Finally, we come to the last comic that I bought on that fateful first trip to a comic book store–the Heroes World in Levittown. I had only just begun reading X-MEN, but this was both an issue #100 (which I already understood to be a milestone issue regardless of the title) and also had the sort of story hook that I couldn’t pass up–the original X-Men vs the New X-Men. It cost me next to nothing–if I’d have had any inkling as to what was to come, I’d have snatched up all of the New X-Men issues they had in stock. because only a few months after this, back issue prices on these books would begin to climb as more and more people discovered the series. For the longest time. X-MEN back issues were the priciest of any titles released in the 1970s. But not yet.
This would have been my first exposure to the work of New X-Men co-creator Dave Cockrum, and it was an excellent place to come in, as Dave inked this special issue as well as penciling it. He was always his own best inker, so it’s a shame that he wasn’t fast enough at it to do it with any regularity. We were also still in the formative days of the New X-Men, when Chris Claremont was revealing (and, let’s be honest, figuring out) new stuff about all of these characters on an issue after issue basis. It really was an exciting series, and it hooked me pretty well from the start (even though I couldn’t make heads or tails of the first issue I bought, #108, the end of a multi-part saga with a million guest stars.)
We’re coming into a multi-part storyline here as well. The new X-Men have made their way out into space to the SHIELD orbital platform where the Sentinels have carried off Cyclops and Jean Grey, only to be confronted by Professor X and the old X-Men, who homicidally attack them. It’s all the work of Steven Lang, the bigoted scientist responsible for reviving the Sentinel project. Most of the opening is simply color and action, with the two groups of heroes punching the heck out of one another. But it does contain a key moment, as Colossus and Wolverine execute the first of what will become a regular series of “Fastball Special” maneuvers.
For all that he’s not quite yet the character he’ll eventually become, Wolverine gets a lot of play in this issue, and comes across as a distinct and interesting character. This was the version of Wolverine that I liked the best, before he became so complicated and domesticated, and before he was moved to the center of the series. Here, Professor X (who stands up from his wheelchair, able to walk) and Marvel Girl double-team him, but only succeed in unleashing the animal within him, which lashes out at Jean without mercy. Now, it turns out that the old X-Men are all robots, Sentinels, but we don’t know that at this point, so this is a very strong moment for a mid-1970s comic book. It’s something tat you wouldn’t find any other super hero doing in this era–and that made it exciting and a bit transgressive.
The letters page comes in here, which includes a note sent by future Eclipse Comics publisher Dean Mullaney. But on top of that, it opens with an uncharacteristic direct message from Claremont himself. Up to this point and into the near future, the mail on the series was very mixed–there were a ton of fans who wanted the original X-Men back rather than these new upstart characters, and the letters page reflected that. In some ways, the story in this issue functions as a meta-commentary on that whole idea. You want the old X-Men back, here they are! gradually, though, the new guys would start to really connect with an entirely new audience, and then there would be no going back.
He’s been overshadowed a bit by John Byrne who replaced him on X-MEN, but Cockrum was a top flight comic book artist and a fan favorite in this era, and these pages show why. On top of that, he was the best costume designer of the day. Anyway, Cyclops uses this opportunity to blast himself and his fellows free of Steven Lang’s tubes, and they fight their own battle while the new X-Men clean up on the X-Robots. In the end, Jean Grey pretty much straight up murders the guy by freezing his speeder controls telekinetically and causing him to fly straight into his viewscreen–this was probably plotted and illustrated as being an accident, but Claremont has everybody speaking enough that it’s clear that she could have stopped long before Lang was toasted. Oh well.
But the X-Men aren’t out of the woods yet. There’s a massive solar flare headed their way and the station’s been compromised. Their only way out is in the shuttle they came up in, bu the flight deck there has been damaged as well. So it all comes down to Jean Grey telepathically pulling the info needed to pilot the damaged ship out of Peter Corbeau’s mind and then using her powers to screen out the harmful radiation in the cockpit. Cyclops is not at all down with her suicidal plan, but jean isn’t having it, and she zaps him senseless–it was scenes such as this one that helped make Claremont’s deserved reputation for writing strong, heroic women.
And ultimately, this whole sequence is intended to help power up and redesign Jean in order to bring her back into the series in a meaningful manner. It didn’t work out this way, but those Tac-Tac-Tac sounds in the final panel of the issue are meant to be Cosmic Rays of the sort that gave the Fantastic Four their powers–the intent was that they would wind up permanently increasing Jean’s mutant abilities. Either way, Jean heads off into the solar storm, her telekinetic shields begin to buckle, and we are To Be Continued, with Phoenix waiting in the winds and the build-up to the best-remembered and most influential X-MEN sequence about to commence.