Wolverine: Convolution is His Middle Name.

Nov-12-08

They say he’s the best there is at what he does and what he does is…well, it’s kind of confusing, really.

Created by Len Wein, Wolverine, for all his bluster and bombast, is perhaps one of the most enigmatic characters Marvel has ever foisted upon the public. Initially, his vague background, vicious attitude and general bad-assery quickly took him to the top of the “Awesome Scale” and into the hallowed territory of Predator, Mad Max, Boba Fett, William Shatner and Patrick Swayze in Road House (but NOT Dirty Dancing).

However, since the early days, Marvel has managed to overexpose, overexplain, overuse, overdo, overwhelm and overcompensate for the character in his continued exploits. Even though his official “origin” has been published and well-received, I still can’t honestly tell you anything about him. It’s baffling. Here’s what we may or may not know: His name is James Howlett, but everyone calls him Logan. He’s a mutant from Canada but he fought alongside Captain America in World War 2. He’s been tortured, brainwashed and abused. He used to have bone claws, but those were replaced with an indestructible metal skeleton, which was then removed by Magneto. The bone claws returned, but now he’s back to metal again. He has a ridiculous healing factor, and yet he used to have an eyepatch and a stump hand and lived as a pseudo-pirate on an island in the Pacific called Madripoor. I’m pretty sure he was married, or getting married, to a Japanese girl at one point. He has connections to nearly everyone in the Marvel Universe except Howard the Duck (give it time). And it certainly didn’t help things when the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends cartoon portrayed Wolverine with an Australian accent. Sheesh.

Seriously. What the hell?

Look, I’ll admit that I was particularly enamored with Wolverine when he first appeared in the reborn Uncanny X-Men title. And the miniseries that Chris Claremont and Frank Miller threw together was pretty darn awesome. Something happened in the meantime to change my mind though. He started guest-starring in every title from Amazing Spider-Man to Get Along Gang. His character got boring. The whole feudal Japan thing. The secret Weapon X experiments that keep being changed and retold to explain continuity problems. Don’t even get me started on Patch. And the completely outrageous concept that his healing factor can rebuild his entire body from skeletal remains after being at ground zero of a nuclear explosion. It almost makes me laugh. Wolverine is the only character who could relax by smoking a cigar on the surface of the sun.

Aside from completely removing him from the 72 Marvel titles he appears in each month, what else could we do to tone down Wolverine’s image and make him interesting again?

This could be a long one…

How very interesting. We may be two of the only fanboys out there who don’t really like Wolverine, although I can say that I never really liked the character, even when he was first introduced. You say that we can’t limit his appearances as a way to make him interesting again, and you may be right, but I think limiting those appearances in some way is absolutely essential. We discussed overexposing a character somewhat when we discussed the Joker, but we didn’t really delve into it. I actually have quite a rant on that very topic, but I’ll save it for another time and place, especially since this is likely to run long anyway. I will only say that Wolverine is much too overexposed and he needs to be seen less. However, whether that happens or not, there are other areas we need to explore with Wolverine if we’re going to make him a good, viable character again.

I see two immediate problems with Wolverine, which spring to mind. The first is that Wolverine, when first introduced, was the cool guy, the Fonzie of the X-Men. He was a rebel, he was slick, and he had some style. This was all well and good, but as Wolverine became more popular, he stopped being just a slick guy and became incapable of showing weakness or making a mistake. He’s the most macho, most perfect man in comics. He can’t do wrong. He can’t BE wrong. If there’s an argument, you better believe that Wolverine’s opinion is the writer’s opinion, and whatever he’s saying, with his decades (centuries? millennium?) of life and experience, is what the writer wants the reader to believe and support. There’s simply no dramatic tension involving this character anymore; if he’s in a fight, he’ll win, no matter how many villains or how powerful they are; if he’s in an argument, he’ll win, even if he’s debating nuclear physics with Reed Richards; if he’s playing tiddlywinks, he’s sure to come out on top!

The second problem I have with him somewhat relates to the first, and that’s the fact that he’s simply too powerful. When first introduced, Wolverine had enhanced senses, metal claws, and a decent healing factor. All of these powers have been ramped up since his early appearances, which is something of the norm for comics (and it’s something I’ve mentioned before when discussing Marvel Comics). Sadly though, his powers have gone off the charts. I could complain about his fighting skills becoming legendary, or his enhanced senses allowing him to track dust mites across a desert, but it’s his healing factor which is completely out of control. In the 1970s and 1980s, Wolverine could be taken down if he took sufficient damage, and he wasn’t getting up anytime soon. It was also obvious that too much damage could kill him. As the years wore on, he began to regenerate quicker, and from more serious injuries. This may have reached it’s most preposterous heights in his comic during Civil War, when he had all of his flesh and organs seared off and was reduced to a skeleton by Nitro. A skeleton! Yes, he had no brain, no heart, no lungs….he was just a skeleton. And he regenerated to normal! This is ridiculously powerful and it has to stop.

Of course, there are other problems with Wolverine. I think that any strong book needs a supporting cast, and Wolverine doesn’t have one. This could be because he was never intended as a solo character; he was a supporting character himself, and he was a loner. When he got his own title, it became difficult to fit a cast around him, since it didn’t fit his persona. He also has little in the way of a rogues gallery; since his first instinct is to kill his enemies, it’s hard to keep them around for long. His biggest foe is Sabretooth, who’s almost as overexposed as Wolverine himself. It’s also obvious that no one knows quite what to do with Wolverine; he’s Canadian, but that’s rarely shown. He might mention it, but we don’t get the feeling that he belongs to another culture. As you mentioned, he’s shown an obsession with Japanese culture, which doesn’t seem to fit with his personality, and seems to have been added only because it’s considered cool. He has too much in his past; he’s been a soldier, a secret agent, an experiment, as assassin….he wants to be all things to all people, but that’s simply not possible.

So, that’s the problems I see. Now the question is, can we solve these problems?

Can we rebuild him? Do we have the technology? (Why do I feel like I’ve used the Six Million Dollar Man joke before…Iron Man revamp maybe?) Perhaps I should switch to a Vanilla Ice reference instead? “If you’ve got a problem, yo, I’ll solve it…”

Right.

You’ve honed in on the exact points I was glossing over in my opening rant. Too perfect. Too powerful. No sense of conflict. No real sense of danger for him. No friends. No threats. And just a jumble of history that feels like the comic book version of that Katamari Damancy video game where you roll around the world and stuff sticks to you. All in all, stripping Wolverine back down to something interesting and useful is a truly daunting and bloated assignment. And I’m not sure it can be done without taking a few giant leaps of faith. Things are going to have to be retconned, ignored and just outright forgotten.

One of the main things we must do is provide some sort of weakness, both in his powers and in his personality. I hate to think we need to introduce a villain that he can’t handle, because that would just be piling more nonsense on top of the already existing nonsense, but there needs to be a person or an event that diminishes Wolverine vastly. Something fairly monumental, I’m guessing. Or maybe not. Maybe the best course of action would be to have this take place over a length of time?

Clearly, heroes are much more fun to follow when you’re not sure if they’re able to get out of the precarious situations they find themselves plopped into. Wolverine’s bulldozer-like presence takes any of that sense of tension away. That Nitro incident is something I always point to when people talk about the silliness in superhero books (well, that and the whole Spider Clone thing…and Superboy punching the walls of reality…and…). His freaking brain was gone. Poof! There’s no function left there, nothing that could possibly trigger any defense mechanism or healing ability. And yet he reassembled like that dude from Terminator 2. Wait, I take that back. That guy was actually able to be stopped.

I look at it this way: If Bullseye happens to fling a toothpick straight through Wolverine’s eyeball, and he gets it at just the right angle that it sinks into his brain, then Wolverine should be dead. Forget the adamantium-laced skeleton. There’s nothing in the physiology of a humanoid being that would protect the soft tissues like that. If that lame villain Machete just happened to take a swing at the back of Wolvie’s neck and he managed to find the exact spot where two of his vertabrae came together and his blade was thin enough to slide through and sever the brain stem, then Mr. James Howlett would cease to be. Simple as that. I don’t care about past procedure at Marvel, dead is dead.

And knowing that, Wolverine would be more cautious, more tactful and possibly just a bit more reserved. We wouldn’t have the constant know-it-all, done-it-all attitude.

I’m not going to delve into enemies and supporting cast right now, because I think that it’s important that we discuss his ties to the X-Men first. This is his inner circle of family and friends, for what it’s worth. Let’s not concentrate on his solo title just yet. Although, I will pose this one question: When Magneto chooses to attack the X-Men, why doesn’t he just use Wolverine as his living puppet every time? Seriously, he could just take control of Wolvie and obliterate every other member of the team…and he could do it from miles away! Some snikt-snikt…a bit of blood and gore…and -BOOM- no more X-Men!

Anyway, there’s a lot more to talk about and I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface. This could go on for days! We need to strip him down quickly and effectively…like field dressing a moose. What’s the first step?

The first task should be to reduce his powers and his infallibility. I’d start with reducing his powers first, since if you just start having him make mistakes, it’s going to seem odd and far fetched, but if you reduce his powers first, then he may start making mistakes based on the fact that he’s a little more insecure and feeling his way with his new power levels. As for how one reduces his powers back to mere mortal level, I could suggest a half dozen options. He could be infected with a disease; his healing factor is fighting off the disease, but it can’t defeat it. The perpetual war within his body means that his healing factor isn’t as strong and can’t work as hard on other problems (and perhaps the disease dulls his senses at the same time). Perhaps he’s hit with a weapon that is supposed to take away a mutant’s powers, like Forge’s ray gun that depowered Storm in the 1980s, but only gets a glancing blow. Or, if you want to make it a longer story, perhaps he takes a full blow, and is completely depowered for awhile. When Beast finally figures out a way to return his powers, he warns Wolverine that the procedure is untested, and it may not restore his powers to their peak levels. Turns out that the Beast was correct and his powers are restored only to our new, more reasonable levels.

You could also use any number of freak accidents (the Marvel Universe is awash in them) where he drinks a serum designed to do one thing, and then gets exposed to radiation, and the two interact, reducing his power levels. Perhaps, since he insists on hanging out with Dr. Strange in the New Avengers, he gets hit with a magic spell that reduces his powers. The possibilities are legion (and Marvel has already missed some good opportunities to reduce his powers; I would have done it when Magneto ripped all the metal from his body). It really boils down on whether or not you want to make it a story; do you spend a few months detailing the reduction of his powers, and figuring out how that affects him, or do you remove them quickly, and then move on to other stories? I think you do the former, giving readers a chance to see how, once his powers have been reduced to 1970’s levels, it affects every part of the character, making him more cautious, making him realize that he can die, and bringing him down to the same level of everyone else.

Don’t get me wrong; he can still be cool and a bad-ass. I’m not suggesting that we turn him into Timid Timmy, or making him a coward. However, he needs to get his butt handed to him every now and then; he needs to at least acknowledge that he’s vulnerable in some way and that he can make mistakes.

Were I to actually pitch this idea, I’d do a story where someone duplicated Forge’s old power nullifier. They plan to use it on one particular mutant; I’m not sure if it matters which one, but we’ll make it one of the X-Men. Wolverine and the X-Men go to stop this evil villain, and during the struggle, Wolverine gets hit by the nullifier, and his powers are gone. Boom. He’s near death, and spends some time in a medical bay at the X-Mansion. They originally think that he’ll die because of the metal in his body, but apparently his body has adjusted to having the adamantium laced to his bones (in the same way a cyborg’s body adapts to the metal parts). So, he has his claws, but he can’t use them; without his healing factor, he’d slice open his hands and bleed profusely if he did. We then spend a few months with Wolverine having no powers at all; where he’s forced to work at being a hero, and we can see him as a true mortal. I’d say he spends those months going after the bad guy who built the power nullifier. Wolverine wants him dead, so he can’t steal the powers of any other mutants.

Finally, the Beast returns Wolverine’s powers, as mentioned above. We know his powers are reduced, but by this time, the reader has had the opportunity to see what Wolverine can do without them, and they understand the character better. This guy has tons of experience, he’s strong, he’s a great fighter, and he’s brave as they come. However, if he makes mistakes, he could die. And he does, occasionally, make mistakes.

Thoughts?

Well now, that’s intriguing. There are some pros and cons about that idea, but overall I think it’s a good template to follow. I think my qualms are in the details rather than the overall effectiveness of the plot. For instance, I’d hate for this to be a rehash of the “Storm lost her powers” story and I’d be concerned that this would become the path of least resistance for any future depowerings. The convenient rebuilding of a powerful device is a bit troublesome to me. Of course, I could poke holes in the alternate solution you offered as well. These freak viruses and plagues and diseases seem to go hand-in-hand with the mutant population. And they’re rarely naturally occurring things either. Usually, there’s some sort of covert experimentation going on…someone stumbles upon a hidden bunker…or an abused mutant is found wandering the streets of some backwoods European village…call in the rescue team!

Sadly, his healing factor has been so augmented in recent years, that I’m pretty sure it kills off all foreign antibodies before they even get within ten feet of him. It’s all quite ridiculous. There has to be a new way to diminish his abilities and powers. The magic angle is interesting because it’s something that Wolverine and the X-Men don’t deal with very often. The only trouble is that most of the magic that happens in Marvel’s world is unnaturally easy to reverse. Here’s a thought you didn’t mention: What if he gets in a fight with a villain he’s never encountered before, someone with alchemical powers? I’m just throwing this out there…Grey Gargoyle. He’s been around for a long time and yet he’s a pretty enigmatic villain. He’s now part of The Hood’s crime syndicate which recently had a run-in with the New Avengers. And, in a battle with the Fantastic Four not too long ago, he temporarily turned Thing to stone. When the effects wore off, Ben Grimm was able to change between his rock and human form at will. That establishes a precedent for physiological changes. Who knows what effects his powers would have on a mutant? It could be that simple. There’s also Absorbing Man or Diablo that we could throw at him.

The reason I like something like this is that it’s easy to set up but it’s also a completely unexpected consequence of a typical superpowered battle. Instead of hailing this as one of those “don’t miss this” issues that will shatter the internet and blow your mind or pegging it into a special foil-stamped anniversary issue with back-up origins and filler stories, the plot point could just happen. Poof! No more powers. Either deal with it or wallow in self-pity.

I could also see Wolverine pursuing Grey Gargoyle and struggling with the decision of whether to kill him or not. On the one hand, he has caused this self-doubt in Logan, which is a new feeling for him. However, on the other hand, Wolverine now has no powers to follow through on a possible assassination. Maybe he uses his skills and resources to track Grey Gargoyle (who is now on the run because he fears retaliation), but he discovers that Gargoyle is already in a sad state…perhaps some sort of exotic cancer is killing him because, honestly, he hasn’t been used much recently and I don’t think anyone would miss him. This part of the storyline would establish some emotion in Wolverine and prove that he’s capable of pity and mercy.

Regardless of the solution, I do believe that the idea of showing Wolverine without any powers at all for a while is key to making this a solid story. He needs to have a reason to doubt himself. And, like you said, I can see him making mistakes like forgetting about his healing factor and popping his claws or jumping from a height that will cause damage. Those types of things definitely need to happen in order to reinforce the consequences.

I also agree that Beast would eventually be able to find a solution to the depowering. However, nothing should be that simple. Perhaps the “cure” is only a temporary fix…or his powers may come and go, like a faulty electrical connection. I’m guessing this would be some sort of DNA bypass that Beast would concoct and maybe it should permanently alter the scope of Wolverine’s powers. No more mystical interventions like Apocalypse jamming the metal back into his skeleton. No more regenerating from point-blank nuclear blasts.

How does that play for you? And, after your response, do you think we should start a Part Two of this thread for the next chapter in Wolverine’s rebuilding?

I like that a lot; it’s always more elegant if you can incorporate a change like this into a comics universe more seamlessly, and that’s what you’ve done.  As you mentioned, the Grey Gargoyle is someone who’s powers aren’t really understood well, and if he could change the Thing, he could certainly change Wolverine.  If anyone is skeptical on that score, it would be easy enough to have Wolverine be suffering some other ailment at the same time the Grey Gargoyle turns him to stone.  That does work nicely though.

Otherwise, this sounds like a plan to me.  On to Part 2!

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Professor X: Hero or Zero?

Oct-07-08

It certainly would be difficult to dispute that, when a character has existed for over four decades and has been written by dozens of separate scripters, it can be difficult to keep a consistent character portrayal. There are certainly times when any character may seem slightly off to long time readers, often for a variety of reasons. That being said, there may be no character in the Marvel Universe (and certainly not in the X-Universe) that has been portrayed in a more confusing fashion; sometimes Charles Xavier appears to be a decent, heroic man, and other times he seems to be a manipulative ass. Which is the real Professor X?

The trouble began as early as his third appearance. Xavier seemed to be a good man, and had created a group of mutants to safeguard humanity from evil mutants. He was teaching these teens the normal prep school curriculum, as well as training them in how to use their powers. (Some might consider this to be a morally questionable action; the Professor trained five teenagers in fighting and used them as his private army, a move he would repeat with the New Mutants some years down the road. Some people might be correct.) However, in X-Men #3 (the original series, before they became uncanny) Xavier mused at how much he loved Jean Grey, and mentioned that he would love to tell her, but he couldn’t, since he was confined to a wheelchair. Apparently, the fact that he was her teacher, close to her guardian, had known her since she was eleven, and was easily twenty years older than her did not factor into his decision not to pursue this relationship. Granted, Stan Lee, who was writing the book at the time, never mentioned the attraction again, no doubt realizing he had crossed a line that was better left uncrossed. However, it was printed, and years later other writers would pick up on it and run with it, and it’s still sometimes mentioned today.

Some years later, Xavier again showed his tendency towards cruelty. Sensing an impending attack from an alien race, Xavier decided that he was the only one who could stop it, but also decided that he would need to be isolated so he could work on his preparations without interruption. He got a reformed criminal who could make himself appear as someone else, the Changeling, to assume his place on the team. When the Changeling died in battle, Xavier knew that his students thought him dead, and were devastated by his passing (so devastated that they broke up the team). The only one who knew his secret was Jean Grey, and Xavier swore her to secrecy. It would be some years before Xavier would reveal his existence to his remaining students, which he did only so they could help repel the alien invasion for which he’d been planning. So, not only did he allow those who looked on him as a father figure to believe him dead, but he also saddled Jean with a very weighty secret and would not allow her to lessen her burden by telling anyone, even the man she loved. Not very nice.

In the last few decades, Xavier’s hasn’t stopped his morally questionable deeds. Of course, his most famous example of “Telepaths Behaving Badly” happened when he mind-wiped Magneto, who is one of his oldest friends, leaving said friend a drooling vegetable. Subsequently, Xavier started calling himself Onslaught, and became a major villain in the Marvel Universe. It would later be revealed that some of his behavior was caused by Magneto’s presence in his mind, which became rooted in his psyche when Xavier mind-wiped him, but surely Xavier must claim some of the blame for the villainous actions of Onslaught, if only because mind-wiping his oldest friend was a morally dubious action in the first place. However, the surprises awaiting the X-Men didn’t stop when their mentor and long-time leader tried to kill them; they were just as surprised when they discovered the “Xavier Protocols” which were files authored by Xavier detailing how you could kill each member of the team. This seems ridiculously over the line, putting Xavier on a par with Batman (who did something similar in the DC Universe). Is Xavier truly that ruthless and paranoid?

There are other examples of Xavier doing things that are somewhat morally ambiguous, as well as examples of him being a true hero. Which one is the true Xavier?

Aw, man…I was hoping you were going to do like you did with Jean Grey and document all the times Xavier has been killed and brought back. Or, better yet, all of the times he’s been given back the ability to walk only to become wheelchair-bound a few issues later. Good times.

I’m torn on this one, mainly because I just don’t really like Charles Xavier. I think he’s a bit of a self-serving dick masquerading as some sort of hippie cult leader. Don’t tell anyone, but I think Professor X is secretly a Republican. He’s all about control and forcing a flawed point of view. Regardless of what he publicly states, he’s blatantly for the premise of “might over right.” Why else would he train teenagers in ways that are more strenuous than the Marine Corps? The guy has an axe to grind with humanity, but he’s less genuine about it than Magneto ever was. At least you knew where that maniac stood on a daily basis (until Charles messed with his head).

The big question is: since Xavier is such an Alpha-level telepath and mind-messer, how do we know that he isn’t tweaking everyone’s will at will? He could be tricking every single person in the world every single day. Making people bend to his ideals, forcing others to comply with his way of thinking and generally making a mockery of independent thought are things Professor X could do without even getting out of bed in the morning. It’s a decidedly creepy scenario. Has Marvel ever done a What If? issue about THAT?

That would certainly be amusing, looking at the times Xavier has died and returned, although that’s become so much a cliche of the X-Men (and really, the entire Marvel and DC Universes) that it’s difficult to track all of the instances. It might be much more illuminating to chart how many times the poor man has regained the use of his legs, only to have them destroyed again, putting him back in his wheelchair (or whatever you call his personal conveyance, since he seems to eschew your normal wheelchairs, and the last few futuristic models he has had don’t even have wheels any longer). If Xavier is something of a jerk, maybe he’s just bitter that he can’t seem to walk for any length of time.

Your feelings about his powers are certainly understandable; telepaths are probably the scariest of all superhumans for exactly the reasons you’ve named. I believe that your thoughts have been echoed by certain characters in the Marvel Universe from time to time, and they’ve confronted them head on in a few issues of Ultimate X-Men, where it’s been hinted that Xavier is even more of a manipulative dick than normal. It’s interesting that in the early days of the group, Xavier’s physical condition was obviously intended to offset the incredible powers of his mind. He couldn’t go with the X-Men into battle, and although he followed along with them mentally, he was apparently limited to merely thinking at the team. In fact, his powers were so limited at that time that, when he wanted to mindwipe the Vanisher and the Blob (which he did in issues #2 and 3 of the original X-Men series, respectively), he had to be physically near them. Over the years, his powers expanded, and now he seems to be able to physically affect people no matter where they are in the world. Now, his physical handicap seems to be a pointless condition, inflicted on him merely because that’s how people know him. It’s not like they’ve ever used his inability to walk as a way to express the situations of people who actually are confined to wheelchairs on a day to day basis and it doesn’t affect his ability to be an effective superhuman. So why even bother keeping him crippled?

That being said, I must admit that I like Professor X, and I don’t think he’s as bad as recent writers want to portray him. I think that he certainly has done some questionable things, but that’s part of his character. With the power that he possesses, surely anyone would have occasional lapses into morally dubious territory. There’s a scene in the God Loves, Man Kills graphic novel (one of the best X-Men stories ever, and certainly the best of the Marvel Graphic Novel series, which had quite a few strong entries) that I think encapsulates exactly how I see Xavier. In this scene, the battle is won and the X-Men are hanging out with Magneto, who’s reminding them that they’re weak and their more peaceful method of solving problems doesn’t work. Xavier, who was kidnapped and brainwashed through this story, agrees with Magneto, saying that maybe his way really does suck. Cyclops, Storm and the other X-Folks disagree with Xavier, and seeing the support from his students is too much. Xavier breaks down in tears, thanking his students for their faith and support in him and his methods, especially when he lacked that faith in himself.

That’s the Charles Xavier that resonates with me. He’s a man with an incredible power and an incredible responsibility to use that power ethically, and to train the next generation of mutants to use their powers responsibly as well. He’s a flawed man, as we all are, but he’s doing his best. Too many times, writers want to portray him as one thing or the other; he’s either the sweet old teacher, who’s rather above reproach, or he’s the manipulative jackass, willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish his goals. In reality, of course, rarely are people at either end of that spectrum and Xavier shouldn’t be either. I think he’s out there doing his best, and he will sometimes fall, but he’ll get back up again (perhaps a tasteless analogy, considering his physical condition, but it works on the astral plane) and continue to soldier on, doing the best he can.

I dunno. I’m rather indifferent when it comes to portraying subtlety in comics. For me, in order to prove a point or move a story forward, it’s helpful if the characters are somewhat one-dimensional. And I mean that in the best light possible. I don’t expect flat conversations and predictable battles, but I do expect Wolverine to be blunt, I expect Spider-Man to be a smart ass and I expect Captain America to stand up for what’s right. Trying to find this so-called middle ground with Xavier is off-putting. His exterior message is one of “can’t we all just get along” proportions. I’m just not sure if his motivation is backed by his tactics. No one can really say if he’s being honest or just playing everyone like a cheap one-man band.

I agree that the lack of attention to his physical handicap is disappointing. His early appearances worked hard to set up obstacles, showing him as frail but his mind as strong. Over the years, this has been forgotten and it has helped to escalate his out of control powers. The Professor X character has fallen into the same trap as Superman, Batman, Hulk and any number of additional superhero types. The 80s and 90s are predominantly to blame for this over-powering of characters, like ‘roid rage in graphic form. Everyone was so rabid for the knock-down drag-out fight scenes that creators consciously and haphazardly threw aside the built-in limitations in favor of sparks and blood. Imagine how fearful the general populace would be to live in a world of that proliferate magnitude. I would never leave my house for fear of a crushed tank or spaceship landing on my head from thousands of miles away. Hell, I’d want to sleep forever just to avoid being mind controlled or set on fire or thrown into the future from the comfort of my kitchen while trying to make a sandwich.

Seriously. They need to back off with the omniscience. Professor X is a frightening character when taken to the extreme. I’m just not sure there has been enough editorial control exerted on him over the years to justify any sort of trust.

Well, I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying, but I think we’re hitting a few different points here. Allow me to try and sort through them:

Your general comment about one-dimensional heroes is well taken, although I wouldn’t call it one-dimensional. Every character (just as every person) does possess some dominant personality traits. Spider-Man is a smart ass. Batman is grim. Wolverine is a scrapper. It’s just like in real life, when someone might say that someone is sarcastic or someone is meticulous or someone is analytical. That’s a very obvious and apparent personality trait, and I don’t think it’s one-dimensional, nor are those characters one dimensional. That’s just the personality trait most evident. Xavier is a mediator, one who is always trying to find a middle ground. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other facets to his personality, nor that they can’t be shown from time to time. Some of the most interesting Spider-Man stories have been those which show him when he stops cracking jokes, because that’s when you know something is wrong, since it happens so rarely. Along those lines, we shouldn’t see Xavier breaking down often, as he did in the scene I mentioned above, but when it does happen, it underscores the seriousness of the situation. So, in the end, I’m not seeing our positions on that point being so different.

You then mention the escalation of powers, which I agree is a poor choice, as it makes characters difficult to relate to, and also difficult to challenge effectively in combat without staging ridiculously over-the-top cosmic battles (I sometimes wonder if that’s why we encountered so many omnipotent villains in company wide crossovers, such as Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet and the Beyonder; there was no way anything less could challenge the assembled might of the heroes). However, I would caution against blaming the 80s and 90s, especially when you choose Batman and Superman as examples. Yes, those decades saw an incredible escalation, particularly at Marvel, but DC began escalating Batman and Superman to the ranks of the gods back in the 50s and 60s (they actually depowered Superman to a great degree in the 80s). However, in the end, your point is well taken; the powers many of these heroes have are still amazing things. We don’t need to make them even more powerful to instill a sense of awe. It’s the weaknesses in a character’s power that can make for interesting stories, and force writers to be more creative.

In the end, though, I think I agree with you. Professor X could have used firmer editorial guidance a few times over the years and he is scary when taken to extremes. Would I trust him? I’m not so sure; it would be difficult to ever truly trust a telepath. That being said, just because trust would come slowly, that does not mean he doesn’t deserve it.


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.


Jean Grey: Rising like a Phoenix…again and again and again….

Oct-02-08

So, we’ve made our first small push into the world of the X-Men, and what have we learned? We’ve learned that Peter David writes some of the best mutant books around, we’ve learned that Jason hasn’t read too many stories featuring Nightcrawler, and we’ve learned that just that short stint into the X-World gave me a headache. The sad thing about that last statement is that the concept of the X-Men and the mutant world is a solid one. The oppressed minority is never a theme that will grow out of date or become less relevant (sadly) and it will always resonate with readers. Unfortunately, over the years Marvel’s Merry Mutants have become so horribly enmeshed in a convoluted and hard to follow continuity that sometimes trying to figure out where a certain character stands can be difficult for the casual reader (and sometimes it’s hard for the devoted reader). As a case in point, let’s examine the poster child for screwed up continuity….Jean Grey.

Jean Grey was introduced in 1963 as one of the five original X-Men. Given the name of Marvel Girl, she was telekinetic. She and Cyclops were dancing around a relationship, and would eventually become romantically involved, a romance that would last for more than four decades. Marvel immediately began to confuse Jean’s origin by claiming, after she had already existed for some years, that she was not just telekinetic; she was also telepathic. Plus, she’d known Professor X for years before joining the team. Um. Ok. Well, that was never shown in her early appearances, but no worries. We’re comics fans, and we can roll with these things. Jean left the X-Men when the series was revived from obscurity in the mid-70s, but she continued to make guest appearances in the title, and was unlucky enough to be guesting when the Sentinels came calling. Along with other members of the team, she was kidnapped to outer space. On the return trip (after the Sentinels had been defeated), Jean piloted the space shuttle back to Earth through a radiation storm, while the other members of the team stayed safely in some shielded pods. Sadly, the radiation was too strong, and poor Jean died when the ship crashed into the Hudson River.

Her first death lasted less than an issue; she was back pages after expiring, now calling herself Phoenix, and with powers far beyond those of mortal mutants. She made even more appearances in the title as Phoenix, but her power levels began to grow to truly cosmic levels, and after going a tad mad and destroying an entire planet, she committed suicide to protect those who she loved from her own out of control powers and emotions. Oooh, death #2. This one was going to last a little longer. Five years, to be precise.

However, while Jean was dead, she wasn’t forgotten. Cyclops met another woman who looked exactly like Jean. Her name was Madelyne Pryor, and while Cyclops could never completely forget about Jean, he began to fall in love with Madelyne. They got married, and Madelyne got pregnant. Everything looked rosy. Then Jean returned.

Yes, during a routine emergency, the Avengers found a life support pod in the Hudson River. With some help from the Fantastic Four, they cracked this baby open and found….Jean Grey! But wait…wasn’t she dead? Well, not as dead as you might think. It turns out that Jean Grey had never been Phoenix. In reality, the Phoenix was a cosmic force, who had put Jean in suspended animation and had taken her place. Jean had never destroyed an entire planet. That was all the Phoenix Force. Jean was now free and clear of the guilt, but wait…she no longer had telepathic powers. She was only telekinetic again. But she was back. She didn’t want to rejoin the X-Men, who at that time were associating with Magneto, who felt that he could be a good guy if he just ran around with a giant ‘M’ painted on his costume, so she convinced the original X-Men to form a new group: X-Factor.

The idiocy which was the original X-Factor is fodder for another column, but I do want to digress for a minute: This is where it became clear that Cyclops is a jerk. When Cyclops finds out that Jean has returned to life, he abandons his wife and UNBORN CHILD and immediately runs to her side. He comes back shortly after his son is born, but stays for a very short period of time and leaves again. This would be a slimy enough move if he told Madelyne that he was divorcing her, but he doesn’t even do that; he simply leaves, with not so much as a “Dear Madelyne” note. Wolverine wasn’t kidding in the first X-Men movie when he called him a dick.

It’s then revealed that Madelyne looks so much like Jean because Madelyne is actually a clone of Jean, created by the villainous Mr. Sinister (who is villainous because it’s hard to be a hero when your name is Mr. Sinister). Madelyne suddenly has super powers, begins calling herself The Goblin Queen, and fights Jean to the death. Madelyne dies, but not without revealing that (and I must quote Wikipedia for this, since even though I’ve read the bloody issues, I still don’t know what happened) “the piece of Jean’s consciousness that had merged with the Phoenix Force (which had migrated into Madelyne Pryor upon the death of the Phoenix) returned to Jean, granting her all the memories of both Madelyne and the Dark Phoenix. Jean now also contained a spark of the Phoenix Force but would later expel it while helping an alien world fend off a Celestial.” Thank you Wikipedia. So, Madelyne is dead, there’s only one Jean Grey again and even though she’d never been Phoenix, she now remembered it like she had been, and had a sliver of cosmic power in her. And, even though she’d never been her own clone, Madelyne, she remembered that too as if she had been. Oh, and somewhere in there she regained her telepathic powers. Also, somewhere in here, I began drinking heavily.

Jean and Scott now plan to raise the baby that Scott and Madelyne had, since Jean, with Madelyne’s memory, considers it her baby as well. Of course, they don’t have much of an opportunity to raise the child, before it’s infected with a technovirus by the villain Apocalypse, and they have to send it to the future to be cured, where it will also be raised and will grow to become the hero Cable, who will come back in time as an adult. He’ll actually come back in time twice, coming back again some years later in a younger incarnation calling himself X-Man. Jean tries to deal with parenting both of these people, but it’s difficult when they’re almost as old as she is. Of course, she should be used to it since a daughter from YET ANOTHER future timeline that had already come back to the past, when Jean was originally dead, and had called herself Phoenix, and had joined the X-Men. Jean met her a few times after she returned to life, and the meetings were often awkward, as any meeting with your child from an alternate reality would be. I’m sure we can all relate.

Who wants aspirin?

So, Scott and Jean finally get married. For a honeymoon, they go to the future, where they get to raise the son that they sent to the future years ago and who would become Cable. They spend years in the future, but she doesn’t actually age because she’s inhabiting someone else’s body at the time. So, she does get to raise her son…well, Madelyne’s son, but it’s almost like her own. So, everything is hunky-dory in Jean-land and things can get back to a semblance of normality, right? Well, not quite. Cyclops, proving he’s just as much a dick now as he was when he deserted his wife and infant son, starts having an affair with Emma Frost, a former villain who tried to kill Jean on numerous occasions. The two women aren’t too friendly, since when Sentinels killed Jean a few years before (the third time Jean died) she had projected her mind into Emma’s comatose form. Not surprisingly, Emma was never happy about this, and even less surprisingly, Jean eventually returned to life in her own body. Anyhoo, Cyclops explains to his wife that he and Emma only screwed around on the mental plane, not in reality, so it doesn’t count. Jean’s not sure she agrees, and the marriage isn’t doing well.

Things never have the chance to get sorted out. Jean is on a spaceflight with Wolverine and they are being pulled toward the sun. Perhaps Jean should stay the hell off spaceships? In any case, Wolverine kills Jean so she doesn’t die when they go into the sun, because being stabbed through the heart with bone claws is so much more enjoyable then being incinerated. Death #4. To the surprise of no one, Jean returns to life, again manifesting the Phoenix Force which makes no sense, since she was never Phoenix in the first place! Arrrgh! I hate these stupid writers! Why can’t they keep their bloody stories straight!? This sort of thing is the reason that…..

Sorry. (Keep it together John. You’re almost there. Deep breaths.) Ahem. So, Jean is alive for the fourth time, and returns to Earth, where she fights Magneto, who kills her for the fifth time. This happened four years ago, and she’s stayed dead so far, but anyone who thinks that this one is going to stick needs to go back to Remedial Comics and read some more Marvel comics.

I’ve just re-read that, and it still makes no sense to me. What really bothers me is that I like Jean Grey; I think she has interesting powers, and I think she’s an interesting character, when she’s not being crushed under the weight of her own ridiculously convoluted backstory (and I’ve actually simplified things and also left out some minor deaths and story points). If the X-Titles can do this to one of the founding members of the X-Men, it becomes obvious why so many people have problems following their titles.

What say you? Does Jean have potential? Do you agree that she’s been ridiculously mishandled? Is there even anyway to save a character this badly mangled?

Holy crap.

Yeah. Should we go back to talking about the Avengers?

No, no, this is good. I mean, really it’s awful, but in a good way. You never realize how ridiculous a lot of this sounds until you see it written out in a completely biased way. Wikipedia gives a solid history of the character, but they don’t delve into the laugh-out-loud horror and nonsense implied in such a backstory.

I agree that Jean Grey used to be an interesting character. And, even though I’m usually completely against the soap opera aspects in the X-Men canon, her frustrating love triangle with Cyclops and Wolverine was inspired. Of course, as you’ve pointed out, they never really handled Cyclops’s side of it very well. What a lousy double standard.

Sadly, the only thing I can think to do (since she will inevitably return at some point) is to give her some sort of brain injury. Honestly, if we’re going to embrace all the daytime mantras for these characters, we might as well incorporate some memory loss. I’d take it a step further and actually give her a physical blow to the head that cuts off some of her exaggerated powers, makes her forget her past with Scott and all the weird alterna-kids, and maybe even forces her to absentmindedly drool a bit. Ooh, maybe even give her an eyepatch. Eyepatches are cool.

Seriously though, Jean became highly inconceivable once her powers and abilities ballooned out of control. The twisted relationship she shared with Scott was completely unbelievable. And the Cable-Nate Summers-Rachel Summers-Madelyn Pryor-Phoenix stuff just makes my cerebellum bleed. I has head asplode!

Jean Grey was great as a cute telekinetic girl, sort of naive and sheltered, who grew up to be a stalwart supporter of a dedicated cause. I have a weakness for redheads, so I always wanted her to be useful. Most of the time I was disappointed. And it’s strange to say that the X-world isn’t really that much different without her around.

That said, she is the only female founding member of a fairly significant part of Marvel’s history and should be restored to a position worthy of such status. I was only half joking when I suggested memory loss. If she were to forget who she was, what she was able to do, and what she meant to people, I think her character could be regrown in a positive way. It would be a natural catalyst to dampen her powers. It would also allow us to explore other relationships with her, which would then cause reactions in her former friends and lovers. And it would add an innocence back to the character which has been sorely lacking. I mean, really, I think you become pretty complacent with things after your third or fourth death. Or so I’ve heard.

So yeah, I’m actually advocating a swift blow to the head. How does that feel?

I think you may be on to something. There’s no real way to fix Jean’s backstory; any fix that I can think of would just complicate her history even more and that’s the last thing she needs. I think the best thing to do when she returns (and we all know she will) would be to just ignore the past, and the only way that the character can ignore it is if she doesn’t remember it. Whether that actually involves the Blob smacking her on the head and giving her amnesia, or more likely, Jean returning from the dead with the amnesia already in place, that’s the best way to go.

As for reducing her powers, I don’t mind the telepathy (although I don’t think it’s integral to the character), but they truly have to divorce her from the Phoenix concept once and for all. It was a great plot, and the original story is a classic, but it’s done now, and it’s time to move on. Keep her power levels down to more average levels, and instead of focusing on whether or not she’s going to go cosmic again and start destroying planets, focus on her personality.

That brings us to her love life, and yes, let’s move her beyond Cyclops. That ship has sailed, and Cyclops is obviously over her. I’d love to see them actually explore the Wolverine angle. Of course, Marvel has teased it for years, but I think they’re afraid to let Wolverine get close to a female. I’d love to see what would happen if Wolverine began to get close to Jean; especially a more innocent Jean. It could be interesting for both characters. Not that Wolverine is the only option; let Jean play the field a little. I’m not saying she should sleep with any guy with an X on their costume, but let her date a little and see what’s out there. Since her first appearance in 1963 she’s been stuck on Cyclops, who’s treated her horribly. It would be interesting to see her with anyone else. (It also might be interesting to see Cyclops’ reaction to Jean dating other men. Would he finally get jealous? Would other characters put him in his place, by relating his past missteps in the romance department?)

So, Jean comes back, as we know she will, and she has amnesia, allowing the character to begin in as fresh a way as possible. I like it.

Yes, yes! I was more or less angling for the amnesia angle. My favorite resurrections have always been the mysterious ones. And what’s more mysterious than when the character herself doesn’t even know what happened? I say they stumble upon her lying nearly unconscious out in some barren desert. She gets nursed back to health, eventually regains some of her powers (I guess I don’t mind the telepathy. I just hate when the power levels are so crazy.) and maybe even falls in love with…Angel or Iceman? How awkward would that be for everyone involved? Cyclops would probably instantly pine for her, which could end up backfiring easily as she gets turned off by his constant whining and attention. Teach that jerk a lesson.

I know it’s a cop out, but a permanent sort of amnesia is a great way to reboot relationships and personalities and all the rest. Bring back Jean, but make her a blank slate!


Dream Team: X-Men

Oct-01-08

“Meanwhile…Comics!” has existed for five months now and we have yet to delve into the vast world of Marvel’s mutants. The soap opera plots, the endless parade of characters and the Moebius Strip-like continuity have clearly struck fear into our comic-loving hearts. For some, X-Men lore is better experienced than explained. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t play favorites.

There are clearly characters that I enjoy over others. There are also characters who play nicer than others on a team. If you can somehow capture the intersection between the two, I think an X-Men Dream Team is possible. Of course, there are pretty much no parameters for creating an X-Men team. The ranks have swelled from the original cast of five to two teams of five or six with color-coded names. You’ve had the Xtreme X-Men, two X-Forces, New Mutants, Young X-Men, New X-Men, another set of New Mutants, a couple different X-Factors, Astonishing X-Men, and a base team with a rotating cast of anywhere from 8 to 20 members. This is leaving out smaller gatherings of mutants like Fallen Angels, X-Terminators, X-Statix or Excalibur. I guess I’ll just start picking people and stop when it feels right. So who would be on my perfect X-Men? I’m glad you asked…

Cyclops: Obviously. Not a true born leader, but sculpted and refined along that path by Professor X. Cyclops has been in pretty much every incarnation of the X-Men since its inception (including a 200-issue run from the beginning of Uncanny X-Men). I always found it funny that he was the only character on the cover of Giant-Size X-Men #1 who was both in the background as a member of the original team and also shown “busting out” as a member of the new squad.

Kitty Pryde: Whatever codename she happens to be going by this week, I think Kitty is perfect. Her power set is unique. The fact that she has grown up as part of the X-family is important, as is the fact that she’s developed a very strong-willed persona in that time.

Colossus: Sure, he’s got an interesting past with Kitty, but the main reasons for including him on any great X-Men team are his strength and his background. I liked the era of X-Men that featured characters from around the globe. I think it added a unique viewpoint and showed that mutants could be anywhere.

Iceman: Another original member who has really shown his strengths throughout his career. His powers have increased as has his heroic attitude. He’s also good at delivering one-liners. And I think he’s got an interesting look.

Mystique: This is the first of my “huh?” picks. Again, her look, her background and her powers are unique for the team.

Siryn: See above. I’m sure I could make a better argument for her than Mystique. Siryn is a legacy member. She’s fiery and temperamental. And I love the fact that she’s pregnant with Madrox’s child.

Madrox: Obviously. Madrox is, perhaps, my favorite mutant of all time. I love that they’ve added a tilt to his powers that allows his clones to have their own adventures and their own emotional set, which he can then reabsorb into himself.

Dust: Gotta have a rookie on the team. This is someone who has a truly unique set of powers and would look up to Kitty as a mentor/role model.

That gives me four men and four women. Three members with projectile-based attacks and one strength-based. One who can fly (three if you include similar powers from Iceman and Dust), two who can change shape, two who can pass through things. The only angle missing is someone with mental powers, but I’ve never cared for that focus anyway.

Yep…eight is enough. What do you think?

You know, I’d love to agree with you on a lot of these choices….but I can’t. I think I shall agree on a few though. Let’s see if I can’t organize this so it’s easy for the folks at home to follow along.

Jason says Cyclops: I agree with much of what you’ve said about Cyclops, and he really is the quintessential X-Men leader. However, I have to admit that I tend to find Cyclops rather boring. For years he’s had only a sliver of a personality, and while they’re trying to make him more interesting now, it’s not working (mostly because it’s hard to believe that he’s finally developed a personality after years of being rather dull). However, there is another X-Men leader who’s almost as iconic, and much more interesting as a character, and that’s Storm. Her powers are more interesting, and she managed to lead the X-Men for years when she didn’t even have any powers. So, I’d prefer to swap Cyclops for Storm.

Jason says Kitty Pryde: And John agrees. Wholeheartedly. Fascinating character, lots of fun, neat powers….run with this one.

Jason says Colossus: Well, Colossus is certainly Zzzzzzzzz. Wha! Sorry dozed off. About Colossus…Zzzzzzz. Yeah, that’s basically how I feel about Colossus. I have always found him to be one of dullest characters in, not just the X-Men mythos, but any mythos. Much like Cyclops, he seems to be defined only by his intense brooding and whining about the depressing twists and turns that his life has taken. Hey, I sympathize Big Guy. Your life does suck. You were better off dead.

Replacing him is somewhat problematic, if you want to match powers. When you get right down to it, the X-Men don’t have a lot of super strong characters. While a super strong hero is one of the components of almost every team, the X-Men have never seemed to really need one. However, since you mention Madrox (and we’ll get to him in a minute, but here’s a spoiler; I also think he should be on the team), I’d like to nominate his fellow X-Factorian Strong Guy as a member of the group. Strong Guy, also known as Guido, has the strength, but a much more interesting personality. He seems to be a smiling joker, but there’s real pathos under there. I think he’s much more interesting.

Jason says Iceman: I’m going to nod in accord on this one as well. He does have a fascinating look, and he’s easily the most interesting character of the original team. One of the things I love about Iceman is that he’s been around the Marvel Universe longer than anyone but the Fantastic Four, Spidey, and some of the very early Marvel heroes. I mean, Iceman is a veteran of the hero business, and yet, he’s not totally committed to it. He’s not developed his powers as much as he could have, and although he’s been doing more of that lately, there’s still territory to mine in that vein. I also think he may be the only CPA the team has, which I find is a niche many teams don’t take the trouble to fill.

Jason says Mystique: You know, I actually do like Mystique. Yet, I have to agee with what you said about her and ask “Huh?” She’s a neat character, but I don’t think she belongs in the X-Men. She’s a villain and works better in that context, and if you want to make her more of an anti-hero, I still think she works better on her own, or with a team that she has control of. Instead, I’d nominate her son, the ever fuzzy Nightcrawler. I think that Nightcrawler has one of the best looks in comic-dom, and his powers are different and interesting. Plus, he has a long history with the TV, and helps out with the different nationalities that you mentioned earlier. I’m also going to return to something I mentioned in the Avengers, and that’s his religious background, which I think can be interesting if not dwelled on, but used only when appropriate.

Jason says Siryn: I understand why she would be nice on the team, since Madrox is on the team and she’s carrying his child. Sadly, I’m not that fond of Siryn. I don’t dislike her, but she leaves me somewhat cold. I would instead suggest that we replace her with something that this team is desperately lacking, and it simply wouldn’t be the X-Men without one…a telepath! Specifically, I contend that Psylocke would be the perfect candidate to fill that void. I know that she’s been treated horribly over the years. She started out as such an interesting British noblewoman who became another cookie cutter killer (another sad casuality of the 90s) and then had her backstory horribly mangled when she got split into two beings. To that I say, whatever. I’d like to strip her back to her core, of a telepathic British woman who’s endured some harsh times, but who is still a product of her upper class English upbringing.

Jason says Madrox: Couldn’t agree more. I give all the credit for this to Peter David, who took a character that had been a joke for years and reinvented him as someone worth reading about. Without a doubt, he’s the most interesting character in the X-Universe, and perhaps the most interesting character in the entire Marvel Universe. He deserves his shot at the big team, and I’d like to see him get it.

Jason says Dust: John says who? Man, making me use Wikipedia. Huh. Whaddya know? I’ve read her appearances, and still couldn’t remember her. Man, if Grant Morrison can’t make a character memorable, perhaps that’s a strong hint that the character should be forgotten. Still, I like the idea of a Muslim on the team. The X-Men have long been used as symbols of any group of people wrongly hated and persecuted for something, and Muslims in America can certainly count themselves among that number. That being said, I have problems including her on the team, when I simply don’t care about her. I would disagree that the team needs a rookie (just like you don’t think they need a telepath), and were I going to replace her, it would be with Dr. Cecelia Reyes. I can hear you thinking the same thing about her that I feel about Dust, but I’ve always liked this character. First of all, it gives the team a medical doctor, which I am amazed more teams don’t have. Second, it fills the role of a rookie, without going with the more cliched young adolescent coming into their own. Dr. Reyes is a grown woman with a lifetime of experiences; those experiences just don’t include using her powers to fight Magneto. She’s a strong female character, but she doesn’t wear skintight outfits (usually) and she’s not a sex object.

So, I have Storm leading Madrox, Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Dr. Reyes, Strong Guy, Nightcrawler and Psylocke. Four men, four women. Four different nationalities. Nice mix of distance powers and brawlers. Thoughts?

Ah…here we go again. These are funny exercises to me because I know we like a lot of the same characters and I know we both have our favorites too. It’s compelling trying to find a satisfying balance. Makes me wonder if the actual Marvel writers go through any of this or if they just selfishly pick whoever they want. Anyway, on to Round Two…

John says Storm: Wow. I don’t think I can put into words how much I dislike Storm. Never liked the character (even when she had a mohawk). Heck, I get irritated just thinking of the voice used for her in the X-Men cartoon. And I have a distinct problem with mutants whose powers extend outside of themselves. How does having a unique DNA map translate into being able to control natural winds, precipitation and freaking lightning? There’s zero correlation. I will say it here and now: I HATE Storm. If you want to do another old school X-Man with the power of flight (and a neat new healing ability), let’s throw Angel into the mix. He and Iceman have a looooong history of working side-by-side, from X-Men to Champions to Defenders to X-Factor and back again. Warren has a more cerebral approach to the cause and, in all honesty, is a bit of a pacifist. I think he’d make a solid leader with good judgment. Let Bobby assume some of the responsibility for the team in the field, and you create an interesting dynamic as well.

John says Nightcrawler: Honestly, I feel pretty much the same about Nightcrawler. I don’t necessarily hate him for being who he is, but I despise the one-dimensional characterization he has endured for the last 20 years or so. “Ooh, he looks like a demon but he’s really a devout Catholic!” Whatever. Get over it. I like the idea of having a teleporter on the team, but Kitty is close enough for me. And, truth be told, I was subliminally trying to put together a team of mutants who could easily appear as normal human beings in public. Unless you employ the hokey image inducer belt he sometimes wore, Nightcrawler does not fit that bill. I’d much rather see Forge or Cannonball in this slot. Forge has a very unique and useful ability, but Cannonball adds a bit more youth and action to the team, so I’m going with him.

John says Psylocke: I like Psylocke and will give you that one. I agree that she was a great character before they messed with her.

John says Cecilia Reyes: And Jason says: BORING. Force field generation, huh? Oh boy. In my defense, Dust had a useful (and extremely powerful) ability and she’s a fan favorite. If I wanted force fields, I’d pick Armor. At least she has a discernible personality. I’m not insisting on a rookie, but I think it adds a bit of adventure and uncertainty to the team. If you don’t like Dust, may I suggest Pixie? She has limited teleportation powers, can fly, and emits a magical “pixie dust” that creates some pretty potent hallucinations.

John says Strong Guy: I hate to rag on your counter-picks, but I find no joy in Strong Guy either. I really liked him in the earlier X-Factor title. I thought he was funny and his story was kind of tragic. However, now he just bores me. His codename started out as a clever aside too, but now I just think it’s kind of…uh…unprofessional? There’s nothing to really set him apart. I’d rather throw a revitalized Dazzler into the mix and angle my team more towards finesse than power. Dazzler has connections to Cannonball (who rescued her once), Pixie (who is a fan of her music), Kitty & Psylocke (she was on the X-Men with them previously), Iceman & Angel (through the original X-Factor) and Madrox (because Strong Guy was her bodyguard). She’s like the perfect “Six Degrees” member!

We agreed on Iceman, Kitty Pryde and Madrox. Plus, I gave you Psylocke. That means we’re halfway there!

So, my rebuttal is as follows: Angel & Iceman leading a team of Madrox, Kitty Pryde, Psylocke, Cannonball, Dazzler and Pixie. Four boys and four girls. Some flying, some mental abilities, and at least two projectile-based attacks. Two original members without any of the true icons (please NO Wolverine or Gambit). Well-rounded and tied together nicely. Your turn!

Yeesh? Hate Storm much? I found it amusing that you mention her voice in the cartoon. The old Fox X-Men cartoon had to have had the worst Storm voice ever. She was so horribly dramatic and she always yelled her lines. My friends and I actually had one of her lines enter our lexicon; in an episode where the X-Men got their butts handed to them, Jubilee is complaining that its all her fault. In an attempt to console her, Storm explains that Jubilee is not to blame for their poor showing: “We all failed. Together.” Bwah-ha-ha! Ah, I still chuckle thinking about it. Anyway, my point is, I agree with you on her cartoon presence, but I think that Storm is a much better character than you give her credit for, and I’ve always loved the issue where she kicks Cyclops butt without her powers.

However, your suggestion of Angel is a great one. Angel is an interesting character, one without a lot of power (I suppose in 1963, the ability to fly was considered enough of an ability to get by as a mutant), but with decades of experience. I think the idea of Angel and Iceman leading the team together is brilliant; they’ve got the seniority, the experience, and the relationship between them to make this a fascinating concept. Winner! Angel is in.

I can’t believe you’re dissing Nightcrawler. I think he’s one of my top three favorite mutants ever, and I’d like to fight for his place on the team. Even if you jettison the Catholic part of his character (and your description of the way he’s been handled baffles me, since his religion is almost always ignored in stories), I like him because he’s more upbeat and fun. He’s a swashbuckler, and good grief, the X-Men need more characters like that. He’s rarely sunk into the morbid pathos that infects so many of the team. However, you countered with a character that I almost suggested instead of Dr. Reyes, and that’s Cannonball (I also almost suggested Forge, a character I’m also quite fond of). Cannonball is a great character; a genuinely good person that’s trying to do the right thing, but without the boring non-personality that often infects Cyclops. I also like the idea of having a character from the American south who doesn’t perpetuate the stereotypes of that area; yes, he has the accent, but he’s smart, he’s well mannered, he doesn’t eat grits…he’s not a walking caricature. Cannonball it is.

Pixie? Pixie? Maybe I’m just old, but the new characters universally fail to interest me, and Pixie is certainly one of those. In fact, I can’t find a young X-hero that interests me. I find them bland and uninteresting. I picked Dr. Reyes not because of her powers; I find powers to be one of the last reasons I use to select a character. I almost always choose personalities first. You can have the best mix of powers in the world, but if they’re grafted onto boring two-dimensional characters, it won’t really matter. However, if you have characters that work well together and interest both the writers and the readers, you can find ways to make the powers work together. Dr. Reyes was a different personality, someone that you don’t find often in super-hero books. Usually the new hero is an adolescent, coming to their powers at a point in their life where they’re just developing into the adult they will become. Dr. Reyes is someone who’s already an adult, and has quite a few life experiences, and now she finds this unwelcome superhero world shoved into her life. I think that could make for interesting stories.

However, if you don’t like her, and I don’t like Pixie, and can’t find anyone else that’s young and interesting to me, could I counter with Forge? We both like him, and he does present at least a little of the outsider mentality. Yes, he’s worked with the team a few times, and he led X-Factor for a short while, but he’s not much of a field agent, and I’d like to see him in that role. Plus, if you want a more skilled team, I think Forge fits that bill admirably. It also would be nice for the team to have a scientist type, and perhaps Forge could come up with some nifty gadgets for Angel to use, so he doesn’t have to just fly around like a giant cardinal all the time.

Dazzler? I strongly dislike this character. She was mildly interesting in her early appearances, but of course, she looked so ludicrous at the time (70s disco has much to answer for; Marvel has even more to answer for by introducing a 70s disco character in the 80s) that I couldn’t take her seriously. When she returned to prominence in the 90s, she looked much better, but her personality was intensely irritating. She grated on me everytime she spoke, although to be fair, almost everyone on the team then grated on me. Chris Claremont had entered that period of his career where everyone spoke in the same voice, one where they had a sing song rhthym to their speech that could drive a strong man to Jack Daniels and quaaludes. However, she was egotistical, selfish, pushy and seemed like she’d be more at home hanging out with Brenda in 90210 than she was on the X-Men. Ugh.

If you’re more insistent on a snotty female who is pretty, skilled and drives everyone around her crazy, how about using M? I’d be worried about taking too many X-Factor characters, but we’re back to just using Madrox again. M has some useful powers (and gives us superstrength again), and while she’s extremely arrogant, she’s fun. She annoys those around her, but in such a way as to amuse the reader. Plus, you had originally hoped for a more multi-national team, and most of those members have been eliminated by one or both of us, so this gives us the chance to bring in someone who is not American.

So, we have these members settled: Angel and Iceman lead the team. Members include Kitty Pryde, Cannonball, Psylocke and Madrox. That’s six definites. I am offering Forge and M as our last two members. That gives us three woman and five men. It also gives us a Native America, someone English and someone from Bosnia, so there’s some diversity. I like it. You?

Man, you cave too easily! Funny, I was just reading that last paragraph and thinking to myself “who the heck is from Bosnia?” Then I whipped over to Wikipedia and realized that Monet was Penance. I don’t think I ever knew that (I quit reading Generation X fairly early on). I love Monet in X-Factor. I think she would be a brilliant addition because of the awkward tension she could drum up concerning Madrox. She also has ties to Cannonball from the X-Corps days. As you stated, she adds some super-strength to the mix and she has some telepathic abilities as well.

I do like Forge. My concern with him is that he seems so much older than the rest of the team. And, like you said, he doesn’t seem to have on-the-field experience. He’s used to working in a lab on his own time. I’m not sure how his reflexes and reaction skills are. That said, he is handy to have around…I dunno. I go back and forth with him. On one hand, he hooked up with Storm. On the other hand, he fought alongside Rom the Spaceknight. On one hand, he has a long history with Madrox. On the other hand, he’s deeply mired in the types of twisting plots and traps that have haunted X-Men comics for decades. Hmm…decisions, decisions.

There were some other names that I was playing around with. Juggernaut always interested me as a good guy, but without Professor X in the picture, he seems out of place with this group. I always liked Havok and Polaris. Marvel has really done a number on Polaris, making her crazy, then one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen, and now she’s off in space with the Starjammers. Whatever. Havok has lost a lot of his focus too. He was always best when either paired with (or in conflict with) his brother or in a relationship with Polaris. Without either of them around, he’s pretty drab.

Y’know what? I’m going to backtrack a bit and throw Nightcrawler back onto the table. I still don’t comprehend how you think religion hasn’t been the focus for him. Every story I remember reading (aside from that first mini where he was some sort of pirate) had to do with him seeking penance, trying to find reason in the world or just isolating himself to study the Bible. However, he offers a solid bridge between the old and new X-Men and he has a truly unique ability. Plus, he’s pretty tight with Kitty.

I think that lines up nicely for us, and it’s not what anyone would expect if we said “name the X-Men.” I’ve never been a fan of the obvious though, so Angel & Iceman leading a team of Madrox, Cannonball, Psylocke, Kitty Pryde, Nightcrawler and Monet seems right to me!


It starts here! Marvel’s Secret Wars!

Jul-29-08

Ah, summer. For comics fans, summer is often known as the season of the big event. Just as the movie studios release most of their large blockbusters during the summer months, the big comics publishers also tend to pack the summer months with huge mini-series which promise to fundamentally alter their universes and after which “…nothing will ever be the same”! It’s an exciting time for some fans, and a frustrating time for others, but this has been the status quo at Marvel and DC since the mid-1980s. It was in 1984 that Marvel began releasing what many people consider to be the first of the huge mega-events, Secret Wars, or more accurately, Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars.

By today’s standards, Secret Wars bears little resemblance to most mega-events. First of all, it was twelve issues long, which is much longer than any event has been since (with the exception of Crisis on Infinite Earthsat DC, which would be another post). Today, these events tend to somewhat derail the storylines of most titles, and the companies don’t want that going on for an entire year (well, except for DC the last few years, which mega-events haven’t really ended since Identity Crisis, but that’s unusual). The other difference is that Secret Wars didn’t really crossover into any other comics. While there were issues of various books which showed heroes reacting to a strange structure that suddenly appeared in Central Park, which whisked the heroes away after they entered it, these scenes were very short and not very important. Otherwise, books didn’t crossover with Secret Wars. Again, today, when a mega-event is happening there are bound to be many regular series which break into their ongoing storylines to feature tales that relate to the crossover, and there are usually special mini-series that also relate directly to the main story. Of course, when Marvel decided to do a sequel called Secret Wars 2 the following year, they addressed both of these problems; the sequel ran only nine issues (which is still somewhat long by the standards of today) and there were crossovers galore.

Secret Wars was written by Jim Shooter, who was then also Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, and it was pencilled by Mike Zeck. The plot couldn’t have been simpler: a powerful extradimensional entity called the Beyonder teleports Marvel’s most famous heroes and villains across the universe to a planet that he created just for them. He then tells them that they must fight, and whichever group wins will be granted anything they desire. There’s your premise. It’s basically every comic reading child’s fantasy, forcing team-ups (both heroic and villainous) and fights galore.

Secret Wars did well, sales-wise. Very well. It also spawned a line of action figures. After Marvel saw how profitable it was, they decided to do the follow-up series, Secret Wars 2. Jim Shooter again wrote the main series, this time aided by Al Milgrom on pencils. The plot this time was that the Beyonder had come to Earth and wanted to understand….well, everything. He wanted to understand humanity, his place in the universe, good versus evil…he was insatiably curious.

There is so much to discuss here, and I’m not sure where to start. These two series couldn’t be further apart in tone, style or appeal. They also bring to mind discussions on how they relate to the event series of today, what could have (and perhaps should have) been done differently in them, and what the heck was up with the Beyonder in the first place. Where should we start?

Let’s start with a list of all the great things that came out of Secret Wars:

  1. Spider-Man’s black costume
  2. Denver’s comeuppance
  3. White guys dressing like Michael Jackson
  4. Action figures (all with the same body) packaged with lenticular shields.

That’s about it. And, really, #4 is a stretch. How many times have you seen Wolverine going into battle carrying a bulky shield with his face on it? But, dammit, Denver deserved what it got!

I think there’s a lot we could say about both of these series. The completely divergent storylines are the first headache that come to mind for me…especially the unnecessary ridiculousness of the sequel. After that’s covered, I think we should explore how the Secret Wars phenomenon translated into a mess of big company crossover event books (like all the ones Marvel pumped out during Annual Season every year).

You make a good point with DC’s continuing crisis. I can’t recall a time when so much effort was invested into condensing a comic universe into a singular (in)coherent event. It screams of insincerity to me. Obviously, there are other things going on in the lives of these heroes and villains that would garner their attention. For that matter, there are other heroes in other countries who could care less about how Batman is handling the arrival of Darkseid. Honestly, forcing the issue into some sort of line-wide gospel is extremely short-sighted and only works towards hurting readership on those titles whose readers don’t want to get involved.

You can point to dozens of instances where a certain family of books is drawn into a crossover event, and that makes infinitely more sense to me. If Spider-Man is being bothered by the ghosts of his parents in Amazing Spider-Man, then it stands to reason that that annoyance would continue across Sensational Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Pretty Cool Spider-Man, Kinda Hungry Spider-Man, and all the other 73 Spider-Man titles that Marvel publishes. See also, the X books.

But first, Secret Wars: What’s up with that?

Well, I have to admit….I like Secret Wars. Is it high art? Um, not even close. Was it a cynical marketing ploy designed to sell toys. Well, yes. Was it good, straight-forward superheroey fun? I say yes. Now, the sequel? That was a train wreck from the word go. Let’s examine how these two series couldn’t be further apart in terms of quality and execution.

The original Secret Wars miniseries, as we mentioned above, had no real crossover issues to speak of. It was twelve issues, self-contained. This is a good thing, as it allowed the entire story to be told by one creative team, and it also kept the story focused. Secret Wars had a definite plot, and it moved along that plot without veering too far afield. Every reader knew what the final goal was, and yet there are still some twists and turns here. It would have been easy to simply have the heroes and the villains fight it out, but Shooter kept most of our cast in character, and so we saw the heroes splinter, when the X-Men left their group, and we saw problems with the villains, starting in the first issue when Kang tried to assassinate Dr. Doom. Yes, the last few issues bog down a little when Doom steals the Beyonder’s power, but mostly the series is good clean fun.

Moreover, Secret Wars did something that all of these event series promise, and precious few deliver; it made changes to the Marvel Universe. You laugh at the changes it wrought, but it actually did make some long lasting changes. Besides introducing Venom (or the costume which would become Venom) it also introduced Volcana, Titania and the new Spider-Woman (now known as Arachne). This series is where She-Hulk joined the Fantastic Four (which caused huge changes in that title), and it’s where the Molecule Man went from being a villain to being…well, whatever he is now. It started Magneto on his way to being a hero (although he’s changed back to a villain now, so perhaps we shouldn’t count that). Some of these are important to the Marvel Universe even now, but at the time, the Marvel Universe really was different after Secret Wars.

Now look at the sequel. This sequel had tons of crossovers, with just about every title that Marvel published crossing over at some time. Interestingly, Marvel seemed proud of this, and they even boasted that this was crossing over with all of their titles. It was so crazy that Circuit Breaker, a character from their Transformers comic, which was a comic that didn’t even share a continuity with the Marvel Universe, appeared in an issue of the series. It’s tempting to say that it was the huge amount of crossovers with the main miniseries that caused the story for Secret Wars 2 to become diluted and hard to follow. In actuality, that’s probably because the storyline for this series was so nebulous and hard to define as it was. While the original miniseries had a straightforward premise, the one for this series was harder to pin down. The Beyonder wants to learn about….humanity? Himself? Life, the universe and everything? Why the hell was he here anyway? No one seemed to know, and since his personality went all over the place during the miniseries, I never knew either. Some issues he was curious, sometimes he was angry, sometimes he was helpful….it was like the writers had a personality dartboard, and that’s how they determined what was going on with him.

Meanwhile, everyone learned something that should have been obvious from the start, but apparently wasn’t: cosmic beings are dull and boring. Seriously, who wants to read about the omnipotent? If the heroes have no chance of beating your antagonist, the story has no drama. Slugfests against those who can shatter universes, especially when some of the people involved in the slugfest can’t even lift a Buick, makes for a dull slugfest. The Beyonder could do anything, so what was the point? Ugh. The entire affair was horrible, just horrible.

At least, that was my take. Yours?

Well, you know, I’m not a fan of the cosmic storylines or the omnipotent villain types (even if they’re just “misunderstood”). But one thing that the first Secret Wars had going for it was the fact that they created an entire world just for the storyline. You didn’t have to worry about forcing a character into a setting that it wouldn’t work in…you merely plucked them from their own existence and put them on a pseudo-Earth. That way, the story could take place in its own sort of continuity, free from outside interference.

I can’t recall off the top of my head…how was it explained that these particular heroes and villains were missing in action for a year? Weren’t they only missing from their own books for a single issue or so? I seem to remember Spider-Man disappearing and then coming back with the black costume (and wasn’t it a chicken-and-egg type situation where people were saying it appeared first in Secret Wars and others said it appeared first in Amazing Spider-Man?).

My memory is obviously hazy, having only read the series when it first came out waaaaaay back in 1984 when I was going on 13. However, I do recall being slightly annoyed by the Beyonder. It seemed like they were just making up powers for him as they went along…until I realized he was able to do pretty much anything. Then I really got annoyed. How are you supposed to have an intriguing storyline pitting the good guys against a common threat, when there’s absolutely no plausible way for the heroes to win? They had to make up an excuse for beating him, like one of them tapped him on the shoulder and, while he was distracted, they used a space vacuum to suck the lifeforce out of him…or something like that.

I will commend them for keeping the action contained in its own series. There’s definitely something to be said for that these days, especially looking at the latest Previews and the ridiculous amount of spin-off miniseries that DC’s Final Crisis has inspired. At the same time, you have to question the intelligence behind a 12-issue maxiseries. The storyline wasn’t that strong to begin with, and then they wanted to drag it out for an entire year? Wow. Like you mention, the only other 12-issue series I can remember are Crisis on Infinite Earths (which encompassed the entire DC Universe) and both Squadron Supreme and Watchmen (which were their own self-contained adventures). Attention spans just don’t seem to be what they were anymore, huh?

At the same time, Secret Wars II was a unique miniseries too. By putting the Beyonder on a sort of “quest” to find himself or the source of humanity, they gave the plot a flexibility that enabled it to crossover into such wildly divergent titles as Rom, Dazzler, Power Pack, Alpha Flight, Cloak & Dagger, Doctor Strange, Power Man & Iron Fist and New Mutants. Too bad the story itself sucked.

The Beyonder started dating Dazzler, became the head of a crime syndicate, killed Death, turned the Heroes for Hire building into gold, inspired a cult, killed the New Mutants, then changed his mind a undid everything before Molecule Man “killed” him and his energy returned to the pocket dimension it originated from. We learn later that Beyonder was just some sort of immature Cosmic Cube. And THEN, Bendis rewrites history during his Illuminati miniseries and says the Beyonder was just some sort of mutated Inhuman with delusions of grandeur. Ridiculous.

People lambast Secret Wars II for being such a load of crap, which it is, but as far as convoluted crossover miniseries go, I don’t find it to be that offensive. Since the story didn’t make much sense to begin with, you weren’t required to catch every single affected title to understand what was going on. Compare that to the headache-inducing Atlantis Attacks event that ran through all of Marvel’s titles’ annuals (and interludes in two regular issues as well) which assumed that every Marvel reader read every title and collected every annual. That story made no sense if you didn’t read every part…and Marvel was notorious for doing junk like that every year…Evolutionary War, Inferno, Acts of Vengeance, Operation: Galactic Storm, Infinity War, Infinity Crusade, Maximum Carnage, Age of Apocalypse (which confused the hell out of me), Maximum Security, blah blah blah. Out of those, only The Evolutionary War took place solely in annuals, but you get the point anyway. Seems like Secret Wars broke open the floodgates.

So, here’s an idea. Since our blog is all about reimagining things to make them better, do you think we should talk about how we would’ve made Secret Wars better (*cough*DON’T PUBLISH IT*cough*) or do you think we should tackle how to make long-form comic book events better? Hmm?

First, let me correct a few points of confusion for you. Yes, the mini-series was 12 issues long and took a year from start to finish, but that didn’t mean the heroes were gone from the Marvel Universe for a year. Remember, this is Marvel time. The entire Secret War lasted about two weeks, if I recall, so the heroes weren’t gone long at all. Still, their absence was noticed in the Marvel Universe at large, and it was quite a big deal. As for how they dealt with the fact that heroes returned one month after they left (real world time), but we wouldn’t find out about their adventures for an entire year, well, all the heroes had agreed not to discuss the events of their little Secret War, on the advice of Reed Richards. Reed had decided that, if regular humanity had any idea of the cosmic events the heroes had witnessed, or knew of the existence of someone whose power was on the scale of the Beyonder’s….well, old Reed thought that normal people couldn’t handle that sort of knowledge. So, everyone agreed to keep the war a secret. In my opinion, what’s the difference to a normal guy between the power level of Galactus and the power level of the Beyonder? They’re still omnipotent to any one of us.

Also, while the Beyonder was somewhat annoying in the original miniseries, he wasn’t important. He shouldn’t have annoyed you, because he served simply as a plot device. He needed to exist to bring the heroes and villains together and to create the patchwork planet on which they would fight. He’s in the first issue, and then isn’t seen again until #10, and then he returns for the finale in issue #12. All told, he probably has about 20 lines of dialogue in the entire series. I’m not sure why Little Jason would have been bothered by the Beyonder when he read the original series, because the heroes weren’t supposed to fight him. Nobody was supposed to, and the only one who did was Doom. The Beyonder was like the Grandmaster, but even more of a Maltese Falcon; he existed solely to set up the plot and move it forward. Yes, he was contrived and he was a blank slate, but he was a simple way to get things moving, and he served his purpose well. The mistake was to bring him back for the sequel and try and craft a story around someone of his power level.

In response to your question, I’d rather tackle the problem with these two series alone, and we can hit other events if we feel like it. I’m sure we’ll discuss how to do events better as we go along, but for now, I’ll just focus on these two series.

First of all, let me say that, on the surface, I have no problem with these huge crossovers. I think that most superhero fans enjoy this sort of thing, where heroes and villains team-up, and these crossovers help remind readers that these events all occur in the same universe. The largest problem with crossovers (in my eyes) is when they derail a lot of strong titles in a comic universe with crossovers, and when they meander along with no real plot. The first Secret Wars didn’t commit either of these crimes, and the sequel was guilty of only the latter (most of the crossovers for this miniseries that I read seemed to fit into the ongoing storylines pretty well). I certainly would have published the first Secret Wars. I think it’s fun. It’s not Watchmen, Maus or Fun Home, but it’s a good summer blockbuster. You buy your popcorn, you sit down, and for twelve issues you watch colorfully clad characters cavort. I think the miniseries stalled and almost dies in the last three issues (when Doom challenges the Beyonder for his power and the aftermath of that; certainly that was in character for Doom, but the story stops dead at that point and never really picks up again. It’s easy to see why, since I’ve been praising the book for keeping the omnipotent Beyonder off the stage and once Doom becomes omnipotent, we’re stuck with him as a main character for the last three issues. Yawn). I think it was a huge mistake to have Doom actually steal the power of the Beyonder, and were I writing it, I would not have gone that route.

If it had been my series, I would have had the heroes realize what Doom was planning (and really, would that have been so difficult? It’s classic Doom behavior….of course he’s going to try and steal omnipotence!). The last few issues would have dealt with the heroes attempting to halt Doom, and they would have succeeded. In the long run, that’s a heck of a lot more heroic than watching your deadliest enemy succeed at his plans, which is what happens in the story. Once the heroes had won, the Beyonder could have made his second (and last) appearance in the series (after introducing the plot in issue 1) and sent everyone home. Anticlimactic? I think not, since basically the series did end with the heroes just sending themselves home. Perhaps they could have made it more interesting by having the heroes actually capture Doom and plan to put him on trial when they returned to Earth. Doom has never been tried for his crimes, and if his usual defense is diplomatic immunity, well, this time he was caught in an area where he has no diplomatic immunity. Now he’s been apprehended, and he is going to be tried before a World Court for crimes against humanity (like Magneto was).

As for a sequel…..I’m not sure if a sequel would have been necessary. If there was one, I would have never shown the Beyonder, or allowed him much time in the spotlight. The Beyonder could have actually had a long life in the Marvel Universe, showing up as a cosmic deus ex machina or as a plot device when needed. Would people have wanted to know more about him? Possibly, but that doesn’t mean you give them more. The Beyonder should never be explained. He should be a voice and nothing more, except perhaps for a light from the sky or something equally mysterious. I understand why they didn’t want to have him grab more heroes and villains for another Secret War (that would have been redundant), but there has to be a better way to go than trying to define the undefinable. I think I would have left the series after the original and not done a sequel.

You’re right. Little Jason was recalling an amalgamation of both Secret Wars series. However, that does not mean that the Beyonder shouldn’t annoy me. Just look at the guy. You know I have an inherent aversion to all things cosmic and the Beyonder manifests all of the phenomenon’s worst attributes in one jheri-curled mess. I refuse to believe that the Beyonder should have ever been created…and his was a ridiculous origin (and an even more bizarre series of retcons) from the beginning. And, even though you seem to be advocating his return on some level, I can’t even fathom his existence as a “spirit voice” or plot device in the least. What’s the point? I mean, he’s already dated Dazzler…the Paris Hilton of the mutant world.

Taking it one step further, what was the point of the first Secret Wars itself? To pit heroes against villains? Doesn’t that happen organically anyway? Marvel seemed to be instituting just another version of their Contest of Champions from a year or two prior.

Y’know, now that I have a chance to reconsider my opinion, I may not be so enamored with the idea of a 12-issue maxiseries in this format. If you look at the entire product, Watchmen and Squadron Supreme are much stronger stories than Secret Wars. The standalone aspect of these books lends itself better to an extended storytelling format where characters can develop without having to worry about affecting overall continuity. Secret Wars was kind of awkward.

It’s not that I necessarily disagree with anything you’re saying, except that I think you’re taking Secret Wars too seriously. Do I think the Beyonder should come back? Good grief no. I don’t at all mean to advocate his return. What I was saying was, if Marvel felt they had to use him again after the first series, they never should have tried to make him a character. The Beyonder is not a character; he’s a plot device. He’s a clunky, awkward plot device. He existed to make Secret Wars work. Was he needed? I’d say probably not, since the Grandmaster could have basically done the exact same thing, and he was already established. Still, the Beyonder was created to fulfill a role, not to establish a character. It was when Marvel brought him back for the sequel that they tried to make him a character, and that was there mistake. What I was saying was that, if the Beyonder had to be brought back, he should have been brought back as an enigmatic cipher, as he was in the first Secret Wars, and he should never have been developed. No physical form, no attempt at a personality….nothing. That was a bad idea.

In the end, we seem to agree on one thing: cosmic characters ruin storylines, particularly when they’re placed in the center. We also seem to agree that crossovers started as an excuse to sell toys and comics, and not as a story that really needed to be told. I think that, once you get past the contrivances, the first ten issues of the original Secret Wars was good solid fun, like a good summer popcorn movie. You seem to disagree. And we both agree that the second series had no redeemable qualities whatsoever. These were not exactly the perfect models from which to build future crossovers. Unfortunately, many of the negatives we’ve mentioned would continue in the future.