It seems almost impossible now, but in 1975 the X-Men were basically a flushed franchise that nobody gave a shit about. The brand had fallen into such disrepair that Marvel's publishing strategy for the team was to simply reprint old issues with new covers. I'm serious.
Len Wein took the job nobody in the world wanted and re-booted the X-Men with Giant-Size # 1, and pretty much kick started both the Bronze age and Marvel's greatest empire. Spider-Man is its greatest single asset, don't get me wrong. But the X-Men have been almost a separate publishing imprint that has turned what seems like hundreds of junk spin-offs into monetary gold. They've sold a few Wolverine lunchboxes, too.
So my next step in finding the roots of the X-Men was to forage for the beginning of the team as we know it now. As stated earlier, that officially began with Giant-Size # 1 and Len Wein, but obviously it was Claremont who scripted what would become the standard of superhero soap operatics. And that began with X-Men # 94.
The formula for Claremont is pretty clear by page 5:
DRAMA = INTERESTING
And nothing produces drama like a pack of giant assholes, which is what the X-Men were. It's unbelievable. The worst of course is Wolverine, who still has a reputation as a bit of a bad ass. Forget about it. The Wolverine in the early Claremont books makes today's version look like a sheepish little fairy.
This was not a silent man with a Samurai code looking to quell the beast within. This was a stone prick desperately interested in starting a fight for no reason at all. It's beautiful.
And he's absolutely not alone, by the way. Cyclops has always been a bit of a douche, in these early Claremont issues he's completely insufferable. Sunfire might be the biggest cock of the whole group, but it's tough to be sure because he's such a giant dong that he immediately leaves, tells everyone to fuck off and never to call him again. You think I'm kidding...I'm not. Read it, it's awesome!
Don't even get me started on Thunderbird, who is simultaneously a giant asshole and a whiny little girl. The good news is that he'll be gone next issue, so you don't have to worry about it for long. That pretty much left just Wolverine to fill the role as Team Bastard. He did it well.
Hey man, give credit where it's due - Claremont was right. Drama is interesting, for the most part. Those stories pop, man! The old Stan Lee stuff is legitimately difficult to slog through in the here and now...the old Claremont stories feel like a guilty pleasure. He basically took a United Nations cast, dipped them in "All My Children", and then handed each of them wide scale lethal destructive force and turned them loose. It's delicious!
But before we crown Chris Claremont as the James Joyce of comic books, let's be realistic about the downsides as well. The problem with running soap operatics is that everything gets a little cartoony. And I guess if you don't mind cartoony, then there is no problem with the X-Men of this era.
But here's the thing. In this issue, the threat is a guy named Count Nefaria, OK? And as if that wasn't absurd enough, his plan is to warp a bunch of Ani-Men into what basically amounts to NORAD. Fine.
But how does he achieve this objective? He sends them a little box with a button on it that literally says "Press Me". AND THEY FUCKING PRESS THE BUTTON. Are you goddamn kidding me???
It's absolutely ridiculous. If you had any sense in your brain you'd start putting the pieces together and say "hmmmm.....Count NEFARIA.....goddamn ANI-MEN......fucking box that says PRESS ME on it and then they press it.....waitaminute....this is FUCKING STUPID!!!!"
But instead you barely register any of that, because basically you're just turning pages until the fighting is over so you can see if Jean is really going to split up with Scott and leave the team like Warren and Bobby did. Because it's a soap opera, man, and it's a damn good one, you want my opinion.
Except then Count Nefaria opens his mouth and starts spewing out the most improbable crap you've ever heard in your life. And you think to yourself; "Chris, why do you have to have them say stupid shit like that and almost ruin all the other good stuff going on here? Why can't he just say something vaguely human? Is it absolutely necessary to make me feel like an asshole for reading this every six panels or so?"
Apparently it is.
In his defense, everybody wrote like that until Alan Moore taught everybody it was OK to aim higher than 12-year-olds with Swamp Thing. Bottom line on the early Claremont issues? I recommend them. Actually, there's a lot that modern comics could learn from this stuff, because the "event" was good character interaction every month. (Or to be perfectly accurate, every other month. In the beginning, Claremont's X-Men were bi-monthly and on life support)
And the art is good, too. You go from Cockrum to Byrne to Paul Smith, and it's all quite a bit superior to what The King was putting down on his run. So my final assessment is that if you're looking for the roots of the X-Men....skip the Lee/Kirby stuff and head straight for "Days of Our Mutant Lives".