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Dec 15

X-Men Legends #1-2

Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2022 by Paul in x-axis

X-MEN LEGENDS #1-2
“Interim for Mutants”
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Dave Wachter
Colourist: Edgar Delgado
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Editor: Mark Basso

We’re going to get through the reviews backlog, really we are. And with that in mind, here’s the first arc from the second volume of X-Men Legends. Quite why you renumber an anthology title from #1 is a bit hard to follow, beyond the obvious hope that it boosts sales for a couple of months, but I guess that’s reason enough.

Originally, Legends was pitched on the idea of classic X-Men creators returning to their own runs; with Gambit and X-Treme X-Men, that seems to be the format now for Chris Claremont minis. This arc, though, is something else. Roy Thomas wrote the X-Men in the 1960s, and his issues with Neal Adams are pretty significant. That’s not the period he’s going back to. Instead, this is an exercise in bridging the gap between Incredible Hulk #181 and Giant-Size X-Men #1 for Wolverine.

From a continuity nerd’s perspective, there kind of isn’t a gap between those two stories, because Daniel Way already filled it in Wolverine: Origins #28-29… but fair enough, there are other stories that say he went on several more unspecified missions in that period. Still, is it a gap that needs filled? It’s not like Wolverine changes radically between those two issues.

In fact, about half of issue #1 is taken up with a reprise of the Hulk/Wolverine fight from Hulk #181, in case you weren’t familiar with it. The point, I guess, is to re-establish that Wolverine fails in his debut mission and really, really wants to prove himself, while also sulking unco-operatively at the military types who expect him to achieve more for them. And Dave Wachter’s art, while appropriately traditional, is really quite good here. He does a nice chunky Hulk, a bit of dynamic action, and he makes the original Wolverine costume – the one with the whiskers – look pretty good.

For, yes, that is the point that Roy Thomas has decided to address here: why did Wolverine redesign his mask between Incredible Hulk #181 and Giant-Size X-Men #1? And I guess if you’re going to revisit old continuity then you either do a fill-in and risk seeming inconsequential, or you find a gap you can work with. I suppose it does count as something that hasn’t been explained, but that’s probably because most people kind of see it as an art choice.

But anyway. Wolverine needs a mission to prove himself, and this time he gets sent to rescue some prisoners from a hidden Secret Empire base in the USA, without the Americans noticing. And since we’re playing continuity bingo, he gets teamed up with the Living Diamond, a mega-obscure villain from the 1960s back-up strip about the origin of Cyclops. You’d think someone would have dusted this guy off, since he’s mildly important to Scott’s back story, plus he’s a telepath who can turn his body to diamond, which is a heck of a coincidence in a number of ways we’d probably prefer not to think about too closely. And again, Wachter makes him look good here.

The reason for using him here seems to be that he’s physically indestructible just like Wolverine’s claws. There’s a nice idea here: Diamond doesn’t know he’s a nonentity, and thinks he’s the established A-list villain who’s been saddled with a sidekick. Anyway, once they’re in the Secret Empire base – which belongs to the Brand Corporation – they stumble into a whole bunch of 60s mutants. This is all referring to the early 70s storyline, which ran through a bunch of different titles, in which the X-Men kept getting captured by the Secret Empire, and showed up with increasingly depleted numbers each time they got to guest star.

But in fact, it’s an illusion created by Mesmero, who has already escaped the Secret Empire and is busily stealing stuff from the Brand Corporation facility with the aid of his sidekick Wildlife. At this point things get seriously mired in obscure continuity, since Wildlife is a hypnotised Beast – he was working at the Brand Corporation in his early 70s solo run – and he’s reminded of his true identity when he crosses paths with Linda Donaldson, a supporting character from that book who has barely appeared anywhere else.

This is where things start to descend into a continuity quagmire. We establish that Mesmero escaped from the Secret Empire by getting Beast to help him, and then left everyone behind. The material with Beast and Linda hinges on you knowing that he was in love with her and she was secretly a Secret Empire agent, which is explained here, but it’s not really set up – and so it’s difficult to give it much weight. Wolverine stops the Living Diamond from being really bad, and takes Beast’s mask. I guess this might also be tying up Linda Donaldson’s subplot from the early 1970s – I’m not sure how much of a resolution that ever reached. But if so, it needed more set-up than it gets, and with half of issue #1 devoted to a fight everyone knows backwards, there was certainly space to do it.

It’s one of those stories that’s less than the sum of its parts – the art’s pretty good, and individual moments have a lot of charm, but it winds up dancing between the continuity raindrops instead of telling its story.

 

Bring on the comments

  1. The Other Michael says:

    Of all the things I ever wondered, the origin of Wolverine’s mask was never one of them. And the explanation–that Beast’s disguise was damaged in just the perfect way to fit Logan so he took it instead–is just… bizarre.

  2. Chris V says:

    I thought the reason we never saw the Living Diamond again was because he died at the end of his first appearance.
    Yes, obviously, most superhero comic characters return from the dead; but we did see him brought back as a zombie in that She-Hulk story. Meaning he had to actually die at some point.

  3. Omar Karindu says:

    Wasn’t the Living Diamond dead at the time? I thought his appearances in Cyclops’s now mostly forgotten Silver Age origin ended with him being killed resisting some gadget created by Professor X.

    I didn’t think he turned up again until his appearance as a zombie in Byrne’s “X-Humed” story in Sensational She-Hulk.

    I guess this might also be tying up Linda Donaldson’s subplot from the early 1970s – I’m not sure how much of a resolution that ever reached.

    In the 1970s stories, Linda Donaldson goes unaccounted for somewhere between Captain America v.1 #174 and the big wrap-up of the whole Secret Empire plot in #175.

    This is probably a consequence of both the need to switch the plot over from Amazing Adventures and the way Engelhart rewrote the story on the fly in response to the then-current Watergate scandal.

  4. Josie says:

    I’m sure I’m criminally overlooking a number of people, but it sure feels like Roy Thomas is perhaps the last really big classic creator still with us these days. I mean, I know Engleheart, Starlin, and McGregor are still with us, but I think Thomas predates them by a few years.

  5. Allan M says:

    Larry Lieber, Stan Lee’s brother and writer of a shedload of Marvel stuff, is still alive at the age of 91. Sal Buscema’s still alive, he’s 86. They seem to be retired, hopefully happily so. But Roy’s still at it at 82.

    Roy Thomas’ first X-Men story was published in 1966. This was published in 2022. Insane to think about. And because it’s Roy Thomas, it’s patching over an extremely minor continuity issue by drawing in even more obscure continuity. Bless his heart, never changed a bit.

    Which is basically X-Men Legends in a nutshell for me – I never think it’s actually good, but it’s always what it promises to be. That sure is a Louise Simonson story. That sure is a Larry Hama story. That sure if a Claremont story.

  6. Jenny says:

    A story to explain “why Wolverine’s mask is different” is the most Roy Thomas idea of all time.

  7. Jose L. says:

    I enjoyed this for what it is, but the ending doesn’t work, as it pertains to Beast’s continuity. The Brand security guards aren’t shocked to see Hank in his lab, nor revealed as the Beast. But a flashback in Avengers #140 shows that he was fired from Brand between Amazing Adventures #16 and Hulk #161. The guards also shoot at Beast when he does return there but greet him friendly here. I don’t blame Thomas for not catching such an obscure point of continuity, but this entire story is him wallowing in it, so…

  8. Paul says:

    @Allan M: Yes, that’s a fair description of X-Men Legends. You may not WANT to read a Roy Thomas continuity patch story, but you can hardly say it isn’t what was promised.

  9. Luis Dantas says:

    I kind of like Roy Thomas compulsion to create continuity links, bridges, tunnels and pathways. He was enthusiastic about it in, for instance, 1980s DC book “All-Star Squadron”. But it is a bit of an acquired taste, and certainly not aligned with the current trends.

    Sal Buscema was drawing not too long ago. He did some Rom for IDW IIRC, and more recently drew (quite well, I might add) a character named “The Blue Baron” for Sitcomics.

    I find it surprising that we have an actual origin story now for Wolverine’s current mask, but there isn’t still much of one for the tan and brown costume. The colors may have been inspired by the Imperial Guard’s Fang’s costume, although I also suspect a reference to Dark Phoenix. I guess only Byrne truly knows and not too many people care all that much.

  10. Drew says:

    @Jenny: Technically, I think the most Roy Thomas thing ever would be if Wolverine’s new mask is modeled after an ancient Hyborian tribal mask once worn by Conan. Or possibly because it fell through a wormhole created by a Justice Society villain. 😉

  11. Omar Karindu says:

    Luis Dantas said: I kind of like Roy Thomas compulsion to create continuity links, bridges, tunnels and pathways. He was enthusiastic about it in, for instance, 1980s DC book “All-Star Squadron”. But it is a bit of an acquired taste, and certainly not aligned with the current trends.

    It works when it’s a quick bit in the service of a larger story, or when making the link allows for something new and interesting to happen. So, for example, explaining why certain JSA members dropped in and out of the series by having stuff happen to them worked well in All-Star Squadron, because it generated plots and characterization.

    Thomas gets less interesting when the story exists primarily to make a relatively trivial link. This story sounds like it qualifies, as did stories like having Shazam/Captain Marvel villain Mr. Mind get the idea for his Monster Society of Evil from fighting the Justice Society in a previously unknown “secret” first adventure.

    Similarly, trotting out an obscurity like Red Raven — a character who barely appeared even in the 1940s — for just one issue is an example of this kind of thing. It would work if there were actually some interesting setup with the character, but not when it’s just “Hey, this existed!” And the Red Raven is definitely a character who sort of just exists in the Marvel Universe, like almost all of the obscurities Roy grouped together as the Liberty Legion.

    Making the Whizzer and Miss America the original parents of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch was a good example of this. Not only did it bring in a true stinker of a character in the form of Nuklo, it also meant years of the Whizzer randomly turning up in Avengers stories to do little of interest or note until Wanda and Pietro were written away from that backstory and the Whizzer was killed off.

  12. Jenny, I came here to post that same comment almost verbatim.

    Luis D, you said: “I find it surprising that we have an actual origin story now for Wolverine’s current mask, but there isn’t still much of one for the tan and brown costume.”

    It’s canonical that Wolverine took Fang’s costume during the fight with the Imperial Guard in X-Men #107. He still had it on when they returned to Earth and apparently he just decided it looked good on him.

  13. Luis Dantas says:

    It is implied that he liked the color scheme, I agree.

    But it is arguable at best; it took about 30 issues before he switched costumes, after all.
    What little we see on panel of his reaction to Fang’s costume (#109) is that he can’t wait to go back to his regular yellow-and-blues.

    Surely there is more material there for a story than in a simple change of mask design.

  14. Chris V says:

    It’s hard to blend in with a forest and be a hunter while wearing a bright yellow and blue costume. I thought at some point it was mentioned that he liked the new costume because of that fact.
    No, the mask didn’t need an explanation either.

  15. wwk5d says:

    Yeah but there is a big gap between the time they returned back to Earth and when he started wearing the brown and tan costume.

    The funny thing is Cockrum supposedly wanted to put Wolverine in the Fang costume full time but Byrne nixed that idea once he started drawing the title.

  16. Thom H. says:

    Don’t quote me, but I’m pretty sure I read that Byrne didn’t like the yellow and blue because they reminded him of American football uniform colors. Which was irksome on a Canadian character.

    That’s not an in-story explanation, obviously, but maybe Wolverine felt the same way and never expressed the sentiment to anyone?

    Okay, I found the quote: https://byrnerobotics.com/FAQ/listing.asp?ID=2&T1=Questions+about+Comic+Book+Projects#46

  17. Byrne, I’ve got bad news for you about the Blue Bombers…

  18. Drew says:

    “So, for example, explaining why certain JSA members dropped in and out of the series by having stuff happen to them worked well in All-Star Squadron, because it generated plots and characterization.”

    I do love how the actual reasons were “They got their own solo titles” (Flash, Green Lantern) or “They weren’t very popular” (Hourman, Starman), or occasionally “Max Gaines was considering breaking All-American Publications away from National Comics, so the JSA suddenly only had characters owned by A-AP,” but Roy Thomas is like, “No, every missing member was kidnapped by the aliens who appeared in that one Wonder Woman story and never again.”

  19. Michael says:

    @Omar- My favorite example of a useless Roy Thomas retcon is the time he explained that a Nazi stole Namor’s swimming trunks just to explain why Namor’s swimming trunks were colored black in an Avengers issue.
    Even when there really was a legitimate issue, Roy’s way of handling it wasn’t the best. The Black Canary desperately needed an explanation as to why she was younger than she should have been but Roy’s explanation about how she was the original Black Canary’s daughter with her mother’s memories was just convoluted and icky.
    And then there’s Roy’s attempt to try to explain the discrepancy over whether Cap went into suspended animation in the English Channel or near Newfoundland, which gave us the Ameridroid and Cap being involved in two plane crashes in 24 hours.

  20. Nu-D says:

    the Living Diamond, a mega-obscure villain from the 1960s back-up strip about the origin of Cyclops.

    Probably I’m missing something, but the character from the Cyclops origin story was named Jack O’Diamonds, not the Living Diamond. Maybe he took on a different code name somewhere along the way?

  21. Chris V says:

    He became the Living Diamond when he exposed himself to radiation again and it increased his power so that his entire body turned into pure diamond.

  22. Nu-D says:

    Ah, I guess I didn’t remember the renaming. I only read the story once, about 30 years ago. I’m embarrassed to admit: I really don’t like Golden- and Silver-age comics, and have a limited tolerance for Bronze-age books. I’ve read a good amount of Silver- and Bronze-age Marvel, most of it exactly once.

  23. Mark Coale says:

    Silly me, I was picturing the nova villain Diamondhead while reading all these comments.

    As a kid/teen, I loved Roy’s continuity implants in things like All-Star Squadron, things like changing the Tarantula’s costume or making the female Firebrand.

  24. Allan M says:

    Silver Age X-Men is kind of fascinating as they revamp and change direction in the book over and over again because it’s not selling very well. It’s not the worst Silver Age Marvel series, but it’s the most desperate.

    That said, it did give the world Coffee A Go Go and Bernard the Poet. “Like, life is a yo-yo… and mankind keeps tying knots in the strings! Go up… go down… Then call it progress! For, happiness is a warm puppet!”

  25. Josie says:

    As I’m not too familiar with the continuity patching stories of Roy Thomas, would it be accurate to say that Kurt Busiek’s Avengers work sort of did the same thing, but with a greater degree of service to storytelling?

  26. Alexx Kay says:

    When I did research on Neil Gaiman’s use of DC continuity in Sandman (http://www.panix.com/~alexx/sandman.html), I was surprised to see that Roy Thomas was nearly as much an influence on Sandman as Alan Moore was.

    Gaiman is another writer who, like Busiek, enjoys Thomas-esque continuity games, but is miles ahead of Thomas in both plot and prose.

  27. Joe S.Walker says:

    Roy Thomas’ continuity-fixing isn’t as annoying as his reworking/homaging/self-pleasuring with bits from older comics. Didn’t he ever just make something up by himself?

    There’s also his habit of alluding to his favourite cultural stuff, but that is interestingly dated. When was a Marvel or DC character last called “a stranger in a strange land?”

  28. Nu-D says:

    “Stranger in a Strange Land,” isn’t just a dated reference to a Heinlein novel. It’s a Biblical allusion, referenced in the Passover liturgy, going back at least 2000 years.

  29. Nu-D says:

    “Stranger in a Strange Land,” isn’t just a dated reference to a 1960’s Heinlein novel. It’s a Biblical allusion, referenced in the Passover liturgy, going back at least 2000 years.

  30. Josie says:

    Alexx Kay, that’s quite an impressive resource. I’m no longer a fan of Gaiman’s writing and haven’t read Sandman in decades, but this is really fascinating stuff, which I never would’ve picked up on the first time through.

  31. Andrew says:

    I’ve always had a huge soft spot for Roy Thomas and his love of ultra obscure continuity.

    All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc are both favourites of mine from when I picked up the bulk of both runs for incredibly cheap prices in the early 2000s.

    I felt so bad for him coming out of Crisis on Infinite Earths to see all the work he’d put in basically knee-capped by much of the continuity being wiped out.

  32. Mark Coale says:

    When I was reading Sandman as it came out, I knew about Cain and Abel obviously, but didn’t learn until a few issue in that Lucien was the host of Ghost Castle and the Witches Three were from the Witching Hour. And so on.

    Tangentially, when I did the Starman metatexual guide, I learned about continuity that I was obscure even for a nerd like me.

  33. Allan M says:

    Busiek (and Waid, and Gruenwald, and Ewing, among others) are definitely inheritors of Thomas’ legacy and style. Thomas was superhero comics first real fan-turned-pro, someone who grew up on comics and was deeply invested not just in the characters, but the whole idea of a shared universe. And he needed to understand how it all fit together as a cohesive whole. He cared about continuity in a way that no prior writer in comics history ever had. And arguably more than anyone has since then.

    I can’t sum it up any more simply than this: if you look up “retcon” on Wikipedia, the first paragraph under “Etymology” is about the first known use of “retroactive continuity” as a phrase. The second paragraph is about Roy Thomas and All-Star Squadron. He did not invent retcons, nor did he coin the term, but you cannot discuss retcons as a concept without Thomas cropping up eventually.

    If you had to map out every Big Two comics writer on a continuum of caring most about continuity on the left and the least on the right, the two poles are Roy Thomas and Bob Haney.

  34. Mark Coale says:

    I have 1 or 2 issues of Gruenwald’s fanzine Omniverse but I’d love someday to get a collection of them.

  35. Thom H. says:

    Is there a good resource for learning more about Roy Thomas? I don’t know much about him or his work, and I’d like to remedy that blind spot in my comics knowledge.

  36. FUBAR007 says:

    And since we’re playing continuity bingo, he gets teamed up with the Living Diamond, a mega-obscure villain from the 1960s back-up strip about the origin of Cyclops. You’d think someone would have dusted this guy off, since he’s mildly important to Scott’s back story, plus he’s a telepath who can turn his body to diamond, which is a heck of a coincidence in a number of ways we’d probably prefer not to think about too closely.

    I’ve been half-expecting a revelation that Living Diamond is Emma’s biological father since the Morrison run.

  37. Allan M says:

    @ Thom H.; Wikipedia’s entry on Roy Thomas is actually solid and provides a good intro for his life and career. There are also a few interviews of him on Youtube, not that many so it’s easy to check one or two out. From there, Thomas himself has a blog called The Official Roy Thomas Characters, Concepts and Creations Database, which has some more personal info, and then a list of every single character or major concept he invented for Marvel, DC, or other companies, each with a picture, first appearance, co-creators, footnotes if they were revamps of a pre-existing character, and for some (usually major) ones, an anecdote explaining their creation.

    It’s instructive of Thomas in that it’s insanely comprehensive – one-issue walk-on civilians from one issue in the 60s get listed – goes from Adamantium to Iron Fist to Wolverine to Baron Helmut Zemo, showing how prolific he is. And his anecdotes are incredibly specific. For example, here’s Thomas on the creation of the All-New, All-Different X-Men. Note the specificity. That’s Thomas.

    “In mid-1974, in a Marvel editorial meeting consisting of myself (as editor-in-chief), publisher Stan Lee, president Al Landau, and production manager John Verpoorten—and possibly art director John Romita—Landau ventured the opinion that it might be smart for Marvel to launch a mag featuring a team of super-heroes from various foreign lands in which Marvel wanted to sell more comics.  All present immediately realized the notion’s worth.  Sure, it would also benefit Landau’s company Transworld—but all that really mattered was that it would probably be a good thing for Marvel.  Since Stan and I (more so me) had been consciously looking for a way to revive the X-Men, who hadn’t had their own mag for nearly half a decade—and since I had already co-created a Canadian-originated character called the Wolverine with Len Wein and John Romita in an issue of THE INCREDIBLE HULK—I at once proposed a new version of THE X-MEN comicbook, in which a couple of the original team members would go on a worldwide hunt to gather mutants from various nations.  Stan instantly approved the idea…  I quickly assigned the writer Mike Friedrich and artist Dave Cockrum to develop the concept…  and the result, some months later was GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1 (May, 1975), although by then I had resigned as editor-in-chief, and new color-comics head Len Wein had decided to script the new series himself.”

  38. Mark Coale says:

    There’s also Roy Thomas’Alter Ego magazine from Twomorrows.

  39. Thom H. says:

    Excellent — thank you both!

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