I think we need to stop liking things ironically, and stop liking things out of reverence for the potential they wrought as well. This has become a hot topic in recent years, with a plethora of merchandise being sold to people that don’t even like it… it came up for me when I started down my trek to read all of the issues of X-Men.
I was trying to slog my way through the early Stan Lee / Jack Kirby run, and finding it difficult. Upon hearing my complaints, a friend of mine stated: what did you expect? All the classic 60s stuff is bad by today’s standards, isn’t it?
Some of it is campy, some of it is socially or culturally insensitive, but there is a clear divide between what is good and what is bad. And nowhere is that divide more prevalent than when looking at the gap between Marvel Masterworks Spider-Man and Marvel Masterworks X-Men.
Masterworks Spider-Man contains Amazing Fantasy #15 and Amazing Spider-Man #s 1-10, introducing seminal characters like Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant, and of course, Spidey himself. It also brings to the table classic villains like the Chameleon, Doctor Octopus, the Sandman, the Lizard, Electro, and more. But more than all that fan-candy… it’s really well-written work. There’s real angst here, as Peter continually struggles with his dual identity. It mixes grand super-hero epic with Archie-style romance comics, with some real on-again off-again drama that occurs in those awkward lost years of adolescence.
You find yourself reading through Masterworks Spider-Man very quickly, and being almost sad when it is over. It is a genuinely good read, with incredible imagination and ideas and compelling, interesting villains.
As much as it pains me, that is not the case with Masterworks X-Men.
Each and every one of these ten chapters is a trial to get through. The original five X-Men… well, no. I was about to say they didn’t work well together, but later they work together as X-Factor just fine. Lee doesn’t make them work well together though. Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, Jean, Angel… there’s this weird, creepy 5-way love hexagon that also briefly involves Professor X. They all talk like overtly obnoxious stereotypes and just plain don’t gel in their civilian lives. In addition the villains are flat, one-dimensional, and cumbersome idiots like the Vanisher and Lucifer. Even Magneto is bad here, lacking any measure of the depth he would later be presented with.
So no, not all of the 60s Lee stuff is bad by today’s standards. Given the fact that it was eventually cancelled until Chris Claremont came along and saved the day, I think we sometimes gloss over the fact that it wasn’t good by the standards of the time either.
Marvel Masterworks Spider-Man is, as the title implies, a Masterwork. It gets a a full 5/5 stars. Masterworks X-Men… well, it’s a great idea handled poorly, so by my self-imposed rating system that’s a 2/5 stars. Although honestly, I’d love to give it only 1.