The All-New, All-Different X-Men hit like a lightning bolt out of the blue when the new iteration of the team debuted in GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1. The title had been a reprint book for several years, and so the quantities of the early new issues that made it to the stands were much smaller than most other titles. So when fans became aware that something was going on in the series and sought out the back issues, prices skyrocketed. It was an amazing phenomenon–X-MEN #94 was selling for $25.00 despite only being a few years old. That scarcity and demand was an often-unmentioned part of what helped to drive some readers to sampling the book–even the new issues might well be worth a few dollars in not that long of a time. (Which turned out to be true.) Anyway, all this was to say that earlier issues of X-MEN were exceedingly difficult to find for anything but a premium price, even in 1978. So it was a bit of a wonder that a coverless copy of this one, #103, turned up in one of those plastic bundles of stripped-returns that my local drug store was selling. I definitely bought this bundle in order to get my hands on this book.
It really is impossible, I think, to capture just how sleek and modern and sophisticated the All-New, All-Different X-MEN was compared to other books being published at the time. First off, the characters all looked great, their visuals mostly designed (or re-designed) by co-creator Dave Cockrum. Cockrum was then the single best costume designer in the field–his super heroes always looked a bit more of-the-moment and contemporary than most, On top of that, the new X-Men were both international in scope, which made for some interesting personalities, and also largely blank slates whose histories and backstories we’d learn as time went on. Incoming writer Chris Claremont would eventually make the mutant metaphor the heart of the series, which was ultimately a good move. But in these early days, while that metaphor was still somewhat present, X-MEN was still primarily a super hero book. These stories show their age a bit today, but at the time, this was the absolute cutting edge of super hero adventure, light years ahead of so much that was on the racks at the same time.
This particular issue was the second half of a two-part adventure that put the New X-Men up against one of the original team’s most recurring foes; the Juggernaut, who was the step-brother of X-Men founder Professor X transformed by the mystic Gem of Cyttorak into an unstoppable force. (It’s maybe worth pointing out that, at this point in their development, the young X-Men hadn’t yet even encountered Magneto.) Here, Juggy has joined forces with another bad guy Black Tom Cassidy, the cousin of team member Banshee–the X-Men were forever getting attacked in these early stories, often by their own relatives and friends. Anyway, Black Tom is after Cassidy Keep, the ancestral homestead which Banshee has inherited, and he’s got Juggernaut helping him to take it away in return for assisting the rampaging villain in destroying his step-brother’s students. So it’s a win-win for them. Last time, the X-Men’s efforts to fight back were undone by a new development: it turns out that Storm, who had appeared to be almost all-powerful up to this point, suffers from acute claustrophobia, and crumbled when buried alive, giving the villains the edge. The X-Men were captured, all apart from Nightcrawler, who was missed because his body seemingly disappeared in the shadows.
This development for Nightcrawler–that he would somehow become invisible when he was in shadow–is a power that didn’t take and was abandoned after Cockrum left the strip. But these sorts of revelations were par for the course in these early days, when we knew so little about these X-Men and they knew so little about one another and even themselves (Nightcrawler is astonished by this development.) Anyway, when Nightcrawler comes to, he finds that he’s been rescued by a band of Leprechauns who live in Cassidy Keep–because, Banshee being irish, of course his family has Leprechauns. They want the villainous intruders out of their home, and so they’re working to assist the defeated X-Men. But it’s Nightcrawler who has to take action. Using the image-inducer that permitted him to walk around looking like a regular person rather than a mutant, Nightcrawler impersonates Professor X. (The use of the image-inducer isn’t clearly spelled out in this story, so shape-changing seems to be another power that Nightcrawler possesses to the uninitiated. This sort of basic sloppiness in delivering information was one of the things that Jim Shooter sought to eliminate once he became Editor in Chief.)
In the tussle, as Nightcrawler uses his acrobatic skills to stay out of Juggernaut’s reach despite looking like Charles Xavier, the big guy punches a hole in the wall. The sight of the open sky is all Storm needs to snap out of her stupor, and she whips up a quick hurricane that sweeps the X-Men out of the room they’ve been imprisoned in–all except Banshee, whom Black Tom and Juggernaut grab before he can be swept away. I have to say, as a super hero artist, Cocrum was at the top of his game in these days, and here he’s inked by the late Sam Grainger, who always gave his work a terrific finish. Anyway, the bad guys carry Banshee to the top of the tower and use him as a lure to bring the X-Men back to them. Wolverine hadn’t quite developed into the character he’d eventually become, in these early days he was simply a nasty little short guy with a bad temper. Claremont and Cockrum had been toying with developing a romantic relationship between colossus and storm–when Len Wein first created Colossus with Cockrum, the intention was that, being the strong guy, he’d be the centerpiece of the team. Didn’t quite work out that way, as Claremont was more interested in other members of the cast. But anyway, Wolverine makes the mistake here of referring to Storm derogatorily as a broad, and Colossus punishes him for this infraction by hurling him bodily over the top of the castle.
Wolverine as fall guy and punching bag wasn’t a status quo that would last over the long haul. But these were early days. so early, in fact, that this is the story in which we first learn that Wolverine’s real name is Logan. As he tries to make his way back to the fight, one of the Leprechauns calls him by that name, much to his surprise. These little revelations would be dropped in almost every issue. And in fact, while the reader learns Wolverine’s real name, the rest of the cast doesn’t for another dozen issues or so–they just call him Wolverine, in costume or out. Anyway, while the X-Men attempt to fight their way into the tower, the largely-invisible Nightcrawler is able to sneak in and rescue Banshee. We never quite find out what Black Tom’s mutant powers are in this story, but the one thing it tells us is that his abilities and Banshee’s counteract one another, so the pair winds up instead in a deadly swordfight.
Cockrum in particular had a love for swashbuckling, and so this story is rife with tropes from out of a dozen classic movies, this swordfight being one of them. Everybody else dogpiles on the Juggernaut in the meantime, but the whole of the New X-Men team can’t seem to put him down. Eventually, Banshee winds up inadvertently kicking Black Tom over the parapet, sending him plummeting to what he and we expect will be his death. Seeing this, Juggernaut breaks free of his attackers and dives to rescue his friend. Both men vanish amidst the pounding surf, and the X-Men all assume they’ve met their maker. Shows just how new at this they all were, really. But that pretty much wraps up this caper, except for a final panel that keeps some ongoing plotlines moving–and which reveals that Erik the Red, the mysterious gent who’d been sending menaces at the X-Men for a few issues now, was about to unleash the team’s greatest opponent at them: the aforementioned Magneto. To Be Continued! The New X-Men weren’t to everybody’s tastes–in particular, fans of the Old X-Men were rightly pissed that their old favorites had been usurped by this band of newcomers. But as more and more readers discovered the book, it grew massively in popularity, in a way that no other title of teh time was able to equal.