Comic Book Review – X-Men Epic Collection: Lonely Are The Hunted

X-Men Epic Collection: Lonely Are the Hunted (2018)
Reprints X-Men #24-45, Avengers #53, and Not Brand Echh #4,8
Written by Roy Thomas with Gary Friedrich
Art by Werner Roth, Don Heck, George Tuska, Ross Andru, Jack Sparling, Dan Adkins, John Buscema, and Tom Sutton

As prolific as Stan Lee was, he just didn’t know what to do with all of his co-creations. You can feel his enthusiasm for characters like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four in how those worlds build outward from the central protagonists. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for books like Daredevil or the X-Men. Lee clearly had a concept but didn’t seem to know where to go after that, aside from very few antagonists that would carry on into the present. Finally, after 19 issues, he handed the reins over to Roy Thomas, a rising star editor & writer at Marvel. Thomas had come to Marvel in 1966 after a stint at DC Comics. After fill-in writing on some teen romance books, Thomas’ first long-term writing gig came in Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos for one year before being handed the X-Men. 

Thomas was trying his best and did manage to create some memorable characters and stories, but there is a lot of forgettable stuff here, things that would happen once and never get mentioned again. You can see that in the first issue of this collection, where the X-Men are pitted against a brand-new super-villain, The Locust. He’s a mad scientist with a locust suit that lets him control a swarm of giant locusts. Conceptually, controlling a locust swarm is pretty powerful; you could create regional famines by letting them devour crops. Yet, the locust suit… it’s not a great look and underlines this villain’s goofiness. 

This becomes the M.O. for a lot of Thomas’ run, tossing new foes at the wall and seeing what sticks and stinks. Issue 25 gives us El Tigre, a gem hunter pillaging tombs in Central America. He finds a magic stone that gives him powers, so the X-Men must stop him. I have to note that, just like Juggernaut, Cerebro detects the presence of El Tigre, who is not a mutant; he’s powered through magic. It seems that pre-Claremont, Cerebro could just detect anomalies related to human abilities, not just mutants? El Tigre gets a two-parter as this issue concludes with his transformation into Kukulcan, an Aztec god. Of course, the X-Men clean up the situation by the end of issue 26. In the background is a running subplot involving Cyclops and doubts over his ability to lead and control his powers. This will pretty much be Cyclops’ character for…ever? At least that stuck around, unlike these villains.

Issue 27 sees the return of the Mimic as well as pitting the X-Men against Fantastic Four villain, The Puppet Master. That is followed by the introduction of Banshee in issue 28, part of Factor Three. Factor Three is…a really obtuse concept that has thankfully been forgotten. Banshee has stuck around, though, and we are the better for it. I will say that Werner Roth’s choice to draw Banshee’s face in *that way* is hilarious to me; there are specific panels where he looks almost like an ape-man. He’s working with The Ogre doing villain shit, but it turns out Banshee is just under mind control, wouldn’t ya know it?

Thomas seems very interested in spotlighting Mimic, making him the focus of issue 29. While testing his powers, Cyclops accidentally wakes up the Super-Adaptoid that has been dormant since its battle with Captain America. In a clever bit of writing, Mimic’s mimicry causes feedback with Super-Adaptoid’s power absorption and defeats the baddie. Issue 30 introduced The Warlock. No, not Adam Warlock, but a one-off villain that even X-Men probably have zero memory of. Issue 31 is a bit more interesting, introducing The Cobalt Man, a villain whose design would cause readers to think of Iron Man. This suit of armor is the creation of Ralph Roberts, the brother to Jean Grey’s beau at the time, Ted. The story is centered on characters who aren’t the most important in the greater mythos, but Thomas does manage to make us give a damn by connecting to Jean’s personal life.

Issue 32 sees the inevitable return of the Juggernaut. It seems Professor X has kept his half-brother chained up in the basement and in a psychically induced coma for months…yeah, so that’s fucked up. His internal monologue justifies all this as he’s seeking a way to remove the corruptive power of Cyttorak from the man. Unfortunately, the Professor screws up and accidentally unleashes a revenge-hungry Cain Marko back on the world. This continues into issue 33, where the team gets an assist from Doctor Strange. Professor X psychically enters his brother’s mind and sees how the demonic Cyttorak came to infuse its power into the gem his brother would find centuries later. The X-Men defeat Juggernaut but when they return home…*gasp* Professor X has been kidnapped by Factor Three (please god, no). 

Issue 34 sends the X-Men beneath the Earth as they trail Factor Three. They cross paths with Hulk villain Tyrannus and FF perennial Mole Man. You’ll first notice the change in art, now being handled by a guy named Dan Adkins. It’s not terrible, but it is a pretty sharp stylistic shift from the previous issues done by Werner Roth. Spider-Man gets caught up in the Factor Three drama of issue 35, which concludes with a tease that readers should prepare themselves for the might of Mekano. I can only imagine. Issue 36 delivers on its promise of introducing this scoundrel who is just like a mad guy that wants to break things. I dunno. 

Issue 37 is about getting to the bottom of Factor Three by introducing The Changeling, the supposed ‘master’ of this criminal organization. If you can approach these comics like episodes of the Venture Brothers, you will do fine. This really feels like where that series found a lot of its inspiration for ridiculous villains and motivations. Issue 38 continues this story and brings back The Blob and The Vanisher working with Factor Three. As far as I can surmise, the Factor Three idea attempts to redo the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants by mainly using new characters. This is the first time some pre-established villains are brought back into the mix. Some of the rhetoric the villains use regarding the homo superior feels like it was reincorporated decades later as Apocalypse, and his vision for mutant kind was established. This issue also begins a series of backup stories telling the origins of the X-Men in a serialized form, starting here with Professor X.

Issue 39 advertises a significant change on its cover, brand-new costumes for the X-Men. Instead of wearing matching color-coded school uniforms, the kids graduate from the Academy and are given unique costumes. I like this move a lot because it helps provide the characters with a sense of visual distinction and personality. Unfortunately, those costumes literally do not show up until the last page of this issue, but oh well. Frankenstein’s Monster shows up in issue 40. I think this was around when Marvel added more classic monster characters to its universe (Werewolf by Night, Tomb of Dracula, Ghost Rider, Son of Satan, etc.). The Monster is canonically a Marvel character, and I think this is the same one who would have a short-lived ongoing series in the 1970s. 

This is followed by issue 41, where the X-Men fight a giant mindless bulky foe named Grotesk and…am I crazy, or is this character just a different take on Frankenstein’s Monster?! I was a little surprised to see Grotesk’s story continue into issue 42, where he becomes the villain responsible for killing Professor X. Or so we were led to believe. More on this in a couple reviews, but for the time being, the X-Men had to put their big boy pants on and keep going without the guiding hand of their mentor. Issue 43 showcases the return of Magneto, who sees this as an excellent opportunity to strike the X-Men. He’s also worked to reform his Brotherhood, including kidnapping Scarlet Witch and forcing Quicksilver to rejoin. 

Things get weird as the Magento storyline sort of continues in issue 44. The X-Men get knocked out, but Angel manages to get away. He comes across a strange island that ends up being home to the Golden Age relic Red Raven. I do not know why this story happens; it feels like such a left-turn diversion from the main plot, and by the end, Angel goes back to what he was doing before, and it doesn’t get mentioned again. I know Roy Thomas loves Golden Age characters, so I assume he was just trying to reintroduce one here. Issue 45 focuses on Cyclops in the wake of Magento’s triumph. He tussles with Quicksilver mostly. This is continued into Avengers #53 when they become involved in the situation. Of course, they are mistaken about what is going on and fight the X-Men for a few pages so we comic nerds can settle some debates. Finally, Magneto falls to his “death.” How many times had it been at this point? What’s funny is I literally read Magneto’s death scene in a recent issue of the current event Judgment Day like three weeks ago. Why do I suspect we haven’t seen the last of the Master of Magnetism? Hmmm.

Did I enjoy reading this collection? No. Did I find it interesting? Eh, yeah, I guess. However, I think it’s so interesting to see precisely why this book would eventually be canceled, and it makes its revival and subsequent rise in popularity more amazing. These are not the worst comics I have ever read, but if I was a kid in the mid-1960s picking something from the drugstore comics rack, I would go for Spider-Man or Avengers over this without hesitation. But there is more to go, we’re only at the halfway point, and next week we’ll see the issues that led to the cancellation of the X-Men.


One thought on “Comic Book Review – X-Men Epic Collection: Lonely Are The Hunted”

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