There are many classic Marvel comics covers that are iconic. Amazing Fantasy #15, Fantastic Four #1, and Hulk #1 are in that treasured line-up. When it comes to the X-Men, while the first issue by Jack Kirby in 1963 has a place in history, it is the cover to Giant-Size X-Men #1 by Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum that remains supreme.
It is hard to imagine the impact of Giant-Size X-Men #1 for a fan of Marvel's mutants. The last new X-Men was published in X-Men #66 in 1970, although the X-Men title continued publication with reprints of the Stan Lee and Roy Thomas stories. Through those reprints, a new generation of Marvel readers became fans of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, the Beast, Iceman, and the Angel. From 1970-1975, the X-Men made a few guest appearances--most notably in Marvel Team-Up #4, Avengers #110-111, and the Beast's series in Amazing Adventures #11-17.
I snatched up my copy of GS X-Men #1 the instant I saw it. If the X-Men weren't enough, I knew that Dave Cockrum was the artist. He had already knocked me out with the superb job he did on Giant-Size Avengers #2, and the art in GS X-Men #1 was even better. With Len Wein as the writer, I immediately recognized Wolverine on the cover from his debut appearance in the Hulk. All of the other mutants were incredibly new and mysterious. I couldn't figure out why Cyclops was just behind Wolverine--in the new team--and also in the faded background with the old X-Men.
The cover to Giant-Size X-Men #1 features a classic Gil Kane motif of having the heroes running toward the reader, exploding out of the comic book page. Kane's cover to Giant-Size Defenders #1 is almost identical. Gil Kane's pencil layout for this cover is shown above. Looking at this, you can see Cockrum kept the essence of Kane's figures, but adding his own take on the characters. Kane drew Colossus with pupils and Cockrum executed it with white eyes--the way he's drawn in the comic.
Cockrum's costume design for Storm, Colossus, Thunderbird, and Nightcrawler were visually stunning. It's interesting that on this famous splash page, Cockrum is showcasing his original creations front and center--with the pre-existing Banshee, Sunfire,and Wolverine hanging in the background.
This comic has one other special place in Marvel history--it's the first all-new series that was introduced within the Giant-Size Marvel line. The other titles (like Giant-Size Avengers, Defenders, etc) were extensions of a well established monthly series. This revival was designed for the Giant-Size format, the story in issue 1 is 35 pages. The next chapters in X-Men #94-95 were clearly designed for Giant-Size X-Men #2, and split into two when it was decided to resume new stories in the X-Men title.
Giant-Size X-Men #1 was the best 50 cents I ever spent in the 1970s--probably the best two-bits ever in my entire life! Wein and Cockrum concocted a near-perfect story that introduced us to a new generation of mutants, but they acknowledged the team that came before and treated them with respect. Sadly, I sold my copy of this comics when I was 20 and needed money for something frivolous. Haven't we all thrown away precious comics like this for a song? Nuff said.