Now that we've finished reading Byrne's series of back-ups fleshing out Alpha Flight's origins, we may as well update this timeline. Unfortunately there's no specific information as to when Aurora and Northstar joined the team.
c 38 000 BC: An alien spacecraft crashes in the Arctic, and lures an exiled tribesman to millenia of torture.
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.
1957: Ororo Munroe is born.
1958: Jean Grey is born.
1960: The group of mutants assembled to commit evil by staggeringly racist villain The Claw are freed from their captor's bondage. They agree to enter into suspended animation, coming out once every ten years for a week to determine whether mutants have finally overthrown humanity, and if so, to offer their entirely uninformed opinions as to how to rebuild the planet.
1961: Bobby Drake and Kurt Wagner are born.
1962: Xavier meets both Erik Lensherr and Gabrielle Haller, the latter of whom will one day bear him a son.
1964: A crewman is washed from the deck of the trawler Mary D and finds a golden egg on the sea-bed; this rapidly hatches into a hominid girl her finder names Marinna. Piotr Rasputin is born.
1968: Xavier faces Lucifer in Tibet, in a struggle that costs him the use of his legs. Dr Michael Twoyoungmen loses his grandfather and his pregnant wife; the latter of which his young daughter blames on him. Richard Easton finds a ceremonial headband at an archaeological dig in the Arctic, and as a result is requested to and agrees to impregnate Nelvanna, Goddess of the Northern Lights.
1969: Ororo Munroe gives up her life as a street-thief in order to follow a strange compulsion drawing her to the Serengeti. Katherine "Kitty" Pryde is born.
1972: James MacDonald Hudson learns his mechanical suit design is to be used by the US Army in Vietnam; he responds by destroying the blueprints.
1974 James Hudson and Heather MacNeil are married.
1977: Xavier founds the X-Men. Richard Easton returns to the world after impregnating Nelvanna, and quickly goes insane.
1978: Doctor Michael Twoyoungman becomes a shaman (named Shaman, obviously) under the tutelage of his grandfather's ghost. He then aids Nelvanna in giving birth to Snowbird, and fosters the baby.
1979: The true identity of the Hulk is revealed to the world. Walter Langkowski was at college with Bruce Banner, and so is inspired to try his own hand at gamma ray experimentation.
1982: Walter Langkowski triggers the gamma ray bombardment process that mutates him into Sasquatch.
Friday, 29 March 2013
(Wherein Guardian smashes into the World Trade Center, and you feel really weird about it.)
With Byrne having decided to wrap up his Alpha Flight origin strip this issue, the main strip only runs for twelve pages this time. This actually works to its advantage, since it's basically a fairly standard set-up issue (see what I did there?) which concludes with a "shit 'bout ta go down" ending. Often such structures can drag a bit whilst we trudge on towards the last page, but this truncated approach keeps things barrelling along.
Which is just as well, since what's actually taking place really isn't all that interesting. The basic idea is that a mysterious woman, Miss Courtney, is visiting the former members of Gamma Flight, the back-up back-up team to the Alphas, who had only just been recruited to the program when the whole shebang was mothballed by the Canadian government. She's organising a meeting of said mothballed heroes, hoping to persuade them to take out their frustration at getting the boot on James Hudson. A man, of course, fired at the exact time they were. This is like getting the under 18 squad of a football team together and persuading them to beat up the main squad's captain because the club has gone under.
In other words, it makes bollock-all sense. Presumably this is why we learn that Miss Courtney has some kind of "influencer" device, which makes Gamma Flight - comprising of Box (not the one current readers will be used to), Diamond Lil, Flashback, Smart Alec and Wildchild  - more prone to cupidity and petty jealousy than would otherwise be the case. This kind of thing always pisses me off, partially because you couldn't move for mind-control plots in the '70s and '80s, but mainly because it's just a way of admitting your plot doesn't track on its own terms, and needs an excuse for characters to act illogically and/or contrary to their natures. How hard could it have been to come up with a more sensible reason for the Gammas to come after their former superior? Maybe that could have replaced three pages of Heather Hudson thinking to herself about the arrangements necessary for moving house and selling her car.
Anyway. Gamma Flight meet in the World Trade Center, and our scramble-brained former heroes meet their new boss: Jerome Jaxon, associate president of the Roxxon oil corporation. Man, Roxxon really knows how to pick 'em. Last time I'm aware of them cropping up, back in '79 Iron Man, they'd spent massive amounts of time and effort disguising an island mining operation as a military build-up so as not to alert the suspicions of the one guy who lived on the island, so he couldn't alert the authorities with his total lack of phone or interest. This time round, it's all about destroying Alpha Flight. Twenty quid says this is related to Jaxon being in a wheelchair. He certainly wasn't eleven years ago when he tried to sell Hudson's suit design to the US Army.
As part one of Jaxon's villainous plan, he has Heather Hudson kidnapped when she gets off the plane in New York City, and informs Guardian that he'd better report to the WTC forthwith if he doesn't want to become a widower. Well aware of Jaxon's unpleasantness, Hudson heads to the rendezvous with all haste, only to meet his former understudies there. No longer will they stand in his shadow, so much as ensure it gets torn to bits to reflect the status of its owner. Gamma Flight is dead. In its place: Omega Flight!
Onto the back-up strip (which at ten pages is hardly worth that title, even if the last page is basically an ad for ALF #12 - in which one team member is apparently going to get dead as hell. My money is on Marrina, since I have no idea what she's doing in the picture in the first place). Entitled "Unleash the Beast!" and, as one might expect from that title, it focuses upon Walter Langkowski's first transformation into Sasquatch. I hadn't realised until reading this issue that Langkowski actually became the orange-furred hero due to self-experimentation; that just makes his position as bargain-basement Beast-wannabe all the more obvious, which seems like an odd choice.
The first half of the strip offers excerpts from Walter's logs as he fills in back-story; his time at college learning alongside Bruce Banner, his desire to change the world for the better without getting a face full of gamma bomb, and earning enough money from being a pro-footballer (hey, didn't Hank McCoy excel at football, too?) and getting enough resources from the newly created Alpha Flight to put together a secret research program, all of which eventually led to:
One can forgive the resulting rampage Langkowski indulges in, particularly since he's far north enough for there not to be much of anything he can really damage (some poor sap at the oil rig he smashes is going to have a hard time filling out the insurance forms, though). Having been sent to investigate Walter's recent radio silence, Snowbird finds the scientist naked in the snow, and gets him to a hospital and Dr Twoyoungmen before he dies of exposure. There he meets James Hudson, who has a new employment opportunity in mind, and the rest is history...
 All of which Byrne created, and more than one of whom became staples of the X-books later on, so we should give him credit for that at least. For all my problems with his writing in the '80s, I have to concede that Byrne was pretty good at coming up with concepts other writers wanted to work with. By the early 21st century, of course, this was very much not the case. Anyone still remember Deluge?
It's the 29th of February , apparently, which puts this story more than two months further on than Sasquatch's Arctic adventure, and gets us to the sixth anniversary of Jean Grey joining the X-Men (it also means Dazzler is the only X-book that still seems to be taking place in 1983). This two month jump perhaps causes some problems, as Heather Hudson comments on how quickly she and her husband have left Ottawa to start their new life in New York. Having moved three times in as many years, though, I can safely say that a two month turnaround definitely feels ridiculously short when you actually try it, and that's without the added hassle of emigrating.
The issue itself takes place over three days.
Langkowski notes in the backup strip that he became Sasquatch three years after the Hulk was publicly identified as Bruce Banner. This was actually 18 years earlier in real time, or about four and a half years ago according to our timeline, which places the birth of Sasquatch about eighteen months before this issue takes place, only a month or two before his first appearance in UXM #120. This works out supremely well, actually, since this strip ends with James Hudson recruiting Langkowski for the mission that begins in that very issue.
Wednesday 29th February to Friday 2nd March, 1984.
X+5Y+365 to X+6Y+1.
SpaceSquid Sr. turns thirty two. Or eight, depending on how you look at it.
"...Said that the monster that tore through their drill-site was orange. How can that have been you?"
"I'm not quite sure, Jimmy. The gamma radiation should have turned me green." - Guardian and Sasquatch.
Sunday, 24 March 2013
("Why must I be a teenage dragon in love?")
And an old story it is at that. Why, who amongst us hasn't met some gorgeous vision of loveliness, only to take them home and have them grow to two thousand times their previous size and wreck up a city? It's bordering on cliche at this point.
Well, it is for the X-Men, if only because they're back in Japan. Apparently the additional cabin luggage of one dragon rather screwed the trajectories, and they're in the wrong place. That said, if they had gotten back to Westchester, Lockheed's lady friend might be eating New York right now, so it all works out. USA! USA!
Feeling rather guilty at the surrounding chaos, Xavier dispatches Rogue to check in on Kitty, the New Mutants and Cyclops (who unbeknownst to the others has actually been deposited back with his new wife) and orders the rest of the team to sort out this giant dragon business.
Not that they have to do it alone. The Japanese military have constructed the kind of rapid-response inter-branch military response one can only see in countries regularly terrorised by giant rampaging monsters. Not only are fighter-bombers and futuristic tanks deployed almost immediately, but the government gets hold of Sunfire - and, for some reason, his crime-boss cousin Mariko - to join the defense. I'm not sure what pisses off Shiro more, actually, a gigantic flying lizard chowing down on the earthquake-proof buildings, or the fact that those amateur losers the X-Men need him to bail them out. Seeing Mariko making eyes at the pictures of Wolverine on the monitor isn't improving his mood any, either. Still, he heads off into combat anyway. He's a professional.. And if he ends up singeing a few careless X-Men along the way, well, no harm done. To him, anyway.
Meanwhile, the X-Men are on the highway to the danger zone. I'm sure under normal circumstances a berserk dragon would pose little problem for our elite mutant cadre, but they've got their own problems. Charles still wants to be in charge, but neither Wolverine nor Storm seem particularly interested in the idea, and the others keep deferring to Storm. Still, maybe this is a chance for Xavier to prove himself in the field, demonstrating once and for all that his skills translate just as well to combat scenarios as they do to teaching advanced punching. Maybe -
At least he survives the experience (with legs undamaged, no less). Others are not so lucky. Wolverine rescues a small girl from the wreckage of another building. Her mother is there too, but she's just too badly injured; beyond help. As the last seconds of her life drift away, Logan swears to look after the child as his own. Which is all very well, and all - though I seem to remember this storyline being suddenly dropped during Larry Hama's Wolverine run - but damn, that's a major and obviously problematic shift in tone. I just can't understand what Claremont was thinking in linking a plump dragon on a bender with the death of an innocent mother. There's simply no way "remember that time the X-Men fought Lockheed's giant girlfriend" and "remember that time Logan adopted a child who saw her mother crushed to death" should refer to the same issue.
Still, that's what we seem to be stuck with, for the next few years at least. For now, there's still the issue of a mad dragon assaulting downtown Tokyo. Fortunately help is on the way, as Lockheed shows up to tell the unstoppable violent beast that he never loved her anyway, so all this smashing of objects isn't getting her anywhere. Heartbroken, she flies towards Russia, which if you ask me the Japanese are rather indecently happy about. The USSR have buildings too, you selfish jerks!
Fortunately for Andropov, the dragon disappears in a convenient but thematically appropriate puff of smoke, and the crisis is passed. Again, this all seems far too lightweight for there to be a butcher's bill attached, but at least it's all over, and the X-Men can go home and take things easy.
Except obviously that's not true. That's never true. There's always another tempest on the horizon. This time, it's the infamous Senator Kelly, who's decided that the X-Men saving a major metropolitan area from becoming a giant reptile's smorgasbord is just the excuse to introduce the "Mutant Control Act". Because sure, the Fourteenth Amendment is nice and all, but Andrew Johnson couldn't foresee the arrival of mutants any more than the founding fathers could have, and that means it's time for a little originalism. If no-one writing the constitution knew about mutants, then none of them could have meant to prevent any action taken against them. Time, it appears, for a wee bit of institutionalised slavery...
Xavier states that it's been over a week since the Beyonder abducted them in Central Park. That seems a little on the long side given what we saw in Secret Wars, but who knows how long it took our heroes to get to and from Battleworld, and whether said planet was working with a precisely Earth-like diurnal cycle, rather than an approximate one.
Another potential problem is the date on the front of Senator Kelly's new bill, which puts its release almost a fortnight after the X-Men first left Earth. Of course, there's nothing to say either that Kelly's epilogue has to take place at the same time as the rest of the story (indeed the fact that the X-Men's tangle with the dragon has made it into the US papers means there must be at least some lag time), or that the bill is being put forward on the day Phillip and Robert discuss it.
Wednesday 18th January, 1984.
1 Marvel year = 3.51 years.
(Illyana is 22 years old.)
Eighty-three people are killed in the Japanese city of Omuta when the Mitsui Miike coal mine explodes.
"<Spotters report a giant dragon, sir, heading for Tokyo!>"
"<It can't be! This is the off-season!>"
Friday, 22 March 2013
(The end of the beginning.)
When last we visited the Beyonder's Battleword, Doctor Doom had just pulled the ultimate fast one and acquired Galactus's power, making him in effect a living god, a result he's only to pleased to explain to the heroes. As issue #11 kicks off, Molecule Man gets rather suspicious watching the heroes chinwagging with his former boss, and creates a new atmosphere-scraping mountain with them on top so he can talk to Doom alone. Here we see our first proof that Doom really has changed (other than his lovely new entirely unscarred face). Old Vic might have atomised Owen Reece simply for interrupting his conversation. New Vic feels more generous, and teaches Owen how to affect biological molecules in the same way he does inorganic ones.
Whilst Cap's posse scramble down the planet's newest mountain before they run out of air, then, the Molecule Man grabs the entirety of the Denver suburb transported here a few days earlier and, wrapping it in an airtight dome, begins the long voyage home with the neighbourhood as his starship and ten very impressed supervillains as his crew. I would read the shit out of that series.
With the villains gone, our heroes are safe to take up residence in Doombase, that being the least battered base they know of, as well as giving them the chance to keep an eye on Captain Marvel and see if there's anything to be done for her. With seemingly no-one left of the planet but hot cat aliens with healing powers, it seems things are pretty quiet for now. Colossus skips out to woo Zsaji, but otherwise things seem pretty peaceful.
Until something comes in the night and starts possessing people, first Hulk, then Spider-Woman. Apparently it's looking for Klaw, but Doom ruins the plan by arriving to take his loyal lunatic back to his new 200-mile high base. Whatever other force had been searching for Klaw disappears, leaving the heroes none the wiser. As parting gifts, Doom returns Captain Marvel to normal, and cordially invites the heroes to join him in his massive edifice the following day.
Deciding prudence is the better part of valour, our heroes show up at the appointed hour, and are ushered into Doom's presence by a fully restored Klaw. Doom announces that his quest to become the supreme being is now complete, and with that done the affairs of humans have become rather uninteresting. He decides to atone for recent crimes by resurrecting Kang (something of a strange way to say sorry, I'd have said, but then who am I to criticise the LOGIC OF DOOM), and offers the heroes a boon. Rather snippily, they turn him down, and head back to Doombase in the hopes that Reed can get them all home.
Except not all of them head out. Whatever possessed Spider-Woman (and let's not kid ourselves; it's the Beyonder) never really left, and uses her to find Klaw. The force then hops into Doom's loopy, reverb-heavy butler, and Spider-Woman staggers back to her friends none the wiser.
Once again, then, it looks a lot like everything's been settled. Cap, though, isn't willing to let things go. He's concerned Doom isn't as free of the petty passions and needs of mortality as the guy is letting on. Why fix his face if the physical realm is now irrelevant? Why plot to save his mother from an eternity of torture at the hands of Mephisto if people no longer mean anything to him?
(Actually, I'd be pretty happy helping Doom out saving an innocent soul from infinite agony for all time, but that's exactly the sort of liberal wishy-washy thinking Steve Rogers can't afford I'd imagine.)
Cap puts the question to the assembled heroes (including Colossus, who's taking time out of seducing Zsaji on Xavier's orders), and the vote is unanimous. The day Doom has become both entirely benign and utterly invincible is exactly the time to strike!
At least, it would be, except that at that moment the entire room suddenly explodes...
Issue #12 opens with some of the bleakest imagery Marvel's done before or since. How fare our heroes? "Blood oozing from the mangled remains of their flesh sizzles across the debris of their once-mighty fortress". Oh.
When Doom decides you've outlived your usefulness, he really doesn't mess around.
Meanwhile, aboard the good ship Denver Suburb, an exceedingly promising sitcom premise is denied us as the Enchantress hides in the bathroom and summons up an exposition elemental. Apparently the water spirits of Asgard hang out with their equivalent numbers across the galaxy, and one of them happens to know exactly what's going on. Enchantress and the reader both sit rather impatiently as the last eleven issues are summarised (turns out Magneto's placement with the heroes really was because of how convinced he is that he's helping other people, though I still say that Doom qualifies under similar conditions). It's like a Game of Thrones info-dump, only without any sex.
Learning of Doom's apotheosis, the Enchantress decides Asgard should be informed, and tries to suck the life from Volcana in order to provide the necessary power for an interstellar text message. Lizard and Molecule Man catch her in the act, though, and attack. In a panic, the Enchantress teleports herself - with Lizard in tow - back to Battleworld. There, she drinks the energy from the Lizard instead, leaving him a charred corpse, and tries to teleport back to Asgard. The universe's most fascinating variant on Big Brother has just suffered its first evictions.
Back in reality's most phallic tower, Doom is brooding over the death of the heroes. Klaw is convinced he subconsciously wanted them to survive, hence why he blew up their conference room rather than stripping the area down to its constituent atoms. He also suggests Zsaji might have found Colossus' armoured body and been able to restore him, after which he could save Richards by putting him in a nearby alien medical pod, which in turn could lead to Mr Fantastic saving everyone else.
Doom rejects this as so ludicrously unlikely as to be worth not a moment's thought, especially since in thinking about it he might actually resurrect the heroes by accident in any case. It's not easy having the powers of a living God.
One gets the distinct impression here that Klaw wants the heroes to have survived, and when a moment later Mjolnir smashes through the wall, it's clear he's gotten his wish (either because his ridiculous story turned out to be true, or Doom subconsciously retrospectively made it true; I don't know which option is more stupid). Immediately he announces his wish to kill them all, which seems odd, but then the guy is certifiable, and possessed besides. Maybe he just wanted the personal pleasure of killing them himself. Or maybe he's angling for a slice of Doom's power.
That's what he gets, anyway, and he busies himself creating an army of monsters, led by a newly-resurrected Ultron, which I believes now returns the Secret Wars casualty rate to 0%. Amidst a pitched battle, Captain America overcomes Klaw (the power to "blacken ten thousand suns" apparently being of limited use when one receives a drop-kick to the face) and confronts Doom.
This, though, is the moment Klaw has been waiting for. Each time Doom atomises Captain America (for interrupting nap time, I presume), Klaw resurrects him, until eventually Doom becomes so furious he loses control, and the Beyonder's power starts spilling out in all directions. That's what the force possessing Klaw - the Beyonder himself, by Jove! - has wanted all along, and feeding off the escaping energy, the creator of Battleworld and instigator of the Secret Wars is once again whole. He exacts some measure of vengeance by returning Doom to his previous, horribly-scarred appearance, and then he, Doom and Klaw all disappear. The heroes, it seems, have won by default.
Not without cost, however. Whether Doom allowed it to happen, caused it to happen, or simply didn't see it coming, the heroes were indeed saved by Zsaji, who perished in giving them so much of her life-force. Colossus has some mourning to do, then, but for the rest of our heroes, it's really about tying up loose ends whilst waiting for Reed to figure out how to get them home. There are two developments here that intersects with this blog's focus. The first is Xavier's announcement that he shall continue to take part in field missions, during which time he'll be in command. Storm (and Wolverine) continue to think this is a mistake, and given Charles's first act is to create a new costume in a colour exactly halfway between lime green and diarrhoea brown, it's easy to see why one might consider Xavier unsuited for field work.
The other we need to take notice of is the return of Lockheed, who after several issues MIA has returned... with a girlfriend! Apparently the after-shocks of the battle between Doom and the Beyonder has created some kind of background psychic wish radiation, or something. So Reed Richards claims, anyway, clearly utterly unfazed by how indescribably idiotic the idea is. I think it's much more likely that the Beyonder is giving the victors at least a taste of the rewards he promised them, though fixing Cap's shield and giving Lockheed a little action seems somewhat far from what was originally promised. Bringing Zsaji back might be a bit more like it, but for whatever reason, that seems to be off the cards.
Grief stricken, Colossus rejoins the X-Men and their dragons, and Reed uses the Beyonder's own technology to beam our favourite mutants home again, though the addition of Lockheed's squeeze apparently causes some problems with the system. One by one our superhero teams leave the Beyonder's patchwork world, until only Ben Grimm remains, determined to stay behind as himself rather than risk returning to Earth as the Thing.
The heroes are home, the villains have their interstellar flat-share experiment, and Ben has his face back. The Secret Wars, at last, are over.
So what have we learned? Well, quite a lot, actually. In terms of our focus on the X-Men, we've spent quite some time deconstructing what the series offers us in terms of mutant/human relations. To summarise: mistrust of mutants isn't just for one-dimensional villains and witless mob dialogue anymore. The sight of Wolverine defending Magneto's actions to Captain America strikes me as clear proof that a turning point has been reached.
That turning point is very important in more ways than one. Firstly, it thrusts "the mutant problem" into the realm of personal politics, rather than the ignore/hate dichotomy that existed before (though Claremont has recently added "exploit" to those two poles). Whilst there's not a single panel of Secret Wars that can sensibly called subtle, this new approach does lead to a far greater range of equally unsubtle viewpoints, which is something.
The second reason Shooter's approach is important is part of a larger consideration. Secret Wars is to all intents and purposes the first of the blockbuster crossovers (Contest of Champions being basically Animal Olympics with Blitzkrieg instead of Kurt Woofington), so it's worth noting how it sets the template for what follows. And one of the most obvious things to say, other than "involves massive threat to all reality" is the fact that even back in the mid '80s, an awful lot of this crossover involves the heroes basically being dicks to each other.
The idea of superhero teams that don't entirely get along is hardly new, of course. The team Xavier assembled back in Deadly Genesis were far from a sure bet to even get to Krakoa without at least a couple of self-inflicted casualties. The only time Wolverine gave Cyclops a break was when he was mouthing off at Professor X. But the idea of superheroes coming together specifically to deal with a threat (albeit unwillingly here, and due to internal issues on many other occasions), simply to threaten to (or actually) punch each other out has to my knowledge its basis here. One way of putting it is this: Secret Wars marks the end of the era when superheroes only fought each other due to misunderstandings or mind control, and ushers in an age where they might well come to blows simply because they don't like each other.
Many have argued that this kind of - dare one say it? - "civil war" between heroes has now become the standard crossover template, and indeed if one includes suspicion over Skrull infiltrators and the mind-controlling hijinks of the Serpent's hammer, it's featured prominently in just about every crossover since House of M in 2005. It would be foolish to suggest this is a direct result of Secret Wars when one can far more easily point both to an entire decade of superheroes written as violent malcontents (that would be the '90s, if you're new to all this), as well as the fact that internal conflict has become a far more common aspect of genre fiction since the '80s in any case. So it's not that Secret Wars was a sufficient condition for Civil War or Avengers vs X-Men. I can certainly see an argument that it was a necessary one, however. Whether or not this is actually a good thing, we shall talk about some other time.
With that though, then, I shall bring my Secret Wars posts to a close. Next time around, we'll finally return to our original mission of investigating the timings of Uncanny X-Men as we ask ourselves: why is monsters always start by eating Tokyo?
These issues pick up directly after SWA #10, and continues into the following day.
Thursday 12th to Friday 13th of January, 1984.
X+5Y+318 to X+5Y+319.
Christine Craft wins her lawsuit against KMBC-TV, who had demoted her from news anchor to reporter three years earlier after focus groups found her "too old", "too unattractive", and someone who "wouldn't defer to men".
"The exquisite Enchantress, supreme sorceress of Asgard, locks herself in the bathroom..."
If Marvel didn't release a mini-series detailing the adventures of the supervillain houseshare, mere syllables will not be able to express my profound fury.
Tuesday, 19 March 2013
Let's take another break from Marvel's answer to the Royal Rumble, and check in with the New Mutants, who we rather rudely left at the mercy of the White Queen at her Massachusetts Academy.
Fortunately for our heroes, Frost has never come across Amara before, and the new girl gets everyone out by cutting the power with a tactical earthquake. Emma is obviously not best pleased, but it's Kitty and Doug she's really after, and those two are still safely tucked away. Time for gloating!
Actually, it's worth deconstructing Emma's position here, because it's an advancement both for her as a character and Marvel's approach to mutants in general. Frost's argument is essentially that humanity - or at least the people in charge - has gotten past its initial surprise and terror over the existence of mutants, and moved on to coming up with ways to exploit the newest natural resource. As well as being a logical development, this ties in with what we know is being planned, of course; the government-sponsored Freedom Force will make its debut at the tail end of the following year.
It also gives us more to work with regarding Emma Frost. Within a decade, the White Queen will be co-running a new mutant school for Generation X, so it's worth keeping track of her progression from the frankly one-note villain of her first appearance to her emergence as a complicated, flawed but essentially decent woman in the mid '90s. This, I think, is the first step, in that whilst her methods remain unacceptable - kidnapping children and threatening their families until such time she's managed to brainwash them - her motivations may still be the acquisition of power, but at least there's a suggestion here of, for want of a better term, pre-emptive self-defence (sometimes shortened to "prevenge"). More importantly, it's made clear here that Emma is convinced this new idea of power plays through mutant acquisition is inevitable and inescapable, and that she's actually saving Kitty and Doug from being abducted by far worse people than she is. Indeed, it's interesting to note how similar her philosophy, under which there's no such thing as a mutant civilian, mirrors that of Scott Summers so many years later.
So Frost is now at least not entirely objectionable. The New Mutants still need to escape, however, preferably with Kitty and Doug in tow. The plan: find and take out the main generator and snatch their friends in the confusion, hoping their psi-training limits how much Emma can peek into their heads whilst they're doing it. Helpfully two guards wander past their hiding place, providing them with a handy pair of disguises. In a traditional Claremont move, the guards are female, which either means Chris wanted to make a point about there being no reason to assume guards must be male, or he wanted to get Dani to strip down to her underwear for the 37th time since her introduction (even if this time we don't actually see it). The girl has a reputation to maintain, after all.
Speaking of Dani, during this kerfuffle she's forced to use her psychic powers to terrify their captives into talking. "You're as cruel as the White Queen herself!" squeaks one of the guards in response, allowing for yet another tiresome round of "how are we better than the villains" self-indulgence. For fuck's sake, Dani. How can it possibly be difficult to see the difference between kidnapping and brainwashing children into serving you and detaining kidnappers and frightening them into helping you rescue their victims? I'm not saying scaring the crap out of people like that is necessarily a kosher interrogation method, but when you find a person's ultimate terror is the boss of the organisation they signed up for, I don't think it's hard to see daylight between them and you.
(Just as an aside, I love how our heroes take some time to dress the unconscious guardettes with Dani and Illyana's New Mutants uniforms, which is a lovely touch. Just because you can't spare a woman's face when you punch her doesn't mean you can't spare her blushes when you nick her clothes.)
With the plan settled on, Magma and Cannonball head for the generator, destroying it easily. That's about as far as their luck holds, though; the Hellions are about to make their debut!
For the uninitiated, the Hellions are Emma Frost's own band of mutant students, who are a thorn in the side of the New Mutants for several years. Interestingly, they quickly become more of a rival school than a mortal threat, which eventually seals their fate when talentless hacks like Whilce Portacio start pissing on the legacy of their betters come the early '90s. But that's another story.
For now, though, they're not much more than generic adversaries. The fun here is to match each New Mutant to their obvious Hellion duplicate (this sort of thing used to happen a lot in the '80s, plot logic often taking a back seat to either narrative symmetry or rank laziness, depending on one's interpretation). The werecat that attacks Dani and Illyana is clearly a twist on Wolfsbane. The flying mutant Jetstream (who in this issue at least seems basically to just be wearing a jetpack and sporting some kind of scanning computer using a Commodore 64 graphics system) is clearly the equivalent of Sam. You've also got Thunderbird, one of those rather dull strong-and-fast mutants that seems most similar to Sunspot only without the cool visual, and Tarot, who's ability to generate creatures from her tarot cards suggests a similarity either with Dani (because of the image generation) or Illyana (because the images can themselves cast spells). Finally there's Roulette, who's probability manipulation skills could also be sort of tied in with Illyana (especially since they take the form of discs of energy), and Empath, who can control emotions and thus is nothing like Amara at all. It's all a bit of a mess, really. Maybe Claremont and Buscema had a few good ideas for characters and filled in the rest with weirdo reflections.
Anyway, with a little help from their headmistress the newcomers rather hand the New Mutants their heads - Sam at least probably viewed this with relief having spent the issue upsetting Amara by accidentally breaking the social conventions of Nova Roma and, y'know, America. Only Illyana and Dani escape by diving into one of the former's teleport discs... but will they ever return from Limbo?
This issue picks up immediately from NMU #16, and takes place over the course of about an hour.
Dani mentions that it's been months since she helped Peter Bristow in NMU #4. By our timeline, it's been about six months, so that works out fine.
Wednesday 11th January, 1984.
TheUS Supreme Court reinstates the full amount of damages awarded to the family of Karen Silkwood, who was poisoned with plutonium due to lax safety regulations. The original case formed the basis of the Academy Award-nominated film Silkwood.
"The grave is a mutant's only lasting sanctuary." - The White Queen
Friday, 15 March 2013
(In which I go on at rather too much length about Captain America.)
Last time around, we left She-Hulk in the clutches of the villains, with Captain America and his forces heading off to hopefully save her. But has she been able to survive the extended beating inflicted on her whilst Steve Rogers was waiting around?
Issue #8 opens with the heroes attacking Doombase. The villains take a time out from beating on the unconscious She-Hulk and prepare to repel borders, all except the Enchantress who has just gotten herself mindless pissed on magical mead instead. If I could summon mead at will, I'd do the same thing, if I'm honest.
The resulting fracas takes up much of the issue, which is handy for summarising. Klaw releases the Lizard only for both of them to decide they'd rather play patty-cake with a once-more depowered Thing, and there's a nice moment where Captain Marvel demonstrates transparent shields aren't any use against someone who can turn themselves into light rays, but that's about all we need to take note of. Eventually, the heroes gain the upper hand and battle their way to Doom himself, only to find him all but comatose following his stint in the troposphere back in issue #7. They find She-Hulk, too, even more far gone, but at least she can be put into one of the nearby alien healing devices; no-one dares try it with Doom in case his suit misinterprets the gesture as a threat and detonates one of the many booby-traps it surely has built into it.
With the battle over, it's finally time to bury the Wasp (and here I thought the funeral had been skipped over; apparently it was merely postponed off-panel). Except there's no need, because Wasp is alive! Zsaji the alien healer managed to pull her back from the brink, Janet being "not dead -- merely wounded, but also in some kind of death-like stasis" - or so noted physician Colossus puts it, this presumably being a common thing to happen to Russians who are shot through the chest - though it's nearly at the cost of her own life. The Avengers are obviously delighted when their comrade returns to them, even if her first action is to complain about a lack of make-up and hair products.
There's just time left in the issue for Spider-Man to go searching for a machine to make him a new costume and end up with a jet-black suit that attaches itself to him, and then play time is over. The X-Men have called in: Galactus is dressing for dinner.
In issue #9 it's once again time for the X-Men to shine as they try and buy Cap's forces time to mount an offensive against Galactus. Cyclops, at least, knows that this is suicide, and wonders whether Professor X's recent unpleasant attitude was due to his suspicion that he'd have to send the whole team into their deaths. That sounds like apologism to me, frankly, but I suppose there might be something to it. Whatever else one might want to say about Xavier, though, at least he's leading this suicide mission from the front. This is more than can be said for Wasp, Captain Marvel and Hawkeye, certainly, who are standing in the alien village waiting for Cap to arrive. Much better to die with other humans than those mutie weirdos, I guess.
Cap himself has corralled his cats and the whole herd is heading into battle, including the Thing who has once more regained his powers, and Spider Woman, who Iron Man suspects of being a spy, and of having nice enough legs to make her worth keeping tabs on either way.
The Avengers and friends are almost at the battle when Galactus shoots them down (and not even deliberately), which seems like a long way to have come just to die pointlessly. Fortunately, they land on Colossus, cushioning their fall (I am not even slightly exaggerating). Together the second wave of heroes attack, Colossus wondering what fate has befallen his teammates, everyone else wondering how much of them will be left to scrape into a bin-bag five minutes from now. Just as humanity's defenders are starting to break through Galactus' flock of flying death-balls, however, Reed Richards has an epiphany: the heroes must not stop Galactus, which to be honest is a bit like one bee telling his mate that he must not kill the bear currently stealing the hive's honey supply.
Mr Fantastic's reasoning is fairly simple: they should let Galactus win because he'll then receive the Beyonder's prize, and use it to cure his need to consume planets. Of course, all the refugees the Beyonder dumped on this world will die, as will the heroes, but that's a price Richards is willing to pay (though not mention, apparently). No sooner has he worked this out than he's beamed onto Galactus' ship (which he describes as "[pulsing with life... with living splendour! Mountains... seas... forests... a world of inconceivable vistas of beauty...", making it a bit of a shame that all we see is a bunch of giant metal rooms). Galactus has something he'd like to discuss.
Back at Doombase, the eponymous villain has decided to have another go at stealing Galactus' mojo, and he knows just the person to help: Klaw. This leads to what is easily my favourite exchange in the series so far:
KLAW: You narrate your life as you go along, don't you? Are you being taped?What I wouldn't give for a sitcom with those two as flatmates.
DOOM: Why, yes! Every utterance of Doom must be recorded for posterity!... Come with me!
KLAW: Where to? Toodle-oo, toodle-oo!
DOOM: To the lab! I'm going to dissect you!
KLAW: Oh, good!
We return to the battlefield, where Colossus has found the other mutants (Magneto had buried them under the ground to avoid being blown up), and everyone else basically waits for the other shoe to drop. Soon enough Mr Fantastic is returned, babbling something about Galactus naming him the "universal champion of life", and himself an instrument of death. Whether this means Reed should let Galactus win so as to save billions of sentients from Galactus' hunger, or fight to the death to protect the people of this particular planet, he has no idea. Good work, Galactus, nice and clear.
There is of course an elephant in this particular room that Galactus himself might find too big to eat. The moral choice here - fight to save a planet, or let yourself die with it to save a thousand more - is utterly bogus. If the heroes fight and lose, it's immaterial. If they somehow manage to win, then whichever hero is granted the powers of a God can then cure Galactus' hunger in any case. It's hard to watch heroes agonising over whether to sacrifice their lives when five seconds' thought would reveal there's no need at all.
Eventually, all the heroes decide they're going to get up in Galactus' grill in any case. Unfortunately, there's one flaw in the plan; they go for Galactus' planet-blender instead of the dude himself. With his machine wrecked, Galactus simply retreats to his worldship, and starts eating that instead. Reed points out this is an obvious prelude to eating the planet and then possibly the sun. Galactus doesn't actually need the planet-blender, it just makes things more efficient. Timely info there, Stretcho. Great work you're doing.
Of course, Doom has his own plans. Chopping up Klaw (which hasn't actually damaged the guy, though apparently he's more lunatic than ever) has resulted in a series of finely-tuned lenses (because sound can, er, become glass that... focuses because of... resonant frequencies? Yeah, that'll do...), which Doom plans to use to gather the energy from Galactus' ship into himself!
That gets us to issue #10, in which Doctor Doom's plan is going very well, thanks for asking. The power from Galactus's ship is redirected into him, and he gets busy using it, turning all nearby objects into replicas of his face and laughing his armoured arse off as he mentally dissects the puny desires and needs of his former flunkies.
Tipped off to these developments by a Captain Marvel - reconnaissance is pretty easy when you can move at the speed of light - the heroes decide it's time for another hopeless stand against impossible odds. The things you'll do to entertain yourself when your TV isn't available. Magneto animates the heroes' crashed ship, and they head off to battle (with just enough time for some mutant/human bickering, which we'll return to later). For his part, Doom's not sure Cap's forces are even worth the effort of raising his boot to squash them, so he builds himself a Beyonder-destroying chestplate app and heads off for a real fight. The heroes arrive to find their quarry gone, Captain Marvel frozen into a hologram, and Klaw just a head babbling about Doom.
Meanwhile, in whatever dimension the Beyonder calls home, battle is joined. The resulting shockwaves ripple out into our reality, shaking the Beyonder's hastily assembled planet like a Magic 8 Ball with only one prediction: "Signs point to apocalypse". Both Reed Richards and Zsaji are badly injured (Colossus throws a strop when the Human Torch prioritises the former over the latter), as is She Hulk. It's Doom himself who fares worst, however, rapidly having his left leg blown off as he tries to close with the Beyonder. Risking everything on a melee weapon doesn't seem so wise right about now, I'm guessing.
But at least the ruler of Latveria has cojones, steel-covered though they might be. With his last strength he knocks the Beyonder back long enough for him to appear before the heroes and ask for assistance in exchange for godlike powers. No-one takes him up on the offer (Magneto is briefly tempted, leading to yet another argument), however, and Doom is quickly overwhelmed. Intrigued by his new plaything, the Beyonder begins to dissect Doom, layer by layer, whilst Victor is still conscious. This proves to be something of a mistake when Doom manages to hold onto consciousness long enough to trigger the device inside his breastplate...
And suddenly it's all over. The heroes, having fled the collapsing Doombase (after freeing the trapped villains, because our guys are classy) find themselves standing before an omnipotent Victor von Doom. He assures everyone that the defeat of the Beyonder has also resulted in the death of the old, villainous Doom, and that the war is at last over. Looks like it's going to be two issues of peaceful harmony and garden parties, right?
The first and most important standoff occurs in issue #10 as the heroes head towards a show-down with GodDoom. It starts off with some atypically snarky patter from Captain America and some entirely typical overreaction from Magneto:
Frankly, I'm entirely behind Magneto on this one, though since here that essentially boils down to the fact that I'd have told Rogers to go fuck himself as well, my position on this probably isn't worth a great deal. Instead, let's take a look at Wolverine's opinion:America: Amazing! Looks like you've managed to live up to your own hype, Magneto!Magneto: I gather, Captain America, that you would have preferred that I fail! Or... was that remark, perhaps, intended to be a "well done" for which I should be humbly thankful!
What you don't understand, Cap'n, is that we mutants are at war! Always have been, always will be! You, with all your high-falutin' ideals -- you're the champion of the American dream, fightin' for liberty and justice -- but only for your own kind! For humans... for regular Americans! But you just stand by while mutants are being persecuted, don't you? When have you ever fought for our rights? Some of the God-fearin' Americans you protect hate mutants -- and when they come after us, it's a lot like how the Nazis went after the Jews! Xavier wants us to hide... try to help humanity... earn acceptance... fit in! But when they're threatenin' you and yours, it's easy to play it like Magneto did--! Fight back--! Take the offensive--! Drive 'em into the sea if you have to... Now, though, Professor X has convinced Maggie to lay off... Stop taking the expedient route... stop using noble ends to justify violent means... an' still you won't lay off!This not just gets to the heart of the problem regarding the intersection between Captain America and mutants, it strikes at the core of a much bigger issue: the intersection between Captain America and America. So let's take a look at what these problems are, shall we?
The root of this problem is a common one: fifty states, five centuries, and four million square miles have conspired to create a country of a variety difficult for a Brit like me to truly comprehend. There is not, and never was, a single America. The "real" America is a construct that exists only in the minds of the most self-absorbed and intolerant conservatives. It is the first Great Lie of the USA. America's strength is its diversity. The Founding Fathers knew this; the explicit aim of much of the Bill of Rights was to ensure as many different people as possible could call themselves American without the place exploding. The translation of "E pluribus unum" is not "You better be white and Christian round here, pal".
And yet President Obama notwithstanding, that seems to be the way it's worked out in practice. There are many Americas, but there's only one holding all the cards. Even the first black president spends an awful lot of time trying to do things the way the rich white guys want it to be done (exhibit A being the insurance-friendly Affordable Care Act, which whatever its advantages - and there are many - was explicitly crafted to try and keep as many monied interests as possible on-side).
This has always been the uncomfortable truth beneath Captain America; he's the de jure champion of an entire nation, and the de facto champion of whomever has the largest voice, which is almost always the white guy with a sharp suit and access to the Situation Room. When Cap discovered agents of the Seret Empire had infiltrated America's government, corrupting it from within and causing Cap to abandon his role and become Nomad, the shock wasn't that the US government had been so riddled by enemy agents, it's that Cap could ever possibly have believed the American government could have been living up to his ideals in the first place.
This is not me trying to suggest there is something uniquely problematic about American politics. On the contrary, the problem is that American politics are so utterly like everyone else's, but this is played out against a backdrop of unique self-righteousness, and with access to a unique level of power. Cap is told this more or less explicitly in Captain America Vol. 4 #6, in which a mass-murdering terrorist tells Rogers he hails from a country utterly fucked over by US interference in its politics and infrastructure, and promises to give himself up if Captain America can successfully guess which country he's talking about.
As Mark Twain once quipped, "Loyalty to your country always, loyalty to your government when it deserves it". And a large part of what makes the American government unworthy of Cap's unswerving devotion is it's insistence - usually implicit until HUAC starts up or Steve King starts congressional hearings into Muslims in Congress - that the needs and identity of America should correlate with what the white guys are thinking.
This is basically what Logan is getting at. There are human Americans, and mutant Americans, and the former both hold all the power, and are closer to what the pollutions Rogers venerates think constitutes "real America". And when the deck is stacked that badly, there is no such thing as remaining neutral. If Captain America isn't actively aiding the mutant cause, he's enabling their oppression.
This is something Steve Rogers really doesn't want to think about, because he buys the first Great Lie, and because he buys the second Great Lie as well. The second Great Lie is intertwined with the first, and says that America is complete. The second Great Lie states that everything is fine now, that racism has been solved, that sexism has been overcome; that mistakes were made in the past, but these days everything's been sorted and people should stop going on about it.
Again, this is a product of the American right - just look at the conservative-heavy Supreme Court gear up to chuck out the VRA because clearly legislatures in the former Confederacy don't have so much as a hint of racism mixed into them any more - but really it's just the US flavour of standard conservative thinking, the only way a political movement that has fought against every form of social progress in human history can look themselves in the mirror. It's also an utterly essential foundation for Captain America's ability to function. Try to imagine Captain America waking up during the '60s and actually engaging with the Civil Rights movement. Or dealing with President Reagan sending in the National Guard to break the heads of some hippies. Up until the late '90s at the very earliest, the idea that contemporary America might be suffering from internal battles more complicated than the Avengers brawling with Ultron was simply inconceivable. The battles against the bigoted and the wealthy aren't there for Captain America to fight, they're there for Captain America to state were right to have been fought twenty years after the shooting stopped.
And Logan is calling him on this. If mutants were real, instead of fictional, Marvel Comics wouldn't have come within a million miles of having Cap fight for their right to exist. The closest they'd come is to have him take the stance he does here, that terrorism is never the answer. Which Logan then points out is too loaded a term, though in truth Magneto wouldn't be the person I'd go to the mat over on that particular rhetorical point. The larger point though is the Catch-22 mutants find themselves in; if they don't make enough noise they're ignored, allowing them to be oppressed. If they start fighting back, they're decried as menaces, causing them to be oppressed. There is theoretically some kind of sweet spot where things will gradually, painfully progress - Martin Luther King Jr. found it, and it cost him his life - but it's one thing for the oppressed to find that centre, and another for those who are allied - even if only by default - with the oppressors to give lectures on the need for it to be found. "Please proceed in a way that won't spook heterosexual white Christian men" isn't something a minority needs to hear from a heterosexual white Christian man.
This, ultimately, is why I don't think Captain America works as a character, particularly in the same universe that hosts the X-Men. His title has no real relevance when he's outside his own country, and it limits what we can plausibly interact with upon his own turf. It's a character limitation, not a character facet. And whatever the flaws of mutants as an analogy to the real world, at least those parallels can be drawn. Captain America exists as an anti-metaphor; an attempt not to reflect the real world but to shore up something that does not and cannot exist in reality. It's unfair an oversimplistic in the extreme to suggest Captain America's only foundation is jingoism, but it is true that treating him as such might be the only way to keep everything consistent.
Which is a real problem. I mean, at least Captain Britain is a drunken sexist malcontent. That's how you put together a character who represents an entire country.
These issues pick up directly after SWA #7, and continues for several hours.
Thursday 12th of January, 1984.
The Human Torch warns of the dangers of over-exuberant embraces from the Thing:
"Jeez, I can see the headlines -- 'Affectionate hug slays Human Torch en route to battle -- universe destroyed as a result'!"
Tuesday, 12 March 2013
(Just look what it did to Cybill Shepherd.)
Let's take a break from watching half the Marvel Universe punch each other in the face, and take a look at what Dazzler's up to.
This is a hand-off issue, as Jim Shooter departs the title to dedicate himself full time to calling curvy women "bloated" and shouting at people to hand in their pages on time. I don't recall reading anything by Mike Carlin before, so I'm not sure what to expect, but this issue is both less intense than Shooter's last issue (the surprisingly emotionally draining "Tidal Wave") and a bit less funny than Shooter was in general.
Since we last saw Dazzler, it transpires that she's gotten a job as an aerobics instructor, perhaps misinterpreting Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" as career advice for young starlets. At least it's a steady wage, if nothing else. Alas, her other life once again intrudes when the Inhumans teleport in mid-session, desperate for Alison's help. Somewhat worried about her cash flow, our heroine turns Medusa down, even after the Inhuman Queen points out that Dazzler is only still alive to sweat through her leotard because Black Bolt saved her life less than a year before. Clearly despicable self-absorption is a trait that's survived the authorial hand-off.
Once Alison has finished the class and had coffee with a friend, however, she bumps into Medusa and Lockjaw again - apparently the terrible crisis affecting Attilan isn't so serious there's no time for window shopping - and finally Dazzler relents because, hey, free trip to the moon.
Of course, this may not be the best time to plan a lunar holiday - why else would the Inhumans have asked for help in the first place? It turns out there's a giant field of impenetrable darkness marching across the moon's surface, heading straight for the Blue Area, and Black Bolt wants Alison to use her powers to work out what's going on. Apparently Dazzler has been interrupted in her official job so that she can spend time lighting the moon OH MY GOD YOU GUYS I SEE WHAT CARLIN'S DOING HERE.
In actual fact, the darkness is being caused by the supervillain Blackout, who's on the run with fellow miscreant Moonstone after they escaped Project: Pegasus and a battle with the Avengers. Moonstone needs more of her eponymous fuel to get her back in the game, and Blackout is her best chance of stealing it from the Inhumans; a gigantic cloud of psychic squid-ink being the best of all forms of infiltration, obviously.
Not that the villainous duo even get the chance to try. Black Bolt begins feeding the awesome power of his voice into whatever conversion process Dazzler instinctively uses, and the resulting burst of energy quickly reveals the interlopers. Seeing the enemy and capturing them are two different things, of course, and a strange kind of tug of war (more of a push of war really) develops between Dazzler's light and Blackout's darkness, with the latter strengthened by bursts of light from Moonstone, which really just makes everything more confusing. Eventually, Alison wins out - having Black Bolt's mumbling as a power supply tends to make things fairly easy, and Blackout, er, blacks out. This is somewhat problematic, as Blackout's darkness was the only thing the villains could use to breathe. This makes absolutely no sense, of course, any more than the idea that Quicksilver can apparently outrun the effects of hard vacuum exposure, but this is the '80s, and basic science hasn't been invented yet.
With our heroes victorious, there's just enough time for a round of delighted back-slapping, and then Lockjaw is pressed into service returning the villains to Pegasus and Dazzler to her apartment, just in time for her alarm to go off. Another day of work beckons. Moon lighting is never an easy thing to get right...
This story takes place from some time after 2pm Thursday afternoon to around 9am Friday morning. Quite how so much time is sucked up whilst Alison is on the moon, I've no idea.
This is Dazzler's third weekly class, so it's been at least a fortnight since her first work-out, and the script makes it clear it took her some time to find the job. Aside from a reference to Nekoboh, this issue has pretty much nothing tying it to recent issues, so we can put it more or less where we like. Since it's been three months since the last Dazzler issue, then, we can place this three months further ahead without any problem, and thus bring it closer to what's happening in the other X-Books that month.
Thursday 3rd to Friday 4th of November, 1983.
X+5Y+199 to X+5Y+200.
Just one day after President Reagan signs a bill creating Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Reverend Jessie Jackson announces his candidacy for US president.
"I thought hangin' out on the dark side of the moon'd be cool... 'til I found out it ain't really dark -- just turned away from the sun." - Blackout.
You heard it here first, people. Night time isn't dark, it's just unable to access sunlight. A critical difference, I'm sure you agree.
These are the two ringworms Project: Pegasus were so interested in studying? I assume it was part of a research grant investigating the links between super-villainy and a failing educational system.
Friday, 8 March 2013
("A big big love".)
Right. It's EXTREME SUMMARISING time again. If you're not convinced things are sufficiently EXTREME, then let me assure you that you're wrong, because I'm typing out these SUMMARIES whilst absolutely desperate for a piss, meaning I am risking bladder rupture every second I delay. And all for you.
Issue #5 begins with the arrival of Galactus' worldship, an event which rather puts the wind up heroes and villains alike. Both the Avengers and the X-Men (alongside Magneto) prepare to attack if necessary, all but the Human Torch, who decides to get high with his new alien girlfriend instead. Which proves he's not as dumb as he's suggested to be, actually. He's certainly putting less noses out of joint than Xavier, who's now decided he'll be leading the X-Men in the field despite having had no field experience in the last thirty years. Over at Doombase, the Enchantress tries in vain to seduce Doom in exchange for protection from Galactus, whilst the Wreckers are so busy watching Piledriver attempt to bully Molecule Man's new girlfriend Volcana (which goes exactly as poorly as you'd expect) they almost miss the vast craft appearing in the sky.
Each of the three groups respond differently to the arrival of Galactus' ship and his subsequent construction of some kind of machine that everyone's terrified will blend the planet good and proper so Galactus can chug back a world smoothie. The heroes send Reed to try and speak to Galactus, hoping the fact Mr Fantastic once saved the guy's life might count for something. Xavier meanwhile has the X-Men prepare for battle whilst he tries to make mental contact, using Magneto's latent psychic powers to assist him. I don't think I've seen Magneto's psychic abilities referenced since the mid '60s, so that's interesting.
It's also unwise, however. Initial attempts to make contact fail, leading to Magneto trying to tear his way into Galactus's mind. The resulting pain causes the world-eater to notice the X-Men, which goes very badly when he blows up a third of their base. Interrupted from his reverie, Galactus also notices Reed trying to get his attention, and responds by attacking the heroes with a giant killer robot, so he can get some peace and quiet. No sooner have Cap's forces stopped the machine than the villains attack once more. This is Doom's own response; distract the heroes with his minions whilst he sneaks aboard Galactus's ship.
This he does, and there's almost an unexpected bonus as his forces come close to defeating the heroes. At the last moment, however, the X-Men arrive to help out, resulting in another retreat for the villains. This time the battle is not without cost, however, Colossus is stabbed through the chest by Wrecker - an odd thing to happen considering he's armoured up, but maybe Wrecker's superhuman strength plus his magically enhanced indestructible crowbar is up to the job - and Xavier orders he be left behind, believing his injuries too severe to risk moving him. Fortunately, his hunch plays out, and the heroes arrange for the local healer to save Colossus, but even so, Charles's apparent callousness serves to stoke Storm's suspicions about his fitness for command still further.
Of course, if Doom manages to succeed in his goal of stealing Galactus's power for himself, the internal cohesion of the X-Men won't really matter a damn, and neither will anything else.
Issue #6 kicks off with a look at what happened to Wasp after she was shot down escaping Magneto's base. It turns out she makes an ugly landing inside an alien swamp, which turns out to be where the Lizard has been hiding since fleeing the initial encounter with Cap's troops. Best laid plans of mice and angry sentient lizards, and all that. Not best pleased by the interruption, the former Doctor Connors leaps to the attack, but Wasp manages to calm him down with soothing words and, once she learns the Lizard broke his arm when fighting the heroes, a quick Androcles impression.
Back aboard Galactus's ship, and Doom has made a surprising discovery, when it turns out the villain Klaw, last seen flash-fried in Dazzler, is a) still alive, b) aboard the worldship, and c) out of his fucking mind ("So... I have managed to recreate a raving lunatic!"). Apparently, being made of sonic energy has its advantages, and once Dazzler freed him in a burst of light aimed at Galactus a little while after absorbing him, Klaw was able to gradually reform, albeit as a simple-minded pest. Even he has the wherewithal to carry a message, though, so Doom beams him to the villain's base, where Klaw relays instructions intended to stop Galactus from chowing down on the surrounding landscape.
Over in the shadow of Galactus, our two groups of heroes aren't having the best time of it. Cap's forces are getting more and more agitated, partially because the Wasp is missing, but mainly because the sum total of Captain America's battle plan is to do sweet fuck all on the off chance Galactus suddenly decides to eat the planet. Of course, if that is Galactus' plan, there's nothing the heroes could plausibly do about it, which pretty much means Cap's strategy is to do nothing so as to save strength for when they're all immediately brutally killed.
Meanwhile, Colossus may have been healed, but the exhausted Avengers and Fantastic Four don't seem to have any interest in him, and he's finding it hard to keep his mind of Kitty (who he last saw all of two days ago) because of how smokin' hot he finds Zsaji, the alien healer who repaired his chest wound but apparently plucked out his heart first. Alas, she apparently only has eyes for Johnny Storm and his classy pick-up lines (see end of post).
The rest of the X-Men have their own problems. When Charles's mental snooping reveals Doom has dispatched a team for reasons unknown, he orders Cyclops to lead an interception team, enraging current leader Storm. When she confronts Xavier about his recent heavy-handed tactics, and threatens to quit as a result, Professor X calmly tells her that her options are limited to following his orders willingly, or being mentally forced into doing what she's told. You'd better believe we'll come back to this later.
For now, though, we follow Cyclops, Wolverine and Rogue into battle as they charge forward - despite Xavier specifically ordering they not engage - and engage Doom's team, who've been sent to a range of dormant volcanoes for unknown reasons. Given that the villains here include the Molecule Man, it doesn't seem likely that our heroes have much of a hope. Of course, Wolverine is smart enough to realise that, so his very first move is to try and cut Owen Reece in half. Only a last second optic blast from Scott saves the villain, who is still almost eviscerated.
With that, the villains retreat, meaning the X-Men are free to investigate the area, and Cyclops concludes Molecule Man's goal was to re-ignite the volcanoes. Curious as to what the villains planned, and assuming it might have something to do with Galactus, Cyclops takes the utterly demented decision to open fire into the nearest caldera, setting of a chain reaction of eruptions across the plain. The team get out in their ship at the last second as Scott muses "I hope I did the right thing!" Ensuring the assumed exact goals of your enemies come to pass on the off chance it will benefit you too later on? What could be more right than that?
Back in the swamp, Lizard is well on the way to being domesticated; he's already learned to say "sss-sorry", though admittedly only after announcing "I hate humansss... crush them all!", so there's some distance still to go. Alas, Janet van Dyne won't be around to help out; the Wrecking Crew arrive under orders to retrieve the Lizard, and they shoot Wasp straight through the chest before she even knows she's there. That's the thing about the alien vehicle the criminals are driving:
it's just so damn hard to see or hear coming. The Wrecking Crew grab both the Lizard and the Wasp's body, and head out of the swamp.
Meanwhile, a shadowy figure watches the heroes from the shadows...
Onto issue #7, and the mysterious stranger is quickly revealed: it's a super-heroine named Spider Woman. Not the New York one, but someone from Denver, who was swept up by the Beyonder when this new world was being formed. This answers the question of where Titania and Volcana came from originally (though not how Doom met them), and finally confirms that the inhabitants of this world are not from the galaxy the Beyonder destroyed in the opening issue. For those keeping score, then, it's at this point that the heroes horror about seeing an entire galaxy get torn to shreds could convincingly fade into the background.
There's some concern that this new heroine might be a spy (Spiderman is none too pleased about encroachment on his IP rights, also), but the discussion is rapidly tabled when the Wrecking Crew rock up in their tank, sticking around just long enough to throw Jan's dead body to the ground. Naturally, our heroes are outraged, but Cap refuses to countenance retaliation, still being too worried about what Galactus might be planning. It's still best, he insists, to wait and see what happens, even when Captain Marvel points out attacking Galactus is suicidal in any case.
(As is trying to sneak into his base, as Doom soon discovers when Galactus finally notices the intruder, and has Doom sucked out of the nearest airlock. Somehow he survives, but when he finally staggers into his base several pages later, he immediately passes out on a lovely comfy double bed. Apparently even Doctor Doom needs a kip from time to time.)
Back with the villains, Molecule Man isn't looking good. He's close to bleeding to death, and both Cyclops' vessel and a second craft carrying Xavier, Magneto, Nightcrawler and Storm are closing in. Watching on the Doombase monitors, Volcana strikes a deal with the Enchantress to be teleported to her boyfriend's side, which proves fortuitous, as seconds later the villain's craft is shot down and another battle with the X-Men begins. Ultimately the villains escape by stealing one of the X-Men's shuttles. Storm is less than impressed, but Charles argues their performance was good enough to prove he belongs as their field leader and that Magneto is a boon to the team. Personally, I think the only upside to the whole affair was that Wolverine got to chop the Absorbing Man's arm off, but then I'm not the master tactician Charles (has persuaded himself he) is.
Upon returning to Doombase, the villains lick their wounds and clean up. Titania threatens to tear the Enchantress in half if she doesn't save Molecule Man, the Wrecking Crew find a cage for the enraged lizard, and the Absorbing Man learns to his significant relief that he can re-attach his severed arm upon transforming from rock back to flesh. There's no time to get anything else done, because at that moment She-Hulk attacks. She's struck out on her own, but with surprise on her side - plus, obviously, massive strength - she takes out the entire Wrecking Crew in seconds. Ultimately, however the sheer number of bad 'uns nearby overwhelms her.
Incredibly, when he learns She-Hulk has gone rogue and is almost certainly on the shitty end of magical/molecular torture even now, Captain America still refuses to roll out, so terrified is he that if Galactus eats this world, some of his men might not live long enough to die in the resultant apocalypse. It's only when Xavier finally does something useful and offers his services as Galactus' baby sitter that we finally get to see Rogers step up to the plate. Avengers gotta assemble.
That at least is a nice ending to the infighting that's plagued the heroes since the first issue, even if it comes at least four issues later than it should have. But with the Avenger, FF, and X-Men all working together at last, is there anything one could seriously object to in these three issues?
Oh my, yes.
There's two major problems with these three issues, which though very different do have a definite intersection. We'll start with the one more directly relevant to this blog's focus, I think, and talk for a bit about Charles Xavier.
I never really understood why so many readers were upset over Whedon's portrayal of Xavier in his Astonishing X-Men run. Sure, there were problems there (a crippled man driving an articulated lorry being my personal favourite), but anyone claiming Professor X would never enslave an AI in the service of the greater good was simply not paying attention. Charles Xavier has always been a douche. In fact, that's what I like about him, genuinely flawless Messianic figures being pretty much unbearable. Hell, even Jesus fragged that fig tree for no good reason.
The problem, I think, is that a lot of people mistake Charles's dedication to empathy as a general concept for giving two shits what anybody else thinks. Charles has decided that the world would best be served by people living in harmony, and he hasn't any interest in listening to suggestions about how best to do it. He spends a lot of time agonising over decisions in his own head, which is part of why people might think of him as reasonable (it helps that for decades we were able to see what was going on inside his head), but once his deliberations point one way or another, that's it; the truth has been found. In short, whether he's truly reasonable or not, he can't be reasoned with. This is the point Chuck Austen made with his very first and arguably best Uncanny X-Men issue back in 2002; Xavier and Magneto differ in both goals and methods, but they're actually exceptionally similar in terms of how they respond to those who disagree with their impenetrable self belief.
These Secret Wars issues underline this point. The instant Xavier is capable of standing, of course he decides the best thing he can do is lead the team in the field. He's the one with the vision, so it stands to reason he's the one best suited to carrying it out. When Storm threatens to quit, and thereby cost the team one of its most important power sets, of course he tells her she'll be mentally controlled unless she falls into line. Because Xavier knows what's best, and he doesn't have time for you people to work it all out for yourself. The fact that between threatening Storm with being reduced to a mohawk-sporting meat puppet and tearing pieces out of Spiderman's memory he's lecturing Magneto on the sanctity of human life, and when he's not bellowing at the X-Men to attend him immediately he's explaining to Magneto the dangers of expedient concision rather than warmth, is all part of the same thing. It's not so much that he's a hypocrite, as he's completely unable to fathom the idea that his decision on what is and isn't necessary could possibly be the wrong one.
To the outside observer, this seems maddeningly inconsistent. Ten minutes after ordering the X-Men not to engage the Molecule Man's squad, and telling Storm she'll be brainwashed if she disobeys orders, he's congratulating Scott on disobeying orders by ordering a ridiculously fool-hardy attack that only worked because Logan almost killed someone, and which proved to be pointless when Cyclops did the villain's work for them anyway. Indeed, it's pretty hard to see this as anything other than playing favourites. Even that ties into Charles's bigger issues, however; it makes total sense that he'd prefer the man he chose as field leader to be his second in command, rather than the woman chosen by the team without his input.
Of course, what isn't explained by Cyclops being Charles's favourite might be attributable to plain sexism. These are not good issues from a feminine perspective. The Wasp spends almost every panel right up to her death complaining about the lack of lunch spots and hairdressers, pausing only to blame the X-Men for not stopping her stinging them repeatedly in the face and then stealing their shuttle, or to take a distinctly schoolmarmish tone with the Lizard. This is hardly helped by us seeing her death but skipping her funeral, rather reinforcing the idea that Wasp's death is a shock event, entirely independent of her character save that it removes same.
As I've mentioned, though, this could be me just bringing my more general Wasp baggage into this story. On the other hand, if Shooter wanted to steer people away from accusations of poor sexual politics, he should've cut out the rather nasty streak of fat-shaming that goes on throughout these issues. This is Volcana:
Alas, not everyone agrees with me. Over the course of these issues, Volcana is called a Guernsey cow, a fatbag, plump, and bloated. Which is utterly, utterly horrible. I'll come clean here and admit that I've never been as bothered about the way women are drawn in comics as some, at least up to a point. The giant breasts are a problem for me, but in general, a lot of women in comics are drawn like a lot of men in comics, according to what society at a given time tends to view as a desirable body shape. Now, that's clearly a major problem in itself, but it makes comics a symptom of a wider problem, and the symptoms are only particularly obvious here because comic artists lack the constraints upon casting directors. I'm not trying to defend comics from what are accurate criticisms of their treatment of women; I'm just saying there's a wider context here.
Even that, I'm just saying to highlight how terrible these issues are in comparison to standard comic problems. It's one thing to pretend everyone looks like society says they should, and quite another to actively mock those who don't fit into that ridiculously narrow (in both senses) template. And yes, all the people throwing this crap at Volcana are villains, but that doesn't really make me feel much better. We've sort of touched on this before, I seem to remember, but "it's only villains displaying bigotry" isn't nearly as good a counter-argument as a lot of writers seem to think. At best, it implies bigotry is so obviously villainous that it can't be found in otherwise decent people, which is as wrong as it dangerous, and at worst it leads one to wonder exactly why that particular line of prejudice is coming up so much. Four references to a woman's weight in three (actually, two) issues? There's no other way to show these characters are arsebiscuits? Sooner or later it stops looking like trying to make characters seem unpleasant, and starts looking like trying to have characters be unpleasant to provide you with cover. It's why Seth MacFarlane can't get away with arguing his offensiveness is part of studied character comedy. Eventually the straw hits the camel's spine and you realise the guy just wants to say shitty stuff and get away with it.
It's not all bad, though. I wanted to quickly take a look at Wolverine's attempt to murder Owen Reece, because it allows Shooter to present iteration number 974,665,846 of the "heroes don't kill" speech. I thought this was worth focusing on because of how much time I've spent railing against how stupid the idea is, but reading this scene actually made me think again.
The reason I'm unusually sympathetic to Cyclops' argument here is that the Molecule Man is clearly a man with severe mental issues. He was seeking therapy and trying to live the straight life when the Beyonder threw him into Doom's clutches for the sake of good interdimensional TV, or whatever the hell all this is. Also, lacking any actual improvements to his physiognomy, it's not like Wolverine couldn't just have punched Owen out instead of trying to bisect him. In short, Logan was absolutely right to try and take MM out of the fight, but the argument that either had to or deserved to die is particularly weak here.
The counter here is obvious; you only kill when you absolutely have to. Which, fine, that's not hard to grasp. There's any number of situations the Marvel Universe has thrown up where killing a villain has been unambiguously the right decision, what with the entirety of the universe about to be exploded and suchlike. But there are two ways to phrase this idea. The first is to have a rule that says "No killing unless there is literally no alternative save allowing innocent lives to be lost". The second is to have a rule that says "No killing under any circumstances" and understand that under certain circumstances it is right to break that rule.
The most obvious real-life analogy to this involves the endless (as well as endlessly horrible) conversation in the US about whether or not torture should be legal. I use the term "real-life" somewhat loosely here, since so much of that debate has been taken up by various conservatives (including at least one Supreme Court Justice, who seems utterly determined to disgrace their position until the very instant death claims him) that the events of 24 should be considered a historical document. If Jack Bauer has to torture some Arab to find the location of a nuclear bomb before it blows up Los Angeles, then a real operative might have to torture some Arab to find a similar bomb. And if that might happen, torture has to be legal, because otherwise that operative might hesitate for long enough for plutonium atoms to start getting jiggy in a way biological life doesn't appreciate.
Even leaving aside the implausible nature of the scenario and the commonly stated view that torture is a great way to get information but a terrible way to know if that information is accurate, this is a horrible argument. It's a clear recipe for morality creep. Leaving this door open is an invitation to step through them, and each time we do, it gets a little easier to do it the next time. The only option is to lock the door, and recognise that there might be some sufficiently convoluted series of events under which someone could kick the door down and run through, and it not be something we should punish after the fact.
So maybe at the end of the day the bright clear line of "never kill" is exactly what the X-Men need. If everyone understands that under certain circumstances every rule might need to be broken, there is something to be said about deliberately making rules too inflexible, especially when making them too flexible can have terrible consequences.
Ah, Jim Shooter. You bring enlightenment, but you also bring the mocking of women who couldn't stand atop a rhino's head and insist they were a giraffe. What wonders and outrages remain in the final five issues of this series, I wonder. Will any amaze me? Will any disgust me? And most importantly, will any make me any less depressed at the thought of reading Secret Wars II?
These issues take place over the course of roughly a day.
Wednesday 11th to Thursday 12th January, 1984.
X+5Y+317 to X+5Y+318.
After years of attempting to restore the Pyramids of Giza using modern building techniques (which you'd think calls into question what the word "restore" actually means, but anyway), the committee responsible agrees to return to traditional techniques to repair the structures. This was generally agreed to be a good idea, both because it was historically appropriate, and because the water used in modern cement was eroding the limestone from which the pyramids were originally built.
"Being that it may be the last couple of days of our existence, how about we sneak off and go necking over by the waterfall?" - Johnny Storm