Marvel’s ‘The History of the X-Men’ docuseries unpacks comics’ favorite mutant saga

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Before the Avengers earned their current sovereignty in today’s cultural zeitgeist, another super team formed the backbone of Marvel Comics’ storytelling: the X-Men. An ever-changing roster of heroes with mutant powers, the X-Men have gone through significant shifts in popularity and continuity changes since their inception in 1963.

In the lead-up to the publication of the “House of X” and “Powers of X” miniseries in July, Marvel is highlighting seminal moments in the X-Men’s comic book history with its “History of the X-Men” docuseries on YouTube. The first installment of this series centers around “Giant Size X-Men” No. 1 — written by Len Wein and featuring art by Dave Cockrum, this issue gave the X-Men new life after the property had been canceled in 1969.

This reboot was spawned from a desire to appeal to international audiences; in the mid-1970s, Marvel’s president had licensed the company’s comic books to be sold in international territories. The X-Men, who had been out of commission for six years at the time, were tapped to fill this void in 1975 with a team from around the globe, adding Colossus (a Russian), Nightcrawler (a German) and Storm (a Kenyan).

Though Marvel suffered initial fan backlash against the reboot, the positive response after publication was enough to spur new issues — ones that would shape the X-Men as readers know them today and eventually propel the new team to the forefront of the Marvel brand. Though Wein wrote this particular issue, then-intern Chris Claremont contributed the idea for the ending of “Giant Size X-Men” No. 1, foreshadowing his eventual 17-year creative stewardship of the X-Men and invention of classic storylines. Many of Claremont’s stories have since been adapted to film, such as the “Dark Phoenix” and “Days of Future Past” arcs.

As this entry into Marvel’s docuseries makes clear, these popular later stories — ones that positioned the X-Men, who routinely face prejudice from non-mutants in their universe, as a metaphor for discrimination — wouldn’t have been possible without the successful shake-up that was “Giant Size X-Men” No. 1, an issue that revitalized and diversified the team for the better. The interviews that this series patches together highlight the creative minds of the men who made this landmark issue possible — Wein’s writing, Cockrum’s extraordinary art and Claremont’s vision for the X-Men’s future as social allegory. It’s these singular creators whom legions of Marvel fans, and the fictional future generations of mutantkind, have to thank for the X-Men’s storied history.

Contact Grace Orriss at [email protected].