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.