beam off Thor’s armour and straight to Iron Man’s weak spot. Wasp, um, pulls Jean’s hair over her eyes so she can’t see. Well… every tactic has its place, and in fairness it does actually seem to work. That aspect of their fight isn’t really played up very much here though, with the comic completely unsure what to do with its page count.

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Throughout the issue we inexplicably keep cutting away from the scene readers are most excited to see – the X-Men fighting the Avengers – and off to more boring areas. Specifically, a fight between Professor Xavier and a man called “Lucifer”, who is meant to be both his arch-nemesis and the man who first paralysed Xavier. If the battle between the superheroes was always going to be a noble draw, then this should have been the unpredictable and dangerous threat for the issue. Lucifer is meant to be a scary and sincere threat, but comes with a weak design and even weaker motivations. It’s hard to know what he wants, because his past with Xavier is left off the page and all implied.

Without knowing a real reason why the two are fighting, we’re also given an amazingly lazy anticlimax. Lucifer has set up a nuclear missile to go off if his pulse stops – figuring this will mean Xavier can’t kill him – but Xavier simply puts him to sleep telepathically and heads up the missile to defuse it shortly afterwards. We’re given two fights here, one of which is explicitly described as a stalling tactic for the X-Men, and neither of them head anywhere. In truly shoddy fashion, Xavier even lets Lucifer walk off after his foe has been defeated.

Figure that: this is the man who robbed Xavier the use of his legs, and Xavier’s big battle against him ends with letting the man walk off, unbothered as to what he might do in future. There’s no stakes to their future battles, because Lucifer has been completely demolished as a credible threat to the team. He started off by capturing Xavier and revealing that he had a nuclear missile in his clutches…. and ends by sadly walking away like Charlie Brown. It’s a humiliation.

In the face of more credible and motivated threats to the team like Magneto (who gets referenced here), Lucifer comes off especially as a cipher. We don’t understand his goals or ambitions. What did he want to do with Xavier, really? Did he have a plan, or was he always expecting to be defeated? We don’t know how Xavier ended up in a wheelchair, and the issue doesn’t seem to care one way or the other. Both these fights are a side-show, but without there being an actual main event afterwards!

You can have guest stars. You can have one of the most famous comics creative teams of all time. But if you don’t have anything but apathy to pour into the storyline, even the most promising of stories is going to fall into a bored stupor. That’s what happens here. When the Avengers and X-Men stop fighting, the Avengers simply wander off somewhere. When Lucifer is defeated, he just walks away. Nothing matters, so there’s no reason for the reader to care. I’m pretty sure the issue has subsequently been retconned out of existence, and that’s probably the best place for it.

Uncanny X-Men #9 “Enter The Avengers”
Written by Stan Lee
Pencilled by Jack Kirby
Inked by Chic Stone
Lettered by S. Rosen

Number #9 was chosen at random by Kelly Thompson.

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