Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Uncanny X-Men #177-#178: Get Rogue

The cover of Uncanny X-Men #177 must have been quite shocking at the time. It portrays Wolverine standing over the prone body of Kitty Pryde, claws besnikt. Wolverine, although I think I've shown he was never as much a monster as he was later supposed to have been, was still a dangerous man. Has he finally flipped?

The answer to that is provided by the first word in the first panel of the first page. "MYSTIQUE:". She's only the second named character to narrate Uncanny, and a villain, at that! Still, it gets it out of the way quickly, and Kitty Pryde is lying on the floor, bleeding with a fake-Wolverine standing over her on the third page. The other X-Men attack, one by one (Colossus, Cyclops, Storm, Rogue and Nightcrawler), and Mystique is defeated. She then wakes up in her apartment, as another rug is pulled from under us: all of that was a fake-out, a Murderworld simulation. Mystique wants to get Rogue, who she basically considers her daughter, back. And she's pulling her blows against Nightcrawler, for some reason. At this point Mystique's narration abruptly stops, because of the point-of-view shift to the X-Men.

'Crawler is concerned about his relationship to her, on account of both being blue and him being a foundling. Ask Margali Szardos (his adoptive mother), she said. [Did this actually happen in a comic - I suppose Days of Future Past or the one in the Pentagon?] Mystique and the Brotherhood set an ambush for a few of the X-Men, who are attending a ballet.

The ambush - of Kitty and Peter and Kurt and Amanda is a bit of a disaster for everyone involved, and Kitty gets word out to Xavier, who sends Storm and Wolverine, but leaves Rogue on the bench. Peter is taken out of action by supercooling. Reed Richards might be able to help but is out, so she just goes and breaks into (or rather, phases through) the Baxter Building, and nicks a bit of equipment to restore Colossus back to normal. The X-Men quickly take down Pyro, Avalanche, Blob and... oh that's it. Crap.

Meanwhile, back at the mansion, Mystique shoots Professor Xavier, and tries to talk Rogue into coming back with her. She's convinced that she only left because of Xavier's mindcontrol - which is half-right - it was Mastermind. This relationship with Mystique, who took in a young Rogue before she became a mutant, is at the heart of the issue, and it can more than withstand the weight.

Mystique offers a truce, and an exchange of prisoners, which has never happened before and suggests an interesting new course, never really taken, of her Brotherhood and the X-Men having a more ambiguous relationship. But in all this confusion, Kitty Pryde has been lost, and is found having fallen from a building, with the technogadget smashed to bits.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Uncanny X-Men #176: Pryor Commitment

Uncanny X-Men #176 is a rather quieter character piece, centred around Scott's decision. Yes, he's still not sure whether he's going to go into space with the Starjammers or not. It's almost as if his marriage to Madelyne Pryor isn't a particularly big deal for him. This story - and their encounter with random sea monsters and his decision to stay (for now) provides most of the pages.

We also get the fallout from #175 with Logan and Mariko. She acknowledges she was mindcontrolled by Mastermind, but needs to sort out the rot in Clan Yashida before she can wed Logan. So that bodes ill. In the sewers of the City of New York, Callisto goads Caliban into going to look for Kittypryde, who had promised to stay down there with him, but then reneged. Also boding.

And, we finally see the introduction of Dr Valerie Cooper, in one of the federal government's regular cross-departmental mutant paranoia meetings. When Hank Gyrich (who was running a Sentinel program and seeking to apprehend the New Mutants only a few months ago) acts like the voice of reason, you know things have got a little bit overheated. Cooper makes an interesting point, that mutation has really levelled the playing field insofar as powers goes, eroding the traditional American advantage in superhumans caused by their more laissez-faire attitude to health and safety at work. She is, in short, worried about a mutant gap. They worry too about the events of #150 - Magneto tried to take over the world, destroyed Varykino, and then... just vanished. Very troubling indeed.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Uncanny X-Men #174-#175: Teasing the Phoenix

Claremont has always included certain long-running elements, but here the boundaries between stories are becoming increasingly blurred, to the point where my policy of a story-arc-per-post becomes difficult to apply. So, my next arbitrarily packaged off set of issues of Uncanny X-Men is #174-#175.

This is supposed to draw a line under the Madelyne Pryor/Jean Grey thing, but only leaves more questions open.

Mastermind has been working behind the scenes for a few issues - causing Rogue to leave Mystique and join the X-Men, Mystique to have strange dreamcs. This is seemingly with the intent of dividing and distressing the team. Rogue joining caused Binary - possibly their strongest associate - to leave. Wolverine's wedding collapsing wasn't fun either - and that seems to have been related. Cyclops of course is off with his new girlfriend, flying planes (he does seem to have a thing about women and transport, doesn't he? Something to do with his mother?)

So. The Plan. Mastermind uses illusions and mind control to
make Madelyne appear to manifest as Phoenix, which weirds
Scott out. Then, some hours later, Scott drops out of the
sky at Westchester, and after Professor X is conveniently
incapacitated by Cerebro backfiring (otherwise this wouldn't
need to be a double-size issue - #175 is the official 20th
anniversary issue - did I mention that? - and is the first
regular issue of X-Men to cost as much as a dollar! A whole dollar!)

Soon enough he's repeating himself and Scott appears
as Dark Phoenix (as Jean/Phoenix, that is, not the Scott/Phoenix
that he becomes in AvX #11 - I'm writing this the day after
that issue came out and the irony is not lost on me), and the
team immediately start attacking him. Although Xavier has been taken out, Cyclops is eventually able to drug Rogue (using the Danger Room, which can casually synthesise tranquilisers when simulating environments - the TNG holodecks owe a massive debt, it seems), and get her to nab a bit of Xavier's power. She confirms they're telling the truth, they take down Mastermind, and Madelyne is saved.

What is Mastermind's actual goal here? Simple revenge, he says.
They buy that - there've been more than enough villains
after them for that. I don't think he'd been planning
anything so elaborate when he'd been following them around, mind - he's been doing strictly small-scale messing around with them
until - as he notes - he found that Madelyne was the spitting
image of Jean. Which he's taken full advantage of, and them some. "Mastermind" is a boast that nobody with Moriarty-levels of evil coordination would make. He's left alive - although Storm is a rather more trigger-happy than she used to be, and is not pulling punches she would have previously, she still restrains Wolverine from outright killing him.

With all that done (although there's still the business of the
plane crash, and no records of Pryor existence before a certain date - surely they're not blaming Mastermind for that, too?), Scott and Madelyne get married. Just like that. Bit soon, isn't it? It'll never last.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Magik #1-#4: A Snowflake's Chance

Kids. They grow up so fast these days, don't they?

We've had comics being set between previously released issues. We've had comics set between panels. The bulk of the Magik: Storm and Illyana miniseries is set between two parts of the same panel of Uncanny X-Men #160. In that, Illyana is lost in Limbo, and ages half a dozen years while the X-Men watch.

The experience has clearly affected her more than the X-Men suspect. Xavier noticed something odd with her on the scanner, she was honouring an absent friend's birthday (not the brood-fighting Kitty Pryde, although it was her birthday) in New Mutants #3, and then there was that incident with the Danger Room and the sword in Uncanny X-Men #171.

Illyana Nikolovna Rasputin (named here with the correct patronymic for the first time - they even retcon in a previous usage) recounts the tale of her experiences in Limbo - her friendship with an aged Ororo and an adult Kitty Pryde (calling herself Cat), their destruction at Belasco's hands, and her seeking revenge, which in itself corrupts her.

It's not a happily ever after. The Illyana who escapes is warped, and has become exactly that vision of future Illyana that Ororo and Cat had sought to prevent. She has learned all of Belasco's spells, can teleport with the aid of discs (her mutant power?), has created a Soulsword from a bit of herself, and started to grow horns and a tail. She escapes, at which point she appears with the X-Men. At a time and place of her own choosing, it seems.

This is a good story, the best thing I've read yet in the course of my reading for this blog, and it really lays out the character of Magik, who I always had difficulty grasping. By a happy coincidence, I read this the same week that Uncanny X-Men #18 dropped, which has Magik admit to trying to bring Colossus down to her level - perhaps trying to recreate the demonic Colossus she meets here in Limbo. "No snowflakes in hell", she says. She's not wrong.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Uncanny X-Men #172-#173: Yashida Battles The Mutants

The Wolverine miniseries ended in December with the X-Men being invited to Logan and Mariko's wedding. Uncanny X-Men #172 picks this up in August, with the guys arriving - with Rogue in tow.

My colleague SpaceSquid points out that inviting Rogue - who has mindwiped Carol Danvers, one of Logan's few friends - is somewhat infelicitous. And yeah, it is. But it's likely they don't know about Logan and Carol's pre-existing relationship. The idea that he is a man without a past, rather than merely a mysterious one, is not yet present. Except I'm not really sure I believe this line myself - they spent months with the Brood, and even if Logan hasn't been all "oh yeah, me and Carol go way back", they'd have noticed them being tight.

Anyway, it turns out to be a good thing that Rogue was brought along, as she proves resistant to the poison too, and her and Logan team up and bring down the Silver Samurai (a character initially introduced in Daredevil who here turns out to be the illegitimate son of Shengen Yashida - something set up only recently in New Mutants #6), and Viper. The climax is a fight scene - featuring the longest sequence of wordless panels in Uncanny so far - over 3 pages with nothing other than a sound effect - going for the same effect as in the finale of the Wolverine miniseries. Rogue proves her worth by taking a shot, and Logan makes his peace with her, by allowing - forcing even - her to absorb some of his life energy.

Meanwhile, in Alaska, Scott is snooping the personnel records for Madelyne Pryor, and finds that her plane crash happened at the exact same moment that Jean died. [drumroll!] And then a big firebird manifests in Japan with Yukio and Storm. It's not yet been three years, and this is the second time the return of the Phoenix has been teased. Pryor turns up at the wedding as Scott's date, as do Charles and Lilandra and Alex and Lorna and Corsair (no sign of Moira or Sean, though). Storm makes her debut appearance as Punk Storm, to Kitty's horror, which we'll have plenty of time to talk about in future.

And with everyone assembled, Mariko, who had forgiven Logan and said he was better than he thought as the end of miniseries after he killed her father, now breaks up with him at the altar, saying "you are not worthy." The change of heart is rather random and out of character.

There is a curious dissonance between this and the story that Mariko was introduced in. It is almost as if they've forgotten that Mariko was Sunfire's cousin, and have constructed a new Clan Yashida around her, and particularly without reference to Sunfire's original story in #65, where his father and uncle are government officials.

Finally, I'm sure you are awaiting an update to the Shag Chart update. Logan doesn't seem the sort, you see.

Friday, 26 October 2012

we interrupt this blog to bring you a post about The Other Place

My lodger and I have just written a page about Batman, as viewed by a wonky encyclopedia entry in the far future, joining the similar one about Superman that I wrote last year. There's also the original Norse version of Beta Ray Bill, if you're into that sort of thing.

I am going to be at the London MCM Expo on Saturday; if anyone wants to meet up give me a shout - leave a comment here, or you can get my phone number out of whois (I own, because I still like to pretend it's the 1990s and refuse to anonymise data like that. It's a wonder I'm not running a fingerd, all things considered.

New Mutants #12: Back in Rio

They're back in Rio in New Mutants #12. Bobby has words with his father rather than taking his usual problem-solving approach of hitting things with fists. He's not one to remain calm, though, and goes off on one, burning all bridges. Emmanuel decides to join that Inner Circle after all.

Amara is also not remaining calm (she's come with the New Mutants to Rio, with the intent of signing up at Xavier's School - Bobby's mother remains in Nova Roma). Some unwelcome molestation on a beach leads her to run away without Dani, and things get worse after that, partly due to the heat (so, she's OK in Amazonas but finds the Rio heat unbearable? oh, whatever.) She proves unable to control her power, leading to numerous very small volcanoes throughout Rio, including one in the harbour that builds a new island.

No reported casualties, luckily, and eventually the rest of the gang are able to track her down and bring her to safety. She definitely needs to learn to control her powers.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

New Mutants #8-#11: Moon and Earth

We've bypassed Manaus, and instead join our New Mutants in the Amazon rainforest in New Mutants #8. SpaceSquid covered this only two days ago, and quotes me calling it "profoundly offensive racist garbage", which I totes stand by.1 By the way, the story does actually use the word "rainforest", which made me look up that on Google Ngram viewer, and yes, it seems that was just before it doubled in popularity in the late 1980s, so well done, Claremont, have a cookie.

Anyway, Rahne is not dealing well with the heat (and, if her skin is as much like mine as it seems, I hope she's wearing sunscreen). Soon enough, they encounter a girl named "Amara", seemingly from a local tribe, but with strange arrows. One is from the Hivoto, from the Peru portrayed in the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and another of Jivaro origin, who Nina identifies as being local but in reality are from Peru/Ecuador. Amara's knife, however, is of steel!

So, there's an incident with the boats, and the New Mutants end up captured by Romans, who are living in a city ("Nova Roma") in an isolated valley (once more, we find something you can't really do these days - if this existed you'd be able to see it on Google Maps), and our captive Amara is revealed to be one of these Romans. She'd been in blackface and a wig, and really is white and blonde - which sigh, if they had to do this, couldn't they just have drawn her as a southern Italian and spared us that disguise crap? And she speaks English after all (to Rahne's great embarrassment), and gives her full name as "Amara Juliana Olivia Aquilla", exile and daughter of the first senator, one Lucius Antonius Aquilla. The city is part-Roman (to those the republican aspects are ascribed), but also accepted some Incas centuries again, who brought with them some tendencies towards despotism (because Romans certainly never do that sort of thing). Sigh.

Now, this is profoundly offensive garbage, and it is simply not a defence to say that it was of its time, and they weren't to know better. A letter printed in #19 outlines, with perfect clarity, the problem with this story.

Dear Marvel,

THE NEW MUTANTS is a pretty good book, but the plotline starting in #8 is atrocious. As a black person myself, I'm sick and tired of these storylines that place lost Roman legions or other whites in the jungle whenver it starts to appear that the so-called "savage" tribes have any intelligence. You've turned the clock back decades with that old bull about how the Amazon tribeswoman turn out to be whites wearing some kind of dye because their knives show sophisticated workmanship. I hope in the future you at Marvel will avoid such cliche-ridden worn-out racist stories when the action takes place in a non-Western country or culture (the New Mutants story takes place in an area where Western civilization hasn't arrived yet.)

Quentin Sinclair

(no address)

Do they acknowledge it's a problem and apologise? Nope. They defend the storyline elements, and say they hadn't consciously meant to be racist, as if that makes it any better. They do at least concede that the hybrid nature of the culture was only marginally apparent in the finished story, and note they'll do better in the future. But the hybrid nature, with democratic Romans and despotic Incas is half the problem!

Because it's a Roman story made out of pure condensed trope, and the protagonists have become captives, the boys are taken to Gladiator Academy, while the girls are pampered and drugged prior to be sold off as slaves.

Just as the boys face defeat, Rahne breaks loose from her drugging, shapeshifts, and saves them. This is the cause of some comment - they reckon her lupine abilities come to her from the line of Romulus. Heh. So, having gone through the being-gladiators-and-slaved-tropes, one of their number gets hailed as a living god. They've been saved courtesy of Senator Gallio, who is Lucius's rival and covets the Emperorship. He's married to Selene, who turns out to be an ancient moon sorceress slash living vampire. She wants to recruit Dani and kill Amara.

Amara, having been tossed into a lava pool, is reborn in molten form, and then battles Selene. Lucky, really. I wonder whether she might be a more long-term version of Darwin. If she'd have been drowned, would she have become Hydro?

They all rally round, put a stop to Selene and Gallio's plans, rescue Bobby's mother, and generally huzzah!

I was originally slightly puzzled by Emmanuel's plan: he wants to exploit the mineral wealth of Amazonas, and so therefore is sabotaging his wife's archaeological expedition. Amazonas is, well, a big place, larger than say, Mongolia. Towards the end it's strongly implied that he knew about Nova Roma already, and that it specifically would be a good place for mining, so that clears that up partially.

Having a random Roman colony in Brazil is very weird, even by the standards of X-Men, but this is not given the appropriate level of remarkableness in-comic. How did these people get here? Doesn't this change everything we know about history? Why do they speak English? For that matter, why do they speak classical Latin, anyway, rather than some previously unknown Quechua-Italic contact language? These are questions that are not even asked, let alone answered, in the story. (The letters page for #19 provides a feeble excuse that they'd learned English from previous expeditions, without explaining why, or why not Portuguese.)

1. This of course means I've caught up! At least as far as New Mutants goes. For Uncanny it'll take until the end of the month. I'm cheating by not doing Alpha Flight and Dazzler, but I will be covering everything else I can get my hands on, including the Magik: Storm and Illyana miniseries (coming Saturday), Kitty Pryde & Wolverine (13th November), X-Men & Alpha Flight (19th November), and then eventually doing X-Factor (2nd December) in full when it launches. I cannot find the Nightcrawler limited series, sadly. I fail to care about Longshot but will possibly consider it if recommended. X-Men vs. Fanstatic Four is in Essential, but I need to get hold of X-Men vs. Avengers, which is possibly rare, or at least hard to Google for now, THANK YOU MARVEL. Oh, and I have a copy of Fallen Angels already. Anything else I am missing from my list?

From this you can perhaps tell that I have got a LITTLE BIT AHEAD in my reading and writing, such that I've already started in 2013 posts and have only got five left to complete in 2012. This is good.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

New Mutants #7: "Flying Down to Rio"

At the start of New Mutants #7, Xi'an is missing from the explosion still. The X-Men have spent several days searching for her, with no joy, and Xavier decides its time to pursue other avenues. He himself can sense Xi'an still, but doesn't tell them that. My guess at this stage is that her uncle has claimed her for that year's service she'd promised to him in #6. He sends the New Mutants to Rio, with Bobby's mother, who turns up here, knowing all about Bobby being a mutant and accepting him. Which makes Bobby mixed-race! One of the first mixed-race characters in comics?

But it's difficult to see how Bobby's parents' marriage works, not because of their different backgrounds but their attitudes. His mother, Nina, who we meet here for the first time, is a professional archaeologist and amateur environmentalist. His father, Emmanuel (also spelt Emmanual and Emanuel) is a self-made business tycoon who now lives in the mansion in Ipanema that his mother worked as a maid at. He's a member of the Hellfire Club (as established in #1), but not yet its Inner Circle). Nina is planning an expedition to the "Madería - the headwaters of the Amazon", which Emmanuel is very unimpressed by - although he wants to send geologists there. Perhaps we can interpret the verbal sparring over the dinner table as him desparately trying to stop her trip, and imagine their usual interaction is more comfortable. How did they even meet?

Emmanuel wants Nina to change her mind, so he doesn't have to pull the trigger on the "get the Hellfire Club to scare her off preferably without hurting her" plan. Which fails, thanks to the kids. The issue ends with them preparing to fly to Manaus, and Emmanuel and Shaw plotting their next move: make sure they never arrive at their final destination.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

New Mutants #5-#6: Team America: World Thieves

I'm afraid I still can't write "Team America" without thinking of this, so this'll have to be a short one.

The kids are visiting a carnival, where the motorcyclist stunt act Team America are performing. These were introduced a year ago in Captain America #269, and had then gone on to star in their own ongoing Team America series. These were the distant days when you could promote a line of toys by getting them in a comic book, and that's what's gone on here - someone has tried to relaunch an Evil Knievel line with different names after the assault charges. It is therefore hilarious that on page 20 Sunspot punches Wolf for giving him some lip.

So. Silver Samurai and Viper are at the carnival too - tracking an unspecified group. The New Mutants, perhaps? Nope - they're after Team America. There's a fight, Dani becomes the "Dark Rider" and protects Team America and wakes up amnesiac and captured. The others regroup: Xavier theorises that the Dark Rider is a gestalt formed by the members of Team America, who are mutants (see, relevant!). They are blackmailed into conducting a thieving expedition, and go ahead, with Xavier monitoring them.

That leaves the New Mutants free and unsupervised, and they pay Xi'an's uncle (now the Kingpin of San Francisco, if not in name) a visit looking for intel. This would be Nguyen Ngoc Coy. Another digression about nomenclature: the Vietnamese names here are broken, even worse than the Russian names. Nguyễn is a family name, not a personal name. As is Tran (her brother's name). Leong exists in Vietnamese as Lương, but is another family name. Looks like someone didn't get the memo about East Asian names often being FamilyName PersonalName, then.

I seem to recall I was writing about a comic. Oh, yes. So, Nyugen spills the beans, and the New Mutants liberate Dani. Meanwhile, Team America thieve that macguffin. Both teams are successful, although Xavier is pissed off that the New Mutants went on a field trip without his permission. But this is at a hideous cost. Karma has promised herself for a year's service to her uncle. That thing, that she was so determined to avoid in Marvel Team-Up #100, she's willingly signed up for in order to save Dani. Hardcore.

And then suddenly there's an explosion! Oh noes!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Uncanny X-Men #169-#171: Morlocks and Rogue

Uncanny X-Men #169-#170 is a little two-part story which introduces the Morlocks, followed by an epilogue in #171 which also features Rogue. They've captured Angel (who is living with Candy Sothern - that version is coming up so frequently I can't quite believe it's a simple misspelling), and Callisto plans to wed him.

X-Men stop that, but at what cost... Storm defeats Callisto in a fight "to the death" (Callisto gets better in #171), because she sees no other option, thus continuing her spiralling descent since the Brood eggs arc. Caliban, who we'd met in #148, is now seen as one of them, seeking out new recruits for them, and helps provide the information they need, in exchange for Kitty agreeing to stay down there with him in the tunnels, and be his friend.

Meanwhile, in Alaska, we've still not yet met Scott's grandparents, but he's become fascinated by Madelyne Pryor. Who is not just similar-looking to Jean Grey, but is the spitting image of her. And turns out to have survived a plane crash on September 1, 1980. I simply don't believe Claremont's claim that this was all originally supposed to be a coincidence. Why do that - why have the little tease "How'd you know that's my favorite breakfast"/"Simple - I'm a mind-reader"?

And somewhere else, in a safe house, Mystique is having strange dreams, not unlike the ones that Jean Grey had during Mastermind's brainwashing of her (a narrative caption curiously pegs her birth year as 1953, which not only rules out the long Wolverine-like appearances throughout the century, but also means she cannot be Nightcrawler's parent. Er, not that we know that yet.)

She's going by the name "Raven" even in private with Irene, now. And Rogue has run off, apparently also under the influence of Mastermind. Where could she have gone? To the X-Men's mansion it turns out (er, so that's another on the list of people who know where to find the X-Men - it must basically be common knowledge by now), where she begs for help.

The result of this is slightly spoiled by the cover (Rogue joins the X-Men!), but it's good stuff anyway. Storm and the X-Men are strongly against it - despite having offered refuge to the Morlocks that very day; but Binary reacts more violently. Xavier makes a Patrick Stewart Speech (I do wonder whether there's a little mind control going on here), and the matter is settled. Rogue joins, and nobody quits, apart from Binary, who hasn't really been hanging around the mansions since they returned from space anyway. Not enough meat of this is made, I think.

Xavier's relatively liberal attitude to Rogue - welcoming her in even over the objections of his team - can be compared to the Morlocks, who remain in the tunnel system. Sure, they make a token effort to invite them back, but Storm could try a little stronger - she is leader now after all - they could suggest someone comes and visits on a trial basis. Once more we see the X-Men's passing privilege raise its beautiful head. Nightcrawler says that he's found it OK upstairs, apparently forgetting that he's had access to an image inducer. Even on a practical level this is odd - Healer and Masque would be very good additions to the team in so far as their power-sets - is this a case of prejudice defeating even practicality?

And, finally another little sub-plot! Crikey, Claremont does like embedding them in, doesn't he? While Xavier and Lilandra are looking at Rogue, the other X-Men go have a session in the Danger Room. Illyana programs it with Belasco's realm, and when Kitty tries to turn it off, she uses a kind of strange sword (that has come from nowhere) to stop her. Something's going on here, but looks like we've got another slow burner.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Marvel Graphic Novel #5: God Loves, Man Kills

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills is an X-Men graphic novel, released in late 1982. Unlike New Mutants, it is a standalone work, and until the re-appearance of its antagonist William Stryker in X-Treme X-Men, there was some doubt as to whether it was "canon".

I can sort of see how that arose: it has an anomalous chronological placement. The Chronology Project awkwardly puts it just before the last page of Uncanny X-Men #168 (it doesn't quite work as Kitty Pryde's codename is "Ariel" in this, but that's easier to overlook than the presence of Wolverine and Cyclops - tricky continuity is nothing new), so let's go with that here.

The basic story is that William Stryker, a former army sergeant, hates mutants (his child was one: he killed it and his wife). After a phase of drunkenness, he read an article by Xavier, got religion, and set up his own ministry: the Stryker Crusade.

Stryker is the latest in the line of humans who are afraid of mutants and want to wipe them out, but the first to do this without the aid of giant robots, and the first to be explicitly religiously motivated. There's a little bit of anti-evolutionary rhetoric in him, and he's the first person to ever ask why there are mutants, anyway? He plans to brainwash Xavier, and use his brain and a modified Cerebro as the instrument of destruction. He fills out Madison Square Gardens and gets a live TV broadcast of his finale, so the X-Men can't very well intervene. So they send Magneto to disrupt proceedings, who has less of a PR image to maintain, while they slip in the back.

Like Magneto's revelation in #150, the climax is someone threatening violence against young Pryde. In this case, though, Stryker shows no compassion, and has to be forcibly stopped from shooting her, by a cop. He'll be serving time for this.

The entire thing is dark and moody, both tonally and graphically. There's no Comics Code Authority logo on the front of this, and Claremont has taken full opportunity of it, by having Anne call someone a "bitch". Ah. This is where I should be talking about the use of the N-word, isn't it. I'm not sure there's much new for me to say. It is difficult to compare a madey-uppy slur like "mutie" with a real life word with a century or more of derogatory usage. It has something of the "Die Cis Scum" about it - in form it is abusive, but there's no real power behind it. It feels cheap, especially in something that's presenting itself a more classy "graphic novel". But the narrative doesn't pretend that Kitty didn't cross the line - Colossus immediately makes excuses for her. Because she was wrong.

Apart from the basic premise of Stryker and a copy of Cerebro, X2 also picks up on the temporary alliance of the X-Men and Magneto. This is the first time we've had this in the comics, and I don't think it quite works. Not Magneto's characterisation so much, but the way the X-Men just accept it. This is the first time we see them find out his name is "Magnus", or that he and Charles are "old friends". If X-Men really is a soap opera at this point, much drama could be made out of these things. And yet, nothing. This is mostly explicable by this being a graphic novel - it just wants to tell its story, not further the ongoing one.

I leave you with an exchange between Cyclops and Magneto.

      Contentment breeds tranquillity.
      Discontent, rebellion.  Therefore,
      I shall ensure the one by eliminating
      the root causes of the other: hunger,
      poverty, disease, war.

      The freedoms lost will not be noticed,
      even in the most libertarian of states.
      And the material benefits should more
      than balance the scales.

      Anyone can create an utopia for a single
      generation, Magneto; the trick is making
      it last.  Who preserves your dream after
      you're gone?

      You, of course, Cyclops.  And the X-Men.
      Why do you think I want you by my side?

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Uncanny X-Men #168: Professor Xavier is Quite Reasonable

Uncanny X-Men #168 is a slow, character-based issue, after the several months of Brood-filled action.

The first order of business is Xavier having demoted Kitty Pryde to the New Mutants team at the end of #167, which she naturally resents (having just spent however many months in space with the main team, proving her worth). Call Kitty annoying if you like, but I think she's earned her keep, and just arbitrarily demoting her as soon as you see her (especially after she'd helped save you from a Brood monster) is a bit much.

This issue fails to do with the premise. In particular, it doesn't feature the "X-Babies" at all, making her change of teams rather nominal. It might be fun to see her interact with Dani and gang and come to realise they're not so bad. But in their absence, the only way for this to end is for Kitty to defeat a problem or solve some monsters (in this case some left over Sidri from #155), during which she discovers an alien dragon-like creature (Lockheed) has survived the events of #166 and made its way to the X-Mansion. She's admitted back into the X-Men on a probationary basis, which is more than good enough for her.

Despite the rather immature stomping about, Kitty seems to grow up a lot this issue. She's being drawn very differently by Paul Smith than by Byrne or Cockrum, to begin with - the old costume helps, and she displays a real steely determination when facing the Sidri. The Kitty of Whedon and Cassaday is clearly an older version of this Kitty.

Meanwhile, Cyclops, Corsair and Havok go visit the grandparents, in Alaska. (Cyclops visits Lee Forrester first, who he it is strongly suggested gets off with). Their pilot for today is Madelyne Pryor, who has red hair and green eyes and takes Scott's breath away. And, Kurt visits Amanda with the surprise news that he's alive.

Friday, 19 October 2012

New Mutants #3-#4 / Uncanny X-Men #167

New Mutants has been leading in to #167 (cover date March 1983), but there's a problem, in that #3, which finishes the sequence, was released two months later, in May 1983, and #167 started with the New Mutants all watching television, all unaware of the Brood in Xavier's head.

Any story actually dealing with the Brood (rather than having it as a background element of Weird Stuff) in New Mutants will therefore not only see our team fail to deal with the problem adequately, but end with them not even recognising one.

And so we get #3, where Dani becomes aware the a monster, nobody believes her, it manifests in all their presence and then... it is revealed to all be a dream (caused by Dani's fear powers, under an outside influence). They even get as far as hypothesising that Xavier is linked. And then they go and see some TV, the five of them.

So, that moment in #2 where Stevie realises the only person who could have run the advanced training problem in the Danger Room, is Xavier, is just plain wasted.

Couple of other bits in #3: Moira and Sean talking about having children again, with Moira moping about not having had a son by Xavier. And Illyana, who Sean catches doing some kind of ritual to do with Belasco. Whatever it is, that can't be good.

#167 itself starts quite hilariously. The X-Men, having concluded there is a Brood egg in the Professor in #166, go straight for the mansion (bypassing the Proto-Utopia island, I suppose, although maybe they went there first and that's why they're in such a hurry), and then attack the group of children in the common room. This is not your usual superhero misunderstanding - the X-Men know full well that the kids are new students of Xavier's. It's just that subduing them is going to take less time than explaining matters.

The New Mutants prove less of a pushover than Cyclops was expecting, but ultimately are defeated. Just in time for them to find Xavier in the final stages of Brood incubation and watch him turning into a Brood Queen. The Brood beats the boys (Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus and Nightcrawler) to a standstill, but then the artillery arrives in the form of Warbird and Storm, and the Brood Queen is taken down.

Just as they are about to kill it, they discover that Xavier's personality still exists within, and spare its life. By an amazing coincidence, the Starjammers have the technology to clone Xavier's body, and then "transplant" the mind. This works very well, and even gives him shiny new legs. Until he tries to stand on them, they buckle underneath him, and he discovers his mind needs time to adjust.

And what are we to make of this notion that Xavier has drawn together the New Mutants specifically to lay eggs in, mentioned in #4? Well, if you examine what happened more closely, it doesn't make much sense. Xavier was depressed after the apparent loss of the X-Men and Lilandra, and the idea to train Karma was practically forced on him by Moira, who also provided Rahne. Psyche he got a letter about, and then he only picked up Cannonball and Sunspot because they got entangled in Pierce's schemes. So, at what point did the Brood's influence manifest? If we can blame anything on it, perhaps it's the reason Xavier has decided not to form another team of X-Men to go on missions, but instead to keep the tasty tasty children safe and close.

#167 is also the issue in which the issue of Scott and Alex's grandparents are raised. Turns out, they have some, which is complete news to Scott, as if he's never thought about the issue before. He's not a John Doe, he knew the name of his parents - it's never occurred to him to check? Why, for that matter, wasn't he placed with them instead of being put in an orphanage?

And finally, Lilandra was stranded too, with the X-Men. Gladiator turns up, wanting an audience with her. He declares Deathbird unfit to rule, and suggests a space rebellion! And sets us up for a bizarre page in which Lilandra goes and gives Reed a piece of her mind for refraining from killing Galactus, apparently intended as a bit of cheeky revenge at John Byrne, after Byrne retconned the Doom in #145-#147 as a Doombot.

Finally, coming to New Mutants #4, it's one of those unusual X-Men stories where the only superhero element is the good mutants themselves. The "villain" of the piece, who has been making harassing phone calls to Stevie, is, shockingly, the new character introduced on page 2. Edgy stuff.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

New Mutants #1-#2: Read My Lips: No New X-Men

The New Mutants graphic novel apparently proved a success and so we get an ongoing series! This is the real start of the X-franchise, notwithstanding the Wolverine and Dazzler solo titles.

But first, a comic.


The first three issues of New Mutants lead up to the events of Uncanny X-Men #167, which is a bit odd because they were released several months after it, so we already know that Xavier is infected by the Brood and has brought the children there to infect too. How plausible that is we'll cover in a post's time, but for now I'll note this robs the end panel of #1 (where we see someone setting off the Danger Room, apparently trying to kill Dani - not enough to make a positive ID, but his sleeve matches the type that Xavier was wearing earlier in the issue) of its mystery.

This arc is the first serious look at the ethics of power use - and by that I don't mean the obligation to use them to help others, but whether some means are just tainted entirely, no matter the ends. Two of our new mutants have mind-based powers: Dani, who can make people see their fears; and Karma, who can mind-control people. Karma is upset when Dani (by accident, it seems), shows the group her trauma: her escape from Vietnam, her mother's death, and her attempt to protect her younger siblings (who are curiously absent - I wonder where they are living?). Dani is of course mortified, and spends much of the story running away, and then trying to prove herself.

Meanwhile, the other four (with Stevie - Moira and Illyana are in London, finding out that Xavier has an autistic, powered, son, by the Israeli ambassador, one Gabrielle Heller - which can go on the Chart now) go to the local mall. This is a ground-level view of the X-Men's small-town neighbours that we've never really seen before, and has something of the Broxton about it. They're being followed, by agents of Hank Gyrich (introduced a few years ago as a bureaucratic obstructionist character in Avengers), who is conspiring with Sebastian Shaw, mutant member of the Hellfire Club's Inner Circle. So, the attempt to wipe the information in #158 was a failure.

Shaw is using Gyrich. He doesn't want to see the New Mutants arrested or dead. He's willing to see them use giant mutant-killing robots - which he used before in the Ororo/Emma bodyswap story - to try and convince young mutants that it's a dangerous world and to sign up with him. For all that Magneto was evil, he's never staged a false flag operation, so far as we know. And although the guys (with Michael Rossi's help) take down the Sentinels and turn the day. Our issue of ethics comes up again, as Karma forces one of the goons to make a confession. It's all true, says, Rossi, but what's really going to happen here? The moment Karma breaks the control, he wakes up not knowing why he's been handcuffed. His masters will be able to spin this as an "evil mutants" thing quite easily and whisk him away from the local police department. The effect of this all has to be counted as a victory for Shaw, as he manages to sow mistrust on all sides.

The new holographic Danger Room is introduced in this issue. How it came to be holographic is not made clear, but certainly the mansion was rebuilt with the help of Shi'ar tech, so making it be of that origin is a natural fit. Oddly, the mansion has been rebuilt with the X-Men's rooms as they were (complete with mess!) and Storm's roof garden, where the plants are starting to get thirsty after several weeks of separation from their tender). That's some construction robots for you.

We get some ages of the team in #2. Rahne and Dani are 14. Bobby is 13. Xi'an is 19 (and is therefore older or a contemporary of Peter!). And Sam, as we already know from the graphic novel, is 16. And, they all get codenames: Dani is "Psyche", Rahne is "Wolfsbane", Sam is "Cannonball" (a word that had been used to describe him in the graphic novel), and Bobby is "Sunspot". Xi'an is already known as Karma. Where these names came from - whether they were self-endowed, or like previous codenames bestowed by Xavier - is left unstated.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Marvel Graphic Novel #4: New Mutants, New Danger

Meanwhile, on Earth, we come to the original New Mutants graphic novel, and the odd pages in the Brood run of Uncanny that lead up to it.

Xavier had come out of his coma in #161 (despite the alien consciousness, which we can assume from Uncanny is the Brood egg), but wasn't up for the trip to space, so was left on Earth, along with Moira, Alex, Lorna, Corsair and Illyana. He finds time to rebuild the mansion with the help of robots courtesy of Lilandra (we see its frame being put up in #163), and by #164 it's finished. He's given up on his dream, which although implicit all along now becomes a Big Deal, a thing you can talk about as "Xavier's dream". They only ever seem to talk about it when they give up in on it. Moira trolls him into accepting a new student, one Xi'an Coy Manh, who we have met before.

And so we come to the original New Mutants graphic novel, the 4th in the series. Xavier has lost a team of X-Men again, and he's rattling around the school, so he decides to assemble a new team. But only for training this time. Certainly not for missions.

Moira brings him Rahne Sinclair, a 14-year-old religious Scottish shapeshifter. In her introduction the link between powers and puberty now being made explicit for the first time. She's from the Highlands, too, and was not just delivered by Moira to Xavier, but was actually delivered by her. Again we have Claremont's romanticised view of these Isles - if you're from them then you probably own an entire island or at least a castle, and if not, then you are at least from a super-rural area. Nobody with powers comes from somewhere like London or Glasgow, at least until we get the Ellises and Cornells and Gillens writing. She's yet another orphan and is a "ward of the church", with a Reverend Craig bringing her up. Unfortunately, he's the chap who was leading the mob chasing her at the start. Happily, Moira is there at exactly the right time and place to rescue her from that. What she can't - or won't - rescue her from is her internalised hatred, instilled by Craig.

Xi'an (who gets called Shan) is one of the "Vietnamese boat people", who with her family fled from Vietnam after the communist takeover. Her backstory is written as if it were soon after the fall of Saigon, rather then several years later - although refugees continued for a while, she's directly tied in to the South Vietnamese military establishment which makes a sudden fleeing several years later seem a bit awkward. The floating timeline causes further problems - Xi'an simply can't have this background any more, unless you suppose that Marvel geopolitics aren't the same as our ones (which actually solves a lot of other problems!) She's intelligent, polite, well-spoken. I'd call her a stereotype but she's a bit more than that already. She has clearly given the ethics of her powers thought - more than Xavier. What happened with Tran troubles her, but even before then, she was using Spider-Man because she'd thought she'd not be doing damage to a good reputation.

While Rahne and Xi'an are training, Xavier gets a message from an old friend of his - Black Eagle - regarding his granddaughter, Danielle Moonstar (again, a 14-year-old orphan!), who has begun to manifest powers - mainly a general showing-people-their-fears power, but also an unrelated secondary mutation of being really close to nature and shit, possibly on account of her being a Cheyenne. He, along with Moira and the students, visits her, only to find assassins sent by Donald Pierce have killed her grandfather already, and trying to take out her. She agrees to join up to get revenge against Pierce. Xavier is able to extract information from Pierce's agents - in a shocking display of lack of compartmentalisation they've been briefed with the next two targets. These are Robert da Costa, from Brazil (a hot-headed Latino!), who is decidedly not an orphan, but has a girlfriend in the fridge; and Sam Guthrie, from a Kentucky mining family, who works for a Pierce-owned company, whose father has just died, and signs up on the wrong side, but comes around soon enough.

Oddly, Moira's team are able to get to Brazil, extract Bobby, and get back to Kentucky quickly enough to help Rahne rescue Xavier (who had been captured) and defeat Pierce. I suppose they must have overclocked the Blackbird? There's some woman called Tessa who works for Shaw also being held captive by Pierce, who has broken with the rest of the Hellfire Club, and who I think we might have seen before in the Dark Phoenix saga. Xavier eventually agrees to hand Pierce over to - mutual enemies and all - Xavier's narration makes it clear he isn't sure about he can trust her, but he sees no other way.

And so, we get another batch of X-Men (well, more or less), a cohort of teenagers, the first since 1963. Perhaps they should have done this right away and skipped the stage with Kitty alone. This time majority female, and majority non-white, which may be the first time either of these things have happened in a mainstream superhero title (or at least one that doesn't have it as its gimmick). And the characterisation and powers are a mite less informed by stereotypes than in Giant-Size #1.

This is a bit less substantive than I had imagined for something billed as a "graphic novel". It doesn't really stand alone, and instead acts more like a double-size #1 for the New Mutants ongoing which is about to launch. No surprise, since this is precisely what was intended originally - Claremont says that it was repurposed to be a graphic novel after it started production. The only standout difference is the colouring, which is using a different, more sophisticated but more expensive at this point, process, and therefore has shading.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Uncanny X-Men #164-#166: Breaking Brood

Uncanny X-Men #164 adds another to our little cover gallery of women exhibiting primal forces surrounded by worried onlookers. This time, it's Carol Danvers, formerly known as Ms. Marvel (until Rogue stole her powers in Avengers Annual #10), who is accompanying the X-Men on their random space excursion.

They've escaped from the Brood's ship, onto the Empress Lilandra's yacht, but Hunt-Master T'Crilee͞'s fighter is ordered to disable and capture them. (wow, I never thought I'd get to legitimately use that Unicode character - COMBINING DOUBLE MACRON ABOVE, in case you're wondering, which you probably aren't).

This does not work out so well for the Brood. They'd been experimenting on Carol in #163, and they triggered something within her. She becomes Binary! An enormous power, fiery and bright, taking the shape of a bird, which would seem to be such a brazen Phoenix knockoff that I'd call it plagiarism if it weren't for the fact that the name "Claremont" is on these pages and the ones 40 issues ago.

It also doesn't work out very well for Storm, as she accidentally breaks her vow never to take a life. She only meant to use her space lightning powers to stun them, see. And then she senses a life developing within her. At which point Wolverine comes clean about the eggs.

Our X-Men are left in a desperate situation with a bunch of character-defining stresses. Storm doesn't want to take any life, even parasitical life developing within her (the word "embryo" is used repeatedly, as if to nail the point home). Cyclops is prepared to put aside his "don't kill" policy at the great danger. Nightcrawler prays, and Wolverine is a materialist. As Cyclops gets ragier fighting (due to the development of the Brood), he swaps roles with Wolverine, an irony which is pointed out by Logan and foreshadows their eventual reversal thirty years hence.

Warbird and the Acanti fix everything. We are left with a dangling point: one egg is left, which must be Xavier. Oh dear.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Uncanny X-Men #162-#163: Feeling Broody

As we saw in the last post, Claremont and Miller have just written the definitive Wolverine miniseries. At more or less the same time (October 1982), that Wolverine makes his appearance narrating Uncanny X-Men #162 and #163.

Having been taken to space at the end of #161, they've been captured by the Brood and are revealed to have been implanted with eggs, showing our more Alien-like Brood. Wolverine had one, but happily if it's a legitimate Brood implantation, the mutant body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down. He sets to work rescuing the others. Some of them can see the situation for what it is: some can't, and it's getting through to them that's more important than punching. Which is not to say that the punching is worthless.

After they've got the team back together and going after the Brood, Cyclops and Wolverine have their largest argument so far. Wolverine wants to kill the Brood Queen, but Cyclops isn't having any of that: "X-Men don't kill", he says - a retcon if ever I heard one. It might help if Wolverine actually told the others about the eggs, but no, we have to have our melodrama.

Lilandra agrees with Wolverine, but the story cops out at that point, as the plan to send a forward detachment (Storm, Nightcrawler and Sprite) to Lilandra's yacht works, and they are teleported away. This sort of last-minute technical solution to a moral dilemma is something they've lifted straight from Star Trek, too, alongside the transporter they used to do it with.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Wolverine #1-#4: "Not Very Nice"

And so we come, at long last, to the first of many X-Men spin-offs †, the Wolverine mini-series, by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. Four issues, cover-dated September to December 1982.

I've gone through this era of Uncanny before, but this was completely new to me. It is an important piece in building the lore of Wolverine, and is going to form the basis of the 2013 Wolverine film.

Wolverine's letters to Mariko are bouncing, and he goes to Japan to investigate. He finds she's been married off, and is drawn into a web of intrigue. Significantly, this is the first X-Men comic to feature no traditional comic book villains (i.e. no robots, demons, mutants, etc) - just regular ninjas.

The series is narrated by Wolverine. We get the "I am the best there is at what I do. But what I do best isn't very nice" quote coined here, and definite confirmation that his mutant power is the healing thing. And he's been around the block a few times, as his friendship with Asano indicates. But this is not quite the 1990s Man of Mystery Wolverine. He's not been mindwiped, for one - when he contrasts Mariko's dynastic pedigree to his own, he knows who his father is, even if he doesn't tell us.

The resolution is a combination of KILL ALL THE NINJAS! (the body count exceeds X-Men's total in 19 years, probably) but more improtantly Wolverine realising he's not an animal, that he can strive to be better than that. But then, we've never really seen Wolverine as an animal. From almost his very introduction into this series, he's been railing against his imagined confines - remember him touching the deer in #109?

The art is fantastic in this, and only the colouring gives away its age. It's far more confident in using the art to tell the story than Uncanny was in this era. Beat panels, entire silent sequences (the fight in issue #4, punctuated by a Snikt), and it absolutely manages to invoke an atmosphere, even a mood - not something I'd ever have accused Uncanny of managing. Otherwise, there's general toning down of Claremont's typical wordiness (Wolverine is narrating, after all). This is way ahead of what Uncanny was doing at the time, and I'm looking forward to see it catch up.

† I exclude Dazzler here, since she was a pre-existing concept that was inserted into X-Men to launch from, rather than deriving organically from tales of X.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Uncanny X-Man #161: Waiting for Gabrielle

This breaking news just in. Professor Charles Xavier is still in a coma. I'm a bit unfair, as Uncanny X-Men #161 actually advances this plot. We are told that "an alien consciousness has become part of him", and he's getting worse.

Moira says they've used another telepath to try and reach him - but he tried to use her as a means of suicide, which we've missed. Cyclops and Corsair are back from their visit to Havok and Polaris in New Mexico. Cyclops points at the complete botch that Storm made of the mission to infiltrate the Pentagon in #158, and suggests maybe he ought to be back in charge. Which seems reasonable enough, but he then backs down, ascribing it to the distress of Xavier being ill.

Xavier is remembering his visit to Haifa, in Israel, 20 years ago (so, 1962 at the time). He'd been there after his trip to Cairo (where he encountered his first evil mutant, we will remember, and a young Storm too). He's gone to meet his friend Daniel Sharon, who is working at a hospital with survivors of the holocaust. He meets a chap called Magnus there, who he can't mindread, and a young woman named Gabrielle Heller, who was at Dachau, who is not in a good way. He's able to telepathically deal with her block and get her conscious again. Soon enough she's doing all the tourist stuff with Magnus and Charles, and starting a thoroughly problematic relationship with Charles. Charles and Magnus start having hypothetical debates about mutants and what humanity's reaction to them would be. They do not, sadly, have comedy routines about keeping trousers up, even though Xavier should probably have kept his on.

Suddenly wild NazisHydra attack, and events force Magnus to reveal that he the power of manipulation of metallic objects and magnetic forces! Yes, he's Magneto! This all means that Xavier secretly knew Magneto before Uncanny X-Men #1! They rescue Gaby, who is being held in Kenya by Baron Strucker, and Magneto decides to "liberate" their stock of gold, proclaiming that mutants will fight for survival.

This will be our first major problem with the sliding timeline. You can fix Magneto's age a bit by the fact that he's been de-aged and re-aged, and Xavier gets a new body soon enough - so they can be biologically any age you please - but Xavier and Magneto meet as more-or-less contemporaries in a period where Holocaust survivors can be young women. And we can't age Heller too much, 'cos Xavier has a kid by her. Not that we know that yet, of course.

With that flashback out of the way, Xavier wakes up, and everyone is relieved. Lilandra, who has been sticking around, makes ready to leave, and invites them to space for a space banquet - Moira and Charles stay on the surface, as does Illyana. But then drama! Deathbird appears and assassinates Lilandra, and notes that the X-Men will be hosts for the brood-spawn!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Uncanny X-Men #160: Could it be Magik?

The last issue saw the X-Men suddenly summoned back to *Proto-Utopia because Xavier's coma has worsened. Uncanny X-Men #160 doesn't do anything with that, but ends up being one of the most important fill-in issues of all time.

Illyana (who apparently got migrated to Island M/Proto-Utopia with the rest of them, rather than being sent home to Siberia which might be the more sensible thing) triggers a device that sends her to a strange realm ruled by Belasco. The X-Men follow, fight Belasco and mostly win, but unfortunately end up with a 13-year-old Illyana, who has lived in Limbo for half her life, rather than the 6-year-old one that had run off. What has she learnt from Belasco in the mean-time, and more to the point, how on Earth are they going to explain that to her parents? While the last issue is providing the inspiration for BtVS, this then is Connor. She's got a medallion that'll go off when she hits womanhood and do all manner of unspecified sinister things, too.

This all only happens due to the X-Men being stupid. They've settled on this island that has risen from the deeps and has unusual architecture and is of unknown origin and have not even yet thoroughly explored it. The fault must be laid squarely at the doors of Professor X and Storm - both of whom were in a position to order the island to be checked out, and neither of whom did.

We get another name for Illyana this issue. She is "Illyana Natalyanovna", which along with the fact that she keeps calling her brother "Piotr Nikolievitch" implies that they don't quite understand how Russian names work yet. Apart from your basic first, given, name and surname/family name, Russians have a middle "patronymic" name, derived from the first name of their father, with -ovna (овна) or -evich (евич) appended. Natalyanovna is what, a matronymic? Which you might get for someone of unknown paternity. So not our little snowflake, then. Additionally, we're not sure what Russian name "Illyana" is supposed to represent. Ульяна (which might usually be translated Ulyana), possibly. Who knows?

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Uncanny X-Men #159: Kitty the Vampire Slayer †

Uncanny X-Men #159 is nothing particularly special in X-Men terms, but has a wider significance that's been largely missed. It is where Buffy the Vampire Slayer came from.

So, plot summary: the X-Men arrive - without bothering to knock on the door or anything - at Misty Knight's apartment in Greenwich Village (where Jean Grey used to live, before her untimely passing in #137).

She's out, so they disturb new flatmate Harmony Young (another Claremont/Byrne creation, from Power Man and Iron Fist #50, a professional model, and a romantic interest for Luke Cage (Power Man)). They quickly add Harmony to the list of people who know the X-Men's first names, and get changed to meet Kitty's parents, which is the reason they're there. Well, Storm and Kitty do. Wolverine, and Nightcrawler remain at the flat, trying and failing to add Harmony to the Chart, too.

After leaving Kitty with her parents, Storm is found in an alley with two suspicious looking wounds on her neck, and a severe case of blood loss. She's rushed to hospital, where they can't find a blood type match for her (mutant blood is detectable with 1982 regular hospital technology!). She checks out and goes to stay in Misty's apartment. She starts feeling the call of the night, opening windows, curiously not recovering from her injury, wearing a scarf around her neck, disliking Kitty's Star of David (I wonder if Kitty worries that she's being a bit anti-Semitic), developing an uncharacteristic aversion to sunlight, and wondering whether there are eyes in the fog. (SPOILER: There are).

Would you believe it it has turned out that she's been bit by a vampire and has gone all Lucy Westernra (which has been allowed by the Code for ten years). It's no less than Dracula himself, even. She goes to meet him for more blood exchange. Their meeting is interrupted by Kitty, arriving with a hat and a cross. The cross doesn't work, but the Star of David does. So, belief is important. Wonder why the hat didn't work on its own, then. Ororo, even turned, doesn't much like people picking on her Kitten, so sort of protects her, but then absconds with the Big D.

Nightcrawler acts like belief in Dracula is a well-accepted fact in post-war Bavaria, and the others agree to track Storm down, to Belvedere Castle in Central Park, which I thought was Claremont and Cockrum just having a laugh (à la Doom's castle in Upstate New York), but turns out to actually exist, having been built as a folly in 1869. At time of publication it was disused and in the process of restoration, so it's just about plausible that ol' Vlad has taken up residence there.

They fight. We learn that Wolverine is not a Christian (his cross doesn't work) and that Nightcrawler is (his does). Storm manages to break the hold, despite having been part-vampirised, and turns on Dracula (but lets him flee rather than staking him), and then I dunno, gets better?

It's a matter of record that Kitty Pryde is an inspiration for Buffy Summers (Joss Whedon will write a Kitty-centric arc or four of his own which we'll get to in due course...) I submit that this issue, which features a teenage computer-smart Jewish girl with special powers and divorced parents fighting a vampire to protect her friend, is a major inspiration. Kitty has been split to form Buffy and Willow. The name "Harmony", even. And for that matter "Summers" (and Anne - we heard "Anne Summers" as part of a name only in the last arc!) As did Malaclypse the Younger, I find this more and more manifest the harder I look.

† No vampires were actually slain by Kitty in the comic. I suppose I could have gone with "Kitty vs. Dracula" instead.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Uncanny X-Men #158: The Battle of Arlington

Uncanny X-Men #158 starts again with our mutants on their island base - it doesn't seem to have got a name in the comics ever - so I'll call it Proto-Utopia. (It's either that or "Island M".)

Harking back to the inital run, the X-Men suddenly remember that the government has a lot of computer information on them. That Robert Kelly is on the telly - on Panorama, in fact - scaremongering about them (the interviewer's name is Mr. Cheever. In a strange coincidence, the only famous Cheever died in the cover month). And the X-Men have suddenly somehow become "outlaws" (that happened as early as #154, according to a caption there - before the property damage of the Shi'ar arc). They decide to infiltrate the Pentagon, and introduce a computer virus to erase what exists. A caption repeats the urban myth that the Pentagon was originally designed as a hospital.

So, Colonel Carol Danvers (who's found that some of her advanced physiology as Ms. Marvel is still present), Captain ??? (I wonder what name Logan was using on his ID here - there's no reason at this point to suspect that it isn't something like John Logan or Logan Smith), and their civilian colleague Ororo, bluff their way through the security at probably the world's most heavily guarded government installation. Making their way to the target, they embarrassingly bump into Mystique and Rogue, of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, who are also infiltrating the Pentagon. Mystique is using a cover identity of "Raven Darkhölme", which is surely not her real name, and she shifts back to the blue-with-white-clothes form when she's knocked unconscious, which is a bit unfortunate. Rogue has got her canonical set of power-stealing powers, on contact with flesh, and has recently acquired the powers of Ms. Marvel (in Avengers Annual #10), which is the very thing that Carol has been recovering from...

Rather than sort out some sort of awkward compromise ("why are you here?" "no, why are you here?"), they start having a superhero fight in the Pentagon. Storm and Wolverine somehow find the time to change into their costumes, which is not just one of those "where did they get the time?" moments, but is literally a terrible idea - as a "mutants infiltrate Pentagon" story becomes an "X-Men infiltrate Pentagon", aided by the guards overhearing them use the word "X-Man". If there were ever a job for X-Force, this was it. Mystique is captured (but she'll get out - she's that good), Rogue is subdued, the X-Men flee, and Danvers wipes those files. Not that it'll do them any good.

This would have been a perfectly good explanation as to how the X-Men became outlaws, but it's frankly incomprehensible as their reaction to it. In the end Kurt complains in a thought bubble

The X-Men will probably end up portrayed as the villains of the piece.
If Senator Kelly is any indication, the government is already paranoid about mutants. This will only make matters worse.

And since the X-Men have no official sanction, like the Avengers, they've no way of telling their side of things.

Yes, I'm quite sure that explaining how you were merely planning on illegally entering the government installation to remove the records on yourself would clear things up nicely.

While all this is happening, Corsair and Cyclops visit Havok and Polaris, and introductions are made. No mention is made of any other relatives - of either their mother or father - and neither of them were John Does - so presumably any grandparents are dead?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Uncanny X-Men #154-#157: First Brood

Uncanny X-Men #154 starts with the mansion still mostly wrecked. Storm and Cyclops are still there (and Storm's still leader, although she asks Cyclops if he wants it back and he declines). The other X-Men have now moved to the island that had previously been Magneto's base in the Bermuda triangle, citing a wave of anti-mutant sentiment. Islands and mutants are a thing, evidently.

In space, Corsair is fleeing towards Earth, bringing with him a protracted four-issue story arc involving Lilandra and the Shi'ar and the Starjammers and the Imperial Guard and Deathbird (now seen in these pages for the first time, having debuted in Ms. Marvel #10 in October 1977). We also have the Brood, who display none of their later Alien-like traits, instead acting mostly as thinking minions of Deathbird, who of course, eventually turn on her.

Characterwise, the most important bit in this is Corsair revealing himself as Cyclops father. This makes the timeline rather wacky. Corsair has been gone for 20 years, it keeps repeating. And Scott was ten, wasn't he? So Cyclops is 30, now? That can't be right, can it? Corsair keeps referring to his wife as "Anne" for several issues before realising his mistake (she'd already been named "Katherine") and calling her "Katherine Ann".

#157 teases the return of Phoenix on the cover, which is way sooner than I'd expected. Turns out to be Kitty dressed up in costume. This is a good moment for her (as is the bit where she phases into space), and she's rapidly becoming actually competent. She's 14 now, we're told in the next issue, and Peter is 18. And so far there's no actual indication that he's acting on any attraction that may or exist, so this is staying firmly off the Chart. The age of consent in New York is 17, by the way. I do not know what it is in Shi'ar space, but I would guess that the Starjammer counts as a U.S.-flagged vessel.

We end up with Lilandra restored to that throne, but Professor X in a coma. Oh dear...

Monday, 8 October 2012

It's........................ Uncanny X-Men #153

Uncanny X-Men #153 is an odd one. The mansion was wrecked last issue, and they're doing basic cleanup work. Kurt reports back that they're screwed, and they need lots of expensive specialists to rebuild. I guess that usually Xavier would tap Warren for this (he did seem happy to pay before), but since he's quit in a huff, not much can be done. Later we'll find out that Xavier is independently wealthy (I think this idea first originates as an excuse in letters columns before appearing in the comic proper), but for now they are screwed.

Amidst this, the increasingly prominent Kitty Pryde tells a fairy tale to Illyana (has she ever gone home after the Murderworld arc?) At first I thought she's got far too serious about her crush on Peter and has learnt Russian, but later on the page we find that the Professor just implanted Russian in all of their branes, something that explains a lot actually. Well, by "a lot", I mean, how Hank knew Russian. I'm not sure the story is entirely in good taste, depicting as it does a fictionalised version of the Phoenix, who Kitty wasn't really around for. But Scott seems to like it, anyway...

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Uncanny X-Men #151-#152: Loss of Pryde

Uncanny X-Men #151-#152 is another momentous little story arc, setting up the Hellfire Club, Emma Frost and Sebastian Shaw as recurring villains.

Emma's evil plan is: persuade Kitty's parents to withdraw her from the Xavier School and send her to the Massachusetts Academy instead, and then hope that Storm drives her there. This works, and she body-swaps with Storm, drives back to the X-Men, finds that Shaw is already attacking them with Sentinel-derived technology, defeats them. Storm manages to escape from her cell, persuades Kitty of her identity, drives back, liberates the X-Men, and leads them to victory against the Hellfire Club.

Where this body-swapping gun came from is never explained. Such a technology would be very scary: Whedon's Dollhouse begins to explore the possibilities. X-Men again picks up an idea, uses it, and then discards it just as easily without considering the deeper implications.

It came as a surprise to Storm that Frost is still alive, which implies that the X-Men have not been watching the Hellfire Club too closely. Xavier ought surely to have known, if he'd been monitoring them. And the plot only works because he's had a sudden case of ethics - the old Professor X would have short-circuited this by just changing Kitty's parents' minds.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Uncanny X-Men #150: "I, Magneto"

Uncanny X-Men #150 is a special double-size issue, wherein momentous stuff happens and in which is made possibly the single greatest retcon in the history of comics. †

Magneto has set up shop on an island in the Bermuda Triangle that he's caused to be risen from the depths, and has taken Cyclops (Scott Summers), who has temporarily taken up being a fisherman, and his captain (Lee Forrester, who is a romantic interest for him) prisoner after they were shipwrecked.

Magneto tries to blackmail all the world's leaders (we get a nice selection here - Reagan, Thatcher, Brezhnev, Deng, King Abdul, and Moi) into making him King of the World. He wants to scrap the world defence budget (which he says is trillions - in real life that'd be a massive overestimate in 1981 - it's not even 2 trillion today. maybe he's including the Sentinels). Instead, he will lead H. sapiens to a glorious golden age, planning to eliminate "hunger, disease, poverty", damn the cost (hmm!), and providing Bobby Kennedy with a retort. He chews the fat with Scott, catches up on the news about Jean, expresses his sympathy, reveals that he has an inhibitor field which is shutting off Scott's optic blasts, casually destroys some nuclear warheads that have been launched at the island, destroys the Soviet submarine that had launched them, opens up a volcano in a fictional place out of Doctor Zhivago and threatens to do the same in Moscow.

The X-Men have finally got their finger out and started looking for Scott - they've tracked him and Lee to a shipwreck in the Bermuda Triangle and are looking for it alongside Dr. Corbeau (the X-Men's go-to man if they need a boat, it seems, as well as being the official provider of space shuttles), and a random Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers), who might as well not be in this issue (except that she provides our first indication that Wolverine has a long and distinguished past in the superhero community - as he confirms that he used to work with her on special ops stuff).

We then get to the punching bit. They have to take down Magneto powerless, due to the inhibitor (which affects non-anatomy related powers - Kurt is still blue and has a tail, but can't 'port, Logan's claws still work but his senses are gone, and Peter shifts out of his steel form entering the zone). Can't work in these conditions, so they look to take it out.

It's a big issue for Storm - she has a moment to take down Magneto, but has sworn off killing people. She's there at the final confrontation with Magneto, where he comes close to killing Kitty, and then has a real change of heart, and well, let's quote it:

        She -- she is a child!

        What have I done?

        Why did you resist?  Why did you not understand?!
        Magda -- my beloved wife -- did not understand.
        When she saw me use my powers, she ran from me in
        terror.  It did not matter that I was defending her...

        ...that I was avenging our murdered daughter.

        I swore then that I would not rest 'til I had created
        a world where my kind -- mutants -- could live free
        and safe and unafraid.  Where such as you, little one,
        could be happy.

        Instead, I have slain you.

        I remember my own childhood - the gas chambers at 
        Auschwitz, the guards joking as they herded my family
        to their death.  As our lives were nothing to them,
        so human lives became to me.

        Magneto!  Goddess -- no!

        If you have a deity, butcher, pray to it!

        As a boy, I believed.  As a boy, I turned my back
        on god forever.

        Kill me if you wish, wind-rider.  I will not stop you.

        Is this some kind of trick?

        Yes.  Only it has been played on me.  I believed
        so much in my own personal vision, that I was prepared
        to pay any price, make any sacrifice to achieve it.
        But I forgot the innocents who would suffer in the
        process.  Can you not appreciate the irony, Ororo?

        In my zeal to remake the world, I have become much like
        those I have always hated and despised.

We learned about Magda running away in #125 and the contemporaneous Avengers #186, but most of this new information. Magneto's dialogue here is structured to pack as much punch as it can, by telling us what we know already and then, almost as an afterthought, revealing the new tidbit about a murdered daughte, and then going for the big thing. It must have been utterly shocking at the time for readers. This moustache-twirling villain has a motivation and not just one but two sets of personal tragedies (when Claremont comes to write Magneto's actual origin story six years from now, a third, less well-judged one will be added). Magneto is laid bare. How much of this does Storm actually overhear? Does Xavier find out about it? The idea that Magneto and Xavier are old friends is not yet present. These questions will never be answered: this is not treated as a dramatic revelation in-universe, and in fifty issues time it will be considered general knowledge.

This would seem to be Kitty's first Official Mission, although it's possible that she's stowed-away on this one, too. She's still in that multicoloured abomination of an outfit. As soon as she finds Scott, he sends her on a dangerous mission to mess up Magneto's computers, despite him realising that she's a child who really ought to be protected from that sort of thing. She succeeds, too, destroying a lot of his data (he should have had off-site backups!)

† other candidates in X-Men include the "Magneto/Professor X are old friends" bit, and my personal favourite "'Weapon X': It's pronounced 'ten'. Did we not mention that?" moment.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Avengers Annual #10: DARKHÖLME, Anna Marie

There's a reason this blog is covering Avengers Annual #10, and why it's included in Essential X-Men - it's the first appearance of Rogue, and sets up her situation of having stolen Ms. Marvel's powers (and in the process depriving Carol Danvers of them).

But I'm finding it difficult to find much to say about that. Maybe this is because I'm coming at it out of order - I've written many of the surrounding entries weeks ago and now I'm coming in and filling in a hole. But it's more that the elements I was expecting to see first hand have already happened. That Rogue-Ms. Marvel grudge has always been backstory, never news.

Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew) finds Carol Danvers (Ms. Marvel and former Avenger) being dumped into the San Francisco Bay on the first page, figures out who she is and what's happened to her with Xavier's help, and contacts the Avengers. During this, we get a bunch of flashbacks that rewrite another story (Avengers #200). It then moves to a large fight between the Avengers and Mystique's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (with the line-up from Days of Future Past), but now with Rogue. The Avengers defeat them, they run away, yadda yadda.

In the final segment of the annual ("chapter 5"), the Avengers visit Carol, who is recuperating at the X-Mansion. And she really gives them what for, for abandoning her in her time of need in #200. Which is completely fair - having briefly read Avengers #200, I can agree with the general consensus that what was done to her in that was abominable. What I wasn't expecting was that this is being treated here as a far more life-destroying incident than the mere wiping of her identity by Rogue, because it was a betrayal. For all that Rogue has broken Carol, it's the Avengers simply letting Marcus do what he wants with her, without considering the possibility of mind control, that matters. And this is absolutely not a problem inserted into an originally innocent story. It's there in any reading of #200. It's no wonder that Bendis has Carol champion Jessica Jones's cause after her similar ordeal at the hands of the Purple Man. I can see Carol reconciling with Rogue eventually, even at this point. It's more of a wonder that Carol ever signs up with the Avengers again.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Uncanny X-Men #149: Where in the world is Max Eisenhardt?

Uncanny X-Men #149 has the X-Men sent back to Magneto's Antarctic volcano base (last seen in #124) to scout for signs of him. Why exactly Professor X is doing this now is unclear, but may be related to his inability to telepathically contact Scott in #145. In a thought bubble on page 2 we get Xavier clearly thinking: "Magneto! Origin unknown. Although his features are Caucasian, probably Nordic -- antecedents, unknown", which is not entirely consistent with what we are soon about to be told, but not completely irreconcilable, either.

So far (if we avoid later implants) Kitty has avoided being sent on any official missions, by virtue of (a) there not being an official mission, (b) merely being in the mansion when the demons attacked, (c) not being on the boat with Scott and Lee, (d) being ill, and (e) merely being at the club when Caliban attacked. This time she sneaks onto the Blackbird, in her new costume, which I show here for reasons of sharing the pain around.

It's like she's trolling us. Wolverine has spotted she's attracted to Peter. Nightcrawler calls her Kätzchen for I think the first time, and we find out what's a "whiz at computers". Having been introduced as just your regular suburban young girl with superpowers, she's already being embellished.

There, they encounter Garokk, who underwhelmed me so much in his last appearance that I completely failed to mention him at all. He provides a brief scuffle while they verify that someone has cleaned the place out. What's Magneto up to?

Well, we know already. He's on a strange recently risen island in the Bermuda Triangle, with Scott and Lee (who have got themselves added to The Chart). Well, that explains what caused it to rise, at least. He outfits them in costumes that have probably been left by cultists, and guesses that Scott's Cyclops! Oh noes!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

AvX #12: How did I do?

So, AvX #12 is out (and AvX: Versus #6, and Uncanny #19), and it's 8pm (BST), so the Internet is talking about it. My critical reaction will come later. For now, I'm going to talk about something far more self-obsessed.

Back in April, after the first couple of Avengers vs. X-Men, I posted a bunch of predictions as to how things would play out. I think I did reasonably well, despite getting some big things wrong.

Note, this post contains massive AvX #12 spoilers. Do not read unless you have read AvX #12 or don't care about spoilers.

One big thing I didn't see coming was the Phoenix Five and the nature of second act. I think I saw it as a much more straightforward Civil War-type battle, rather the cosmic struggle it ended up, which in hindsight is silly of me, 'cos the Phoenix was involved. Of course it was going to be an epic cosmic battle and someone was going to go Dark Phoenix.

So, what did I say, and how did it pan out?

Whoever will win the actual fight will lose the moral high ground. Since I think the X-Men will be ultimately vindicated, and the Avengers will apologise; then the X-Men will lose in combat.
I think it's fair to say that happened.

Probably the mass-repowering of mutants will be prevented. There's no solid editorial rationale for reversing that, after all.

But there's another detail to "no more mutants", in that only a very few mutants have arisen since then (Hope being the first, and then the Lights). That I expect will change, and we'll see new mutants manifesting at a modest rate as we did back in the 1980s, without the weirdness associated with Hope's powers.
It's not clear exactly how many more mutants there are now, but it seems like I'm right.

Hope will die. She's a messiah. It's what they do. Self-sacrifice or not? It'd be repeating a beat from the Dark Phoenix saga, and I'm not sure whether they'll deliberately do that to invoke it, or avoid it.

Hope didn't die, but she did perform a self-sacrifice, by agreeing to and participating in Wanda's "No More Phoenix".

Summers will die. They toyed this in some of the post-Schism publicity, and people thought it was semi-plausible for a while. That means they can get away with doing it now (people will think they will just be teasing again if any rumours get out). Although it'd be quite funny if he did die of hypertension, I don't quite see that happening. Summers will die defending Utopia. Which will fall.

Well, I was seeing this in a much more straightforward superhero fight way, I didn't expect Utopia to end up being the levitating sky city we saw. But certainly, it has fallen now. Scott hasn't died, but was shorn from the Phoenix, and is now disgraced and arrested.

Since I was predicting these two deaths, I didn't see Professor X going. But frankly, I don't think I'd have done anyway. We already had Professor X believed dead at Messiah Complex, it seems like repeating themselves to me. But this time we'll actually deal with the consequences of his death, rather than being used as a story hook for a bunch of tales about his life.

There are three people who are members of the X-Men and the Avengers. Storm has only been part of the Avengers for a little while, making it seem as if she's been put there specifically for this event. And yet, she goes straightforwardly back to the X-Men and fights on their side. And she's been established as the moral compass of the group. She'll defect for sure.
Not wrong there.

Similarly, I'd expect to see Wolverine change sides.

Wolverine stayed with Cap till the end. Well, apart from the bits where he betrayed the Avengers by taking Hope to the moon. But then, I wasn't expecting the gradual peeling away of support from Cyclops as the story went on.

Afterwards, the X-Men will regroup back at the Westchester school.

This looks to be true. This would be Bendis's All New X-Men.

Meanwhile, Storm and Beast will be off founding some other group of X-Men.

We still don't know exactly what's going on in the X-verse yet - this will become clear as the month continues and AvX: Consequences comes out.

And with Summers dead, Emma could go either way - back to supervillainry or perhaps back to teaching.

There's something that looks awfully like a new Brotherhood of Evil X-Men line-up, with Emma and Magneto and Cyclops. Maybe the rest of the Phoenix Five - although it's difficult to imagine Colossus and Magik being the same team, or indeed on speaking terms! Again, have to wait and see.

Uncanny X-Men #148: Featuring Dazzler and Spider-Woman!

There was once a time that comics would feature gratuitous Spider-Woman, promoted on the cover. Who knew? That time was August 1981, and that comic was Uncanny X-Men #148.

It's an issue of two halves. Some domestic stuff, some superhero stuff. First we get a few pages of Scott and Lee's continuing adventures in what I can only assume is the formerly sunken city of R'lyeh, but we'll come to that if something finally actually happens. A thing they're doing here is having Scott be separated from his glasses for a protracted time, and having to wear a blindfold, which is pretty cool and I'm surprised it's taken them this long to do.

It then picks up the aftermath of #147. Angel angrily quits the X-Men in protest at Wolverine being on the team. The idea of Wolverine being a kind of murderous rampager got a boost in the last issue, when he had to stop himself going berserk but then beheaded an android duplicate of yon Storm. Angel wasn't in the room at the time, so he must be relying on the account of either Arcade, DOOM, Storm, or Wolverine himself. Anyway, Angel leaves, not wanting to be part of any team that has Logan on it. (Little does Angel know that one day he'll be helping Wolverine cover up his little unsanctioned death squad.)

Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew) is visiting after the events of Spider-Woman #38, which introduced young Theresa Rourke, Banshee's daughter by his dead wife that he didn't know he had. Moira, who's over from Muir, is a bit jealous (she and Sean have discussed having kids already! - but she daren't, not with Kevin having turned out the way he did). Little Illyana is still at the mansion, they're wondering whether she might be a mutant, too.

This is then followed by a sequence at a nightclub, where Jessica, Stevie, Ororo and Kitty (because 13½ year olds are totally allowed clubbing in NYC), to watch Dazzler perform. This bit manages to pass the Bechdel test incredibly well, as FOUR WOMEN have a GROUP DISCUSSION about LOTS OF STUFF.

We then get our action bit, in the form of Caliban, who can smell mutants, but only wants a friend, having lived underground alone. He eventually runs off, declining their offer for him to join up. The fight sequence is fairly well thought out, although of course it has to be contrived so that Dazzler can actually help. Turns out that Kitty can walk on air (i.e. fly, really rubbishly), which is a perfectly sensible corollary of her being able to phase and not fall through stuff.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Uncanny X-Men #145-#147: One does not simply walk out of Murderworld

Uncanny X-Men #145-#147 features Arcade again, I'm afraid. But it's worth talking about anyway.

I've had to go over it several times now and I still can't quite make sense of the plot.

It sees the X-Men be blackmailed through threats to their families and friends (the Greys, Colossus's sister, who we saw in Giant-Size #1 but now gets a name - Illyana, Amanda Sefton, Stevie Hunter, and Moira) by Miss Locke into helping rescue Arcade from the clutches of DOOM, who finally (after 18 years!) makes an appearance in these pages. It's serious business, even moreso than the loss of the team on Krakoa, as Xavier goes around summoning stray X-Men: he declines the help of the Avengers but contacts Beast, and calls on Alex and Lorna, and Bobby (who is doing some kind of economics course at university now), and tries to get hold of Scott. Banshee is already on the way on Concorde.

I'm going to digress for a moment now to talk about travel arrangements, if only to avoid talking about Arcade for a little bit longer. Let's assume Banshee is on Muir Island when he realises Moira has been kidnapped. If they are popping over to Stornoway as often as they do, it seems to be fairly close to Lewis, but it's definitely stated as being off the north coast, north of Cape Wrath. So, it's probably near Durness. We could pretend it's Eilean Hoan. Now, we know Banshee drives, so once he's got to the mainland, it's two and a half hour's journey to Inverness, where he'll probably fly direct to Heathrow, and then transfer onto the Concorde to JFK. During this epic journey, he at no point thinks to pick up the phone. He just knows he has to be in New York as soon as possible. Why should he assume that Moira has even been taken to the US (faster than he was?) Never mind that mobile phones break horror stories, landlines break 1980s X-Men.

With the X-Men assembled (so to speak), they are divided into two squads. Ororo, Peter, Kurt and Logan go and assault DOOM's medieval castle in upstate New York. That had been constructed by DOOM but had been recently sublet or squatted by Toad as an amusement park, in Marvel Two-in-One #68, we are helpfully informed. Whatever. Storm is sent in as a decoy to try and chat to Doom and distract him, while the others infiltrate. This plan doesn't go so well, and Arcade turns out to be in league with Doom rather than a prisoner! (Or maybe not?) They all end up trapped in custom-designed puzzle prisons. Oddly, we're told that DOOM is the one responsible for these, not Arcade, which smells a bit like a late dialogue change or miscommunication in plotting? It's never made clear what Arcade actually did against DOOM, and he's eventually happy to let him go with an apology. This doesn't sound like DOOM to me, nor to John Byrne, who will later retcon this as being a DOOMbot.

The X-Men imprisoned at DOOM's Murderworld escape cleverly. Nightcrawler is first, using gravity and momentum and updrafts in an unusual outbreak of actual physics. As Logan escapes, we are reminded of his berserker rages, something we were told of in #96, but not really seen since (justified by him saying that he's not really had them since joining the X-Men but is slipping). Warren and Peter also break free, leaving only Ororo, who's been trapped in a steel form not unlike Colossus, only without the ability to move. The weather is getting worse, and when she's freed she goes, well, a bit Dark Phoenix. In a way that's not merely reminiscent of that, but explicitly mentioned in the text. She's able to control it, eventually. This gives us some strikingly similar imagery: compare these three covers of #50, #101 and now #147.

There's clearly a thing here, about powerful women and whether or not they are able to control the forces of nature that are unleashed through them, or whether their poor branes might overheat from all of the raw energy. Even the very words on the cover: "Rogue Storm", "Dark Phoenix". What's next - "Stray Polaris"? Now, I can't point to any specific instance of this and say "that one, that's sexist". But there's a pattern, and it's an unfortunate one. You can do this trope with men, it's just that... well, the X-Men hasn't, not yet. Well, not until September 2012, anyway. On the other hand, issue #145 thoroughly passes the Bechdel test, as it begins with Stevie and Ororo having a conservation about the ballet they are attending. (There had been an earlier pass, when Misty and Jean talked about Misty's trip to Japan, and studiously avoided talking about boys because that would break the plot).

What happened to the other guys? Well, the B-team - Alex, Lorna, Sean and Bobby, went to the Murderworld to free the hostages directly. There, they are a confronted by a series of custom-made traps and stop me if you've heard this one before.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Marvel Team-Up #100: Arrest This Woman

Today's second post is Marvel Team-Up #100, which the Chronology Project dates to between Uncanny #144 and #145. So hello, future! I'm writing this only very slightly in the past! Much less far in the past than I wrote the surrounding articles, so forgive me for any discontinuity.

Two stories this issue, and we're covering both. First up, this issue introduces a new supervillain, Karma, who has the power of mind control. She uses it to discredit Spider-Man by abducting two young orphans... No, wait. That's not what's happening at all.

This is more cleverly structured than I'd expect an issue of Marvel Team-Up in 1980 to be, and unusually avoids giving away the twist on the cover. Xi'an is a young Vietnamese girl, a refugee from South Vietnam, who has the power of mind control. She has an evil uncle who wants her to work as a minion, an evil brother (Tran) who is happy to, and two younger siblings who are dependent on her, and have been taken away by the said evil relatives.

Fortunately, the misunderstanding is cleared up (thanks to Xavier for providing access to Cerebro technology - so Reed knows exactly who Charles is at this point - when did that happen?) Xi'an has seen a Daily Bugle headline and assumed that Spider-Man was a criminal (understandable), and that she wouldn't be causing any harm by using him. This is not true, as events prove (you might take issue with it even if she'd been right), but she's under pressure and she's still thinking about the wider consequences of her actions. Plenty of so-called heroes wouldn't bother with that at all.

They team up. This is called Marvel Team-Up for a reason. In the battle, Tran is able to take control of the entire Fantastic Four at once, which is a bit overpowered. It eventually reaches the point where Xi'an has to take Tran out, which she does, regretfully. She feels responsible for what he's done, and decides to atone, taking the name Karma.

The art in this is early Frank Miller, before most of his run on Daredevil. Generally nothing to write home about, but I like the flashback bits, and the motif used behind Shan and Tran when they possess people. This will be adopted by most artists for Shan's mind control, and a variant, with a more socialist feel, appears on the cover of last week's Astonishing X-Men #54.

The second part is a Storm story, and shows the by now infamous early meeting of our Ororo Monroe (her name given like that for I think the first time?), and T'Challa (the Black Panther, the King of Wakanda (a kind of African Switzerland), and an Avenger). The framing event features an Afrikaner sent by Andreas de Ruyter, to kill Storm. She flashbacks to a previous incident: Ororo, then twelve, on her trek to East Africa, comes across a kid - T'Challa obv - about her age being attacked by South Africans, and saves him. During which, she flies for the first time! Back in the present, she visits T'Challa, who is being a superhero in New York because apparently that's what people do when they get superpowers in the Marvel Universe, even if they're kings of compact but rich African nations. I dunno.

Anyway, they team-up in the present, natch, find that the bad guy has transferred his consciousness into a robot, take him down, etc. And then they part. A third person omniscient caption both raises the possibility but then specifically denies that anything further will ever happen between them - like, say, them getting married.

That had been a special, unique moment in both their lives...

...a moment which -- once denied -- can never be truly recaptured.

Both know this. Perhaps that is what makes their parting all the more painful.

Yet... Part they do.

As friends. They may wish for more. But that is what they are, what they will remain. Forever.

This is not going on the chart, because we know we'll be able to make that link anyway later.