Written by Dr. Mike Robinson ~ Guest Writer

Photos retrieved from marvel.com

Imagine walking up to a newsstand. The shelves are filled with brightly colored comic books, each with a cover desperately trying to grab your attention and earn your twelve cents. It’s the summer of 1963 and the superheroes are making a comeback. DC Comics is offering old favorites like Superman and Batman. And this company called Marvel Comics has some offerings too, like the incredible adventures of the Fantastic Four or that new guy Spider-Man, the “hero who could be you.” But on one particularly magic day, there on display are the debut issues of two new series—The Avengers and The X-Men!

That was the fateful choice on that second day of July. In these far more marketing savvy days, it is hard to imagine that Marvel would launch two team titles in direct competition with each other. Perhaps they just hoped a kid would pick up both origin issues in a frenzy of excitement?

In assembling the Avengers, Marvel practiced a tried-and-true plan for building superhero teams. The theory goes that if readers enjoy a certain character, they might follow that character into another book if that character joined the team. This had worked well, for example, with DC Comics’ Justice League of America just a few years before.

 In that same way, the initial group of Avengers was basically a mix of Marvel solo heroes. Contemporary fans of Marvel movies would not be surprised to learn that Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Ant-Man and the Wasp came together to battle Thor’s evil brother Loki (sorry, but there was no Thanos back then to work from behind the scenes). By the end of the issue, these heroes realized that there was a certain value to their collaboration. 

The X-Men were built from a different creative approach. As Marvel had done with the Fantastic Four a few years earlier, the X-Men were introduced as a team of completely new characters. At Professor Xavier’s school, the mutants Cyclops, Beast, Angel, and Iceman met the new student, Marvel Girl, just in time to prevent disaster. Again, no ardent movie fan would be surprised to discover that the menace of Magneto was the big threat here. 

The two books settled into their particular story patterns. The X-Men took on more evil mutants while defending themselves from rampant anti-mutant prejudice. The Avengers fought a variety of villains as their membership shifted over time—the Hulk was out by the second issue and Captain America was thawed from the ice by the fourth. 

What often surprises contemporary Marvel fans though is the poor performance of the X-Men. Although Marvel kept publishing the book, that series stumbled for a long time. In fact, starting with X-Men #67 (1970), the series just reprinted old stories for years. It was not until the introduction of a new team in the legendary Giant-Sized X-Men #1 (1975) that the X-Men started their climb to popularity. 

Today, these titles are core books of the Marvel line. There are two titles in the Avengers family (Avengers and the new Avengers, Inc.) and five X-Men related team books (X-Men, X-Force, Immortal X-Men, X-Men Red, and the new Dark X-Men). Their team rosters have overlapped many times, which is particularly evidenced by the return of Uncanny X-Men, a unity team of Avengers featuring many mutant characters. 

And it all started one incredible day for just the price of a quarter!

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