Welcome to the X-Roulette! Shelfdust’s Patreon backers are asked to pick a number at random – and now I’m going to write about whichever corresponding issue of “X-Men/Uncanny X-Men” they chose! This issue was picked by Patreon backer Michelangelo Cicerone, who chose number 2 for the roulette – so it’s time to go right back to the start and see what that “Vanisher” chap is up to. 

So they’ve had their first big battle, and now it’s time for the X-Men find out who their next target will be. Second issues are always difficult, so how do the creators expand the world of the X-Men as they move onwards? Well, the answer is to not do a whole lot different, really. It’s another throwaway single adventure, albeit one which does still have appeal even sixty-odd years later. In large part, that seems to be down to the formative creative partnership between Jack Kirby and Stan Lee at this point, before things got really strained.

The issue feels a lot more connected than the standard Lee/Kirby comic, which must mean that they weren’t quite at the “Marvel Method” by this point? As ever, I have done no research as to this, however when you read through the story it’s incredible that there are so many moments where Lee is actually on the same page as Kirby. That’s not common! Usually you can see one story within the art and another story overlaid on top, which may or may not contradict what’s actually on panel. Here, however, there are several moments where you can see something hyper-specific which could only be the result of actual collaboration. At one point Cyclops rescues Jean (who faints several times in this issue) from a test in the Danger Room, only for Iceman to create an ice-horse for the gallant “white knight” to ride off with Jean on. Kirby might have had the idea there for the horse-and-knight concept – Lee wouldn’t have thought of something like that by himself, you could assume – but the script actually notices the moments and pays it off specificially.

In issues to come, Kirby will draw something very specific which Lee glosses over, but right here at the start you can see how much of a difference it makes when Lee actually pays attention to his co-creator. Kirby’s artwork here is decent, but you can definitely see why he wanted the Danger Room to be so blank and empty – no backgrounds to draw! In the absence of needing that detail, Kirby’s free instead to focus on the physicality of his characters. Kirby revels in how different they are from one another, and from the first page it’s clear that they work in different ways, and yet as a team. It’s a clever move: Spider-Man is an everyman, but there’s an X-Man for everyone. As long as you’re white, anyway. The different body types give a greater degree of representation on the panel, and give more readers more chance to find someone they can connect to.

Lee’s scripting stands out once more in the issue, though – you probably won’t remember that I was pleasantly surprised by his style a while ago, so here’s a link to what I said back then – and it does so for weighting a hefty amount of humour into the script. Nobody thinks of the X-Men as being standout comedic gold, but there are some wonderful moments here which counterbalance the silliness of the storyline. At one point Cyclops blasts a hole in the ground, Beast knocks some villains into it, and then Iceman conjures up an ice-lattice to hold them in. Where else were you getting comics where the villains were made into a pie? It’s a gloriously stupid moment, which works because the characters have already shown us that they’re filled with stupid ideas they want to try out. Who knows whether the idea was thought up by Lee or by Kirby – but it’s funny, and likeable.

Lee’s on-the-nose approach also pays dividends with Vanisher, this issue’s incredibly-costumed villain. Vanisher has the ability to, well, vanish, as several characters (who already know his name) are amazed to find out. Their reaction to him is ridiculous, sure, but what feels surprisingly real is how blunt Vanisher is in the way he goes about his plans. He tells everybody absolutely everything he’s going to do, and how he’s going to do it, and doesn’t care less about having his plans spoiled in advance. Because HE CAN VANISH. He will tell you “I’m going to steal this briefcase” and watch you spend the next 24 hours trying to find a way to protect it. Then he’ll vanish into the room, pick up the briefcase, and vanish out. His powers are unstoppable, so why should he need to have any kind of subtlety?

At the end he’s disabled by Xavier, so the whole point of the issue is made moot, which sucks. It’s not about the X-Men improving, or training, or having a secret plan in place to stop the Vanisher – Prof just mindwipes him, and the X-Men round up the remaining minions, and that’s it. It’s a shame, because the rest of the issue has a lot of fun with its characters, but then swipes away their victory and hands it off to Xavier instead. It’s one thing to give Xavier no option but to get involved, but the issue simply seems to run out of page space and so it steps past the teenage characters we’re meant to be rooting for. It’s a lacklustre ending, and it drags the rest of the issue down.

It also lets Vanisher down, after he was such an entertaining and cartoonish villain for the rest of the issue. He has a short career as a criminal here, removed from the final fight before it even begins. After a great first fight scene where the X-Men are just about keeping up with him, it’s a shame that neither they nor he get something better to do at the end. It’s also… not commented on that Xavier has presumably permanently wiped the memory of a man, which seems like something that’d be morally dubious even right back in 1963? These are some seriously strange choices for the creative team to make – and, just as it’s fair to say that Kirby and Lee seem to be genuinely collaborating at this point, it also has to be fair to say that they’re jointly responsible for this flop of a finale.

At least Jean is conscious as the issue ends, though. That’s a victory for feminism!

 

X-Men #2: No One Can Stop The Vanisher!
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Inker: Paul Reinman
Letterer: Sam Rosen

 

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