Before the Fall

Marvel Masterworks: X-Men Volume 6, written by Arnold Drake, Roy Thomas and Denny O’Neil, illustrated by Neal Adams, Tom Palmer, Don Heck, Werner Roth and others (1968-69; collected 2001): Even soon-to-be-legendary comic-book artist Neal Adams couldn’t quite save the X-Men when he drew several issues in the 1960’s, though the sales results did bring the book back from cancellation and saw it turned into a reprint-only comic book until the mid-1970’s. Nonetheless, the Adams-drawn X-Men looks like a template for the ultra-successful X-Men revival of the mid-1970’s — the one that would eventually make the X-Men the most successful comic-book franchise by the mid-1980’s.

The writing, mostly by Roy Thomas, doesn’t hold up so well — it’s too wordy and occasionally ridiculous. Not only does one villain gain his powers from a dinosaur bite, but he then chooses to name himself after Sauron from The Lord of the Rings. If only he’d been bitten by a giant white whale…

But it’s the art that’s the star. Adams was very much a work in progress at this early stage of his career, and it shows at times. His attempts to mix things up with diagonal panels and ‘shattered-glass’ layout miss as often as they hit. Nonetheless, the characters look great. Adams’s hyper-realistic style was fully in place, and would be a key artistic influence on the artists that would appear in the 1970’s.

His character design is also top-notch: he manages a much better looking costume for Angel than he’d had before, while the new hero Havoc has one of the niftiest looking costumes on the planet. Adams would soon go on to gorgeous, genre-redefining work on Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow, but the art here is also terrific and occasionally startling. Recommended.

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