Sunday, September 09, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 1964 (The X-Men #9)

This is the original "Avengers vs. X-Men." The one that sets the tone for every meeting the two teams would have from that point on. It's basically the first rosters of each team pitted against one another in a battle to the death as the fate of Earth hangs in the balance! It's the original five X-Men (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Angel, and Iceman) against the second (third?) iteration of the Avengers (Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man, and the Wasp), all because Professor X demands it!

The fight is actually a quaint affair, like most superhero vs. superhero fights of the era. Both teams are trying to stop Lucifer from his evil schemes, but, when Professor X learns that Lucifer has connected a bomb to his heart, he has the X-Men pick a fight with the Avengers to delay their interference. The two teams weren't even going to fight at first (aside from Iron Man -- he wanted to beat up some punk teenagers). It's a far cry from the subsequent relationships we've seen -- and the two teams hadn't even met before! That's a little backwards, don't you think? Here, they meet for the first time, and their first impulses aren't to attack one another, but, later, after they've worked together dozens of times, any sort of disagreement immediately causes violence? Have superheroes somehow devolved over the years? We like to think of them as unchanging, yet there's clearly a more civilised tone to the behaviour of both groups here. When they cease fighting at Xavier's command, the Avengers sort of shrug, concede jurisdiction to the X-Men, and walk away back to their own comic, concerned more about who is the chairman this week than the danger facing the world.

The two teams don't fight for a sustained period of time; just long enough to compliment one another on their fighting ability and get in a few other quips. The best part is when Iceman encases himself in a giant block of ice as a defence against Thor. That, and Beast catching Captain America's shield with his feet before using his body as a projectile against Iron Man. It's like his performance here (the only stand-out of the team) sets ups his eventual Avengers membership. You can just see the Avengers walking away laughing about Iceman hiding in a block of ice or Cyclops's lack of certainty, and adding at the end, "Yeah, but that fella with big feet was pretty good..."

Besides the larger sense of civility, the lack of a larger philosophical motive for the fight stands out as a difference from the other Avengers/X-Men fights we've seen. There's a difference of perspective with the X-Men knowing more about the situation than the Avengers, but the basic goal is the same for both teams: stop Lucifer. There's no issue of mutant rights, no weight of the world on the shoulders of the X-Men, or anything there except being a superhero team. That's not meant to position this as 'better' than what we've seen in the decades following. It reminds me of the line X-Men: Schism where Idie looks at a picture of the original X-Men and wonders why they're smiling. It's very much a case of things being simpler 'back in the day,' and this will not doubt come up again post-Avengers vs. X-Men in All-New X-Men when the original X-Men are brought to the present. Putting this comic next to Avengers vs. X-Men is like a sneak preview of the culture shock.  After all, this is the team that stands behind Professor X as he says "Because we X-Men are pledged never to cause injury to a human being -- no matter what the provocation!"

How will those X-Men cope with the future we've seen? Hell, how would the Avengers shown in The X-Men #9? (All of which leads to how would Stan Lee and Jack Kirby of 1964 view the Marvel output of 2012, I guess...) 'Quaint' is the word I used to describe the encounter between the two teams in this issue, but it was also refreshing to see both teams focused on a singular goal. Is that also what post-Avengers vs. X-Men will be? Is The X-Men #9 a vision of our future in a sense?

Next week: Avengers vs. X-Men #11, New Avengers #30, Uncanny X-Men #18, and Wolverine and the X-Men #16.