By Stan Lee (writer), Jack Kirby (artist), Paul Reinman (inker)
A few comments before the review: I started sharing my love of superheroes with my 4-year-old son a few months ago. At a recent comic con in Toronto, I bought him the X-Men Omnibus Volume 1 (collecting issues #1-31 of Uncanny). He loves it and we are reading one issue each night. We’re doing reviews for all those other dads out there that want to share the magic with their children.
The Story: The book opens on Professor X and the four first X-Men heading into another training session. Then Jean Grey arrives and the boys go gaga (except for Iceman) and the team is complete. In the meantime, Magneto is misdirecting and stealing rockets and finally attacks the missile base of Cape Citadel. Then comes the X-Men’s Baptist of fire.
What’s good for my 4-year-old: This is a great action story that leads into hours of conversation and a few laughs. I get questions like “Why does Marble Girl lift Beast in the air?” My answer: “Because he didn’t ask before he kissed her.” We talked about what magnets do, and army men, and why ice melts. He laughs when Beast blows on his hands after Bobby frosted them up. Joshua gets up out of bed and runs around the room to show me how fast Angel can fly.
What’s good for me: I obviously don’t read Lee’s text to a 4-year-old (even in 1963, he was writing to pretty advanced teenagers), so I really have to work at bringing the story and concepts to a level that Joshua will enjoy. We laugh over the slapstick moments, like Cyclops shooting through Iceman’s ice-wall in the danger room. Joshua delights in the Beast walking on his fingers or spinning on a wire. He also loves to see Angel fly really fast. That’s a real eye-opener for me. I never would have expected the Beast to be the most popular, but to a 4-year-old, Hank McCoy is the funniest one. What was also great was looking back at issue #1 with 46 years of history between now and then. The X-Men have come a long way from the seven mutants in that first issue. It was also great to read this issue and compare it with the hindsight perspective that Scott had in UXM #138, just after Phoenix died.
What’s hard to explain: The whole concept of unconsciousness (a common thing in the superhero world) is difficult, but I get through by explaining it as sleep. The larger question of ethics (“Why is Magneto not nice?”) is tougher, but I keep telling him that when Magneto was a boy, he didn’t listen to his papa. That explanation will actually hold water for another 149 issues…
Conclusion: I went back in time to get something I could share with my son. Uncanny X-Men #1 in the X-Men Omnibus turned out to be a great choice. I can get into it for nostalgic reasons. Joshua gets into it for high adventure. The conflicts are simple, no one gets hurt, and the comic code reigns supreme, all of which is perfect when reading to a 4-year-old.
By Stan Lee (writer), Jack Kirby (artist), Paul Reinman (inker)
The Story: “No One Can Stop The Vanisher” This issue opens with a bang as the X-Men race across their splash page to an emergency summons by Professor X. Beast hops on a train to get to Westchester. Angel carries Marvel Girl and after saving some workmen, Cyclops and Iceman ride in the back of an ice cream truck. At the mansion, the professor shows them a projection of the Vanisher. We see the very first session of the X-Men in the danger room, before they go off to stop the Vanisher from stealing top-secret defense plans from the Pentagon. The Vanisher really is unstoppable and finally makes an advance on the White House after defeating the X-Men. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s great (half deus ex machine, half classic X-Men character development).
What’s good for my 4-year-old: Iceman stole the show as far as my audience was concerned. Joshua laughed at Iceman freezing a workman’s glove and at Bobby and Scott riding in the back of the ice cream truck. He loved the rapid-fire snowballs Bobby shot around and laughed out loud again when Bobby slid an icy horse underneath Scott and Jean when he found their conversation a little too mushy. This issue, I tried to point out a lot of faces and see if Joshua could tell me what the expressions were. He loved Hank’s look of surprise when the Vanisher swiped back a stolen briefcase and he loved the series of Vanisher expressions at the climax of the book.
What’s good for me: I got to see once again what makes my son laugh out loud and conceptualizing a modern fairy tale for a 4-year-old once again brought me closer to where he is.
What’s hard to explain: Explaining what Professor X and Marvel Girl can do is always a challenge. The source of the Vanisher’s power was slightly easier (he was born different).
Conclusion: Thanks Stan and Jack for a great read for me and my boy. I highly recommend the X-Men Omnibus Volume 1 for just this purpose and now that I’ve seen how Joshua reacts to it, I might look for the Lee/Ditko Spiderman Omnibus. Pricey, but worth it.
Amazing Fantasy #15
By Stan Lee (writer), Steve Ditko (artist)
The Story: Peter Parker, the sad, friendless boy at school goes to the science center to hear a talk on radioactivity. A spider, creeping down its thread, gets irradiated in the experiment and falls onto Peter’s hand, and bites him. Peter feels strange and leaves the center, ridiculed even by the scientists, not looking where he is going. A car honks and he leaps high out of the way and sticks to the wall. Peter finds he has the abilities of a giant spider and decides to cash in on them by winning $100 in a wrestling match and appearing on TV, as Spiderman. However, when a policeman calls for help with an escaping thief, Peter does nothing. This fateful, selfish decision comes home to haunt him with tragic consequences.
What’s good for my 4-year-old: For pure slapstick adventure, it doesn’t get much better than this. Joshua loves to see Peter jump, stick to walls and crush the metal pipe on the rooftop by accident. Joshua loves seeing Uncle Ben waking up Peter and his mouth waters over the stack of wheatcakes Peter gets for breakfast. The wrestling match is a laugh-out-loud hoot, especially when I do a special voice for Crusher Hogan, the unlucky wrestler.
What’s good for me: The first appearance of Spiderman is a great modern fairy tale, but is also a great morality tale that I can use as the meat and potatoes on talking to my son on how people should be treated and valued. The way Flash Thompson and crew treat Peter is just plain wrong as are their reasons (he’s not very fast, he’s not very strong). Peter asking out Sally is an opportunity to talk about girls and boys. Finally, this was the first time I read it to him including the death of Uncle Ben and why, which is an opportunity to talk about responsibility towards everyone, not just the people who love you.
What’s hard to explain: Joshua asks repeated, probing questions about why getting bitten by a radioactive spider would give someone powers. He also asks why a boy would ask a girl out. The second is easier to answer than the first.
Conclusion: It’s hard to believe that Stan and Steve delivered this iconic story just as filler in a book that was being cancelled. It is a classically crafted story that works well for 4-year olds and for me. I can’t grade it any less than an A+.
-DS Arsenault and Joshua
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