Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October, we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
That’s right, X-Fans — it’s not just another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT — it’s a crossover with AIPT’s annual 31 Days of Halloween! When asked if I wanted to participate in the festivities, I figured this would probably be the only time in the column’s history where it’d make sense to revisit one of the most ridiculous X-Men stories ever told. I’m, of course, talking about the iconic Uncanny X-Men #40: “The Mark of the Monster!” If the issue number or title aren’t jogging your memory, it’s the one where the X-Men meet Frankenstein.
Fortunately, X-Men Senior Editor Jordan D. White was down to dig into this kooky classic — along with a few X-Fans who submitted questions. So, read on to be a part of our X-Men Monday Halloween Book Club. (And be sure to stay to the end for a fast and fun round of “Trick or Treat” questions about a few upcoming X-Stories!)
AIPT: Welcome back to X-Men Monday, Jordan! And thanks for taking the time to reread Uncanny X-Men #40. Let’s start our discussion with the revelation that Charles Xavier has always suspected Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was based on a real occurrence. Why do you think Xavier has always suspected this?
Jordan: Well, the main reason is because he’s right. And I don’t even mean for this story we have here, which has Frankenstein in it — it turns out he’s also not the real Frankenstein. There’s a realer Frankenstein out there the X-Men have also fought. So, I mean, in his universe, it’s just a fact. He suspects it because he’s a rational human being. He looks at the facts and correctly assesses them.
AIPT: Do you think Xavier’s concerns about Frankenstein have anything to do with what he saw when he read Moira’s mind all those years ago?
Jordan: Oh, interesting. I hadn’t even made that connection, but yeah, of course, he probably sees it. It does make me wonder, though, whether the Frankenstein Moira is familiar with is the real, real Frankenstein, and this is the fake real Frankenstein, and he is still getting it wrong.
One thing I enjoyed when I was reading all of these old books is how absurd they are, obviously, but the idea of thinking about — and listen, it hasn’t come to pass, so don’t get too excited — but the idea of thinking about bringing some of these things back in some way. So we have this Frankenstein android ambassador. It explodes and dies at the end of this. I mean, he’s an android, so we can rebuild him. But I was also was like, wow, we should totally have the alien race with their weird mismatched costumes come back. And they’ve never come back as far as I can tell. In fact, if you look them up online, it just says unnamed alien race. So we have no idea who they are or what other plots they’ve done.
But I was reminded when I looked at my notes for when I read this and was tweeting about it that this was the second story in a row where the X-Men had also faced an unknown threat that was shockingly revealed to have actually been an alien. And overall, it’s at least the fourth time it’s happened because it would be Frankenstein, the Mutant Master, Lucifer and then the Stranger.
AIPT: It’s funny you mentioned wanting to bring back older concepts because I remember when you asked people on Twitter what series you should read from the beginning, I voted for Uncanny X-Men. My thinking was, as the X-Men Senior Editor, maybe you’d come across forgotten plots or characters the X-Line might be able to revisit. Out of curiosity, was there anything you stumbled upon that made its way into the books?
Jordan: Yeah, there certainly were. But first of all, not in a way that I was like, “Guys, stop what you’re doing.” But I’ve certainly mentioned to Al Ewing a few times, “We should bring back whatever Lucifer’s alien race was,” because, obviously, those stories are not good, but I kind of like when people make good stories out of bad stories. It’s not easy. But when people do pull it off, I think it’s really awesome.
There’s at least one thing that, well, I don’t know if it was because I suggested it or if it was because the other writers also had looked at old stuff and were like, “Hey, what about this?” And I was like, “Oh yeah, I just read that.” But that’s something that’s still coming up. So I can’t really talk about it too much, but it’s a character who appeared back in the day and it was like, “Oh, what if we use that character?”
But back to Frankenstein, it’s just ludicrous. You mentioned that he’s talking about the book, right? And this is notable because, if I remember correctly, this is the first time we hear that Professor X gives them assignments that aren’t training in the Danger Room and going to fight people in real life. He talks about having assigned the novel Frankenstein to Bobby and Bobby having not read it.
AIPT: I was going to mention that next. The more Xavier talks, the deeper this Frankenstein obsession goes. It turns out Xavier also believes that Frankenstein is a super-powerful android and his creator may have been a mutant. As you said, we also learned he assigned the book to Bobby. We eventually learn the mutant thing isn’t true at all. So, is this comic proof that Xavier is some kind of obsessive Frankenstein conspiracy theorist?
Jordan: It’s very silly. I mean, it goes to how ridiculous the book was back then and how undefined the whole idea of mutants and what the X-Men do was. In many ways, it was just grasping at straws. Like the idea of, “Hey, let’s do Frankenstein.” That’s a fun idea. I was excited when I saw that they found Frankenstein’s monster in the ice. I was like, “Whoa, hey, where are we going with this?” I think the android part comes from absolutely nowhere. When you read the book, it’s pretty clear what Frankenstein is. It’s not a mystery. So the idea that he read that book and went, “I bet there was an android” is very weird.
AIPT: Yeah, and then to leap to, “and in order to pull that off, they must have been a mutant.”
Jordan: I wonder if there’s a version of it where it’s like… whose power is like that? Like Madison Jeffries, right? Or Wiz Kid. Someone who can just throw a bunch of body parts together.
AIPT: Basically, this is Xavier’s Frankenstein headcanon. He’s like an X-Fan!
Jordan: Oddly enough, which I guess is kind of true in a lot of the cases — there’s a nugget of truth.
AIPT: Also, when speaking to the X-Men, Xavier says he was “engaged in some, uh, mental experiments–when I accidentally intercepted a radio message from near New York Harbor.” The “uh” seems pretty suspect. What do you think Xavier was really doing?
Jordan: Everything about that is extremely weird because it’s not even like mental experiments, meaning if he was engaged in mental experiments and then picked up mental things, that would make some sense. But he instead picked up a radio message, which I guess could mean like — no, listen, it doesn’t make sense. I guess it could mean he was trying to open his brain to scan people and then hook into the brain of the person who received it, or maybe a message instead of the one who was experiencing the thing.
AIPT: The “uh” just makes it sketchy.
Jordan: It is ridiculous because clearly, he’s doing something he should not be doing, which I suppose could be just brain-scanning randos. But again, if you want to turn toward, as you had mentioned earlier, the secret conspiracy of the X-Men, which there always was one, by the way, even at this point — had he already died and come back at this point or no?
AIPT: I think that’s after this.
Jordan: I mean, when he dies and comes back, you find out that we actually — hold on. This is after the Mutant Master. And I think Mutant Master had Changeling working for him, which means this isn’t Charles Xavier. Right? And Jean knows it. That’s why she’s there at the secret hush-hush project with him because she knows that Changeling isn’t Xavier. She’s helping Changeling do stuff. And Xavier is down in the secret sub-basement doing even weirder stuff. I can’t remember what or why he faked his death and replaced himself with Changeling. I remember it being super bogus. Anyway, I wonder if that means that Jean was the one who really picked up on these messages. So maybe Jean is obsessed with Frankenstein! [Laughs]
AIPT: Now you need to explore that! Get Gerry on that.
Jordan: I mean, that Changeling retcon doesn’t make any sense.
AIPT: Well, honest question — do you think the creative team knew that was Changeling at the time?
Jordan: No, no. It was totally a retcon that they put in place when they wanted to bring him back from the dead. For sure, a million percent, because all he does in this is do brain tricks. Well, not every minute of it, because at one point, this guy — who can get into FBI headquarters with no one noticing and just pop out and talk to people — tells Jean to beat a guy up so they can get into a museum.
AIPT: Yeah, at the museum, the X-Men encounter a guard who’s just doing his job. Xavier orders Jean to slam the guard against a door and knock him out — an action Jean admits to hating. Xavier adds that when the guard wakes, he’ll think it was an accident.
Jordan: Wait, that’s more ridiculous, because that means they’re going to mess with his brain. We’re going to make him remember this differently than it happened — but I want him to hurt. It is better for me that he get physically knocked out than if he just doesn’t see us and doesn’t remember we’re here. I want him to be against the wall — I want him to forget that we did it — but it’s important to me that he has a headache for the next couple of days.
AIPT: And then later, the X-Men steal a helicopter and ask its owners to forget what happened. I mean, based on their actions in this issue alone, are the Silver Age X-Men just as bad as Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants?
Jordan: No, they’re not as bad because they have noble goals. They’re trying to stop a rampaging monster and they succeed in stopping and killing a rampaging monster. Although, again, the other big thing I learned when I was reading all these old books is that the X-Men actually are awful at their jobs. They don’t succeed that much. And most of the time when they do, 95-100% of the credit goes to Professor Xavier and the same is true here. They all attack this monster. Cyclops blasts him and it doesn’t work. Beast kicks him and it doesn’t work. Angel does this — it doesn’t work. Nothing works. And then at the end, Professor Xavier came up with a plan. And then Iceman just barely makes it happen at the last second. Professor Xavier is there to tell you what to do all the time or else you totally suck.
Also, when we go to the museum, you see Iceman running into the scene and he’s there on the next panel. So he’s with them. Then he doesn’t appear again for the entire fight. Why? Well, because he can’t fight Frankenstein or else we’d find out that his weakness is ice. So he’s not there at all. He doesn’t show up at all. And then two pages later, at the bottom of the page, we see Iceman’s hand — just his hand — come in and freeze. He says, “I don’t know why the Professor asked me to stay outside with him at the last minute, but I’m glad I did,” which was so awkward and weird. I got to that point and I thought, they must’ve just forgotten to draw Iceman in this battle and then thought they had to explain it or something. But then again, at the end you would find out it’s because the ice is what defeats him, playing off of the fact that he was frozen in ice in the first place, I suppose.
AIPT: Well, ice is what he hates the most.
Jordan: I know, but that’s ridiculous. Why did you go to the Arctic?
AIPT: To stop all ice!
Jordan: Then, Iceman says out loud, “Now I see why you told me to stay back before! You sensed that the android was afraid of ice,” and I’m sitting there going, that makes even less sense. Why would he go? “Oh, OK, Iceman is like the thing that this guy is most afraid of. Iceman, let’s make this a good issue. We need to do a few pages. Stay back.” He should’ve gone in the first time. They could’ve solved it at the museum.
AIPT: Also, how does Professor X scan an android?
Jordan: Yeah. That’s a good point. I would suggest that it’s not really an android, but when it exploded, you see the machine parts come out.
AIPT: OK, while we’re talking about Iceman, we have a question from X-Fan PolarIceFire, who said It was both heartening and a bit dismaying to see Iceman’s overarching theme of being everybody’s lil “Omega” brother in training so early on. How would you say that approach to his character differs now, from how it was here at the very beginning? What’s still holding him back from truly overcoming and outgrowing his innate, initial insecurities?
Jordan: Oh, that’s a good question. Well actually, one of the big things that they had in the old days doesn’t show up in this issue — there’s a constant thing of Iceman being like cheap or broke. They kind of got over that, which is good. Although they did make him an accountant. So there you are. But I think that question almost gives this issue too much credit, because I do feel like lot of this issue is just about holding Iceman back because he would solve the problem too easily. And there’s not a really good explanation for that. He’s goofy and he’s the youngest and he accidentally hurts Beast in the beginning, semi-accidentally.
So yeah, I don’t think this issue did a great job with him as a character. Again, even when he wins, it’s not in a way that has any realization or growth other than, “I guess I should have listened to the Professor the entire time — he was right as always.”
I think the main thing that holds him back is just the constraints of the medium, in general, in the sense that there have been a number of stories that kind of show Iceman leveling up. But in the same way that there have been a lot of stories with almost every X-Men character leveling up and finding new levels of their powers and overcoming their essential difficulties and flaws. And the problem is, that is a very good thing for the story that you’re reading and a thing that can be detrimental to the overall thousands of issues of comics that we want to continue to put out. So I think this happens to every comic book character across the industry.
How many stories have there been about Johnny Storm finally needing to act mature? And they’re still going to this day because that’s the essential core of the character and what people want to continue to explore. So I think with Iceman, the reason that he can’t permanently grow is that the thing that made people like him in the first place was the stories where he had these flaws and they want to write about that and they want to read that, so it kind of always takes a step forward and then takes a step back and takes a step forward and takes a step back.
That’s the difference between what we do in comics and what happens in TV shows. On TV shows, they’re beings who are aging, even where they’re not supposed to, like when they’re playing vampires and stuff. They know that there’s a finite amount of stories that you can tell, so they lean into that and things have to permanently change. You have to grow characters. But that’s not the case here. And that’s why we can still be reading X-Men comics 60 years later, whereas there are very few TV shows that are still running from 60 years ago.
I think there was a time in, let’s say the late ’70s, when one of the conventional wisdoms of comics was that the readership refreshes every — I think — five years. So the idea that you’re doing the same stories five years later, like with a different spin on it, was a natural thing.
Let me talk about Superman for a minute, because he doesn’t belong to me. One of the things that bums me out is people always argue with me about characters aging, and they want the characters to age because I get it. I really do get it. They’ve read every X-Men comic from the ’60s to today. And the idea that Cyclops is less than 15 years older than he was back then is absurd to them. It’s a little more difficult to talk about with X-Men because there are so many characters and there’s also the generations factor, which really complicates things — the new classes.
But when you look at a single character like Superman, I think it’s kind of a bummer that Superman has aged so much that he’s now a married guy with a son. And I know that some people want Spider-Man to be that and I’m glad he’s not because it changes the character from being someone you can relate to into someone who is like your dad. Now Superman is a weird character actually to do this with because not everybody relates to him in the first place. He’s kind of aspirational to begin with.
So let’s say Spider-Man. He’s an everyman — you can relate to him and his problems. A Spider-Man who is married, growing up with a kid — of course, I can relate to that because I’m a married grown-up with a kid. But I don’t know that that’s fair to the world and to culture, to say I want Spider-Man to grow up with me. I think keeping Spider-Man for new generations to continue to read about is important and good and Marvel has done it in a way that tries to have it both ways to say we’re going to keep everything in this nebulous Marvel time so readers can come in and the characters are still young and vital in many ways. But also, we’re not going to reboot the universe so that people who do want to keep reading from 10 years ago, from 20 years ago, from 30 years ago — all those stories that you read happened, you just have to like squint your eyes a little bit sometimes.
AIPT: Well, I might be opening a can of worms here…
Jordan: Uh oh…
AIPT: But with the current X-Men era, Scott and Jean were parents with two kids until Kid Cable left. And Wolverine has a family of his own. Is there any concern about younger readers not being able to relate to a character like Wolverine when he has so many kids?
Jordan: Well, Wolverine is a unique one because of the weirdness of his history, right? He’s extremely old. So the idea that he has kids — well, he doesn’t have that many kids of his own. Really, Laura is a genetically created child, as is Gabby. Daken is a legitimate child, as in an actual genetic, traditionally conceived child, but he’s also extremely old. Like, that’s a weird situation. And the same is true with Scott and Jean. They’re all weird time travel children other than the baby who no longer is around. And is now an old man, speaking of weird time travel stuff.
AIPT: I guess with the X-Men, younger readers can relate to characters like Kitty Pryde or Jubilee instead. Although, the X-Men cast is so diverse and extensive that every reader can relate to a different character. That’s the magic of the X-Men vs. a solo character like Spider-Man.
Jordan: It is. It’s very complicated. There are certainly people who have very much made the argument to let the original five X-Men be old and retire. Who cares, we’ve got a zillion other X-Men. And that’s a fair argument, but also, I’m sure there are a bunch of Jean Grey fans who are howling at that suggestion, or they’re sitting there going, “Well, it doesn’t apply to Jean because she can use the Phoenix Force a little bit,” explaining why she doesn’t have to retire. But that’s the case for every character.
And it’s true the other way as well, where you go, what about the youngest characters? They have their fans who are going to want them to be elevated as well. And that’s the problem with having a billion characters in one franchise. We only have so many books. And by the way, sometimes we add more books and people complain about us having too many books. So we can’t really win 100% of the time. There are no perfect win conditions. When you have this many characters, somebody’s going to be disappointed.
Wow. We’ve really gone off topic.
AIPT: [Laughs] This happens a lot. BUT, X-Fan and Battle of the Atom co-host Adam Reck can get us back on track! Adam pointed out that we learn Frankenstein was created by aliens from a far-off tropical planet. Can we assume the aliens also look like Frankenstein? Or maybe they somehow modeled their civilization after Shelley’s book?
Jordan: Neither of those are true, unfortunately. They look like weirdos with no color sense.
AIPT: They look like Jack Kirby characters.
Jordan: They do, they look like Jack Kirby characters even though he didn’t work on this. But again, the weird splashes of color all over their costumes are strange. So, that raises the question, why on Earth did they create this android that looks like Frankenstein? And maybe the explanation is to go full circle to the Frankenstein again. Maybe they somehow saw the real Frankenstein because, again, we know Frankenstein is real, right? Back in the ’60s, you could have these screens that could just see anywhere. That’s just a thing you could do back then. So they were like, “Let’s tune our screen into Earth.” And the random part of Earth they tuned into was the creation of the real Frankenstein, and they went, “That’s what they look like.” And they started working on a real Frankenstein — and made it too well because they made it go crazy.
Oh, we also haven’t talked a lot about Frankenstein’s superpowers. He’s got laser eyes. He’s got magnet feet. He’s super strong, which, by the way, even though he’s made out of metal and is super strong, Angel can pass a rope around him and pick him up.
Hey, here’s another good piece that for some reason jumped out at me much more this time! Sorry, there’s just an endless well of like absurdity in here for me to keep remembering. So even though Frankenstein, literally upon waking was like, “Nice job, you’ve brought me to a new land just as I wanted.” For some reason, he then immediately goes, “Let me go stowaway on a boat.” So he stows away on a freighter, the X-Men land their helicopter on the freighter and are immediately met by guys with machine guns. So I’m like, “Whoa, is that just a thing? Do sailors on freighters just have machine guns? Are there a lot of pirates that I didn’t know about?” Like maybe there are. So they jump out with their machine guns and then, the X-Men take them out. Iceman snowballs a couple of them. And then, Cyclops says, “I’ll take care of the rest with an extra-mild force ray.” So he set his eye beam to mild.
AIPT: It’s like chicken wings. His visor has the same settings. OK, another X-Fan question from Austin Gorton of The Real Gentlemen of Leisure. Austin said the X-Men have fought Frankenstein’s Monster and Dracula — what other classic Universal Horror monsters do you think they should take on next?
Jordan: Oh, I mean, have they never fought the Invisible Man? They’ve certainly battled the Invisible Woman.
AIPT: There’s the Mummy… they fought the Living Pharaoh.
Jordan: He’s basically a mummy, so you’re right. I’m counting that.
AIPT: The Creature from the Black Lagoon… Cyclops once fought that octopus on a cover.
Jordan: The X-Men versus Manphibian must have happened.
AIPT: The Wolf Man. They’ve got a Wolf Cub!
Jordan: Well, they’ve fought all sorts of wolf creatures. What about Maximus Lobo?
But again, my reaction was like, let’s have them do more classical literature. Which they did with Romeo and Juliet, to be fair. They straight up just did Romeo and Juliet. I get that everybody ripped on that. I get it. But also, that’s kind of cool.
AIPT: And then vampires are all over the place in Ben Percy’s X-Books. Vampires even have their own kingdom!
Jordan: Yeah, all over the place. Honestly, there’s a lot of monster stuff in X-Men. But right now I think there are a lot of giant monsters. There’s been a real love of Kaiju in recent years. But absolutely, classic monsters are fun. And so I think this was a fun idea for a comic, even though every panel of it is absolutely absurd.
AIPT: I’m very glad this comic exists. Obviously, Gerry just did a Halloween-themed issue of X-Men. As an editor, do you prefer to see these types of stories stand on their own as one-shots or do you think it’s fine to fold them into a series?
Jordan: Whichever version the story demands. I mean, that one-off was about Nightmare. And yeah, we didn’t need to do a whole arc about Nightmare. That said, you know, back in Wolverine and the X-Men, there was a whole arc about Frankenstein’s Murder Circus that they got all roped into and stuff. I mean, you can do nutty stuff like that. Also, this wasn’t a Halloween thing, this came out in November.
AIPT: The X-Men meet Frankenstein is a Thanksgiving story.
Jordan: Yeah. Gerry very specifically timed X-Men #4 to be a Halloween issue and made sure it came out in October. So it all just depends on what your intention is. You can do scary stories all year-round.
AIPT: OK, as it’s Halloween, I thought we could wrap up with three quick Trick or Treat answers. Basically, I’ll give you a topic and you reply with something that could be true, it could be a tease or maybe it’s just a trick.
Jordan: So Im allowed to lie?
AIPT: Well, hopefully, you give me something good. [Laughs] OK. Steve Orlando’s Marauders.
Jordan: OK. I think I understand the concept now. Yes, the annual kicks it off. Obviously, you can already see that it’s got new cast members. It’s got new stuff going on, even though it’s going to still be rooted in the same Marauders concept. Steve immediately came to us with Brimstone Love in the story, which was a nutty concept, but we thought it was super fun. So speaking of scary monster guys, that guy’s going to be a good, scary time.
And I’ll tell you what — he’s not the scariest and most evil person that is going to be in that series. The scariest, most evil person is much worse and is a character I think people will be very excited to see in the book. Maybe on the boat.
AIPT: Is it a trick or a treat? We just don’t know! Next up, 10 Lives of Wolverine and 10 Deaths of Wolverine.
Jordan: 10 Lives and X Deaths.
Jordan: Well, one of them is right. Or is that the trick?
It’s a big story. It’s got so much cool Wolverine stuff in it. It’s an absolute joy to read the scripts of that every time Ben turns them in. The art that has been done for it is amazing all around. And it’s going to pick up the baton of a very, very big part of the X-Men’s life.
AIPT: And finally, Madelyne Pryor in New Mutants #25. You can’t have Halloween without the Goblin Queen.
Jordan: Yeah, that’s true, that’s true.
It’s very exciting to bring Madelyne back and kill her off again in one page. I’m super excited for that. And for the response that we’ll get from it, because that is absolutely what happens in that issue. I promise.
AIPT: It’s on the record! And on that note, Jordan, thanks for taking the time to talk about a very ridiculous comic that has totally made me want to reread all of the ’60s X-Men comics from the beginning. And as an eXtra Halloween treat, Jordan brought eXclusive preview images. Hold out your bags, X-Fans! Here they come…
Until neXt time, X-Fans, Happy Halloween and stay eXceptional!
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