Friday, 31 August 2012

X-Men #98: How the Sentinels stole Christmas

It's our first Christmas in X-Men #98! The gang are celebrating an unusual white Christmas in midtown New York (frankly I'd be rather suspicious of Storm, but she just says something about the snow and Kilimanjaro)

No sooner do Jean and Scott kiss (watched by no other than Stan Lee and Jack Kirby), but they are attacked by Sentinels, who've been tasked to bring them in. Storm has been very poorly briefed, and doesn't know what a Sentinel is. Despite some resistance, they manage to take Wolverine, Banshee and Jean alive.

Meanwhile, it turns out Xavier really is on holiday. Well, a boat, anyway, where he's seeing if he can't track down that binary system he's been dreaming about. Sentinels come for him, too. He's able to shut them down with his mental powers, but a second takes the more direct approach of destroying the boat. They take Xavier alive, but leave his mate Peter Corbeau to swim to shore.

The remaining X-Men regroup with Cerebro, but can't find any trace of the four captured mutants anywhere. Corbeau turns up (apparently knowing all about the X-Men) and tells them that's because they're in space!

#98 is a highly important issue in the development of Wolverine, as he calls someone "bub" for the first time, and gleefully shortens Jean's skirt. Er, sorry, I'll try that again, as he's seen outside of his costume, and it's shown that his claws are actually part of him (something new to the other X-Men as well as to us). And some question is raised by Lang's project as to whether he's really a mutant. It's been completely hazy as to what his actual power is so far (the idea that he heals quickly isn't yet present, let alone him healing contrary to the laws of thermodynamics or having bone claws). And although he's been called "Weapon X" already, there's no conception what that means.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

But where was Xavier?

Courtesy of the Daily Mash: Magneto wreaks havoc at Paralympics.

X-Men #97: I'm Erik the Red, and so is my wife

X-Men #97 is a funny one.

Xavier's been having these dreams about fighting spaceships, it seems, and he's a bit worried if he tells his team they'll laugh at him. (This is a man who, you will remember, has already foiled at least two alien invasions: Lucifer's people, whoever they were, and the Z'Nox). He's able to tell Moira though, and you get a sense they have a real closeness as friends. He decides he needs a holiday.

At JFK Airport (or rather, Kennedy Airport, as they keep calling it) - the X-Men - that is Scott, Ororo, Kurt, Peter and Jean - are seeing the Professor off. Wolverine, Sean and Moira are back at the mansion - Wolverine doing the whole loner thing, and Sean and Moira possibly having the "coffee" that Sean had suggested in #96. There's no mention of the others, but at this point Hank was with the Avengers and Bobby and Warren have co-founded the Champions.

Alex and Lorna also turn up, at the last moment, having been mind-controlled by someone calling himself Erik the Red. (Apparently they've become a couple some time since we've last seen them, which is a bit of a surprise because I'd assumed they hooked up in the hiatus.) This new power - who has adopted Scott's cover identity from #49-#52, possibly just to mess with him - although god knows how he knew - is clearly intent on destroying Professor Xavier's plane, but they manage to stop him in time, without, unfortunately, breaking Alex and Lorna's conditioning. During this incident, Lorna gets a power-up - the ability to fly, and is bestowed with the name "Polaris" - meaning they are two for two in codenames not actually picked by themselves. Mind, Xavier picks most of the other ones, so it's not exactly as if mutant name selection is some kind of rite of passage.

Actually, the most surprising thing in this issue for me was nothing to do with the X-Men at all - it's that it has a Boeing 747 in there. It's been 36 years since the issue was published, and the 747 is still the default large airliner in fiction, and will be for a couple of decades more. That's longevity for you.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

X-Men #96: Demon in an Obelisk

X-Men #96 is very character-heavy, and manages to get about halfway through before any superheroics happen.

In the wake of Thunderbird's death, Cyclops is moping. This time he really cuts loose with his powers in frustration, destroying what my colleague Alexa, in her post on this issue, points out is an "odd-looking obelisk that would never actually exist in upstate New York".

Back at the mansion, we have a training session where we get to know the new X-Men a bit better. Xavier takes Banshee aside for a bit to discuss his concerns about Scott's melancholy, before the new housekeeper, Moira MacTaggert, turns up, to cover for Xavier on his holiday. The intrusion of staff into the life of the X-Mansion is not entirely unprecedented - there was mention of a cook in X-Men #6, but they've remained off-panel and presumably unaware of it being anything other than a prep school. (Although, it has to be said, a prep school for "gifted youngsters", with a headmaster who is goes on the telly as a talking head talking about genetic mutation. It's not rocket science.) MacTaggert, though, is immediately let in on the secret. Banshee is smitten with her, telling her (and us, finally) his name: Sean Cassidy.

While they're all getting to know each other (and Xavier casually ignores the fact that Wolverine is carving a tic-tac-toe game into one of his tables), they wonder where Scott is. At this point he makes a quick entrance through the wall, courtsey of Kierrok the Damned, who he appears to have awoken by destroying the obelisk.

During the fight we see inside Wolverine's head a bit. He's a killer, and not proud of it. He gets a speech bubble "ten years o' psycho-training, o' hypnotism. o' drug therapy, ten years o' praying'... an' I cut him to pieces without a thought". We have here a reformed Wolverine lapsing back into killing - not for his own safety's sake - but to protect his new team-mates, who he's grown very attached to already in this short time. It doesn't work, admittedly, and we get several more frenzied pages of fighting, including Moira's admirable response of just shooting at the blasted thing with a machine gun. The problem is ultimately solved by Storm destroying the cairn, which vanishes the demon.

At the start of the issue, Scott was worried about whether these new people would be able to work as a team under his leadership. By the end we see they can act together already.

As a plot tease, we meet Dr Lang, who has been working on "Project: Armageddon" for six years, which appears to be some kind of government black project (a billion dollar budget), based in northern New York state, near the Canadian border. Lang reckons that both Bolivar Trask and his son have been murdered by the X-Men. But he's got a better plan (which I'm willing to bet involves more giant robots and fixing the specific problem that went wrong last time), even if he has to kill Michael Rossi (introduced here) to make it happen.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Classic X-Men #2: First Friends

As noted previously, in X-Men #94-#95, we saw the team become less diverse ethnically. We also saw it become more male. There were 2 female X-Men in the pre-Giant Size #1 team, but both Lorna and Jean leave, leaving only Ororo. She could therefore be seen as doing double duty as the token woman and the token non-white character; and it means that it's not going to idly pass the Bechdel test without trying...

The backup feature in Classic X-Men #2 sorts this out by giving Jean and Ororo some interaction. Ororo visits Jean's new apartment (which she's sharing with Misty Knight, who by a strange coincidence is also a superhero - we'll come to that later).

Jean immediately takes Storm shopping. Because of course she didn't think to bring any civilian clothes, only her superhero costume (?).

Among the things that Storm does not properly understand are large metropolitan areas and the nudity taboo. I'm not sure I buy much of these, given her later backstory. You don't grow up in Cairo and then be massively astonished at the size of New York City. Not even Cairo in 1975. The wealth of it all, perhaps... And the clothes thing, just honestly...

We get a nice comparison between Jean's telepathy and how she can feel with all those voices, versus Ororo's claustrophobia. But I'm not sure it makes sense to dump that to us several issues early... Obviously there's a limit to what they can do in these backup strips, but still, it's a bit of a waste of a dramatic revelation later. Having said that, it looks like it's structured to assume you already know? Neither one thing nor another, these.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Classic X-Men #1: Night and the Professor

Classic X-Men started in 1986 as a reprint series with more. They removed the adverts from the original issues, and replaced them with new material (by Chris Claremont and John Bolton). Issue #1 reprints pages from Giant-Size X-Men #1, along with a backup strip "First Night", which is set immediately between Giant-Size and X-Men #94 and makes a stab at filling in those character issues that were very rushed in #94.

We see Jean failing to get Scott away from writing his report on Krakoa to discuss things, which makes her leaving him seem much less cruel. Bobby is a bit off as he gets super-annoyed with pretty much everyone. Bits are anachronistic - Banshee gets a name (Sean Cassidy) before it gets mentioned in the series proper. We get Peter's sister's name (Illyana, which, by the way, isn't an actual Russian name - more on that when she's introduced in the series) early, and find out that he draws, that Banshee plays piano and likes country and western (something established already in the pages of Captain America).

Wolverine (who admits to being a killer) hits on Jean, and Warren steps in to defend her honour, rather unnecessarily. Both Jean and Warren are leaving the team in part because of Wolverine (Jean because she's worried she's attracted to him, Warren because he thinks he's a dangerous lunatic). Alex and Lorna, who we'd never really seen as part of the team proper in the original run, don't think they're needed any more, and are going back to college...

As I say, it fleshes out a gap in #94. It's not exactly seamless, as it uses Claremont's later characterisation of these folks, rather than how they really were being written in 1975. Not vital, but nor is it claiming to be. In short: a nice little bunch of vignettes.

But, it's just a regular sized comic - the total page count of X-Men Classic #1 is reduced from Giant-Size. How did that happen? Well, the entire bit on Krakoa has been reduced to a two-page summary. Huh.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

X-Men #94-#95: Four of these X-Men Will DIE!!!1

X-Men #94 (August 1975) is the first issue to be written by Chris Claremont. We'll be covering Claremont's work for a while, and we'll have plenty of time to discuss his stuff. Here though, he's been handed a new set-up of X-Men by Wein and Cockrum, and has to make it work.

First thing he does is write out Sunfire, who had the least reason to be there. Sunfire, in this and in the previous issue, was treated with considerably less depth than in #65, and is quickly disposed of. Then go the old X-Men (apart from Cyclops). This is done fairly casually, without the introspection we often get in Claremont's copious narrative panels (something that Giant-Size X-Men #1 was using extensively, too). The self-examination here is largely reserved for Scott, who is unsure in his role as leader of this team of new X-Men. It seems that Jean, Warren, Bobby, Alex, and Lorna had all conferred about their decision to leave before meeting Xavier, but didn't share their conversation with Scott, who's left surprised. That's got to be hurting him - his good friends, including his girlfriend and his brother - walking out just like that.

Our plot is Count Nefaria (we met him in X-Men #22-#23) attacking NORAD. The Avengers are away doing something. (The Marvel Chronology project places Beast's appearance between next summer's Avengers #146-#150). I wonder why didn't Xavier contact Beast when he was putting the Krakoa rescue team together? If Beast feels able to call on the X-Men's help, surely Xavier could have asked him. If I were him, I might feel a bit aggrieved to be left out.

Proudstar came into conflict with Cyclops in a Danger Room sequence in #94, where he demonstrated a wilfulness that endangered himself. That's his come-uppance in #95. Determined to stop Nefaria getting away, he destroys the escape plane, causing it to explode, taking himself out with it. He's killed by his own pride. Ouch. That's two of the three non-white characters introduced in Giant-Size written out, already... And so it's gone straight from having a very WASPish cast, to a Star Trek-like diverse international cast which is nevertheless still largely white, and anyone with darker skin must be foreign.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Giant-Size X-Men #1: All-New, All-Different

And then suddenly it is 1975. In five short years - the same length of time I've had my current job - we've gone from the end of the Beatles to the start of the Sex Pistols and Iron Maiden; from Love Story and Airport being the biggest two films of the year, to Jaws and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The Comics Code was revised in 1971 to allow more supernatural stuff (enabling The Tomb of Dracula), as well as more realistic attitudes to morality and authority. Gwen Stacey has died. Character debuts include Blade, Howard the Duck, Iron Fist, Killraven, Luke Cage, Moon Knight, Punisher, and Wolverine. The Atlas-era Captain America has been re-evaluated and revealed to have been a crazed anti-communist McCarthyite, while our Cap became disillusioned with his identity after Secret Empire and became Nomad for a while. The world is a lot more complicated a place.

Len Wein, 27, and Dave Cockrum, 32, have been tasked with relaunching the X-Men as Giant-Size X-Men #1. Wisely, it doesn't attempt to pick up the narrative from the cancellation. The story is divided into four parts. In brief:

Xavier travels the world recruiting for the X-Men. He won't say why, other than that it's important. He finds a blue teleporter named Kurt Wagner, in Winzeldorf, Bavaria, Germany who has run away from the carnival, and saves him from a mob; a fighting mutant named only "Wolverine" in the employ of the Canadian government; Banshee; Ororo, a weather-control mutant in Kenya; Sunfire; and a Peter Rasputin in the Ust-Ordynski Collective Farm near Lake Baikal, Siberia, who has a super-strong metal form. Finally, he goes to John Proudstar, a Native American generally superhuman mutant, who is perhaps the most reluctant to join. Xavier goads him into it.

With them all assembled and in their new costumes, they finally ask why they've been brought together. Cyclops arrives just in time to brief them. Cerebro had detected a new powerful new mutant on the island of Krakoa in the south Pacific. The X-Men (including Alex - now going by the name of Havok properly and Lorna - who still lacks a name, but excluding Beast, who will be instead joining the Avengers in a couple of months) go and investigate in their strato-jet. It all goes Pete Tong, and Cyclops woke up on the jet alone, with his optic blasts gone. He returned back to Xavier and trained while Xavier put together a team.

On the way to Krakoa, we are told their new code names that have been assigned to them by Professor X: Peter is 'Colossus'; Ororo is 'Storm'; Banshee, Wolverine and Sunfire get to keep their existing names. Kurt gets 'Nightcrawler', and John gets 'Thunderbird'. This latter one seems unfortunate, being an arbitrary name from Native American mythology assigned to a Native American by an outsider. Upon landing, they fight their way through the jungle and find the captured X-Men, who have been hooked up to something feeding on them. They release them, and then come to a realisation about the mutant that had been detected: it's the island itself!

We get an explanation as to how Cyclops escaped - Krakoa had let him, in the hope that he'd bring more food. Tasty tasty X-Men. While they battle, Xavier devises a plan and outlines it to them. It has Storm provide the energy to allow Lorna to expel the island into space.

So, All-New, All-Different X-Men. Does exactly what it says on the tin. A global cast and the start of something great. But if it hadn't been for Claremont's run, we wouldn't be looking at this and saying it was some lost masterpiece that should surely have heralded in a new age of excellent for X-Men.

What we have here is a kind of lazy internationalism which happily uses stock characters - the inscrutable Asian, the powerful African woman worshipped as a goddess, the humble and loyal Soviet worker, the proud Apache and the irascible Irishman. The Russian even has the name 'Rasputin' (c.f. the other prominent Russian Marvel hero from this era, who is called 'Romanoff' - I'll be talking about Russian names for some length later in the blog). This is impressive not because it is particularly good at it, but because of the sheer paucity of non-American cultures being represented in this context.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Captain America #172-#175: Secret Empire

The X-Men make a guest appearance in Captain America #172-#175. This is an important arc for Captain America, which leads to him abandoning his identity. It's less important for the X-Men, and I can see why it was omitted from the Essential Classic X-Men. But it does follow up directly from Steve Englehart's Amazing Adventures arc (again by Englehart, who also wrote the last post's Avengers story). Looking at Englehart's regard for these characters, it makes me curious what an Englehart X-Men series would have been like... Did he ever pitch for the job?

The first intrusion of mutants into this storyline is in issue #172, when Banshee, queuing for Merle Haggard tickets, literally bumps into Captain America. Cap's reputation has been trashed by machinations of his enemies at this point, and Banshee - who were are told is in hiding - takes off his street clothes and starts a fight with Cap and Falcon! After some inconclusive fighting Cyclops arrives, looking for Banshee. Professor X, Cyclops and Marvel Girl explain the situation to Cap. Various mutants - including all the other X-Men - have been captured by a group, the same one that has set up Cap.

In a continuity-heavy page, we're told that Angel has been missing since the events of Avengers #110-#111, and they could not locate the Beast, either. Havoc and Lorna Dane are also missing, having never returned to the X-Men after their appearance in Incredible Hulk #150. Further, Iceman went missing on a scouting mission. This has left Professor X with only Cyclops and Marvel Girl, and led them to try to recruit Banshee. They'll take Captain America and the Falcon as allies instead, though. Linda Donaldson finally did capture the Beast for the Secret Empire, although she was confused when Hank McCoy, who she was spying on, vanished too. Steve and Sam save her from a staged attack from Cyclops, which gives them an "in" with the Secret Empire.

There's an odd scene in #174 which appears to be there to explain why the X-Men are suddenly wearing their "classic" costumes again, rather than the redesigned individual ones from later in the run. The mutants (the missing X-Men as well as Mastermind's fake brotherhood line-up, and Mesmero) are finally rescued by a team-up of Cap, Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Gabe Jones, and Peggy Carter (!). Cap then goes to confront Moonstone, and unmasks Number One - who is revealed to be some prominent government official (presumably *Nixon, although we never see his name or face), just as he commits suicide. This is Marvel's version of Watergate, although from text we can see that the some real Watergate scandal has happened as well. An editorial note note in the letters column for #173 apologises for the plot, planned long in advance, now seeming like small fry, saying that it has been curtailed early for different things.

We're promised, in a letter in #175, that X-Men will be making its return as a series soon - that they'd nearly put an announcement in #174 but had pulled it at the last moment...

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Avengers #110-#114: The Ballad of Vizh and Wanda

A lot's been happening in the world of Avengers since we last checked in with them in issue #53. Back then, they consisted of Black Panther (T'Challa), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), Hank Pym (Giant-Man) and Janet Van Dyne (The Wasp). As my handy chart shows, by Avengers #110 (April 1973) they have added the Vision (who is a sentient robot type thingsynthezoid), regained Iron Man (Tony Stark), Captain America (Steve Rogers), Thor and the Scarlet Witch (Wanda). I'm not sure where Giant-Man and the Wasp have gone - possibly they remain very small for the entire story.

Anyhow, they get a communication coming through, from an anonymous sender, who shows them the X-Mansion. They don't recognise it, but do vaguely recognise the prone body of Xavier, from Reed and Sue's wedding. Thor remembers who he was from way back in Avengers #9, and identifies him as "Professor Charles Xavier, mentor to the long-hidden X-Men". But who's behind this all, but Magneto! He here calls the group he'd organised in X-Men #4 the "Brotherhood of Evil Mutants", possibly for the first time? The story treats the X-Men mostly as victims to be saved by the Avengers, but ends with both groups having learnt something about each other.

Since there's not much with the X-Men proper going on here, let's see what the mutants in the Avengers are doing. The Vision (who is a kind of android, who I think is at this point was supposed to be the body of the original Human Torch overlaid with the mind of Simon Williams) agreed that he reciprocated Wanda's love for him in #108, and the happy news was shared with Iron Man in #109. He doesn't say a word to their face, but privately he thinks that "society isn't going to go for this one", and he "hope[s they] know what [they]'re letting [themselves] in for". Pietro (who had been missing) turns up in #110, announcing his engagement to Crystal of the Inhumans. He's really not keen on finding out about Wanda and the Vision's relationship, going so far as to forbid it. One could perhaps read this queerly, but really it's not. It's about interracial marriage, in a United States that only saw Loving v. Virginia six years ago.

Going a little ahead, #113 has a vox pop about the issue, with one bigot saying "They aren't people. It makes me sick". They get a lot of hate mail, too:

only the lord Jehova can create life. androds are agents of the devil, and will bring hellfire and brimstone to america! wize up befor it's to late! androds have no soles! a friend."
It's enough to make you want to set up a Westboro Baptist Church parody site. We then get a hate group that conditionally accepts Wanda as a person, but draws the line at androids. They decide to kill the Vision to avoid setting a precedent, through the method of suicide bombs.

In #114 Wanda thinks back to why she was so naïve, and realises that she had passing privilege as a mutant. Her brother, Quicksilver, never had that, so was quicker to see how unpopular such a match-up would be. On the streets, she is met with sexually suggestive comments from builders (something I never would have credited 1970s comics as acknowledging as such a problem!) It's going to be a long way to go.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Amazing Adventures #11-#16, Incredible Hulk #161: A Beast is Born

Amazing Adventures was an anthology series in the 1960s, which would later be renamed Amazing Adult Fantasy, and then Amazing Fantasy for its final issue #15, which introduced a small character called Spider-Man. A revival of Amazing Adventures started in 1970, this time starting as a split title with the Inhumans and Black Widow as co-headliners.

Amazing Adventures #11 (April 1972) began a brief run as a Beast solo title. Hank has left the X-Men and got a job at the Brand Corporation, where he will be researching mutant genetics (although apparently without having outed himself as a mutant?). Xavier let him go, unlike the other mutants, who he has been keeping in lockdown since the events of #66 (another blow for The Hidden Years).

He successfully isolates what will later be called the "Mutant Growth Hormone", which he believes should give normals powers for a couple of hours, perhaps. His colleague Carl Maddicks develops an instant dislike for him. There's some spying shenanigans, and Beast ingests the MGH, and then well, goes blue and stuff. Well, grey at first. And then black (shown as blue). And angry. Not Jekyll and Hyde so much as just Hyde. His polysyllables fade off a bit.

In #12 (May 1972) he manages to disguise himself well enough to get back to work, instantly becoming a genius-level make-up artist after consulting a couple of books in the library. The one weakness is his inability to kiss someone. Just as well, really, as his newly-introduced love interest, Linda Donaldson, is really some kind of spy who killed Maddicks in the last issue. In #12 he gets into a misunderstanding with Iron Man, and in #13 gets set up by Mastermind (who has reformed the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants with Unus and Blob - using that name in dialogue for the first time). #14 has him fight Quasimodo, the Living Computer.

Following this Beast recovers at Patsy Baxter (neé Walker)'s place, where she discovers his secret identity as Hank McCoy. We find out here that this succession of enemies - including Mastermind's Brotherhood, has been arranged by the Secret Empire, who are Linda's paymasters. Warren pops up for an assist against Griffin, and then him and Hank talk. This is the first time any of the X-Men have seen the new Beast. Hank is left alone, and then goes to the library where he runs into Vera... (who, like Zelda, hasn't been seen since X-Men #47).

The whole Secret Empire plot is forgotten, as Vera and Hank go north, run into the Marvel bullpen in Rutland County (in a strange crossover with Justice League of America), and Beast fights and defeats the Juggernaut in #16 (January 1973). It feels more like a date than the first part of the story concluded in Incredible Hulk #161 (March 1973), where she brings Hank to her lover, Calvin Rankin/Mimic, who is dying and may take the world with him. She apparently still doesn't know Hank is an X-Man, despite knowing all about Calvin. They save the world, but not Calvin... (which of course is temporary, he pops up in Legacy in 2012, although I don't know quite how temporary).

Although the physical transformation he undergoes here is very important to his character in the future, it's a bit of a letdown to finally read this. It's not really great material for Beast, as he gets victimised and led from set piece to set piece. And it isn't caused by some kind of heroic sacrifice, the spirit of curiosity, or even (as in the 2011 film X-Men: First Class) an attempt to cure himself. It's just idiotic, as he himself recognises.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Incredible Hulk #150

Incredible Hulk #150 (from April 1972) is the latest in that long-running storyline where the Hulk is on the run from General Ross, whose capture-and-release program is being investigated by Congress. While fleeing, he notices Lorna, and believes her to be the green-haired Jarella, who he has been obsessed by.

Lorna's there to look for Alex, who we learn has fled the X-Men immediately after issue #66, scared at himself for nearly killing Bobby. He's chilled out since, joined the counter-culture and started reading the Whole Earth Catalog (worth a read if you've not heard of it: it's odd now to think that people would accuse NASA of hoarding pretty pictures rather than milking them for all they were worth). And so we discover that although X-Men: The Hidden Years is pretty consistent with the X-Men comics, it simply doesn't fit with the other stuff from the interregnum. The Marvel Chronology Project puts this issue after the entire run of Hidden Years, which seems to be pushing it, frankly. Alex agrees to come back with Lorna, eventually.

This is a much better attempt at doing a "look! the hulk and the X-men share much of the same tragedy!" thing than #66 or even #40. But still, it's mostly full of smash.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Amazing Spider-Man #92, Marvel Team-Up #4

Amazing Spider-Man #92 (from January 1971) randomly features Bobby as Iceman. He spots Spider-Man dragging Gwen Stacey cross-city. What Bobby doesn't know is that Spider-Man is only doing this to try and cover for his Peter Parker identity. Bobby goes to Gwen's rescue and chases Spider-Man off, and then gets co-opted by shady DA candidate Sam Bullit. We don't like Bullit for several reasons, but mostly his racism towards Joe Robertson and use of dog-whistle politics (before that term was invented). No particular information relevant to the X-Men is revealed.

Marvel Team-Up started in 1972 as a second Spider-Man title, dedicated to the webslinger, well, teaming up, with other Marvel superheroes. Issue #4 features our first proper appearance of the X-Men as a team since their cancellation (well, Bobby, Scott, Jean and Warren, anyway). Beast we'll see more of tomorrow. They team up (after a brief misunderstanding and fight) to take down Michael Morbius, who is stealing life force from other people to remain alive... That's about it.

Both of these are reprinted in Essential Classic X-Men vol 3, and are fairly generic guest appearances of the X-Men in other people's comics, much as had been happening before 1970. Neither stand to be analysed as X-Men stories disguised by being in someone else's title.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

X-Men: The Hidden Years #1-#7

X-Men: The Hidden Years is a series specifically set in the hiatus of the publication of new content in X-Men. It managed 22 issues, between 1999 and 2001, before being cancelled by the new management (Joe Quesada). It was written and drawn by John Byrne, who brought a certain authenticity to the project by having plotted and drawn the title in the late 1970s, alongside Chris Claremont.

It comes directly in the wake of X-Men #66, following up several plotlines left dangling by the cancellation - Xavier's reintroduction, Magneto's aliveness status, the continued use of the plane liberated from the Sentinels, and Bobby's crush on Lorna. One unusual mis-step is the adoption of "Havok" as a codename by Alex, which he just sort of automatically does, despite it being only having been used by Larry Trask for him so far (although Lorna does point out its origin, at least). More of a big deal is made of Lorna not yet having a name: she plays with "Magnetrix", but eventually decides against it.

It makes more meat out of Zelda and Vera. They'd been unceremoniously forgotten about since their last appearance in #47, and Bobby here ends up on Zelda's doorstep having got rejected by Lorna. Zelda, to say the least, is unimpressed at his sudden reappearance into her life, especially once he explains why.

So I can't fault it's attention to detail, at least. But is it an artistically worthwhile thing to do, to go back and insert stories between 1970 and 1975 in a pastiche of the style? My colleague SpaceSquid thinks not, considering the overall endeavour to be hamstrung by its own po-facedness and decrying it as "guff". I'm less sure. I don't give a fig that the science is laughable, the timelines don't make sense and there's no appreciation of distance. I mean, this is superhero comics. It's not like a sense of place was something that X-Men ever had in this era. So I definitely think it's intentionally imitating hypothetical 1970s X-Men. But then with the Zelda/Iceman story, it's bringing emotional reality to a situation that frankly didn't deserve it. Bobby didn't abandon Zelda, the writers did, and fixing this up by having a storyline where out-of-world ball-dropping results in in-world abandonment points that out almost cruelly, while similar bizarreness in the work itself is left unchallenged.

Ultimately, I can't think why you'd want to read it if you weren't an X-Men obsessive who'd just read the first sixty-six issues. Byrne seems to realise that people are unlikely to be that familiar with the material - hence the epic flashbacks that reviewers complain about - but having answered the question: "what is going on?" it doesn't deliver an answer to "why should we care?"

It's got nothing new to say, and we know how it's going to end ("Good news, everyone! You're delivering a package, to Krakoa, the living island!"). And, as we'll find out, it directly contradicts the interstitial material that does exist. So to the general audience it has failed where First Class will later succeed.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

X-Men #66: We were the Beatles

X-Men was a series on its last legs commercially, despite having recovered from its creative funk around the 20s and 30s. The last couple of years of stories have been really quite good, and the art has taken a step for the better. Issue #66 would be the last to feature new content - it would become a rerun comic from #67. Until 1975. But you either know that, or you'll find that out in due course.

It opens with Xavier being revealed to be alive still, but in a coma. With a guest Hulk appearance, they figure out a way to revive him. It doesn't look particularly like they knew this would be the last issue, although the gratuitousness of the guest appearance could be read as a last desperate attempt at achieving more sales. The only textual reference to this being the final issue is a small caption at the bottom-right of the last panel. "And they fought happily ever after... ??" I came to this hoping to see a more successful X-Men vs Frankenstein story than X-Men #40, and it is, but only because that issue was such a failure at that.

There's not much resolution. We never do see how the new status quo of the seven X-Men and Xavier work. In fact, Alex and Lorna are still not really properly part of the field team (they are left to guard Xavier), and neither have codenames. Poor Bobby is really not dealing well with his crush on Lorna. He's calling her "his girl", despite her clearly being into Alex. Alex isn't dealing that well with it either, ending up in a fight with Bobby.

In issue #544 (which is not a bad issue number to get to in the first volume of a series that was originally cancelled after #66), Gillen has Bobby compare the original five to the Beatles. He's not wrong, if you go by the dates, although that's been obscured by the sliding timeline. Emerged bursting into pop culture in 1963, broke up in 1970. Never quite the same again, even when they reunited years later (posthumously for the Beatles, postnatally for Cyclops).

Friday, 17 August 2012

X-Men #65: The First Retcon

X-Men #65 starts with the gang finally arriving back at the mansion and reuniting with Alex and Lorna, who'd been left there since issue #61. Something urgent has come up. There's an alien invasion planned, by the Z'Nox! Alex knows about this because he has been told by Professor X! Who has been hiding in the basement the entire time! And is not dead.

We're told that the Changeling approached Xavier. He had a terminal illness and wanted to make a difference for good in his final six months. Xavier told him to take his place, telling only Jean, and giving both Changeling and Jean some of his mental powers (explaining why the fake Xavier was able to mindread).

This seems a fairly horrible thing to have done, but well in character for Xavier. Nobody calls him on it, but I guess they're used to him by now. It makes a particular nonsense of X-Men #46, which has the Juggernaut accidentally released due to lack of maintenance of some science kit. Why has he done this? He found out about the Z'Nox coming, and has been plotting all this time. His plan involves the X-Men being present, which also means the business of them being forced to split up by the FBI in #46 was an unexpected risk factor.

He decides not alert to the Fantastic Four or Avengers. Or SHIELD. His plan is disrupted slightly when Nick Fury and the helicarrier are there to meet the aliens at the south magnetic pole. They - including Alex on his first official mission (rather than just being caught up in events) - proceed immediately back to Antarctica in a rocket. When they are in place, Xavier uses his immense mental powers, in combination with Jean and Alex and Scott, to project feelings of sympathy and mercy (Bobby is tapped to provide cooling for this arrangement). This works out quite well, and the Z'Nox withdraw. Xavier has been severely strained by the encounter, and we are left with the question as to whether he'll survive. (!)

Thursday, 16 August 2012

X-Men #64: "the X-Men could become the first mutant baseball team"

X-Men #64 has gone back to New York. They discover a new mutant on their mini-Cerebro (that they've been using for a few issues now), and intercept him. It's Sunfire, who is disrupting a ceremony at the United Nations to dedicate a new monument. After a scuffle with the X-Men, he flees (destroying the monument).

Sunfire (Shiro Yoshida) is with his uncle Tomo. He blames the Americans for the death of his mother, from cancer after the bombing of Hiroshima (which is also possibly the source of his mutation). His powers (flight and burning, basically a kind of Human Torch deal) lay dormant until he visited the city with his uncle not long ago. He and his uncle see his father (Saburo Yoshida), who they are travelling with, as a bit of a collaborator, but doesn't seem to actually bear ill-will to him.

He now plans to destroy the Capitol dome. X-Men stop him not through hitting him (although there's quite a bit of that) but by stalling him until his uncle shoots his father, which quickly resolves the issue for him.

We end with the X-Men wishing they'd reached him sooner and been able to talk him down. "Maybe the next one" they say, as they walk away, and see have two silent panels of Sunfire grieving over his father's corpse - the first emotional "beat panels" that I recall.

This more serious take on what radiation actually is and the horrors of atomic war sits a bit uncomfortably alongside the X-Men. This contrast will later be mined by Ellis's Exogenetic.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

X-Men #62-#63: Ka-Zar vs Magneto

X-Men #62 picks up right where #61 ended on Tierra del Fuego, which we discover is within Ka-Zar's domain (looks like they've tried to move it from Antarctica, although that won't stick). Our team here consists of Scott, Jean, Hank and Bobby, with Warren having got separated from them.

Warren dies and is resurrected by the strange "Creator", who is at war with Ka-Zar. The Creator has put together a team of mutants from the Savage Land population - Amphibius, Barbarus, Equilibrius, Piper, Lorelei and Lupo. It's a bit of an odd name for a leader, and he's soon revealed to have not just recruited these people (not actually called the "Savage Land Mutates" in the text yet) but artificially induced their mutation in the first place.

In one of those deft masterstrokes that you can only pull off once, he's then revealed to be Magneto, adopting the cunning disguise of not wearing a red-and-purple costume or helmet. This is the second time Magneto's been creating a mutant army, rather than seeking to lead existing mutants (after X-Men #17-#18, where he creates them ex nihilo). Warren thought he was dead after the events of the crossover with Avengers, which is a bit surprising, as I don't see how Warren could have known that the Magneto he saw in #49-#53 was a robot. After that it's your basic fighting thing, albeit with a new cast of mutants to play around with. There's a clever (if mildly sexist) bit where Lorelei mesmerises the boys, but Jean is left unaffected, and is able to use her TK to trigger Cyclops's visor. They win, of course. They leave Magneto for dead, in a burning building. So much for "X-Men don't kill", which seems to be born mostly out of the fact that the people they were happy to leave for dead always miraculously survived, rather than some moral rule.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

X-Men #60-#61: No, not *that* Sauron

X-Men #60 picks directly from #59 and tidies a few loose ends (Larry Trask has been left alive, and probably mindwiped by the medallion again). The main point left over is Alex needing medical attention. They take him to Dr. Lykos, who had worked with Professor Xavier on a "mysterious enterprise called... Project Mutant".

For the first time we see an explicit idea of superpowered mutants being merely the latest in a historical process of evolution: a caption asks "what did the last Neanderthal say to the first Cro-Magnon?". X-Men's attempts to engage with evolution have often been quite clumsy, and don't connect meaningfully with it either as a scientific idea, or on a philosophical level of rationality vs. superstition (which the modern evolution "debate" is a proxy for, when it's not really about chronology). It is hard to talk about natural selection in a universe that has no shortage of godlike beings claiming to be creators, after all. But that's as far as it gets here.

The X-Men didn't read Xavier's notes well enough. Lykos is a "non-mutant variant" who feeds on the life force of other humans, and finds mutants particularly tasty. Feeding on Alex, he becomes a were-Pteradon (something already latent within him). He decides to be Evil with a capital E, and gives himself the name "Sauron", citing J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings on panel. But while his evil side is pretty absolute, there's a good side to him too, and in the end he sacrifices himself to save his love, Tanya.

On other panels, Lorna is becoming not a bad character. She has a conversation with Jean (thus passing the first two tests), but it doesn't quite manage not to be about boys. She's resisting Bobby's advances, and falling for Alex. Also, it appears Jean and Scott have quietly hooked up off-panel somewhere, although they haven't told the rest of the gang yet.

Monday, 13 August 2012

X-Men #57-#59: Larry Trask and the Sentinels

I started covering X-Men #57 last post, but it segues away from the Living Pharaoh and into a Sentinels storyline mid-issue, and they warrant being different posts.

The United States federal government has set up an anti-mutant agency called the "Federal Council of Mutant Activities", led by Judge Chalmers, with special assistant Larry Trask. Larry's father, Bolivar Trask, built giant robots called Sentinels to destroy all mutants. Larry has now vowed to carry on the mission, and has built improved Sentinels (this time with adaptive anti-power technology). These are then unleashed, and capture as many mutants as they can. They already have taken Alex and Lorna, but quickly add Bobby, then gradually the Living Monolith, Warren (who has managed to fly over the Atlantic to arrive at the same time as Scott, Jean and Hank on an airliner), Mesmero, Magneto (who turns out to have been a robot in #49-#52, unbeknownst to Mesmero), Banshee, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Toad, Unus, Mastermind, and Blob...

It seems hard to see Trask's activities as a rogue completely unauthorised by the US government, but certainly he goes beyond the bounds that Chalmers is comfortable with, and when the Judge tells him to shut the operation down he defies him and openly accuses him of being a mutant-lover and possibly a mutant himself. But this is rather misplaced, as it turns out that Larry himself is the secret mutant, whose precognitive powers have been suppressed by a medallion he was given by his father when he was very little.

The concept here implied - of a parent of a mutant trying to destroy all other mutants but seeking to protect their child - will be re-used in Claremont's 1982 graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills, and would make its way into the second X-Men movie.

Taking the medallion off immediately allows the Sentinels to detect Larry as a mutant. They then carry on their standing order and detain him in preparation for an execution. They have nobody to take orders from any more, and reject Chalmer's authority.

The three free X-Men get inside the base, and find Pietro, Wanda and Toad being brought in for processing. They swap costumes, which confuses the Sentinels anti-powers technology enough for them to get a jump on them. Really, this ought to be the moment where the new kids, Lorna and especially Alex, get a chance to shine and blow stuff up. That opportunity is missed, and instead the Sentinels are defeated in a Kirk-like display of tricking the computer with logic. The Sentinels are persuaded by Scott that the real problem is the source of mutation: solar radiation, and they are best deployed trying to defeat the sun. Huh.

We're left with Alex pretty injured, and a cliffhanger for the next issue, where it appears they are about to take him to a Doctor Lykos, who is holding someone captive...

Sunday, 12 August 2012

the non-origin of Jean Grey

X-Men #57 has our by now regular backup feature in which a member of the X-Men breaks the fourth wall and shows off their powers. This issue, it's Jean Grey's turn, in five pages written by Linda Fite (and pencilled by Werner Roth), who thus becomes the first woman ever to write for X-Men. It wouldn't exactly pass muster today (or even ten years later), but it's a bit of inconsequential fluff rather than being deeply problematic.

Next issue, #58, we would expect to see the start of a short backup serial regarding Jean Grey's origin and how she was recruited by Xavier to be part of the X-Men. This does not happen. Instead, the main story goes back to being 20 pages, for the first time since #37. This is what's really telling. I've seen it claimed that this happened because Jean didn't need this treatment - she was already shown arriving at the mansion back in #1. This strikes me rather as clutching at straws. Yes, X-Men #1 has her arriving at the school not knowing anything about it (having received a message from the Professor somehow, maybe he sent an owl or something). But this is Xavier here we're talking about, who is a little trigger-happy with the mindwipes and, in that same issue, claimed to have lost the use of his legs in a childhood accident.

And clearly, there is an interesting backstory for Jean Grey that could be told. We know this because Chris Claremont would tell it twelve years later, in Bizarre Adventures #27. We learn of Annie, Jean's childhood friend, who died in a car accident when they were young, and Jean's subsequent shutdown when a part of her telepathically sensed Annie's dying moments. It is quite dark stuff for comics - a deeply lasting childhood trauma versus Scott's romanticised orphanhood, and Hank and Bobby's painful but ultimately consequence-free outings. It certainly could not have been told in X-Men in 1969.

The story has been revisited from time to time. 2008's X-Men Origins: Jean Grey (Sean McKeever/Mike Mayhew) and the 2011 Marvel Girl one-shot (Joshua Hale Fialkov/Nuno Plati) both look at Annie's death in the context of Jean coming to terms with it early in the O5 period. Marvel Girl weaves into this a rather wonderful plotline about Jean discovering a supervillain who is trapping people in their pasts, only for her to realise that's just what happens to some people... If the 1960s had been a little less sexist, and we'd got our Jean Grey origin backups, we'd be denied a place for a powerful story of loss.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Avenging Angel

The Origins of the X-Men backup turns its hand to Angel from X-Men #54 to #56. We already know Angel is a rich kid (although quite how rich is only gradually becoming apparent), and in #14 he told us his wings sprouted at a military school, which he left to avoid a physical.

Now, in #54 we find he was sent to the "best" private school specifically because of his habit of jumping off things, where he did well at sports, academics, and gets bullied for the size of his shoulder blades. One day he notices a suspicious feather on his bed and then quickly realises he has... wings! He's worried about being found out, and he's rich and secure enough that making himself unpopular seems like a viable option.

One day there's a fire at the school, and he evacuates through the window, discovering he can fly. He realises that there are others to save, and gets them - first dressing up in an Angel costume scavenged from the school theatre's storeroom.

There's a little bit of a disconnect between that last panel of the first part, where Angel's schoolmates vow to find out who the mysterious Angel figure was, and the next issue, which sees Angel having left the academy (or possibly just on summer break), and having set himself up as an independent superhero, the Avenging Angel. He's trying to make a name for himself, but it's rotten luck when one of the criminals he foils is a "known liar" and not believed.

Meanwhile, the X-Men have detected a new mutant. A good mutant or an evil mutant? In a surprising acknowledgement of moral complexity, Xavier says "we do not live in a world of lucid blacks and whites, Bobby... [...] Right now, whether that mutant we've located uses his power for good or evil may well depend on us". The X-Men (being Scott and Bobby) turn up and try to recruit him, and exhibiting all the people skills we've come to expect from them rapidly get in a fight with him. After learning the value of teamwork, he signs up. His moral choice was never in any real doubt - his brief wonkiness was simply result of technobabble. Warren has had as far as we know no traumatic "with great power comes great responsibility" moment, he just got powers one day and then decided to help people because that's the right thing to do. Truly an Angel.

Friday, 10 August 2012

X-Men #54-#57: the Second Summers Brother

X-Men #54 openly hangs a lampshade on the idea that Scott has been secretly keeping his kid brother Alexander 'Alex' Summers from us and from the X-Men. He's just graduated (from college), and is a latent mutant too, and we get our first indication that this gives him some general physiological enhancements beyond his special powers.

He is attacked by minions of the the phoney Pharaoh (really an archaeology Professor named Abdol) at his graduation. The logic behind this is initially quite simple: Pharaoh has realised he is a mutant, and is eliminating a rival. When the X-Men step in to rescue Alex, he decides they should die as well. In the aftermath of the fight, Cyclops (in costume) casually reveals himself to Alex as being his brother. The dialogue here is worth quoting in its entirety:

  (in disguise as Cyclops)
We'll get them, chum.  But first - I'm going
to burn those chains off my brother's wrists.

B-b-brother?  Did you say - brother?

I mean like - wow!

We gain the pristine impression that you two
should be left alone to discuss a few things.
See you back at headquarters, Cyke.

I guess you're right, Beast.  We won't be
  (to Alex)

It's funny, Alex - here I've been waiting all
these years to be able to level with you and
and now - I don't know where to begin.

I've got a dandy notion.  Why don't you try
beginning at the beginning?

Okay - but it's the craziest darn thing!
Suddenly I'm shy about this and -

What's the matter?  You afraid I'm going
to be ashamed of being the kid brother 
of the leader of the X-Men?

Cyclops or Scott - you're still the greatest.

This is a fairly positive reaction to a close family member coming out, something we've missed so far in the various origins. In #55, further fighting has the result that Alex demonstrates his power - of general blasting. They manage to get the bad guy sorted out (by now with a power upgrade and calling himself the Living Monolith), but poor Alex is now terrified of what he has become, and has run away. Which is the worst possible moment to be attacked by a Sentinel...

The X-Men return to New York to find Lorna missing (we know that she's encountered a Sentinel too), and a new Federal Council on Mutant Activities founded by Judge Chalmers, assisted by Larry Trask, the son of Bolivar Trask the creator of the Sentinels...

Thursday, 9 August 2012

X-Men #53: Blastaar, who the bleep is Blastaar?

X-Men #53 immediately answers my question, fortunately. Blastaar explains himself as follows

For I am — Blastaar! King of a limitless domain — emperor of all existence! Beside my power, all else is as nothingness! Yey — cosmic monarch though I be — I have been felled by the foulest of fates! Where is there one who would challenge my majesty? Their legions are few — their fortunes are feeble! Condemned I am by cruel conspirators who fly the vapid flag of what they would call decency and justice — condemned by them to roam the endless wilderness of negative space.

He carries on like that for two whole pages (and for every single panel he's in), with nary an editorial note, but there's a clue there (negative space). In short: he's a particularly pretentious Fantastic Four fiend.

Jean is testing a machine left behind by Xavier, which goes wrong and somehow causes Blastaar to be summoned to the mansion (at least, I think it's the mansion - it's never clear. It's also not obvious why they have suddenly been allowed to reform. Not the first time that they've forgotten why a status quo changed happened though - see Mimic being sacked after blackmailing his way onto the team). They fight and defeat him, through teamwork! Jean here comes up with the plan, to have Bobby make ice statues and then have them be propelled by her, which is quite novel.

The art for this issue is by Barry Windsor-Smith (credited as Barry Smith), who only did this single issue on X-Men, but would go on to great things. Like Jim Steranko's couple of issues, it feels very different to the Kirby/Roth/Heck style. It's bigger and more detailed, people are tightly framed and often clipped by the boundaries. Lots of pages are a simple 4-panel layout, with the maximum being 6 panels, and the speech and thought bubbles happily go over the edges. Smith was all of 20 when he drew this! Astonishing...

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A Boy Named Beast

From X-Men #49, our backup strip focuses on Henry P. McCoy, a.k.a. The Beast. We've seen a brief origin for him before, in issue #15, which says he was born mutated due to his father working in atomic plant. #49 covers that in more detail. His father, a Norton McCoy, marries Edna Andrews. Soon after their wedding, McCoy is forced to don an imperfect radiation suit to stop a meltdown.

The doctors are worried that the baby might be a mutant (the possibility of a miscarriage is Rather Too Much for comics the late 1960s), and they're not wrong. Young little Henry has gigantic hands and feet. Despite his athletic abilities, he becomes a bit of a bookworm until he is press-ganged onto the varsity football team, and leads the side on a winning streak, reversing their fortunes.

When some criminals try to hold up the box office, Hank stops them (on live television), and in doing so attracts the attention of two mysterious figures: Chico and El Conquistador. They kidnap him, and his parents. El C blackmails Hank into helping them steal an experimental solar generator.

Meanwhile, Xavier has sent Iceman to investigate a new reading on Cerebro (quietly retconning away part of the story in #15), and found evidence of the abduction. Bobby reports back, and Professor Xavier is unable to locate McCoy more precisely. He unveils his new prototype mutant-detecting machine Cerebro, and uses that instead. (It may not surprise you to learn there was an issue break somewhere in the middle of that! I can't blame First Class and the other later implants for not getting Cerebro's creation right if original material forgets that it has already been introduced in the very same story it is later presented as a new invention in!) He dispatches the full team of X-Men - Cyclops, Iceman and Angel (whose backstory a footnote promises will be explained later). They rescue him. Etc. Xavier fixes everything with a mindwipe. Whether Beast's parents remember anything at all is left unclear...

Beast's origin story would get revisited in X-Men Origins: Beast in 2008 (released to coincide with the Wolverine movie of the following year). This story, by Mike Carey, who has form for revisiting X-Men continuity in his run on X-Men: Legacy (particularly the immediately post-Messiah Complex stuff, which deals with more than its fair share of Xavierdickery), keeps the basic structure of these backups intact. The details are changed - Beast rescues himself, and the Conquistador, although kept, now becomes the subject of in-story mockery from heroes and minions alike. But the real difference is the making clear of Hank's emotional journey, from trying to keep his head down, to finding a place to excel - and his decision to leave his old life behind, something implicit in the original material but never clearly expressed.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

X-Men #49-#52: The Devil had a Daughter

X-Men lasted until 1970. We're now crossing into 1969, and so we're seeing the last gasps of an underperforming title. The last few issues before this arc saw a change to the covers and to the issues to highlight individual characters rather than the X-Men brand itself. That experiment has failed, and the original plan for issue #49 (which, we will remember, would have featured Beast and Iceman fighting Metoxo) has been abandoned. Instead, the X-Men reunite - at a new temporary base in San Francisco (!) - for their latest, epic, adventure.

The X-Men of the 1980s and beyond will be known for its strong female characters (in both the Beatonesque and non-Beatonesque senses of the term). X-Men is not at that stage yet. Our regular female characters are Jean, who is still a cipher, and the even more loosely defined Zelda, Candy and Vera. None of the random mutants they have fought or tried to recruit have been women, apart from Wanda, and she's rather subservient to Pietro (and has even been depowered). Jean has had to juggle the roles of love interest, nursemaid, temporary cook, and uniform designer along with her position in the team. It is, to coin a phrase, a bit of a sausage-fest.

That starts to change now. This story introduces Lorna Dane, later to be known as Polaris. Lorna is a "latent mutant" (as we can see from her poorly dyed green hair 1), and is the target of Mesmero's plan. Her mutation is forcibly activated, and she takes her place as "M-II", Magneto's daughter. While she is not exactly free from being a love interest (Bobby has a crush on her), it is her moral choice to stand aside from Magneto, and break free of Mesmero's control that provides the resolution to the plot. Jean also gets to use her telepathy well (this is the first use of it as an intercom, I believe), and has a good moment when she tells the boys to stop arguing. Hardly radical, but we're looking for crumbs here. It still doesn't pass the Bechdel test 2, but it's conceivable that it could.

I am told that the Magneto here isn't really Magneto, but instead Xorna robot pretending to be Magneto, but there doesn't seem to be any indication of that in the text. If we assume that he's a robot created by Mesmero, or at least deployed with Mesmero's knowledge, then the scenes where Scott (as Erik the Red) installs himself as Magneto's lieutenant, has a deeper meaning, as Mesmero is hoist with his own petard.

As to Lorna's paternity - Mesmero claims she is the "daughter of Magneto". She accepts this immediately - possibly because of Mesmero's powers. Bobby arrives on the the antepenultimate page bearing information: Lorna was adopted after her biological parents died in a plane crash.3 Her father's sister and her husband raised her instead. This apparently explains why she felt alienated from her father - who is not a blood relative of hers at all. Magneto found out about her powers somehow (despite the fact she only developed them due to being put in the machine in #50), and concocted the story based on that. I'm not sure this makes any sense, but it doesn't need to be true, it only needs a certain plausibility...

I don't talk about art much. This is partly because I don't feel I'm qualified to talk about it, and partly because I'm using the black and white Essential Marvel collections, but also because there's not been much to say. Werner Roth and Don Heck have been competent in following in Kirby's footsteps. Flicking back through the volume, I see a creeping sophistication in layouts and in panels. The middle two issues of this arc, pencilled by Jim Steranko, are something else entirely. Steranko designs a new, 3D, logo for issue #50, which will remain in use until #394, and places it atop a scene that prefigures the rise of Phoenix in #101. Compare the covers of #48 and #50.

You'd scarcely credit that they were released only two months apart. But it's not just the cover. The opening page of #50 is a series of point-of-view panels unprecedented so far. The art exhibits the first signs of decompression. The dialogue, on the other hand, is still classic silver age verbosity.

The X-Men may be flagging commercially, but creatively it's doing very well, and is anticipating many of the features of the classic 1970s run.

1. You'd think you'd use something more permanent if you were trying to hide your inhuman naturally green hair.

2. I see the Bechdel test as best applied to bodies of works rather than to individual items. It seems likely that no issue of X-Men I've covered yet has passed that.

3. Lots of orphans in Marvel. Curious number of them from plane crashes (Cyclops & Havok, Spider-Man, and now Polaris).

Monday, 6 August 2012

X-Men #48: Cyclops and Marvel Girl

X-Men #48 follows up the adventures of Scott and Jean, who are based in New York now. There's a little inconsistency, as we find out that Hank and Bobby are in California, even though we saw then in New York in #47. Jean and Scott both set up secret identities, with fairly little hassle. Jean becomes a model. Scott becomes a radio journalist, and pretends to be Jean's jealous boyfriend. (As far as I can make out, they're still not actually in a relationship). I don't know why she just didn't go back to Metro College full time - but they appear to have just dropped that plot thread, just we've seen the last appearance of Zelda and Vera for some time.

They have a what would otherwise be a generic superhero story with robots trying to take over the world, saved by the small detail that they are very weird ritualistic robots. I approve of this.

We're promised that in the next issue, Beast and Iceman will fight "Metoxo, the Lava Man". This does not happen, implying that Arnold Drake abandons this new status quo for the X-Men quite suddenly. Twenty-six years later, in the Marvel Holiday Special 1994, there will be a sequel to this missing story. Comic Book Legends Revealed treats this in some detail...

Sunday, 5 August 2012

X-Men #47: New Adventures of Beast and Iceman

They did it! They actually did it! X-Men has been transformed, by new writer Gary Friedrich, from a team title to an anthology title featuring different X-Men each week. You can see signs of this as far back as #42: each issue has been featuring very large character names on the cover, with the X-Men title relegated to an "The X-Men featuring". Last ish was a bit different, but it's resulted in a new status quo.

The X-Men may have split up, but you can't prise apart Bobby Drake and Hank McCoy so easily. X-Men #47 opens with them double-dating Zelda and Vera. They go see Maha Yogi at the East Village Theatre, who, in one of those Silver Age coincidences turns out to be Warlock/Merlin, back from the terrible fill-in issue #30. His new persona is that of a stage hypnotist and his evil plan is to hypnotise the audience to use as a private army at a later date. The issue looks for a moment like it might have something interesting to say about 1960s counterculture falling for cults dressed in exoticism (the name Maha Yogi didn't come out of nowhere, after all). But then it spoils that by going straight to a fight scene.

Twice in this issue Bobby and Hank skip out on Zelda and Vera. They notice both times, and don't believe their excuses. The game is going to be up soon, right?

There is a curious backup feature, which I shan't treat separately, in which Bobby explains how his powers work. I think this is the first appearance of the "it comes from the moisture in the air" rationale and the first instance of "what holds the ladder up?" question - the answer being imagination. We are left with the open issue of whether or not Iceman's powers would work in space, despite them working perfectly in #5.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

I feel the need, the need to freeze

The backup Origins of the X-Men feature continues again from X-Men #44, with a story about Iceman's origin, running through to #46.

It's 1963 (apparently, the sliding timeline had not yet been invented, although Bobby only just turned 18 last year, I dunno), and Bobby Drake is a fun-loving teenager in a small town in Nassau County, New York. He knows he has ice powers, and his parents do too. On a date with Judy Harmon, he feels forced to defend himself against a bully. With his ice powers. This proves a mistake, as rumour quickly spreads, and he is arrested.

Xavier finds out about this from reading the paper, and sends Scott there. Scott breaks Bobby out of jail, which just escalates matters, as the townspeople form a lynch mob and declare the sheriff, who is protesting there must be due process, to be a "mutant lover". Xavier saves the day with mindwipes all round, including of Bobby's parents (as was typical back in the single digits), and signs Bobby up as the second student at his school.

There is no subtlety here. The X-Men, which started as a fairly innocent piece of science fantasy, is now an analogy for the civil rights struggle - not something that can be read into it, but the clear authorial intent. Gary Friedrich may only have had a short run on the title, but his influence is profound.

Forty-two years later, this story gets retold by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Phil Noto as X-Men Origins: Iceman. It hews closely to the original. Plotwise it varies a little, as Xavier enters sooner, preventing the situation from escalating as badly as it otherwise had, but it presents those same events, down to an explanation for why they'd seen "West Side Story" that night. But it doesn't need to be changed to be a coming out narrative, as it already was one, back in 1968.

Friday, 3 August 2012

X-Men #46: The End

X-Men #46 starts with our team having some time to grieve for Professor X - something that they had not been allowed to by the return of Magneto (er, despite them having a funeral for him). Amos Duncan turns up. We'd met him way back in issue #2, as the X-Men's liaison with the government, but he'd been most recently reintroduced in that role in the Origin of Cyclops backup strip. His first name does seem to have changed from "Fred", though.

They retire to the school, only to find Foggy Nelson (Daredevil's law partner, and therefore lawyer to everyone in the Marvel universe) there, with Xavier's legal will. It sets up a trust to continue the work of the school, with Scott in charge, and his personal belongings are divided between the five.

He's also left a lot of science stuff to them, equipment and projects. One of these is the ongoing imprisonment of Juggernaut, which breaks down in his absence. The escaped Juggernaut vows revenge on his half-brother, and pledges to kill him. The X-Men tell him the bad news, which he wisely refuses to believe until he sees the actual gravestone (although this being the Marvel universe I'm not even sure what the point of that is). The day is saved by Jean, using the telepathy that she'd been taught in those last days, and Xavier's machine kicking in again to teleport Marko back to the Crimson Cosmos.

When all these interruptions have passed, Agent Duncan finally gets to spill why he's there. Now that Xavier is dead, he is ordering the X-Men to break up - they present too large a target otherwise, and can fight evil mutants more efficiently when dispersed. Hank points out how ridiculously unconstitutional this is, but Scott decides to go along with it, and he reckons that's what Xavier would have wanted (despite Xavier's will containing no such stuff). Again, we'll see how long that lasts...

Thursday, 2 August 2012

X-Men: The Sophomore Years

Rumours have been floating around for a while that the sequel to Vaughn's X-Men: First Class would be called Days of Future Past, based on Claremont's classic 1981 story, and it's now been officially confirmed.

What can we expect from this film? Well, in the original storyline, Mystique's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants assassinates a senator, which results in a dystopian future in which mutants have been hunted down by Sentinels and killed or imprisoned. The now-adult Kitty Pryde sends a message to her past self, and the X-Men are able to prevent the assassination, avoiding that future.

So, first change: Magneto. He wasn't a part of Mystique's Brotherhood (the films basically have Mystique be Magneto's top minion, which the comics to my knowledge have never done), but they're not going to waste a chance to use Michael Fassbender. Perhaps he'll have found out the politician ultimately responsible for the "shoot" order at the end of First Class was JFK?

The temptation to have "the future" be 2014 will be very strong. We'll see a distorted version of today's world portrayed as a dystopia - mutants being rounded up and kept in camps. Think the early parts of District 9 for tone. And for the sentinels: I'm sorry, but we are not going to see giant humanoid robots with funny hats on film. Even if it weren't too silly, it's too similar to Transformers 4, which will be hitting screens less than a month before X-Men: Days of Future Past. Instead, I wonder if they'll resemble unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which is basically what they are. Maybe have them be called "sentinel drones".

The time travel in the original storyline is a mind transference, which will be too understated for a big-budget action movie. Although First Class is irreconcilable in many details with the original trilogy, they still kept a kind of loose continuity for the cast. This means Kitty Pryde is not going appear as a youngster in the 1960s era, and therefore probably won't appear as an adult in the 2014 segment, either. It might be any of our remaining cast of X-Men, but my money is on Rachel Summers coming - body and all - from the future. This makes it a personal story for Rachel's father, Alex Summers (Lucas Till). Yes. You know it makes sense.

Making Alex be Rachel's father is completely against the "canon", of course. But you know, so what? The film series has never attempted to recapitulate the original stories (the first one dealt neither with an attack on Cape Citadel nor the rescue of a previous set of X-Men from a living island), and it's often made massive changes to characters - look at Rogue, for example. And I do not think it's necessarily the worse for that, it's just different. X3 is rubbish because of its structural faults as a film, not because it failed to followed Claremont and Whedon closely enough.

Cyclops, how does he work?

X-Men #42 suspends the "Origin of the X-Men" backup briefly for a five-page feature which goes into rather a lot of detail about Cyclops's powers, in respond to readers' requests for information.

It provides a technobabble power source for the optic blasts (absorption of solar energy, likened to photosynthesis), which I think is new, emphasises that they are force beams, not heat (something that is forgotten by the writers half the time then and now - I suppose drawing them as red blasts doesn't help there), and explains how the visor works. For the first time the little buttons in his gloves that can open the visor without him reaching for it are made explicit.

It closes on a panel refusing to answer that perennial question: "could Cyclops beat Thor or the Hulk". Some questions really are eternal, although now they tend to be asked and answered on Tom Brevoort's formspring page rather than in the pages of comics magazines themselves...

All-in-all, it's an odd little feature. I hope their mailbags decreased in size for their trouble.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

X-Men #43-#45, Avengers #53: The Return of Magneto

With the X-Men still reeling from Professor Xavier's death, it's a good time for Magneto to make a re-appearance. X-Men #43 starts with him watching the funeral, and calling out to Quicksilver, who it turns out has gone AWOL to attend it. I was a little puzzled at this point, because didn't Quicksilver leave Magneto in X-Men #11? The matter is cleared up with a footnote to the appropriate issue of Avengers.

Back at the mansion, we have the reading of the will - or at least a holographic recording that Xavier had made, shortly before going off to confront Grotesk. He reveals what he says was the real secret of X-Men #41-#42 - that he'd been training Jean in telepathy (she had been strictly telekinesis only until now).

We discover that Wanda has been depowered, and that Pietro and Wanda are hoping Magneto will be able to fix this. Magneto has also someone managed to sucker Toad into joining up, despite abandoning Toad on an alien planet. They've nearly got the whole gang back together again... But Magneto has a secret - he caused Wanda's depowerment in the first place!

The X-Men try to Trojan horse Magneto, but get captured, and all placed in custom prisons. Angel escapes, though, and goes away to New York City to fetch the Avengers, stopping off en route during issue #44 to have a side story with Red Raven, a Timely character from the 1940s. The Avengers team he meets is the Hawkeye/Black Panther/Giant-Man/Wasp line-up, just after Black Panther joined, and before they encountered The Vision.

Magneto has a plan. Firstly, as he has outlined, he wishes to create a "sanctuary... a separate country for mutants", on a small island. Scott sees "a lot of sense in what he's saying." But the rest of the plan, which sets the Avengers and X-Men against each other in a big fight, young Mr Summers is less keen on. Magneto is revealed to have let Warren escape, and planted a bug on him, leading to the Avengers believing the X-Men have betrayed them and joined the Brotherhood. Except, at the least moment, we discover that the Avengers have out-thought Magneto. We end Avengers #53 with the Avengers triumphant, and Pietro and Wanda running away on their own again...

All in all, this is very confused, with shifting motivations and no sense of who knows what when, and so therefore it's no surprise to learn that the writer changed during this, from Roy Thomas to Gary Friedrich. The X-Men have permanently lost Xavier, which ought to be opening new story pastures, but instead we get a story which is fundamentally quite regressive, with the artificial return of old Brotherhood line-up only to have Wanda and Pietro break away, a story that we have done pretty much exactly like that before. Additionally, Angel's side story jars, and I suspect it of being inventory material being worked into the ongoing plot somehow.