In December, 1971, Marvel Comics’ X-Men were in a weird kind of limbo. The franchise was by no means dead — indeed, there was a new issue of the young mutant heroes’ titular series published every two months. It’s just that once you got past the freshly-drawn covers (such as the one produced by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia for the latest issue, #74, as shown at right), the contents of those “new” comics were all reprinted X-stories of some five years vintage (for example, #74 featured an oldie by Roy Thomas, Werner Roth, and Dick Ayers that had originally appeared in #26).
This had been the state of affairs ever since around September, 1970, when Marvel publisher Martin Goodman — having cancelled X-Men nine months earlier, in the aftermath of Thomas, Neal Adams, and Tom Palmer’s brief but acclaimed run on the series — appears to have looked at some late sales reports, liked what he saw, and approved the “revival” of the title — but only as a reprint book. For more than a year afterwards, this would be the only place you could find the X-Men (save for a three-part Angel adventure that ran from July to December, 1970 in the back pages of two reprint issues of Ka-Zar and one of Marvel Tales, and a single guest appearance by Iceman in Amazing Spider-Man #92, published that October).
But just because the X-Men were gone (at least in terms of new adventures), that didn’t mean they’d been forgotten — least of all by the aforementioned Roy Thomas, who at this time was an associate editor at Marvel as well as a writer (and who may also have had a sentimental attachment to the team, his first superhero-writing assignment at Marvel). It was Thomas, then, who came up with the idea for a new series spotlighting just one X-Man — Henry “Hank” McCoy, aka the Beast.
At first glimpse, the Beast might have seen an odd choice to be spun off on his own. Hank was the intellectual of the group, as well as “the strong one”; while the dichotomy between his erudite manner of speech and his ape-like build made him an appealing and memorable team player, his shtick didn’t exactly scream “superhero comic book leading man” — at least, not in 1971. But Thomas had the idea to move the character in a new direction — one my fourteen-year-old self learned first learned about when I read the Bullpen Bulletins page for Marvel’s December-shipping comics, and, in the middle of an ITEM! touting several new projects from the House of Ideas, read the following:
The Beast, a “fearful creature of the night”? That certainly didn’t sound like the Hank McCoy I remembered.
The idea Thomas had hit on was to combine traditional superheroics with comics’ current trend towards horror — a trend that had accelerated since recent revisions to the Comics Code, and which at Marvel was presently exemplified by the new features “Werewolf by Night” and Tomb of Dracula. The Beast, as originally conceived by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, was certainly no horror character; but he could likely be molded into such a character, or at least something resembling one, rather more easily than could the Angel, or Marvel Girl. It was right there in the name.
I wasn’t really what you’d call a huge X-Men fan back in the day (though, like almost everybody else, I’d greatly enjoyed the Thomas/Adams.Palmer run). But the new direction for Hank McCoy indicated by that Bullpen Bulletin item — a direction supported by the comic’s dynamic cover by Gil Kane and Bill Everett, which showcased a very different-looking Beast, indeed — was nevertheless intriguing enough to get me to part with two dimes when Amazing Adventures #11 showed up in the spinner rack of my neighborhood Tote-Sum.
After coming up with the basic concept for this new take on the Beast, Thomas had turned the feature over to Gerry Conway to flesh out and script — a logical enough decision, as the two writers had followed the same procedure for “Werewolf by Night” a few months earlier (not to mention the more recent Tomb of Dracula, though Thomas had actually provided a full plot for that title’s debut issue). The artist assigned to pencil the book, however, was a rather more unexpected choice. Tom Sutton was best known for his horror work, which thus far had appeared mostly in Warren Publishing’s black-and-white comics magazines. Still, he wasn’t exactly a stranger to superheroes (I had in fact first encountered his work in 1968, in Marvel’s hero-centric parody comic Not Brand Echh; about a year later, I’d picked up his one go to date at “straight” superhero work, Captain Marvel #15), so it’s not terribly hard to understand why Marvel thought his style might help bridge the gap between the two genres the new strip seemed to be trying to straddle. Filling out the creative team’s roster was inker Syd Shores, whose illustrative approach to embellishing was perhaps not the best fit for Sutton’s bold, exaggerated pencilling style, but which nevertheless contributed more to evoke a spooky atmosphere than would the inking of Frank Giacoia, who’d take over that role later in the feature’s run.
As anyone who’s read more than a few of Gerry Conway’s Marvel stories circa 1971 doubtless already knows, the young writer was extremely fond of second-person narration at this point in his career.
As our furry protagonist ducks into a nearby building, he’s chagrined that the soldiers’ arrival has rendered his own efforts meaningless — but, hey, no harm done, right?
Unless you caught our guy addressing himself as “Hank” back on page 4, this is the story’s first indication that it’s about a member of the X-Men — though, even now, you’ll have to be able to recognize them in their civvies — well, at least until you turn the page…
The next page tells us just a bit more about Hank’s new gig — he’s going to be studying (what else?) genetic mutation — but it’s mostly more leave-taking of his costumed cohorts. As we see our hero hop into his red convertible in the final panel, Conway’s second person narration declares, “…when you drove away, you knew in your soul — it was forever.” (Well, maybe not forever — though if I recall correctly, it would be quite some time before Henry McCoy showed up in Westchester again.)
Page 10 begins with Hank’s arrival at his new workplace for his first day on the job:
The Brand Corporation is obviously inspired by the real-life RAND Corporation — though that’s a reference that completely eluded my younger self in 1971.
from Ultimate Comic Blog