The X-Men #4, March 1964

“I am wiring two bombs! One will be placed at this door, to booby-trap it and destroy them when they enter! As for the other, that one will be a nuclear bomb, capable of blowing up this entire nation!”

Central Conflict: X-Men vs. the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants

Breakout Character: Quicksilver

Up to this point, each issue of The X-Men has been a “monster of the week” style-dust up with a solo villain—Magneto, the Vanisher, the Blob—but now, Magneto is back and he’s leading a coterie of evil mutants calling themselves the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (what else would they call themselves?, I suppose).

Because the X-Men never do anything besides train and banter with one another, the issue begins in, where else, the Danger Room. After a typically sadistic session (“That’s a red hot cauldron below you! Protect yourself!”), the narrative shifts elsewhere to a similar team of five mutants. But these, wait for it, are evil! How do we know they’re evil? Because where the X-Men are clean, young Americans, uniformed in gold and blue, these are warty, European-types with names like Toad and the Scarlet Witch. They banter and argue just like the X-Men until interrupted by their own leader, Magneto. Admonishments administered, it’s back to business for the BOEM. That business? Stealing a convoy freighter and traveling to the South American nation of San Marco.

Mastermind conjures an illusory army to march into town and cow the locals. But the real magic comes in the expository narration that explains “Within a short amount of time, Magneto seizes the reins of government and loses no time in forming a real army modeled after the imaginary one created by Mastermind.” So, now that the army is—somehow—flesh and blood (I mean really, how did this happen? Did he reoutfit the San Marco army? Did he recruit or dragoon local mercenaries?) the X-Men have villains to fight.

The X-Men seize the castle and defeat but, again, fail to capture Magneto and his crew. This time Xavier is injured in an explosion and rendered powerless. The issue ends, for the first time, on a decidedly sad note. “If the professor never regains his power, we’ll be on our own next time! But—are we strong enough without him?

After reading this issue, it’s easy to believe that Jack Kirby drew the art first without much guidance from a writer. Let’s take this illusory/actual army instance as an example. Literally, the reader sees Mastermind (an illusionist) conjure this phantom army out of thin air. And then, a couple of panels later, when the X-Men need dudes to fight, the army is real, physical, and human. This must be a glitch in the creative back and forth between Kirby and Lee. If it is a mistake (and it almost certainly is) then Lee covers it effortlessly, as in, literally, without any effort. But whatever, phantom armies are cool and the art is great.

Categorized as X-Men

By Lane Talbot

My work has been listed as notable fiction in Best American Mystery Stories and published in Berkeley Fiction Review, ThugLit, Able Muse and elsewhere. I have an MFA from Southern Illinois University.

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