Thursday, April 30, 2009

X-Men Primer - Part 4

When we left off, we had just finished the Phoenix Saga and while it was a good place to end thematically, it wasn't exactly the end of what fans consider to be the golden age of the X-Men. This would come soon, but first, the X-Men hold a funeral for Jean which serves as the comic book equivalent of a flashback episode. At the end, Scott decides to take a break from the X-Men to figure himself out in the wake of the life he lost, both Jean's and his own.

In X-Men Annual #4, we find out a bit more about the background of Nightcrawler, how he was raised in a circus as a high-wire act before new management tried to make him a sideshow attraction. He was raised an orphan by the circus, but he was closest to a family of gypsies by the name of Szardos. Our story begins as the matriarch and uber-powerful witch of the family, Margali Szardos, sends Kurt to a facsimile of Dante's inferno for killing her son, his adopted brother. Eventually, it is revealed that the death was an accident caused by her son so Margali forgives Kurt. The best part is that Kurt gets a new girlfriend out of the deal, Margali's daughter and Kurt's sorta sister, Amanda. Amanda, like her mother, is a witch and the two have a very cute relationship, the witch and the demon.

Sidenote: The X-Men have an unusual number of orphans with Scott and Ororo having lost their parents at a young age and Kurt never knowing his. Aside from making the characters more independent, I think that this demonstrates that the X-Men are a family for those that have no other family. As the Beast once said, "the X-Men are connected in ways you can't begin to imagine." I think that's always been a large part of the appeal. The key to serial fiction is to create a place the reader wants to live, whether its the X-Mansion, the starship Enterprise, or Cheers.

With Scott gone, Xavier makes Storm the new leader of the X-Men. Their first order of business, coming up with a name for the new kid. Xavier suggests "Ariel," but Kitty hates it and goes with "Sprite" instead. It would be a while before she gained a more permanent codename, but generally speaking, fans think of her as Kitty Pryde. Really with a name like that, why do you even need a codename?

Meanwhile, Wolverine decides to head north to finally settle things with his old pals at Alpha Flight. Nightcrawler tags along as Wolverine stops in at Vindicator/Weapon Alpha/Major Maple Leaf's house to visit his wife and Wolverine's old friend, Heather. It is only then that we finally learn Wolverine's real name: Logan. Apparently the X-Men were such jerks, they never even asked.

Wolverine's relationship with Alpha Flight is actually patched up rather easily with Alpha Flight abandoning their whole kidnapping plan to face the returned threat of Wendigo, the other reason not to be a cannibal (aside from brain damage and ew). As you can imagine, punches are exchanged, but it isn't exactly a legendary battle.

Days of Future Past

The legendary battle comes in the next and final X-Men story featuring the pencil work of John Byrne. Days of Future Past changed everything. For the first time, we saw the future that Xavier was trying to prevent, a war where both sides had lost. The cover says it all. This is a future where all of the X-Men are either dead or imprisoned aside from Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, and a couple newbies named Rachel and Franklin. Fighting a resistance force against the domination of the Sentinels, they make a desperate last minute gamble to use Rachel's telepathic powers to send Kitty's consciousness back in time to her own body. The hope is that she can prevent the assassination of Senator Kelly, an event which led directly to Project Wideawake and the end of freedom on Earth.

To save Senator Kelly, the X-Men have to fight a new Brotherhood of Mutants, this time led by a new character to the X-Men universe, the shapeshifter Mystique. Mystique had previously debuted in Ms. Marvel, also written by Chris Claremont, but she soon became inseparably associated with the X-Men. Cunning, merciless, and sexy, Mystique always provides a random element in any story. Backing her up are Pyro (a pyrokinetic) and Avalance (able to create localized tremors like mini-earthquakes) along with old X-Men foe, the Blob, and Mystique's very close friend, a precognitive blind woman who goes by the name of Destiny.

One thing that becomes clear early in the story is the relation between Mystique and Nightcrawler whose natural features have a striking resemblance. Although it would take another ten years (and a mediocre story) to confirm what fans had long suspected, Mystique is Nightcrawler's mother... but that was not the original intent. Originally, Mystique was going to be Nightcrawler's father, having assumed a male form, with Destiny as his mother. Although Mystique and Destiny were shown to be very close, the social climate of the time was not okay with gays in comics, but recent writers have retroactively stated that their relationship was romantic in nature.

The details on how the story was resolved isn't important, but Days of Future Past set the stakes for the X-Men and writers have been responding to it ever since. Although Senator Kelly's life was saved, the X-Men had to wonder if they saved the future or just delayed it. Kelly would continue to push for anti-mutant legislation making a battle between the X-Men and the government seem inevitable.

John Byrne's final story is something of a minor classic as Kitty Pryde is left alone on Christmas Eve as the X-Men go about their various lives. I suppose being Jewish, Kitty was just planning to go to the movies, but instead she gets attacked by a strange monster that gave the entire X-Men a run for their money not that long ago. Worst of all, because it's magic, she can't just phase through it. The story is basically Alien meets Die Hard starring Kitty Pryde as she phases through the mansion throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the beasty. It's hard to do it justice by description, but it was an issue that gave the X-Men's newest member a chance to really shine.

Not long after, Kitty faces her second greatest threat: her own fashion sense. Although it didn't last, I just had to show it.

Meanwhile, Scott is spending his sabbatical in the Bahamas with his new... er, friend Alicia Forrester when a sudden storm leaves them stranded on an island which Magneto has claimed as his new home. Recognizing Cyclops and removing him of his powers, Magneto welcomes them as his guest even as he sends a threat to the United Nations: essentially, give him the planet or he will destroy it. Despite the Bondian plot, this is the first storyline that really humanizes Magneto. We see that his harsh ideology is actually based on compassion, not hatred. He has a genuine desire to change the world for the better, it is only his methods which are questionable.

Apparently, the Soviet Union doesn't take well to Magneto's threats, sending a submarine to lay his island to waste with a missile attack. Naturally, it fails and in response, Magneto sinks the submarine Leningrad with all hands aboard then destroys an entire Russian city by magnetically drawing lava from the Earth below. The X-Men intervene and give a valiant fight, but only when his rage nearly kills Kitty does Magneto recognize his mistakes.

Over in The Avengers, a new character is introduced when the Brotherhood of Mutants goes up against the Avengers and Mystique's old enemy, Ms. Marvel. Mystique's secret weapon is a mutant with the ability to absorb the powers and memories of others through touch. She is known only as Rogue. However, when she absorbs the powers of Ms. Marvel, something goes wrong and both Ms. Marvel's psyche and powers are permanently Rogue's.

The X-Men meet Rogue soon after. Watching Senator Kelly push for mutant control on the news, the X-Men decide that it is too dangerous to have any connection to the federal government and so they decide to break in to the Pentagon to implant an alien computer virus to erase all trace of the X-Men from federal data banks. Apparently having no sense of the word "court martial," Major Carol Danvers (the former Ms. Marvel) agrees to help them get on to the base. Coincidentally, Rogue is also on the base running her own mission for the Brotherhood of Mutants. A fight ensues and Rogue makes some powerful enemies in Storm and Wolverine. All in all, though, their mission is accomplished and the X-Men officially become outlaws.

Returning from his sabbatical following the fight with Magneto, Cyclops joins Storm in a Danger Room session beginning an unintentional rivalry between the new leader of the X-Men and the old. Their games are interrupted when the school grounds are struck by an alien spacecraft commanded by Corsair who brings news of a coup d'etat in the Shi'ar Empire being led by Lilandra's half-sister, Deathbird (with a name like that, what do you expect?), who is being supported by an alien race known as the Brood (but more often referred to simply as "Sleazoids" in the early issues).

Discovering the unconscious body of Corsair, Scott discovers a locket and a pair of dog tags that show Corsair as Scott's father. Scott's immediate reaction is anger that his father never returned to him and Alex after the death of his mother, though Corsair claims that he didn't believe that Scott and his brother survived. In time, he comes to admit that he had no intention to go back to Earth, thinking that there was nothing there for him, but when he found out Scott was alive, he was overwhelmed by guilt.

Unfortunately, this isn't a very good time for a heart-to-heart because the three are running from an attack by the Brood. They were basically a rip-off of the creature from the Alien films. They lay their eggs in their victim's stomach, eventually transforming them into Brood themselves while retaining whatever powers they may have possessed. My favorite part about them was that they were parasites who had enslaved a giant space whale and was using it as an invasion ship.

One thing I always really enjoyed about the X-Men is their adventurer's spirit. Their approach to the wonders of traveling through space, time, dimension, or what have you could seem mundane until they took a moment to appreciate the sheer absurdity of the situation, as Kitty realized on her first trip into space. Moments like these really enable the reader to imagine what it must be like to be an X-Man.

Speaking of sheer absurdity, one of the highlights of this era was a guest appearance by Dracula who had his own Marvel Comic at the time. The plot begins when Ororo is admitted to the hospital after an apparent mugging which leaves her bleeding from two deep puncture wounds in her neck. In a scene we've seen repeated in every Dracula movie, Ororo tosses and turns feverishly in bed until she is dreamily guided toward her new master, Count Dracula.

While some people have trouble with the kind of loose genre storytelling that goes from superhero to science fiction to horror, I've always liked the idea that anything can happen in comic books. It gives us the opportunity to see characters in an entirely new context like the noble, life-affirming Storm as a bloodsucking undead creature, still possessing her control over the elements or the hard-nosed Wolverine playing vampire hunter.

Additionally, I really like their position on the vulnerability of vampires to crosses. In the Marvel mythos, it is not the cross itself, but the belief of the wielder which causes a vampire harm. So when Logan or Kitty raise a cross, Dracula laughs, but when Kurt raises a cross or when Kitty raises the Star of David, he recoils.

Back on Magneto's mysterious Caribbean island covered with ancient ruins, the X-Men engage in a little playful roughhousing as they babysit Peter's little sister Illyana who is visiting her brother from Russia. As Illyana wanders about, she finds herself drawn by a mysterious voice into an ancient temple before suddenly vanishing on a disk of light. When the X-Men investigate, they find themselves transported to a giant Gothic labyrinth where time and space are non-linear. This world (such as it is) is ruled by the demon sorcerer Belasco along with his servants the monstrous S'ym and... Nightcrawler. Due to the time/space distortion, the X-Men each encounter a horrible future version of themselves. Nightcrawler's soul has been twisted, making him an obedient servant to the demon lord, Kitty has been transformed into her namesake, Colossus' carcass hangs on the wall with his steel chest caved in, and Wolverine's bare adamantium bones are lying on the floor. Only Ororo managed to come out of it relatively unscathed, now an elderly woman who lost her powers only to embrace the magical potential of her noble blood. The story ends with a tug of war between Belasco and the X-Men with Illyana Rasputin as the rope and an interdimensional portal as the mud. The X-Men win, but discover, to their shock, that Illyana is now a thirteen year-old after having spent seven years in Limbo studying magic with the older Ororo.

Not long after, a mini-series entitled Magik was published, giving the older Illyana powers and a codename. Her mutant powers seems to be a control of teleportational disks enabling her to reach any point through Limbo. In addition, Illyana is a talented magician with a mystic Soulsword and a demonic alter-ego called Darkchylde. Perhaps a combination of her fantasy elements and Dark Phoenix-esque dark side, Illyana was and still is very popular with fans.

New Teen Titans and the Uncanny X-Men

Although superheroes often meet and collaborate, it is fairly rare that characters from other companies crossover, but in 1982, the most popular Marvel superhero team joined with the most popular DC superhero team in New Teen Titans and the Uncanny X-Men. Teen Titans was essentially a team of DC sidekicks lead by Robin, the Boy Wonder. This comic featured perhaps the most terrifying villain team-up imaginable when Darkseid tries to revive the Dark Phoenix by extracting her echo from places where the Phoenix force manifested like her home or the mesa. The psychic backlash pulls both the X-Men and the Teen Titans to investigate.

As rare as it is to see an inter-company crossover, it is far more rare when it's this good. Fortunately, Marv Wolfman delivers a great script playing on the strengths of both teams and giving them equal time to shine. Unfortunately, this wasn't the last time that the Dark Phoenix saga was brought up and future writers would beat this like a dead horse.

In a rare flashback issue, Xavier reveals the history of how he met Magneto in Israel while Xavier was working with Holocaust survivors. Apparently never having heard of transference, he both heals and falls in love with a young woman named Gabrille Haller. Xavier and Magnus (later renamed Erik Magnus Lensherr) soon realize that they are both mutants and come to their diametrically opposed theories of integration versus conquest for the mutant race. The story ends with Magnus killing the Nazi refuge Baron von Strucker, but both Von Strucker's children and Haller's would return.

Having sampled mutant power in their previous encounter, the Brood return to possess the X-Men. Long story short, the X-Men are infected and presumed dead, but this story is most notable for the introduction of Lockheed, Kitty Pryde's pet baby dragon-alien. Although an odd addition, the two went together fairly well and it only made sense for the X-Men to have a pet that was about as much a freak as the rest of them.

The New Mutants

After the "death" of the X-Men, Xavier decided that it was time to reopen his School for Gifted Youngsters, but not as a training ground for the X-Men so much as place for mutants to be safe and learn to use their powers safely. Naturally, nothing ever goes as planned and Xavier's new mutants quickly became a team of their own, despite their mentors vocal objections. With Stevie Hunter as their instructor, this team consisted of the son of a Kentucky coal miner by the name of Sam Guthrie, called Cannonball for his ability to fly through the air like an invulnerable missile; a Cheyenne warrior named Danielle Moonstar, dubbed Mirage for her ability to manifest the hopes and fears of others as a mental illusion; the repressed Scottish Catholic girl Rahne "Wolfsbane" Sinclair, possessing the ability to morph into a wolf or half-wolf creature; the brash and rich Roberto DeCosta, possessing a strength that seems to have nothing to do with his codename: Sunspot; and finally, Xi'an Coy Manh, the Vietnamese girl called Karma, able to possess the minds of others.

Like Uncanny X-Men, this series was written by Chris Claremont and it is well-worth reading. It was the first true X-Men spin-off, but far from the last. It had all of the strong characterization and compelling storylines of the X-Men, but with a younger mindset. Unfortunately, the costumes were extremely bland, as were most of their powers, so The New Mutants never quite made the same impact that the X-Men did.

When the X-Men return from space, they don't exactly hit it off with their young counterparts. In classic comic form, the story begins with a gratuitous fight scene when the X-Men burst into the mansion causing plenty of their trademark property damage. The new class is pitted against the old and while they perform admirably, it really isn't a contest. Only then is it revealed that the X-Men attacked knowing that Xavier had been infected by the Brood. Using Shi'ar technology to clone his body and Xavier's own mental abilities to transfer his consciousness, they are able to "cure" Xavier of the Brood infestation. To everyone's surprise, this restores partial mobility in Xavier's legs and he spends the next several issues learning how to walk again.

Always one to spoil a happy moment, Xavier chooses then to tell Kitty that she's leaving the X-Men and joining the New Mutants. She doesn't take this news very well, but after discovering her new pet dragon, Xavier is convinced that she can handle herself with his help, but this image managed to burn its way into the brains of the readers.

Meanwhile, Scott is in Alaska visiting the grandparents that Corsair just told him he had when he meets a very familiar looking woman and her name is Madelyne Pryor.

God Loves, Man Kills

As the X-Men were spinning-off their own sister book, Marvel was engaged in the regular production of graphic novels. Designed as long, self-contained stories, they often featured more adult themes and a sophisticated art style, often featuring bold watercolors over pencil and ink. Continuing the darker, more political themes which defined this era, it opens with the brutal lynching of a pair of mutant children. Interestingly, its Magneto who discovers the bodies and frees them from their cruel position.

The architect of this hate crime is the evangelical Reverend William Stryker who we first see debating noted mutant expert Charles Xavier on the nightly news. In X2, Stryker was recast as a rogue military leader and it really made me feel like mainstream films still placate the Christian right. Whatever you might say about comics, film and television are swayed far more by demographics.

At its heart, the X-Men are about being different, a minority persecuted by the majority, and the reason that I love this era in general (and this book in particular) is because it really pulled the mutant metaphor out of its superhero disguise and brought it through politics and media. In Stryker's speeches, you hear the voice of Jerry Falwell, Rush Limbaugh, or Ann Coulter... people who have absolutely no tolerance for diversity.

But the best thing about this story is that you can identify with everyone. You can understand the fear that normal humans would have of creatures who can literally kill them with a glance or a thought. People who are hiding amongst them and can get through conventional security undetected. Certainly in our post-9/11 environment, we understand that.

Add to that, mutants are the next stage in evolution. Christians don't even believe in evolution! They think God gave the world to them. Sarah Palin's minister would be calling them children of Satan. I believe in evolution and even I can imagine how frightening it would be to realize that you are going extinct. I can imagine the jealousy of watching people lucky enough to be born with powers and destined to inherit the Earth. It's terrifying, but I can also understand what it feels like to be on the outside and victimized for being different. I can understand Magneto's desire to create real change rather than negotiating with the bigots and war mongers of the world. I can understand the rage that must not remain silent if there is any hope of change.

Reverand Stryker, we come to learn, was an pastor in the military driven mad by his experiences in war who, when his son is born a mutant, was convinced that it is the work of the devil. After murdering his wife and infant son, he dedicates himself to spreading the word of the evil nature of mutants. The more he justifies his actions, the more he embraces his beliefs until he is leading a mob.

The story really speeds up when Xavier, Scott, and Ororo are ambushed by Stryker's military trained zealots and Stryker conducts a series of brainwashing experiments to break Xavier's will. Hypnotizing Xavier, Stryker seeks to use his incredible mental powers as a weapon to identify and destroy all mutants in the world. In order to rescue him, the X-Men team-up with Magneto and confront Stryker at his largest rally yet, but in the end, neither the X-Men or Magneto save the day. The experience ends with Xavier doubtful of his own dream, but his students more dedicated than ever. If you only read one X-Men comic in your life, make it this one.

The Morlocks

Next came one of my favorite X-Men concepts: the Morlocks, a society of grossly deformed mutants hiding beneath the city in vast caverns connected through the sewers. In my opinion, Futurama ripped them off... not that it was the most original idea. Clearly, the characters themselves were named after the creatures in H.G. Wells' The Time Machine.

Take a close look at the excellent artwork by penciller Paul Smith who was the first regular artist to replace Byrne. Debuting in the middle of the Brood storyline was the new X-Men artist, Smith delivers a sense of grace and humanity to all of his characters. His pacing is subtle, but powerful, a great compliment to Claremont himself. Although he has a lot of competition, he's definitely one of my favorite X-Men artists.

Led by the one-eyed and apparently powerless mutant Callisto, the Morlocks consist of the mutant tracker Caliban; Masque, possessing the ability to permanently shape the form of others like clay; Sunder, the hulking goliath; and Healer, an elderly man who... well, guess. Apparently, the Morlocks are somewhat love lorn because Callisto kidnaps Angel, slaps a leather collar on him, crucifies him, and that's how a Morlock marriage works. The X-Men go to rescue him, but are overwhelmed by sheer number and brutality.

In accordance with Morlock law, Storm challenges Callisto to a duel for leadership of the Morlocks and freedom of her friends. The only rule is no powers, just blades, but Storm proves far more capable than Callisto realizes, and after puncturing Callisto's heart, Storm is made leader of the Morlocks. With Callisto revived by Healer, Ororo chooses to leave Callisto in command and thus begins a somewhat shaky alliance between the X-Men and their deformed cousins.

Meanwhile, Scott's relationship with Madelyne quickly snowballs as he reveals both her resemblance to his dead fiancee and his mutant powers. To her credit, Madelyne isn't phased, though maybe she should be. Also meanwhile, Mystique and Destiny return home to discover Rogue has disappeared.

The next issue begins as Rogue resurfaces at the X-Mansion to a very cold reception. It is quickly revealed that Rogue is in the middle of a mental breakdown after her encounter with Ms. Marvel. The X-Men are hardly sympathetic, especially Storm who, as leader of the X-Men, refuses to assist her. In the end, though, Xavier puts his foot down... so to speak. He makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, that he will help any mutant in need and if the others want to leave, so be it. Although the X-Men would give sanctuary to their enemies so often that it became an in-joke, this issue was really one of the first to illustrate the value of redemption.


If you want to pin-point where Wolverine went from cool to badass, this would be it. 1982 brought fans the Wolverine mini-series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. According to their own accounts, Claremont was driving from the San Diego Comic Con to San Francisco for their next convention when Claremont asked Miller if he was interested in doing the art for the book. Unfortunately, Miller felt that Wolverine was just another jerk in a team of good guys, only present to cause internal conflict. Claremont then convinced him to talk about what he would like Wolverine to be like and in the course of their car drive, they collaboratively outlined this comic.

Miller had already made his breakthrough on Daredevil doing work which reinvented that character, so he brought the same gritty, samurai sensibilities to this series. The story features Logan purposing to his lady love Mariko in Japan only to be rejected by her father, Shingen Yashida, a samurai master and leader of the Yakuza. What follows is a brutal battle of love and honor. Logan teams up with the wild ronin Yukio who tries to steal him from the more demure Mariko, but in the end, Shingen is dead and Logan is happily engaged.

The story continues when the X-Men travel to Japan for Logan's wedding. Everyone is in for a shock when Scott introduces Madelyne, Madelyne meets Lockheed, and Rogue is revealed as the newest X-Man. Like Storm, Logan is still harboring a pretty big grudge against Rogue, but after fighting alongside her, he soon recognizes that they are cut from the same cloth.

Together Wolverine and Rogue go up against Mariko's cousin, the mutant Silver Samurai, and Viper who are trying to take over the rich criminal enterprises of the Yashida Clan. In the chaos, Ororo goes on the run with Yukio and takes a liking to her free-spirited lifestyle. Realizing that she is too often proper and controlled, Storm gets a haircut and a wardrobe change.

Most fans seem to hate this look. Even original artist, Paul Smith, refers to it as a joke that went too far, but personally, I loved it. I think Ororo looks fantastic in this distinctly eighties punk style and I would love to bring it back, one way or another.

By the end of the story, Logan develops respect and compassion for Rogue when she jumps in front of a laser for him. Logan returns the favor by lending her his healing factor. Unfortunately, a happy ending is not to be found because Mariko abruptly cancels the wedding, declaring simply "You are not worthy."


The next issue begins with Scott and Madelyne on the Starjammer enjoying the "earthrise." Despite what happened with Logan, Scott is feeling lucky and so asked Madelyne to marry him. She returns with a very enthusiastic "yes."

Meanwhile, Logan bursts angrily upon the Yashida manor, demanding to know why Mariko placed their family's Honor Sword in his hands, yet he is not worthy of her hand. She refuses any answer other than the one she gave, naming Silver Samurai as the head of the Yashida Clan. Logan returns the sword and leaves.

Back in Alaska, Scott is haunted by the same idea as the fans, that Madelyne was somehow the reincarnation of Jean, but when he asks her, she isn't very receptive to the idea. One thing I love about Claremont's work is the strength of the female characters. Madelyne doesn't respond to the question by getting depressed and trying to ignore it. She punches him in the jaw... and who can blame her? Although, the fact that she manifests as the Phoenix seconds later may somewhat justify Scott's inquiry.

The X-Men return to battle the Phoenix, but in time, they discover that Mariko, Madelyne, and the X-Men have all been victims by the illusions of Mastermind, having recovered from his experience with the Phoenix and eager for revenge on her companions. In the ended, Scott and Madelyne's relationship is much stronger and the perennial X-Man gets hitched in issue #175.

Meanwhile, in The New Mutants, the class takes a trip to South America where they find a long hidden colony of Rome ruled by the dark energy vampire mutant known as Selene. Here they meet their next member, Magma, who along with Magik really adds some personality to a sometimes dull collection of mutants. Returning to the states, the New Mutants meet their own dark counterparts in Emma Frost's Hellions including Empath, a manipulative SOB who can influence the emotions of others. For the most part, they were fairly uninspired creations. Jetstream and Catspaw, for instance, were basically the same as Cannonball and Wolfsbane, but the team really came to define Emma Frost as a counterpart to Xavier, teaching mutant children how to be crafty, duplicitous, and self-opportunistic.

Secret Wars

In 1984, Marvel pioneered the the twelve-issue company crossover with Secret Wars. Conceived as a marketing tie-in with their new line of Mattel toys, the book had an incredibly simple premise. What if a jheri-curled omnipotent being, fascinated by the concepts of good and evil, grabbed a handful of Earth's greatest heroes and along with their most deadly villains to battle each other on an alien planet.

The great thing about this mini-series is the characterization by Jim Shooter who manages to take a simple good versus evil concept and immediately break it down into complex factions. First, Magneto is not placed with the villains, but instead with the heroes, apparently implying that his selflessness separates him from common villains. Many of the heroes, however, turn against Magneto who ends up forming a separate faction with the X-Men. Galactus finds the whole situation pointless and basically just stands around to watch while Dr. Doom conspires to obtain an even greater prize.

Sidenote: This is the storyline that first introduces Spider-Man's black costume which would later be known as Venom.

One sub-plot that had lasting implications is Colossus's romance with the alien healer Zsaji. While a committed and unnaturally chaste relationship had developed between Kitty and Peter, Peter had found himself drawn to this other woman who was incredibly flirtatious with him. Before much could happen, however, Zsaji sacrificed herself to save the heroes leaving Peter torn by his conflicting need to honor both the dead and living. After returning to Earth, Peter tells Kitty the entire story. Unable to reconcile his feelings, he breaks up with her.

This is a brilliant bit of characterization, in my opinion, showing a man of great passion and honor trying to do the right thing and ultimately making things worse. The other X-Men try to tell him how stupid he is being, but sometimes a person's sense of right and wrong can cause more damage than good. It's clear that Peter still has feelings for Kitty, but the guilt he feels over loving Zsaji makes him doubt that he can be faithful and honorable to Kitty. Naturally, she doesn't see any of this, but just sees this as the latest person to abandon her.

Meanwhile, back in The New Mutants, the title takes a major turn to the dark and abstract with the introduction of artist Bill Sienkiewicz who infuses the book with a mad style rich with intensity. He begins his work with the Demon Bear Saga, a story about Dani Moonstar confronting the bear spirit that killed her parents. The story also introduces their newest member, the alien-robot shapeshifter called Warlock.

Here is a character beloved by fans who only really made sense with Sienkiewicz as the artist. Warlock possessed the ability to change shape along with the ability to turn living matter into mechanical circuitry and feeding off of its lifeforce. Despite his advanced technology, Warlock had a cartoonish grasp of the simplest of human ideas, like life and death. Although Warlock himself was peaceful, this was a mutation amongst his people, including his father, Magus, a powerful warlord.

Speaking of life and death, things got a whole lot stranger when Rachel, the girl from the dystopic Days of Future Past, was found wandering the streets of modern day New York chased by Selene. In time, the X-Men come to discover that Rachel is the child of Scott and Jean from what would appear to now be an alternate future. It was she who sent Kitty Pryde's consciousness to the past using the powers inherited from her mother, but crossing time through the astral plane, connected her with the Phoenix which pulled her back and eventually made her the successor to its power.

Elsewhere, the government war on mutants rages on when mutant affairs liaison, Valerie Cooper, contracts the mutant inventor, Forge, to build a weapon to neutralize mutant powers specifically to put Rogue on trial for her crimes with the Brotherhood of Mutants. A strike team led by anti-mutant agent Henry Gyrich is put together and they manage to get the drop on Rogue just as she is finally having a heart-to-heart with Storm. In the attack, Ororo pushes Rogue out of the way and is struck with the neutralizer thereby losing her powers.

This continued to be the status quo for a number of years with the X-Men being led by the punk African woman with no powers. She broke all sorts of barriers amongst the superhero set. But the loss of her powers left her in a deep depression that can only be understood if you realize that Ororo exists in symbiosis with the weather. Losing that connection, for her, is like losing both our eyes and hands.

Seeing the damage his work had done, Forge becomes Ororo's caretaker, falling in love with her at first sight and unable to admit what he had done. Ororo slowly makes her way out of her depression by falling in love with Forge. When she finds out what he did to her, however, it is not something that she can forgive.

Kitty Pryde & Wolverine

Following the Wolverine mini-series, Logan and Kitty team-up when Kitty goes to Japan following her father, a traveling business man, only to discover him in business with the Yakuza. However, when she gets there, she is captured by the Yakuza's master samurai and Wolverine's old sensai, the demonic Ogun. Upon receiving a panicked and abruptly interrupted call from Kitty, Logan travels to Japan to clean up Kitty's mess. Meanwhile, Ogun gives Kitty a hypnotic crash course in ninjitsu, brainwashing her into a warrior. Although she eventually recovers her self-control, the experience changes her and leaves her with new martial arts abilities. Inspired by her new skills and Wolverine's example, Kitty manages to find the one codename which would stick with her: Shadowcat.

Back in New York, Selene auditions for membership in the Hellfire Club's dreaded Inner Circle as the Sentinel from the future that may never happen, Nimrod, shows up to find Rachel. The X-Men face the Hellions along with their new recruits, Firestar (who would guest star with Iceman in the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends cartoon) and the new Thunderbird, John Proudstar's little brother, James, who like his brother, had a huge chip on his shoulder. Eventually, these two would see the light, leave the Hellions, and become superheroes in their own right.

In New Mutants, Sam "Cannonball" Guthrie, simple country boy, manages to catch the eye of a wild punk superstar thereby starting one of the stranger relationships I've ever seen, but also one of the sweetest. Lila Cheney is not only a rockstar, but a mutant with the ability to teleport across the galaxy where she made her home in a Dyson sphere, which is essentially a shell so big that it is circling and powered by a star.

Only in comic books.

Essentially, the biggest difference between this and Star Trek was that in Star Trek, every episode would end with things returning to normal. In X-Men, the weirdness continues, overlaps, and spirals into even greater weirdness.

Traveling to Muir Island, Xavier and the New Mutants meet Charles's son by Gabrielle Haller, David, a mutant who inherited the mental powers of his father and the questionable sanity of his mother. David has multiple personalities and a separate mental ability corresponding to each personality including the swaggering Jack Wayne, the temperamental Cyndi, and the terrorist Jemail Karami. In order to heal his son, Xavier and the New Mutants must go inside his tortured and dangerous mind. It's an interesting twist where Xavier, in many ways the father of mutants, is unable to take care of his own son whose powers have turned him into both a victim and a monster.

Life-Death II

Following the loss of her powers and the betrayal of Forge, Ororo travels back to her home in Africa to find her purpose in life. It is a somber and sophisticated look at the complex relationship between life and death, and how embracing one without balance may benefit the other. Like the original Life-Death, this story features some of the best work of artist Barry Windsor-Smith who did some beautiful work on Conan the Barbarian.

Also representing beautiful new artwork featuring Ororo was X-Men Annual #9 featuring the debut of Art Adams on an X-Men book. This story features the X-Men and New Mutants traveling to Asgard, the home of Thor and the Norse gods, where Storm becomes the barer of Thor's hammer, Mjolnir, giving her mystical means to control the weather. Although this change was very temporary, it's worth mentioning for the costume design alone. Less temporary, however, was Dani Moonstar's induction into the Valkyries. From this point on, Dani possessed an acute awareness of death, not to mention her own Pegasus.

Art Adams has always been one of my favorite artists, capturing the form of John Byrne with the expressiveness of Paul Smith. He was a forerunner of a more slick, action packed style that would come to be epitomized in the work of Jim Lee (but that'll be covered in the next entry).

The Trial of Magneto

Leading up to their big 200th issue, Scott impregnates Madelyne, and after defeating Nimrod, Rachel joins the X-Men, officially claiming the name and powers of her late mother. Although still unaware of her lineage, the X-Men come to discover that Rachel was brainwashed into becoming a mutant hunting "hound" in her own time and her body was fitted with their signature spiked suit.

Meanwhile, mutant affairs liaison Val Cooper offers Mystique and her Brotherhood of Mutants a choice between life in prison or becoming government sponsored superheroes. Renamed "Freedom Force," their first mission is to apprehend the original founder of the Brotherhood: Magneto. By this time, Magneto had made his way to Xavier's mansion, seeking guidance from his old friend and causing more uneasiness within the X-Men. Unfortunately, Xavier isn't much help since he is growing increasingly ill and afraid that he won't live much longer. When Freedom Force comes for Magneto, the X-Men defend him, and while they are victorious, Magneto decides that it is time to answer for his crimes in a public forum and surrenders.

Holding an international war crimes tribunal in Paris, Magneto is tried for the murder of the crew of the Leningrad. Meanwhile, a series of mutant terrorist attacks are being caused in the X-Men's name demanding the release of Magneto. When the X-Men investigate, they discover that it is just a decoy to get them away from the trial where Magneto is attacked by the Von Stucker twins seeking revenge for murdering their father. Together, Magneto and Xavier manage to stop them, but the strain takes its toll on Xavier's weak body. On his deathbed, Xavier asks Magneto to finish what he started with the X-Men and the New Mutants. Magneto protests that he isn't worthy, but reluctantly agrees. Fortunately, Lilandra arrives with the Starjammers thereby saving Xavier's life, but making him dependent on the alien technology to stay that way.

With Magneto having agreed to become headmaster of the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters and taking the alias of Michael Xavier, Charles would return to his outer space adventures with Lilandra, the Starjammers, and Carol Danver (now with new powers and going by the name of Binary).

The eighties rock on with more politics, outlaw superheroism, genocide, apartheid, the return of the original X-Men, the mind-bending absurdity of Excalibur, and my all-time favorite superhero, Longshot.


Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8 (coming soon)