Wednesday, 21 March 2012

X-Men #31: "You dare compare that villain to me... To the Cobalt Man?"

X-Men #31 returns normal service, with the Warren/Jean/Scott triangle coming in back into swing. Helpful Xavier makes his first appearance, poking Scott into taking up Warren's offer of a lift, to drop some books off with Jean at Metro College. There they meet Jean's new friend Ted Roberts, and has brother Ralph Roberts, who has worked for Tony Stark and is interested in cobalt. Hmm, I wonder where that's going. Meanwhile, Warren bumps in to old friend Candy Sothern [sic], and Hank and Bobby go on a date to Coffee-a-Go-Go. OK, so, ostensibly a double date. Although they will rush off together to be alone during the middle of it and end up taking their clothes off.

Turns out that Ralph Roberts has built some powered armour just like Iron Man, only of cobalt, called, um, Cobalt Man! He plans to sell it to the government, but it turns out to have two drawbacks. Firstly, there is a two-hour time-limit before enough Cobalt 60 builds up and he becomes a walking bomb. Secondly, it makes him mad. (Well, his story is he had concussion, and he's sticking to it). The X-Men abandon their dates, team up and defeat him.

In theory this story shares the same weakness I've been finding a lot lately, in that it is an Iron Man story that the X-Men happen to wander in to. Iron Man's absence is explained by the fact that he's on a date (but so were Bobby & Hank, and Warren and Candy and Jean and Scott were about to have moments!) How, then, is it more successful? Because it has the character moments that were missing completely from #30.

There turn out to be disappointingly few characters named "[Element] Man". If you're a comics creator reading this, why not invent some? Actually, no, invent some "[Element] Woman" characters instead. There are hardly any of those.

6 (S)The Doves song
22 (Ti)Iron Man villain
24 (Cr)Triumphant Comics character
26 (Fe)Black Sabbath song, Ted Hughes novel
27 (Co)Iron Man villain
50 (Sn)looking for a heart
80 (Hg)Charlton hero
94 (Pu)DC robot villain

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

X-Men #30: Admittedly, he does claim to be a mutant, but eh

X-Men #30 is a fill-in issue with pencils by Jack Sparling. I know this because it admits it on page 1.

Sadly, this means that it is another generic superhero story masquerading as X-Men material. Even in the worst of issues of the Stan Lee run - and I will give the series a break for the first few issues, as it was still trying to figure out how it works - there was usually still some relevancy towards the basic premise - they are defeating an evil mutant, or trying to recruit a mutant - and even if that wasn't the case they were dealing with an antagonist from Professor X's past. This is yet another instance of the X-Men acting as just another super-team, and without even the team dynamics that provided some interest in previous examples. I'm not even going to bother to explain the plot, because I just don't care.

But, it's a fill-in issue, probably written under some haste. So, let's not hold it against the run, and cross our fingers for #31.

Monday, 19 March 2012

X-Men #29: "I have been observing you for some time, humans"

X-Men #29 seems to be the worst example yet of the Idiot Ball. Iceman, who it hilariously turns out is bad at ice-skating in his human form, is attacked by the Super-Adaptoid (an android which exhibits powers of four of the Avengers, introduced in Tales of Suspense the previous year), escapes, and reports to the X-Men, who refuse to believe him.

Mimic continues to act up, and starts fighting the other X-Men. The Professor is willing to take this up to a point, but when Mimic crosses the line, he sacks him from the X-Men, seemingly forgetting that Mimic had blackmailed his way on to the team in the first place. After Mimic leaves in disgrace, the Super-Adaptoid attacks, and Mimic comes back and saves the day, with his power causing a feedback loop with the Adaptoid's. They are both left depowered (although Mimic's first depowering didn't last long), and so Mimic leaves the X-Men again.

Meanwhile, Scott gets a very minor breakthrough as he realises he can control the intensity of his optic blasts slightly. He is able to stop the blasts with his eyelids, but then loses control. Jean is still at college, but is back with the team for this fight.

Continuity notes

Mimic sacked from the X-Men and depowered. First appearance of Super-Adaptoid in X-Men.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Why Marvel is stuck in the 1960s (or How did there come to be no female ongoings, anyway?)

So, Carol Danvers (a.k.a. Ms. Marvel a.k. Warbird, a.k.a. Binary), who we'll meet a few months down the line, is getting a haircut, and a new solo series, as Captain Marvel. This means Marvel will have an ongoing female solo again, after X-23 and Ghost Rider were cancelled. X-Marathon approves of the new look and will be putting the book on its pull list.

As was noted a couple of months back, it's been a long time since Marvel didn't have an ongoing female solo - by my reckoning since October 1998 and the launch of Spider-Girl. Why is this? Well, poor sales, we're told. But essentially that's a tautology. The series did not succeed commercially because of poor sales. Well, yes. But why the poor sales? Is this because comics readers are inherently sexist? Because Marvel aren't doing enough promotion? Or just maybe it's a bit more complicated than that.

In the last ten years, there have been solo titles based around various female heroes - Spider-Girl, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Mystique, Rogue, Black Widow, Spider-Woman. Of these the longest-running were the alternative-universe Spider-Girl (with 100 issues in its original volume), and then the 616 She-Hulk and Ms. Marvel, notching up 50 issues each in their mid-2000s series.

What these runs have in common is a single writer. Tom DeFalco wrote every single issue of Spider-Girl, Brian Reed wrote the entire run of Ms. Marvel, and She-Hulk didn't survive much more than a year after Dan Slott's run ended. She-Hulk is in fact Marvel's only recent attempt to hand over a female solo title between writers. Let's look at a chart.

Huh. Not great, eh. It had found pretty consistent level of about 27,000 under Slott, but after some initial interest it started falling under Peter David, and wasn't arrested by a crossover with his X-Factor title for Secret Invasion. Given this, I can see why they might not have wanted to find a successor to Reed for Ms. Marvel a year later. But perhaps they should have tried anyway.

What's going on here is that there are about six or eight "core" Marvel characters that can permanently support an ongoing, and Marvel will try to find a creative team to take the character if it becomes vacant - the big three of Spider-Man, Hulk and Wolverine - the Avengers trio of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, and the more marginal cases of Daredevil and Punisher. These are the books with the huge issue numbers (they've all either been recently renumbered upwards, or relaunched at a new #1). The A-list consists of Marvel's solo characters from the 1960s with only Punisher and Wolverine having been successfully added subsequently.

Other characters with solo series rarely last more than a couple of years. In the past five years there have been solo series for the B-list male solo heroes of Ant-Man, Black Panther, Blade, Cable, Daken, Ghost Rider, Hawkeye, Hercules, Iron First, Moon Knight, and War Machine. None of them are being published today (bar Moon Knight, which is ending in a couple of issues). There's a few ones recently launched (Scarlet Spider, Venom and Winter Soldier), but I would be honestly surprised if these went on to long runs. The success of all these niche ongoings seems to be directly related to the creative team, and they often fail when that's changed, or sometimes they simply don't look for a replacement. In that context, Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk were very successful runs. As Marvel retreats into so-called "family branding", with most books called X-Men, Avengers, or associated with one of the Big Eight Marvel Characters in Pop Culture, the casualty is less scope for female solo ongoings. There's a bit of a random walk going on with the other titles, and that the number ended up being 0 for a few months rather than scraping in at 1 or 2, as it had managed essentially by chance since Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk were cancelled, was bound to happen sooner or later.

So, what's going on at the Distinguished Competition? They have five female solo titles in the New 52 - Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Batwoman, and Catwoman. Of these, Wonder Woman is that much more an important character to DC not because of modern decisions by the publisher, but by simple good fortune of her being a Golden Age character with continuous publication. She is not a "legacy" character or a member of a supporting cast given a spin-off book. Unlike the other four - three of which are Bat-family books. So I'd argue that it's not that DC's present management is necessarily any better at this, but they've been dealt a better historical situation.

What can be done? Well, launching a new Carol Danvers title is definitely a good start. She's the closest thing Marvel have to a female A-lister. Steering creative teams towards revamping female characters is a positive thing - if a relaunch can everyone very excited about Iron Fist, surely this can be done with anyone... And perhaps part of the answer is also events and the contents of the team books. Ms. Marvel had prominent roles in Civil War and Secret Invasion, as Iron Man's second-in-command. Siege and especially Fear Itself were more boys' clubs. Story points and premises for new runs often come out of these - Reed's Ms. Marvel itself launched from House of M. If in Fear Itself, it was She-Hulk who become the hammer-wielding worldbreaker of Nul instead of Hulk, would we be seeing a Jason Aaron-penned series about her redemptive quest now? And why are we seeing a Winter Soldier ongoing launch rather than a Black Widow? Because of Ed Brubaker, because of the story choices that were made ages back, when Bucky was picked as substitute Captain America rather than another member of the supporting cast, such as Sharon Carter (Agent 13).

The upcoming Avengers vs. X-Men series at least features Hope and Wanda prominently. They've cancelled Generation Hope - a semi-solo title - I suppose a Scarlet Witch ongoing launching out of that is too much to ask for, eh? But I suspect the sad fact is that this is all managed decline, and that there's simply never going to be another breakout character - nobody will ever join those six or eight characters that Marvel feels obliged to keep going no matter what. But there's certainly room, with a good push, for a midlist Captain Marvel title that will last a number of years.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

X-Men: Season One review

X-Men: Season One is the second of Marvel's first batch of "Season One" Original Graphic Novels, designed to re-tell classic characters' origin stories in an accessible and modernised way. This one is written by Dennis Hopeless, who is a newcomer to the X-Men; with pencils by Jamie McKelvie, who has previously drawn part of X-Men: Divided We Stand and a couple of issues of Generation Hope.

The book distils many of the high points of the early part of the run, and deftly weaves them together to form a larger whole. Given the mandate of writing an in-continuity update of X-Men #1-#20 or so, there's not much that can be done about the early X-Men's lack of diversity (which stands starkly in contrast to the current line-ups), but Season One picks up the device of the new girl arriving (used briefly in issue #1 and then abandoned) and runs with it, making Jean - who remained a cipher in the original comics even as the others obtained their distinct personalities - the narrator.

There are some superheroics in here, almost as a background thing at times, but this is really about the relationships. We meet everyone through Jean's eyes and the Jean/Scott/Warren triangle is explored from her point of view, something sadly neglected in the source material. We see an emotional depth to the Bobby and Hank friendship that is consistent with my growing feeling that there's something going on there (of which more on Tuesday). And Charles and Erik. Oh, poor Charles and Erik.

Jean comes to buy in to the idea of the X-Men, even as the subtext undermines the idealism a little. Part of this is Magneto and what he says - he's not quite Morrison's "mad old terrorist" here, but then there's also the brief mention of carnival mutants, which turns out to be a living, at least. The X-Men mostly have "passing privilege", so can't quite understand how disruptive they could be to these people's lives. Warren could perhaps get it best, but he's privileged in other ways. See Vaughn's X-Men: First Class where the only people naïve enough to side with Xavier are the white guys, without personal experience of how systemic oppression works.

I think this should be accessible enough to newcomers. It flits between issues and incorporates moments from them as a kind of skeleton to hang the real meat of the story off. Tonally it is a decent match for both what is going on with the characters in this part of the original run, and the shorter-arc format that's being used on the main X-books at the moment. And unlike Parker's X-Men: First Class (which I will post about here at some point), it somehow avoids invoking a sense of false nostalgia. As a project on its own then, I dub this a success.

But is that all they are after? After the final page of the story comes Gillen's Uncanny X-Men #1. This is going to be a very hard sell - with the other Season One OGN's, the status quo set up at the end of them bears some relation to a recent status quo. Fantastic Four presumably ends with those same four characters living in the Baxter Building routinely saving the world; Spider-Man is still slinging webs around NYC. But the X-Men? Only two of the characters from this are even in Uncanny, and one of them was the villain, and for unexplained reasons they are suddenly in San Francisco. So, it'll be a big jump. But one worth making.

X-Men #28: "What do you mean... 'guys'? I'm in on this, too!"

X-Men #28 has Mimic having been accepted as a full member of the X-Men despite the dubious nature of his admission, and undergoing trials, the Professor being glad for any help they can get. Mimic really upsets the comfortable team dynamic, and particularly rubs up against Scott. Although it looked like the Jean/Scott situation would see some sort of advancement, it hasn't, and instead Jean is developing a closer friendship with a fellow student, Ted Roberts, of who more later...

It's a little disturbing that Xavier refers to the mutant on Cerebro as a "mutant menace" - as if he is starting to believe the anti-mutant press himself. He's referring to Banshee, a Gaelic mutant capable of various sonic feats, including flight, who has been terrorising Manhattan. The X-Men trace him down and prepare an ambush, which they pull off, and it is eventually revealed that he is under the domination of the Ogre, part of the mysterious Factor Three. We have here our first properly friendly new mutant since Wanda and Pietro! Demonstrating that good mutants every do exist every so often is important - it undermines the premise if every new one we meet turns out to be evil.

Continuity notes

First appearance of Banshee and Ogre. A student (Mimic) calls Xavier "Charlie" for the first time.

Friday, 16 March 2012

X-Men #27: Welcome to the X-Men, Mimic. Hope you survive the - actually no

X-Men #27 continues the plot thread from the previous story, with Jean Grey's having met new co-student, Calvin Rankin (AKA Mimic), who is sure he's seen Jean before. It starts with a four page flash-forward of a powered Mimic defeating the X-Men (minus Warren), and then goes back to the end of the last issue, taking a full nine pages to bring the story to Mimic's attack.

Mimic is being manipulated by the Pupper Master, in some sort of scheme to get revenge on the Fantastic Four. There are small cameos from Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch and Spider-Man, who all decline to team up with the X-Men. And then we are told that the apparent defeat at the start of the issue was a fake-out on Xavier's part. Structurally this is surprisingly sophisticated stuff.

Jean is still at college, although she gets involved in fighting in the issue. She here completes the hat trick - having previously been the only X-Man to have cooked, and having acted as nurse, she's now made new costumes for the team. O-kay!

Continuity notes

First appearance of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Puppet Master in X-Men. Mimic joins the X-Men.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

X-Men #25-#26: on the other hand, they save some orphans

X-Men #25-#26 is the first X-Men story I have a real problem with. Like the previous issue, it is inessential, with X-Men taking the role of generic superheroes fighting a menace completely unrelated to mutantkind. Jean is still gone from the team - she appears briefly, used to research the main plot. In her absence, the Jean/Scott/Warren triangle does see a bit of development, with Warren and Scott actually coming to conflict, and Scott resolving to do something about it.

But the real problem is the primary story, which features a GuatemalanSan Rican explorer by the name of "El Tigre" finding a pendant which gives him mind-control powers. He travels to New York to find the other part of his pendant, and with his lazily-stereotyped minions (one of whom blows poison darts!) takes down the X-Men one by one. When he unites the two parts of the pendant he becomes the god Kukulkan, and goes all supervillain. I was about to be all sarcastic about how he was the first villain that X-Men has introduced that it has never used again. But then I looked it up and it turns out he was in some issues of Ka-Zar, which I think says more than I could manage.

Continuity notes

First appearance of Le Tigre. Mimic re-appears as a student at Metro College.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

X-Men #24: "The Plague of the Locust"

X-Men #24 dangles the prospect of a status quo change before us again, as Jean is withdrawn from the school by her parents (they did, after all, formally graduate from it as a high school over a dozen issues ago now), and send her to Metro College.

In her absence, the X-Men investigate a plague of giant locusts. This is caused by August Hopper, developer of a powerful insecticide, who wants to take credit for wiping them out. It just so happens that Jean gets told about this at Metro College, and then comes back to the mansion at the weekend to provide the needed exposition. Armed with this information, the X-Men confront and defeat Hopper, who has dressed himself up in a locust suit and is calling himself "the Locust", for unclear reasons. (I mean, like, Monsanto don't need to do that to sell pesticide, right? Or did I not get the memo?)

I was expecting Jean to have found some reason to move back to the school by the end of the issue, but that's not yet happened. Maybe she's really off to college? And how long before the others follow?

Continuity notes

Jean leaves the school to go to Metro College, returns for X-Men stuff at the weekend. Introduction of the Locust.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

X-Men #22-#23: "taste the irresistible might of my power horn"

X-Men #22 sees the X-Men team up to defeat a practice robot in the Danger Room, then go on vacation - their last one being rudely interrupted by Mimic in issue #19. Warren, Jean and Scott go off together. There's been, for quite a while now, a triangle developing between these characters. It's the sort of situation that can happen to anyone - Warren likes Jean, but Jean likes Scott. Scott likes Jean, but is afraid of his deadly mutant powers and dare not get close to anyone.

Meanwhile, Hank and Bobby are double-dating Zelda and Vera in Greenwich Village, and not for the first time, Hank's actions lead me to question his supposed hetereosexuality.

Soon, the plot cranks up, and Jean, investigating a supposed sighting of a flying X-Men, but knowing it can't be her or Warren, gets captured by a villain bearing the unlikely name of Plantman, who is acting as a minion for Count Nefaria, introduced the previous year (1965) in Avengers. The rest of the team are picked off one by one by the other members of Nefaria's gang, namely Scarecrow, the Porcupine, the Eel and the Unicorn. At this point Scott finally snaps and decides to hang a lampshade on it. "This must be homecoming week for obscure villains! We never heard of you, either!"

Nefaria wishes the X-Men to ally with him, an offer that would have been better made before he decided to hang them from the wall in chains. He is shocked they turn him down, and then outlines his real plan - to hold Washington D.C. to ransom for ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS! by encasing it in a giant dome. Fortunately the X-Men are able to work together (Jean using her telekinesis to open Scott's visor) to break free. Unfortunately, Nefaria is seen to get away with the money, and his plan, which framed the X-Men, trashes any remaining reputation they had. The X-Men have swapped in a ringer for the cash, and told the coast guard. Obviously this will vastly improve the mutants standing in the community and restore broken trust.

Continuity notes

First appearance of Count Nefaria in X-Men. Bobby uses the alias "Bobby Blake". Xavier has developed an exoskeleton that allows him to walk.

Monday, 12 March 2012

X-Men #20-#21: The Return of Lucifer

X-Men #20 - the first to be written by Roy Thomas - further plays with the problem of secret identities by having the Blob and Unus (who have teamed up after meeting at a circus) rob a bank while dressed as X-Men. The X-Men's attempt at distinguishing the real X-Men from the impostors is not entirely succesful. Unus and Blob are being manipulated behind the scenes by Lucifer, who has recovered from his apperance in issue #11, and we are now shown in flashback how he caused Xavier's paraplegia. Lucifer has a larger plan - he wants to subjugate the Earth's population using a machine, Dominus. After his defeat by the X-Men he is exiled to the so-called "Nameless Dimension" by his bosses.

Meanwhile, Cyclops - perhaps inspired by his encounter with Mimic's machine in the previous issue - briefly tries to leave the X-Men to seek out a doctor to help him control his optic blasts. At this point his powers are actively dangerous - #11 had him be unable to control his optic blasts when his glasses are removed - he couldn't even close his eyes to stop it. This plot thread gets forgotten by the end of the story, with Cyclops forced by events to team up with the rest of the X-Men.


There's a new Cerebro after Magneto destroyed the first one in #18. Lucifer is identified as an alien, using the name "Agent One" with his people. New jet appears, apparently having been purchased before the Sentinel arc but not used yet.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

X-Men #19: "No power on Earth will be able to stop me!"

X-Men #19 has the kids out socialising when they just happen to bump in to a person with power mimicry powers (our first meta-power), who after tracking them back to the school, kidnaps Jean. The series could easily pass this off as a coincidence, but instead it reveals that he had tracked them intentionally. Mimic is frustrated by the nature of his power-copying - which is proximity-related - and plans to use a machine to permanently fix the X-Men's powers to himself. Turns out the machine does no such thing - it was constructed by his father to remove powers, without Mimic's knowledge or consent. After events run their course, Xavier gives him a windwipe and sends him on his merry way.

We have here the idea of a mutant "cure" touched on for the first time, although Mimic is explicitly not a mutant - he's given a science-experiment backstory, and everything. This is perhaps in order to sidestep the issue of whether or not the X-Men who have expressed a desire to become "normal" could use it, too.

Continuity notes

First appearance of Mimic (Calvin Rankin). First used of term "mutie".

Saturday, 10 March 2012

X-Men #17-#18: "You'll have to get down, Angel. That's against hospital regulations"

X-Men #17 picks up immediately from the fight with the Sentinels in #16, with the Beast and Jean injured and Iceman in a coma. The first order of business is keeping Xavier's secret identity while he visits the X-Men in hospital. We see now why he has previously been so anxious about not being seen with the X-Men in public - he is a recognised media pundit. Xavier stresses the importance of keeping the X-Men's parents safe. He really shouldn't think things like this, as the situation degenerates and by the middle of issue #18, Magneto (for he has returned!) has all the X-Men bar Iceman in a gondola, control of the school, and a plan to use the body cells of Angel's parents (who are captive in a room upstairs) to create an army of mutants, with which he will take over the world. It's not immediately clear how Magneto knew the X-Men were based at the school. Certainly in issue #5 he had minions snooping around there, and this foreshadows the later information that he had a pre-existing relationship with Xavier.

After several pages, we are told story of how Magneto escaped from the Stranger, by Xavier mindreading him for our benefit. (The Stranger had made the schoolboy error of leaving him unsupervised on a planet with lots of metal spaceships). Rather capriciously, he'd left Toad behind. Back at the action, Magneto starts his machine, which turns out to actually create mutants from whole cloth, rather than mutate existing humans. Iceman arrives on the scene to distract him, and then the X-Men break free and join in the fight.

This story, along with the preceding Sentinel three-parter start to consider what the X-Men's secret identies actually mean, and how they keep their cover story of school going. Turns out a telepath with an ethics problem can keep a pretty good cover.

Continuity notes

Magneto returns from space. Jean's power is getting stronger - she's able to levitate herself down from a third-floor window now. Bobby is the youngest X-Man. "Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters" is used as a name.

Friday, 9 March 2012

X-Men #14-#16: The Mutant Menace

So, we've now finished the original Lee/Kirby run on X-Men, and although Kirby will continue doing layouts for a little longer (and thus contributing towards the storytelling, under the Marvel method), he has been replaced as penciller by Werner Roth (as Jay Gavin). In this run the X-Men have been introduced and mostly got their personalities, Scott has become field leader, we've met some villains, and the characters are starting to interact with the larger Marvel universe. We're even getting a bit of queer subtext peeking through. We're missing something, though. What this comic needs is a really long story about giant robots!

X-Men #14, #15 and #16 happily oblige, with the new character of Bolivar Task predicting the extinction of mankind at the hands of the mutants, just as the X-Men go on their first vacation. Xavier turns out to have a civilian identity as, if you will believe it, "one of the greatest authorities in the field of education", and goes on the tellybox to debate Trask. After a brief back-and-forth, Trask unveils his giant robots, the Sentinels, who then of course immediately malfunction and turn on him. Xavier telepathically summons the X-Men, interrupting their holiday. They intervene but the Sentinels take Trask away to their base, and plot to defeat all of humanity. At least until the X-Men save them, aided by the belated heroic self-sacrifice of Trask.

Trask casts a shadow to the present day, not only for his creation of the Sentinels (who play an important part in X-Men history right up to Schism and beyond), but his real legacy is his fearmongering about mutants. Before, the X-Men were just another superhero team, held in suspicion by the general populace just like Spider-Man or the Avengers, but now, mutants are seen as a global menace, and the tragedy of the X-Men is finally expressed by Xavier: that they risk their lives for the same human race which hates and fears them. We are shown that Daily Globe newspaper article that will go on to become so important to Grant Morrison's run, complete with the Mutant overlord costume that will be worn provacatively by Quentin Quire.

After Professor X's history was revealed last time, it's almost as if a dam has burst open, and we get a partial backstory for Warren (his wings started growing when he was at military school, which he then quit to avoid a physical at), and then the Beast goes in to quite some detail about his background. His father was a worker at an atomic project, and he believes this is the source of the mutation. Something from Children of the Atom is definitely leaking through now. His body was always shaped as it was, but he realised his agility one day when he was being bullied - later a newspaper article calling attention to his sporting prowess tipped Xavier off to his existence. These backstories, showing that our original team of six had to hide their true selves as children, provides a context for Trask's rhetoric to exist in. This is the first true X-Men comic - the first book really to live up to the name Essential X-Men.

Continuity notes

Introduction of Warren and Beast's parents. Warren has a Mustang, possibly the first hint at his wealth. Coffee-A-Go-Go in Greenwich Village is given a name. Also, my first sighting of the phrase "optic-blast".

There's a little nod at Superman's supposed habit of changing in phone booths, as Beast says "I somehow feel unfaithful to the super hero code when I change in an alley. A phone booth seems to be the accepted place."

Thursday, 8 March 2012

X-Men #12-#13: Don't You Know Who I Am?

X-Men #12 carries on immediately from the end of #11, with Cerebro detecting a massively powerful mutant. Xavier thinks he knows what it is, so explains his life-story, and how his elder step-brother, Cain Marko, became the Juggernaut. Flashback scenes are interspersed with the Juggernaut conducting the first attack on the school, and gradually penetrating its defences.

This is our first significant origin story for any mutant (excluding the panel or two for Wanda in #4), and we see how Xavier was able to read thoughts as a boy, but apparently just assumed it was normal, and only realised it was a special power when he was older, after the death of his step-father. This is very similar to some queer puberty narratives. By his late teens he is self-identifying as a "mutant".

We then get the story of Xavier and Marko serving in the Korean War, and them finding the Temple of Cyttorak, and Marko holding the gem and being transformed into a human Juggernaut. The issue concludes just as Juggernaut confronts the X-Men - making this the first proper two-part story. Issue #13 gives his side of the story, with him claiming that he'd taken all that time to dig himself out from the stone. He gets dumped in a big hole by the X-Men, but is soon able to escape (as he rhetorically asks - "Haven't they realized yet that nothing can hold back the Juggernaut?"). After distracting him for a while and nearly losing, the X-Men remove his protective helmet, allowing him to be stopped by Xavier's mutant brain, amplified by his new "mento-helmet".

X-Men #12 makes the chronology rather complicated. Xavier fought in the Korean War, and we know he'd at least started college before then, and that he's been keeping his head down, so probably won't be attending college too early. So he is at the very youngest 18 in 1953. Which makes his birth year 1935. In our very first issue Xavier says that he was "born of parents who had worked on the first A-bomb project". I joked that this meant the British Tube Alloys project rather than the Manhattan project, but even if we take that seriously, it still doesn't work. Xavier can't have been born to parents who worked on any A-bomb project, and serve in the Korean war, and this is not a problem that the sliding timeline has presented, but a problem that could have been apparent in 1965. We'll see if the material ever gets around to fixing it (perhaps in the early issues of X-Men: Legacy). It could change the war around (which it might do anyway, to avoid Xavier being too old), or it might posit a secret pre-war atomic bomb project.

Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four has a small guest appearance in the fight, but his memory of the event is wiped by Xavier and he is sent packing. It was a pretty bad fight, so all the X-Men apart from Jean are injured and in bed. She gets to play nurse (on top of getting to cook for the X-Men on the cook's day off in #6). Woo.

Continuity notes

Xavier gets a backstory, and a first name (Charles). Introduction of Brian Xavier, Sharon Xavier, Kurt Marko, Cain Marko (Juggernaut). Random cameos in #14 of the Teen Brigade and Johnny Storm.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

X-Men #11: The "Triumph" of Magneto

After a couple of off-format issues, X-Men #11 appears to return to the formula of going after a newly emerged mutant - in this case The Stranger. The Brotherhood make contact first, though, and for their troubles are rewarded with the revelation that the Stranger is not a mutant, but an alien, here to take some mutants off-world. He takes Magneto and Toad in to captivity. This is the so-called "Triumph of Magneto" that the cover further emphasises with "No! You're not seeing things! This title means what it says!" So, it turns out - comics have a tradition of lying on their covers. Who knew?

In Magneto's absence, the brotherhood dissolves. Pietro and Wanda decline an offer to join the X-Men, saying they'd rather return home to central Europe (they'll soon enough join the line-up of Avengers). Although Pietro's main motivation has been to protect Wanda, as soon as Magneto is gone, he lords it over her, saying that "No, my sister! It is I who give the orders now!", when she starts to consider signing up. Mastermind is written off as a threat. It's unclear whether this is a genuine attempt to take Magneto off the board so that new things can be done with the emerging mutant stories, or whether it's a mere fake-out. Although Magneto's removal will hardly stick, this is the final end of this Brotherhood line-up.

Continuity notes

First appearance of the Stranger. Magneto and Toad taken off-world. Mastermind, Magneto and Toad are removed from Cerebro.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

X-Men #10: The Cultural Attitudes that Time Forgot

My initial impression of X-Men #10 was that like #6, it brings a Golden Age Timely character (Ka-Zar, the pronounciation of which is helpfully given as /keɪsɑːr/ on page 1) into the X-Men universe. Then I noticed the cover text claiming he would be the "most spectacular new character of the year". This is at best an exaggeration. He's very similar to the Golden Age Ka-Zar published by Timely, and although he'll later be given a backstory and name different to the Golden Age Ka-Zar, this has not happened yet.

The X-Men watch a TV news report about a man in a loin-cloth in Antarctica, a sort of "latter day Tarzan", as Jean puts it, and conclude, not unreasonably, that he must be a mutant. Professor Xavier is certain otherwise, but sends them south anyway. Hidden there they find a strange area featuring an anachronous mix of species from previous eras, in a pretty clean lift from Burroughs' The Land That Time Forget. Apart from Ka-Zar, there are also native "swamp men", who capture Jean and Warren and of course intend to sacrifice them. It's jarring to read this type of thoughtless pulp-derived trope in a comic that will later try to become an allegory about racism. I mean, it's even called the "Savage Land". But then, the highest grossing film of 2006 did the same thing much more objectionably.

One could see this as an early mashup, as Burroughs and post-atomic science fiction are brought together in one text. This tendency will only grow, as Marvel continue to create links between series, eventually creating a shared world where cross-title continuity is essential.

Continuity notes

Introduction of Ka-Zar, Zabu, and the Savage Land [not named]

Monday, 5 March 2012

X-Men #9: Avengers vs X-Men: First Round

Three issues ago X-Men got its first crossover with the rest of the Marvel universe. X-Men #9 takes this up a notch, featuring a guest appearance of the Avengers, whose ongoing series launched in the same month and year as X-Men. It features the classical line-up of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Giant Man and the Wasp.

The comic starts with the X-Men travelling to Europe on a ship. This anachronism isn't remarked on, but appears to exist solely in order to give Cyclops a chance to blast a wild iceberg out from the path of the ship. They've been summoned to act as backup for Professor X, who has tracked down his previously unmentioned nemesis Lucifer. The Avengers also have arrived, having detected Lucifer. Possibly the funniest moment in the series so far happens when a passer-by gets spooked out by the Avengers' strange dress, and drives away quickly to stop at the next group of apparently normal people he sees: the X-Men.

Being a superhero comic, there are certain narrative conventions to obey. So the Avengers and X-Men end up in a fight - in this case ostensibly because the Avengers would interfere with dealing Lucifer without all the facts. Thankfully, after a few pages, Professor X is able to calmly describe the situation telepathically to Thor, and they part as friends.

The comic makes a really big deal about how young the X-Men - all still teens - are compared to the Avengers, something that will become less apparent as the decades wear on and the X-Men are allowed to grow up, while the Avengers stay broadly static. Oh, and one other thing.

Thor asks 'What sorcery is this'?

Continuity notes

First appearance of Lucifer; first Avengers/X-Men crossover; Professor X's paraplegia attributed to Lucifer.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

X-Men #8: "I'm resigning from the X-Men!"

X-Men #8 opens with Professor X still gone and Scott in charge. He's driving himself and the rest of the team hard, as is his wont. And although we've seen isolated examples of anti-mutant hysteria before, we get our best one yet, where Beast rescues a child trapped up on top of a water tower, and for his trouble gets mobbed. Together, that's enough for Beast - he quits the X-Men (and not for the last time) - and becomes a heel in pro wrestling! As with the coffee bar last issue, this is an environment he can show a bit more of himself, and have it assumed to be a performance by others, making it a kind of mutant drag. Scott takes it badly, realising that Beast quitting the X-Men means he as failed as leader (something that will also hit hard in several hundred issues from now). He contacts Xavier, who is busy in Europe on a mission we will learn more about in issue #9.

The X-Men Season One OGN by Hopeless and McKelvie (coming out later this month) is apparently based around this issue, and as Hopeless points out it's an important moment in Beast's character development, as he uses science to solve the plot for the first time (although he's been portrayed as a bookworm since #3). I will make no attempt to further summarise the events, but will note it is as mad as a hat of frogs.

Continuity notes

First appearance of Unus. Mention of Sue Storm by name. Though bubbles clearly indicate that Jean likes Scott and Scott likes Jean, but neither dare tell the other. Beast temporarily leaves the X-Men to take up pro wrestling.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

X-Men #7: Graduation Day

Picking up from #5, where Xavier decided the X-Men were ready now, the team officially graduate at the start of X-Men #7, both as X-Men, and from prep school. Xavier then leaves them under the temporary leadership of Scott. Leader-Scott immediately starts doing the things we know and love Leader-Scott for - i.e. stays in at the mansion watching for trouble while his team-mates make their first on-panel visit to a Bohemian coffee shop in Greenwich Village. Here they feel comfortable displaying their mutant traits, with Hank showing off his oversize feet, and Bobby joking about their friend who is a "super-powered mutant". It's not quite the Stonewall Inn, and Greenwich Village has been that sort of place for decades by the sixties, but makes for a curious conjunction, especially with a trans reading in mind; only amplified by Magneto's finding he can "pass" at the carnival in costume.

Back at the mansion, Scott's vigil is broken by an alert, as Magneto removes Blob's memory block. They rush to the scene and we have the inevitable nil-nil draw between the X-Men and the Brotherhood. Blob walks away, and without Xavier around to mind-wipe him again, he's left with a memory of what happened. Why has Xavier left, anyway? Well, we're not told until issue #9, but Scott does say that he was thinking of leaving the team to seek out a cure until the temporary leadership thing comes up. Xavier, being manipulative? Never. In Astonishing X-Men #14, Emma, under the influence of Cassandra Nova, says he picked Scott to lead because he had nothing else. Perhaps that's not the whole of it.

Continuity notes

Xavier leaves, leading Cyclops in charge. First apperance of Cerebro, a giant machine to aid Cyclops find other mutants. First appearance of the Greenwich Village coffee shop, Zelda, and Bernard. Beast's middle initial given as "P". Blob joins the Brotherhood.

Friday, 2 March 2012

X-Men #6: "He's just a man in swimming trunks!"

I'd known it was inevitable, but I'd purposely avoided finding out when X-Men's first guest appearance was. Here we have it - in issue #6, Namor, the Sub-Mariner, appears. Curiously, although the full Brotherhood line-up recur, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are singled out on the cover.

Namor is one of the original Timely characters from 1939, and was reintroduced in Fantastic Four #4, a couple of years before this. Here he's given enough of an explanation that readers who hadn't read that can get the jist - with editorial footnotes referring to Fantastic Four #27 and Avengers #3.
Magneto and Xavier realise that he must be a mutant at about the same time, and try and recruit him. Naturally, their teams collide, and equally naturally, Namor's libido wins. In a shocking development, Namor refuses to ally with either side. They are, after all, surface dwellers. A few hundred posts from now, we'll see how he'll eventually join the X-Men, alongside Magneto!

Wanda and Pietro briefly break free from Magneto's control (or rather, Pietro is captured and Wanda refuses to abandon him), but return to him by the end. The last panel provides a slashy moment, as Jean proclaims, perhaps little too hard, "I'm glad to see them go! That Witch is much too attractive!" Course you are, Jean.

Continuity notes

Introduction of Namor into X-Men. Magneto uses his powers to produce an astral projection to search for him (as does Xavier). The phrase "Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters" appears.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

X-Men #5: X-Men in space!

X-Men #5 picks up immediately from issue #4, with Professor Xavier shockingly de-powered in the X-Men's fight with Magneto. The Brotherhood has been driven off, and regrouped in an as-yet unnamed artificial asteroid. This marks the first visit of the X-Men to space - something that will become a mainstay of the series to the point that the recent Wolverine and the X-Men #6 has Wolverine run out of money and take his space plane to go and cheat at an intergalactic casino to raise funds for the school.

The main plot of this issue is driven by Magneto's wish to find out the X-Men's base of operations, something that ends up with Angel being kidnapped after an incident staged by Toad. The X-Men stow away on his ride back to space, and in the ensuing fight, the asteroid is destroyed. This provides a backdrop for some good action scenes and a nice character moment, with Wanda and Pietro refusing to acquiesce in killing the X-Men, but equally turning down their offer to join. In the end, the X-Men escape, apparently. Given that their escape craft is magnetically-powered and then immediately takes off again to pick up the Brotherhood from the soon-to-be-destroyed asteroid, I see a strong implication that Magneto himself saved the X-Men. Much later, we'll discover that Xavier and Magneto have history - history that perhaps explains why Mastermind and Toad are poking around Westchester in the first place. Is Magneto perhaps not being entirely straight with his subordinates?

And finally, we arrive at the last three panels, where we discover that Professor X was not really depowered at all. He was merely testing his students, who have now passed their final exam. Well, that was a bit quicker than I'd expected. I'll note that this "exam" involved Angel getting tortured.

Continuity notes

Jean Grey's parents are introduced - they visit the mansion. First version of Asteroid M. Professor X is revealed to have been faking his depowerment.