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 MariNaomi, who chose number 66 for the roulette – so it’s time for the X-Men to stand up to that incredible Hulk!
We’re encouraged to think of the X-Men as a thematic comic series. Where mutants go, so prejudice follows, and that theme has led writers like Chris Claremont to spend long amounts of time considering the imbalances in society. The vagueness of the metaphor is the point, as it allows the primarily white/male writers to spin to whatever topic they wish to: the mutant metaphor can translate to race, queerness, disability, prejudice against those who look different, justified fear over superhumans with exceptional powers. It’s wide-ranging, which makes it easy for writers to flip to the particular theme they wish to. Their points could be sharp or worthless nonsense, but at least they’re consistently leaning on that central theme of “other-ness” which the X-Men embody so well.
…But not so Roy Thomas, whose writing in issue #66 of the original X-Men run defiantly says to the world “this series is not about anything”.
Ignoring even the basic and stilted approach of Lee and Kirby, it’s an issue which refuses to be deeper than the superhero comic which right wingers on Twitter think they remember. Issue #66 – his last issue of this run – begins as Professor Xavier has fallen into a psychic coma, leaving only one clue: the Hulk is the only person who knows how to save the Prof’s life. Xavier’s students dutifully race off after the Green Goliath, find out that Banner has a secret machine tucked away in a desert laboratory, and eventually retrieve it. Hulk, an unwilling participant in the whole thing, bounds away, whilst the X-Men use the device to save the Professor’s life.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this could be a great chance to look at how prejudice plays out differently for different people: the Hulk is hated just as mutants are, but the way that humans approach Hulk is much different to their feelings about the X-Men. Hulk is seen first and foremost as a weapon which belongs to the military, and as they confront him… the mutants don’t appear to disagree with that assessment.
After they initially defeat Hulk and he reverts into Banner, Major Talbot shows up to take Banner into military custody. Cyclops, strangely, seems perfectly willing with that – as long as the X-Men can ask the scientist a few questions first about his hidden laboratory. There’s no indication whatsoever that the X-Men, having experienced persecution at the hands of the US Government themselves, have any interest in considering Hulk to be a fellow victim of prejudice, or someone worth saving. They just want to get their answers and then leave him with Talbot. It seems like a lost opportunity for the X-Men to show any heroic spirit, or understanding that the Hulk’s existence shares so many similarities with their own. There’s just nothing there.
The X-Men start a second fight with Hulk later in the issue, again showing no interest in bargaining with him or trying to show him any empathy. Beast kicks him off a cliff, Hulk smashes through the entrance of the hidden lab, and Angel is able to fly in while Hulk is distracted and retrieve the device Xavier needs. As they fly away from the scene, Hulk shows relief that they’ve gone – but the end of the issue then offers no reflection back on the encounter from the mutants’ perspective. Xavier wakes up, nobody talks about Hulk or his plight, and the issue ends. I guess there were no lessons for us to take away from this one, folks!
It’s so strange to read X-Men comics which have no interest in going beneath an exceptionally thin surface, especially as the series is so rich and rewarding in the hands of other writers. Whilst Sal Buscema and the rest of the artistic job do a lovely job with the characters, it feels like Thomas has no particular affinity for them, and nothing he wants to say. I’d have to reach down with both arms and drag, kicking and screaming, the idea that this issue’s narrative was even about privilege – that the handsome, white, and catered-for original five X-Men simply do not understand the additional burdens which rest on the Hulk’s powerful shoulders. That marginalisation takes many different forms. It’s what the comic should surely be thinking about, but repeatedly we see that it’s simply not something that the comic has any time for.
And the thing is, I’m not being fussy or using modern-day standards against a comic from decades ago: this was Roy Thomas’s final issue of the X-Men, and surely that would seem to merit some kind of grand summary; some final word on the characters he’d been writing for two years. No: we have a fill-in issue as the final story in the run, a random fight with the Hulk, and a framing sequence which sees Charles Xavier fall asleep and then wake up. It’s a comic which denies any attempt to read more into its pages, find something rewarding or thematically dense.
Oh no a problem > fight scene > hurray the problem is solved. Let’s think about it no longer.
The next issue of X-Men… would be Chris Claremont’s first issue.
X-Men #66: Mutants And The Monster
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Sal Buscema
Embellisher: Sam Grainger
Letterer: Artie Simek
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
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