It has been about four months since I’ve last done a Classic Comic feature. For the new folks here, Classic Comic Friday’s feature a comic from my personal collection which I look back upon and review. Then, if we’re lucky, I can compare it to newer comics similar to it so we can see how things have changed.
This past August, I was fortunate enough to find a decent-quality copy of X-Men #95: The death of Thunderbird. He was arguably the first X-Men to be killed (because people debate Changeling), and set-off a idea of the “unknown” with these X-Men comics. Another notable mention is that X-Men #95 features Chris Claremont’s second story with the X-Men.
So here we go:
X-Men #95 (October, 1975)
Chris Claremont (writer), Len Wein (plotter), Dave Cockrum (pencils, cover), Sam Grainger (inker), Petra Goldberg (colours), Karen Mantlo (letterer) Cockrum, Gil Kane & Dan Crespi (cover). $0.25
If you were unfamiliar with the X-Men prior to this issue, Claremont and Wein set up this story so you can fully grasp each character within the first few pages. You find out who is the strongest, which heroes can fly, who the X-Men’s field leader is, plus who has the smartest mouth and who has the biggest ego to them. All within the first few pages. Within those pages, would you believe we also get a recap to who all the villain is – Count Nefaria – AND his masterplan! They certainly do not make stories like they used to.
So now that everyone and everything is established at the beginning, the rest of the story is a playground of fun ideas to entice the reader to keep reading. Nightcrawler teleports in the enemy base to let the X-Men in, followed by a battle between the the villains evil creations: The Ani-Men and X-Men. Just when the X-Men have seemingly won, Count Nefaria escapes in a jet plane. Fortunately, X-Man Thunderbird follows suite and jumps on the plane. As Nefaria tries to escape, Thunderbird uses his brute force and beats the plane down to stop Nefaria at the price of Thunderbird’s own life.
As shocking as it comes to a comic reader that a hero had just died, it was done so artistically well, thanks to the legendary Dave Cockrum. Well-known for his clean pencils and well-plotted out panels, Cockrum owns this book. When the X-Men are on a mountain, their hair is blowing. When problems appear, the faces clearly represent what the characters are saying or feeling. The action sequences are never jumbled and without dialogue, we can tell what is happening in the story. It is very rare to see comics these days like that. But like I said, Cockrum owns it.
In fact, the whole artistic team really controls this story. While the exposition sets up the characters, the true feeling of this story comes from the art. With a very James Bond-like tone, it’s as if the reader can feel themselves in the trees on a mountain or smell the machinery inside the hidden base. Both Grainger and Goldberg accentuate Cockrum’s pencils with a tremendous dramatic effect. Nothing is overdone on the inks and the fluidity of colour is spot-on. Vibrant sheens across each page really gives this book a light-hearted tone – setting the reader up for the unexpected.
The most exciting part of this book is definitely the unexpected death of Thunderbird. The build up, while readers have seen it in hundreds of comics throughout the years up to this point in 1975 – the death was sudden and done tastefully. The X-Men do not take the death lightly. However, because of the character development and the “team” feel the book gives, readers are forced to read on to the next issue to see how the team deals with the death.
That’s right. There’s no twist ending to make readers want to jump back to the book like a season finale of a TV show. Claremont and Wein compel readers to come back because throughout the book readers are forced to care for the characters. And that’s a more powerful reason to continue reading a book than any cliffhanger could bring.
Looking back on this book, it’s amazing to also consider that Thunderbird is one of the few Marvel characters whom have stayed dead. Aside from some flashbacks or the more-recent Chaos War – Thunderbird, John Proudstar – has stayed dead. It’s interesting to see why that has been the case. Three issues in, of course he would not have a lot of reader fanbase – but it still remains.
To top it all off, there was no cliffhanger of a villain suddenly appearing on the last page. Nor was there a jaw-dropping moment for readers to say, “Wow! I need to go back and read this book!” The readership is solely gained because of how the writers make us feel for these characters. Name three comics nowadays that end that way. It’s pretty hard to come up with a list.
So until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!