Once the new X-Men began their skyrocket to popularity in the late 70’s, it was inevitable that they would become the objects of parody. And one of the most popular parodies (one that will never appear in Out of the Vault because I literally never bought even a single issue) was Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The funny thing is, the parody became so popular that it inspired its own parody imitators, like Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters and Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung Fu Kangaroos. And this week’s featured comic, titled simply Ex-Mutants (after they decided not to give it the more derivative title Young Ex-Mutant Samurai Humans).
The story, written by David Lawrence and Anthony Pereira with art by Ron Lim and Mike Witherby, begins with a monstrous teenage mutant girl looking at herself in the mirror and imagining herself as a beautiful blonde bombshell, “just like her mother.”
Unfortunately, she lives on a post-apocalyptic Earth where everyone is a mutant, scarred by radioactivity. All she can do is look in the mirror and dream, until she is found by Dr. Emmanuel Cugat, who asks her to join his band of young people destined to be humanity’s next step.
Cugat puts his band of young guinea pigs into giant test tubes and subjects them to unknown processes, until…
There follows a quick training montage (which includes a tickle fight or something for some reason) after which the Ex-Mutants are sent out into the world to inspire humanity with the hope of restoration. But the mutants hate the humans in their midst and attack them. Luckily, the five Ex-Mutants have received extensive martial arts training, so they escape with their lives.
The funny thing about this is, although we might look at this scene and say, “Of course there has to be gratuitous sex in the book,” it wasn’t really until the 90’s that that was true. This was actually not the norm at the time, and they apparently got some critical letters about it. In fact, at around the same time, The New Teen Titans also got into some controversy for showing Dick Grayson and Starfire in bed together (not having sex, just being awakened).
After this first issue, the series moved to Amazing Comics for several issues, then to Pied Piper Comics. But then, after a lawsuit, it moved back to Eternity Comics until it ran out of steam.
Like most independent series from novice creators, the book had a rocky start. The art by Lim and Witherby was a little stiff. Lim would go on to pencil Badger a couple of years later, while Witherby, coming from doing Champions art for Hero Games, would go on to ink for several companies, including Marvel.
But it’s the story that fascinates me all these years later. Because there are a lot of layers to the parody here. X-Men was about a group of mutants (mutated by radiation) living in a world of humans who hate them. Ex-Mutants was about a group of humans living in a world of mutants who hate them. The original X-Men consisted of four guys and a gal; the Ex-Mutants are four women and a dude (named Belushi, for some reason). Instead of a bald mentor named Xavier, we have a mentor with a full head of hair (big TV preacher hair) named Cugat (a play on bandleader and former Mr. Charo, Xavier Cugat).
And then there’s Lorelei. One of the distinguishing features of Marvel heroes in general and the X-Men in particular was that their powers often caused them problems. Cyclops considered his eyebeams a curse rather than a blessing. In the Ex-Mutants, we had Lorelei, who had always imagined herself as a blonde and came out of the tank black. While the basic idea of someone being dissatisfied that they didn’t get what they wanted–even if what they got was amazing–was a valid subject for storytelling, this was a really uncomfortable choice by the authors.
I don’t know how it all ended up playing out, because I quit after three issues. The problem was simply that the five main characters were so generic. You could tell them apart by looks, mostly, but their personalities weren’t distinctive enough that you could get to know or like any of them. And although there were several layers to the parody, they were neither funny nor genuinely exciting. So I gave up on Ex-Mutants, and gave up on X-Men not long after.