Stan Lee wanted to call Marvel’s next new superhero team The Mutants, but publisher Martin Goodman objected that kids wouldn’t know what that meant.
So it became The X-Men 1 (Sept. 1963) — “X” being a spooky kind of a letter that suggests mystery (and for once, I agree with Goodman).
I bought my copy of the first issue off the newsstand, along with Avengers No. 1. (the more exciting choice, because it was a team composed of five characters I already knew and loved).
The X-Men seemed to combine the teenaged appeal of Spider-Man with the bickering bombast of the Fantastic Four, featuring an icy teen instead of a fiery teen and a Beast instead of a Thing. I was surprised and disappointed to see that the Beast’s power was super-agility rather than the Thing’s and the Hulk’s super-strength.
The uncanny team’s protagonist was clearly Cyclops, a brooding romantic underdog whose overwhelmingly powerful eye beams were also an impairment that alienated him from people.
I should say “further alienated him,” because the concept of humanity’s distrust of the mutant heroes was built into the concept from the first.
The X-Men have a handy all-purpose explanation for their super powers — mutation. They don’t need radioactive spiders or exploding planets. They can easily exist in their own self-contained universe (although, like all the other Marvel superheroes, they didn’t).
It’s no coincidence that the first successful superhero team in the movies would be the X-Men, because the explanation for their powers has that appealing dramatic simplicity. It’s harder for audiences to accept a dozen different excuses for the characters’ super powers (the Avengers got that problem out of the way by spring-boarding from separate origin movies that established the characters).
The idea of a school for teenaged superheroes was ingenious. A few years earlier, DC had stumbled onto the similarly crowd-pleasing concept of a club for teenaged superheroes.
The title itself fared well under Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, then faltered in other hands. A 1970s revamp and revival would propel it permanently into the stratosphere, helped along by a popular character who would anticipate the dark turn to come in comics. The superheroes were going to grow claws.
Odd to think that, in the 21st century, the most popular character from that first issue would be the villain. Says something about how times have changed, don’t you think? It says that in the interval, something wicked this way came.