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.


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!


One-Shot: Kismet

Aug-06-08

Man, I really wanted to give you Deathcry, since she was also from the 90s and Avengers related. Sadly, it appears that she’s dead. Personally, I’m devastated. There shall be a wake tonight, in her honor. All of her fans will attend. The location will be my hall closet, although I’m concerned that we won’t be able to find enough of her fans to fill it.

So, I’m going in another direction. Let’s talk about Kismet, also known as Paragon, also known as Her, also known as Ayesha. Perhaps only Hank Pym has had more names than this character. She was created at the Beehive by a group of creepy old men called the Enclave, so she’s already got some strikes against her. She also started out her existence as a man, making her perhaps the first transgender in comics. Oh, those groundbreaking scamps at Marvel! She’s been all over the universe and has popped up in such classic and popular series as Alpha Flight, Quasar and Marvel Two-In-One. So, what are you going to do with her (or is it “do with Her”)?

Right. A golden chick in a Baywatch swimsuit who was created as the “Eve” to Adam Warlock. And she has those vague cosmic powers that I relish so much. Excellent.

Does it seem odd to anyone else that a bunch of random dudes who live in a beehive can harness this weird cosmic energy to create a fake chick who can pretty much disintegrate them with a sideways glance? That doesn’t really add up for me. Not to mention the strange fact that the Enclave seemed to enjoy kidnapping women (Alicia Masters, Medusa) and creating female versions of characters named Warlock (they also cloned the New Mutants member). That’s a pretty odd obsession. But I digress.

Kismet…the Arabic word for fate…for some reason all I can think of is that the movie version would undoubtedly be played by Jessica Simpson. She strikes me as a character who is ridiculously powerful but kind of lost and clueless. She’s like an intergalactic Paris Hilton or a pan-universal Pam Anderson (especially given her chosen attire). How do you improve upon that?

She’s a blank slate made entirely of Teflon. That is to say, nothing sticks. Her existence is meaningless and holds no purpose whatsoever in the big picture of the Marvel Universe. She was created as an issue filler in the early days of the Fantastic Four title. I say we kill her off, but we make it an event (like all those cosmic things seem to be).

Here’s the plan: She realizes (at least in her own artificial mind) that she was meant to be the “first woman.” That clicks something in her head putting her on a path to rewind the progress of the entire universe…basically making herself the origin of life. Of course, to reach that goal, she’ll need to wipe everyone else out of existence. BUM BUM BAAAAAAAH!

I have no idea how this will happen, but I’m sure the whole thing will be explained away by some convenient plot device made up of fancy words that vaguely relate to science. Everyone will nod their heads and pretend that they understand what the writer was trying to get across and the whole thing will be seen as an allegory for conservation of energy. Isn’t that how these things work?

I would’ve gone with the whole “find a perfect mate” scenario, but it seems like that’s the ONLY plotline Kismet has ever been involved with. Every single time she has shown up in the past has been to either land a date or eradicate an entire planet (which I can only assume was her cosmic reaction to PMS).

Now that I think about it, there could be some pretty comical scenes of her sitting in a diner booth waiting for her e-date to show up, and then ditching him when she realizes it’s D-Man. Ah, the trials and tribulations of all-powerful love. I imagine the sex must be out of this world.

Heh.