Not a dream! Not a hoax! This issue, AN X-MAN DIES!
Man, I hope this doesn’t start a terrible trend or something… Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of X-Men #95 awaits!
Writer: Len Wein (plot), Chris Claremont (script)
Penciler: Dave Cockrum
Inker: Sam Grainger
Colorist: Petra Goldberg
Letterer: Karen Mantlo
Editor: Marvel Wolfman
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 25 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $360.00
Previously in X-Men: When his young students (Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Marvel Girl) were lost in action, Professor Charles Xavier did what any grieving father figure would do:He got a new bunch of kids to lord it over. In his defense, they were successful in their mission to save the original X-Men, and once that mission was over, most of them chose to stay at the Xavier School of Higher Learning to learn how to best use their own mutant powers. Colossus, from Russia, with the power to turn into biological steel! Storm, from Africa, goddess of the wind and weather! Nightcrawler, from Germany, with the power to teleport! Wolverine, from Canada, with his healing powers and enhanced senses! Banshee, from Ireland, with his mighty sonic scream! Thunderbird, from the Apachean tribes, with his superhuman strength and agility! Led by original X-Man, Cyclops, they set out to combat Count Nefaria and his Ani-Men, and keep them from destroying the world with America’s nuclear arsenal!
It’s… not going so well…
After Count Nefaria’s attack at the climax of last issue left their ship destroyed, the seven mutants are left plummeting towards the Rocky Mountains (but don’t they LOOK amazing?) A quick look at their assets reveals that only 28.5% of their number are capable of sustaining an airborne vector, leaving the heroes to quickly scramble for an escape plan… Say what you will about Colossus, he’s a straightforward guy. (And I am almost certain that he called Wolverine a bad word in panel one.) The heroes make their way to the ground to find their young man of steel unharmed, but the question of how the senior member of their squad is faring is drawn out to the last possible moment for dramatic effect… The sequence is very effective, and leaves us with a very real worry that Cyclops is going to snuff it (or at least get hurt), before Banshee returns for the save. Given their history as opponents in battle, the cautious camaraderie between Sean Cassidy and Scott Summers is pretty endearing here. Once on the ground, the heroes send in Nightcrawler to play point man and assess the threat level inside Cheyenne Mountain, leading the German mutant into a hand-to-hand battle with the overtly anti-mutant Frog-Man. Nightcrawler triumphs, and opens the security doors to let his partners inside, only to find that the doors were but the first line of defense. With THREE strongmen/combat specialists onboard, this team of X-Men seems a bit disbalanced, doesn’t it? Keep that in mind, it’ll be important later. Storm gets her moment in the sun next, taking out a squad of Air Force security officers without any bloodshed, thanks to her weather powers. But before they can continue further, the Ani-Men attack! Thunderbird and Banshee are quickly taken out of the fight (in the Bronze Age of Comics, any strike to the head would lead to a consequence-free nap for the bonk-ee), leaving a five-on-five battle. Slowly but surely, and with plenty of character-building exclamations, the X-Men defeat the male-Ani-Men, but Dragonfly still has her hypnotic powers… …but no particular skill or wit in using them. With the villainous mooks down and out, the assembled X-Men have two additional problems: A ticking nuclear time bomb and the mastermind of the whole affair, Count Lucino Nefaria (who stands alongside Thaal Sinestro and Prince Evillo in the mighty trinity of “Dudes You Should Know Better Than Have Any Interactions With.”) While Cyclops and company set off to shut down the doomsday device, Thunderbird and Banshee break away to take out Nefaria. Is it pride in response to being knocked out of the fight that drives him to foolishly grab the fleeing jet? Or just bull-headedness? Either way, the end result is the same. The X-Men discover (thanks to Professor X’s telepathy) that their battle with the Ani-Man miraculously knocked out the Doomsday weapon, converging in the launch bay just in time to see their comrade pounding on the plane’s cockpit, raging that he’s a warrior of the Apache, and he’s damn well going to prove it… Professor Xavier has been through a lot in his career as mutant educator/superhero mentor, but nothing quite like the horror of linking his mind with Thunderbird’s as the plain explodes. For the first time in history (notwithstanding the later “Vulcan Team” retcons), he feels one of his X-Men die in battle… It’s a grim ending, but one that sets the stakes for X-Men stories to come and does it hardcore, and leaves us with the expectation that any of these heroes could die at any time at the slightest misstep. (The revolving door of superhero resurrections had not yet been put into effect in 1975, one might add, and though cynics might tell you different, this issue became part of the foundation of the X-Men books and was an important portion of the team’s renaissance.) The real story of this death, according to Len Wein, came in the realization that Thunderbird and Wolverine were too similar in character and abilities, and they chose to kill one of them to balance out the team dynamic and powers. (Toldja that bit about three strong-guys would be important later.) X-Men #95 is full of character, and even if the plot skims past some important bits, with a young Dave Cockrum in fine form on the art side, making for an issue that lives up to at least some of its own hype, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall. (For a graduate-level assignment in comic theory, just imagine what the landscape of comics might be like, though, if they chose to keep John Proudstar and offed Logan instead…)