I would have to say that arguably X-MEN: GOD LOVES, MAN KILLS is the single best-executed, best-realized single release in Chris Claremont’s long time as the writer of the X-Men. It does exactly what the MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVELs were intended to do: crafts a story with a beginning, middle and end that encapsulates all of the themes and ideas that the series is about. Most of the releases in this line, sadly, didn’t live up to those lofty aspirations, but this one did. And that’s in no small thanks to illustrator Brent Anderson. Anderson wasn’t know for drawing the X-Men–he had done only a few fill-in issues up to this point–he was more associated with KA-ZAR. But he stepped up admirably here, and helped to produce a timeless classic. But the book wasn’t supposed to be drawn by Brent Anderson at all.
In point of fact, GOD LOVES, MAN KILLS had been conceptualized as a project that would be illustrated by Neal Adams. In 1982 when the title was released, there was probably no more popular and better-respected artist in the business than Neal. This despite the fact that he’d only taken on a small number of projects over the previous couple of years, focusing instead on his Continuity Studios advertising work, which was more lucrative. But as the MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL series was going to be contracted under different conditions than the standard Work-For-Hire deal of the regular monthly comic books, this was seen as a situation where Neal might be inveigled to return. An X-MEN project by Chris and Neal Adams (whose 1960s run on the series with Roy Thomas was still well-remembered by fans) was bound to be a huge commercial hit.
And at the outset, all seemed well. Chris and Neal and his editor Louise Simonson (then Louise Jones) got together and hammered out the basic storyline, Chris wrote up a synopsis, and Neal began to draw the project. Like all Marvel books of that period, it was being produced “Marvel Style”, in which the artwork was drawn before the final copy was written. Neal completed his first six pages before the wheels came off.
So what happened? I don’t have all of the ins and outs of the story, and they seem to vary depending on who you ask. But it seems as though Neal still wasn’t absolutely happy with the terms of the deal on the project, and wanted certain provisions amended or changed. And after a bit of time negotiating with Neal and his lawyer, Marvel, wanting the project to come out, simply decided to go in another direction with it–thus, enter Brent Anderson.
So all that’s left of the Neal version of GOD LOVES, MAN KILLS is these opening six pages. Looking at them, while you can recognize a bit of the plot from the finished book, the approach and the emphasis is quite different. Here, Magneto is on the run from the first, there is no mutant child strung up as the overture to the book. So the end product would have been very different. I can only imagine that Anderson had some impact on that, both in terms of what he and Claremont might have discussed about the story when he came on (he would have been given teh same synopsis most likely, but other ideas would also have come up in conversation with Claremont and Jones about the project.) as well as his own natural storytelling rhythms.
It is interesting to see Adams’ interpretation of these Dave Cockrum designs. He draws them well, but he also seems somehow subtly uncomfortable with them, as though they fight his natural design instincts a little bit. They are really nice, tight pencils–I don’t know whether the idea was for Neal to ink them himself or if somebody else was on tap–given how tight they are, I’d guess the latter.
Neal was also supposed to be doing an X-MEN PORTFOLIO around this time that never materialized, though this one really good-looking plate commemorating the dark Phoenix Saga did turn up in advertisements.