Friday, 10 October 2014

Uncanny X-Men #282-#283: Bishop

The best bit of Uncanny X-Men #282 is, without a doubt, the editorial note on Storm's explanation of #281.  It says "Not quite what you saw last issue, but take our word for it! It's what happened!"  The sheer cheek in contradicting in a footnote something that happened last issue, which had the same creative team.  Such retcon.  So editing.  Very together.   Wow.   This gives an indication of the chaos that we know was going on at the X-office at that time - compared to the sheer cheek of this footnote the mere fact that Tarot dies twice - once in #281 and then again #282 is hardly worth mentioning.

In other inconsistent mortality news, it turns out that Jean Grey is not really dead, she psychically transferred herself to Emma Frost.  This is fairly impressive - Emma Frost herself had needed a device to do a similar consciousness transfer back in Uncanny #151/#152.  It perhaps helps that Frost is dead as well, something else that obviously doesn't stick.  Xavier remarks on this in #283, possibly another piece of evidence of pantseat-fixups.  But at least that's better than pantseat-mess.  Er, perhaps I had better stop with the metaphors.

Anyway, into this very 1981 situation comes Trevor Fitzroy and Bishop.  Fitzroy is a criminal from the future that Time Cop Bishop is chasing.  Actually, that's not quite true.  It turns out Bishop isn't a Time Cop, he's just in hot pursuit to wherever Fitzroy has gone, and that happens to be the past.  What we know about him (and his little squad: he is accompanied by Malcolm and Randall) is limited, but we can see he is part of the Xavier School Enforcers, some kind of future paramilitary off-shoot of the X-Men; and he has an 'M' tattooed (?) around his right eye.   He thinks the X-Men are impostors of what he regards as almost mythical founding figures, citing discrepancies such as Archangel's status for his disbelief.  Curiously, the answers to these, and further development of Bishop's background is going to wait a long time.  It isn't until David's second X-Factor run, in the noughties, that we will see the Summers Rebellion.  Bishop ends up being used just as a big man with a gun, which is probably just as well because there's not enough basic narrative coherence here to do an intricate timeline-based plot.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Wolverine #48-#50: Shiva Scenario

Wolverine #48-#50 is a direct and immediate sequel to the Weapon X storyline in Marvel Comics Presents.  It is predominantly set, real or imagined, in two Canadian locations: the Albertan facility that Weapon X was shown to operate in.  He arrives at this in #4, more or less as we were expecting, along with keys left in his Lotus.  He gets flashbacks, both to the actual events of the miniseries and to a strange buddy cop movie about him and Sabretooth, but doesn't investigate too far into the complex.  The flashbacks continue into #49.  Some of them are to a strange buddy cop movie starring him and Sabretooth.

I'm not even really kidding about it being a movie.  In a warehouse in Detroit he finds the sets.  For the buddy cop movie, for the incident with Silver Fox in #10, and for a variety of other locations.   Logan's memories are contradictory.  He remembers Sabretooth killing Silver Fox, he remembers the cabin they had; but he also remembers fighting her many decades later.

We know less about Wolverine at the end of this arc than we did at the beginning.  We can't trust what we thought we did know.  Neither can Logan.  His few fragments have been shattered.  He hopes the cabin was real - his first love was real, but if the evidence is simply not finding the set where it had been faked, ouch.

There's fighting.  In his stealth-free recon Wolverine alerted Hines and the Professor to activate the "Shiva Project", which turns out to be a giant robot pretending to be Shiva the Destroyer.  Not quite sure why that is, but hey.  Shiva has a list of targets to elimate in order: Wolverine, Sabretooth, Fox, Kestrel, Vole, Mastodon and Wildcat.  While that is happening, Silver Fox, who is leader of HYDRA, goes after Hines and the Professor, as revenge for the same thing happening to her.  Eventually Fox kills the Professor, who sets the robot on the next target, Sabretooth.

This is all very puzzling.  Silver Fox really did survive #10, which cheapens it and the Wolverine/Sabretooth feud.  And if all these are false memories of Wolverine, why doesn't he remember them?  What happened to make him break that conditioning in the first place?  To make him leave that "Team X" (name still not yet given) and end up in Canadia working for Department H?  Is there any larger sense to be made here or what?

Monday, 7 April 2014

A Comic by me and Pippa

I've been quite ill for the last week and a half (improving now), so forgot to link to the comic me and Pippa Ashton did for Geeked Magazine.  It didn't quite make it into the magazine itself, which is well worth reading, being about intersectionalinity, innit.  We hope to do more in the future.

Marvel Comics Presents #72-#84: Weapon X

By 1991, Marvel Comics Presents had been headlined by Wolverine Team-Up stories for ages.  The story that starts in #72, by Barry Windsor-Smith (I think he's the first person to auter the X-Men) is a rather different take.  It is the story of How The Wolverine Got His Claws, finally.

Although this is a highly-serialised story (twelve parts), the trade paperback collection I am reading does not indicate the gaps.  Structurally these group into four bits.  There is a prologue, with Logan having been sacked from the Canadian army; he then gets used as a prop in a story in an unethical medical experiment.  About half-way through, Logan escapes.  Rather than the story following him, it becomes a slasher, instead, as our characters (Hines, the Professor, and Doctor Cornelius) are hunted down and killed; Logan then escapes.  And finally, it's revealed that some of that was a simulation.  Logan was loosed rather than escaping, and the trio are alive.

The beats were familiar, but some of the details of this story were surprising to me.  We know that at this stage Wolverine's claws have no bone substrate, but the idea that they just sort of happened because of excess adamantium, and the housings designed to stop him hurting himself (or rather to stop him healing after them popping) is a bit silly.  Given the lack of artifice in creating them, having them be coatings of bone claws make more sense!  Further, the idea that the staff of Weapon X didn't know that Logan was a mutant also is a bit odd. But... presumably the shadowy figure that the Professor reports to does know that?

Much of this story is lies, of course.  Apart from the bits it itself admits to (the escape), we know from later material that very little of this will stand. But that doesn't matter a bit.  It's moody, it's tense, it's pacy, it's violent, it sets the stage for more Wolverine material and a thousand other inferior 1990s imitators.

This is not really Wolverine's origin story.  It's not even pretending to be.  What his birth name is, and what his childhood like isn't Wolverine's origin story, either.  What led him to the state where he doesn't know if he has a mother, that matters.  Why Sabretooth has a grudge against him, that matters.  It'll be a while yet before we get to those, it's telling that those were left till last - it's not because they were least interesting, but because you could tell other stories revealing apparently quite profound bits of Logan's life while still retaining the Man of Mystery element.

But, as I say, that's later.  Much later.  If I ever get to it.  For now, I want to know, what effect is this going to have on the Wolverine of 1991?

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Uncanny X-Men #281: Telepath Fight

Uncanny X-Men #281 is the first "core" post-Claremont book we're looking at.  In X-Force and X-Factor we have seen very different takes on what you can do in an X-book - grim mercenary fantasies and powered detectivey stuff.  This is the first time we see what someone else (in this case Whilce Portacio scripted by John Byrne and Jim Lee, apparently, although who knows what relation that bears to who did what) will do in Claremont's sandbox.

And it definitely his sandbox: rather than introduce anything new, it's business as usual, as we get the Hellfire Club, Sentinels, Emma Frost and the Hellions, the Reavers and Senator Kelly.  It's practically a roll-call, and as such very reassuring - the X-Men are back as they were in the early 1980s, complete with mutants conspiring to build and set giant robots on other mutants for no clearly defined reason.

The element that wasn't present there, of course, is Jean Grey, what with her dying in 1980, before Emma was anything more than a cardboard cutout.  That Jean/Emma dynamic starts to come alive here, for a moment.  Until Jean Grey gets killed off in the last few pages.  Well, that didn't last long, did it?  Ironic that Claremont wanted to keep her dead and then the moment he leaves the book, they kill her off again.

Special shout-out to the names of some of the Hellions to die in this issue.  "Beef" and "Bevatron".  You don't get names like those any more.  Thank god.  These characters were both introduced over in New Warriors, which apparently exists now but I'm not going to cover...

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

X-Factor #72-#73: Multiple Man, Multiple Man, Exploring the Possibilities that a Multiple Man Presents

X-Factor #72-#73 is a bit more like it. It's a twist on a murder mystery with the main question not being the identity of the killer, but the victim. Madrox was shot dead at the end of the last issue, but then... turns up alive. It was a dupe, you see. Coming at this from 2014 and with my background my immediate question is "is there even an original?" This is the first dupe that has died, apparently. The surviving Madrox was expecting to be able to reabsorb it, but finds he is unable to. The patch-and-merge problem is not possible to solve with a corpse, and so he finds an entire set of memories gone. Including the identity of the murderer, presumably.

But then another Madrox turns up, also claiming to be the original. He says he pre-dates the events of the Muir Island Saga. This one is at least partly co-original, if more unofficial; they can (to the X-Factor Madrox's surprise) both create dupes. We never get quite to the point that they realise there isn't a difference between them, other than the path they take, I am sure that will come.

#73 touches on a social issue that hasn't really been covered by X-Men comics before: the issue of preferred nomenclature. We've had a few terms thrown around as abuse before, such as "mutie" and "genejoke", but "mutant" itself has been treated as a neutral term. But such terms tend towards the abusive. "Mutant", like "homosexual", has a more than a whiff of clinicalism around it, too. You would expect mutants as a group to come up with some term of their own, that they'd try to promote.

This is not what happens in #73. Guido is a bit annoyed with his television interviewer, and so makes up out of whole cloth the idea that "mutant" is considered deprecated by mutants and that the term "genetically challenged" is considered better. One problem is: he really did pull that term right out of his ass. Other mutants are puzzled and push back against him. The other problem is that, although this is modelled on "physically challenged", the majority of new coinages of the form "[something]ly challenged" terms are either gags or imagined usages. Folically challenged, vertically challenged, the list goes on. It is hard to read this as anything other than a joke against people campaigning for a right to their own identity.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Everyone Should Try It

Further to the last post, pretend rubbish space boyfriend Hazel Robinson has made her epic Young Avengers post. Read it. 'nuff said.

X-Factor #71: or, a gonzo con report

Sadly there weren't any Oubliette
cosplayers for me to fold my arms at.

As I write this, I'm still vaguely recovering from London Super Comic Con, the weekend of the 14/15 March. Con-going is a very different experience now I have comics mates.  On the Saturday a bunch of us cosplayed as the Young Avengers and ran around accosting others for pictures.  It was a lovely experience, and some of the results are here. I highly recommend it, especially as a group.

I don't know if I'll ever write about Young Avengers for the blog.  I feel it's the sort of thing I should cover (I'm planning to broaden out in the 2000s and cover lots of general Avengers stuff - particularly the crossovers - because of interlinking - I mean how on earth can I write about Decimation without having done House of M, and how can I do Utopia without Dark Reign and Secret Invasion?), but it'll be a long way down the line if I ever do, and I doubt I'll have anything to add beyond what Hazel will say in her highly-anticipated mega-post (she was playing the role of my stupid space boyfriend on Saturday, being Noh-Varr to my Kate Bishop; the other of us is Clara, doing a highly-excellent Wiccan.)

I had to skip out early on the Saturday evening to get to my friend Steve's 40th birthday party, which was kind of a shame because I was enjoying the pub, but it was a fun enough day, apart from the bit where a small child misgendered me and I froze and had to sit down and have a little cry.  It was pointed out there were plenty of people being perfectly pleasant at us and me, and the Other Kate even asked me specifically for a solo photo.  In other words, the play was fine.

After the con closed on the Sunday there was further pubbage and then karaoke.  It went a bit wrong, as karaoke tends to.  I was left with a strong conviction that the food was nice, that several songs I had previously thought were OK were problematic (this is what happens when you get several socially aware creator-types in a room together), and that I had paid my share of the bill.  After the karaoke we went back to the pub, and then back to Al Ewing's hotel, where the bar was still open.  I didn't get home until Monday afternoon, after having spent the night (well, the brief couple of hours before it got light again) on Kieron Gillen's sofa.  That's the real reason I can't write about Young Avengers right now, of course.  It's too close. Not that that's an ethical judgement, it's just that saying the things I need to say about it would feel too close to exposing myself.  Maybe I'll do that down the line.  For now, I'm glad I'm in 1991.

Peter David totally signed my comic!
Usually I systematically do the rounds at cons but it was a lot more haphazard, especially on the Saturday (apparently the last Seb and James saw of us was the three of us shouting "THERE'S A WICCAN!" and vanishing at high speed in high heels, which sounds about right.)  The Sunday was a bit calmer and I managed to hit some tables and catch up with an artist and chat about Secret Project 10.  And I got this comic I am not writing about now (X-Factor #71) signed by its writer, Peter David.  As I have written before, I have been a fan of Peter David's work for oh just a couple of decades, and it was properly terrifying going up to him, even though I had been assured he was nice.  And I've  really looking forward to reading this particular issue of this comic throughout the latter stages of the Claremont era.  Much as I was dreading X-Force, Peter David's X-Factor, that was going to make it worthwhile.

I've been writing this post for an hour now, and I still haven't read the issue.  It's sitting in my scanner.  This is new.  I've never been too nervous to read a comic before.  What if it sucks?  There's nothing for it.  There's only so many cups of tea I can make.  There's only so many games of 2048 I can play. (That bit's not true, I expect I could do that FOREVER.)  I'm going to have to sit down and get cracking.  You know what, I'll liveblog this, page by page.

Page 1: One big panel of Guido saying "excuse me, you got any grey poupon?" to an unspecified person. I'm not quite sure what grey poupon is.  Googling tells me that it is a brand of mustard known in the United States.  But what sort of brand?  High-end, low-end?  This is important.  It's owned by Kraft, so I'm guessing not exactly gourmet.

The credits box reminds me that I don't talk about artists enough.  This issue is pencilled by Larry Stroman and inked by Al Milgrom.  Now that I've started to draw faces a bit I am starting to actually look at the strokes in comic art properly in a technical sense rather than just the overall aesthetic, a mental breakthrough like that week in 2004 when I suddenly started hearing individual parts in music.

Guido's face here is drawn very stylised, with a radiator grill for a mouth, his pink face and hand amid a sea of purple that represents his shirt but extends far beyond the area that is plausibly cloth.  Is that the background?  What's going on here.  We'll see on...

Page 2:

But before I get to page 2 I am interrupted by a twitter notification.  Charlotte, who is another of our little Young Avengers collective, is replying about my suggestion that she use a MUD client for talking to MicroMUSE.  I try and log into the MUD myself, with my own client, just to check that it can work.  It does.  I muse (see what I did there) for a bit about the energy I was feeling when I wrote that versus the energy I have for comics now.  It's similar, but I'm in a better, more driven and more capable place, now.  MUDs and comics are at once almost opposite ends of the cultural spectrum, but they share commonalities.  MUDs are basically the ultimate in indie games - back in the 1990s everyone was making their own MUDs, and only a few ever were commercialised.  Everyone can make their own comics and even the biggest event book at Marvel or DC still has a bit of an artisan feel to it, because it's predominantly the work of a handful of people.

MUD writing was fun, but I was never able to achieve the intellectual conversation I wanted out of them, and I drifted away from them in around 2003/2004, about the time I got into Wikipedia.  I am still proud of the body of work I produced for the Cryosphere, and it pains me that it is so inaccessible.  And one day the worldbuilding (my spin on a mashup of 2300 AD and Warren Ellis's Ministry of Space, something that I never got around to reading until 2005) is going to emerge in a comic, probably the one about the stupid space captain.  I try to persuade Charlotte to log in to the Cryosphere, but she is resistant.  Fair enough, one MUD at a time.

The first panel of page 2 answers my question about Guido.  He is being drawn huge and that colour fill really was supposed to be his shirt.  He's with Lorna Dane and another chap, and they are having a bit of a back and forth in a style that is instantly familiar, because David is still writing those characters just like that.

Lorna is worried about the guy they are bringing in to head this new X-Factor.  This would be the new incarnation of Freedom Force that #70 trailed, then, but that link is implied, so far.

Page 3:

Four-panel page, the most we've had so far, with only a tiny bit of dialogue on each page really, compared to say, Claremont.  You can tell who says each line even without the attribution of the speech bubbles.  The second and fourth panels are head-shots of Lorna Dane (Polaris) from unusual angles - one showing her chin and jaw, and the other a profile from below.

Lorna is worried about Alex Summers (Havok) being the team leader.  Not because he's her ex, but because she doesn't know what she is, they've been mind-controlled and that so much, what's even is the state of affairs of their relationship?

Page 4:

Guido hits on Lorna in that way he does.  Eew.

Page 5:

And the other person at the table is named as Madrox (in case you couldn't tell before from the knocking and duplicating).  Jamie Madrox is the main character in the 00s David's X-Factor.  Will he arrive as well-constructed as Guido has?

Something is going on with the jars. Particularly the mayo.

Page 6:

And now Val Cooper is in Genosha, recruiting Havok.  He'd ended up rebuilding Genosha after the X-Tinction Agenda crossover.  In having Cooper the linkage with the new Freedom Force is made explicit.   Alex is a hard sell.  Cooper probably isn't helping by denigrating something he really believes in rather than trying to

Page 7-8:

Wolfsbane (Rahne Sinclair) saves Havok from a falling girder.  Our first action scene.  Val uses it as a mind-game.  Did she set it up?

Page 9-10

Change of scene, and we're with Quicksilver.  Quicksilver who has of course, deep Young Avengers connections, being the template for Speed (Tommy).  He's looking for the X-Factor HQ in Washington (not New York!), and being impatient.

Page 11/13

Alex's brother Scott Summers arrives, with Professor Charles Xavier, to persuade Alex personally.  Alex is a very reluctant leader here.  More recently, he is reluctantly persuaded to lead the Uncanny Avengers team, in the wake of Xavier's death and Cyclops's rebellion; they argue that he would be a good example for human/mutant relations, something that apparently will stick with him.

Page 14-15

Back at the HQ.  Pietro has arrived and is in a bit of a state.  Lorna is surprised to see him not on the West Coast with the Avengers; has she not heard of his power?

Page 15 (right) is odd.  It is out of place.  It is perhaps funny if you know the context, but what is essentially a launch of a comic it is a terrible mis-step.  I suspect I only understand it because it came up in a CBR column.  What appears to be going on here is they're trying to shut down the "Lockjaw is a sentient being and an Inhuman who was just really quite badly mutated by the Terrigen mists" concept.  That I probably need to explain what Lockjaw and Terrigen is, because they've never really come up before, demonstrates the lack of relevancy to this issue.

But in context, it's Quicksilver in a bit of an addled state, so it manages to get away with it very slightly.  His power, in case you are wondering from the page, is killing him.

Page 16

Alex and Rahne on the plane to the US.  Looking forward to the future and considering their team-mates.

Page 17-19

Pietro clarifies exactly what he means. Using his power is ageing him.  He is being blackmailed, of sorts (well, taunted anonymously by postcard with no specific demands, but eh.)  This smells a bit.

We get the punchline on the mayo jar (not the mustard jar, oddly... I'd have made it the mustard).  They've all used their powers to try and open it, and in the end Val Cooper manages it by "rap[ping] it a few times."

Page 20-22

EXCEPT it turns out that Madrox made a fake jar with remote control lock as a practical joke.  This is not the 2005 Madrox, is it?  The animosity between Multiple Man and Quicksilver starts as... a series of practical jokes???  I did not see that coming.

And then someone shoots him.  Who?  We just don't know.

Steve links the portals. Don't ask.
I can't quite call this a disappointment. I am going to keep reading, for sure. We can see the pieces, even though it's in fragments. But it's not a story, nor even really the start of one. And there's no sign of David being about to provide us with a fresh new look at mutants, at what that can be a metaphor for. Can he do that? Absolutely, we can tell that from his work on the Hulk. Is he going to? We shall see...

Now, it's getting on for 3.30pm and I've been writing about this comic for several hours. I didn't really have lunch because it would have felt like procrastinating. I'm heading into town for... comics, and then to Steve's house to ninja-decorate everywhere with tiny cakes for his birthday.

Did I mention I'd started drawing? I did the pencils
in about half an hour, then inked and shaded it while
Clara and Hazel discussed Sarah Ditton's recent article,
which now, god help me, I am reading.
Let me assure you, I am not doing it for the boys.

I'm back in the house at about 9.30pm and am now frying lamb and potatoes.  I was unexpectedly diverted via the pub, which Hazel summoned a few of us to at short notice, and which I'm now not able to go back to before they leave.  I hope, with all my heart, that we cheered her up a bit.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

X-Force #1-#4: Cable Cable Cable Eggs and Cable

X-Force launched before X-Men vol 2 but I'm doing them out of order BECAUSE.  What have we got here?  Rob Liefeld drawing whatever he likes and then Fabian Nicieza desperately trying to make it make sense.  I'm sure this could work as an arrangement, but here it's not.  It produces a generic terrorist fighty comic with bad, if exciting, art that was inexplicably popular.  It's exactly what I expected it to be.

Well, except for #4, which is a strange SIDEWAYS COMIC.  Now, there had been the odd sideways splash page in #1 and #2 so seeing that I was supposed to turn the page when immediately opening #4 was not The Most Surprising Thing In The World Ever, but then seeing it continue for the rest of the issue was actually quite exciting!

Since I haven't got anything else to say about these issues, how about some art by the amazing Hazel Robinson.  We were at the comics pub quiz a couple of weeks ago, and there were bonus points available for drawing Sandman in the style of Rob Liefeld.  And, well....

Thursday, 13 March 2014

X-Men #1-#3: Mic Drop

According to the Guinness Book of Records, X-Men #1 is the highest-selling comic of all time.  This was not a surprise, the X-Men were very popular and the comics speculation boom was in full bloom.  This mass speculative was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of why things like Action Comics #1 were going for large sums.  At the time they were seen as ephemeral, and so therefore when we come to 1991 surviving examples are rare.  1991's hot comics were being printed in their millions and purchased by a buying public that knew how to handle them properly.  23 years later, they're still not rare.  They never will be, not in our lifetimes.

This is one of the least interesting things about this arc, though. It's Chris Claremont's last, for now.  By now he had ceased plotting the books, and was doing dialogue, frustratedly.  Some sniping is possibly apparent here in the "invisible spaceship" that is mentioned in the text.

Given its massive potential audience, what does it do?  Does it take advantage of this to tell a compelling story while introducing the concept of the X-Men to a larger audience, like #1s try to do these days?  Does it buggery.  Yes, we've returned to the X-Men's default status quo, but within that we get a continuity-dense story resting on Magneto's brief time as a baby in 1977.

Today we would call that foolhardy, but in 1991 the book continued to sell, and would pick up readers.  Was it a lost opportunity to get even more?  Or is it that the modern rhetoric that comics are too hard to get in to does not really explain anything?

The story plays with the idea that the post-1977 Magneto is a different person to the pre-1977 one, because of a genetic alteration by Moira MacTaggert.  She used him as an experimental testbed for a treatment for Proteus, her son.  What she found was that the use of Magneto's powers made him mad, and what she did was a little tweak to his make-up to make this not a problem.  Magneto's new group of Acolytes have found a variance, and Magneto is really quite pissed off at it.  Crucial to the storyline's resolution, though, is the fact that this, if it ever worked, wore off (as his attempt at doing the same thing to Cyclops's team of X-Men also wears off, during their fight with Storm's team).  Every decision Magneto has made has been his own, even the good ones.

The Magneto in this doesn't quite join up with the last time we'd seen him, in Uncanny #275. There, he looked like he was about to do something, here he's withdrawn and has to be drawn into action by the Acolytes.  His interaction with Rogue carries on straight from that, though.

X-Men #1 is at once an odd comic to be the biggest-selling of all time, and yet also an obvious candidate.  It had a superstar artist and writer, and is a #1 from the X-franchise.  It's not great but neither is it interestingly flawed.  It is the end of one era and the start of another (it will continue in publication until issue #275, making it I think the second longest-surviving bronze age comic series after Hellblazer).  It is a perfect representation of what was going wrong and right with comics in the early 1990s.  I have five.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Uncanny X-Men #278-#280/X-Factor #69-#70: Muir Island Saga

Uncanny X-Men #278-#280 and X-Factor #69-#70 constitute the "Muir Island Saga", which is a mess in a completely different way than I was expecting.  I imagined it as overly long and tedious, with terrible gender politics.

TARDIS Eruditorum (an excellent Doctor Who blog, and one of the reasons I am writing this one) has a concept of "narrative collapse", a threat that falls outside the usual bounds of problemspace  and attacks the premise of the show.  It's not just your usual end of world scenario or possible death of the protagonist, it's stuff like the Daleks getting time travel, or an evil Doctor from the future putting the show on trial.

The threat in the Muir Island Saga is big - we have a culmination of a Claremont plot that has been in the offing since 1979.  The Shadow King, a kind of body-less super-Xavier, has been able to subvert the minds of the X-Men on Muir Island, and an initial raid by the main team had very marginal results.  And in a mirror of Second Genesis, the start of this era of X-Men, Xavier has to go back into the series's history to find the original X-Men and rescue his next batch from being captured on a perilous mission to an island.  But despite that this is all bit business as usual.

The narrative has collapsed, though, in another sense.  This story broke X-Men, and made it impossible to tell stories in the old model.  After 16 years on the title, Chris Claremont leaves.  His last sole writing credit is #278, and Fabian Nicieza is credited for bringing it to a conclusion in #280.

Well, I say conclusion.  The story, much to my surprise given that it was called a "saga", moves along at quite a place (in fact, I spent quite some time hunting for the other issues of it in comic shops, before I realised that there really were only 5).  Lots happens, and it doesn't stop.  In the last few pages of the fourth issue (Uncanny #280), I started wondering what was going on.  There was not much time and there was still a lot to go.   It felt an awfully lot like getting to the twenty-minutes-from-the-end mark of Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings.  And then it does the same thing, wrapping it up in no time at all, they just use Psylocke as a get-out-of-possession-free card with most of the action explained in captions or dialogue.

Still, there's issue #70 of X-Factor, written by Peter David, which is billed as an epilogue, but is much more integral to the narrative than that might imply.  He spends a lot of time on the main emotional storyline to be left dangling, whether Legion, who had been used as a tool by the Shadow King, can be saved and what Xavier is willing to do to save him.  This is a good bit.

The other main salvage operation he does regards Mystique, Val Cooper and Rogue.  This is a bit of a misfire.  The core reveal that Val Cooper could not kill Mystique, even when mind-controlled, is fine, and the revelation of the substitution of Mystique for Cooper also works (indeed, this blog had thought that was obvious already).  Where it goes wrong is the idea that Mystique would submit herself to a psychic procedure to make her truly believe that she was Cooper - and to leave the key to her identity in the hands of Nick Fury.  This is not Mystique, she's more tricksy than that.  Her reunion with Rogue also rings false, not so much in the affection involved but the specific dialogue.

Meanwhile, David sets up his run on X-Factor, by having Val Cooper mention that the government wanted a new iteration of Freedom Force, although not necessarily under that name.

Not only this is not the last we've seen of Chris Claremont.  In fact, due to some odd publishing history, it's not even the last of him we've seen this week.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, 6 March 2014

X-Factor #65-#68: The End is Nigh

X-Factor #65-#68 is a postscript to an era. All the X-Men reunited as One Big Team after the X-Tinction Agenda saga, but the titles are proving resistant to actually doing anything with this yet. While the X-Men proper are in Uncanny dealing with the Xavier situation, the remaining five original mutants remain in New York, having one last adventure as X-Factor.

X-Factor - this iteration of it anyway - had to end like this. The original premise was the five of them reunited again to fight mutant problems in New York City. Along the way they lost their original shtick of being fake mutant hunters and in its place acquired a fuck-off massive spaceship in the city.

Now that the X-Men are gathering again, now that the construction crews in Westchester are readying their pencils and inks, we have no place for Ship. Fortunately Ship came with its own kill switch. It came by way of Apocalypse, and X-Factor have never satisfactorily understood it. It is this vulnerable to a large storyline involving him. But it has to be a big story - perhaps his biggest - if we are to have such a big status quo change as a result. The way it sort of manages that is by throwing crossovers at the page. First Avengers (briefly) and then, more substantially, the Inhumans.

Ah, the Inhumans. Again, a major part of the Marvel cosmogony that we are only talking about as we get to the 1990s. If they have crossed over with the X-Men before it had been in other pages. Our exposition on them comes courtesy of Beast, who would have worked with them before (perhaps fought them) during his time on the Avengers. Beast's time on the Avengers has been somewhat of an ignored point as far as this series goes - but then, X-Factor has always been a contradiction. A team of renegade outlaws funded by a well-connected millionaire, and staffed by said millionaire, a respected former member of the most important superhero team, an accountant, and a woman who had been brought back from the dead by the collective efforts of not just the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. They've had their losses - Angel in particular, but this is a team of winners who have been befallen by circumstances, not the bunch of misfits that X-Men wants to be.

The Inhumans are what the X-Men tend towards. Whereas Cyclops acts like the king of the mutants (with Jean his Red Queen), the Inhumans are explicitly led by their monarch, Black Bolt or, to give him his full name, Blackagar Boltagon (that never gets old). Like the mutants the Inhumans are humans plus: in the case of the mutants this arises spontaneously (or so we think). For the Inhumans it is a combination of long-ago genetic manipulation by the Kree, combined with activation by the terrigen mist. There are other differences. The Inhumans are a race, a distinct group, as opposed to the distributed minority that the mutants form. The Inhumans have a royal family formed by blood, whereas the X-Men are the ultimate in found family.

In this story, the X-Men are trying to make a transition to blood family. This is in the form of Baby X, Nathan Christopher, the son son of Cyclops (in truth) and Marvel Girl (in spirit if not in literal truth). If he is raised to adulthood without major trauma they have succeeded. But also at that point the X-Men is if not over them certainly then this generation of characters are no longer usable in the same way. This is something the X-books are still not ready to do, even in 2014, although they are perhaps the closest of all of Marvel's line to allowing it.

Scott's eventual assumption of the role he had pretended to take in the X-Terminators is many years down the line, but we can see the seed of it here, as Baby X, who had been terminally infected by Apocalypse, is taken into the future to survive. Coming to it over twenty years later, we know he'll become Cable, and he'll raise another child in the future in turn, who will return as a messiah. None of this is planned yet (well, perhaps Cable=Baby X), but the story is very forward-looking. The last dialogue spoken in #68 (other than by the Watcher), is by Scott, to Charlotte Jones:

You're wrong, sergeant. It hurts. It always will. More than I could put words to. But the dream that bound us all together - X-Factor and before us the X-Men - was based on hope.
(their emphasis) Hope is coming.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

X-Marathon, now on tumblr

Hello!  I'm making this post to tell people reading this at the original blogspot location that we are now automatically mirrored to X-Marathon on tumblr.    I suppose people on tumblr will also see this (assuming the plumbing is working properly now, which is the real reason why I'm making the post), in which case hello!  I see we have a few followers already, presumably from tags?

Uncanny X-Men #274-#277: All Hail the Chiefs

Uncanny X-Men #274 is, I think, the first issue to be narrated by Magneto. Having rescued Rogue in #269, he's gone to the Savage Land with her for a team-up with Ka-Zar and a show-down with Zaladane, who is using her magnetic powers in a way that might threaten the Earth. He encounters the mess of a much earlier expedition of his to the area, in the form of the Savage Land Mutates. Zaladane has also come to the attention of Nick Fury and SHIELD. Unusually they team up, despite the reservation of Colonel Semyanov, whose son was killed when Magneto destroyed the Leningrad

Magneto is introspective and moody in a way we've never quite seen before. The flashback to the firing squad is particularly effective - and will form a centrepoint of Pak's Magneto: Testament miniseries 17 years from now. He disassociates himself from his earlier "insane" actions, comparing them to Zaladane's now, but also is unable to apologise or take responsibility for them - the Leningrad did nuke him, yes, but he was blackmailing the world with demands to be made dictator. Another new wrinkle is Rogue's claim that Magneto hates Russians for the death of his daughter Anya, which is compared to Semyanov's vendetta. It unfolds unsurprisingly, Semyanov sells Magneto out to Zaladane, and then Fury/Magneto/Rogue win anyway. What is Magneto like in victory, though? Not, it turns out, magnanimous. Indeed, he declares his period of reform over: he needs to protect mutants (but without being a cackler himself), and says that a "kindler, gentler Magneto" cannot save them. He vamooses, presumably to take up villainry once more.

This arc introduces the idea of Rogneto. In a fairly creepy way, it has to be said, Magneto is perving on a Rogue who is not her usual self and clearly lacking in judgement (why are they killing people she asks, aren't they supposed to be the good guys? Uh No.) Thankfully the matter is dropped and then never referenced again.
In our other plot, for some convoluted reason the X-Men (Storm, Wolverine, Banshee Jubilee, Forge and Gambit) were teleported away from Earth by Lila Cheney to the eternal Shi'ar civil war. Deathbird is empress right now, and the rebels the Starjammers (Corsair, who just happens to be Cyclops's dad) are fighting to reinstate her sister Lilandra to her rightful place on the throne. If I were them I'd be trying to undermine the entire system of Imperial rule, but perhaps they are expecting plum ministerial positions under the new regime... at least until she gets turfed out again.) The war is not going well for Deathbird, largely because Lilandra's consort is a highly powerful telepath: Charles Xavier, who also happens to be the founder of the X-Men! But Xavier is possibly secretly evil and doing a bit of genocide on the side. Except then it turns out he is a Skrull, and so are the rest of the Starjammers! And they've got the real Xavier kidnapped! And then they free the real Xavier! And then they defeat the Skrulls! And then Lilandra and Deathbird actually do the "our division caused us to be weak against our enemies, let's make up" dance.

At the end, Storm infodumps enough of the disasters to have happened to the X-Men since Xavier left, and he learns of the rise of the Shadow King. Xavier agrees to come back with them, setting the stage for our next arc, Claremont's penultimate hurrah.

I believe this is the first intrusion of the Skrulls into the X-verse; certainly it's the first time I've written about them on the blog (apart from a passing reference to John the Skrull). The Skrulls are a race of alien shape-shifters originally introduced as villains in Fantastic Four #2. In that very first story a small advance party are brainwashed into thinking themselves cows. They go on to be frequent antagonists in Marvel: a Super-Skrull, Kl'rt, who combines the powers of the Fantastic Four, is introduced in FF #18 (it's this job that Xavin out of Runaways is training for), and fight the Kree, another alien race, in the pages of Avengers; and their latest invasion of Earth was the topic of the Secret Invasion crossover.

All these alien races were made up independently: the Skrulls in those very early days of the Marvel Silver Age; the Kree a bit later, in FF #65, and then the Shi'ar in the 1970s in these very pages. These, then are the Big Three Marvel Alien Species. Rather than anyone having sat down and worked this out, this is worldbuilding through crossover, things in a shared universe being patched together to form a galactic quilt. But that's just a larger-scale version of a continuity that allows Doctor Strange and Iron Man to co-exist; throw everything at a particularly sticky wall and watch it not going anywhere. Because... indeed, it's not going anywhere. It's rare for cosmic dynastic stories to have a point: it's just The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire on repeat. If I wanted that, I'd just read Foundation again.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

New Mutants #98-#100: No New Mutants

For all that I waffle about comics, I don’t talk about comic art much, which is a habit I am trying to break.  So, let's talk about the art of this final arc of New Mutants.  As I have been reading more of this era I am starting to appreciate what artists like Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld (who is the guilty party for New Mutants #98-#100) were trying to do.

Before you start up the flamethrowers, let me clarify.  Yes, they did not have the anatomy and often ended up drawing ridiculous contorted poses, but the generation of artists before that were not trying those poses at all.  They are doing stuff with perspective and angles and dynamism and action and composition and people coming at you from the weird directions and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but whatever happens it’s always new and different.  If we treat panels as shots in a film, they are an exciting wave of cinematographers.  (And that’s precisely how they were treating the panels.)  They were very raw but I can see why people got so into them.  They (well, most of them) got better at it, too, and them and the next wave, of people who have refined their techniques are responsible for lots of great comics art today.

What else do we have here?  Well, the cover for New Mutants #98 promises us three new characters!  Excite! These are a rather more heavily built Spider-Man lookalike called Deadpool, someone with a domino pattern on her face called... Domino.  And some chap called Gideon, who, with a name like that, is clearly going to be a major player in the future.

Deadpool has been sent by a Mr. Tolliver to assassinate Cable (who I will note he addresses as Nathan - I don't know whether that is a new thing or not though, due to not having been bothered to read the intermediate issues of New Mutants).  Deadpool is immediately a mercenary with a mouth on him, something that I think it's worth pointing out was a novelty at a time given the prevalence of the taciturn grim villain/anti-hero.  The fight is truncated by the arrival of Domino, an old friend of Cable, who has the pouches to prove it.  They send Deadpool back to Tolliver by mail.

Domino sticks around to help Cable recruit: the team has lost Warlock and Wolsfbane due to the recent crossover.  All previous New Mutants (Rusty, Skids, Xi'an, Amara, and Dani) are ruled out due to alignment or in some cases their faint hint of rubbishness.  While he's off headhunting John Proudstar from the Mass Acad, other students are evaporating (not literally - it's good to clarify that in a superhero comic), as Rictor goes off back to Genosha and Sunspot inherits his father's business, due to Gideon's machinations. (Gideon, by the way, turns out to be an old family friend of the da Costas.)  He just lets them fuck off, which annoys some of his team but not enough for them to fuck off too.

#100 introduces another couple of characters: Feral, an escaped Morlock who I am forever confusing with Wolfsbane, and Shatterstar from the Mojoverse.  Cable and the New Mutants protect these folks from their respective enemies and accepts their assistance in return for same.  At the end we get a few pages of cutaway to Stryfe, leader of the Mutant Liberation Front, who is on the last page dramatically revealed (I presume, it's oddly structured otherwise) to look quite a lot like Cable,  What a mystery!

Although clearly these issues are going to be important, they're also quite shit,  The plot is paper-thin, the characterisation subtle (in the sense, barely there, rather than that it's clever), and coming back to this series after a few issues doesn't make me worry about having missed anything good.  The end of the New Mutants is effectively arbitrary: it's already been X-Force for a while, but it's at this issue - apparently for no other reason than that they've finally got to issue #100, that they make a symbolic break, by leaving the basement of the mansion, and taking on the new name.

Incidentally Cannonball and Boom Boom clearly have a quick one in the woods between pages 33 and 34.  And by that I don't mean a pint.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Uncanny X-Men #273: Together Again for the First Time

The opening splash in Uncanny X-Men #273 is the happiest this project has made me.  The X-Men!  All in the same room!  As a team!  With captions!  We have here Storm, Cannonball, Banshee, Boom-Boom, Jubilee, Cable, Wolverine, Psylocke, Beast, Archangel, Rictor, Gambit, Iceman, Sunspot, Forge, Cyclops and Jean Grey.

Well, I say as a team.  In reality they are having a massive argument about what to do next, whether they should press on from their victory in Genosha to take out other threats.  Cable is keen on that, Cyclops and Storm (by the way did I mention she's an adult again now?) less so.

Cyclops and Storm discuss where to base the X-Men, since the security basement of the mansion is a bit cramped.  Storm agrees that moving to Australia was probably a mistake, but declines the offer of using X-Factor's Ship.  Jean decides to use Cerebro to track down other friendly mutants (Longshot, Dazzler, Rogue, for example), but no, she hasn't got her telepathy back, and she is owned by the Shadow King, whose storyline is looming.

Apart from the SRS BSNS, there's lots of fun bits of new characters interaction.  Wolverine and Gambit get some banter; while Iceman and Boom-Boom have a competition as to who is more immature (my vote is for Bobby).  And Psylocke gets one of the best lines ever, in response to being asked whether she had told her brother (Captain Britain) of recent events yet.  "And say what?  Hullo twin, guess who this is.  Back from the dead, just like you!  Remember last time we met and you couldn't believe I had purple hair.  Well, the hair's still purple."

Uncanny has stopped being a slog, if only for an issue or two.  Onwards! But not long now until the end...

Thursday, 20 February 2014

posting frequency and general update

Incidentally, no, you are not mistaken, it is a Thursday.  We're going to be upping the posting frequency now, to 2 a week: Tuesdays and Thursdays.  This is because I am feeling quite comfortable with the one a week rate and want to get a bit further ahead, but also because I am going to have a lot more time on my hands soon, having resigned from my job.  I'm going to spend a month off (by which I mean writing posts and possibly an Android game) before properly jobhunting.

Comics-making has been going well, but there's nothing really I can show anyone yet.  Well, apart from Lost in Bitstrips.

Oh, and I got a piece in the New Statesman, that was nice.  But that's nothing at all to do with comics!

X-Factor #63-#64: Drake out of Hell

X-Factor #63-#64 is a massive tonal shift from the doom-soaked epic of the X-Tinction agenda.  Instead we have a happy light story about the abduction of Opal,  Bobby's lover, by her blood grandfather, who turns out to be the head of a major Japanese crime syndicate. 

They the the snatch right there while Bobby is watching, but he can't do a thing to stop them (well, no successful thing anyway).  Although he is all "this is something I have to [do myself]", he is persuaded to allow the rest of X-Factor to come along for the first half, and also relies upon the help of Mariko, Wolverine's former flame and head of a rival Japanese crime syndicate.  It helps to have the right friends. (X-Men, man!)

When this was a Wolverine story, it was stained in blood and angst. Because it's Iceman, there's a limit to that: Opal's kidnapper is being explicitly generous with the terms of her abduction, and she even gets to pick which one of the five technically-enhanced goons (called - get this - "cyberpunks") he will force her to marry.  Isn't that charming, it's almost like a romantic comedy - especially with Hiro, the most well-sketched of them.  He didn't always want to be a cyberpunk,  you know, he has a poet's soul.

Opal gets some good bits, although they are scarce.  She is openly defiant initially, but then realises playing along might help, bidding her time until she can execute her plan.  A plan, which sadly, turns out to not involve any ass-kicking by her - just screaming for help at the right moment and hoping.  But at great personal risk.  It's agency, of a kind.

Bobby is not the wisest of the X-Men (hardly, it must be admitted, a high bar), and ends up in a a solo fight with this Hiro, having both agreed not to useI should hate this comic.  I wonder why I don't. their powers.  Love can make you do all sorts of things you might not have when you're sober, it turns out.  Bobby takes a pummelling  and Hiro somehow realises that he's not really deactivated his powers, they were built in.  For a minion of a major gangster, he's not a bad sort, so he lets the crazy kids go.  And only hours after he had been scaring her into marrying him.  Isn't that sweet?  

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

X-Tinction Agenda

X-Tinction Agenda (Uncanny X-Men #270-#272/New Mutants #95-#97/X-Factor #60-#62) is the model X-Men crossover.  Several different teams come together to fight an existential threat towards the X-Men, something bigger than usual.  Mutant Massacre had kind of tried this but the interlinking was weak; Fall of the Mutants was basically only a thematic crossover, and Inferno had too much weird stuff going on.

X-Tinction Agenda has a nice simple premise, and then throws 9 issues at exploring it, giving ample time to its regular line-up of characters.  It has the "X-" pun, which would go on to become a vitally important part of X-Men storyline nomenclature, even to the point where it didn't make sense ("Avengers: X-Sanction").

So, what's this about?   The Genoshan government finally goes a little bit too far, by abducting some of the New Mutants (and Storm) from Westchester and forcing them to become slaves.  This allows the various teams of X-Men in existence (Cable and the nascent X-Force, the Gambit/Forge/Banshee X-Men, X-Factor, and the Wolverine/Psylocke/Jubilee group), to openly retaliate, with the backing of the US government, and endorsement from their superhero mates such as Reed Richards.

I was a bit sarcy about this on twitter. It seemed like the X-Men comics were finally taking the brave step of attacking apartheid in 1990, just as Nelson Mandela was released.  But then I kept reading, and discovered that the ending is not just that the X-Men are able to recover their friends, but that the Genoshan regime has actually been overthrown.  Change can happen.  Life is not stuck in the status quo.  It's worth pushing, as if you don't you're never going to make a difference.

There's changes to characters, too.   Warlock changes to dead, for example.  Wolfsbane and Storm were enslaved and brainwashed (I don't know that there's a word in English strong enough for what happened to them), and Havok, who had become a Magistrate on Genosha because of the Siege Perilous, is released, and stays behind to rebuild.

I'm sure it won't last, but for now the X-Tinction Agenda is the X-Men's greatest victory for mutants as a whole.  Everything they've done is firefighting of one sort or another.  They've defeated evil mutants from carrying out evil plans (Magneto and Mystique stand out), they've defended mutants from humans carrying out evil plans (sentinels), and they've protected the Earth in general from threats.  But this, despite the losses, is a victory to be proud of.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Uncanny X-Men #269: Rogue.split()

Uncanny X-Men #269 is Rogue's only appearance in a comic in 1990.  When we last saw her, in #247, she was fighting Bastion, sacrificing herself to save everyone.

Cut to: Rogue waking up in that town in the Australian outback that the X-Men briefly hid in, and learning about the assassination of Mystique and the death of Destiny from the tellybox.  I'm surprised at Rogue's naivity here: news involving Mystique should not be interpreted at face value, and although we as readers didn't see anything that contradicts the report, surely that's Mystique pretending to be Val Cooper...

This is another puzzling issue, featuring a fight with the original Ms. Marvel who seems to be being controlled by the Shadow King, guest appearance of the Muir Island X-Men, who appear to have gone bad, and, of all things, a cutaway to Lila Cheney, of the Shi'ar Imperium.  And finally Magneto arrives in time to save Rogue...  (What's he been up to, anyway?)

It also contains a good candidate for the X-Men's worst racefail yet.  Rogue has occasion to nick powers off Gateway (discussed previously).  As she does so, her skin colour changes. (No other aspect of her appearance, mind.)  The?  Please let this just have been a miscommunication with the colourist.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Uncanny X-Men #268: When Logan met Steve

Uncanny X-Men #268 is an important step in development of Wolverine into the Logan we know today.  It's The One Where It Turns Out He Knew Captain America from Back in the War.

The story itself is nothing remarkable - some fairly standard ninja fighting, but its use of two split timeframes - 1941 and 1990 - is rare. In 1941, Logan meets Cap in Madpripoor and they help Ivan Petrovich rescue a young Natasha Romanov from Nazis; in 1990 they (the three of them) fight the Hand. It's quite clever, and it's structuralist in a way that Claremont very rarely ever did. They all get on, obviously, although there's a nice bit at the end where Cap suggests that he and Wolverine make a nice team, and Wolverine is all "I don't have sidekicks". Burn.

Even though they've gone their separate ways, this story is part of a pattern of the X-Men become more well-integrated into the general superhero community - see the X-Men and Fantastic Four becoming besties in Days of Future Present for example. Their period of isolation is ending. The 1990s is beginning, the age of the crossover.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Days of Future Present: The Summers/Richards family reunion

Days of Future Present is a story told a format less commonly-used these days: it runs through four series's annuals (Fantastic Four, New Mutants, X-Factor and X-Men). Each issue gives prominence its respective titular characters, with a thread linking them.

That thread is Franklin Richards. We've mentioned him in passing before, as the son of Reed and Susan Richards. He's a mutant, one of the prophecised Twelve, whatever that is.  More directly he appeared with Power Pack in the Mutant Massacre issues, with a kind of limited visions power.  This story is about Franklin's two other potentials: as someone killed by the Sentinels in the Days of Future Past, and the ongoing idea that he will develop very strong mutant powers, so dangerous that their early manifestation must be avoided.

The appearance of an adult Franklin from the future is always worrying. Does this Franklin have matters under control, and more to the point, how can we tell? There's not much doubt this time: the first two issues both involve him messing around with timestreams in an attempt to recreate his youth: both at the Fantastic Four Headquarters and at the Xavier School.  So, not a stable Hyperstorm, anyway, even if he's well-meaning.

Reed and Sue have dealt this this sort of thing before and for them this is a runaround. It's the third issue, the X-Factor annual, that things start to develop both X-relevancy and actual interest, as Rachel Summers - fellow time-refugee and indeed Franklin's partner in the future - pops in. Franklin wants to try and fix things so his future can never happen or that it will assuredly happen; the contradiction tears him in two. Rachel keeps saying she's from "the future" but she knows that's a lie. She's from somewhen else's future: the existence of young Baby X (Christopher Summers) proves that. For a while, Franklin looks like he's going to destroy Baby X to make it come true; but our Phoenix can stop that - he's no match for her.

In the end, we get a reset to the status quo: Franklin is revealed to have been a shadow of his future self, leeching from Rachel's powers; Phoenix fixes it. We're all back to normal. Except: the X-Men and the Fantastic Four are on really good terms; and Scott and Jean know who Rachel is exactly and why the fuck she dared to put on the Phoenix powers. Now this has all happened, it's hard to imagine the splintered X-Men storyline going on much longer.

With hindsight one of the funnier parts of this little story is the appearance of Cable. Cable is right there when Franklin says that Baby X will grow up to be more power than any of them, and keeps a straight face. There's surely no concept that Cable is Baby X at this point, no teasing to be had at all.

Further note: Ahab is not possibly a name that inspires confidence in underlings. Also, if you are in Gambit's to-be-retconned-in-position perhaps saying that you "like the name" Mr. Sinister on learning that he ordered the mansion be trashed is not very smart. (Gambit put together the group responsible for the Mutant Massacre, we will find out in some years time, you see.  Again, not even a hint of that here.)

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Uncanny X-Men #266-#267: Meet Gambit

Uncanny X-Men #266 continues the Storm plot so directly that I think I made a mistake not just making one post about the entire mini-arc. Oh well. Either this is much more coherent than the last issue, or I wasn't giving it enough credit for me taking a hiatus and losing track.

But anyway, let's say hello to Gambit, who makes his first appearance in the issue (presumably this is the reason I wasn't able to track down a physical copy at a decent price, had to buy a digital download!) Gambit is a thief, who has the power (presumably mutant) of kinetically charging stuff that he threw. He peppers his speech with French phrases, here and there.

In the first ish, Gambit is thieving the same house that Storm is; together they escape the Shadow King. In the second ish, they're on the run from the same; they then confront Nanny and Orphan-Maker.

Gambit is mostly the Gambit we know and love, but a few rougher edges; he's not drawn particularly pretty-boy (bit more angular and blocky - perhaps that's just the art style, though), and his humour is not quite there yet. Storm is,  thank god, returning to be the Storm we know and love and, even though that involves nightmares of her past, by the end of the issue remembers the X-Men.

Meanwhile, the Shadow King continues controlling Val Cooper, and Destiny left a warning to Mystique of her upcoming assassination attempt.  This is our first hint of the idea of Destiny's Diaries, something that will be a major driving point when we come to Claremont's return.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

X-Factor #56-#59: Archangel vs Ravens

X-Factor #56-#58 reminds me why I started reading the X-Men.

Archangel is still suffering the mental ill-effects from being poisoned by actually, I don't remember, but never mind that. He's a one-man vigilante squad who makes Batman look like a toddler with dimples and a cute hat. This results in an awed but not entirely positive attitude from local press. The comic asks some serious questions like: to what extent do Archangel's fellow mutants have a special responsibility to clean up, or to stop him, and about the ethics of press coverage.

This is all played out in the background of a tightly-plotted Archangel plot: he is is targetted by a new villain group known as the Ravens (introduced before but I seem to have skipped that issue, oops). These are a kind of vampiristic circle - Crimson sets up one of their number to be killed by Archangel, which leaves an opening to bring him in. Given how bad a run of it Archangel has had lately, the danger is palpable, and that he escapes, and is even released from the effects of the poison, is a happy moment indeed. Like many of us, Warren might never be properly right, but he's healing, and that's important.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Lost in Bitstrips

You may have seen Bitstrips. It's a little online tool for making cartoons and comics, available standalone or as a Facebook app.

I experimented a bit after Thought Bubble with making a proper webcomic with bitstrips (which may or may not get posted later today depending.)

Since that I have become convinced it is a medium that actually, could be used to do worthwhile stuff in. Much of the bad reputation it gets is because of the immense amount of shitty pre-generated content it presents you with.

So, I give you Lost in Bitstrips, which is a pretentious deconstructionist webcomic, featuring me and Charlotte. Read it all on one page here, and on tumblr here. It features high production values such as slightly wonky alignment of panels, bad title text, and visible mouse cursors when I didn't bother to move the mouse away when I was doing my screenshots. But is also quite funny, I hope. And maybe a bit touching at the end?

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Uncanny X-Men #265: Lost in the Storm

Uncanny X-Men #265 is just weird.  By this stage Uncanny is madly experimental book.  It's not even trying to tell a story about the X-Men going through a difficult period, it seems to have abandoned the concept of an ongoing narrative entirely.  Exemplifying this, #265 promises Storm on the cover, but then opens with a four-page sequence about a new subject species of the Shi'ar.   Which is not followed up within the issue.

Cut to: Storm (she has been de-aged, thanks to the Siege Perilous, and has reappeared in Cairo, in Illinois with no memory and is doing a bit of commissioned thievery; comics, man).   Rather than have these two plot threads interact like a normal weird comic would do, we instead bring in one of Claremont's odder villains, Nanny, who is still mad at Storm escaping for reasons that, in turn, escape me.

And then even that's all of it.  Indeed, there's another cutaway, to Val Cooper being controlled by the Shadow King, who is mad at Storm for historic reasons related in #117 or something.  We end up with this set of interlocking vendettas against a Storm who isn't even really "our" Storm, which I fail to give a damn about at all.

The thing is, I like experimental things, as a rule.  I'm a bit pretentious, like that.  But sometimes experiments fail.  And this tail end of the Claremont era is one of those times.  Part of the usual story about his departure is that editorial wanted him to bring to the X-Men back together at the mansion, and he didn't want to do that, he wanted to do interesting new things instead rather than get stuck in the past.

But this is not interesting new things.  As we found out in Gillen's run, X-Men doesn't need the school, but it does benefit from some baseline.  It is fundamentally a story about mutants who are being oppressed, rather than about any specific characters.  And I don't get the sense that this is to fill the gap until the X-Men reunite properly on Muir Island or something (like, say the Death of Superman was), it just feels like it's wildly spinning out of control.