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20 Things You Might Not Know About The X-Men

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20th Century Fox

Professor X and his team of mutant superheroes return to theaters this weekend in X-Men: Days Of Future Past, a time-twisting adventure that bridges the gap between the earlier series of X-Men films and the world of X-Men: First Class. The film is based on a 1981 story arc that unfolded in the pages of The Uncanny X-Men, in which one of the few surviving members of the team in a dystopian future travels back in time to prevent an incident that dooms both mutantkind and civilization as we know it.

If the arrival of Days Of Future Past has you thinking more than usual about Marvel's famous mutants, you'll have no shortage of food for thought with this list of 20 things you might not know about the X-Men, the upcoming film, and the story that inspired it.

1. When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first created the X-Men, the “X” in “X-Men” stood for the mysterious “X-Gene” that gave them their abilities (which normal humans lacked). However, the letter eventually came to stand for the “extra” powers they possessed.

2. In the Marvel universe, the term “mutant” refers to characters that were born with special abilities or developed them later in life without any external influence. “Mutates” is the term for characters whose genetic makeup was altered at some point by outside forces such as radiation or chemicals. For example, Spider-Man is a popular mutate (because he gained his powers due to a bite from a radioactive spider), while the original members of the X-Men are all mutants (because they developed their abilities without external stimuli).

3. The original name for the team suggested by Stan Lee was “The Mutants,” but publisher Martin Goodman didn't think readers would know what a “mutant” was, so it was changed.

4. Magneto was introduced as the arch enemy of the X-Men in the very first issue of The X-Men in 1963.

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5. Bald actor Yul Brynner inspired the look of Professor X, according to Stan Lee.

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6. Jean Grey was the first mutant Charles Xavier took as a student. She was 12 years old when she began learning to control her abilities under his tutelage. Several years went by before Xavier recruited his next student, Scott Summers (Cyclops), who was followed by Bobby Drake (Iceman), Warren Worthington III (Angel), and finally Henry McCoy (Beast). These five mutants became the original X-Men.

7. The first non-mutant superhero the X-Men encountered during their early adventures was Iron Man, who battled with Angel when the winged mutant turned evil for a short period.

Tales of Suspense #49

8. Stan Lee initially intended to make Magneto and Professor X brothers, with their relationship revealed later in the series. Lee never got around to writing that story point, though, and it never came to pass in the series.

9. The first new addition to the roster of X-Men was a non-mutant named Calvin Rankin (codenamed “Mimic”), who could copy the powers and abilities of any mutants in his vicinity due to an accident with powerful chemicals. He was initially introduced as a foe of the X-Men, then later joined the team—only to lose his powers and leave the team a few issues later.

10. Spider-Man was once offered membership in the X-Men in a 1966 issue of The X-Men, but the web-slinging hero turned down the offer, preferring to remain a solo act.

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11. Early in the X-Men series, Stan Lee conceived of a brief moment when Professor X confesses (in his own mind) to having a crush on his first student, Jean Grey. This moment in The X-Men #3 has been revisited once or twice by various writers, but is often ignored due to the controversial implications of such a student/teacher relationship.

  • 12. The first new mutants to be added to the team were Havok (the brother of Cyclops) and Polaris (eventually revealed to be the daughter of Magneto) in 1969.
  • They were added with the hope that it would spur increased sales for the lagging series. The changes failed to generate much new interest in the team, though.

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13. The cover of The Uncanny X-Men #141, the comic that kicked off the “Days Of Future Past” story arc, is one of the most frequent subjects of homage in the comics industry. Some of the series that have referenced the issue's iconic image of Wolverine and Kitty Pryde backed up against a poster depicting the “Slain” or “Apprehended” status of various X-Men have included Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man, Superboy, Darkwing Duck, Star Trek: The Next Generation, G.I. Joe, Captain America, and The Avengers.

14. In the original “Days of Future Past” storyline that the film is based on, the dystopian future filled with killer, mutant-hunting robots is the year 2013. 

15. The Guinness World Record for the best-selling comic book of all time is held by 1991's X-Men #1, which was published with five different covers and sold over 8 million copies. Guinness presented the award to Chris Claremont and Jim Lee (the issue's writer and artist, respectively) at San Diego's Comic-Con International in 2010.

16. Days Of Future Past director Bryan Singer had a two-hour conversation with The Terminator director James Cameron about time travel, string theory, and multiverses in order to get a better grasp on the continuity of the upcoming X-Men film.

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17. X-Men: Days Of Future Past marks the seventh time Hugh Jackman has portrayed Wolverine in a movie. This is the most times one actor has played the same superhero in movies that received a wide release. His closest competition is Samuel Jackson, who has played Nick Fury in six movies up to this point, as well as Patrick Stewart, who has played Professor X in six films.

18. In a 2003 issue of The Uncanny X-Men, a character mentions that mutants with the X-Gene are immune to the disease HIV/AIDS. No further explanation for their immunity has ever been given.

19. The mutant Quicksilver, who makes his big-screen debut in Days of Future Past, will also appear in the upcoming sequel to The Avengers, with Evan Peters playing the character in X-Men: Days Of Future Past and Aaron Taylor-Johnson playing him in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. After fighting over the legal rights to the character (who has been a prominent character in both superhero teams' universes), Fox and Marvel Studios agreed to have a different version of the character in each film. The version of Quicksilver in Days Of Future Past will not be able to mention his affiliation with The Avengers, while the Quicksilver in Age Of Ultron will not be described as a “mutant” according to the studios' agreed-upon restrictions.

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20. The initial, working title for X-Men: Days Of Future Past was “Hello Kitty,” a reference to the Kitty Pryde character played by Ellen Page in the film.

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Comics
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
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Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
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Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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