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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 172: X-Men #57

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to comics from one decade. This week’s decade: the 1960s! Today’s page is from X-Men #57, which was published by Marvel (although the indicia lists “Magazine Management Co.”) and is cover dated June 1969. This scan is from X-Men Visionaries volume 2: The Neal Adams Collection, which was published in 1996. Enjoy!

Roy Thomas had a loose definition of 'curls,' apparently

According to the trade paperback, Tom Palmer may have originally colored this page, and according to the GCD, Adams did, but what matters is that in the 1990s, one couldn’t leave the colors alone, one had to “improve” them (a trend that continues to this very day!), and so Derek Bellman took a crack at this, with Malibu Separations doing the, well, separating. I apologize if the colors are atrociously bad compared to the original. Of course, if it’s actually improved, there you go.

Neal Adams didn’t work on X-Men for long – 9 issues – but he helped drag the comic, and comics in general, into the modern era with his dynamic and fluid pencil work and innovative layouts, along with a bunch of other artists of the late Sixties (Steranko leaps to mind). Adams couldn’t save X-Men from cancellation (sales had dropped below 2 million, so of course it had to go!), but his work on the book was very good, as we can see from this first page of his second issue.

Roy Thomas gets us caught up on who that character is through one of the greatest devices of fiction ever invented – talking to oneself! Lorna tells the reader her name, that she’s just moved to Manhattan, and that her powers are magnetic in nature. She also explains that her powers are fading. Then she even tells us that “great, leaden footsteps” are approaching her apartment, which is nice. I should say that someone with that kind of apartment in Manhattan should be a bit less depressed, but whatever. Finally, the final panel tells us that she’s a mutant. That’s some handy exposition from Thomas, even if a casual reader might not know what a “mutant” is. You can probably link the powers thing with the mutant thing and come up with something!

Adams fractures the page nicely, foreshadowing the attack of the Sentinels who show up on the second page. He gives us Lorna in a totally mod outfit in Panel 1 and shows that Rob Liefeld isn’t to blame for the ridiculous proliferation of silly headgear in comic book costumes. He also gives a nice visual representation of both her powers and the way they’re fading. The page is angled nicely from the upper left to the lower right, so Lorna in this panel is higher on the page than in the other two. The way Adams forms the panels, our eye is drawn to the front door and the “Bam Bam Bam” sound effect, and the borders funnel us toward Lorna’s word balloon and then her exposition, finally concluding with the repeat of the sound effect. It’s an effective way of getting us through that panel and onto the close-up of Lorna in Panel 3, because the Sentinel’s word balloon is on the level where we stop reading in Panel 2, so we naturally go to the word balloon, which should be the first thing we see in Panel 3 so Lorna’s fearful look makes sense. She, of course, leads us off the page with her eyes, and on the next page, we get the big reveal of the Sentinels. Adams could have laid this page out “normally,” with square panels, but the way he creates the jagged panel borders makes the page seem more frantic than it actually is. The middle panel actually speeds our eye up so that the scene takes on added urgency. It’s a good trick and shows how much Adams understands laying out a page. This isn’t a difficult page to read even though, at first glance, it might seem a bit confusing. Adams isn’t breaking any rules of comics here, he’s just trying something new and succeeding.

Adams would soon go on to revolutionize Batman, of course, but we can see a lot of what he did with that character on his earlier work. It’s always nice to see comics artists challenge what’s being done in the business, and Adams was one of those dudes. He might be a bit wacky these days, but the dude knew what he was doing in 1969!

Next: A feminist revolution? Not so fast! I have nothing clever to say today that will lead you to the archives, so you’ll have to convince yourself to check them out!

6 Comments

I really need to get caught up in my X-Men Essentials purchases and get to the Thomas/Adams stuff!

Definitely, PJ. Those issues rule.

Pete Woodhouse

June 20, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Yep, this boy’s a bit special. Photo-realistic but dynamic. Flashy but an excellent story-teller. Show me a better comics artist between 1969-73 (hell, show me a better artist for that time, PERIOD). Modern comics art starts here.
I also don’t think anyone else can do better justice to Adams’ pencils than Palmer: he helped bring comics inking into the modern era. The only one who springs to mind on a par is Dick Giordano – who was also very good at apeing Adams’ pencilling style on solo Green Lantern & other stories when Adams wasn’t available.

Beautiful page, but man do I hate modern colors on old comics.

Ahh, Neal Adams and his wacky, fractured, diagonal panel layouts. Was he one of the first to do that sort of page?

Was this the Neal Adams Visionaries tpb? You should see if you can get the original printing to compare colors. When Marvel was printing these they weren’t particularly kind to the colors…

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