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.

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