We’re treading on well-known ground here. Or are we? This cartoon, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby, is taken from the second page of adventure The Coming of … Ka-Zar!, originally published in comic-book number 10 of the essential Uncanny X-Men saga in March 1955. As the enthusiast will notice, the limits of this particular open window to such legendary superhero fiction do not enclose, precisely, one of Kirby’s greatest works, although one could always blame it on a not too inspired moment of inker Chic Stone. There is no sign of the typical hyperbolic trace and overflowing epics within emphatic frames so characteristic of the author: we’re facing a kind of time-out, rather, an exceptional moment of relaxation after a brilliant performance of Marvel Girl at the Danger Room in Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. But then, what’s the point in stopping to observe this cartoon in particular when, without having to look too much further, on other pages of the same book we can find sabre-toothed tigers, pterodactyls, troglodytes with cudgels, brontosaurus and mammoth stampedes?
On the image, we can see Marvel Girl, Cyclops and Iceman –or, what’s the same, Jean Grey, Scott Summers and Bobby Drake–, but what’s more interesting, as if instead of before a superhero comic book we found ourselves before a European art film, is not what the characters are doing, not even what they are saying, but what crosses their minds.
As any X-Men fan will know, in the beginning, Cyclops and Marvel Girl wanted each other, but none of them dared to confess it to the other one. Let’s not forget that this was a story of heroes and villains, and so emotions could only be expressed through undercurrent subtext. Let’s have a look, then, at how wonderfully Summers links a verbal congratulation to Jean Grey for having been able to dismantle and assemble again a rifle with her telekinetic powers with his very own silent consciously romantic stream: “Excellent, Jean! You have refined your power to an incredible extent!” (he says) + “almost as incredible as your beauty, which renders me speechless!” (he thinks). The same happens with her: “Thanks, Scott!” (she says) + “But for you I’ll never be anything more than marvel girl!” (she thinks). Next to them, Iceman applauds like a simpleton without noticing anything about the subtext or the full of desire lava throbbing under his colleagues’ skins.
This resource was frequently used on the first X-Men stories. So frequent, in fact, that we tend to overlook its revolutionary potential: one has the impression of witnessing how the keys to a romantic story for girls penetrate a superhero cartoon meant for boys in order to, somehow, transexualise it or, as we would say in this day and age, to sabotage its hegemonic patriarchal discourse from within.