Wow, the first appearance of the Stranger sure has a great Jack Kirby cover! And that cover also makes no sense! – X-Men #11
It’s hard to quibble with the layout genius of Jack Kirby, but sometimes even the giants, in their desire to craft an image that looks good, create a visual muddle that makes no sense whatsoever. X-Men #11, featuring the first appearance of the Stranger, and whose classic cover is seen above, seems to fit right into that good/bad dual groove. Let’s consider all that’s right and wrong with it (inks by Chic Stone):
- First, it has to be said: this cover is nothing if not visually arresting. Our first — literally — impression of the Stranger is that he’s some giant nightmare mustachioed pharmacist. Here he’s attired in slacks and a white lab coat, the latter of which is oddly appropriate for his quasi-scientific inter-galactic collection of mutants, and his red and green tights and cape have yet to make their debut. And you know what? That’s not such a bad thing. He’s crouched down in a pose you might find in an old Bruno Sammartino publicity photo, and he’s ready to lunge his way into our hearts. That’s he’s set against the detailed but gray background of the city skyscrapers only accentuates his dominance of the image. However…
- The people on the sidewalk appear to be watching the X-Men. Fine. Dandy. But what are the X-Men doing? Professor X and Marvel Girl are the only ones who seem to notice the giant septuagenarian with the bushy eyebrows coming at them. And the others…
- What are Angel, Cyclops, Iceman and Beast doing? Where are they going? Are they fleeing from the Stranger? I’d say no because they look like they were going this way in the first place. And just when you think you might have it all explained, you come back to the spectators, none of whom are craning their necks to get a gander at the giant dude hovering above them. If the Stranger just appeared out of thin air or strode out of the building behind him, then why are the X-Men there in the first place? And why are they fleeing/flailing? Were they doing gymnastics in the middle of the street, tying up traffic and making a mess of everyone’s commute? Would this explain mankind’s hatred of mutants?
Sadly, there are few clues to unravel these mysteries found in the story within, in a plot that has the Stranger completely outclassing Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. The cover scene is never replicated, and the closest we get to it is when the newly arrived Stranger (after renting a furnished room — how delightful the Silver Age could be) goes out for an Earth-acclimating stroll, which includes walking on air and phasing through walls. Go ahead and bask in one of the innumerable 1960s Marvel scenes set on Stan Lee’s verbose New York City streets:
And that’s it. So the cover stands as an appealing muddle. Should we treat the damn things like puzzles, waiting to be parsed and solved? No. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t make you scratch your heads now and again. Even the King could throw out a “Huh — what?” on occasion.
(Note: This could simply be me having a brain lock. Wouldn’t be the first time.)