Sunday, 30 September 2012

Uncanny X-Men #143: Rite of Passage

Uncanny X-Men #143 turns its attention to the new girl. Ordinarily an issue doing this ought to be a good idea. However, this isn't just Kitty-centric, it's a solo story, with her fighting the monsters alone for page after page. At this point I'd rather be finding more about how she interacts with the team - but then I'm not reading this for the punching. The N'Garai demons aren't Claremont and Cockrums's best invention, either, and their appearance here is more or less random. I believe this is the first time that the Danger Room gets trashed, something that will become a staple.

This issue is the first to establish that Kitty is Jewish. I wonder if this was always the plan. "Katherine" is a saint name, but that's no impediment.

At the end we find out there have been some "gruesome murders" in Salem Center, which oddly appears to be a throwaway to delay the X-Men arriving back at the mansion, rather than a plot point worthy of investigation.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

X-Men #141-#142: "It's 2013. Do you know what your children are?"

It's the distant future. The year 2013.1 Yes, time has nearly caught up with Days of Future Past, the story that occupies X-Men #141 and Uncanny X-Men #142 (the series changed its formal title between issues, although we've had "Uncanny" on the covers for a good long while now).

2013 is a horrible dystopia in which Sentinels - giant robots with funny hats - have overthrown the U.S. government, and killed or put in camps all mutants and other superhumans, and spread through the rest of North America. In doing so, they've wrecked the place, - I love here the "express train" that Pryde takes, being a bus pulled by animals. Other nations aren't looking too kindly on the proposed sentinel invasion of the rest of the world, and a nuclear apocalypse is about to start.

Many of the heroes are dead or captured (as we see on the now-iconic cover: expect to see that as a movie poster in 2014), and only a few holdouts remain: Wolverine, Kate Pryde (who would be 46 by now), her husband Peter Rasputin (well, they moved quickly on hinting at that, didn't they, although this is the future and so no, I'm not putting it in the chart), Ororo (who is surely in her 60s, if we're still supposed to think she was orphaned by Suez), Franklin Richards, Rachel (surname carefully left unspecified), and Magneto (called Magnus - the first time we've got a "real" name for him). Together they have decided to do something about it, by sending Kate Pryde's consciousness back in time to 1980, to avert the assassination of Senator Kelly. The only problem is, they're not quite sure how time travel works in the Marvel universe (which is fair enough, neither do the writers). Will it change their timeline and they vanish, or just create a new one and they get to experience a fiery nuclear death anyhow? That giant robots are in charge and are treating even baseline humans badly undermines the "It Can't Happen Here" undertones a bit, but nonetheless the future it presents is quite stark.

Kelly was is going to be assassinated by Mystique, and her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Mystique makes her first full appearance in X-Men here, having debuted as a character in Claremont's Ms. Marvel #17, 4 years ago. She's put together a team that consists of herself, her um-friend the blind precog Destiny, Pyro (described as a "Limey", which has got to hurt, considering we'll eventually learn he's supposed to be Australian) and Avalanche, all being introduced here for the first time. The Blob - who was given the name Fred J. Dukes in his prison-break scene in #140 - joins them.

Kate-as-Kitty quickly gets believed, and is sent to Washington to talk with Professor X. Now, this suffers from the a common problem with time travel stories, that Ryan North identifies in Back to the Future, in that why on Earth have they sent her back with so little time to spare? It's almost as if she's arrived close to the events in question as an artificial thing to induce drama... Oh.

So, there is a FIGHT and the X-MEN save SENATOR KELLY'S LIFE and they ALL LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER. Apart from the future-X-Men who die. Oh, and Kitty becomes herself again...

This, along with the Dark Phoenix Sage, is often pointed at as one of the highpoints of the Claremont/Byrne run, in a "you, go read that" sense. In this case, I agree. It's quick and mostly self-contained, and it has a point to it that still resonates today - this trope is by now well-worn but is usually used as disaster porn rather than politically. But apart from that, it's also a major turning point in Claremont's run of X-Men, and marks a decisive shift to a world where the X-Men are actively feared and hated.

Non-American readers may not know that the title (used as a campaign slogan by whoever won the '84 election here) is a play on the quite creepy It's 10pm. Do you know where your children are? public service announcements to be found on U.S. television. American readers may not know that the rest of world does not have such televised messages, and find them rather bizarre and unsettling. So I thought I'd mention that here.

So, this scenario, of people going back in time to stop a post-apocalyptic future where robots are hunting down and killing people? Remind you of anything? It anticipates the later Terminator films, without really appearing to be inspired by Ellison's work "Soldier [from Tomorrow]". Is it basically just "Day of the Daleks"? Well, I've not seen that, but from reading summaries, not really as similar as it is made out to be. Claremont Byrne does plenty of outright lifting from film and television, but they repay the favour from time to time, it seems. Of course, now that they're adapting this into a film (see my earlier post about is - shooting right now!), then they're going to have to be very careful to avoid comparisons to Terminator and for that matter to Transformers.

1. When I originally wrote this post I had dropped to a weekly schedule and this was going to post in 2013. But now I've boosted it to daily for September as well, so you'll just have to imagine it's 2013 and laugh.

Friday, 28 September 2012

X-Men #139-#140: "Welcome to the X-Men, Kitty Pryde"

X-Men #139 has Wolverine go north to Canada to try and resolve matters peacefully with the Hudsons and Alpha Flight. He takes Nightcrawler with him. They get into, with half of Flight, a fight with a Wendigo, win, and then hands are shook and Wolverine goes away a free man (and with Nightcrawler now knowing he's called "Logan"). Now why couldn't everyone have done that in the first place?

Back in New York, Kitty is given a codename: "Ariel" and becomes the first member of the X-Men to successfully challenge this, going with "Sprite" instead. She starts taking dance lessons with Stevie Hunter in Salem Center, which provokes strange feelings of jealousy in Storm. And Angel has rejoined the team permanently (after his guest turn in the Dark Phoenix saga), despite his concerns about Wolverine.

There's not much going on here, and I think it suffers from being sandwiched between two iconic stories. It's good that we've cleared up that looming threat of Alpha Flight, at least, and Kitty is sensibly kept out of combat - she is only 13½, after all, younger than even Bobby was to begin with.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

X-Men Shag Chart #1: November 1980

So, I started it. Obviously I'll need to keep updating it as I go, but I think it's up to date as of November 1980.

Any corrections, let me know. I'm working on a master chart (up to date as of 2012), but obviously I'm just going to have to read all these issues in between to find out what's going on. Have I discovered the reason I'm doing this X-Marathon, at long last? (The longest chain I've found in that is Namor-Emma Frost-Cyclops-Lee Forrester-Magneto-Rogue-Gambit-Mystique-Iceman-Shadowcat-Colossus-Callisto. There is a cluster around Angel that doesn't seem to connect in, and neither do any of the New Mutants groupings.)

X-Men Annual #4: "Nightcrawler's Inferno"

X-Men has effectively been soft-relaunched. Scott has left the team, and has been replaced with Kitty Pryde, a new viewpoint character and somewhat a blank slate. (Perhaps Claremont could have used some of the other X-Men for this, but they've all been saddled with increasingly complicated backstories. Of which more anon.)

It's Nightcrawler's 21st birthday, and he's opening his presents. One of them is a statue of himself, which explodes and knocks him deadinto a hell dimension, which Doctor Strange, guest star for this issue, transports the rest of them to.

The hell dimension is consciously modelled after Dante's Inferno, and we, along with the X-Men, are taken on a tour of it. One of the funnier moments is when Colossus, surveying hell, proclaims that he is pleased that he was brought up as an atheist, if being a Christian means you have to accept the existence of what he's looking at.

What's this all about? Well, Nightcrawler, way back in Giant-Size #1 was being chased by a mob. But not (directly) because he looked weird. He'd been blamed for some murders, which were really the doing of his step-brother, who he later killed in self-defence. The hell has been the doing of his step-mother. And Amanda Sefton, the girl he's been dating for quite a while now, turns out to have been his step-sister, spying on him.


This is where Kurt really shows his really-good side, as he's more than happy to forgive everyone involved, and isn't even mad at Amanda about the whole incest thing, and is in fact more than happy to continue it.

Which is strange, because Westermarck effect, so was how old was Kurt when he was adopted, anyway?

Otherdoors, Kitty is totally crushing on Peter, and I am thinking about making an X-Men Shag Chart.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Wolverine: First Class #1: How about "mute girl"?

Wolverine: First Class looks like one of the innumerable Wolverine spin-off titles of 2008, but is a little more distinctive, being a "Wolverine and Kitty Pryde" team-up book. Wolverine is nowadays known for his double-acts with young girls (Kitty Pryde herself, then Jubilee, then Armor, and now maybe Idie?), but in 1980, he was still a gruff loner, who hadn't even told his colleagues his real name.

The first issue (by Fred Van Lente and Andrea Di Vito) is set right between #138 and #139, and depicts Kitty's first mission. She's been sent by Xavier with Wolverine to investigate a new blip on Cerebro. Wolverine protests, and it's only by Xavier blackmailing him by threatening to withhold help in recovering Wolverine's suppressed memories (something that in fact had not been introduced into the comic yet) that he goes along with it. This is all bit arbitrary by Xavier, and while he is a bit of a reckless bastard at this point, I'm not sure I believe it.

The scenes on the plane journey are amusingly awkward. This is Kitty's first time in her costume, and she isn't sure whether to pick "Phantom Girl" or "Phase" as a codename. In West Virginia, they quickly track down Michelle, whose mutant ability had been causing trouble, and suggest that she could attend the school.

That's the problem with this story set here, of course. Michelle will get sent to Muir Island and pops up again in #6, but there she disappears from continuity entirely. Presumably she gets depowered on M-Day? Who knows?

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

X-Men #138: Previously, on X-Men

X-Men #138 is basically a "Saga of the X-Men" issue, as we see Jean's funeral, and Scott remembers a whole bunch of stuff that happened in the past, concentrating particularly on him and Jean. I didn't do a full check to see whether he could have known everything recounted. He calls Magneto's asteroid "Asteroid M", which I can't see how he'd have known, but doesn't know (or believe) that the Magneto in #49-#52 was a robot. (Mind, I'm not sure how Magneto knew that the Magneto in #49-#52 was a robot, so whatever.)

Two significant additions are made: the start of Scott and Jean's relationship is dated to about #31/#32 (which doesn't entirely line up with the actual comics, but is close enough for government work), and we get some backstory about his youth. Alex had been adopted while Scott was in a coma, and Scott tracked him down later, with Xavier's help. Does this mean that Alex "Summers" was not in fact the name was brought up with, I wonder? We've had a bunch of hints as to Scott's and Alex's orphaning, and now it looks like Claremont has figured it all out but is taking his time revealing it.

After the funeral, Scott decides he's quitting the X-Men, which Xavier understands. Meanwhile, at the mansion arrives a Kitty Pryde, ready to join the X-Men.

Monday, 24 September 2012

X-Men #135-#137: Dark Phoenix unleashed

The Dark Phoenix Saga (X-Men #135-#137, or more broadly the entire run since #129) is over-rated.

There. I said it.

Now, I better be careful here. I'm not saying that it's dreadful, you understand. It's just it simply cannot withstand the heaps of praise placed upon it.

Jean, who has been messed with by the Hellfire Club, manifests as the Dark Phoenix in Central Park, and flips out. Scattering the X-Men, she then flies into space, and starts eating tasty suns. In particular, she eats D'Bari, destroying five billion souls. At this the Shi'ar, allied with the Kree and Skrulls, decide that the Phoenix must be stopped. She then returns to Earth, to her childhood home in Annandale-on-Hudson (and we meet again her parents, this time adding her sister Sarah - who is a mother herself), where she is confronted by the X-Men, in a last desperate stand. Briefly retaining control, she begs Wolverine to kill her, but then recedes into insanity again. After a mental battle with Professor Xavier, she is able to retain control, taking again the name Marvel Girl.

At that point the Shi'ar turn up. They're gonna kill her (how do they plan to do this exactly is unclear), but instead they are challenged to a duel by the X-Men. We then get a dozen pages of X-Men fighting the Imperial Guard. Dark Phoenix then manifests again, begs to be killed by Colossus (he's reluctant to, saying he's never killed before, the liar). Ultimately Jean triggers a Kree deathtrap left here on the Moon (did I mention this was all on the moon?), and passes away.

So, first problem: lots of this plot relies on our characters being either plain idiotic, or making unforced poor decisions. Cyclops not picking up the phone, Xavier leaving for the Shi'ar before he's certain what's going on with Phoenix, Jean not telling anyone about the timeslips until too late, and then the decision to infiltrate the Hellfire Club, thus handing them Jean on a plate. Secondly: the theme of "absolute power corrupts absolutely" is paper thin here. There's no consideration of the mechanics of how that happens in actual human psychology. It's just treated as a sort of biological law, like it's gravity or something. Thirdly: well done on killing off a crazy, not particularly well-characterised woman, who can't deal with advanced mental powers and was attracted to the idea of living more simply in the 1780s. Way to go there, supposedly progressive comic book title.

Particularly since she was presumed dead, Scott has sensed there is something wrong with Jean, that is wasn't really her. That's a pretty good out, if they ever decide to bring her back.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

X-Men #132-#134: rule 1. do not leave Wolverine for dead

X-Men #132 is the first since #94 to feature Angel. We and the X-Men find him at his aerie, in New Mexico, along with Candy Southern, who now apparently knows everything (Warren did out himself as a mutant in Champions, which may have caused that - although surely that makes the X-Men pretty trackable to anyone who's looked at his CV).

Cyclops outlines the recent events to him: i.e. that the Hellfire Club has gone after them. Warren, who is a member of the club, assures that them he is not the leak. Rather uncommonly for comics they raise the possibility that Frost's Hellfire Club might not be the same as the publicly acknowledged one that they are about to go after, but decide to investigate anyway. They wrangle invites to an event at the club through Warren.

This proves to be an enormous mistake as it provides the perfect opportunity for Wyngarde to transform Jean into the Black Queen, and attack the X-Men. Given her documented instability (and having finally admitted to Scott about the timeslips), it seems silly to place her in danger of further mental control. Although she's able to eventually able to break the conditioning, with help from the X-Men (particularly Wolverine, who the Hellfire Club had inadvisably left for dead), she has now become corrupted into a darker, and quite angry, Phoenix.

We discover that Sebastian Shaw is a mutant too, with motion-absorption powers. There's a chap named Donald Pierce, who is a cyborg. And a Harry Leland, in the Inner Circle too, who can affect mass. And Jason Wyngarde was Mastermind, all along! Still no reason to think that "Jason Wyngarde" is anything other than a pseudonym, though. I'd say it might be explicitly an in-story allusion to the actor Peter Wyngarde (Mastermind is of course picking his own face), except for the the other names.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Children of the Atom: A Podcast

They must be putting something in the air at Orbital. Another set of people have set out in the "read all the X-Men!" stakes, this time in the form of a podcast called Children of the Atom. They cover issue #1 here, and also talk about the various recent issues of X-Men including the AvX tie-ins and the Adams/Gage First X-Men.

Follow them on twitter for updates.

X-Men #129-#131: Hello, Goodbye

There are farewells at the start of X-Men #129, as we leave Alex, Lorna, Jamie, Moira and now Sean on Muir Island, and the X-Men return to Westchester.

I'd written that last bit on the post about the Arcade arc, having forgotten that we get some helloes so soon, too. Xavier has arrived back from the Shi'ar Empire, having been completely spooked when he looked into a record of Jean and the crystal. He is training the X-Men hard, and bizarrely thinks that giving Wolverine "demerits" is a good way to win him over. That's all stopped by the appearance of two new mutants on Cerebro: one in New York and one in Chicago.

Jean, by the way, keeps getting these "time-slips", where she sees herself in the past, with Jason Wyngarde. He's manipulating this for the sinister purpsoes of the Hellfire Club, also consisting of Sebastian Shaw and a White Queen. He plans to unlock Jean's dark side, and so is messing with her head. Jean should probably have mentioned this to Scott, or Xavier, or someone, especially when she finds out that there's a Jason Wyngarde who is a member of the Hellfire Club who just tried to capture them. But this era of the comic is full of people who really should have told other characters things. They know about the blips because they had a spy (Warhawk) plant bugs, so we finally find out what that was about. What Xavier really needs is someone who could have prevented this or at least warned him - maybe his own spy inside the Hellfire Club?

We meet young Katherine Pryde (13 going on 14), who manages to save the X-Men from Emma Frost the day she found out she was a mutant with "phasing" power. To put it in her words (from Astonishing #2)

The first time I ever met the X-Men, the first day...they were ambushed. And captured. And caged. By you. I learned more about good and evil in that one day than I ever have before or since. I was thirteen.

So, yes, that went well. Dazzler helps too, too. Yes, it's her debut as well. Phoenix finishes her off, natch.

Finally we return to Kitty's parents. They're a bit upset at what's happen so it gets fixed by a mindwipe. But Phoenix beats Xavier to the punch here. Oh dear. Where are you going to stop?

Now, let's talk a bit about Claremont's source material for this. The well-documented influence is of course a 1966 episode of the ITV television programme The Avengers (starring Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg), named "A Touch of Brimstone", which caused quite a storm. That too, featured a Hellfire Club, and a Wyngarde (Peter) trying to make a Queen of a female protagonist (Emma Peel, who we can assume Ms. Frost is named after). That Hellfire Club is less in it for global domination, though, and more for the chaotic neutral mischief. What's less obvious is the possible influence of a slightly later episode of the show, called "Escape in Time", which features people made to believe they have travelled in time, for nefarious purposes. I wonder if they had to pay Thames Television off when they did X-Men: First Class?

Friday, 21 September 2012

X-Men #125-#128: Proteus

X-Men #125 finally has Scott discover that Jean is alive, after very nearly a publishing year! This happens because, get this, Beast sneaks in to the mansion to check up on things, and is caught. So, apparently neither Beast's continued membership of the Avengers nor the X-Men reforming again made their mutual notice. Cyclops then decides to call Moira, and take a trip to Scotland in the newly-fixed Blackbird.

The proto-Muir Island X-Men are dealing with the escaped "Mutant X" (first hinted at in #104) - or "Proteus" as he calls himself - who it is dramatically revealed is Moira's son. He's killed, and will kill again - he burns up host bodies pretty quickly. The X-Men track him, worried he's going to go to a major city for noms. Moira takes aim and starts shooting, but is stopped by Cyclops before she can get the kill shot. Instead, he escapes and kills more people. Moira visits her husband Joe MacTaggert (er, I wonder if she's told Sean that she's not really a widow after all. Or about that Nobel Prize she's been keeping quiet. For that matter, how did Xavier manage to keep Moira a secret from the O5 all that time? I mean, I like the idea of Xavier having peers (the closest he got in the original run was I suppose Lykos!), but could this not have been done in a way that didn't imply such skullduggery). Joe is Proteus's father but doesn't know about it, and Moira retains just enough concern about her ex-husband - despite clear hints at it having been an abusive relationship - that she's prepared to warn him. Too late though, Proteus possesses Joe, and takes Moira hostage. Colossus takes him down in the end.

The reunion of Scott and Jean is slightly messed up by this Jason Wyngarde guy popping up again and inserting himself into her waking dreams. Carefully watching Wolverine's powers, I see that Scott uses his optic blasts to decelerate a falling Wolverine. These days he'd just let him hit the ground and heal.

Issue #125 is notable also for its little cutway to Magneto, wherein he reveals he had a wife called Magda once. This is a crossover with Avengers #186, which shows what happened to Magda - she fled to Wundagore and gave birth to Quicksilver and the Scarlet Watch, then vanished again. Her disappearance is probably the biggest unexploded bomb in comics. The image of her running away from Max, aghast at his powers (in this version he wants to rule the world from day 1 - there's nothing about a mob or a kid or the secret police) only to be perfectly OK with the High Evolutionary's talking animals is kinda hilarious.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

X-Men #123-#124: that was your first mistake

The last couple of pages of X-Men #122 sets up our threat for #123. Tom Cassidy has grown tired of his and Juggernaut's own inability to kill the X-Men and have decided to hire a specialist assassin called Arcade.

This is their first mistake. Well, like, their twentieth or something. Arcade is a notoriously useless assassin, even by the standards of the Marvel Universe, and I detest the character with an unrivalled ferocity. Arcade's plan is to capture the X-Men and rather than killing them place them into his "Murderworld", a converted building or something filled with a number of deadly traps which shall surely kill them. However, the X-Men unite and use teamwork to defeat the traps, going after Arcade, who just manages to escape.

I wrote that paragraph before I read the story, because you don't actually need to read an Arcade story to know what happens in it. Somehow I eventually forced myself to read it anyway, just for the sake of completeness, and would you believe it, I'm not wrong. I was rewarded by one mildly redeeming feature - the Soviet-themed hero that Arcade brainwashes Colossus into being: "The Proletarian - workers' hero of the Soviet Union" - complete with boiler suit bearing a hammer and sickle and picture of Lenin - who forms the cover of #125.

Meanwhile, Logan has dinner with Mariko in New York and then returns her to the Japanese embassy. Something is stirring in the Wolverine. The phone is now working - we know that because Spider-Man calls to warn them about Arcade, but Cyclops still doesn't appear to have picked up the phone to call Moira, the twit. This is very soapy generic superhero stuff, and I hope it picks up again soon. It's been ages since we had anything strictly mutant - and we haven't had a new mutant ally since the relaunch.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

X-Men #122: AT&TvX

X-Men #122 finally has the X-Men back at the mansion (which is near Salem Center, finally being named here), for the first time in what seems like ages (since #110 - over a publication year ago). They've been missing in-story for two months or more. You might expect their homecoming to be a matter of drama, that something is lurking there for them, but that cliché is skipped, and instead they are straight in with a session in the Danger Room.

Colleen and Misty are lurking around, and Scott goes on a date with Colleen, still seemingly unaware that Jean is alive and well and living in Muir Isle with his brother. Seriously, guys, TAT-7 has just been laid down. 4,000 channels. Would it kill you to use it? And you, Colleen and Misty, what on Earth are you thinking? You don't even know she's supposed to be dead, and would quickly contradict Scott if you found out. But no, Scott has to get the lines reinstalled at the mansion first (Professor Xavier cancelled the phone when he want into space), and since this was in the bad old days of AT&T that could take a while.

Meanwhile in Space, Lilandra is made Empress, and her and her consort are getting bored; and in Stornoway, Jean Grey literally bumps into a chap named Jason Wyngarde. He's up to no good, as we can tell from his thoughtbubble where he plans to make her fall in love with him and have her be owned by the "Hellfire Club", whatever that is. Logan (we can call him that now) has randomly spotted Mariko in New York. And Storm takes a trip through Harlem and is shocked to find a crack house and fails to deal with confrontation properly, before being rescued by Power Man (Luke Cage) and Misty Knight, in a fairly non-subtle Public Service Announcement (permissible under the revised CCA revision of 1971).

Oh, and we get Colossus's proper name for the first time - Piotr Nikolaievitch Rasputin. So, "Piotr" is a perfectly reasonable - if not preferred these days - transliteration of Пётр. Nikolaievitch would be "Николаевич", which is a patronymic name, meaning he is the "son of "Nikolai". We don't meet his father properly for ages, by which time the writers have figured out what that name implies and he is properly called Nikolai. Curiously (alongside Распутин and Романовы, which I've already complained about), Николаевич is another famous name, being the patronymic borne by the son of the last Tsar, and the first President.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

X-Men #120-#121: Blame Canada

X-Men #120 has the X-Men still in Japan, and catching a plane (with Misty and Colleen) back to the United States. Scott and Colleen have a long conversation, but somehow the topic of Jean never comes up?

The flight gets diverted to Calgary, where they are met by James Hudson, who has been authorised by Pierre Trudeau to bring Wolverine in. There is a big fight between the X-Men and the newly formed Alpha Flight (Hudson with Northstar, Shaman, Snow-Bird, Sasquatch and Aurora). Wolverine eventually agrees to be taken in, but gives them the slip... so that resolves nothing, really. And so the X-Men finally get back on the plane. Are they really going to make it back to Westchester this time? What will they find there?

This is all a big joke of course. That is: Canadian government acting unethically by running secret unethical operations on human subjects and them forcing them to remain in service is a hilarious concept. Like they would. Over the decades this has been taken so seriously and such a mythology has been built around it, that it's easy to ignore its inherent absurdity and that it's just a short throwaway gag by Wein and Cockrum (embellished, of course, by Claremont and Byrne).

Monday, 17 September 2012

X-Men #119: Christmas in Japan

After being effectively taken prisoner by a Japanese ship, X-Men #119 starts with them arriving in Honshu after a six-week voyage. Yes, that's right, they didn't try and bail out. In fairness, it's nothing but Pacific Ocean between the two places, but still - six weeks incommunicado, on top of the week or more they spent in the Savage Land. Instead, they've made friends with the crew.

Agarashima (another made-up Marvel place, in case you are keeping track) is ablaze. Storm uses her powers to summon wind to hold it back (? - why not a storm)?

They decide to make for Sunfire's house, hoping he'll help them. The city has been evacuated at least, as Wolverine discovers from reading a newspaper. Yes, Wolverine can read Japanese. We've got used to this now, but it would have been a very big deal in 1979. Nowadays every Western otaku is learning Japanese. In 1979, not so much.

They quickly arrive at Sunfire's manor (I don't even know how they find it - maybe they look him up in a directory), which is happily within walking distance of the port they happened to land at. Sunfire is unimpressed and orders them arrested, only to be contradicted by Misty Knight! Scott phones home to find the mansion's phone lines disconnected. Apparently he doesn't think to call Moira in Scotland, or even the Avengers Mansion, who'll surely be worried about Beast. Misty carefully avoids telling Scott "oh, hey, yeah, I saw Jean at the airport, she didn't mention you were gonna be here", and similarly Scott avoids telling Misty, "I'm sorry, I have some bad news. Jean didn't make it out", as otherwise Scott would cease to assume that Jean and Hank were dead. Why even have bothered having Jean and Misty see each other so recently if you're not going to do anything with it? Wolverine meets Sunfire's cousin, Mariko, chats to her in Japanese, and almost introduces himself to her as Logan (the first time he's done that! We only know it at this point because the leprechauns in Cassidy Keep somehow abstracted it from his brain.)

But anyway, there's a madman threatening Japan with earthquakes, Moses Magnum. He's already demonstrated he can cause them whenever he likes, and is now threatening to sink Japan entirely. His demand is to be made dictator. Colleen and Misty at least have found out where he is based (the Kuril Islands, which do exist, but were under the control of the Soviet Union), although how a couple of NYC-based detectives with no superpowers were the best people to figure it out it unclear. Oh, except Colleen's grand-uncle, Mr. Osama, is in charge, so maybe it is actual bona fide nepotism.

They get their planning on and assault the base. It works out quite well, despite unexpected mandroids, resulting only in the sinking of the entire Kuril island group. The X-Men celebrate Christmas in Japan, and realise that although they started as loners, they've bonded and become a family. Oddly, Colossus particularly misses his real family at Christmas, which is strange because (a) Christmas is not going to be celebrated so much in the collective farm and (b) even if it were, Russian Christmas is 6th January anyway.

Cut to: Edinburgh [Waverley] station, where the "legendary Flying Scot [sic]" has arrived from London. The appear to have got some decent photo reference of this at least, as it looks plausibly like a Class 43, and bears the excellent British Rail double-arrowhead logo. It's carrying Jean Grey (who had spent six weeks in the Greek isles), and is met by Alex, Moira Lorna and Jamie, who've made the trip down. They're gonna hang out in Edinburgh for a while before heading back to Muir Isle. Which we get a location for - it's not a fictional Hebridean island, as I'd imagined, but north of Cape Wrath, a place there aren't really any islands at all...

Sunday, 16 September 2012

X-Men #118: ...and breathe...

The X-Men escaped from the Savage Land last issue, and now find themselves in the Drake Passage on a rubbishy little boat as X-Men #118 opens. They are rescued by a ship, which just happens to be on a secret mission for the Japanese government. The X-Men immediately ask to contact base, thankfully, but the ship is maintaining radio science and the X-Men are taken below as "guests". That's it for the X-Men this issue.

Back at Westchester, Jean is leaving the mansion (possibly for the last time), while Lilandra tries to figure out how to make coffee and bagels for Xavier, who has done his usual thing when he loses a team of X-Men and sunk into a depressive funk. Before we know it, Xavier has launched into a flashback, where he gives us a good chunk of his life story, or at least bits we'd not seen before.

First up, we get the full skinny between him and Moira. They'd met when he was doing his doctorate, and quickly fell in love. They became engaged, but then Xavier was drafted, and spent three years serving (during which the stuff with his step-brother happened, but it elides mention of that). When he was convalescing from wounds, she broke off things by letter, and returned to Scotland. He then went travelling in the Med, first to Kirinos and then to Cairo, where he'd been pickpocketed by a young Storm. Chasing her, he encounted his first Evil Mutant - Amahl Farouk (the Shadow King) and defeated him. He omits his trip to Israel (because Claremont hasn't yet invented it), and then mentions his journey east to defeat Lucifer. He then formed the X-Men, and after a number of adventures in which he nearly got them killed, has got them killed.

Rather than be supportive and suggest they might not be dead, or even that young mutants still need support and training, Lilandra instead begs Xavier to go back with her to Shi'ar space, which he assents to.

On our last page, Jean is at JFK airport, and bumps into Misty Knight (they are no longer roomies, unless the comic is using the Whovian usage of the word "erstwhile"), who is taking a flight to, by a strange coincidence, Japan, to help out Colleen Wing. So, I've got a good idea what's going to be happening in #119. Misty doesn't know the X-Men are missing, and Jean doesn't tell her, which will provide no end of complaints for me in subsequent entries.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

X-Men #115-#117: Return of the Shadow

X-Men #115 is another landmark issue, introducing as it does the concept of Cyclops' moustache.

Cyclops reckons he looks a bit like Corsair, which triggers a one-panel hint at his origin (him and Alex were pushed out of a plane carrying his father, Corsair and mother, Kate, we don't know why yet).

Both sets of X-Men (Jean and Hank, who are back at the mansion with Xavier and Lilandra) and the others, who are recuperating in the Savage Land (back in Antarctica, after it's brief trip to Tierra del Fuego in the late 1960s), think the rest of the X-Men are dead and are mourning. You couldn't do this today, as surely Ka-Zar would have a satellite phone. Well, Scott isn't able to mourn for Jean. He, rather prophetically says that "after the shuttle flight [...] she wasn't the girl I'd loved anymore", which Storm is quite harsh on. Wolverine is properly mourning for her, though, his first love, we are told! And in #117 we get the first claim that he can "heal real fast".

Friday, 14 September 2012

X-Men #112-#114: More Magneto

X-Men #112 picks up immediately from the end of #111, with the X-Men strangely staying their hand because it is convenient to the plot. They're all in a wagon, which Magneto is sending into space. But they don't know that, and instead Cyclops tells them not to attack because of a vague sense of unease.

It then takes a couple of panels to helpfully clarify the relationship between Mesmero and Magneto. Magneto somehow knows about the robot Magneto tag-teaming with Mesmero and claiming to be Lorna's father (We never did find out who built that and why, did we? We'll see if some later writer picks that up.)

Magneto then explains what he was doing there - he had left Muir Island (it gets a name, finally!) and tried to attack the X-Men at the mansion but found it empty, only to find Beast calling, who he then trailed to Texas. During this description, Claremont's captions finally make the transition from narration to full-blown prose. I quote:

"Why?" Cyclops asks, after Wolverine reluctantly sheathes his claws.
"Why us, Magneto? Why now?"

Nightcrawler 'ports out and finds out that the wagon is quite high up, and barely survives the experience. They then realise they'd better not kill Magneto yet. Except: the team here contains Storm, Banshee and Phoenix, who can all fly, Colossus, who we have already seen can easily survive a terminal velocity landing. That leaves Wolverine (who is not yet being written with super-healing as a power, admittedly), Cyclops, Nightcrawler (who can teleport) and Beast. Surely getting everyone down safely should not present a problem.

So, once they get to Magneto's secret Antarctic subvolcanic city-sized base (seriously, it's 5 square miles, and it's just him this time as far as I can tell), then they attack him. Ineffectually, despite having had time to prepare telepathically, and despite their encounter with him in #104 which should have had them training specifically for this. And they've got Phoenix with them, too! Magneto has decided to take revenge on them for turning him into a baby (even though really that was Xavier and the X-Men didn't know a thing about it), and places them in a custom prison, where their motor controls are regressed to those of a 6 month old...

Magneto then goes on a spree attacking research installations in Australia and New Zealand, and in particular Woomera. We're given handwavy excuses for why the Fantastic Four, Champions and Avengers are unavailable to stop Magneto, which is important in establishing the feel of a larger Marvel universe. If the X-Men were free, we could accept them turning up first to deal with Magneto, but it needs to be shown that nobody is around to stop him.

In this era they were quite good at giving footnotes for other storylines (indeed, Magneto's attack on Cape Citadel way back in issue #1 was mentioned), but these go unannotated. Do these refer to particular contemporary stories? X-Men #113 was released in September 1978. Gentlemen of Leisure have the Avengers being "under virtual house arrest" being a reference to Avengers #181, which is a bit weak, not only because it was released in March 1979, but also Beast was part of the Avengers line-up there. The identification of the Fantastic Four breakup with Fantastic Four #191 seems plausible enough, though.

Xavier and Lilandra are on holiday in Kirinos in the Cyclades in Greece (and we discover in a narration that Moira had dumped him, back in the day). It appears to have escaped the Internet's attention that although this is a real island group, Kirinos is fictional. Claremont will use it again. He's upset that his "telepathic rapport" has been broken, but apparently not enough to turn on the television, where he would learn of Magneto's reign of terror. Magneto feels stronger than ever since his reversion to adulthood, and has managed to get up to his asteroid base (last seen in X-Men #5), which is now given a name - Asteroid M. (Magneto likes naming things M, doesn't he? Just like Xavier seems to like naming things X. He also has a big 'M' flag).

We discover that Storm has such l33t th33f sk1llz that she can pick her way out of a lock even though she's regressed to babyhood. She's just that good. She then frees the rest of the X-Men, and they work out a plan for ambushing Magneto when he arrives. They then defeat him with teamwork! There's a moral lesson there somewhere. Unfortunately, in the battle the system that keeps the lava out has been damaged. Magneto makes a hasty exit. Jean flies after him (with Hank as a passenger), but only makes it as far as the Antarctic surface before passing out. Phoenix is immensely powerful, but only in short bursts - she burns out. The other X-Men are still trapped below...

X-Men has gone monthly now, for the first time since it was cancelled, which is just as well given this tendency towards serialisation.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Classic X-Men #17: "A Taste for Vengeance"

So, remember how I said that the last story, issue #111, was all the better for opening in medias res, without bothering to explain how exactly the X-Men got captured and brainwashed by Mesmero.

Guess what the back-up story in Classic X-Men #17 does? It shows us that.

The way in which Mesmero managed to bring Jean Grey under his thrall was by... walking up to her on the street. That's it. He may as well be bloody Hypnotoad. Then, he decides to see what else he can do other than get her to wait on him hand and foot. Because what Jean Grey totally needs here at this point in her arc is an attempted rape story retconned in. It's made clear on panel the attempt never gets further than the mindcontrol failing. Annoyed at that, he gets Jean to tell him where the X-Men live, and goes to pay them a visit.

There he goes and Hypnotoads them, one by one. Wolverine is the last to hold out, but he falls in the end. And then, Mesmero has effectively won. He's succeeded where many have failed before: he has defeated the X-Men utterly. And he's bored. So, then he gets the idea to set up the circus.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

X-Men #111!!11eleventy-one

X-Men #111 opens very unusually, with Hank McCoy looking for the X-Men, and having just found them at a carnival in Texas. He's there at the request of Lorna Dane, who had called the X-Men to request help dealing with Havok being kidnapped (see Marvel Team-Up #70, we're told), but had got no answer. Beast arrived at the mansion to find a large backlog of post. Moira, we know from #110, was going back to Scotland; Xavier and Lilandra have gone somewhere unknown on holiday; the X-Men themselves have ended up as attractions at a travelling carnival. What?

After chatting with "Slim" Summers (nice nod to his original name there, not a nickname that has been used very often since) and Jean Grey, he figures they've been mesmerised. But by who? Mesmero! The X-Men break free of his control and defeat him, which involves Wolverine punching people, and then Mesmero collapsing just as they go to confront him. And then we see, sitting in a chair, Magneto, who is Mesmero's boss or something? (Or is this another android?)

I'm not sure I like the idea that Mesmero is able to hyptonise the Phoenix, but this is nothing compared to what will happen a dozen issues from now. The decision to open the story in medias res and the use of Beast as initial protagonist (remember, he's not been on the team since the relaunch and wasn't part of the team that got captured on Krakoa - he's not been regularly portrayed as part of the X-Men for five years or more), make this stand out a bit from what would otherwise be a fairly generic story.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

X-Men #110: "The 'X'-Sanction"

X-Men #110 has some punching, I think. There's some guy called Warhawk who comes and sabotages the holodeckdanger room. It's hinted that he was sent by some powerful forces, but the gang seem strangely fatalistic about trying to track down who sent him. It's a fill-in issue (by Tony DeZuniga, with Dave Cockrum), but you wouldn't really know, other than it being a little lightweight.

We get a tiny bit of inner life of Jean, in that she's scared of herself as Phoenix, but daren't tell anyone. We find out that Misty Knight has been calling her her "Kosmic Roomie", which is a codename I think is way better than Phoenix or Marvel Girl and she should adopt when she comes back in the 616. At the end, she signs back up with the X-Men full-time again, although in truth this is merely regularising the fact that she had never really left like the others in #94.

The most important part of this issue, however, is the baseball game, which was first suggested in #64 and now we finally get, eight years later. This will go on to be a regular downtime activity for our mutants.

Monday, 10 September 2012

X-Men #109: Department Eh

X-Men #109 opens with the X-Men finally all back at that mansion, with Xavier, for the first time in over a (publication) year. And they say that the early Chris Claremont stories progress in real time.

It starts off fun. Kurt gets in trouble for teleporting indoors (presumably because of the smell)! Moira and Sean kiss! Storm keeps plants garden in the attic and waters them! Gratuitous Storm shower scene! Colossus is writing a letter to his parents! Kurt is trying to arrange a double-date for him and Colossus with some people called Amanda and Betsy! He wants to see Star Wars. But Peter is going on a picnic with Moira and Sean. Storm is coming to! Wolverine wants to tag along so he can stroke some pretty animals.1 Definitive confirmation that Xavier and Moira were an item.

There's some level of more serious stuff going on. It recognises the ending of the last issue was a little abrupt, as it goes in and inserts a bunch of things before they left through the stargate, including Lilandra trying and failing to assert authority as Empress, and Corsair asking Jean not to tell Scott about his paternity.

The dramatic core of this ought to be Jean telling her parents about becoming Phoenix, but we never actually see that, we're just told that it happens. Claremont is treating Jean more as a plot device than a character.

Anyway, it gets as far as page 11 without there being any punching at all, even Danger Room punching. But then Wolverine gets attacked by Canadians. Well, a Canadian, anyway. Weapon Alpha, a.k.a. James MacDonald Hudson, who knows him as Logan, and has been sent (following up from the threat we saw in Giant-Size #1) to retrieve Wolverine for Department H. They see him off, but he's gonna come back, with Alpha Flight. I especially like how Banshee calls him "Major Maple Leaf, or whatever ye call yourself".

I should probably mention that John Byrne is pencilling now. He took over from Dave Cockrum in #108.

1. I am, god help me, not making this up.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

X-Men #107-#108: "Where No X-Man Has Gone Before"

It's been four whole months since the X-Men went into that star-gate in X-Men #105. They arrive in X-Men #107 to find themselves in a double-page spread, prominently featuring a very large crystal, and a number of aliens in brightly coloured costumes, called the Imperial Guard. These are all apparently Legion of Superheroes expies, but the only one I spotted myself was Gladiator being Superman. I suppose that tells you how much I know about DC.

They are somehow able to communicate with the X-Men (I suppose aliens really do all speak English after all?), and quickly compare notes. Gladiator, who appears to be lead alien-in-costume, refuses to give up Lilandra, who is a traitor to the empire. Rather than try and find out more information (how do they know what Lilandra is saying is true, after all?), they are met with defiance and a large optic blast.

This lasts a few pages, before we find that D'Ken and Shakari are forcing Lilandra to watch this. D'Ken is doing a typical evil villain gloat, as well. X-Men get Lilandra free, and we finally get the infodump we've been waiting for. Lilandra's brother wants to unleash the force in the M'Kraan Crystal, the "deadliest weapon in history", and tried to have Lilandra executed for opposing it. She escaped, and then established a telepathic rapport with Xavier because of the events of X-Men #65, where he beamed altruism into space. D'Ken found this out, contacted the local agent, Devan Shakari (not an exile, then?). The crystal opens a gate, that can can be accessed every million years.

Gladiator is there, politely waiting for Lilandra to finish expositing, and when she's done, the punching starts again. Then suddenly the Starjammers, a motley collection of aliens led by a bloke with a moustache called Corsair (and including a catwoman protesting she's not called Hepzibah), who we'd met on the last page of #104, turn up too, and start shooting at the Imperial Guard. At this point the story gives up and just has everyone speaking English explicitly, apparently having been taught it by Corsair, who is very definitely American. Jean mindscans him, and is shocked by finding out it is someone significant to do with Scott. But it's too late. The gate opens! And reality itself may cease to exist!

What I don't understand is why Lilandra has been even brought here in the first place. She'd run away to get the X-Men's help, but her ship had been destroyed. If it hadn't been for Shakari taking her back in the star-gate, then the X-Men would not be here to try and stop this. Has D'Ken really had her brought here solely so he can gloat? That would be very supervillain, wouldn't it.

Well, OK. So it's a universe-threatening thing, this M'Kraan crystal. And for once the response to the threat seems big enough, as our our friends Starcore, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers all get involved. Oh, wait, no, they all wash their hands of the matter and leave it to the X-Men and Starjammers.

Jean manifests as a giant fiery bird and fixes it. She uses the power of Phoenix, aided by Storm and Corsair, and the medium of long narrative captions.

After this happens they go back home. Lilandra comes too.

Some little character notes: Nightcrawler teleports carrying someone. He's never done that before, he says. Banshee worries about never telling Moira he [loves] her when he thinks he's about to die. Hepzibah says she's feline not mephitidae right there in her first appearance. Through Jean, we learn some things about Corsair. He answers to "Major Summers", and he had a wife, Kate, and that something terrible happened to her. Oh, and he's Scott's dad. She tells Corsair that but not Scott, which will surely lead to trouble. So, Summers finally falls prey to Claremont's "must have improbable backstory" tic. What are the odds of your father turning out to be a space rebel against your teacher's new girlfriend's space empire? Quite good, apparently.

And most importantly, X-Men #108 has Beast say "oh my stars and garters" for the first time in an X-Men comic! I am very happy to have made this discovery. I assume this means he's been saying it in Avengers for a little while now.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

X-Men #106: didn't we just do this

X-Men #106 wraps up the cliffhanger from the last issue pretty quickly, with Firelord abruptly accepting Xavier's explanation as to what happened, before Xavier slips into another dream.

This dream is apparently a flashback, to shortly after issue #96. The old X-Men appear and fight with the new X-Men. Which we saw in #100. Since this is set before that it only makes them look stupider in #100 for failing to immediately recognise that they were impostors. Rather than the holodeckdanger room malfunctioning or it being robots, it's instead Xavier's dark side gone wrong, and intriguing hint at what will become Onslaught.

What's going on here? Well, the clue is in the pencilling credit: Dave Cockrum and Bob Brown. It's a fill-in issue, originally created as inventory in case of this eventuality, but in a really momentum-draining position. And the title was bi-monthly at this point. Ouch.

Friday, 7 September 2012

X-Men #105: These Are The Voyages

X-Men #105 opens with our team arriving back at the Mansion in a hurry, to find Erik the Red, who has come for Xavier. He's out, though, and he didn't even leave a note. Now, I'm not sure what's happening here. They've realised Erik is after Xavier, so they flew back on the Blackbird... without phoning ahead?

In space we finally meet the Shi'ar properly. Lilandra, who was formerly Grand Admiral, is fleeing in her ship from an Imperial Cruiser. It is weird quite how Star Trek it is. The bridge and transporters are a ringer for the Enterprise's, they report to each other in Star Trek ways (Earth is a "Class M" planet, which is Starfleet jargon for Earth-like, there's a "ship's log", an "imperial date"), and a science officer called "Mr. S'lar". Weirdly, there's talk of a Shi'ar Prime Directive, as if a galactic empire can have some kind of doctrine of non-interference (given later information I'd suspect the Shi'ar's real prime directive would be "destroy all people manifesting powers associated with fiery birds"). The Shi'ar ship shoots its "photon torpodoes" at Lilandra's ship, destroying it, and then skidaddles off, having excreted bricks when they've looked at the "Encounters with Galactus" section on Earth's Wikipedia article.

So, Lilandra beams down to Xavier's location. He's visiting Jean and Misty. We just got the backstory as to how they moved in together: they said it's utter coincidence, they were both attending the same viewing. But that might not be reliable, as Jean's parents are there, too. Anyway, Xavier telepathically flash-teaches Lilandra English (in a relatively unusual acknowledgement that aliens are unlikely to speak English), which is the first time this has been used in quite that way (Jean, of course, sucked m4d p1l0t1ng sk1llz out of Corbeau's head in #100). Thinking about it, I wonder if he did the same thing for Colossus? How likely is a young lad who has never left the collective farm to speak good enough English to quickly join an assault force?

Anyway, Erik the Red and Firelord, turn up. Jean manifests as Phoenix and attacks Firelord, while Erik the Red explains his backstory - he's really Shakari, and has been exiled to Earth by Lilandra. Erik sets up his portable stargate (which he didn't use to escape his exile because I don't know), grabs Lilandra, and goes. Jean then clumsily explains Lilandra's backstory by telling Xavier something he already knows because he dumped it into her brain off-panel earlier that issue. Her brother is going to destroy the universe, and she wants help. Phoenix powers open the gate, and the X-Men depart, leaving Firelord for Xavier and Misty to deal with.

One of the nicer touches of the issue is Jean's parents, who are continually boggling at the crazy shit going on around them, in exactly the way real people would. It can be read as them not knowing about any superhero stuff, or just as them being surprised at the manifestation as Phoenix.

The oddest thing is the way that Alex and Lorna were casually killed in a flashback, by Firelord. At least that's what Erik thinks... Say it ain't so...

Thursday, 6 September 2012

X-Men #104: Magneto vs the New X-Men

X-Men #104 follows on from #103, with our Away Team still in Europe. They've gone to Scotland, to what will later be called Muir Island, which is where their housekeeper keeps her secret mutant genetic research facility.

Claremont seems determined not to have his characters be normal people troubled by mutant concerns. Banshee has his massive baronial castle. Storm is now actual royalty. Colossus is brother of one of earliest Russian astronauts. And now Moira MacTaggert is not only a professor at the University of Edinburgh (presumably actually U.S. professor = lecturer, but who knows). I suppose at least, there was something strange going on with Moira from day one, but I'm left wondering if there's anyone in these Isles who doesn't own a castle or something? Still, at least there doesn't seem to be anything special about that Canadian dude, beyond his mutant powers, whatever on Earth those are. And that lad with the eye beams, he seems to be a perfectly normal orphan.

As we saw last issue, Magneto is plotting something, and he duly lays an ambush for the X-Men (of which they are warned by young James Madrox). We haven't seen Magneto in these pages since before the hiatus, and the last book I covered with him was Avengers #110-#111. I'd have been perfectly happy for his reappearance to be unexplained. But that wouldn't work: the last time he'd popped up was Defenders #15-#16, which left him regressed to a baby. (?) So, he gets better.

The fight is quite well thought out, as Magneto takes down the new X-Men in turn, before being bested by Banshee, whose "sonic screams" (who thought that up, eh? what other type of scream is there?) disable him. Eventually they realise it is just a trap - Erik the Red has been behind all this, and he's after Xavier, not them, Magneto is just to distract them. So, in an uncharacteristic display of good sense, they just skip out, getting back to New York to meet a recovered Jean Grey, her parents, and her roommate Misty Knight (who happens to be a superhero, but it's not quite clear whether she and Jean have swapped notes yet).

Magneto flies here. I don't remember him doing that before, though I could be wrong. He has long dialogue about how, so I'm assuming he hadn't. My theory was always that he uses the helmet to fly, by basically just dangling from it. His neck must be quite sore, and it's an embarrassing answer to give, which is why we get all this mumbo jumbo about force fields instead.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

X-Men #102-#103: "Maybe leprechauns don't believe in talking wolverines"

X-Men #102 has a great big superhero/supervillain fight, the sort we've not had in ages. You might expect (especially from the cover) Colossus/Juggernaut to be headlining this, but there's plenty of other action. Black Tom and Juggernaut ultimately subdue most of the X-Men, and we find out their plan - they've been hired by Erik the Red to take down the X-Men. Marko, of course, has the side-issue of wishing for revenge.

Storm is not much use in the fight, having started suffering an attack of claustrophobia in the end of #101. We get a long series of flashbacks for her. She was born in 1951 in Harlem, NY (making her supposed to be 25 at this point), to David Munroe, an African-American photo-journalist and N'Daré, a princess from Kenya. They move to Cairo when she was six months old, and then are killed in a plane crash related to the Suez crisis when she was five (unlike the other X-Men plane crash orphanings, this time they get hit by the plane rather than being in it). She survived, but the experience has scarred her. She then lived as a thief (becoming, we and the X-Men are told, the best thief in Cairo) until the age of 12, when she decided to walk south (by way of Sudan, I suppose) to the Serengeti (on the Kenya/Tanzania border), which she feels a strange attraction to.

Storm becomes therefore our first technical African-American X-Man (I think we end up having to wait for Cecilia Reyes for our first one who was actually brought up in contemporary America, which is shamefully late.)

Storm's discomfit is enough that Xavier can pick it up on the other side of the pond (interrupting an introduction to Jean's roommate, Misty Knight), but for some reason he thinks that sending Scott there immediately is going to help, like the battle will still be going on or something. Scott prefers to remain at Jean's bedside. In #101 he had started to re-evaluate life, realising that he'd got his priorities muddles, and Jean has to come before the X-Men. Xavier is unimpressed.

They didn't get Nightcrawler - he's a slippery customer - who is instead rescued by the Keep's leprechauns at the start of #103. Yes, leprechauns. Leprechauns that somehow know that Wolverine's name is "Mr. Logan", so they must be telepathic or well-informed! By this point, the Marvel Universe is taking the approach that all legends are true, especially the contradictory ones. Nightcrawler recovers and then goes on the offensive - using the image inducer to pretend to be Xavier and getting thrown through a wall for his trouble.

That gets Storm free to act, and so - round 2. This goes rather better for the X-Men, and we end with Black Tom taking a swim in the Atlantic, the Juggernaut going after him. We're told they look, but don't find any bodies.

Meanwhile, Erik the Red's been watching all this on a monitor, and reporting back to his boss. He means to kill Xavier and the X-Men before something (a ship?) can reach him, and this time they're going to pick an ally with a track record in failing to do that: Magneto! Is this all related to the dreams, perchance?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

X-Men #101: Phoenix Rising

X-Men #101 is split into two halves. Firstly, it follows up the cliffhanger from #100. The shuttle crashes, but the X-Men (well, apart from Jean) are safe. Just as they are wondering where Jean is, a figure arises from the water, proclaiming herself to be no longer Marvel Girl, but the Phoenix 1. She then immediately passes out, and has to be sent to the hospital.

We get here our first big hint that Wolverine is into her, but in a way that indicates Wolverine has never had a romantic interest before. Mind, his memory is probably a bit swiss-cheesed at this point.

Professor X can't be having with them crowding her bedside all the time, so sends them all (apart from himself, Moira, and Scott) on holiday. Fortunately, Banshee has just the right destination.

Now, we've seen already how X-Men is not great at non-U.S. cultures. Our new lineup from Giant-Size #1 were basically just stock characters, that Claremont has started to flesh out a little. We take a bit of a step backwards here. Banshee has inherited his ancestral home in County Mayo, on the Atlantic Coast (er, okay), which is great big castle built over a thousand years ago by Liam Cassidy to keep out Viking raiders. That dates it to Ireland's Second Viking Age, which works, just about. The keep is stone, which in itself dates it to the 12th century, but the panel admits it has been rebuilt over the years, so let's assume it's been upgraded.

The real problem is that Claremont here does not appear to realise that Ireland isn't just a version of England with different accents. We got a crown on the Irish Post Office logo in #99 (really Dave Cockrum's fault), and now we find Banshee has not just inherited the castle, but also the title of Lord Cassidy. The what now? This is Mayo in the Republic of Ireland. We can't very well read Banshee as part of the Anglo-Irish nobility who had themselves given titles in the "Peerage of Ireland". So that makes him part of the Gaelic nobility? The ones who were deprived of their lands and territories by the English and only got semi-recognised later on? Despite my surname (and lots of other Irish surnames in my family tree), I'm a 4th generation immigrant to England, so I am not entirely certain of my ground here, but it seems utterly ridiculous.

So, they spend a week in Dublin and go to Banshee's castle that he just inherited. Unfortunately, his cousin, Black Tom Cassidy is hiding there already, waiting for them, with the Juggernaut, and has set a trapdoor for them...

1. A decade later we'll find out that she wasn't kidding when she said she wasn't the woman they knew. But enough of that silliness when we get to it. Jean is Jean.

Monday, 3 September 2012

X-Men #100: Face Off

Our last issue had the X-Men make their way onto Lang's space station and defeat the Sentinels. The Sentinels were only the first wave, though, and in X-Men #100, we see the main plan, with a fight that pits the original line-up of X-Men against the new guys.

It's pretty clear something isn't quite right: the others might be brainwashed, but Beast is not very furry. After some fun fighting (including our very first Fastball Special) and quipping, their Marvel Girl is revealed as an android. Game over for Lang. And, unfortunately, for the space station. They are forced to use the space shuttle to get back down to Earth, but the solar storms (which have been foreshadowed in previous issues) means that most of the X-Men and Corbeau have to stay in a radiation shielded area, while Jean pilots the shuttle herself, keeping radiation at bay with her telekinesis, and having acquired piloting knowledge from a quick rifle through Corbaeu's brain. The issue ends on a cliffhanger as they re-enter the atmosphere...

I talked about why the Sentinels don't make much sense last post. There's another problem here: if it is possible to technologically duplicate Havok or Scott's powers, why are people still using guns? Wouldn't a mind-reading machine utterly change the legal system? It's an unanswerable question which exposes the lie that is at the heart of superhero universes. Technologies like these don't just stay confined to a few people and get used for wish-fulfillment, they'd profoundly affect societies.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

X-Men #99: Space Oddities

X-Men #99 has our X-Men: Storm, Cyclops, Colossus, and Nightcrawler along with Dr. Corbeau, be able to quickly get access to a space shuttle to go to the U.N.'s space station Starcore One.

So far the X-Men have only been in space once, but it's been a common feature of the Marvel universe ever since Fantastic Four #1. It seems to be a more routine thing than in the real world - apart from Starcore One, there's Project: Armageddon's secret space station, which is a disused SHIELD base. But still, a short-notice launch is notable enough to get reported in the news.

This is the issue where Colossus's brother, Mikhael is first mentioned. He was one of "Russia's first cosmonauts", which is a bit of a coincidence, but no worse than usual. He died in a rocket explosion, which is making Colossus nervous (Colossus therefore gets himself added to the list of X-Men who have had relatives die in aviation incidents, alongside Alex, Scott and Lorna). Corbaeu can understand - he lost friends in the Apollo I fire.

The shuttle they're in (in 1976) is fairly similar to the actual ones that were being built (OV-101 was rolled out for testing only the next year). It's multi-stage to orbit. But there's another form of space travel in this arc. The sentinels themselves, which appear to be single-stage-to-orbit and are evidently capable of taking people up there as witnessed by them successfully kidnapping various mutants. Furthermore, the Sentinels can be built by one mad scientist, and it only took a billion dollars of black budget to do it (that figure, while it would certainly buy you a lot of comics and ramen, is chickenfeed by the standards of space programs). So why still have space shuttles? I suppose they must be much cheaper too? But more generally, why is Sentinel technology confined only to mutant eradication?

A clue comes in (and I'm skipping ahead here, but I don't care) #100. Trask's notes were essential for this project. That's the six years that was mentioned before - between 1969 and X-Men #57-#59 and 1975. Trask was a solo genius scientist who made an achievement that cannot be replicated properly by people acting from first principles... or perhaps the Sentinels are some kind of alien technology that they're finding it really hard to adapt? So maybe the Master-Mold is not something that was built by Bolivar Trask, but an artefact he found and has been trying to use.

Incidentally, I believe this issue has the first usage of the "Greymalkin Lane" address for the mansion.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Champions #1-#3: Whatever happened to the X-Men?

Scott's stayed with the X-Men. Jean is lurking around as a member of the supporting cast. Hank is in the Avengers. What's happened to Warren and Bobby?

Marvel launched a new series, called Champions in 1975. It opens with Warren and Bobby at UCLA. They're wandering around, talking about how they miss the super-hero action, when suddenly and for no obvious reason a portal opens up in front of them, and harpies come out of it demanding the return of Venus. In the ensuing fight, Warren makes the decision to go public with his identity as Angel.

Meanwhile, at campus that day also are Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Victoria Starr (Venus), Johnny Blaze (Ghost Rider), and the incredible Hercules. There's a lot going on here, but it's mostly different sorts of punching. Eventually our six characters get together, and Venus admits who she really is. And then Pluto turns up, seeking to force our Olympians to wed Ares and Hippolyta. The story feels completely forced. There's no organic growth of the the team - they all happen to be in a particular location when the attacks happen, and then they end up deciding to team up. This is intentional mimickry of Avengers #1, but it doesn't really work here. Isabella's original plan was Angel and Iceman with new character Black Goliath, and that could have worked better. As it is Angel and Iceman are very under-served, especially in this Olympian first arc.

We are to suppose here that Venus here is the actual goddess Venus/Aphrodite. However, her history is more than a little complicated. Briefly: there was a Timely Comics character called Venus, who took the identity of Vicky Starr, and starred in her own "Venus" comics, and would later be retconned as being part of the Agents of Atlas (set during the Atlas era). This, then, would appear to be an incorporation of the Timely character into modern Marvel continuity, no different from bringing in Namor or Red Raven.

Eventually this one is revealed to be not the real Venus, but a siren. There is a "real" Aprodite/Venus who pops up in Parker and Pak's stuff, and is angry at the Timely Venus for stealing her name. But in this storyline, there's no question that this Venus is real: plenty of other Olympians meet her and would surely have called her out. So, why has she adopted the "Victoria Starr" identity which her impostor used?