Pencils: Tom Sutton
No idea why, but the Ugly American was recently curious about the particulars regarding Hank McCoy turning into the furry beast. The first time, I mean. I was pretty sure that he did it to himself in some scientific experiment gone wrong, but I think the only reason I think that was from reading What If # 37. (What if The Beast/The Thing continued to mutate?) I had never read the original story.
Comics are like the Bible – it’s easy to feel like you’ve got the gist of things, but mostly you have no clue about what’s actually in the scriptures, because you haven’t actually read them. Significant chunks of the Bible read like bad porn. Ever sat down and read the story of Lot? The guy tries to prevent the ass-rape of a couple of guest angels by offering up his daughters to the mob. After God reduces the entire area (and Lot’s wife) to a charred pile of ash for these indiscretions, the daughters decide to feed dad Jag-bombs until he bones them. The guy was lonely, what were they supposed to do? These are role models, people! But I digress.
The point is, I don’t really understand a lick about why the Beast is the way he is. I don’t recall the explanation for how he got un-furry for the X-Factor launch in the mid 80s. Don’t know what put the fur back on, couldn’t tell you why Frank Quitely made him look like a cat, and nothing on this planet could properly explain what Steve Sanders did to the poor guy in that SWORD book that lasted five minutes. So I decided, just for the hell of it….let’s go back and read exactly how Hank McCoy got all that fur in the first place.
It happens in Amazing Adventures # 11, and it’s pretty expensive to get as a back issue. Lucky for me I had a copy of X:Men Mutations lying around, and that has a reprint. Yay for reprints!
Before I get to the specifics, a few words about the story as a whole. I love bronze age comics, and I accept them as they are. Even so, Conway employs a “voice-over” technique, and it’s grating. It would never fly today in any form, but the way it’s done here is exceptionally irritating. The voice talks to Hank McCoy, not the reader, which is odd. And the voice says terrible things like “You felt the night, as you’d never felt an evening before”. Blechh.
On the flip side, a lot of stuff happens in this issue. Hank leaves the X-Mansion, develops a love interest, discovers the chemical cause of mutation and “irreversibly” turns himself furry and bestial inside of 21 pages. If that comes out today, that’s six issues minimum. In 1970 they got stuff done, baby! There’s a nice little twist at the end, too. It’s a lot of bang for the buck, and by buck I mean 20 cents if you bought it off the rack.
I was not familiar with Tom Sutton’s work, but I found the art in this issue to be inconsistent. I love almost all of the human figures, especially the faces. They look great, convey emotion, and remind me of the old EC masters. He draws a really bad Beast, in my opinion, which is problematic when penciling a Beast book. The Beast proportions feel off to me, and the posing is really awkward. You may have a different opinion, of course. So let’s dive in, shall we?
The story begins en media res, with an already transformed Beast attacking Ben, the world’s most punctual crooked security guard. We don’t know why. But we will…dun! Dun! DUUNNNNN!
Really the story begins with an emotional crew of X-Men sending Hank McCoy off to the Brand Corporation. This is actually a really great idea. People grow and change, and sometimes you have to say goodbye to dear friends while they pursue their dreams.
Plus, it fits the character. Hank looks like a big lug, but inside he’s all scientist. The X-Men, particularly as a combat team, have always been a bad fit for him. He’s slightly stronger than a regular human, and he has dexterous appendages. These are useful things while engaging in foreplay, and dialing a phone with your feet. If you’re fighting a master of magnetism, the applications are not fantastic. He can almost certainly do more good for mutantkind in a lab, and that’s a bold, interesting writing path to take.
Hank heads off to his new job doing research Mr. Grant at Brand. There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that his new assistant is the flirty Miss Linda Donaldson.
As company perks go, hot assistants are right at the top. The bad news is that he's working with Professor Maddicks, who is the world’s biggest dick. It doesn’t take Maddicks but two seconds before he starts feeling insecure about the new guy muscling in on his territory. Does not play well with others. About as much fun as dysentery. He also has a beard suggesting he comes from the evil dimension in Star Trek, so you know exactly where this is headed.
The new job starts off well enough for Hank. Other than Maddicks, nobody seems to be too upset that he’s a mutant or anything. And to be fair Maddicks doesn’t have a problem with Hank specifically because he’s a mutant – Maddicks just has undiagnosed Asperger’s. Plus, things are going really well with the assistant. You know how it goes…you slave over a hot beaker for hours on end, and things just happen. It starts with “Oh, you can call me Linda, not Miss Donaldson”, and it ends up with them making out amidst soft and salty breezes on the seashore.
Hank is pretty excited about all this. He came to Brand for the research, so scoring this hot piece of ace is well beyond his wildest expectations. Naturally, he puts on his old X-Men uniform and begins shouting and somersaulting around the Brand facility.
Yes. Not only does Mr. McCoy act out his inability to cope with standard human emotion in a manner that Tom Cruise would find over-the-top and off-putting, but he makes sure to put on his fetish gear first. Yikeez!
Lotta calls to HR on that one. Lotta calls.
The wild rush of hormones are not preventing Hank from doing the good work, though. In short order he comes up with the chemical cause of mutation, which when you think about it has been horribly underplayed in the Marvel universe to this point.
That discovery is significantly more important than Erskine’s super soldier serum, because the applications have a wider scope. Super soldier serum just makes you a little stronger in conjunction with vita-rays. Hank’s mutagenic compound could affect….anything. At potentially epic levels.
Now I certainly don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of Marvel continuity, but it really seems like nobody has played with the consequences of that little advancement. Just imagine the story possibilities that have been utterly ignored – what happens if Vic Doom gets hold of unlocking whatever potential is hiding inside of the human species? Eventually, he would. Reed Richards might have the whole species off-planet and evolving into the galaxy if he could get past the ethics of experimenting on human subjects. EVERYBODY would be madly after this little elixir.
Maddicks is certainly interested, and this is before he’s even confirmed the discovery. Apparently his mutant power is to mystically sense when other scientists are about to break through, and so he immediately starts plotting to steal Hank’s work. He does this very loudly, over the phone, with his office door open so that an eavesdropping McCoy hears the whole thing.
How will Maddicks get into McCoy’s private lab? Well, he’s got a security guard on the inside named Ben. Now, Ben has two attributes that make him ideal for this kind of seedy work. One, he’s got a lot of debt, so he’s ready to do some dirt to get out from under that. Two, he’s insanely punctual. Ben has informed Maddicks that he will be ready to move at 10:34pm. Not sometime after 10:00, or half past ten. Ben will damn well be ready at 10:34, and if he shows up at 10:35, your pizza is free. You can’t get good help like that just anywhere. This guy is good.
At this point any sane person would get on the phone with the boss Mr. Grant and let him deal with it. You just say “Hey, I just came up with a formula that could potentially make you billions of dollars, and then I overheard Maddicks conspiring with his little stoolie security guard to steal it. You might wanna have some people you can trust at my lab around 10:34pm. Just sayin’.”
Instead, Hank McCoy decides that the only option is that he must stop Ben himself, in disguise. And the only way he can properly disguise himself is to ingest the experimental formula he whipped up about an hour ago with no clinical trials on a field mouse, much less a human. Somehow, he knows that if he just takes another swig of the cocktail inside of 60 minutes, he will revert back to normal.
How he knows this is anybody’s guess. Maybe he’s an advocate of Flintstone Science. If somebody conks their head and loses their memory, the best thing to do is smash their skull again. It will all come right back. If we learned anything from Fred Flintstone, it’s that the best cure for a concussion is another concussion. Same thing with experimental mutagenics.
I don’t want to be too cruel to Hank. His gut impulse was to take matters into his own hands and problem solve instead of running to his boss or the police to bail him out. This is a “can do” attitude The Ugly American endorses. But the idea that chugging this completely untested Pandora’s brew was the only solution to his problem is galactically stupid.
But that’s what he does. When he drinks the potion, he turns into something vaguely reminiscint of the lovable furry Beast you’ve known and loved. He’s more gray than blue, and he’s got a weird part in his hair. He gets bigger, and he gets fangs and claws. Groovy.
So he puts a hellacious thumping on Punctual Ben, who showed up right on schedule for his ass whooping. Hank’s got increased physical skills, but the thought process is slowed down a bit, and for all his agility he sure does get shot a lot.
Still, the plan sort of works. Nobody recognizes him as Hank McKoy, and he beats up everybody who was after his research, including Maddicks. In fact, he almost chokes Maddicks out for good when his bestial side gets the better of him for a bit. But deep inside, Hank is a hero. He stops himself from murder and slips away into the night, so he can drink some more mutation juice and revert to normal.
One problem…his new bestial state doesn’t experience time at the same rate as regular Hank. He thought he was just beating up guys for fifteen minutes, but alas….his time has elapsed. His cells now have way too much energy to go back. What…too much energy….what??? Just go with it. He’s stuck as the furry beast now. OH, the humanity!!!
You think the story is over, there, folks, but the intrigue is just beginning. Maddicks has disappointed his masters in his failure to secure Hank McCoy’s magical formula. He is then executed by another agent of the Secret Empire, Agent 9. But you may recognize her by a different name…..Miss Linda Donaldson! Dun! Dun! DUUUNNNNN!
Now, Hank was giving it to Miss Donaldson, and presumably had full access to all of Hank’s work as his trusted assistant. So why the Secret Empire would ever go through the hassle and make an overt show of stealing that stuff is a bit of a mystery. Linda could have gotten them samples at any time with not a shot fired, and nobody aware that the work had been stolen. That might have been a better plan. But hey, that’s comics!
The important things are the lessons. We learned a lot of them in Amazing Adventures # 11. We learned that sometimes you have to follow your dreams. If you’re in love, sometimes you have to put on fetish gear and publicly jump around your workplace like a giant ass. Whatever the risk, always take matters into your own hands. And above all, never trust a dame.