NewMU: The Ultimates

Dec-20-11

“With the Avengers on one side and Apocalypse on the other, the Ultimates battle for their lives in the streets of Beijing!  Just another typical day for Pietro and his team.  However, the Ultimates have the backing of the Chinese government and that may make all the difference.  But what happens when the brewing passion between Forge and Darkstar spills out onto the battlefield?

We haven’t discussed mutants in the new MU yet, and we’re not going to go too in-depth now, but it’s important to note that our MU has only one X-Book.  However, that is not to say that we only have one title featuring mutants.  This is our second big mutant title, The Ultimates.  It features a team of characters who consider themselves (with some good reason) as the ultimate decider on all things mutant.  They are some of the most powerful mutants in the world, some of the most skilled mutants in the world, and some of the best known mutants in the world.  They are not the heroes, and they are not the bad guys.  They stride the middle ground between two extremes.  They have one goal only and that is to advance mutant causes throughout the world, and do what is best for this growing segment of the population.

This is not a world that automatically fears and hates mutants.  Sure, those people exist, as those people exist for any segment of the population, but they’re not the majority.  In fact, there may not be a majority opinion across the globe on the mutant question.  Some people worship and applaud them, holding them up as the next phase of human evolution.  Some of them can’t differentiate them from the other superheroes in the world.  Many people couldn’t care less about mutants.  However, the Ultimates consider protecting mutants across the globe to be their calling, and they will do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal.

The Ultimates also have one other feature that separates them from many other teams.  They are a true global team, with members hailing from across the globe.  This provides them with a global perspective.  More importantly, it makes it easier for them to work with governments across the globe, because they are not seen as a team hailing from any particular country.  They owe no one country their allegiance, which helps not only with working with governments, but also means that governments are less likely to target other countries for reprisals when the Ultimates do something a government finds reprehensible.

So, who are our Ultimates?  They number eight in total and are as follows:

Quicksilver:  Born and raised in Switzerland, Pietro leads this group, and he does it with aplomb.  The fastest being on the planet, Pietro isn’t just fleet of foot.  His mind moves quicker than most, and his mastery of strategy makes him an ideal field commander for the group.  Estranged from his sister for most of his life, he is just now getting to know her and is trying to figure out how she fits into his life.

Scarlet Witch:  Born in Switzerland and raised in France, Wanda grew up never guessing she had a twin brother, and was thrilled to find he existed.  Her mutant power gives her a very limited control over probabilities, but most of her skill comes from her magical knowledge.  She’s an accomplished witch and she uses those skills on the battlefield to aid her newfound brother and his allies.

El Aguila:  A native of Mexico, Alejandro has the ability to create and conduct electricity, which would make him a formidable opponent.  However, he has found that he can further channel and refine this ability through metal, and as an expert swordsman, he has become one of the most dangerous men in the world.  He is passionate and has turned that passion towards the Scarlet Witch, although she has yet to return his feelings.

Darkstar:  A native of Russia, Laynia controls darkforce, manipulating it to a variety of effects.  She is beginning to grow close to Forge, but the sudden appearance of the Scarlet Witch and her relationship to Quicksilver have made her long for her own twin brother, who has been missing for the past few years.

Forge:  A Native American, Forge is a brilliant inventor.  He always goes into combat with a dizzying array of weaponry, although he serves the team best by providing them with state of the art headquarters and vehicles.  He is finding himself uncomfortable with the magic that the Scarlet Witch has introduced to the team dynamic, as he believes in science first and foremost.  He has fallen hard for Darkstar and is concerned that she has been more reticent and withdrawn as of late.

Psylocke:  Betsy was born into a wealthy British family, but she was never completely comfortable with the indolent life of many of the nobility.  She began honing her telepathic powers at a young age and was helped to found the Ultimates after she and Pietro adventured together during their early 20s.  The rumors are that they were lovers, and some say they still are, but during the missions they exhibit only the utmost professionalism.  Psylocke is the team’s deputy leader.

Jade Dragon:  Dei Guan grew up in a Chinese orphanage, and is intensely loyal to his home country.  He was the only member of the team to seek out and petition for membership, rather than be recruited by Pietro and Betsy, and although his ability to turn into a powerful green dragon has proven useful, some members worry that he is a plant by the Chinese government, only on the team to gather intelligence about them.  However, he has fought and bled with the Ultimates and has shown no sign that he has any ulterior motive for his membership.

Sabra:  Ruth Bat-Seraph grew up in Israel, and knew combat at a young age.  She serves as the team’s muscle and is very hard to hurt, both physically and emotionally.  She saw many she cared for killed while growing up, and she is determined it will not happen again.  Of the entire team, she is often the most willing to take measures others might consider too extreme.

That’s a lot to start with.  What say you?

I like it. It has a strong Stormwatch/Authority vibe to it. I’m also impressed by the sheer amount of backstory you’ve managed to cram into a few short paragraphs. Definitely a book I would consider buying in the real world, if just to witness the eventual (and inevitable) fallout from all the crossover relationships. I also imagine there’d be plenty of snarky conversations as Pietro goes toe-to-toe with hero and villain alike.

The fact that you’ve eschewed a great chunk of your everyday X-folks in favor of exploring some newer, or at least less exposed, characters is a good sign too. And I like the international flavor. Gives spark to the fact that the mutant phenomenon isn’t solely saddled on America.

I guess the only thing I’m confused about is what the group is actually doing. I know a lot of what we’re developing here with our new titles is vague. It hurts my head to even consider detailing a lot of it without 50 years of pre-written continuity to back it up. At the same time though, this one is strange.

“Protecting mutants” is a bit of a catch-all. And it seems a bit nebulous considering the world itself isn’t even sure of who the mutants are, let alone where they are. Has Forge created a version on Cerebro to detect these mutants? And how would anyone know they needed help?

You also say the Ultimates have no country…so where is their home base? Are they operating out of a spaceship? Do they llive in some pocket universe in the spacetime continuum? Some sort of detail might be helpful to cement their status.

Have you considered any secondary cast members or is the 8-person team self-inclusive? And is that even a word?

Yes, I’m excited about the possibilities of these characters.  Some of them are characters that I’ve liked and have never had much of a chance to shine, like El Aguila and Darkstar.  (Please don’t ask me to explain why I like El Aguila.  I blame it on Mark Gruenwald’s Marvel Handbook, as I think it made the character sound better than he ever actually was.)  Others, like Pietro and Psylocke are good characters that need a complete continuity wipe, as they’ve been messed with (especially Psylocke) to the point where they are almost unrecognizable.  I also always thought Forge’s magical abilities were overplayed (just because he’s a Native American he also has to be a mystic?) and the Scarlet Witch’s were underplayed (her mutant power is too nebulous and murky….besides, I think there’s a nice source of conflict when she brings magic onto a team that is one of the cornerstones of our science line).  I would love to watch these personalities bounce off each other in a monthly series.

I don’t really see secondary cast members at this time, because the team is a bunch of elitists….I mean, in a world where a group of people go around calling themselves fantastic, these people have upped the game even higher by declaring themselves the Ultimates.  I don’t believe that they get that close to other people.  You bring up the Authority/Stormwatch comparison, and I see a bit of the Authority in this team.  They believe they’re the best suited to do what needs done, and bringing in other people is just going to get in the way.

But what is it that they do?  I think that Forge can easily have whipped them up a mutant location device, but I don’t think they really are worried about the individual mutants.  Sure, if they learned one was in danger, they’d certainly help them, but that’s not what The Ultimates are about.  This is a team that thinks globally.  I mentioned Apocalypse earlier, and I think he may be their main foe…a madman who wishes to test mutantkind to determine if they are worthy to survive.  The Ultimates will have none of that, as they don’t believe mutants need tested.  They believe every mutant should have the option of choosing how best to utilize their powers and shouldn’t be toyed with by some psycho with delusions of grandeur.  They’d also be willing to step in if any other villains around the world might be making plans that could threaten mutants, or would try to harness mutants for their own ends.  And, of course, if the world is endangered then mutants are too, so they’d be on the lookout for alien invasions and the like.  This all sounds pretty standard superheroic, correct?  So what makes them stand out?

Well, the biggest difference in their operations over a team like the Avengers, is that they’re also looking for the good guys to make a move on mutants.  Superhuman registration act?  Yeah, that would be a problem for them.  A government is trying to make its own mutants or is exploiting already existing mutants?  They’re going to hear from the Ultimates.  Perhaps a mutant is convicted of a crime and they believe it was only because they were a mutant?  They would free that individual.  If mutant hate crimes are reported, they’d bring the perpetrators to justice…their own brand of justice. 

Hopefully that makes more sense.  As for their base, it would be tempting to put them on an island that other mutants could go to, but I don’t want to do that.  These people aren’t interested in making a community for mutants, and they don’t want mutants to live apart from the rest of humanity.  They prefer to see integration, but they recognize that it’s often easier to talk about integration than it is to achieve it, and that’s why they’re willing to put some muscle behind that goal.  But creating a utopia for mutants is just pointless, if it removes mutants from the general population.  Therefore, I think they’re going to be based somewhere that isn’t easy to get to and is difficult to locate…also a plus when they’re trying to avoid reprisals from angry governments, heroes or villains.  I think that Forge has whipped them up an extra-dimensional bolthole they can use. 

Did that answer your questions?

Why, yes. Yes it did.

I’d just like to point out two things. First of all, Jade Dragon was co-created by Bill Mantlo, which just makes him at least a hundred times cooler.

And, secondly, did anyone else notice that in the last post I made Dazzler the NewMU’s first bisexual character? Such a groundbreaker.


Angel & Iceman: Best Friends Forever

Oct-06-08

Do you think Bobby Drake and Warren Worthington wrote the typical messages in their Xavier Institute yearbooks? You know, all of those “have a great summer” lines and “remember that time we gave Cyclops a wedgie?” quips. I would conclude that they did, indeed. Why is that? Well, for the simple reason that the two of them seem to be inseparable in the Marvel Universe. So what makes these two heroes such tight teammates?

Let’s try to find some answers, shall we? Angel and Iceman made their first appearances in X-Men #1 way back in September 1963. Since that time, you rarely see one without the other. They remained on the original X-Men team through issue #94 in August 1975. My first inclination would be to say that they were so used to being teammates, that when the first incarnation of the X-Men split, Angel and Iceman thought it would be best to continue on together. Beast was too cool for school and had already left to join the Avengers. Cyclops stuck around to lead the new team. And Jean Grey was too busy being killed and reborn for nearly 12 years to be bothered by any sort of continuity.

Being post-teen mutants in the swinging 70’s must’ve been too much for Warren and Bobby, so they decided to take a cross-country trip to Los Angeles and join the most disparate group of comic book weirdos ever assembled (since trumped by nearly every Defenders gathering ever). Until January 1978, they were members of The Champions. Evidently, writer Tony Isabella wanted The Champions to be just Angel and Iceman, but editorial intervention brought in Black Widow, Hercules and Ghost Rider (and later, Darkstar…with Black Goliath and Jack of Hearts waiting in the wings). Aside from the completely obvious pairing of two mutants with a Russian spy, a Greek demigod, and a flaming demon on a motorcycle, The Champions was most noteworthy for having the team face off against Swarm, the Nazi beekeeper. That was good stuff.

Times must have been tough after that powerhouse group disbanded. For the next couple of years, Angel and Iceman make scattered appearances, primarily in a few issues of Spectacular Spider-Man , Marvel Two-in-One and What If? And, while Iceman was busy on his big television debut in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, Angel had a recurring role in early Dazzler issues.

Angel & Iceman somehow dragged themselves out of character purgatory and dove headfirst into the eighth circle of Marvel hell, the Defenders. In October 1983, they joined their fellow former X-Man Beast in the New Defenders (Beast having joined up with the non-group after his run with the Avengers). I don’t have the issue in front of me, so I can only assume that Bobby and Warren agreed to come aboard after a conversation with Beast that involved a lot of crying and begging on his part. I don’t know. Maybe they lost a bet? That seems likely.

When that group broke up for good in February 1986, the duo came together with their Xavier Institute alumni to form the original X-Factor. Yes, they were saved from falling back into obscurity by becoming mutant hunters. See, X-Factor (aside from unbelievably bringing Jean Grey back to life and facilitating Cyclops leaving his wife and newborn child) was set up on the basis of reverse psychology. They “hunted” mutants, but were secretly mutants themselves and only “hunted” other mutants in order to save them from persecution. Shh! Don’t tell anyone.

Of course, realizing that calling yourselves mutant hunters was probably bad PR for mutants in general, they soon abandoned that premise and were promptly taken over by the government who quite enjoyed the mutant hunting notion. By this time, the main catalyst for keeping the original X-Men from rejoining the flock (Magneto as leader) had been removed and Angel & Iceman were free to return to the fold. Oddly enough, the two of them continue to come and go together from the X-Men pretty much up through present day.

Are they just good friends? Are they MORE than friends? Is it something about their powers that work well together? Is Bobby Drake really shallow and just hanging out with Warren Worthington because he’s rich? Is Angel sticking close to Bobby because his powers are cooler and make up for Angel’s inadequacies?

There HAS to be an underlying theme here!

It’s interesting that you bring these two up as a couple, since there were rumors swirling in the late 90s and early 00’s that Iceman was gay. That would have supplied an interesting reason for why he hung out with Angel so much; he had an unrequited crush on our winged mutant. However, Marvel, no doubt feeling that one gay mutant was more than enough, quashed these rumors pretty quickly, and started trying to give Iceman feelings for any woman he came in contact with, which always struck me as being incredibly forced and uncomfortable. I’m not saying I think Iceman is gay, as much as I’m saying that having a crush on every girl he met had never been his thing before, and trying to shoehorn it into his personality now just didn’t seem to work.

In the end, I think these two have a nice little bromance going and they certainly have spent more time together than any other mutant duo I can name, except for Cyclops and Jean or Havok and Polaris, which isn’t really helping their claims of being no more than a bromance. Iceman, we may remember, actually did try to break up the Angel/Iceman bromance with an actual romance; when Polaris was first introduced, her boyfriend was Iceman, and the two were rather inseparable. Well, inseparable for all of about ten issues, until Havok was introduced. His golden hair, chiseled features and Summers boy ability to have women fall all over him quickly seduced Polaris, and she left a very hurt and angry Iceman to chase after a man who couldn’t control his powers, and could emit mortal blasts of concussive force at any time. Polaris wasn’t too bright in her early appearances.

It is interesting that Iceman and Angel have ended up together so often. If one reads the early issues of the X-Men, when they appeared together, or even the issues of X-Factor in which they starred, they don’t tend to pal around much. Both of those books almost always paired Iceman off with the Beast; they were the Scooby and Shaggy of the mutant set. I would consider Angel the Daphne of the group (some might think Jean should have that position, but I would argue no; after all, Daphne is useless, which fits Angel, Jean has red hair, just like Velma, and in the end, Angel is prettier than Jean), and we all know that Daphne never runs around with Scooby and Shaggy. Indeed, Angel usually spent time with Cyclops and Jean, especially in the early issues of the title, when Stan Lee and subsequent writers were desperately trying to create some tension in the Cyclops/Jean relationship by making us think that Angel might sweep Jean away before Cyclops got his chance. Sadly, it’s difficult to build that tension, since it was obvious that Jean had no romantic interest in Angel by her thought balloons, so unless Angel was going to kidnap her and force her to marry him at gunpoint, the reader could be confident that Jean and Cyclops would eventually be together.

Iceman and Angel both have tried to separate themselves; they’ve both had limited series and one-shots, and as I’ve mentioned before, Iceman even went back to college and became a Certified Public Accountant. Surprisingly, this career does not appear to have held his interest. Apparently, he preferred dealing with Magneto over dealing with the IRS.

I don’t believe their powers are incredibly compatible, and they don’t seem to complement each other much in that regard. Of course, as we’ve noted, except when he had the metal wings created by Apocalypse, Angel is basically worthless. In 1963, as I’ve also mentioned before, most of Marvel’s heroes (except for Thor and the Hulk) were much weaker; the whole Marvel Universe was probably a 1/3 of the power that it is today. Over the years, both heroes and villains got stronger, and where the ability to fly was relatively unique and interesting in 1963, by the mid-80s almost everyone in the Marvel Universe could fly, even Aunt May (that time she became the herald of Galactus). Upgrading Angel to Archangel and giving him metal wings was a very necessary way of keeping the character relevant, but it has sadly been reversed, and he is now useless once more. Certainly, as I’ve said before, the personality is more important than the power, but when your power is the ability to flutter around the villains, smacking at them with your little pink fists, you become difficult to write, and generally frustrating to read about. Hey, I liked Cypher of the New Mutants too, but the ability to understand languages earned him a grave before he was out of his teens.

I’m sure the real reason that Iceman and Angel so often find themselves on teams together is because someone in Marvel editorial feels that, by placing them both on a team, you can get some of the magic of the original X-Men. This is also highly absurd, as the original X-Men had no magic; if they had, their book would not have been bimonthly and they wouldn’t have been in reprints for two years in the 70s. Still, putting either Iceman or Angel on a team means nothing, and conjures up no images. Putting them together makes one think of the original mutants, and that means something. Storywise though, it also makes a certain amount of sense. If you’re launching a new venture, surely you’re more comfortable with an old friend at your side. Since the original X-Men were rather insular and didn’t mix much with the rest of the Marvel Universe (much like the current X-Men, come to think of it) Angel and Icemen don’t have a lot of friends beyond their immediate teammates, and the original X-Men class certainly shares a bond that would be hard to break. I would imagine that it’s this very sense of camaraderie that keeps these two close through thick and thin.

I agree with you for the most part. I’m trying to recall any significant romances that either Angel or Iceman have had in their documented existences. Iceman had a fling with Opal Tanaka, who ended up leaving him for a former villain. He dated Lorna Dane on and off over the years. And he flirted with Havok’s nurse Annie for a bit. Angel has done slightly better for himself, pursuing both Jean Grey and Dazzler, bagging Candy Southern during the Champions years, hooking up with Psylocke later on, becoming close with a police officer as Archangel and even having an implied fling with the much younger Paige Guthrie.

Angel has always come across as being above everyone else around him (perhaps that’s a subliminal reference to his angelic name and abilities). He was a superhero on his own before being located by Xavier. He helped house and fund both the Champions and the Defenders for some time. And he supposedly left the X-Men for a while because he thought Wolverine was a “brute.” Seems pretty metrosexual to me.

Bobby plays like more of a hanger-on. He’s younger than Warren and probably more unsure of himself and his place in the world. At the same time, he’s also more laid back and easy to get along with. Iceman, as you’ve noted, has palled around with Beast and is friendly with Spider-Man.

I, for one, was completely horrified when Angel lost his wings. And then, when Apocalypse turned him into Archangel, I was pretty ticked off. It wasn’t so much that they had messed with one of my favorite characters, it was that they used that lame villain to do it. I can’t stand Apocalypse. Archangel’s metal wings seemed like a pure 90’s thing to me. And they were out of place for such a grounded character whose entire identity was originally based around trying to hide his wings and then learning to live with them. Man, the writers really put him through the ringer emotionally during those years too. His wings are cut off and replaced, he watches his girlfirend be killed, then he has to deal with Apocalypse. Poor guy.

His lack of significant power doesn’t bother me. He just has to be used as more of a tactical weapon than a powerful one. And he has his purpose…he flies up high and looks at stuff. Whee! Plus, I think his newly revealed secondary mutation of having “healing blood” is much more in line with the angel imagery.

As far as the idea of constantly placing Angel and Iceman on teams together, I think there is some resonance for readers. Sure, the beginning publishing history of the X-Men is laughable at best, but over the years the characters have become rather iconic. There are worse things that Marvel has done than trying to build a team around a few original mutants (*cough*Spider-Clone*cough*). Hell, there wasn’t any other common thread holding the Champions together, was there? And the Defenders actually started to feel like a team when Beast was leading a group that included a couple former teammates and friends.

Honestly, it’s weird for me to think of Iceman and Angel in separate lights. They’ve been side-by-side for so long that one without the other just seems odd. I was completely taken aback when Iceman was on TV with Spider-Man. It just didn’t make sense (not to mention how much better the show would have been with Iceman AND Angel). And the few runs where Warren worked in tandem with the Avengers just felt awkward to me. I remember being excited to see Angel and then feeling dirty after reading the issues…like I just witnessed something I shouldn’t have. Of course, those weren’t the best years for the Avengers either.

Maybe this entire history is why I suggested we set Bobby and Warren up as leaders of the X-Men. The two characters have been ingrained in my brain as a permanent team. Man and man, side-by-side. Two former schoolboys sticking up for each other through thick and thin. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.