Wednesday, 28 August 2013

X-Factor #55: Vera

X-Factor #55 is the first issue to be written by Peter David! But other than that it is not a forward-looking issue in any sense: it features another couple of blasts from the pasts in the persons of Mesmero and Vera. Mesmero hasn't been seen in an X-book since he made all the X-Men work at a carnival, although he has made other appearances, most recently in Alpha Flight #43, and Vera Cantor was last seen in X-Factor #8.

Unsurprisingly given that Mesmero and Vera are in this, the plot is that Mesmero has brainwashed Vera, to mess with Hank. This was apparently commissioned by Infectia, for reasons which I am sure are to be made clear in a couple of issues' time. It's a fairly light story, and is presumably a fill-in.

According to the Chronology Project, Vera Cantor hasn't been seen since this issue, which is a shocking oversight. Because of this I was half-expecting her to be killed in this issue (just as Candy was gotten rid of as a plot point), but no, she survives and returns to her life as a school teacher. That was a bit surprising. But in fact, it shouldn't be: the X-Men's original non-mutant supporting cast has been gradually phased out over the years: Candy is dead, Zelda has already made her last appearance, Stevie Hunter made no appearances between early 1987 and late 1990.

This is a general ongoing heroification or dropping of non-superhero characters on superhero books (as James Hunt pointed out). This is perhaps clearest in what has happened to the Hulk supporting cast over the years: the Rosses are now Hulks too, and Rick Jones is A-Bomb. But it's also a bit political: by 2013 X-Men is no longer interested with non-mutant allies: it's about mutants doing it for themselves. It would have been incongruous to have Vera pop up during, say, the latter part of Gillen's run. But now, an opportunity has presented itself: Bendis's All New X-Men seems the perfect opportunity to revisit Vera (and Zelda, for that matter - who inexplicably failed to appear in a storyline about All Iceman's Exes in Astonishing recently). What say you, Bendis?

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Uncanny X-Men #262-#263: I Heard You Like Tentacles

I posted my "help wanted" ad for "Ukko" on Tuesday, and by Sunday night I had sketches of the first panel in my inbox, from a artist I'm thrilled to be working with. I've posted them to the Ukko twitter account if you want to check them out. So, that's one New Year's resolution ticked off.

Uncanny X-Men #262-#263 will always be known primarily as the story in which Jean Grey's arms are replaced with tentacles by Masque and she kinda likes it.

Let's review how we got here (for I have been disregarding subplots). Banshee and Forge have left Muir Island searching for the X-Men, having heard a rumour. They've been trying to keep things on the QT from Moira, because she has been wearing clothes that are frankly quite inappropriate in a work environment. They saw a news report about Dazzler being alive, so decided to go to North America, and seem to have stopped off at the X-Mansion, possibly to check what's going on with Callisto who hasn't reported back after being sent to make sure the security systems on the basement are fine. There they meet up with Jean Grey and get involved in an adventure with Morlocks.

So. Masque is our villain here. Masque does things that are a bit twisted, even for Masque: apart from the tentacles on Jean and the I-Have-No-Mouth routine on Banshee, there's recognising the amnesiac and powerless Colossus and altering his skin to look metallic even though it isn't really. This sets up a great scene later on when he breaks through into his steel form and this comes as a great surprise to the smashees. But the more disturbing action is the one that goes against his usual M.O. - restoring Callisto's beauty.

We don't know a massive amount of Callisto's backstory yet, but it's plain here that she had to do a lot of mental work to accept her physical appearance. This is also tied in to her status as a Morlock - because of that convention of Masque altering them all. Suddenly changing her appearance back again, and playing mind-games is a savage attack on her identity, and a deliberate rejection of her from the group, by someone who sees her as a race-traitor. This book just got political again.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Uncanny X-Men #261: Wolverdickery

Hello. It's been a while. I got ill, and then eventually the queue ran out. I have decided to start posting, but on a more leisurely schedule, as I promised before! In the the meantime I've been doing other writing: I put a collaborators wanted ad for Ukko, and am very excited about the replies, and am also working on The Apocalypse Bug.

So, where were, anyway? Oh, Uncanny X-Men #261. Let's remind ourselves of where we were (frankly, at this point I need to remind myself) with a quick recap:

As an official team the X-Men are no more. They faked their own deaths in the "Fall of the Mutants" crossover, soon moved to Australia and then were picked off one by one. Wolverine got back (from one of his frequent trips abroad to have solo adventures) to find the team missing (what's happened to them isn't important right now). He was briefly tortured by the Reavers and then rescued by new girl Jubilee, who then tags along with Wolverine. Wolverine and Jubilee then rescued Pyslocke from captivity in Hong Kong. She's a ninja now, by the way. And Japanese.

#261 starts with a mercenary group called "Hardcase and the Harriers" getting a commission to go after Wolverine and the girls. These guys are treated like a first-class villain team, with a box on the cover and a double-page spread introducing them with code names and earth names. There's a special credit for their creation: Claremont and Silvestri. The core: "'Axe" and "Shotgun" (these names, I swear, it really is the 90s, isn't it), came from Wolverine #5 - and want to take revenge on Wolverine (interesting that they know him by name: wasn't he going by the name Patch at that point?), but most (all) of the others have never been seen before or since. This issue is thus immediately marked as a failure by history. It is trying to establish a new antagonist team. We never see them again. It can't work, then.

But I'm cheating. I'm using hindsight. And get this: I'm wrong. Because it's a training scenario: Wolverine has hired the mercenaries to try out Psylocke and Jubilee in the field. I've fallen for the ostensible premise hook line and sinker, just as much as Braddock and Lee have. It's just a bit of silly throwaway action to mess with his charges. Xavier, clearly, has been a bad influence on Wolverine.

This wouldn't be a late-Claremont period X-Men comic without some random subplots. Banshee and Forge have arrived at the X-Mansion on a recce. They've been combing the world for X-Men and are worried about Moira MacTaggert's behaviour. Something's changed her: she's wearing much more risqué clothes than she used to, which obviously means she's evil now. And there's a bit of Jean, too, she's gone to the same place... Some paths are about to cross!