"X-Men: First Class," the fifth film in the X-Men big-screen franchise, hit theaters this weekend and took audiences even deeper into the origins of Marvel's mutant team. The origins of the movie itself, however, lie between the pages of almost 50 years of X-Men comic books, which the film draws heavily upon in order to craft its own tale of how the X-Men came to be.
Given all of that source material, we decided to take a look at just which elements of the comics made it onto the screen, and how the movie follows — or in some cases, takes a twist on — those classic X-Men stories.
If you haven't seen the film yet, consider this your SPOILER WARNING. We'll be discussing details of the plot throughout this guide.
The most obvious contrast viewers will notice from the comics to the film is that this movie sets the founding of the X-Men squarely in the early 1960s. In a strange way, this simultaneously agrees and disagrees with their comic origins; it’s a fact that X-Men #1, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, hit newsstands in July of 1963. But within the Marvel Universe, the characters must remain young and vital for each new generation of readers, so Marvel has instituted what’s come to be known as a "sliding timeline."
This means that all of those early Marvel heroes will forever have made their debut no more than approximately 13 years ago. A little confusing perhaps, but the alternative would be for Cyclops and company to end up fighting world menaces while collecting Social Security!
The X-Men film franchise, however, isn’t bound by the constraints of comic book continuity, so producer Bryan Singer and director Matthew Vaughn have decided to introduce a group of X-Men that haven’t been seen on the big screen until now, and serve as predecessors for the team from the first three films.
Anchoring this group are two mutants who have been staples of the previous films, and whose age permits them to be active in the 1960s: Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his archnemesis, Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Even in the comics, Magneto is one of the few Marvel characters who is exempt from the sliding timeline rule, owing to an important aspect of his personal history which also serves as a key aspect of the film; Magneto is a survivor of the Holocaust, as first revealed in Uncanny X-Men #150.
In contrast, Xavier doesn’t have any elements of his comics history that would tie him so strongly to any particular historical period, but the movie opts to keep him as a contemporary of Magneto’s, albeit growing up in starkly contrasting circumstances.
Xavier has always been portrayed as coming from a wealthy background (the X-Men headquarters is his mansion in Westchester County, after all) but one very different element is introduced to his film background early on: he encounters the mutant known as Mystique as a child (portrayed by Morgan Lily, with Jennifer Lawrence taking the role of the adult Mystique), and takes her in as an adopted sister.
There’s no basis for this relationship in the comics; Mystique in the comics has never been hinted to have a connection of any sort with Xavier. She is typically shown as a calculating villain with shifting alliances who doesn’t hesitate to kill when it suits her purposes, and most of her early background has remained a mystery.
According to Marvel Comics history, Xavier and Magneto’s first comic book meeting took place in Israel; both were volunteers at a psychiatric hospital dedicated to helping survivors of the Holocaust, as chronicled in Uncanny X-Men #161. But the film has them meet under more urgent circumstances, as the two are brought together by the machinations of Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), an evil mutant bent on destroying the human race.
The Shaw of the film is very different from the character from the comics. In the comics, Sebastian Shaw is an industrialist who is among the elite of a semi-secret organization known as the Hellfire Club, led by wealthy mutants who seek to clandestinely manipulate world affairs for fun and profit, as first depicted in Uncanny X-Men #129.
The movie incorporates this aspect of Shaw, as well as the Hellfire Club, but also introduces elements that aren’t present in the comics; Shaw, in the film, is the Nazi scientist who first discovers a young Magneto’s powers in the concentration camp, and puts the boy through unimaginable torture in order to learn more about them. This gives them a relationship they do not have in the comics, as well as a reason for Magneto to pursue him throughout the film.
Shaw is assisted in his schemes by Emma Frost (January Jones), who in the comics is also a co-leader of the Hellfire Club, as well as the mutants Riptide (Alex Gonzalez) and Azazel (Jason Flemyng).
Riptide is a mutant drawn from another team X-Men foes, the Marauders, who made their debut during the "Mutant Massacre" storyline in Uncanny X-Men #211, and has no known connection with Shaw in the comics. Likewise, Azazel hails from an unrelated storyline in Uncanny X-Men #428-434, which purports him to be an actual demon who mates with Mystique to produce the mutant Nightcrawler.
Aiding Xavier and Magneto in their mission to stop Shaw is Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), an American CIA agent. Moira of the comics, first appearing in Uncanny X-Men #96, is a very different character, being a scientist/researcher rather than a spy, and hailing from Scotland, where her laboratory on Muir Island is located. The X-Men of the comics had no particular relationship with the CIA, although they did occasionally cooperate with Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D., and had an ongoing relationship with FBI agent Fred Duncan as early as the second issue of their series.
In the film, the CIA is instrumental in assembling the first class of X-Men, and they have a young Hank McCoy, a.k.a. Beast (Nicholas Hoult), already working for them when Xavier arrives. As in the comics, Hank’s initial appearance is mostly human, and in what is perhaps an ill-considered round of self-experimentation, he acquires his iconic blue and furry look after imbibing a serum of his own concoction, as first shown in Amazing Adventures #11 (his fur was initially depicted as grey, but this was soon forgotten).
The film takes McCoy's scientific expertise further, portraying him as assisting in the invention of Cerebro, the device which will enable Xavier to find other mutants across the world.
In the film, the team Xavier eventually assembles consists of Beast, Banshee, Havok, Angel Salvadore, Darwin, and Mystique. This obviously stands in contrast to the original team of X-Men as depicted in the comics, which consisted of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman, and Angel (Warren Worthington III). This is likely because four of those five heroes made their debut as relatively young men and women in the first three films, and wouldn’t fit in this 1960s setting.
Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones) is portrayed as a young American, whereas the comics introduce him in Uncanny X-Men #28 as an adult Irish mutant, who later becomes a close associate of Moira’s.
Darwin (Edi Gathegi) and Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz) are relatively new entrants to the Marvel mutant universe; Darwin hails from writer Ed Brubaker’s "Deadly Genesis" storyline and most recently has turned up in the X-Factor series written by Peter David, while Angel Salvadore was created by Grant Morrison as one of the new class of mutants during his X-Men run.
Havok (Lucas Till), as most fans know, was introduced in Uncanny X-Men #54 as the younger brother of X-Men leader Cyclops, but that doesn’t fit with the film’s timeline, although Bryan Singer has hinted at a different relationship for the two.
The climax of the film reveals two important turning points for the X-Men mythos; how Xavier and Magneto turned from friends to enemies, and how Xavier became wheelchair-bound. Without spoiling too much, we can say that there is a pivotal moment in the film that causes a permanent split between Xavier and Magneto.
In the comics, their division is more a result of philosophical differences widening over time, and Xavier’s paralysis comes in a typically Silver Age storyline (from Uncanny X-Men #9), in which an alien invader named Lucifer is responsible for his injury. Needless to say, the movie opts for a different tack which, in keeping with the overall theme of the film, ties this tragic aspect of his background in with his one-time friend, now arch-nemesis, Magneto.
What elements of X-Men history would you like to see explored in future films? Let us know in the comment section or on Twitter!
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