As regular readers of this blog may recall, I started picking up the Roy Thomas-Neal Adams-Tom Palmer run of X-Men with the second issue, #57, in which the book’s new creative team began their “Sentinels” storyline. I managed to score the next issue as well, and so was on hand for the debut of Alex Summers’ costumed identity, Havok — but then, the following month, I missed issue #59, and thus didn’t get to read the end of that storyline.
In other words, I was completely lost when I picked up issue #60, and opened it — first, to this dramatic opening splash page…
…and then, even more so, when I turned to the following double-page splash:
Those two pages made it clear that the X-Men had, however improbably, triumphed over the powerful and implacable mutant-hunting Sentinels — though it would be years before I was able to read #59’s unforgettably titled “Do or Die, Baby!”, and learn just how they’d done it.
But I really can’t fault Thomas and Adams for not filling in the details from their last epic’s conclusion here, since all I really needed to know going forward is that it had concluded, and that Havok had been seriously injured along the way.
Roy Thomas’ page 4 musings on the Homo Sapiens/Superior dichotomy stand out today for their willingness to allow for the possibility that “normal” humans’ apprehensions regarding mutantkind might actually be justified — a rather provocative authorial point of view that would be echoed rarely, if ever, in the decades following the 1975 revival of the X-Men series. (And it’s also one that we might not have seen here, had not Neal Adams left a sizable amount of white space on his pencilled art page, blank save for the handwritten note, “Write pretty, Roy!”*)
Dr. Lykos tells Scott Summers and Jean Grey that he’d prefer that they not hang around in his waiting room, as his unique medical methods “require privacy“, and then requests that they return later tonight — “much later!” Scott initially balks at this, but Jean assures him that the doctor surely knows best, and the two depart. They return to the X-Mansion, where they join their X-teammates in a Danger Room exercise that seems to exist primarily to show the titular heroes in costume and using their powers, something that is otherwise in short supply this issue — though, as we’ll see, it’s also useful for getting in some character bits (especially in relation to the still-mysterious Miss Lorna Dane, aka Polaris), as well as some tidying-up of loose ends from the just-concluded Sentinels saga:
In 2019, it’s a little startling to view this tableau of, as Jean puts it, “all your old sparring partners” — of the mutant variety, that is — and realize just how few “evil” mutants were around in 1969. Of the group of ten shown above, a full four (Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Toad, and Mastermind) are charter members of Magneto’s original Brotherhood, who first appeared back in X-Men #4; while another, Banshee, is (like Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch) not really a “bad guy”. The relative paltriness of this roster highlights a couple of truths about the X-Men’s 1960s adventures; one being that, back in the day, they frequently fought villains who weren’t mutants (Lucifer, the Stranger, the Juggernaut, et al), and another being that the villains who were classifiable as Homo superior kept coming back, over and over.
Jean’s dialogue also makes reference to the lingering mystery of how two known mutants — Magneto and Changeling — could have managed to elude the Sentinels’ grasp. Actually, of course, we readers had already learned (in issue #58) that the “Magneto” whom the X-Men had recently fought (in issues #50 – 52) was only a robot** — but we were as much in the dark as were Marvel Girl and her compatriots as to why the Changeling was a no-show. Only with the publication of X-Men #65, some five months later, would readers become privy to what the series’ creators had already figured out*** — that the shape-shifting mutant had masqueraded as the X-Men’s leader Charles Xavier for months before the latter’s apparent demise in issue #42 — and that it was in fact the Changeling, and not Professor X, who’d perished in that story, the Prof himself being still quite alive. Gotcha!
The scene now shifts from the X-mansion back to Dr. Lykos’ medical facility, where we discover that the mysterious physician’s methods are so private that he doesn’t even like to practice them in front of his own nurse:
Apparently, Papa Lykos’ gig as an “explorer’s guide” did pay pretty well — or maybe he was just a really savvy investor — since, as we’ll see a bit further on, the value of his estate would ultimately prove sufficient to send son Karl to medical school.
At this point, the well-read Marvel fan would likely be thinking, “Antarctic? Pteranodons? Oh, yeah — the Savage Land!” In 1969, however, my twelve-year-old self had yet to read any comic book featuring Ka-Zar, and thus I’d not had any exposure to that particular locale.
As the flashback continues, we see how young Karl struggled on valiantly against the prehistoric predators, as well as the numbing cold — ultimately driving away the former, and keeping the latter at bay until he was able to return Tanya safely to the explorers’ camp. Then, even as the wounded Karl pitched forward into unconsciousness, Herr Anderssen swore his undying gratitude to the boy for saving his daughter’s life. (Yeah, we’ll see how long that lasts.)
In my post about House of Secrets #81 last month, I noted Neal Adams’ rendering of what I considered “the most authentically terrified-looking pooch that had ever appeared on a comic-book cover”, and opined that I wouldn’t want to know anyone whose heart didn’t go out to that poor dog. Well, on page 15 of our current comic, Adams gives us yet another distressed canine likely to rend one’s heart. Dammit, Neal.
I’m not sure if I recognized the title of Karl’s book of “fairy tales” in the last panel above — although it’s possible, as the Ballantine Books editions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, with their phantasmagorical Barbara Remington covers, were pretty ubiquitous on paperback racks around this time. Just one short year after this, in fact, I’d be staying up late on summer nights, utterly absorbed in J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic of the Third Age of Middle-Earth; in the summer of 1969, however, names like Frodo, and Gandalf, and, yes, Sauron, were still unknown to me.
As with so many other aspects of their X-Men collaboration, Roy Thomas and Neal Adams don’t entirely agree (to say the least) regarding their respective contributions to the creation of an “energy vampire” as an X-Men villain. As most recently discussed in a contentious back-and-forth between the two creators on the Bleeding Cool web site, Adams claims to be responsible for virtually everything about the character except his super-villain name (which he says Thomas “stole” from J.R.R. Tolkien) — while Thomas describes Sauron as a “co-creation” that was developed in discussions between the two men (though he concedes the initial germ of the idea could have come from Adams).
Thomas has also said that the character was almost an early prototype of Man-Bat, the Batman character that Adams would go on to create with writer Frank Robbins and editor Julius Schwartz less than a year later. According to the writer, the Comics Code Authority — which at this time still prohibited the use of vampires of the traditional undead, bloodsucking variety — wouldn’t approve even an energy vampire that looked like a bat, even if it was never named as such. Adams has concurred with Thomas on this, at least to the point of acknowledging that his designing the villain to look like a bat would have been “too obvious” to get by the Code. And so, Adams and Thomas went instead with another leathery-winged creature — a pterosaur, whose saurian nature probably suggested the name of “Tolkien’s ultimate villain” to Thomas — a name which the writer proceeded to appropriate, to his later regret.
As Thomas put it in 1999, in his Alter Ego piece:
I named our villain Sauron, after the heavy in J.R.R. Tolkien’s then-popular Lord of the Rings. That earned us a nasty letter from the trilogy’s publisher or lawyer or someone, but of course they had no legal leg to stand on… any more than when I’d named the modern Black Knight’s winged mount [i.e., Aragorn] after another character in the novels. All the same, in retrospect, I wish I had called both by other names. It was just my way of tipping my hat to the Tolkien fans among our readers, even if I was never more than a lukewarm admirer of Ring.
From the perspective of a half-century later, the objections of “the Tolkien people” (as Thomas calls them in his Marvel Masterworks intro) to the use of the name Sauron in X-Men is likely to appear absurdly excessive. For one thing, it’s not like anyone was going to mistake X-Men #60 for an unauthorized adaptation of LOTR — and besides, as Thomas’ comment quoted above affirms, there would seem to be no legal basis for the action — after all, you can’t copyright a name.
But if one is cognizant of the pop-cultural environment in which Thomas’ “borrowing” took place, it’s not too difficult to understand, and even to forgive, the seeminglyly disproportionate zeal of Middle-Earth’s legal custodians in staking claim to Professor Tolkien’s intellectual property. The writer’s characterization of Lord of the Rings as “then-popular”, circa 1969, is something of an understatement; since its first publication in an American mass-market paperback edition in 1965, the trilogy had sold over three million copies. It had also gained cultural cachet on college campuses comparable to that of, well, Marvel Comics, spawning the production of buttons and graffiti proclaiming “Frodo Lives” and “Go Go Gandalf”. In years to come, the trilogy would be credited as the single most important factor establishing fantasy as a genre with wide audience appeal — which means that without it we might not have had any “Conan” comics, or “Dungeons & Dragons” games, or a Game of Thrones television series, or who knows what else.
The Lord of the Rings was a phenomenon, in other words — and a lucrative one, at that. But its author almost didn’t get to fairly share in his work’s financial returns — because its authorized paperback publication by Ballantine Books in October, 1965, had been preceded (and, in fact, prompted) by the unwelcome appearance several months earlier of an unauthorized edition from Ace Books. Ace publisher Donald A. Wolheim had sought the rights to reprint Tolkien’s trilogy (originally published in hardcover in 1954 and 155) in paperback, and had been rebuffed; whereupon he’d done some checking, which in turn led him to determine (rightly or wrongly) that the work hadn’t actually been copyrighted properly in the U.S. to begin with, and there was nothing preventing him from printing it in paperback if he wanted to. So he did; and the book sold well. But Professor Tolkien received no royalties from those sales; a state of affairs he quite understandably found irksome.
For a while in the mid-’60s, both the Ace and Ballantine editions competed in the marketplace. Eventually, however — and due at least in part to a concerted campaign launched by Tolkien and his publishers, urging the trilogy’s nascent fandom to boycott the Ace version — Wolheim reached an agreement with “the Tolkien people”, by which they ceased publication of their edition, and paid Tolkien a tidy royalty sum for their sales to date. By the time that Lord of the Rings was on my younger self’s radar, the Ace paperbacks — with their striking Jack Gaughan covers — had disappeared from the racks.
It’s in this context, I think, that the “nasty letter” received by Marvel in 1969 has to be understood. Having almost lost the rights to LOTR (either by negligence or by chicanery, depending on your point of view), Tolkien and his representatives may indeed have been overly zealous regarding anything that could be construed as an infringement — but I think a reasonable person can still see where they were coming from. (It’s also possible that the Oxford don-cum-fantasy novelist, reputed to have had a snobbish attitude towards such lowly media formats as the paperback, was especially unhappy about the appearance of “Sauron” in a comic book, of all things — though this is pure speculation on my part.) And since there were apparently no repercussions from Marvel’s ignoring of said letter — Karl Lykos would get to keep his super-villain name through all the decades to come — it ultimately didn’t make any real difference.
Except, of course, for making Roy Thomas wish he’d named the character something else. Which is too bad — because it’s a really good name, y’know?
The costume Warren Worthington III dons on page 19 is, in continuity terms, his “earliest”, although it had only made its first appearance five months previously, in X-Men #55’s “Origins of the X-Men” backup feature. In a form of retroactive continuity that’s sometimes called a “continuity implant” — meaning new elements are added to a fictional backstory without contradicting anything that has come before — Roy Thomas and Werner Roth had presented the costume, and the corresponding appellation of “the Avenging Angel“, as representing Warren’s original costumed identity, prior to his first appearance in X-Men #1. (The outfit’s reappearance here would last for only two issues, however, as Adams would debut his own new design for the Angel’s threads in issue #62.)
Whoa, looks like our leathery-winged energy vampire has got the drop on our feathery-winged mutant hero, doesn’t it? And what’s up with those freaky eye-beams? My twelve-year-old self was eager to find out, back in the summer of 1969 — but it will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog to learn that I never saw a copy of X-Men #61 when it was released in August, and so wouldn’t learn how the story ended until years later. In fact, save for a handful of reprint issues, I wouldn’t buy another regular issue of X-Men until the title’s return to new material with issue #94, in 1975.
But more about that anon; now, though, I need to let you know what happened next with the Angel and Sauron, as originally chronicled by Thomas, Adams, and Palmer back in issue #61:
But just because the Angel has seen through Sauron’s hypnotic illusions, that doesn’t mean the guy’s not still trouble:
While Marvel Girl struggles mentally against Sauron’s illusions, her teammates take the physical battle to their foe — whose transformation has given him superhuman strength and resilience, as well as the power of flight. In the middle of the conflict, however, Sauron feels his body beginning to change back into the form of Karl Lykos, and attempts to make a quick retreat:
Lykos’ beloved, Tanya, has defied her father to come see him, having had a premonition of something terrible happening to him. Right about then, the X-Men (back in their civilian garb) show up to check on how Alex is doing:
Distraught at Karl’s attitude, Tanya leaves with her father, accompanying him back to their home in Scarsdale. That leaves Lykos alone with the X-folks, who awkwardly apologize for being around to see all that very personal business go down, then ask the doc how much they owe him. “I’ll… send you my bill…!” Lykos tells them; and the X-folks depart.
Fully juiced up once more, Sauron wings his way to nearby Scarsdale, then crashes through the Anderssens’ window, intent on murdering Tanya’s dad. But, unbeknownst to him, he’s been followed by the X-Men, who interrupt the proceedings before he can do Dr. Anderssen any real damage:
Where’s Lykos headed? Why, all the way back to where it all began — to Tierra del Fuego, and the cabin where he once lived with his father. He reaches his destination just as the last of his stolen energy ebbs away, causing him to transform from Sauron to his human self one last time. Then, as Karl, he settles in — and waits in solitude to die from the lack of any human energy to consume. But, wouldn’t you know, he’s once again been followed — and this time, not just by the X-Men:
And that’s all, folks. It’s an abrupt, and perhaps even a somewhat anticlimactic conclusion to our story — the reader anticipates a full-on rematch between Sauron and the X-Men that never quite occurs — but still effective, I think, in conveying a sense of pathos and regret.
And of course, it’s not really the end for Karl Lykos, in or out of his pterosaurian guise, though we wouldn’t learn of his survival until the “New X-Men” era, years later. As for our old, original X-Men — they’d move directly into a Savage Land adventure, just as you’d expect, which ended up featuring not only the return of Ka-Zar to these pages, but Magneto (the real one, this time) as well.
The conclusion of that storyline, in issue #63, turned out to be the swan song of the Thomas-Adams-Palmer team, though it wasn’t planned that way. Due to a variety of circumstances, however, Don Heck would draw the following issue, featuring the debut of the Japanese mutant hero Sunfire; while Denny O’Neil, rather than Roy Thomas, would script #65’s tale of Professor Charles Xavier’s return — which, as we’ve already noted, was plotted as well as drawn by Neal Adams. By issue #66 — the last issue of X-Men that would feature new material for the next five years — Thomas was the last man standing of the triumvirate, both Adams and Palmer having been replaced for that final tale by Sal Buscema and Sam Grainger, respectively.
But by then, my twelve-year-old self was already long gone. Having missed the second part of the Sauron storyline, I didn’t bother to pick up another issue of X-Men, no matter who was writing and drawing it. And since I hadn’t been that much of an X-fan before the advent of Thomas-Adams-Palmer, I barely registered the series’ passing in January, 1970.
As I’ve already mentioned, however, I would in the years to come pick up a reprint issue here and there;**** I’d also enjoy “The Strangest Teens of All” when they got a guest shot in Captain America or Marvel Team-Up or the like. Nevertheless, I wasn’t exactly pining for the return of the team in new adventures in their own title — and my expectations when I picked up a copy of Giant-Size X-Men #1 one day in 1975 were quite modest…
*Per Thomas’ account in his 1999 Alter Ego article, “Mutant Memories, or: ‘Write Pretty, Roy!'”, as well as his 2006 introduction to Marvel Masterworks – The X-Men, Vol. 6.
**What readers wouldn’t learn until quite a few years later was who had built the Magneto robot in the first place; but if you happened to read our Daredevil #55 post a few weeks back, you’ll know that it was the sinister Starr Saxon, later to be known as Machinesmith.
***For the record: In a 1999 interview in Comic Book Artist #3, Neal Adams claims that the idea of bringing back Professor X via the revelation of Changeling’s masquerade was his idea; while, in his own Alter Ego X-reminiscence published soon after that interview appeared, Roy Thomas says he’s pretty sure he had the Changeling “emergency exit” option in the back of his mind from the time the original “Death of Professor X” story was conceived and approved, and that he shared this information with Adams over the course of their collaboration on the series. He does give credit to Adams for coming up with the idea of the Changeling’s conspicuous absence from the group of mutants captured by the Sentinels, however, as well as for plotting the story in which Charles Xavier actually returned, in #65 — which, incidentally, was scripted by Denny O’Neil, rather than by Thomas.
****As most of the blog’s readers will probably already know, although it was cancelled with issue #66, X-Men was revived as a reprint-only title six months later, and continued as such through issue #93, in 1975.