Friday, 30 November 2012

Uncanny X-Men #201: Baby X

Uncanny X-Men #201 features a long-brewing fight, that will decide the future of the X-Men. Yes, that's right, Scott and Madelyne are finally going to have it out.

They had a very quick romance (they met in #168 and were married in #173!), and I've never been entirely convinced by Scott's part in this, as I've been pointing out along the way. Not so long ago he was seriously considering going to space with the Starjammers, leaving her on Earth. In this issue, Scott (and the rest of the X-Men) arrive back at the mansion following the trips to Asgard and Paris, to find that Madelyne has given birth. On her own, at Westchester. (I dunno if that works - surely Sharon and Tom were there? Perhaps they've gone back to Muir Island). Madelyne complains that Scott never phoned her from Paris, even though other X-Men did. Little does she know that the man has an almost pathological aversion to telephones, even worse than mine.

There is also the small issue of leadership, which is even more crucial now that Magneto has effectively usurped control of the New Mutants. Storm was made leader by Xavier when Cyclops left. After she lost her powers and went to Africa, Xavier made Nightcrawler field leader. Cyclops now wants back in (despite his wife's position on the matter), and Storm has got back from Africa and reckons she can do it. Neither of these candidates are ideal, but there's no obvious third option: Nightcrawler has no interest in the role - he thinks he didn't go a great job. Wolverine - who we will remember was tapped by Hudson to head up Alpha Flight - still sees himself as a follower. Wolverine reckoned Kitty would be a good leader in the future, but she's still only 15 (we think). Colossus, nope. Banshee is retired. Phoenix is dead. Rogue, even if she were up to it, would be too divisive.

This is the first team they've had a leadership dispute, and rather than having elections, or something, they have a duel. Well, that's how they settle things in the Morlocks, anyway. Admittedly here, the rules aren't "to the death". This is quite short, at 5 pages. Storm wins. Scott goes home with Maddy (assuming she'll take him). And so a new chapter is about to begin, which will last for all of a month.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

New Mutants #35: Radically Different Than The Old Boss

The New Mutants return from Asgard to the school only to find their new headmaster, Magneto, in charge in New Mutants #35. Well, I suppose he must have caught the flight back with them, only to have told them on arrival.

They are suspicious. Well, you would be, wouldn't you? Bobby points out that this isn't really any better than, say, Emma Frost taking over their tuition. And Magneto is really starting to wonder about what he's let himself in for.

Fortunately for him (but less so for Dani), he soon gets the opportunity to prove his worth to his charges. When Dani arrives back having nearly been assaulted (we don't really have to read between the lines to deduce that's it's an attempted rape), Magneto goes looking for the perpetrators, and here demonstrates the difference between him and Xavier.

Professor X would have mindwiped them, or something. Magneto just puts the fear of Magneto into them, and they decide that confessing to the police would be a really good idea.

This is some good character development: Magneto is protective of the children, which is entirely in line with his revelation in #150, but useless at management or leadership skills (he's been a solo villain since the break-up of the original Brotherhood in the 1960s, and he was a fairly imperious and ineffective leader of that). Here, he learns that he needs to be loyal for the kids for them to be loyal to him - an important step forward, which combined with his missing of Lee make him appear to be an actual rounded person. Please don't screw this up, Magnus. But I question the point of having a story with an attempted rape and then somehow making it all about a man. Can we not find something less gratuitous?

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Uncanny X-Men #200: "The Trial of Magneto"

So. Trial of the century. It's all going on in our special double-sized celebratory issue of Uncanny X-Men #200.

Magneto is to be tried by an ad-hoc international criminal court akin to the Nuremburg trials. (I suppose the United States wasn't willing to hand him over directly the Soviet Union? Sadly, the claim that it is the first court of its kind would no longer hold up, because it has been necessary to set up special ad hoc international criminal tribunals for Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and eventually a standing International Criminal Court was established. Americans: you really should get around to joining that one of these years, it's making you look ridiculous.)

Our impromptu tribunal is in Paris, rather than the Hague, presumably as reference images of the City of Light are a tad easier to come by.

For the prosecution, we have Sir James Jaspers, Attorney General of England and Wales. This is slightly weird - Attorney General doesn't have the same hands-on role in prosecutions as they do in the United States (that department is headed by the Director of Public Prosecutions), but it's at least true that he represents the British government at the ICJ, so we'll give it a pass.

More worrying is Magneto's defence team, which is the Ambassador of Israel to the United Kingdom, Gaby Haller, and Charles Xavier. Now, let's accept that Haller and Xavier have perfectly good in-story reasons for supporting Magneto right now. Nonetheless, what on Earth are they thinking. Were they not able to find an actual legal team? Does Xavier really want to be known in public not only as a "mutant-lover", but also as an actual Magneto apologist?

And worse than that: what is the Israeli government thinking? Is Haller acting in an official capacity? If they wanted to do an Israel-offers-mutants-asylum storyline, that would be pretty interesting, but that's really not what's going on, and instead it seems like Haller is going rogue. She gotta end up being sacked as a result of this, right?

To the the trial itself. Our first bit of business is the stuff prior to X-Men #104. The defence argues that that was a different Magneto, and that the current one can only be held responsible for actions after he has been restored to adulthood. Which might be true, but the court just accepts this assertion without questioning how it can be proven. The defence asserts that it's an established fact that Magneto went to Auschwitz, must therefore be in his 60s, and has clearly been de-aged since, and this all means he shouldn't be put on trial for stuff before he got turned into a baby. No evidence is presented of this remarkable claim. I don't know how this works - maybe they got Johnnie Cochran to give them pre-trial coaching? - but it does, and so the trial is confined mostly to the destruction of the Soviet ship Leningrad and the city of Varykino.

Magneto gladly 'fesses up to both of these, but doesn't see the problem. The Leningrad had just tried to nuke him, after all, and he destroyed the city in a relatively nice way.

Meanwhile, back at the mansion, tumbleweed sits down and starts singing about gold.

The X-Men and New Mutants are in Paris for this excitement, having been 'ported there by Loki following the shenanigans of New Mutants Special Edition #1/X-Men Annual #8. There are anti-mutant demonstrations and, very worryingly, someone is framing the X-Men for a series of terrorist attacks. But there's hope, too: the largest demonstration Paris has ever seen, in some kind of solidarity with our mutants. Maybe some of them say "Magneto avait raison"?

During all this, Xavier has been getting weaker and weaker. He's totally unprepared for the moment when the Strucker twins - the ones who had gone after Storm in Africa arrive, and become Fenris by touching their skin together. They are the children of the Strucker seen in the flashback in #162, and they want their revenge. There is fighting. Magneto stops Jaspers from killing one of the Struckers after they've been separated, which gets him points with the judge. More scuffling, and Xavier is injured beyond any normal human healing, but is fished out by the Starjammers using a stargate, for Sirpinksi to heal. Xavier's parting wish is for Magneto to take over the school and the X-Men, although he doesn't do so within earshot of anyone other than Magneto himself, which will lead to complications.

The trial is left in ruins. The defendant absconds, although since he's very shortly to be found at his defence attorney's country mansion running his school for gifted youngsters, it should hardly be a problem to track him down. And maybe he was about to be acquitted anyway?

And that's the first two hundred issues of X-Men. There have been line-up changes, there have been fake-outs. But never before has it done anything like this - sending Xavier away and having their former archenemy in charge. This is gonna be fun.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

New Mutants Special Edition #1/X-Men Annual #9: For Asgard!

I'd known that the New Mutants share some vague sort of link with Asgardian stuff for a while - Dani goes and asks for that boon in Utopia if nothing else. And then of course Exiled happened. But it was always a bit obscure. Those stories were rather taking the relationship as read, but it wasn't the type of character background you can absorb through osmosis. Dani has Valkyrie powers and a horse, yes, but the effect that has on her character is not something that can be easily expressed in a one-sentence potted summary. It's an complex event that happened to her, and it's I suppose the same problem that legacy characters have. Mind, it's a sorry state of affairs when having complex chararacter motivations and background is a problem.

So, New Mutants Special Edition #1 and X-Men Annual #9 - which together consist of over 100 pages of comics - gave me my answer, and I feel better for having read them, in much the same way as I have a fuller understanding of Magik from reading Magik: Storm and Illyana.

There's too much plot to summarise sensibly, especially as the nine New Mutants are spread throughout the Nine Worlds (although seemingly not one per world - I think they missed a trick there). Consequences that matter are: Dani is a Valkyrie, with a pegasus, but doesn't understand the full implications of that yet. Karma loses weight. Rahne makes a friend, in Hrimhari, a more mythological wolf shapeshifter. And Rachel Summers new identity of "Phoenix" becomes known to the group, although she still hasn't told Scott who she is yet. He thinks it's a bit tasteless, which is a fair point. And Loki's plan, to make Storm a new thunder goddess and take control of Asgard, fails, as it must.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Uncanny X-Men #199: The Writing on the Wall

Mystique can see the writing on the wall: it reads "MUTIES". She's gone to Val Cooper and given herself and her Brotherhood up. See, I'd read a summary of Uncanny X-Men #199, but summaries are only good at saying what happened. They're no good at pointing out what doesn't happen.

In this issue, what doesn't happen is that Mystique blows her cover identity - Raven Darkholme, assisant to Val Cooper. The incident is therefore much easier to read as Mystique being typically tricksy, and much less a shocking moment for her character than I had thought it would be. Having said that, the idea of Mystique-as-betrayer doesn't really exist yet, does it? She's just a perfectly ordinary evil shapeshifter, not a perfidious one.

Val Cooper agrees for an amnesty for Mystique's team - to be renamed "Freedom Force" - if they are able to bring in the Mutant Enemy No. 1: Joss Whedon. Er, no, I mean, Magneto.

Magneto, Lee Forrester and Kitty Pryde are at a holocaust event in New York. Kitty's great-aunt died in it, and Magneto himself, as we've discussed, is a survivor. Kitty wonders aloud about her great-aunt, and it just so happens that another set of Holocaust survivors attending had heard of her. Someone also recognises Magneto, and therefore presumably know his real name, or at least the one he was using in the 1940s, but at no point refer to him by it. Coincidence is just how superhero comics work, but I think it's worth a special mention here: this is woeful plotting for something which is trying to make a point out of how large in scale the Holocaust was.

So, while they're there, who should arrive on the scene but Freedom Force! Or rather, Lee Forrester reveals herself to be Mystique really. It's not entirely obvious when the switch was made: but it seems likely Mystique has been delaying the confrontation specifically to do it in the Holocaust museum, so that she can score some extra points.

There's a little bit of fighting (during which Pyro calls someone "cobber" - so he's Australian now, or possibly just Claremont doesn't clearly distinguish different types of Commonwealth slang), and ultimately Magneto realises he can't win and more to the point, shouldn't. He gracefully gives himself up for trial.

While this is all happening, Rachel Summers is visiting the Greys in Annandale-on-Hudson (well, creepily trespassing in their house, anyway). She finds the memory crystal thing that had been left there in #136, and laments the fact that she'll never exist in this universe. Scott is about to has a child, certainly, but with Madelyne Pryor, and not her mother.

Oh, and she declares herself to be Phoenix, and makes herself a new costume. This will be awkward to explain to Scott, who still isn't aware of her connection with the Greys, and with him. There's something about Scott Summers and people not wanting to admit to his face about being his relative.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

New Mutants #29-#34: Bad Karma

The next run of issues in New Mutants is the first to be seriously derailed by a crossover. I'm going to try to ignore the existence of Secret Wars II and the Beyonder, and focus on the latter pair of issues.

In #29, Bobby and Amara are kidnapped by the Gladiators, a kind of evil. Sam and Illyana team up with Lila Cheney and Dazzler to rescue them. In #30 they are joined by Rachel and Kitty. In #31 it is revealed who the mastermind behind all this is: Xi'an - it looks like her uncle took her up on that promise. She flees.

In #4, the New Mutants proper (Dani, now going by "Mirage"; Sam, Bobby, Amara, Rahne, Illyana and Doug and Warlock - minus Rachel and Kitty) track Karma down in Madripoor (making its first appearance here). If Madripoor is Mos Eisley, it has to be said that Karma now bears a striking resemblance to Jabba the Hutt. The attack does not go well, and Karma takes slaves. Dani and Illyana prove resistant to mind control and follow her to Cairo, while Warlock tracks down Storm and gets her to meet them there.

We discover that something evil is possessing Karma - although it is not yet named as the Shadow King, it is the same thing possessing Amahl Farouk that Xavier found in Cairo in the flashback for #117 (when he met Storm for the first time). Illyana is eventually able to break the psychic control by sending everyone to Limbo, while Warlock provides a distraction by pretending to be her. A liberated Karma herself banishes the force.

I find this a bit of a let-down, as it seems rather a mundane possession story. I was hoping for emotional pay-off of the deal between her and her uncle, but that was just teased and then seemingly forgotten about. Maybe to be revisited at a later date?

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Uncanny X-Men #197-#198: Lifedeath 2

I've been disregarding the Storm bits of the last few issues, which is good, because now it means I totally ignore the A-plot of #197 (Arcade) and talk about her instead, although not before saying that Colossus has noticed Kitty is being written older, too.

Storm, as we know, has been depowered by Forge's gun, and after a brief spell leading the X-Men anyway, has left New York to go back to her teenage stomping ground in Kenya. She rescued someone from the Struckers (their first appearance), got shot by them and was left to die. We don't know who they are but they appear to be South African racists (they're calling people "kaffir", you see, just like we saw the confirmed South African racist call people in Marvel Team-Up #100). In #197 we find her recovering from that, and #198 focuses on her adventures in Kenya. This issue is drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith (who also drew #186, "Lifedeath", and also way back in 1969, issue #53 with Blastaar).

Storm finds a young pregnant woman, Shani, the sole survivor of a bus accident, and helps her back to her village, and then aids in the birth. This ability to help someone, despite her powerless, proves a turning point for Storm - her descent started with rejection of life (even if it was evil alien implanted life) in that second Brood arc, and now her ascent starts with bringing new life into the world. Nicely done.

This is yet another issue with no actual punching in it. Storm's story will continue in a more traditional style in New Mutants.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Uncanny X-Men #196: Welcome to the X-Men, Magneto

Some things happened in Secret Wars II 1, but I'm not going to read that miniseries, because it can't get any better than Luke Cage misunderstanding monetary theory and the Beyonder turning a building into gold (as my favourite comment on that post points out, he's not called BUYING POWER MAN).

So, let's look at our tie-in issue in isolation. Uncanny X-Men #196 starts with Dr Xavier (hrm, had it actually been confirmed he had a PhD beforehand?) lecturing at Columbia University, and getting the impression there's someone in this room who is intent on murder. Who, exactly, he doesn't know, because since he was mugged he's been taking telepathic-suppressant drugs (which he is, incidentally, lying about). He brings the X-Men to him (and Magneto and Lee), and asks them to go check on the various students.

Anti-mutant prejudice has reached the status of a moral panic. Our bad guys are turning on Kitty Pryde and declaring her to be a mutant just for being a student at the School (I guess the secret of what "gifted youngsters" is a euphemism for is out, then). Kitty loses the moral high ground by comparing mutie with her favourite shocking word, to someone's face, before then getting chloroformed, in the face. We then discover that the murder that the students were planning was... of Xavier! They've left a kind of mindbomb, which Xavier doesn't trigger on account of his drugs, but Rachel does.

That sends Rachel raging, and showing her hound-face to the other X-Men. She's ready enough to kill Phil and his gang, but Magneto, of all people, talks her out of it. Magneto's development here is rather sudden. Is this still all building out of the moment in #150 with Kitty, or is there other stuff that we're not privy to? I suppose the Lee Forrester stuff was working toward this.

Meanwhile, Nightcrawler is visiting Father Bowen, Marvel New York's go-to guy if you need a Catholic priest. He's Tandy's uncle (I think what's happened here is that Claremont has noticed there are two characters with the surname Bowen and then decided they should be related?), aided Karma and her siblings, and now now makes his first appearance in Uncanny, and now helps Nightcrawler deal with a crisis of faith. Kurt has been a believer ever since that Brood arc, and here we see what that actually means for him in a world of marvels and miracles. Is there a room for the Christian god when your team is on first-name terms with Thor?

It's been a while. Have a chart. This is an important one, as it marks the first interlinking of two previously separate groups.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Uncanny X-Men #195/Power Pack #12: Power Pack

Uncanny X-Men #195 is a cross-over with Power Pack #12. Power Pack are a relatively recent creation (1984), and are a bunch of pre-teen siblings (the Powers) who get superpowers from a space horse (but not the same type of space horse as Beta Ray Bill) and have adventures.

#195 starts with the Power children finding their parents have forgotten them. This is part of a sinister plan by the Morlock Annalee to abduct them, with the aid of Masque (who has reshaped their faces), and Beautiful Dreamer (who has the ability to alter memories), and presumably Sunder (who has the power to steal furniture). Katie Power - the youngest - avoids being captured by the Morlocks.

So, this is another Morlocks stealing people story. So far they have tried to steal Kitty Pryde, Angel, Kitty Pryde (again) and now Katie Power. Their existence was problematic at best already (as no realistic effort has been made to extend a hand to them by the heroic characters), and now they seem to be acting as stand-ins in unsavoury tales about gypsies. We have privilege hierarchy here: the respectable heroes (the Avengers as typified by Captain America), looking down at the X-Men, who themselves look down on the Morlocks. Callisto has some sense (I suppose she knows she'll get it in the chest if this continues), and puts a stop to it, so that's all sorted. I count at least 40 Morlocks on the front row of that crowd, by the way. There must be hundreds of them.

Our X-Men in this issue are Wolverine, Rachel, Rogue and Shadowcat, which is oddly enough (bar a couple of members of the O5 and Gambit, who doesn't exist yet) the initial core staff of the Jean Grey School. Nightcrawler is off having a solo series. Wolverine makes the decision to place Shadowcat in charge, which is a bit curious. On the one hand, he's clearly not ready for leadership, and doesn't really want people to rely on him. But his ability to do this will means he sees himself as a king-maker. She manages it well, though, and I'd say she's being written as a competent 17 or 18 year old (#196 will say she's 15). That trip to Japan sure aged her!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Uncanny X-Men #194: Nimrod vs Juggernaut

Uncanny X-Men #194 features the X-Men in one of those days where they probably just should have stayed in bed. The news is reporting the re-appearance of Juggernaut in New York City, and our team of mutants grudgingly realise they should probably do something about that.

Last time they met him in the pages of Uncanny, he was keeping to himself and the X-Men made a fight happen that wouldn't have any way. So this time they take the smart approach of not going in all powers flaring, and instead just sending Kitty and Rachel to spy on him. (Xavier might have been helpful, but he's off in Scotland dealing with Legion).

Nimrod has no such compunction. (Nimrod, by the way, is a sentinel from Rachel's future that's been dragged to the present by her timestorm. It rescued a guy in #190 and has become his lodger. The Terminator came out in 1984, by the way.) Nimrod attacks Juggernaut, and the X-Men, and there is an unfortunate battle in which it seems the X-Men and the Juggernaut are on the same side - an impression only emphasises by their decision to let him escape, under truce, at the end. They probably wouldn't have done that if they'd seen the cameras, but too late. After #193 they were wanted fugitives, and this does them no favours at all. By the end of the issue, even the Russians have found out about Nimrod (I don't know how his name got out - did Nimrod start giving press conferences or something?)

Maybe just going into hiding wouldn't be such a bad idea...

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

New Mutants #26-#28: Xavier's Shame

New Mutants #26 starts on Muir Isle, where Tom Corsi and Sharon Friedlander (our cop and nurse who had their bodies changed in #20) are training. Well, Tom is training - Sharon is standing around in a pullover. He's found out that he has superhuman strength, which isn't much of a consolation for being unable to show your face to your family ever again. Things start flying everywhere. David is having a fit.

Who's David? He's been mentioned before, and a facsimile note of Moira's at the end of #25 gave the full details. He's Charles Xavier's son, by Gabrielle Haller, who was mentioned in #1. Moira has been looking after him. Recently, he has developed scary psionic abilities that he can't control, and although she agreed with Gabrielle to keep things quiet, she's left with no choice but to ask Charles for help.

Xavier, Moira, Gaby and the New Mutants (really, there's no need for the New Mutants to actually have come, but it's their book still, technically) go to Scotland, and check things out. This is a homecoming for Rahne, and she bumps into Reverend Craig, who curtly dismisses her. Later, Moira makes a clumsy attempt at bonding with Rahne, who manages to call her "Mum". In X-Factor spotting, Jamie Madrox makes his first appearance since Uncanny #129 here.

The book addresses the ethics of Charles's relationship with Gaby before he's presented with incontrovertible evidence in the form of David's paternity. This is good. He unconditionally apologises, saying it was "criminal". Which is not an exaggeration. She brushes it off, of course, the story isn't about that, and this is about the minimum effort it has to put into addressing it without pretending it was acceptable. Still, why even bother doing this, if the intent isn't to portray as Xavier as a severely unethical problem. His bastard son doesn't have to be by a former patient, and we could write off #161 as a cheese dream.

So, the story eventually delves into David's mind. Charles and Dani enter his dreamscape, to see what's going on there. Sienkiewicz's art is perfect for this, just as it was for the "Demon Bear" arc, and Warlock. What they discover is that he has multiple personalities, each with their own different powers, since a traumatic experience with a character sensitively referred to here as "the Arab" (in fairness, this is a plot point). This is called schizophrenia by the text which I could rant about, but even in 2012 storytellers don't seem to understand the difference. I blame the etymology mostly. Apart from the terminology and mental health fail, this is quite a novel idea, I don't think it had been done to this extent before. The resolution: that the Jemail was trying to fix things all along, and is finally allowed to, is a good one. He doesn't manage to reintegrate all the personalities, of course, which'll provide no end of hooks for terribly repetitive stories about a chap whose (a trend, I am happy to say, that Si Spurrier and Tan Eng Huat's X-Men: Legacy shows every indication of avoiding.)

Of course, this isn't allowed to be self-contained. In a cutaway to the the Massachusetts Academy, Emma is pissed with Empath for messing around in #193, and possibly ruining her manipulation of Firestar. We get the idea that Emma Frost is old colonial aristocracy for the first time. Meanwhile, Magneto and Lee Forrester kiss, apparently get added to the chart, and Magneto explains about Magda to her. This is an expansion from what we learned back in Avengers #186 - there's mention of saving them from secret police, but not, you will note, anything about Anya, as she hadn't been invented yet. If she had been, it would have been a very good time for Claremont to mention her, what with Charles's son being in the issue.

The episode of Star Trek referred to in #29 is "The Managerie", if you're wondering.

Thought Bubble and posting frequency

I got back from Thought Bubble today. I thought I'd been to comic conventions before now. I was wrong: I had been to media events with a bit of comics. Their publicity calls it a "celebration of sequential art in all its forms", and I can't put it any better than that. That's not just a slogan: it's true. Something very special happened on that cold November weekend in Leeds.

I was very nervous about the whole thing, and got cold feet last week (partly about my health), and seriously considered cancelling. This would have been one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I was introduced to so many people there's no way I'm going to recall all their names. And people who'd met me before - from other conventions - remembered me! I'm still confused when this happens, as if I think I'm invisible or nondescript or something. I went to panels with proper advice about writing, I chatted, and I saw what people were doing. And I saw what people weren't doing. At the afterparty someone asked me directly: do I have something to say? And it came to me: I do, and my worries have largely been about technical proficiency. And that universal exhortation of "write!" indicates, isn't it better to say it badly than to leave it unsaid?

So, I'm going to see about writing comics rather than writing about comics. I was working on a storyline for the continuation of one idea in the bar (that's for an idea I'd already got an issue of written, and people - admittedly my friends - have laughed at it), and fixed the problems in another on the train home. There are others I haven't even got to yet. I still have no idea about how to find collaborators for the small detail of artwork †, but I can see that developing strong ideas and scripts will probably help with that. And having made a few contacts can't have hurt.

I don't think me continue to post daily here is sustainable. It was really good to get back into the habit of writing things that weren't code or documentation, but it look a large chunk of my free time, and I'm in any case worried that if I continue like at this rate then I'll running out of things to say about Claremont's run (although I've got some corkers lined up). I'm queued up to the Mutant Massacre at the moment (bar one post about New Mutants #44 which I'd been avoiding but am now greatly looking forward to writing, having had the benefit of reading Si Spurrier and Tan Eng Huat's X-Men Legacy in the interim). It'd be too much fiddling to change the post schedule for all of them, but after then I'm going to drop to weekly.

† By which I mean I have no idea how I am going to go get the nerve to go up to someone and say HI YOUR ART IS GOOD LET'S TALK ABOUT MY IDEAS, rather than that I don't understand the basic mechanics of it.

Monday, 19 November 2012

X-Men & Alpha Flight: A Bit More Complicated Than That

X-Men/Alpha Flight is a two-part limited series by Claremont, with Paul Smith returning briefly. It is about unintended consequences, and wears its influence proudly on its sleeve: a character talks about the book The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin.

In that book, a man, George Orr, has "effective" dreams, which can change the world. To begin with, little things happen. He imagines the wall decoration of his psyschiatrist, Haber, is different, and it becomes so. Haber becoms aware of the power, and directs Orr on a series of dreams to eliminate the world's problems. These wishes are seemingly fulfilled by a Literal Genie. He eradicates racism by everyone becoming a monocultural grey; overpopulation by a plague; and causes peace on Earth by an alien invasion. The original timeline is thought to have had a nuclear war. Better George Orr than that, though.

X-Men/Alpha Flight covers similar ground. A geological research expedition has chartered a plane, piloted by our Madelyne Pryor and her husband Scott Summers. It falls into a situation set up by Loki, who is trying to curry with Those Who Sit Above In Shadow, which are some kind of metagods. Loki has set up a sweet fountain from which the unpowered people get powers (Maddy becomes a healer named Anodyne; Cornucopia can provide for their material needs and so on). Anodyne fixes various Alpha Flighters and X-Men of their problems - Rogue and Scott gain control over their abilities, Aurora becomes more stable, and Wolverine becomes a man. (Happily, this does not seem to include whatever is troubling Northstar - that's society's problem, not his.)

They are initially quite taken by the idea of fixing all the world's ills through powers (partly direct - but also the notion of forcing everyone to have powers will remove their prejudice), and don't wholly reject it when part of the price - the death of magic - is made clear to them, despite the chance it will lead to the passing of Michael and Elizabeth Twoyoungmen (Shaman and Talisman). But they've obviously not been keeping up on their Alan Moore, otherwise they'd have remembered that art is magic. Faced with a world without creativity, they don't see that there's much of a choice, and spurn the "gift", enraging Loki, and causing him to vow his revenge upon the X-Men.

I did this series now as this is when the Chronology Project reckons it happens, but in fact, it was published a bit later. This is unfortunately timed, as Scott will go from learning the news about the pregnancy (in December 1985) to abandoning his wife and child for his dead girlfriend two months later (in February 1986). Still, despite the oncoming tragedy, there are good moments for Scott in this with Rachel, who is still slowly coming to terms with being in the wrong past. She doesn't quite acknowledge Scott is her father, but it seems he knows it anyway. Let's see how long they milk that one for.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Uncanny X-Men #192-#193: If You Tolerate This, Then Your Children Will Be X

Things have got very dark, very quickly.

Uncanny X-Men #192 follows two strands. Some of our X-Men wait for Kitty and Wolverine at the airport, where Xavier and Rachel survey passing thoughts and are shocked at the extent of anti-mutant prejudice which has erupted recently. Meanwhile, the others fight Warlock's father, Magus, at the mansion, and drive him off (again, if you hadn't been following New Mutants this would be very opaque).

Several months later, Xavier is finished with today's lecture at Columbia, musing to himself how he's enjoying his new part-time job. As he is presented with a good-will card, he is beaten to a bloody pulp - as a "mutant lover" - by some of his students, no less. Callisto saves him, outfits him in bondage gear, and spirits him away through the underground tunnels that we learn spread even to Westchester.

There, they find a ransom demand from James Proudstar, younger brother of the deceased X-Man John Proudstar, a Hellion and calling himself Thunderbird. He's taken Banshee captive, and hidden him somewhere bitterly ironic: Cheyenne Mountain, the place that John died. He blames the X-Men, and in particular Xavier, reasoning that Xavier must have been using mind control to get James to die. He's unaware that Xavier simply used cheap reverse psychology.

The X-Men are faced with a dilemma, in the truest sense of the word. James has set them up. They can rescue Banshee and render themselves outlaws, or let him die. Wolverine doesn't think they've got much choice, but he lays it out clearly for them. What they probably should have done (as I pointed out for #158) is have a deniable dirty ops squad that wears different costumes, but that'll have to wait a while.

The raid goes badly. Thunderbird has been trailed by three of his classmates from the massachusetts Academy: Empath (Manuel), Roulette (Jenny), and new girl Angelica Jones/Firestar (originally invented for the TV show Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends, being brought into the comics for the first time here), who cause all sorts of confusion. Also, they'd hoped to be able to use Rachel to track, but she's having flashforwards to her days as a hound (and also, to how she got taken back in time in the first place - Kate triggering a post-hypnotic suggestion when all was lost on a mission). Instead, this is Kitty's job, and she gets him to safety. But much of the rest of the team is left in there, and Thunderbird has gone after Xavier.

This is Nightcrawler's first real mission as field leader (Storm has gone on a second attempt to go back to Africa, again by ship. Maybe she's developed a thing about flying now she's depowered), and in the true tradition of X-Men leadership skills, angsts about botching it.

Ultimately Thunderbird can't make that killing blow, and matters are patched up. But he's done his real damage: the X-Men are now clearly implicated in an attack on NORAD. And remember, the government knows where they live. The Hellions are evacuated back to the mansion, and are offered places at the Academy, but decline. The X-Men agree to let them leave, which is a bit curious when you consider Emma Frost's previously established recruitment tactics, but hey, I guess they've got some considerably bigger fish. The X-Men certainly seem to have abandoned the strategy of pre-emptively visiting every new mutant they find on Cerebro. Apart from the Hellions there are also the Morlocks, so perhaps sometime since the #120s (when they went after Kitty and Dazzler) mutants have become common enough that this is impractical? Which would also tie in nicely to the increased mutaphobia.

On the other hand, the Hellfire Club are involved in a naked power play at this point. They want control, not material social change for mutants in general - and they "pass" as human and know their money will protect them if they can't. So - a rich elite throwing a minority (which they are a part of) under the bus to gain power! Pretty cutting stuff. May as well make the senator be called Larry Craig and be done with it.

That dystopia that Rachel comes from is not just something that might happen in the future. It is happening, now.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Uncanny X-Men #190-#191: X-Manhattan

Uncanny X-Men #190 is another fantastically weird one.

New York has gone a bit odd. Specifically, it has been turned into a giant Ren Fayre, by the wizard Kulan Gath (who escaped from a piece of jewellery in #189), with the Morlocks as minions. Buildings, people. Outside, in DC, they're having a crisis meeting about this, as people in DC tend to do. Val Cooper is forced to put her faith in those people in brightly coloured costumes and capes.

But the heroes are affected, too. Well, most of them. Not Spider-Man, and not Warlock (making his first appearance in Uncanny only a few months after being introduced in New Mutants). Storm and Callisto are able to escape to New Jersey (not a phrase anyone uses much), and are contacted there by Selene, who has hijacked Rachel's powers, and wants to stop this madness as much as anyone else.

Together, those that remember anything persuade those that don't that Kulan Gath needs overthrowing, while they remain suspicious of Selene's motivations. And so the X-Men are included in that rallying call: "AVENGERS ASSEMBLE", and help defeat the evil wizard.

It's just the X-Men's luck that they were an essential part of the solution which winds back time so that none of this ever happened, and nobody remembers it. Not even Val Cooper, who was looking like she might be turnable. Captain America is going to remember it, though. Shouldn't he be doing something against this anti-mutant hysteria that's being whipped up? Mutants must lead the struggle, but they need allies, especially when they are in such urgent danger. Topical!

Friday, 16 November 2012

New Mutants #23-#25: Cloak and Dagger

I'm off to Thought Bubble in Leeds today, assuming I feel up to it. If you see me say hello. I'm the one with the geeky t-shirts and the dyed hair.
New Mutants #23 follows up from Selene in Uncanny #189 - she gets ratified as Black Queen. Also, Emmanuel de Costa is confirmed.

In Westchester, Bobby is moping in a saloon that he shouldn't even be in (possibly he's mad about Amara and Rachel going on a date), and reacts very badly at Peter trying to talk to him. Peter ends up in a coma. Elsewhere, Rahne has gone missing. Dani and Sam track her to a hotel room in the city, with no memory of how she got there.

What we have here is a crossover with Cloak and Dagger (who are "between series" right now, as they put it in the trade), and more specifically the aftermath of Marvel Team-Up #6, which I have failed to get hold of a copy of. Bobby and Rahne are acting weird from the after-effects of that. Various attempts fail, including an informal first try by Illyana to fix it, but after some planning, she is able to successfully exorcise the wrongness. The fairly unsubtle drugs-are-bad-mkay message is leavened with the notion that black magic can save you from them, which is fantastic trollery.

There's a short re-appearance of Karma's younger siblings, seen here for the first time in New Mutants, and still under the care of Father Bowen.

Meanwhile, in the Bermuda triangle, Lee takes Magneto to his old island base, our Proto-Utopia. They start to explore it. Lee doesn't think he's been seen since #150 (which marks against God Love Man Kills being in continuity, because he made a pretty noticeable appearance on live television at that point). Lee calls him on his ungratefulness, and after some consideration, he very nearly apologises. Meanwhile, Lee reckons the people who built the strange sunken city full of fish-people statutes and non-Euclidian geometric horrors might not be even human. On that, all I can say is that I'm certainly going to continue to enjoy Bill Sienkiewicz.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

New Mutants #22/Uncanny X-Men #189: Young Females Desire Simply Revenge. Failing That, Amusement.

I remember reading Uncanny X-Men #189 before. It actually makes sense this time, particularly in the context of New Mutants #22. At this stage, the interlinkings between the two have become so close that reading just Uncanny makes no sense. In fairness, it does have captions to explain the characters it needs here, so one can get the sense of it, but it didn't have any emotional resonance for me the first time.

A team-up story with Amara and Rachel, and the X-Men only the background is a pretty radical thing to be trying at this stage. Claremont is nine years into his run, and he's still shaking things up. New Mutants has become the home of the more trad stuff, and meanwhile every issue of Uncanny since Scott left has been off-format in some respect.

At the mansion, everyone is quiet and training. Rahne is trapped in her perpetual self-loathing interspersed with moments of loathing other people. Nightcrawler is her target here, and he sadly doesn't try and talk to her in terms she might understand. Moira and the Professor, who might be able to help, are busy trying to figure out how Warlock works.

Cutting away, Selene arrives in New York city, and finds her local High Priest, Friedrich von Roehm (is she supposed to be an actual Olympian at this point or is there another Selene wandering around the Marvel universe?), who suggests she join the Hellfire Club's, and presents her as a candidate.

Going on to the issue of Uncanny, Rachel and Amara - two fish-out-of-water - have a date in New York City. Rachel is from the future, and recently in #188 found out that her mother is dead, which means she's not going to exist in this timeline. Amara is from some colony of the Roman Republic that was set up 2000 years ago, during Julius Caesar's time.

The issue contains large swathes of Rachel's future dystopia, and one can't help but shudder at the panel where she remembers seeing the Twin Towers fall. But more personally moving is her experiences as a hound, seeking mutants, and the tale of how the mansion fell (flashbacked from New Mutants #18). They watch in the distance the boat that Storm is about to leave for Africa on.

Rachel takes them to the MoMA where the architecture reminds Amara of home. As they bond, they detect Selene (who Rachel notes they both faced as an enemy. Amara reacts almost violently against this intrusion into her thoughts (something that she was also very firm on with Xavier), and Rachel apologises.

They agree to follow Selene and take revenge, and track her to the Hellfire Club, where (as shown in New Mutants recently), she's being put forward as the new Black Queen - or rather, more or less blackmailing them. Rachel and Amara infiltrate the place with fishnets and maid outfits, get captured, and have expository flashbacks.

Never fear, Nightcrawler is here to save the day, along with Colossus. Shaw suggests a truce - Rachel and Amara had started it, after all - and they accept. Rachel uses Phoenix's old trick of molecularly manipulating their clothes back into street clothes, and they're away. From Selene's point of view the events here appear to take place between New Mutants #22 and #23, but the ending doesn't quite match up. The internet would be very upset.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Uncanny X-Men #186-#188: Life, Death and Dire Wraiths

This story - Uncanny X-Men #186-#188 is the one I bounced off, this first time I started reading X-Men-from-the-start (or rather, from 1975). I'm not sure why. I think it might be Windsor-Smith's art not being especially well-served by the reduction to monochrome for the Essential collections?

Storm has been depowered by Forge's depowernating gun, after the government sent a team to go after Rogue, who is highly wanted after having busted out Michael Rossi from a SHIELD prison (when she was temporarily under the delusion that she was Carol Danvers). Glad that's cleared up.

Forge is feeling very guilty, and offers Storm a place to recuperate, and creeps on her. Then they are attacked by aliens from Rom and my already low level of interest in this story decreased further. Apparently they get added to the Chart.

If we mostly skip past the aliens, to page 19 of #187, we see Colossus and Rogue arrive to Storm and Forge's aid, having had a "talk" with Val Cooper (we know what). There's some more fighting, and in #188 more X-Men arrive: Nightcrawler brings Amanda Sefton to help, and Illyana comes along with her soulsword at Xavier's request (and so Colossus finds out she's a sorceress - he doesn't give a bean, of course - he just loves his snowflake.) Wolverine isn't present, because he's busy doing something else. (Something that hasn't happened in the last ten years.)

Back at the mansion, Nightcrawler and Storm are flirting pretty heavily. I think we get the first mention that Nightcrawler is furry (although I wouldn't swear to it). Come team meeting time, Nightcrawler is really upset at what's been done to Storm, at everyone who has died in the X-Men's cause, and for what? The Mutant Affairs Control Act? While listing the names of the dead, he of course includes Jean. Which Rachel flips out about. See, Jean is her mother. And anyway, hadn't she spoken to her on the phone in #185?

And in a two-for-one blast-from-the-past offer, Lee Forrester is sailing near Bermuda and rescues Magneto from drowning. He'd dropped from the sky after his near-encounter with Warlock in New Mutants #21, which isn't so much as footnoted. First time we've seen Magneto in Uncanny since #150, although he popped up in God Loves Man Kills and is currently still appearing in Secret Wars.

I realise not caring about Lifedeath is not a popular opinion, but I really don't like what they're doing here with Storm. There's a reason why the refrigerator list had to be written, and this was some of it.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Kitty Pryde & Wolverine #1-#6: Phase Change

Kitty Pryde & Wolverine is an excellent little series, and it's a mild outrage that it is not more easily available (there was one hardback collected edition in 2008, which is now out of print, so I had to get hold of actual issues of it to read). Sadly, due to the long lead times, no letters pages.

It is by Chris Claremont (who else), with Al Milgrom on art.

I particularly like the first cover.

It not only represents Kitty's phasing power (she can walk through walls, don't you know), but also her adventure from suburban Chicago (well, Deerfield), to Tokyo. And check out that curvature of the road/path. Clever. It continues to use the element of a vertical line in the covers throughout the series, although to less good effect after #2 or #3.

So anyway, this is but our third visit to the "Wolverine's adventures in Japan" story-well, after the miniseries and the follow-up in Uncanny from #172 (well, excluding the brief trips in #119 and #181), and the best yet. It presents a somewhat less Orientialist view of Japan than those. This is the Japan of salarymen and shinkansen.

Kitty Pryde provides our in. She's in Chicago, having left the X-Men in #183 after Colossus dumped her. For her the saying that you can't go home again is literal - her parents have divorced in the interim (Is she the first superhero with divorced parents?)

Having run away to Chicago, she then runs away to Tokyo, on the trail of Yakuza bosses who are threatening her dad, Carmen. She finds herself well out of her depth, and is handed over by Shigematsu-san, to Ogun, a demonic ninja type, who uses his mind-control powers to brainwash her. But, before she'd been captured, she'd managed a phone call to Westchester, so Wolverine is on the way.

Wolverine (or "Mr. Logan" as he is called by the person at immigration who had seen his passport) catches up with Yukio (and very definitely adds a link to the Shag Chart - on a roof, even! We probably should have added this earlier, but who is keeping score?), and outlines the problem. He makes arrangements to pick Kitty up, but instead meets an ambush by Ogun-as-Kitty herself, who he eventually recognises the smell of. After some fighting Yukio rescues Logan, Kitty and Carmen, and they recuperate at a house owned by Mariko.

Kitty is sent home to New York, but doesn't make her flight, and instead returns to Tokyo to take revenge. She's grown up now, and discards the names Ariel and Sprite and Kitten, declaring that she's a Cat now, and rather prefers the shadows anyway.

She works her way up the foodchain, and eventually confronts Ogun, who she realises will be taking all this out on Mariko, Wolverine's former fiancee (and now foster-mother of Wolverine's foster-daughter Amiko from #181). But - thankfully - she can't make that killing blow. Wolverine takes it upon himself to the deed, to protect her. He is the best at what he does, after all.

The series manages a massive maturity upgrade for Kitty - from Ariel to Shadowcat, but the real loss-of-innocence moment is not that - or the mind control by Ogun. Instead, it's the realisation that her father was no innocent victim, but an exemplar of the principle that you cannot con an honest man.
Carmen is up to his neck in it. He eventually hands himself over to the authorities at the end, mind.

Wolverine, too, grows. He has responsibilities as a father figure for Kitty - this is arguably the start of him being paired with young women (if you don't include the previous team-up with Rogue) - and more directly as a foster father for Amiko, and we see here his unwillingness to let other other people - children in particular - but also to some extent Yukio - get their hands dirty for him. We also find out more about his past - he had met Ogun, and was trained by him - on his first visit to those islands, many years ago; before he had been taken in by the Hudsons and given a home in Department H. Since Ogun was unware of it, we can conclude that something happened in between: the adamantium, the becoming an animal. The seed, in other words, of Weapon X.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Uncanny X-Men #185: Powerless

Uncanny X-Men #185 continues our thread with Mystique/Gyrich/Cooper thread. Somehow, Gyrich has got hold of the neutralizer gun, and plans to test it... on Rogue!

Mystique, for all that she's estranged from Rogue, is horrified by this, and very nearly breaks her cover by vehemently demanding that no such thing be done. Back with Destiny, in their secret base (which they've had the cheek to build under the Pentagon... she'd good!), they discuss what to do.

Meanwhile, Rogue has picked the worst possible time to take an unplanned holiday - to the fictional Caldecott County in Mississippi. They'd thought she was doing better, and then #182 happened. Storm catches up with her (Mystique tells her where to find her off-panel, or rather in Marvel Fanfare - so Gyrich's accusation that the X-Men and Brotherhood are working together isn't far from the truth), has a civilised conversation in which she explains her origin story for the first time (she'd kissed Cody Robbins, which put him in a coma, oops). Storm has repented from her judgemental stance as of #171, and offers herself willingly to Rogue.

Just at that moment, the government attack. After some confusion, Storm ends up taking a full-strength shot meant for Rogue, and is depowered. Forge is as aghast at this as Mystique was earlier. Storm has bottomed out.

Rachel phones Cyclops. I like the panel layouts here - the separation between the panels with Cyclops on the left and Rachel on the right, make the curled coil of a telephone cable. He answers, but she doesn't say anything, even though he's her daddy (dramatic noise! even though it's obvs Wolverine.)

Sunday, 11 November 2012

New Mutants Annual #1: Homesteading the Dyson Sphere

Today's second post is New Mutants Annual #1. The New Mutants are going to a Lila Cheney gig, in New York. Lila Cheney's look is seemingly based on Joan Jett.

Amara hasn't seen anything quite like the venue, the closest thing being the "Coliseum" at home in Nova Roma (a term that specifically refers to the one in Rome, by the way. How authentic is Nova Roma, anyway?) Bobby is able to use his rich-kid privileges to get backstage passes, so they can skip the queue and watch the sound check. Sounds thrilling. Unfortunately, they just can't have a normal day.

So, a Vrakanin bounty hunter is trying to assassinate Cheney. Firstly, by sabotaging a stack of speakers (Sam saves Lila and gets a kiss, which makes Bobby rather jeallous) Then, during the gig itself, they attack in person. The New Mutants do what they can. This gets out of hand, and the band (and Sam) suddenly vanish, through a stargate, apparently created by Lila's guitar playing.

Lila and the band (and Sam) arrive at Lila's home away from home: an abandoned Dyson sphere, that she's taken up residence in.

In order to get the full ludicrousness of that concept, you need to understand what a Dyson sphere is. In the form portrayed here, it is a solid sphere of matter around a star, in the "habitable" zone, which therefore captures all that sun's energy. If you built a Dyson sphere in our solar system, with the radius of Earth's orbit, it would have 550 million times the surface area of Earth. There could be quintillions (short scale) or trillions (long scale) of people. Lila thinks it's otherwise empty, though, which is a trifle arrogant of her.

Warlock reopens the gate, and they end up 'porting. To space, frustratingly, but he's able to save them by transforming himself into a spaceship himself. They catch up to the sphere, and someone find our people on its vast surface.

There's some nonsense about Cheney being an intergalactic thief who is going to steal the Earth for no clear reason (she's taken lessons from the Daleks, then). Who is going to want to buy the planet anyway? Because of some damage during fighting, the Earth-moving device is going to end up destroying the Earth instead. Until Cypher saves the day, with his reading-alien-languages-and-therefore-the-instructions power. Anyway, for some reason all this doesn't mark her as a supervillain. Well, the "some reason" being simply that she's romantically interested in Sam. They kiss, and she even makes him dress up, and the way that the scene cuts away after that I think we can add this to the Shag Chart.

They all get home courtesy of Cheney, who it turns out has some innate teleporting ability - over interstellar distances only. This is sufficiently useful that it has to be hobbled by the restriction that she can only reach places she considers "home" - in this case London, making possibly its first appearance in an X-Men comic (her being British was implied earlier, when she called Sam "luv"). Not clear how she got to the Dyson Sphere in the first place though.

I'm generally all very keen on the genre-mashups that we see in the pages of these books, but this strikes me as a mash too far. Sam now has a girlfriend. Fair enough. She's a rock star. Who looks like Joan Jett. And she's space thief. And resides on a Dyson sphere. At some point it crosses that line from interesting fiction to absurd levels of wish fulfillment. If this carries on, our New Mutants will cease to be ordinary characters with the twist of their powers, and start being as well, comic booky, as the X-Men proper.

New Mutants #21: Party at Xavier's

So, I'd called that Starjammers appearance a couple of issues back wrong. Something is coming, and it lands in New Mutants #21.

That something is Warlock, who arrives at the X-Mansion (a coincidence? or not? there has been a lot of alien activity around there, maybe he picked something up) in the middle of the a party at Xavier's. Rahne, Dani and Amara have invited a couple of their local friends over, with Xavier's permission (perhaps he's trying to forestall the rising tide of prejudice, win the neighbours over before they start with the pitchforks). In a running gag, people keep assuming Amara is from Rome, New York, and expect her to act like it.

Our new character, Warlock, is a techno-organic creature, from a distant world. He feeds on lifeforce, rendering organic creatures inert masses, but can also subsist on electricity. He's unable to communicate with the humans: the breakthrough is supplied by Doug Ramsey, Kitty's friend, who has the mutant ability of hyper-communication. To involve him means outing themselves - and the school.

When Xavier gets back, they have present a new candidate for admission to the school: Warlock, who is a mutant of sorts and can now speak a kind of English. I don't know if they're actually going to admit the thing about Doug - they offer to tell the whole story to Xavier but he brushes them aside.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Uncanny X-Men #184: Little Lost Rachel

Uncanny X-Men #184 starts with Cooper and Mystique (under cover identity still) visiting Forge. He's a mutant who is inventing stuff for the government, unaware how it might be unethically used. He's made two things of interest to them today: a scanner for mutants, and a gun that depowers anyone. He doesn't know how they work - he's just duplicated them from technology obtained from Rom the Spaceknight. Forge, by the way, is our fourth Native American mutant character from the U.S. (after Thunderbird I & II, Psyche). Which is all well and good - even if the powers for the other ones are a bit stereotyped. But there's something funny going on when we've had these 4 (of a demographic that makes up 1% of the US) and not a single African-American (12%).

The tale of Rom the Spaceknight is slightly sad, in that because Marvel were licensing an existing toyline, they didn't own the IP. So, no Essential Rom today. (Note to Marvel and Parker Brothers: see if you can't work out your differences and sort that out! You don't want the 1960s Batman series to be released first, do you?

That done with, we go to Rachel, who is watching the X-Men on a TV covering the events of #181. She wonders whether she's not in her past, but some other past - Kelly is alive, Illyana is older than she should be, and Storm has gone punk. After a brief alteraction on the street with Selene, she flees to a nightclub, where the kindly boss, Nick Damiano, offers to put her up. Since she's a teep, she can see he has no ulteriority.

For his trouble, he is killed by Selene, who is still chasing after Rachel. She's saved by our first Professor X Machina in a while, followed shortly by the X-Men. Confronted with the reality of them - and seeing Xavier standing - she breaks down. She has made a huge mistake.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Uncanny X-Men #183: Colossus vs. Juggernaut

Another weird thing about having Secret Wars run alongside its aftermath, is that we see consquences before events. This is different to the modern event experience, where books that aren't tying in will typically be set just before the Big Crossover, or just be careful to be ambiguously placed.

Here, we find out that Colossus fell in love with a young healer, who then died for him, before it happened. This would be Zsaji, who isn't even introduced until issue #4 (August 1984), a couple of months after Uncanny X-Men #183 (June 1984), which deals with the aftermath of her death in as loose and non-specific a way as possible - without even naming her. And they say the publication schedules are wacky these days.

Because of this trauma - and thinking that if he fell in love with [REDACTED], then Kitty couldn't have been The One - Colossus - who we get confirmation is 19 - breaks up with Kitty, who is still 14 (although I'd expect her to be turning 15 very soon now). She mopes, as well she might, and decides to go and visit her father. She's been overdue for a visit, anyway. Colossus, Nightcrawler and Wolverine go to a bar and hit the liquor (another first). That Colossus is allowed to do that, while Kitty isn't even allowed to drive yet, sort of demonstrates the creepiness of this. But hey, this happens. And Colossus, despite his physical statute, has never been portrayed as mature. Shouldn't art imitate life? Wolverine upbraids Colossus for only thinking about his feelings, and not considering what Kitty's reaction might be. Sensible chap, that Wolverine. Could go far.

Accidentally bumping into an off-duty Juggernaut in the bar provides our quota of fighting for the issue. Colossus takes his anger out on the Juggernaut. Rather strangely, he doesn't recognise him, despite them having met in Banshee's castle in Ireland. I guess Colossus just hadn't seen the unpowered Cain Marko form, then? But why then does Wolverine recognise him?

A little cutway, with Cooper and Mystique (still undercover using the "Raven Darkhölme" identity, a forename we've seen Destiny call her by in private), shows that the government have Plans, and they involve someone called Forge. And our epilogue is Selene returning, having survived the New Mutants experience.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

New Mutants #18-#20: The Very Long Night of Danielle Moonstar

New Mutants #18 introduces Rachel [Summers] into the 616. She pops up with an explanation in Westchester, walks up to the door of the mansion, During this sequence she has thought bubbles, and flashbacks. She's quite confused by Illyana answering the door: she's far too old! Which is true, but how does she know she's simply not arrived at the time of the attack on the mansion? She then runs off, to next appear in Uncanny X-Men #184. I don't know why this bit is even in New Mutants, rather than Uncanny, and it certain puts another nail in the idea-coffin that continuity is harder to follow these days. Another demonstration of this is the random Starjammers appearance in #183, which sets up something or other.

So, that done, we can go to our actual New Mutants content. Dani is having nightmares about the bear that killed her parents, decides she has to deal with this on her own, uses the Danger Room to train to fight bears, gets mauled by a bear and sent to hospital with bear wounds. While she's in hospital, The New Mutants first stop the bear from attacking her again, and then are transferred to the bear's realm (it's a demon bear, did I mention that?), defeat the bear, and return home.

Well, their home plane, anyway. This is all well and good, except for the small detail that the cop Tom Corsi and the nurse Sharon Friedlander have changed races. In better news, Dani's parents are alive again! For once, Claremont removes someone from the orphan list. For a Dani-centric story, it's mostly about her absence. I know this is all about friendship being magic and suchforth, but she could have had an actual role in the last couple of issues.

Bill Sienkiewicz took over the art (bar colouring) from this issue. He's far more fluid and expressionistic than the previous, rather literalist artists on the series. In particular, his painted covers are great. I wasn't expecting to see anything quite like them as early as 1984.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Uncanny X-Men #182: Rogue Rogue

Uncanny X-Men #182 is set in that week gap between Magik and Dani escaping for Limbo in New Mutants #16, and arriving back again in #17. Rogue has been sent as a scout to see how the New Mutants are faring (they do not think to telephone ahead, as per usual).

She arrives at the mansion, to find it empty, but several messages awaiting. Rather than following up the one from the New Mutants, clearly stating where they've gone and that if they're not back yet there's a problem, she instead goes after Colonel Rossi, who's been captured by SHIELD (we don't know why, and SHIELD don't know who he is - a dangling plot thread that'll presumably be picked up on in a few issues) and she's worried about. It's quite subtle at this, and it only gradually becomes apparent that Rossi and Rogue have never met - that Rogue is remembering Carol Danvers' life instead. A short snatch of dialogue adds to Wolverine's backstory - he and Rossi once broke Danvers out of Lubyanka, when she'd been captured by the KGB. The conversation here works - we are on Rogue's side but we can see she's become quite dangerous, and we can also see that Rossi is justly very skeptical.

And that is why Nick Fury put out an APB on Rogue, an active member of the X-Men.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Uncanny X-Men #181: Young Dragons

Uncanny X-Men #181 spoils the ending of Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars. The X-Men survive it, and are transported by means of giant dragon to Japan.

Our normal X-Men are here: Professor X, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Wolverine. And a little dragon: Lockheed. Having dealt with a bunch of X-Men fans, they realise it's been over a week since they were last present, and worry about Kitty. Rogue is sent off as a scout to see if there's any trouble there, while the remaining team stay to deal with the dragon.

They forgot that it's Japan. I quote:

        Spotters report a giant dragon, sir, heading
        for Tokyo!

         It can't be, this is the off-season!

Also, all monsters in Monster Island are accounted for. After a good deal of property damage and some superheroics, and a good old-fashioned team-up with Sunfire, the dragon vanishes, everything is taken care of, and the X-Men can return home. There's a bit of a love story in this between Lockheed and the other dragon, and Professor X suspects that Lockheed is actually intelligent. The whimsical tone matches ill with the unusual explicit civilian death, and Wolverine being left with a young ward, Amiko, to care for.

Meanwhile, Cyclops is returned to Earth too, by being dropped from the sky over Tahiti, which is at least where Madelyne is. And in Washington, Senator Robert Kelly prepares the "Mutant Affairs Control Act", which I'm guessing isn't meant to put a stop to Scott/Emma or Emma/Namor.

Monday, 5 November 2012

New Mutants #15-#17: Chasing Demons

New Mutants #15 starts the day after Uncanny X-Men #180. Kitty is missing. So are the X-Men. Illyana is worried enough that she sends an astral projection to go check on Kitty, and unfortunately finds her a captive of Emma Frost, whose illusions are fooling Doug into thinking nothing's wrong.

Kitty and Frost notice the psychic form, and Illyana cries out in pain. The New Mutants - who've been left behind in the mansion, go see what's up, engage in a spot of demon-hunting (the spell backfired a bit), and then sit down and have a Serious Conversation with Illyana.

Illyana 'fesses up about the sorcery, and tells them about Kitty. The Fantastic Four and the Avengers have also been captured by the Beyonder and forced to participate in his miniseries, so that's not much use, and they are reluctantly forced to catch the bus to MA. On the bus, Rahne is freaking out about Magik, as might be expected, and someone - Sam - finally tries talking to her about theology, rather than just passively watch her denounce herself as the work of Satan.

Illyana dons Kitty's old New Mutants uniform, and they start the rescue attempt. The entrance to the Massachusetts Academy is impressive, being from the direction of below, with the help of Magma.

They roam around the school at will, seeking out Kitty and Emma, and eventually being confronted by a team of mutants at the Academy: consisting of Catseye, Empath, Jetstream, Roulette, Tarot and Thunderbird (who seems to be the first Thunderbird's brother) - a sort of dark mirror of the New Mutants called the Hellions (groan). They fail to escape, and wind up in a well-appointed school jail.

Well, most of them, anyway. Illyana has broken out the soulsword and teleporting, and has managed to get herself and Dani to Limbo. S'ym proves to be properly loyal, and rescues them, allowing them time to regroup. After a brief detour to a 1985 in which the entire New Mutants team are Hellions, they arrive a week after #16. The Hellions aren't thrilled about the management either, and propose a duel for the New Mutants' freedom. Just as this seems to be working out for them (the match is Cannonball vs. Jetstream, which if nothing else is sure to produce a lot of collateral damage), Frost and Shaw arrive. Thanks to continued youthful rebellion on the part of the Hellions, the New Mutants are able to get away.

The Hellions are what this title really needed - an enemy of equal stature, and that provides everyone something interesting to do during a fight scene. The same reason, I suppose, that the Brotherhood was created, back in the day. With Magik joining the team (assuming that she stays permanently) they become slightly more powerful; and finally we are done with the Kitty/X-Babies feud.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Uncanny X-Men #180: Kitten and Storm

So, Xavier's playing basketball.

A history of Xavier's legs: In X-Men #1, he claimed a "childhood accident" was responsible. Soon afterwards, it was instead revealed to be the doings of Lucifer. Xavier had then been recently killed (due to the Brood) and his mind was transferred into a new cloned body. By rights his legs ought to work in that. But they don't. Possibly for psychological reasons. In New Mutants #14 he was able to walk, and had the privilege of a dance with Illyana.

It's a delight to see him do a little bit of basketball - which is a callback to the mention of him being a sporty sort way back in the first Juggernaut arc of #12-#13. It's rather a setback when, on the third page, he collapses in pain, triggered by an alien scanning wave that has been troubling him for a few issues now.

Storm is by to rescue him, and he and her talk about her new look and 'tude. Xavier digs it - thinking to himself that "[finds himself] aware of how female, and attractive, she is", and makes the point that changing is OK. He is a mutant after all. But Storm has been scaring herself. I suppose a certain level of moping is expected of the field leader of the X-Men. Both her and Kitty are worried about their relationship. Kitty has been very strongly against Punk Storm, and has felt a change beyond mere clothes, something that Ororo doesn't deny. We at least find out that when Ororo got rid of the plants from the attic, she didn't just kill them - they've been transported to the New York Botanical Garden. She stops a mugging, gets some knives drawn on her, and deals with the situation much better than she had that crack house in #122.

Kitty is trying to figure out a way to deter Doug from going to the Massachusetts Academy (which we found out he'd been accepted to at the end of New Mutants #14). Meanwhile, joining in the self-pity party, Peter is moping about Kitty being friends with Doug, and lamenting that if this were Soviet Russia, they could be married already, which I'm not sure checks out legally.

Ororo and Kitty make a sort of truce. Kitty agrees to go with Doug - by plane! - to the Academy for a week, to check it out with him. Unfortunately, it turns out that Emma Frost is alive and headmistress! (The last time we'd been there, that was the twist too, somewhat undermining its power.)

While they're gone, Xavier and the rest of the regular team (Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler) survey the source of the scanning waves that Xavier has been sensing, and are teleported away somewhere, to appear in a crossover.

the Uncanny Wikipedia

I've been a little bit stuck on writing this blog recently (but no fear, I've got over a month queued up!) Instead, I spent some time today taking a break from it by... um, well, writing about Uncanny X-Men. The Wikipedia article about it, that is. Makes a nice change, anyway. I've hacked away a far too detailed plot summary into a (if I do say so myself) promising publication history section. Need to find more references, add more critical reaction and analysis stuff, figure out what to do with the very big tables, and I'm away. Of course, pretty much nothing I've written here is of any use to me there: here I'm being snarky and trying to have new insights and perhaps make new connections (and I've certainly got some of that in my queue). There, I'm doing source-based research and trying to get some perspective.

It's a difficult thing. Clearly, someone thought it was a good idea to have it like it was. Some people find it useful: I've heard comics writers say how great Wikipedia is because they don't have to look things up in the Handbook any more. But as a general encyclopedia article, it wasn't up to snuff.

The most obvious problem with the plot section was that it was far too long and consisted of a blow-by-blow recounting of random chunks of the series. To cap it, it wasn't even done with much wit or grace. It was, as my lodger pointed out, like reading a child recount what happened in a TV show they just watched: "and then this happened and then this happened and then this happened and then this happened and then this happened". A depressingly large amount of writing about fiction on Wikipedia is like that.

But there was a secondary problem, obscured by the prose quality, which is that it's in fact not actually possible write a plot summary of Uncanny X-Men. It's not just the magnitude of it (although that doesn't help), but it's the structure. Which is why of course, I'm not even trying to do it for this blog: instead I'm writing a plot summary of all the X-Men ever, which is at least possible, although no more sane. It's only 1984, and already we've got very strong interplay between the two series: Illyana, who I covered in the last post, is testament to that. This will only get more complex, as I'm going to point out as we go on...

Saturday, 3 November 2012

New Mutants #14: Secret Magik

New Mutants #14 starts with a brief recap of the Magik limited series, for those who haven't read that, and picks up exactly as it finished, with Xavier declaring a snow day. It's Illyana's birthday, whatever that means (she's 15 now - but her experience in Limbo was undateable - is it just that Xavier decided she's more or less 14 and now this is her next birthday?)

While Xavier is worrying about Illyana (perhaps something he should have been doing more of recently), S'ym - Belasco's head minion - turns up, takes down Xavier, and lays in wait for Illyana. Oh dear. She uses her mutant power to bring the New Mutants into the mansion (and in a curious bit of timey-wimey, intersecting with a bit of Magik #3), where they start the requisite punching. Teamwork, as usual, proves key. Magma gets to use her powers in controlled combat for the first time, by making a mini-volcano inside, busting up the floorboards. I can see a small problem with that.

Magik recovers. Her spells prove ineffective, so she is forced to resort to the soulsword. With this she threatens S'ym into her service. Stevie Hunter witnessed all of this, so Magik rips a trick from Xavier's playbook and mindwipes her. All that is remembered is Magik's mutant power: the light circles. She keeps the magic to herself.

Friday, 2 November 2012

New Mutants #13: Never Mind You, I Hope We Survive The Experience

New Mutants skips ahead again for #13. Amara, now in Westchester, signs up with the New Mutants and joins the school. She hadn't met Xavier before, having agreed to enroll at his school sight unseen, and starts to get second thoughts when she realises quite how mindready he is. He's made an exact copy of her room in Nova Roma while assuring her that of course "Your mind is your own. I will not pry". What would this man consider prying, exactly? Her welcome barbecue goes hilariously wrong, with beer flying everywhere, her dress ruined, and a great big crack opening in the ground. They leave her alone for a while.

The non-New Mutants parts of this (which follow up events in Uncanny and will have consequences there - we'll see in the next year or so it how the two titles sort of becomes a bimonthly title under two names) are fairly talky but intriguing. Kitty has a new friend, a local boy called Douglas Ramsey. We've heard of him before - he's the software expert to Kitty's hardware geek. Kitty is recklessly using his contacts to hack into Hellfire Club computer systems, bringing down random remote systems, and getting leads about possible collusion with the government.

That would be Project: Wideawake, then, to which Val Cooper (just introduced in #176) is being brought on to. They're testing a new type of Sentinel, but it goes wrong and has to be destroyed. Five million dollars worth of equipment gone. (Seriously, only five million dollars? That's less than an F-16!)

All this hacking (WarGames was released last year, 2600 would be launched in 1984, so Claremont is riding a zeitgeist here) is making Kitty run late for her meeting with the Professor. Both him and the New Mutants call her on her ridiculous petty feud with them (something we've not really seen any evidence for, after she rejoined the main team). She takes the point, and agrees to patch up things and help Amara. The little Kitten is growing up.

The next day, it's Amara's first session in the Danger Room. She's got a new codename: "Magma", and a uniform. She's unhappy about the Professor casually mentioning that he is going to be telepathically monitoring her, and runs off, but this time without causing any minivolcanoes or earthquakes, which is progress of a kind.

The conflict between her and Xavier is somewhat vacuously resolved by her eavesdropping a conversation between Lilandra and Xavier. She decides to stay - she doesn't want to have any more incidents like almost destroying Rio. So we've taken an entire issue to put her more or less in the same position that she was at the end of #12.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Uncanny X-Men #179: Bratty and the Beast

Kitty Pryde has been taken away by the Morlocks.

Kitty Pryde is on a slab in the morgue.

Reconciling these two observations is easier than it might otherwise be, given the spelling "Masque" on page 3 of Uncanny X-Men #178 (another dead Kitty mystery set up immediately but deflated soon afterwards...) That's quite unscrupulous of them, taking a dead body and reshaping its features. Who even was that? No such answers here, although Storm will express her disgust at Callisto.

Masque can't reshape smells, and Wolverine notices the problem. Storm knows exactly what's happened, and their arrival in the underground tunnels of New York is delayed only by some faffing around involving Xavier. During this time, Kitty runs away from the Morlocks, starts to feel guilty about having left Caliban in the first place, and then returns back voluntarily, deciding to keep her promise.

Masque offers to reshape her face into a variety of exciting patterns. He declares, in broken yet strangely intellectual-sounding English: "We outcasts - outlaws! This symbolizes rejection by you of life you led, world you knew... people you loved".

Just as the wedding is about to begin, Storm turns up, with Wolverine and Rogue (Nightcrawler having been left behind to try to deal with Colossus, who has yet to recover from his solidification). Can you believe that they and Callisto get in a fight?

Leech, who suppresses the powers of nearby mutants, evens the score a bit. He knocks out Storm's weather powers, but she's got a bit of attitude since Callisto last met her, and Callisto is in for a surprise. Wolverine, of course, still has his claws, because "these claws are mechanical - they've got nothin' to do with [his] powers".

Kitty saves the day by protesting: she's there voluntarily. For the second issue in a row, a truce is proposed. The Morlocks' healer is able to help Colossus, and Kitty agrees to live underground. It's odd that they're willing to sell her into slavery like that, but the matter is soon rendered moot by Caliban releasing Kitty from her obligation.

And so we have the moral lesson: stealing people is bad, and don't trust people who live in sewers and are disfigured. I feel enlightened already.