So, to see if you’ve been paying attention, a little pop quiz. Name this character: he’s an X-Man, heals instantly from wounds, flies into murderous rages, and has funky hair that sweeps back and up into two points.
And never wears shoes.
But, you say, Beast was that dude played by Kelsey Grammer in X3: the Last Stand. He was a scientist and scholar, not some insta-healing berserker. What’s up with that?
Well, two years before the Wolverine first appeared in The Incredible Hulk, Hank McCoy was doing the same schtick in the pages of Amazing Adventures #11-17. But first, a little history.
Beast made his debut in The X-Men #1, along with Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, Marvel Girl, Professor X, and the villain Magneto. His powers were incredible agility and feet that he could use almost like hands, which is why Kirby drew him acting like a monkey.
His personality, though, went through some changes. In the first issues, his dialogue was almost indistinguishable from Ben Grimm’s, and he had a rivalry with young Bobby “Iceman” Drake that echoed the Thing’s feud with the Human Torch. But by issue 9, as seen above, Stan Lee had decided to make him more distinctive by stealing a funny hat from the Doc Savage pulps. Like Doc’s assistant Johnny, Beast liked to use big words.
After Lee and Kirby left, Roy Thomas continued to push the big words aspect of Beast’s personality, while later artists like Werner Roth abandoned the monkey-like japing. The Beast morphed into a kind of Hillbilly Spider-Man: all of the agility, none of the shoes.
But eventually the X-Men were canned, victims of poor sales. Marvel stopped producing new X-tales in 1970 and instead turned their title into a reprint book. But in 1972, Hank McCoy got a solo gig in Amazing Adventures #11. Having turned 20, he decided that he had outgrown the X-Men and struck out on his own.
He got a job as a genetics research scientist at the Brand Corporation and invented a serum that could cause temporary mutations. When he discovered a ring of spies, he took the serum in order to disguise himself temporarily (so as not to suffer anti-mutant prejudice at his cushy science job). His form changed to that of a gray-furred beast and he routed the spies, but found himself unable to change back.
I don’t have issue #11, but I know the story outline because it’s told in flashback in issue #12, cover pictured above. Written by Steve Englehart with art by Tom Sutton and Mike Ploog, the opening splash page said that this was not your older brother’s Beast.
One thing to notice in this very early solo Beast tale is that, like the Incredible Hulk, the Beast started out gray. By issue 17 (the next issue I own, and the Beast’s last solo appearance in the title), he was his now-familiar blue. Also, he states very early on that he no longer feels like impressing anyone with big words. Steve Englehart decided to get rid of that clown nose once and for all (although who knows if the more recent, more scholarly Beast might not have resumed the affectation).
Sutton and Ploog were not two names you’d normally have put together. Their styles had nothing in common, except that you could perhaps classify them both as horror artists. Sutton had done a lot of work for Warren’s magazines, including being the first story artist on Vampirella, while Ploog had risen to prominence with his art–cartoony yet grotesque–on Marvel’s Man-Thing. Ploog’s inks over Sutton’s pencils was an odd combination, giving a silly, cartoonish aspect to the humans in the story, but really dramatizing the horrific nature of Hank’s transformation.
Speaking of Hank, he decides that he must go back to his job if he’s going to find a way to reverse the transformation. To that end, he steals some make-up supplies and makes himself a latex mask and hand gloves, then makes a leather harness to force his body into an upright posture.
Looks painful. The next morning, Hank manages to get back into his lab at Brand without anyone being the wiser. Unfortunately, he gets an early visit from a potential investor, one Tony Stark, and they don’t exactly hit it off. Tony’s assistant Marianne gets bad vibes from Hank’s assistant (and girlfriend) Linda–which is not hard to imagine since Linda is a spy who is seducing Hank to learn his secret formula–an insinuation that causes Hank to storm off angrily and Tony Stark to decide that Iron Man should have a closer look around Brand.
So that night, while Hank is barreling around the Brand grounds enjoying a last taste of Beast-hood, he runs into Iron Man. There is a brief fight, which Iron Man seems to win easily. But as he’s trying to calm down some security guards, he doesn’t notice the Beast rising up behind him and slamming him in the back of the head. The guards’ weapons have no effect as the Beast vents his murderous wrath on the Armored Avenger.
Seriously, given the way they later turned the Beast into clownish comic relief, it was really weird for me to revisit this comic and realize that he was Wolverine before Wolverine was.
Beast actually kills Iron Man before coming to his senses and running off into the night, wracked with guilt. But of course, it was all an illusion, placed in his mind mid-fight by Mastermind (who, if you’ve been reading the X2 recap, inspired the character of Jason Stryker, Mutant 143), who is grooming Hank for a place in his New Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
And that’s that. I honestly have no idea if Englehart’s Beast served as any sort of inspiration for Wein or Claremont in the creation and development of Wolverine, but I think the coincidence is pretty striking.