Thursday, 30 June 2011

UXM #27: "Re-Enter: The Mimic!"


("Uncle Xavier needs you!")

Comments

Ah, crap; issue #27.  This one really pissed me off the first time I read it, and the intervening years have not been kind. About the best thing one can say about the start of this story (chronologically speaking, since the comic kicks of in media res and then jumps backward) is that having Angel essentially say "I was delirious when I accused you of trying to kill me" is a bit better than it all turning out to have been a dream.  It's still a massively frustrating cheat, though.  Last issue saw Cyclops resolving to admit his feelings for Jean and "accidentally" shooting down his rival in love. 

Now, it's been made clear that no-one thinks Cyclops was to blame except Scott himself, who deals with it by deciding he won't open up to Jean after all.  You know, just like he hasn't since this ridiculously drawn-out subplot first arrived.  If this love triangle was your hard-partying mate who'd asked to crash on your sofa, you'd be calling the police by this point.

At least there's a nebulous but allegedly massively dangerous threat somewhere vaguely on the horizon, maybe!  I shouldn't make fun, really; a hazy towards a dire future probably qualifies as Thomas' best contribution yet to the X-Men ethos.

I'm getting increasingly uncomfortable with the narration referring to Marvel Girl as "the lovely Jean Grey".  It's probably not the biggest example of the comics' rather patriarchal attitude, but I think it's especially bothersome because it's not offered as dialogue, but as an objective appraisal.  Putting her in charge of designing and making the team's new uniforms really isn't helping, either.

Xavier's recruitment drive doesn't go very well, does it?  Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch have joined the Avengers, and Spiderman can't even summon up the courtesy to decline politely.   It's kind of humiliating, actually, though at least this time round the Professor has had sufficient sense to not tell his desired recruits exactly where he lives.  That's progress, I guess.  Shame such newly-acquired wisdom doesn't stretch to not promoting the Mimic to deputy leader the day he arrives.  I don't care that Cyclops has resigned.  He could have murdered a puppy and pinned it to Xavier's wheelchair, and the correct response would still be to promote Beast.

Clues

Ugh, this is getting complicated.

I think it's obvious at this point that Roy Thomas is writing the comic in "real time".  Which, y'know, is perfectly fine, if a little short-sighted (and rather problematic as far as this blog's mission goes).  You have to do it right, though, and Thomas clearly isn't: his issues reference the time of year in which the comic will be released, but his stories don't fit in at all.

Consider the following: we know that Count Nefaria's attempt to hold New York to ransom took place in June.  Immediately upon returning from tricking him out of his money, Jean Grey receives the letter telling her she must leave the X-Men.

We next see her preparing to leave, only to return at the weekend to visit the X-Men, and to help battle the Locust.  The next issue, in which Kulkucan first appears to show off his massive keyhole earrings, is specifically stated to start as the X-Men drive Jean back to college after defeating Doc Hopper.

By the end of the Kulkucan storyline, Cyclops has accidentally injured Angel, and this issue kicks off upon the X-Men's return to New York following that disaster.

We learn that same day that the trees at Metro College campus have turned auburn, which means that something like four months - at minimum - have passed since Jean received her letter, despite everything that happened afterwards taking less than a fortnight, and despite it being mentioned previously that Jean had arrived at Metro during the summer.

This is bad storytelling, whichever decade it hails from.  I hope it doesn't seem to self-serving, in the face of this contradiction, to excuse away the auburn leaves, rather than anything else.  It's the only clue that's indicative, rather than a direct time-stamp like "June" or "summer".  Trees with brown leaves are possible in summer, as I understand it, either due to disease, lack of water, or some kind of "stress", so let's assume something like that is to blame.  Hell, who knows what effect three dozen weekly superhero battles will have on the surrounding vegetation?

Ted describes introducing Jean to Cal "the other day", which suggests two days have passed since the X-Men returned from San Rico.  Only one day is specifically referenced, but I can imagine Xavier's examination of Angel's injuries taking us into a second.

Lastly, one thing that I did enjoy was that it was the wounded Angel who gets to ambush the Puppet Master and render him helpless.  I'm not sure that makes up for the stupefying idiocy of Warren following the X-Men when he knows that a) he can't fight or fly, and b) he'll immediately hand his powers to the bellicose Mimic, but it all works out in the end.

Date

 Friday 15th to Sunday 17th of June, 1979.

X-Date

X+441 to X+443.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 2.68 standard years.

(Iceman is 33 years old)

"I didn't think it was Ringo Starr!"
 Contemporary Events

Nicholas Ray, who directed Rebel Without A Cause, dies aged 67.

Standout Line

"See why you should never doubt a woman's intuition, tiger?" That's one way to explain how Jean is so sure the Mimic's powers have returned.  The other is that she's a fucking mutant telepath.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

UXM #26: "Holocaust!"


("In the jungle, the generic jungle...")

Comments

Truly the power of Kukulcan is terrifying to behold!  He can hypnotise guards, harness the power of the stars, and "[make] his way unerringly" to a building's roof!  What hope have the X-Men against such abilities; the power to feel the effects of gravity itself!

(Well, he can apparently also transform local Mayans into stereotypical Amazon tribesmen, but we'd probably best ignore that.)

If Lee crafted the world of the X-Men, and gave us some of its most iconic characters, then Thomas - whatever his other faults - can probably claim at least some of the credit of setting the X-Men on their path to superhero soap status (a baton that Chris Claremont picked up and ran with for decades).  The appearance of the Mimic in this issue helps move the comic from a set of discrete encounters to a genuine unfolding story, and the climax of the issue, in which Angel accuses Cyclops of deliberately hitting him with a blast of maximum THAK! suggests that the increasingly exasperating Warren/Jean/Scott love triangle might actually be going somewhere. [1]

Beast doesn't seem to be having too good a time of it right now, does he?  Having managed just last issue to forget the miraculous metallic legs his teacher had designed, this time around he fails to grasp the complexities of a textbook's index.  I guess his mind was simply on weightier matters, like how to unerringly get to a roof.

Clues

This story takes place over two days.  It opens with the X-Men still in the museum, and continues to the following day, when Jean arrives with various books for the professor to read (I guess she had no lectures that day - probably an arts student).  The team head to San Rico in their private jet and dispose of Kukulcan that same day.

Date

Thursday 14th to Friday 15th of June, 1979.

X-Date

X+440 to X+441.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 2.62 standard years.

(Iceman is 34 years old)

"I don't especially wanna hurt this overgrown pussycat...
but my ice fork will keep him at bay only so long!"
Contemporary Events


Standout Line

"Hank... Watch out!  That vine you were sliding on... is a boa constrictor!"  Another blow to the Beast's reputation as a deep thinker.  "That's no vine, it's a snake station(ary)!"

Sorry...

[1] Having said that, it's a bit irritating that so much of the set-up for this conclusion involves the characters leaping to conclusions on essentially no evidence.  Warren concludes Jean is interested in Scott based on nothing more than her scanning a room for him, and Scott concludes she's interested in him based on just as little evidence.  For Warren at least, this seems distinctly out of character: paranoia and moping really aren't his style.  On the other hand, it's nice to see Warren desperately trying to hide how much he's upset by seeing Jean hanging out with another co-ed.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

UXM #25: "The Power And The Pendant!"



(If Edgar Allen Poe wrote comics... and was shit.)

Comments

I see the Marvel age of unrepentant overstatement is still going strong.  I'm not necessarily against a supervillain being accompanied by witless flunkies, but "most treacherous terrors ever to troop from Marvel's titanic imagination!" is probably somewhat grandiose a term for people of below average intelligence but above average bush-craft skills.

Bush craft honed in the Amazon and Argentina, at that, so it's not clear why Juan Meroz (sorry, he, Juan Meroz -- known to other gem hunters as El Tigre!) hired them to help out in searching the Mayan ruins of Central America. Guatemala has, like, thirteen fucking million inhabitants, you couldn't get one of those to show you around Kaminljuyu?  Or do all Central/South Americans look alike to you?

Racist.

Also, why is Xavier still sulking about not being able to help the X-Men in battle?  He has mechanical legs, he has the ability to put on a mask.  Stop whining, cueball, and grab yourself some spandex! 

It would certainly make more sense than turning the volume up on Cerebro: it's already deafening whenever an enemy attacks, making it louder so it can penetrate Xavier's sound-proof lab seems distinctly counter-productive.    Note to Xavier - blinky lights are useful as well as pretty.

By my count, this is about the thirty-seventh time Cyclops has thought about leaving the X-Men.  I never really warmed to him when I started reading the comic in the '90s, but I'd take the repressed square-jawed cardboard cut-out over this sulking child any day.  I guess he's not the world's first teenage emo, though.

Clues

This issue takes place over several days.

The story begins with the X-Men accompanying Jean as she returns to college, just after defeating the Locust.  The fact she'll be late for classes is mentioned, suggesting this is taking place on Monday morning.  We then fast-forward a few days to allow El Tigre and his flunkies to make the trip from Central America to New York - we'll make our standard assumption that "a few days" means around 72 hours.  That puts El Tigre's arrival on the Thursday, and the rest of the story takes place that same day.

(This relies on us taking Xavier claiming to not have used his new legs "for a few days" as really meaning "since the day before yesterday".  Still, any later and Jean would have been playing hookie; it's more likely Xavier exaggerated the length of time so that Beast felt less embarrassed about having forgot that his mentor had only just learned to walk again.)

Jean is told she was wise to start college during the summer, confirming that at the most it's been three months or so since their encounter with Count Nefaria (though of course I'm assuming that it's been less than a fortnight).

Date

 X-Date

X+437 to X+440.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 2.56 standard years.

(Iceman is 34 years old)


Monday 11th to Thursday 14th of June, 1979.
"Ridin' an iceboard is a blast, too...
but I don't make a federal case out of it!"
Contemporary Events

A human-powered aircraft, the Gossamer Albatross, successfully crosses the English Channel.

Standout Line

"Got to have a drink of water... even if it comes from the Hudson river!" Does making someone so thirsty they'll drink from the Hudson constitute murder by poisoning?  And is this then the first death in the comic's run?

Monday, 27 June 2011

UXM #24: "The Plague Of... The Locust!"



("It wouldn't be an irrational fear of bees if I could just pull myself together!")

Comments

I don't want to get all Kathy-Bates-from-Misery here, but this issue feels like a distinct cheat following on from the last one.  "I must leave the X-Men forever" us a great cliffhanger (despite how tiring this constant doe-eyed moping has been getting), but it just doesn't translate into "I'm going to a nearby college so will only see you at weekends".  She's basically joined the superhero equivalent of the TA, which hardly strikes me as the end of the world.

Especially when actual world ending is very much on the agenda, thanks to a plague of giant mutant locusts.  This was a somewhat tricky issue for me to read, because it managed to flare up my entomophobia.  Not so much the artwork as the general concept.  If it's all the same to you, I'm going to spend the rest of this review pretending that Doctor Hopper has perfected a method of creating giant mutant Lucases.


Actually, that's probably even scarier.  Never mind.

They really don’t make villains like the Locust anymore.  Not with a straight face, at least.  Even Stan Lee seems unable to understand why anyone would make the leap from “humans are weak” to “humans must be replaced by giant insects”.  And if Stan Lee can’t get on board with something, you know you’re in some trouble.
I’m sorry. I should have said  “Humans must be replaced by giant mutant insects”. Apparently that’s the only reason Xavier wants the X-Men involved.  I guess if they’d turned out to be robots, Albany would have been on their own.  Still, maybe the team are strapped for cash – I think this is the first time since the comic started that they re-use a vehicle (the stumpy but cute helicopter from issue #19).  They’d love to respond to all super-powered threats, but what with the economy the way it is...
Oh, wait.  We’re assuming this is 1978.  Not the economy.  Gas prices. Fucking Jimmy Carter.
Of course, halfway through, Hopper’s plan suddenly pulls a 180.  He doesn’t want to have the locusts destroy mankind, he wants credit for being the one who stops them.  That’s quite a turnaround.  Or maybe this was the idea all along, and he just got dressed up as a locust and egged his hideous creations on to lull them into a false sense of security.  “Eat and grow large, my children! That is exactly what I wish! I’m certainly not planning on gassing you to look like a hero, if that’s what you’re thinking!”
I love the Professor’s investigative style when he gets into Hopper’s lab.  Step 1: mentally probe the machines to see if they offer any hints as to Hopper’s research. Step 2: study an empty jar of locust eggs and ponder whether the good doctor was involved in the earlier attack. Step 3: look at the giant fucking map on the far wall with the location of that attack marked with a huge “X”.  The comic even underlines this by describing it as “a previously unnoticed wall.”  As in, “Fuck me, four walls? I’d best give this the once over, lads!”  He really hasn’t been the same since he discovered he could play with himself again (as well as dress-up as Gandalf the Grey, apparently).
Don’t call Bobby “Blake”, Hank!  You’ll let loose the secret of your forbidden love! And after Iceman had covered so well earlier when he welcomed Jean back: “I was already gettin’ tired of looking at the Beast!”  You’re fooling no-one, Bobby...
Obviously, given how much they terrify me, I’m not an expert on insects, but I’m not sure wasps consider locusts their mortal enemies.  Having said that, in an issue that’s divested entirely from reality and story-telling logic even by ‘60s standards, I do like the idea that the X-Men catch a break because giant-sized insects act just the same as normal insects, rather than rabid killers.

Clues

(This issue marks the third anniversary of the comic's run)
This issue follows quickly on from the last one.  Issue #23 ended with Jean announcing she was leaving the X-Men following a mysterious letter, now revealed to be from her parents, telling her to get her arse in gear and go to college.

The general impression is that this has been a fairly rapid process.  Just how rapid is difficult to say, but let's make it pretty quick.  We know that the X-Men have their first battle with the giant locusts the day Jean leaves, but we then fast-forward "a few days" to see her at Metro college.  The day after that, she visits the X-Men for the weekend.  Working backwards, then, we can think of her leaving the X-Men four days after she received the letter, on a Tuesday, and visiting on the Saturday morning.

Date

Tuesday 5th to Saturday 9th of June, 1979.

X-Date

X+431 to X+435.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 2.52 standard years.

(Iceman is 34 years old.)

"Nothing like a nice fresh ice spear
for cooling down a rampaging locust, I always say!"
Contemporary Events

First direct elections to the European parliament.

Standout Line

“My apologies, but it’s essential that you stick around for a short tete-a-tete.  That means a heart-to-heart talk, if you’re behind in your French lessons!” Meh. I guess even the mighty Hank McCoy can’t be right about everything.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

UXM #23: "To Save A City"


("Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!")

Comments

The evidence building up in favour of Xavier being a dickwad is really building up at this point. After setting a lunatic robot on his charges last issue, and having a childish strop about not being able to go skipping through the daffodils alongside them, he removes their ability to psychically contact him without so much as a by-your-leave.  Obviously, I get why he wants his legs back (even temporarily) ASAP, but you'd send out a mental note or something, wouldn't you? When I can't be disturbed for any reason, I let my girlfriend know ahead of time.  And she hasn't been attacked by super-villains even once.  A goose chased her a few months ago, but that's about it.

It's oddly comforting that even in a universe as chaotic and magical as Marvel's, the first assumption the US government will make following an attack on Washington is that the Russkies are responsible.

I wish I had a scanner.  On page 7 Plantman is either sporting the world's largest bow-tie, or grown his moustache out to Dali length and General Melchett width, and I could do with a second opinion.

Thank God for those "special, large-denomination certificates... redeemable in gold anywhere in the world", huh?

Clues

This issue follows on directly from the previous one, and takes place over one day.

Well, that's that settled, then.  We're in June, as we learn from a nameless man in the street. Given that the Sentinels story was clearly set before winter, and the latest Magneto hijinks took place against a backdrop of barren trees, there's not really any point in revising too many of the previous dates.  We'll just bring forward last issue, and leave it at that.

Divided -- We Fall!: Thursday 31st of May to Friday 1st of June, 1979

Date

Friday 1st of June, 1979.

X-Date

X+427.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 2.49 standard years.

(Iceman is 35 years old.)


"Wait'll I put the ice-cold kibosh
 on that slippery eel!


Contemporary Events

Ian Smith stands down as the last Prime Minister of Rhodesia, and is replaced by Abel Muzorewa, first Prime Minister of Zimbabwe Rhodesia.

Standout Line

"You didn't enlist to understand, corporal!  Just duck in that tank and fire!"  From mocking anti-Communist fanatics, X-Men happily pours scorn on the US military.  This book is Sarah Palin's worst nightmare.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

UXM #22: "Divided -- We Fall!"


("Mr and Mrs... Armoured Personnel Carrier.  Interesting choice of alias, there.")

Comments

My new office mate has gone on record as believing the worst Marvel supervillain of all time to be the admittedly ridiculous Stilt-Man, who Wikipedia argues (in a nice display of understatement) "did not age well, as his powers were more a curiosity than a real threat".
Stilt-Man in "action"

I reckon Uncanny X-Men #22 could give him a run for his money (though obviously he prefers to get his money by standing up reeaaaaaaally high).  The Unicorn and the Eel are more bad names than bad concepts (energy casting is a fairly unimaginative power, but at least it'll never go out of style), but Plantman and the Scarecrow (controlling plants and crows, respectively) are terrible ideas.  So much so that they have to set up their ambush in Central Park just so as they can be sure there's enough greenery and birds around to be any use at all.  Thank God their plan "aroused" Jean Grey's "feminine curiosity". [1]

As for the Porcupine - well, actually, I quite like the Porcupine, mainly because you have to give a man credit for covering a battle-suit with hundreds of very thin guns - with varied effects and ammunition types - and then stands back and thinks to himself "That looks a bit like a porcupine, I'd better start wearing a pig mask".  That's some quality supervillain mentalness, right there.

This ridiculous collection of super-powered has-beens (even Cyclops points out that this feels like "Homecoming Week for obscure super-villains": another example of Thomas' scripts pointing out his own story-crafting limitiations) is really just a side-show (metaphorically and literally) for what's really the focus of the issue, the interactions between the team.  It's interesting to see the issue start with Xavier demonstrating the importance of pulling together as a team, given the instant they get some free time (another vacation: will the Professor never learn?) they split up, and are easily taken down by the Maggia as a result.

On the other hand, if they never get to spend time away from the group, how are Bobby and Hank ever going to "share" a hotel room?  Under an alias, no less (even if "Bobby Blake" is an even worse fake identity than "Drake Roberts", which he used when spying on Graydon Creed at the end of the 90s).  Hank even mistakes a man for his girlfriend, which I think is pretty telling. [2]

Man, I wish Marvel had pushed this, as unthinkable as it would have been in the '60s (and arguably today).  Certainly it's more fun than the developing love-triangle between Scott, Jean and Warren, which is just endless iterations of Cyclops and Jean moping and Warren trying to get some T&A.

Clues

This issue takes place over two days.

Well, we're certainly on the other side of winter now.  If all the greenery in Central Park wasn't evidence enough, the truly chilling, not-at-all-shit powers of the mighty Plant Man make that plain.  I guess the X-Men had a quiet Christmas, especially since Xavier was apparently busy slapping together the world's gayest robot. [3]
 

Slightly less imposing than Eric Cartman in two cardboard boxes.
So, let's skip over the colder months, and set this at the end of March, 1979.  That makes it exactly a year since Jean joined the X-Men in comic time, a little under three years of real time.  I'm worried this is going to become a recurring problem - having to squeeze in as much as possible into late spring through to mid autumn, and then skipping winter.  Mind you, as I've mentioned before, it's just as possible that we're going to end up with too many winters once the dreaded Xmas issues start showing up.  It's all dreadfully concerning, obviously.

It has led me to include a new statistic, however.  From this post on, I will give the estimated age of Iceman (the only X-Man whose age we know from pretty much the first issue) in current issues of Uncanny X-Men, based on the compression constant.  For some reason, that strikes me as an appropriate yard-stick.

Date

Saturday 31st of March to Sunday 1st of April, 1979.

X-Date

X+365 to X+366.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 2.82 standard years

(Iceman is 32 years old)

"I'm putting that power horn of yours in cold storage!"

Contemporary Events

The Shah is officially overthrown as Iran becomes a Republic.

Standout Line

Man, this is too hard.  The whole issue is packed with unintentionally hilarious lines, starting with "We've licked robots before..." and continuing from there.  I'm not really sure what a writer can do with a character called "the Unicorn", but I'd humbly suggest having him shout "Taste the irresistible might of my power horn!" isn't really going to help.

Ultimately, though, I think I'm going to plump for "But soon the world will remember the name of the Plantman -- and cringe at its merest mention!" Yeah.  Yeah, I think that's about right.

[1] Presumably feminine curiosity centres around whether mankind will ever make a pony that can fly, whereas masculine curiosity involves speculation on whether Christina Hendricks tits are real.

[2] I'd assumed Waldo the rock star (who Hank mistakes for Zelda, because no-one ever looks at anything but hair and glasses when searching for their girlfriend) was a reference to a real person, but apparently not.

[3] At least it kept him from moping; as soon as his students leave Xavier gets embarassingly emo.  "They can walk in the sunshine--feel the wind striking their faces-- while am confined to this wheelchair -- a hopeless cripple!"  Newsflash, Professor, sunshine and wind is shit you can access sitting down.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Professor X Time Line

1935: Charles Xavier is born to Brian and Sharon Xavier, workers on an American nuclear project never revealed to the general public.

1945: The Trinity nuclear test at Alamogordo on the 16th of July kills Brian Xavier.

1946: Sharon marries Kurt Marko - also at Alamogordo, and blamed by Charles for his father's death - who then moves into the Xavier family home.

c1948: Kurt is killed in a lab accident.  Soon after, Xavier discovers his psychic powers.

1953: After joining the army, Xavier (along with Kurt's son Cain) is deployed to Korea.

1968: Xavier faces Lucifer in Tibet, in a struggle that costs him the use of his legs.

1977: Xavier founds the X-Men.

UXM #21: "From Whence Comes... Dominus?"


("Dude, where's my property deeds?")

Comments.

.Before we get going, I really should give a shout out to coverbrowser.com, whose archive has saved me from having to spend time searching the intertubes for issue covers.  You guys are the awesomest!
It seems to me to be somewhat bathetic to resume a story about world-ending threats by having the X-Men fight four dude ranchers.  It doesn't really make for interesting reading to see the super-powered defeat ordinary humans who were outnumbered in any event.  I'm guessing Thomas' A-plot under-ran somewhat, but you'd think he'd come up with something better than this.  There's nothing wrong with the central idea, indeed I rather like the thought of a landowner watching the potential start of the apocalypse and only be able to process that it's on his land and he won't have it.  It's trying to turn it into an action sequence that proves problematic.  Indeed, when even the script refers to the scuffle as a "time-consuming interlude", you know you're in trouble.

How polite are Lucifer's robot minions?  Sure, they'll sneak up on a man and kidnap him so that he can be tortured and killed, but they'll take his wheelchair with them.  Truly they are gentlemen robo-thugs.  Their definitely far more classy that Lucifer, who's only too happy to rub Xavier's nose in it "He who foiled my first attempts at conquest on this puny planet now stands before me in abject defeat!"  Dude, that's a low blow.

Not as low as Xavier, though, obviously.  Because he's a cripple.

I'm sorry, but somehow Thomas has managed to make Lucifer's tower (now identified as "Dominus") look even more like a giant dick than last time around, which shouldn't have been possible absent the addition of testicular generators.  It even opens at the top to fire out mind-control rays.  Once that huge, turgid tube reaches full power and explodes from the tip, launching wave after wave of energy designed to reduce the recipients to mindless shells with no wills of their own, fated instead to do the bidding of the occupying force within...

Oh, I get it.  It's a pregnancy metaphor.  Clever.

It's a shame we don't learn anything about the inhabitants of the Sirius star system.  We don't even know if their fetching briefs were forced upon them by their conquerors, or if they were merely in fashion at the time.

It's not often that an X-Man story annoys me (they don't always manage to avoid boring me, but that's usually as far as it goes), but the ending of this one manages it.  Not only is Xavier's message to the X-Men pointlessly confusing (why say "Don't destroy the machine!" when he could say "Make sure you destroy the robots!"), but the idea that Cyclops wins the day by being so reluctant to consider the possibility that the message was faked he ends up shooting Angel.

That's not loyalty: that's bullheaded idiocy.  It's one thing when you stick with someone you love when they seem to have abadoned or even turned against you, but assuming messages can't be faked, intercepted or compiled under coercion?  That just makes you an idiot.

Clues

This issues follows on immediately from issue #20, and continues into the following day.  Beyond that, there really isn't anything to be said.  I guess the dude ranchers set the story as being after 1925, but so does, y'know, pretty much everything else.

Date

 

X-Date

X+220 to X+221.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel month = 4.51 standard months.

Contemporary Events
Indira Gandhi is re-elected to the Indian parliament, and remains Prime Minister.
Californians reject a proposition aimed at banning homosexuals from teaching in schools.
Stand-Out Line

"As always lad, our minds are kindred spirits!" I'm ashamed to admit that I hadn't noticed until now, but the comic very much seems to have cast Iceman and Beast as a mis-matched duo.  They go on dates together, they spend all their time good-naturedly insulting each other.  They don't even seem all that interested in Jean, unlike Scott, Warren and (briefly) the Professor.  If this comic had started up forty years later, I'd assume they were both gay.  In fact, I still have my suspicions...
Monday 6th to Tuesday 7th of November, 1978.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

UXM #20: "I, Lucifer..."


("This is how the world will end. Not with a bang, but with two clowns in spandex who fail to rob a bank.")

 Comments

You know, three years ago I would have said that this entire scenario was ridiculous; that it was obviously idiotic to expect the US press to blame the X-Men for a bank robbery just because two self-confessed and well-documented criminals said they were affiliated with the group. 

Nowadays I know better.  The only surprising aspect to this story by contemporary standards is that John McCain hasn't been invited onto a talk show to blame the bank heist on the Democrats.

(The fact that the general public are all idiots, on the other hand, would have surprised me at no point whatsoever.)

Having said that, though, I love the idea that Unus, with his essentially defensive power set, can fake being phenomenally dangerous just by dint of being a mutant.  It seems entirely reasonable that when the police face someone with an unspecified but clearly real power set they'd choose to exhibit a fair amount of discretion.  By that logic, Skyn, Sammy, Beak, Choir and all the other Z-listers (said with love) could do the same thing: just wander into a bank and say "Give me all your cash, or I'll go back in time and screw your momma prevent your birth!" This concept is rather undermined by the Blob actually displaying super-strength in marked contrast to his established powers, of course, but this is the '60s: we take what we can get.

Even at this point, I'm so thoroughly sick of Cyclops whinging about his uncontrollable powers that my immediate reaction to him quitting the X-Men is a resounding "Don't let the door hit you on the way out."  It is interesting to think about what would have happened if he had disappeared, only to return some time later with his powers under control.  Would he be any more of a pompous, tightly-wound prissy jackass?  We can never truly know.  Though I'd tend to doubt it.

Having labelled the radar-image beam as one of Lee's failures yesterday, it's only fair to point out that Thomas uses it this issue, which is a smart way to confirm the identity of Unus.  It's a shame the Blob blurts out his name during a struggle with the cops, I liked the idea that the two villains needed a little thought and knowledge for the reader to recognise.  The same should have been true for Lucifer, by the way, but the issue's cover renders that a moot point. 

I'm trying to think of a description of Lucifer's tower that's more interesting and original than "It's a huge fucking dick", but it is a huge fucking dick, and that's making my job more tricky than usual.

Also: damn, but that Xavier is a filthy racist.  After he slaps together a resistance movement against Lucifer in the Himalayas (apparently entirely populated by purchases from genericasain.com) , he starts pulling out the enlightened white man card, all "Through means you cannot understand..." and so forth.  What a dick. I hope he gets his legs crushed by an implausible death-trap involving a falling block of stone. Oh wait...

Clues
.

 This story takes place over a single day.

There's quite a lot to think about here.  Firstly, Angel notes that it's good to be back in action, which suggests that at least a little time has passed since Mimic's violent house call.  On the other hand, Xavier mentions that it's been "several weeks" since he bought his (newest) private jet, but that he hadn't gotten a chance to show it to the X-Men during their battles with Magneto and the Sentinels.  That places the purchase of the plane on the 4th of September at the latest, two months before the Mimic attacked.

I think the best way to reconcile all this is to assume Warren's delight at being back in action is a reference to how nice it is to actually be sent on a mission, rather than just having someone come to his house and start summat. So let's set this on the Monday following the Mimic encounter, since it looks like a workday at the bank.  That curtails the X-Men's holiday by quite a bit, of course, but at this point you can forgive Xavier for abandoning the idea entirely, given that so far the X-Men have managed two holidays and been attacked three times during them.  This will of course become a long-standing problem for the X-Men: the only thing more dangerous than a holiday is a romantic getaway.

(There's also the greenery around the mansion to take into account, but since we know winter started after the Sentinel attack, we can't possibly be in spring already, given Xavier's comments on his plane purchase.  Maybe the grounds have bushes that don't lose their leaves.  Or maybe their not even real, and are just camouflage for a row of missile silos, or mental boosters to allow Xavier to contact teenage boys at greater range.  I mean, last time round his order of "One teenage boy: extra hot" nearly didn't make it on time.)

Date
.

.Monday 6th of November, 1978.
.

X-Date
X+220.
Compression Constant

1 Marvel month = 4.42 standard months.
Contemporary Events
The first world championships of korfball (a Dutch sport, a bit like mixed-sex basketball) are held in Assen, Nuenen and Amsterdam.

Stand-Out Line
"As usual, a mob seldom makes the right decision!" If only Gerald was an X-Men fan, the Ratner's Group might still be going strong.  Or maybe he is a fan, but he'd have needed Cyclops to say "Keep your mouth shut, Jerry; not everyone can take a joke".

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

UXM #19: "Lo! Now Shall Appear -- The Mimic!"


(Imitation is the sincerest form of battery)

Comments

It's the last Stan Lee scripted issue, exactly two and a half years since the comic began.  As mentioned previously, this is a good time to list all of the concepts, inventions and characters central to the X-books for which Lee is responsible.
  • Professor X
  • Cyclops
  • Angel
  • Beast
  • Marvel Girl
  • Iceman
  • Magneto
  • Quicksilver
  • Scarlet Witch
  • Mastermind
  • Toad
  • Blob
  • Vanisher
  • Unus the Untouchable
  • Ka-Zar
  • Juggernaut
  • Bolivar Trask
  • Mimic
Inventions and locations
  • The mansion
  • The Danger Room
  • Cerebro
  • Asteroid M
  • The Savage Land
  • The Sentinels
Which pretty much just leaves Lucifer, the Stranger, the radar-image beam and the dreaded mento-helmet that didn't really go anywhere.  Even if you can't find a good word to say about Lee's writing (which would be a tad unfair; it's a lot closer to massively outdated than actually terrible), you have to respect his success in terms of world building. 

His swansong issue is pretty strong as well  Just as you're wondering what the Mimic hoped to gain from attacking the X-Men, we learn it was all a ruse to get them to follow him to where he could put their stolen powers to use.  It might not exactly be a Shyamalan twist (even one of the shit ones), but it does play smartly off the standard "villain shows up, X-Men beat him" template that was so in evidence during the early issues.

The psychology of the Mimic is also fairly interesting, especially for a '60s character.  Calvin's obsessive need to prove himself (to his classmates, to his father, even to the X-Men, in a delightfully twisted way) not only explains why he does what he does, but also explains why it never works.  His ability to share someone else's powers means any attempt to prove his superiority boils down to tossing a coin.  Like the doppelganger in Talisman, once you're faced with something which is identical to you by definition, all that's left is the luck of the draw.

Which is why Mimic keeps failing to be satisfied, even as he wins all those medals, and beats (temporarily) the X-Men at their own game.  The real problem is that he isn't just mimicking powers, he's mimicking ambition.  He wants to be good at sports like the people he steals from.  He wants to impress the girls like Hank and Bobby have (or seem to have).  He wants to be a powerful man, like his father, to the point where he makes a costume which apes the design on the door to his father's lab.  Ultimately, of course, he joins the X-Men because he wants to be a superhero too.  It's a really nice idea for a character, I think, a good use of tying in a personality to their power without making it too literal or obvious, and might in fact explain why Rankin is forever in the lower tier of Marvel characters - all he can do is fret about what others think of him.

I vaguely remember the "Is Mimic a mutant" argument taking up a lot of fan's time at one point.  Within the context of this issue, I wonder if Lee thought ti was pushing credulity too much (even for him) to have a chemist smart enough to make a mutant enhancement machine[1] happen to have a mutant for a son. I don't see why else Lee wouldn't have gone for it; easy superpower justification being the whole point.  Interestingly, this then led to a large number of X-Men villains with preternatural origin stories during Roy Thomas' run, bu we'll get to that in due time.

Clues

This story takes place over two days.

Apparently it's vacation time again.  This is somewhat confusing, actually.  Xavier mentions their encounters "with the Sentinels and with Magneto in the past few months", apparently forgetting that they both happened within the same three day period.  It's possible he was including one of their earlier bouts with Magneto (just before he was abducted by the Stranger, for example), but then why skip over the Juggernaut?

Well, maybe Xavier doesn't like talking about his stepbrother; that's hardly unreasonable.  In any event, the leaves have finally fallen from the trees (some of them at least), so if we assume this story takes place at the start of November, everything fits neatly into place.

Cyclops refers to Beast as "boy", which previously I took as evidence of chronological superiority.  This time, I think Cyclops is just being a dick.

Date

Wednesday 1st to Thursday 2nd of November, 1978.

X-Date
X+215 to X+216. (Lee era: 7 months)
Compression Constant
1 Marvel month = 4.37 standard months.
Contemporary Events
Ugandan forces annex Tanzanian territory across the Kagera River.
Stand-Out Line
"Zelda's not here yet! We might as well case the other chicks!" You stay classy, Bobby.
[1] Or so he told Calvin, at least. This issue really does deserve credit for how hideously bitter the ending is: the X-Men don't stop the Mimic, he's undone by his own father secretly thinking he was a prick.  That's some dark shit, right there.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

UXM #18: "...If Iceman Should Fail!"


("Welcome to Magneto's Bed and Breakfast.  You'll never hear a soul complaining!")

Comments

Few small points, first.  I think if there's anything that deserves a yearly award, it's "Most Convoluted And Unreliable Execution Method Devised By A Leading Supervillain".  If such a thing that existed in 1966, Magneto would surely at least be nominated for a hot-air balloon with a sealed and air-tight gondola.  I suppose I shouldn't be too harsh on him, though; he must have spent the majority of his very tight timetable rewriting and rebuilding the mansions security systems.  Oh, and learning to use magnetism to hypnotise people.

(He also seems to have gone to the effort of identifying the guest rooms.  I'd question the utility of that, but only one of the people in this paragraph is a dangerous supervillain, and it sure isn't me.)

As ridiculous as his death-traps are, though, I have to give him style points for how he opens his front door. "I?  I am power!  Men call me -- Magneto! And now -- come in!"  You're not likely to be bothered by too many travelling salesmen or Jehovah's Witnesses with that welcome, I'd have thought. 

I do feel a little sorry for poor old Toad. Mind you, I get annoyed enough when ingratiating snivellers follow me around at a party.  If one dogged me whilst I spent a few weeks exploring a new world, I wouldn't let him into my cramped spaceship either.

For all his lunatic ideas and ridiculous devices, I actually quite like the idea of a hypodermic syringe that uses a laser to cut through a superhero's skin.  As far as such things go, that's eminently logical and clever.  It certainly works better than Magneto's "magna-car".
Of course, all of the above pales into insignificance compared with the madness of Magneto's ultimate scheme: using the Angels' unconscious parents to breed a race of mutants.  The WTF reading on that starts at roughly 7 Russells [1], and just keeps climbing, especially when Magneto announces he's attached a device which will let him pick each mutant's power-set.  
.
 It raises all sorts of questions, from the immediate (why did Magneto nor anyone else ever try this again) to the more in-depth (couldn't this have been used to repopulate the species following M-Day), but at the time you read it, you're brain is too busy trying to switch gears to process anything.  About the only thing that registered was the question of whether shutting down the process mere seconds before the first clone stepped into the world technically makes Iceman a murderer.

Clues

 
This story takes place over a night and a day.

Date

Thursday 7th to Friday 8th September, 1978.

X-Date
X+160 to X+161.

Compression Constant
1 Marvel month = 6.22 standard months.

Contemporary Events
Iranian troops open fire on rioters in Tehran.

Stand-Out Line

"More than any other force on Earth, the power of magnetism is -- infallible!"  Actually, for all I know, Magneto might be right.  But I can't help reading this line and not seeing it as some kind of bizarre product placement.







[1] Named after the tsar of WTF? moments himself: Mr Russell T Davies.  If you're wondering, 1 Russell is equal to watching the Daleks squaring off against an overweight R2 unit painted up as Ann Robinson.  During the height of his tyrannical assault against storytelling logic, measurements into the hundreds of Kilorussels, or even Megarussels, were not uncommon.

Monday, 20 June 2011

UXM #17: "... And None Shall Survive!"


("His pattern indicates two-dimensional thinking")

Comments

This is not a proud day for Xavier's skills at deception. Marvel Girl starts the issue wondering how the Professor will hide his affiliation with the team.  I'd be prepared to bet she didn't imagine him asking if an X-Man would drive him home in his nearby car, which conveniently now has no driver.  On the other hand, he's apparently been controlling the soldiers since they arrived, so I suppose it doesn't matter too much.  Of course, this is another one of those times when Xavier's willingness to fuck around with innocent people's synapses raises the eyebrows, but these are still early days. [1]

Do we ever find out how Magneto found the X-Men's base?  Or did he just have enough time to work it out whilst he was a prisoner of the Stranger.  I suppose he can't have spent all his time being rectally probed.

I see from Cyclops' "perfect circle" defence in Xavier's study that the X-Men still aren't getting the hang of the third dimension.  This is reinforced by Marvel Girl "forgetting" that she can use her telekinesis to float down from windows.  I bet she never forgets she can sew with it, though.  Not if she doesn't want to feel the back of Cyclops' hand, anyway.

At least Cyclops has the excuse that he was nearly deafened by Cerebro, at least.  Actually, I meant to ask this after issue #12, but did it really never occur to Xavier that there was an obvious tactical disadvantage to creating a mutant detector capable of shattering the ear bones of the operator and anyone near him?  Maybe he was still to busy designing the precise spermicide formula for his mento-helmet.

Does "John Thomas" mean something different in the States?  Or did he become a doctor as a way of proving himself after years of cruel, vindictive bullying?

Clues

 
This is a difficult one to figure out.  We know the story starts just after the Sentinel base explodes, so that's all right.  The implication is that all the hospital scenes follow on very quickly. Certainly, some of Xavier's mental dialogue (as in thought bubbles, not "Charlie is a mental", which I suspect was a B-side to an '80s B-Line Matchbox Disaster single) doesn't really work if he hasn't pretty much followed the ambulance carrying Scott, Hank and Bobby to the hospital.

 
On the other hand, having Beast recover from a fractured foot within an hour is pushing it.  Or is it?  Maybe this just demonstrates how much damage Juggernaut did to his leg back in issue #13.  At the time, I thought it was ridiculous that Cain's blow didn't do far more damage, but if Beast has himself a healing factor (less powerful than Wolverine's, sure, but still there), then some hobbling around on crutches back then, and a 60 minute recovery now, would both make some sense.

Let's split the difference, and assume the ambulance arrived close to midnight on the Wednesday (the Sentinels attacked during an evening broadcast, after all) and that the hospital scenes take place the following day.

 
This has the knock-on effect of allowing Magneto almost 24 hours to booby-trap the mansion, rather than less than a day.  It still makes bollocks-all sense that he's able to overcome Xavier's security and re-write it so quickly, but at least this way he's had some time to puzzle it all out. 

Date

Wednesday 6th to Thursday 7th September, 1978.

X-Date

X+159 to X+160.
Compression Constant

1 Marvel month = 6.08 standard months.

Contemporary Events
Bulgarian defector Georgi Markov is stabbed in London, with a poisoned umbrella.   Tragically, Mathew Horne survives the attack.  Or maybe he orchestrated it.  It's difficult to be sure.

Stand-Out Line

"He's delirious!  No way of knowing whether it's a good symptom -- or a dangerous one!"  No way of telling whether delirium is good?  Did Johnson go to the same school as Doctors Spaceman and Fisher?
[1] indeed, waaaaay in the future, in issue #331, Warren explicitly calls the Professor out on his previous history of re-writing minds left, right and centre.  So it does get addressed eventually.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

UXM #16: "The Supreme Sacrifice!"


("Bolivar Trask... The thing you've got to remember about Bolivar Trask... Bolivar Trask... Bolivar Trask was a prat!") 
Comments


I confess ahead of time that this might be my terrible grasp of physics talking, but I really like Iceman's idea of breaking their prison walls by rustling up an ice-beam and repeatedly adding ice to the centre until it shatters the glass (even if it didn't work).  Presumably that can exert more force than Cyclops wouldn't be able to keep his balance if his force-beam got too strong without it getting though.  I think.  Hang on, momentum equals force times velocity, so -

Never mind.  I'm pretty sure I'm five seconds away from grabbing for a white board.  Back away from the equations, slowly.




 I note that Master Mold has finally concluded that the X-Men can't hurt him.  Whether he made this decision before, after, or during Beast's in-depth description of his first year of postgraduate work, history does not recall.  Old Double-M seems to have caught a case of the Raving Thesps that so plagued his minions last issue.  "Yonder machine?" I ask you...

It's nice of Stan Lee to give us pointers on how to build a heavy gravity globe, but I don't think it's necessary: I've been building one of those inside my torso ever since I started drinking heavily.

(Hah hah hah!  Humour, to disguise my alcoholism.)

Having mentioned above my total inability to grasp even fairly basic physics, I am prepared to take it on faith that a crystal can interfere with transmissions, even if it does sound a bit New-Agey.  Even so, how can you block the Sentinels' transmission from base while they're in the base?  No wonder Washington eventually turns against Xavier; the man's a loon.ever mind

Clues
Once again, this issue follows on immediately from the previous one, and is finished within a few hours at most.

Date
Wednesday 6th September, 1978.


X-Date

X+159.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel month = 5.36 standard months.

Contemporary Events
The Camp David accords continue, never suspecting that Mathew Horne is preparing, even from his crib, to render world peace seem irrelevant in the face of his smug, worthless grin.
Stand-Out Line
"Beware the fanatic! Too often his cure is deadlier by far than the evil he denounces!" Not exactly Sorkin, I grant you, but I give Lee credit for the balls he's showing here.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

UXM #15: "Prisoners Of The Mysterious Master Mold!"


(Better dead than purple and red.) 

 Comments

It's the middle installment of the X-Men's first three-parter (which may or may not be linked to this also being the first issue to be released on a monthly rather than bi-monthly schedule).  I'm not sure shoe-horning in the Beast's origin (courtesy of Master Mold's frankly rather rambling interrogation technique) was the best way to deal with the problems that tend to plague middle installments (it reminds me of all those flashbacks in The Two Towers that end with Aragorn making out with a horse, IIRC), but it's at least an interesting approach.

We're going to have to add "nature activation rays" to the comic's madder ideas.  At least as a name, anyway, since in actuality they don't really seem to do anything more than start earthquakes.  In comparison, their "heavy gravity ray" seems downright plausible.

Apparently, X-Men "Plan G" requires Iceman to build a giant lop-sided Frisbee that he and Beast can cling onto, so that Cyclops can use his force beam to fire them directly over the enemy base.  It's far from clear what Xavier hopes to accomplish via this manoeuvre, and you have to wonder just how terrible Plans A through F were in order for him to settle on this one.

Of all the changes that comics have gone through over the years, perhaps one of the least considered is that of supervillain millinery.  Master Mold's hat looks like a cross between Galactus' helmet and a four-slice toaster.




Mind you, I'm not sure there's anything that would really work.


I could beat the heck out of you!

In Communist Russia, robot behaviour governed by four laws!

I wear a fez now, etc.
Apparently Xavier can knock out machines with the power of his mind (as well as create "sharp thought particles"), which doesn't seem very likely.  Mind you, I'm not sure the Sentinels are machines at all.  What self-respecting emotionless killing machine would witness the deactivation of his fellows and say "This is passing strange!"  It's far more likely that the entire base is actually full of giant, jobbing British thespians, simply posing as remorseless killer robots in order to make ends meet.  We're certainly never more than a hairsbreadth from a "Gadzooks!" or a "Zounds!" with these guys.  It may also help explain the hideous colour scheme.

I can't help but notice Master Mold's "psycho probe" is right in front of his massive metal crotch.  I'm not saying that anything funny's going on, or nothin'.  But damn, that crotch is hard to miss. And Beast has to stare at that whilst taking about his parents.  That's gotta be an appointment with Doc Samson, right?

Clues
.

.This issue follows on immediately from the last one, and takes place over just a few minutes.
.

 Beast calls Angel "son", which may be the first implication that Hank is a little older than the others in the team.

Date
.
Wednesday 6th September, 1978.

X-Date
 X+159.

Compression Constant
1 Marvel month = 5.17 standard months.

Contemporary Events
Mathew Horne is born, as part of a sinister plot to ensure James Cordon becomes only the second least talented man to be allowed onto the BBC in the 21st Century.

Stand-Out Line

"And then you won a scholarship to college! Now, continue your biography--!" Master Mold's interrogation of Beast apparently involves the same techniques as my mother's chats with friends over coffee.  Presumably we only just missed him offering Beast a custard cream.