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.

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