Monday, April 30, 2012

The Sincerest Form Of Easy Jokes To Make, Here (Issue #19)

ISSUE #19

Don't forget, THIS was the issue that was teased as featuring a "NEW type of foe, a NEW type of story, and a NEW type of action"! Get your mind ready to be blown! (By clearing out all the people? By setting up a safe-zone / perimeter? How does one prepare for the safe demolition of one's mind?!) This mind-destructing menace is known as The Mimic, and I will tell you all about him .... NOW:

SUMMARY!
Once again the X-Men are given a vacation ... though it's more like a day off.

Without pioneers like Marvel Girl, the women's movement
would have happened a LOT sooner.

Now, is this really, REALLY what men thought women would say back then? I mean, I KNOW that "women be shoppin'", but don't we all only use that as a genderist joke to point out the foibles of being a sexist pig? Is Stan Lee doing that here, too? Am I simply assuming that there is nothing tongue in cheek about this panel, because I'm sitting here in 2012 and just assume everyone was sexist in the past? (As is taught to me by the documentary "Mad Men".) What do you think, True Believers? Was Mr Lee really being, sexist, or making a joke? [Write your thoughts in an email that you fully intend, but never get around to, sending.]

Speaking of marginalizing swaths of the populace, in this issue, the term "mutie" is bandied about quite a bit. Personally, I might have have chosen "muto" as an epithet against those who are "differently mutated", though I can see it being mis-read as "mutt-oh". But that's what puts Stan Lee above me when it comes to cmic book writing, I suppose! But, as I have expressed in the past, I really like it. So much so I wish that people with mutant powers were real, just so I could tell some guy, "HEY! It's "mutantly abled", jerk!" to the applause of those around me ion the movie I am staring in about mutant rights.

It's vacation time and while Bobby and Hank are out and about, they run afoul of a loudmouth jerk who they get into a tussle with. The jerk, Calvin Rankin, can mimic their powers! Like some kind of mimic. Or some kind of THE Mimic! But he gets away only to run into Marvel Girl, who he mimics ("Ooh, look at MEEEEE, I'm Marvel Girl!" he says in a falsetto voice. [But, seriously kids, bullying isn't "cool". Don't bully]) then follows back to the X mansion. The twist to his power? He can only mimic when his friends are around to encourage him when he is in proximity to another mutant.

As this is a book for hyperactive boys with punching fetishes, fighting ensues! But before anything is declared final, The Mimic makes his escape - with a captive Marvel Girl - only to lead The X-Men back to his cave-home. It is here, underground, where Calvin "The Mimic" Rankin has a machine that his dead father said would allow him to keep his mimic-ed powers permanently.

At what point in the building of this machine did Dr. Rankin
think, "MUST put a giant blue "M" on there!"

Horrible twist: His father hated Calvin and created the machine to take his mimicking power away permanently. Then the Prof does what he always does and wipes the guy's mind of recent events. (Maybe he's on some kind of rewards card system where it's, like, "Free sundae with every tenth mind-wipe".)

Status, you've been QUO'D!

Since we've started seeing Lee introducing arcs and developing the characters a bit more, these single-shot stories now feel like those old, non-alien-colonization-plots from the later seasons of "The X-Files". You know, the ones that would be dropped in the middle of the season to screams of, "But what about the BLACK OIL, Chris Carter?!" as my mom nervously stares at me over the TV Guide's crossword while fearing that I'm finally losing my mind.

To make up for this issue, we are promised the return of Unus, The Blob, and Lucifer. Hooray? I am interested in about 1/3 of that list. But remember, all three of those guys were villains that the X-Men let go on their own recognizance and told to do no more harm. Oh, you liberals and your revolving-mutant policies! You KNOW evil mutants are going to re-offend, why do you treat them so softly?!




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Want to read along? This story are covered in X-Men Volume 2 (Marvel Masterworks)

Friday, April 27, 2012

I? I Am POWER! (Issue #17 and #18)

ISSUE #17

SUMMARY!
After having just decided that the X-Men should remain a secret, The Professor (or Stan Lee?!) decides to have a change of heart and let's everyone keep their memories of the X-Men's role in saving the world from the scourge of the Sentinels. What a difference ... an hour (in comic book time) makes, huh?

In the aftermath of the raid on the Sentinel factory, everyone is pretty beat up, but Iceman is in a coma. While at the hospital, Angel checks the X-answering service only to learn that his parents - the Worthingtons - are on their way to visit the school. Angel quickly flies home so he can hide his ... er ... X-stuff in the bottom drawer where his mom won't find it, but he sees that someone has broken in.

I guess after the threat of The Juggernaut passed, they figured they didn't need those fences anymore? Though, with the kinds of supernatural people the X-Men face, most mutants wouldn't really be put off by a fence. Especially that Toad fella. Hop. Hop. So I take it back. I take it ALL back! Don't worry about fences. Fences also keep people in. Be free.

Anyhoo ... Angel is knocked out when he flies into a mirror thinking that it is more hallway. (Angel is more like a bird than he'll ever admit and, from now on, Xavier vows to hang tinfoil balls in front of all plate glass surfaces for the kid's sake.)

Later that day, Cyclops and The Professor head to the mansion where the The Professor is neutralized with a brain-hose thing and Cyclops is beaten up in the dark.

Later still, Beast and Jean are told that Iceman's condition is critical and they should contact his parents. Instead of using the white courtesy phone in the hospital, they leap out a window.

You FORGOT?!

They're headed for the mansion where they, too, are captured in short order.

Meanwhile, back at the hospital, Bobby is mumbling delirious things in his sleep. It is so worrying that the doctor immediately orders a "Sulfa Drug" be administered.

No idea what that is, but knowing the 60s, it's either atomic,
Valium-based, or LSD. Probably all three.

It'll either save his life or give him the trip of his life.

Now that all the X-Men are unconscious, it's a perfect time for the mysterious invader to load them all up into a metal sphere attached to a balloon and launch it. If being launched into space doesn't kill them, then running out of air inside the sphere will. OR, if the balloon pops, they'll plummet to their deaths. It's really the easiest solution to killing the X-Men, if you think about doing it in any other way but, say, directly. Like with an axe. Axe-Men.

The Worthington parents arrive at the mansion and are downright puzzled that no one came out to greet their car as it pulls into the drive. Remember: These people are rich and are used to that kind of treatment, one supposes. (Who knows WHAT the rich expect anymore! Are there any limits to the debauched demands of the 1%?! Golden parachutes, bathtubs filled with diamonds, and someone to meet them at their car. Disgusting!) So, anyway, they find they have to - ugh - ring the doorbell ... with their FINGER! Warren Worthington Jr does NOT like ringing dirty doorbellsHOLYCRAPIT'SMAGNETO (breathe) ANDHE'SBACKFROMSPACE!!!!

Smash cut to black: LOST.


ISSUE #18

Whoa. It's the first time that Jack Kirby's name is not in the credits in any way, shape, or form! Does he come back? Was this it for "KirbLee" (the cute tabloid-esque portmanteau name I gave to the union of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) (this shortening also works with Spike Lee and "Curb Your Enthusiasm").

SUMMARY!

Let me just say that I love this:

Now you're playing with power... MAGNETO POWER!

I should answer with "I? I am POWER!" more often.
"Hi! I have an appointment to see the dentist at 9:30?"
"Sure, your name?"
"I?! I AM POWER! ... but you'll find my appointment under "Jeff" and if we can please hurry this along, my tooth is in a lot of pain."


As you remember, because I JUST told you, all of the X-Men are headed toward space in a metal balloon and their only hope is an in-coma Iceman. Thankfully, the doctor is able to stabilize him with a laser-injection of Sulfa Drugs, because Professor X calls out to him for help telling him "Don't think, just follow my commands" - and the X-Men are NOT a cult, you say?

So now it's up to Iceman to defeat Magneto alone, so he goes about pestering the villain so he cannot complete his plans, which include using the Worthingtons as genetic stock to breed an army of super mutants. (Sounds sexier than it is, as the Worthingtons are both asleep in separate beds when all this "breeding" is going on.) But once Magneto discovers his plans are being thwarted, look out! He will grin REAL creepy-like at you!

Do you like my helmet? I got it at Cutman's estate sale.

Weakest? Really? This dude can create anything from ice (you need an ice ladder? BAM! An ice slide? BAM! An ice Emeril? BAM!) If anyone's the weakest it's Angel, right? Right? Are you all with me on this? Am I crazy? Delirious? Do I need a Sulfa injection via laser hypo?

Anyway, it's not like the others really needed Iceman's help, because they all wake up in the metal balloon and ask Cyke to punch a tiny hole in the balloon with his vision and he's all, "Sure", so he does and they descend to Earth just fine. Once there, Professor Xavier sends the rest of the X-Men to occupy Magneto. (#OccupyMagnetoSt) [SECOND 1%er joke made in this post. I SWEAR I'm not trying to be political! BAN THE BOMB!] Their interference buys Prof Ecks vs Sever enough time to reach out, reach out and touch someone ... 's mind. ("You're not dealing with AT&T", the space operator said. So I said, "Well I am now!" and hung up!) [Neither of these slogans / commercials have aired in years, but I'm expecting you all have a similar encyclopaedic knowledge of late 80's phone companies as I do, right?]

Colonel Sanders Space Kitten to the rescue!

Yep. He placed a mind-call (only 10 cents a minute!) to good ole The Stranger (who I feel I'm really getting to know and understand, despite his efforts to push us away with his stand-offish sobriquet). Not shown: The Stranger chasing Magneto as he runs away like a little girl. (And I don't mean that I'VE not shown it - it wasn't shown in the book, either. Though I personally pictured Magneto making "woopwoopwoop" noises a la Curly Howard while "Saxophobia" plays at double-speed. Benny Hill, Curly Howard, RIP.)

But let's not NOT end the issue on gender-equal footing!

"Maybe Mrs. Worthington will help you with the dishes, Jean!
Eh? Won't THAT be a treat for you?!" --Every man in this scene

In the next issue teaser, we are promised a NEW type of foe, a NEW type of story, and a NEW type of action! Can't wait. This better blow my effing mind.



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Want to read along? This story are covered in X-Men Volume 2 (Marvel Masterworks)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sentinels, Sentinels, Sentinels! (Issue #14, #15, and #16)

ISSUE #14

Jazz Hands of DOOM.
Publication note: The X-Men have gone to a monthly publication schedule, making my job twice as hard. Though, if I say that about one title going 12 issues a year, what am I going to say when I hit the X-Men runs from the mid-90s, where I'm pretty sure there were 200 X-titles being published at once? What I'll say is: "Bring it on, bub!" then make "Snikt! Snikt! noises and wave my arms around, much to the chagrin of my patient wife. Can't wait!

Personal Note: Growing up, I hated reading books. So many tests were failed because I just couldn't bother. It's not that I couldn't read! In fact, I could read well above my grade level. [Did that sound like bragging? Because it was supposed to!] All I cared to read were comics. When my mom expressed her worry over this matter to my teacher, she was scolded with a, "But at least he's reading SOMETHING, right?!" Oh, if only those teachers had seen this panel (and the many, many more like it):


Working against the "comics as literacy" cause,
one kid at a time.

SUMMARY!
With the X-Men sent off on a well-deserved "we survived Juggernaut and all we got was no T-shirt" vacation, Professor X heads to a TV studio to debate a mutant-hating bigot called Trask. Professor X gives a well-reasoned, impassioned speech about acceptance that could apply to mutants, minorities, or the gay community, depending on which lens you care to look through. But Mr. Trask has a unique counter-argument: Giant robots.

Professor sends out the call to his X-Men for help, so Iceman again brags about his ability to change quickly.


Also: Booties might be the least
manly word to say, ever.
 


Anyway, these lumpy purple and pink monstrosities are called Sentinels. They are programmed to police all of humanity and apprehend "muties". But - whoops - they took ED-209's online course in disobedience towards human masters and zap the dude who made them. Then, using the old, "We are way smarter than you, so we will protect you. We will protect you by RULING you!" argument (which, incidentally, should be Stanley's slogan for their new line of robotic tape measures) the giant robots promise they'll get right on the protection/domination thing just as soon as the guy they are smarter and better than, Trask, helps them build more of themselves. They are not programmed for irony.

The group of Sentinels fly off with Trask, leaving one behind as a guard. The X-Men arrive and get to fight this one. They defeat it by tricking it into "Sanford And Son" mode.

It's the big one. I'm comin' 'Lizbeth!


AUTO CORRECT WORDS ADDED:
Muties. (Which, as a word, I really like. Every group needs a clear red flag that lets you know you're dealing with some kind of bigot - so now it's easier to identify your mutant haters! An instant classic!)


ISSUE #15


SUMMARY!
The X-Men track the Sentinels to their underground lair which shoots "Nature Activator Rays" at them. These rays cause nature to act up. No foolin'. In the assault on the base, Iceman and Beast are captured, but only Beast is brought before the leader of the Sentinels, the "Master Mold" and hooked up to an origins-revealing device.

Comic book rule: Leaders always have chairs and huge brains.

So, yes, we are treated to another bland origin story here. Beast sums it up thusly: "My father was -- an ordinary laborer -- at an atomic project! I probably gained my power -- due to radiation -- which affected him before I was born! I'll never -- know for sure!" Gripping. It gives us no insight into who the Beast is, deep down. It's like having Superman's origin story told like, "He could be from another planet, but we're not sure as we lost his birth certificate. Maybe."

Could an argument be made for the X-Men being PR for the nuclear industry? "Look!", they say to kids, "If you tell your folks to lay off the nuclear protests, one day YOU might be able to shoot lasers from your eyes!" Yet, despite this, the nuclear industry has ONE "Three Mile Island" and all of a sudden nuclear is BAD.

To wrap this issue up, the rest of the X-Men break in and free Iceman. Their plans to save Beast and destroy Master Mold have to wait, though, because the Sentinels have a Heavy Gravity Ray. It makes gravity heavier.

ISSUE #16


YES, it is the first three-parter! YES, this is the stunning conclusion! YES, I'll wrap it up quick because I know you have better things to do with your day than read lengthy X-Men blog posts!

But first, I'd like to guess as to why we're starting to see multi-part "episodes": Would I be so far off in saying that it's because they had more issues to fill, since this is the start of their monthly run? This is conjecture so please do not site this blog in the thesis paper about the X-Men that you are writing.

SUMMARY!
I know that the cover of comic books rarely reflect any events that happen inside, but this one was worth pointing out, if only for the portrayal of brave stupidity on Bobby Drake (Iceman)'s part:

"This stick of ice will win the day!"
--Iceman, right before dying

The issue opens with Prof X lamenting that the sentinels were created by a man out of his fear of mutants. This is true, but Xavier never stops to think that there might have been more he himself could have done - like tell the world about his merry band of good mutants, f'r'instance. In fact, all of this could have been avoided, with a bit of pro-mutant PR at the beginning. "Look, America, we're mutants and we're going to protect you from the bad mutants." might have been all it would have taken. Instead, X opts for sneaking around and secrecy. Oh well, I guess Hindsight is 20/20 ... unless your mutant power is hindsight, than it's probably better than 20/10. [Do ophthalmology jokes work on today's comic reading audiences?]


Meanwhile, our heroes (less Beast, who is still off getting his mind probed for boring pieces of origin information) have been trapped in a large fish bowl - like the kind you'd keep a single Beta fish or X-Man in. As they attempt to escape, this is said by Angel:

Super delusion powers.

Really, Angel? Superior? I've been meaning to ask about this "great power" of yours. It's just flying, right? You're not even super strong, right? You just fly? Uh huh. And you think you're better than someone who can shoot lasers from his eyes? OK!

The team's escape attempts are useless until a Sentinel opens the cage to drop Beast in. The team swarms out of the opening and overcomes the robot guards. This scene led to the classic aphorism, "Don't try to put five mutants in a four-mutant heavy gravity globe chamber."

Meanwhile: Prof X returns to the TV studio where he first met the Sentinel and he figures out that it was a decoration on a nearby building that blocked communications to the Redd Foxx Sentinel, causing it to shut down. [See issue #14 -Ed.]. He asks some nearby cops to attach it to a helicopter and fly it over to the Sentinel base. And they agree! [There must not have been any skateboarders to hassle, at that time! ZING! - jay kay, cops! You know I love you! Thanks for protecting me from burglars and expired parking meters!]

Meanwhile meanwhile: The X-Men continue to get better at fighting the Sentinels.

Trask doubted his inclusion of a Keystone Kop sub-routine,
but boy is he glad he put it in there now!

MEANWHILE MEANWHILE meanwhile: Trask, the guy who is being blackmailed into creating more of these things (lest a city be destroyed) realizes, "Wait ... they're going to destroy the city, anyway, after I help them build an army big enough to do it." So he sacrifices himself to blow up the Master Mold and the entire base. Ah! Our FIRST MEANINGFUL DEATH! [I hope someone says that about me when I die ... it'd look great on my tombstone.]

The X-Men barely manage to escape the exploding fortress and are spotted by the helicopter cops, oh no! But wait, you seem to have forgotten how trigger-happy Xavier is to use his mind-wipe skills and in the blink of an eye, the cops remember nothing.

Remember what I was saying about PR for the mutants? This is a good example. The X-Men are the heroes here and Xavier still wants to cover them up! At this point, the world knows that the Sentinels were a bad idea, so now is the time to step up and say, "You are welcome, humanity!" But it's as if the professor LIKES being persecuted. Maybe there is a deeper, sadder story here. Maybe the Prof secretly likes being on the wrong side of popular opinion? He's sick! (And we're letting this man raise the next generation of mutants?!)



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Read along in X-Men Volume 2 (Marvel Masterworks)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Waiting For Juggot and STILL Waiting For Juggot (#12 and #13)

For those just joining us: I'm reading all of the X-Men comics from 1963 to present. This blog is an ongoing series of recaps (with commentary). I try to make it easy for comic fans and non-fans to enjoy. -Ed.

ISSUE #12

So the BOEM is disbanded and/or neutralized. Magneto and Toad have been taken into space to be studied by freaky aliens. Scarlet Witch and her lover brother Quicksilver have returned to their "central European" home. Mastermind has been turned to stone. This is great for the X-Men, because they can lay down their burdens and get some well-deserved rNOPE! JUGGERNAUT!

SUMMARY!
A mysterious screeching brings all the X-Men to Professor X's study, just as, at one time, a milkshake could bring, to the yard, all the boys. Of course it's Cerebro warning them of a new mutant presence in the most ear-earsplittingly way possible.

"Whoops! I shouldn't have said THAT!"

Guess what?! The machine is detecting a SUPER POWERFUL mutant! So powerful, the professor says, that they have not faced anything like it! It might be their ultimate test! At this point, 12 issues in, I'm a little sick of each month having the "most dangerous mutant they've ever faced" turn up. After a while, if I were the X-Men, I'd be like, "But that's what you said about Namor, and he wasn't so bad!"
"Yes, but THIS GUY is..."
"Save it, Prof. Just tell us what to do."

And so the Professor does tell them what to do: Build an elaborate series of fences and traps around the perimeter of the mansion. And it's about damn time! Fences make good neighbors, but they also keep people out of your house, too, which some would say is slightly more important. Of course, it's taken something as huge as the coming of a Juggernaut (spoilers!) to light this fire under their x-asses, but at least it's happening.

The defenses are finished lickety-split, so the gang snuggles in for Professor X story time, in which Xavier tells the origin stories of BOTH The Juggernaut AND himself! Though, in what is possibly the WORST origin story of all time, Professor X's can be summed up as: "Then one day I had powers." Yep.

But Juggernaut's is a bit more interesting: Not only is he Xavier's 1/2-brother, but to get his powers, all he had to do was pick up a stone in Korea (where he and Xavier were because of that war that was going on there [see M*A*S*H* -Ed.])

"Mom! Dad! Don't touch it! It's EEEEVIL!"

Now, far be it for me to nitpick (even though it's what this blog's humor is based on), but I'm not sure this is how mutation works. Did the giraffe have to touch a glowing stone to be able to eat the top-most, sweetest leaves on the tree? No they did it the natural way: Over time. There are no shortcuts, Juggo! So I'm just sayin': Calling The Juggernaut "the worst mutant menace we've faced" is just technically incorrect. And now that I have pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose and taken a hit from my inhaler, I will let this issue drop.

After giving Professor X just the right amount of time to finish the story, in bursts The Juggernaut, having broken through all of the X-Men's new defenses. With a sweep of his Jugger-arm, he knocks aside all the X-Men as if they were items on a table on which he wanted to have immediate and passionate sex. Then he stands there, menacing The Professor. Then he TO BE CONTINUED!

Excitement! We have gotten our first, true two-part episode! Do you feel like your cliff had been hanged? Cuz it has been. Hanged, that is. Your cliff. [My condolences if you know someone named Cliff and they were hanged. Being insensitive to that situation was a risk I was willing to take for this cliffhanger riff.]

But ... what if I can't wait a whole month for the conclusion?! Well, good thing these issues came out 47 years ago and I don't have to wait! Take THAT, kids in 1967. To you, I am unto a time traveling god!


ISSUE #13

Last issue, it took The Juggernaut the entire book to reach the mansion. THIS time, it's gonna take him the entire book to get ... UPSTAIRS! And it is NOT because of his fear of stairs (Bathmophobia. It's a REAL THING, people, don't judge) but because the X-Mens have revived and are throwing themselves at him with more fervor than tweens at a poster of Justin Bieber. [Oh, if this blog survives into the future, that joke is going to seem SO dated ... heck, I'm a 30-something with no kids, it could be dated NOW. Stay with me, True Bieblievers!]

SUMMARY!
Even though the X-Mangs know that they cannot defeat him, they've been told by Professor X (who scarpered up the stairs in record time once stuff got real) that it's super-important for the team to slow him down for as long as they can while Prof X mucks around with some headpiece that is either sending his thoughts out to the world OR saving them up like a psychic battery to unleash later. Or both! It is unclear.

beats by Dre

Though, knowing what we know of Xavier, he would find a uni-tasking helmet/device disdainful and possibly an abomination of nature which must be destroyed. (So, like Alton Brown but with psychic powers) [Take a moment, right now, to envision that scenario. Did your vision include state-mandated grape juice drinking? Mine did.]

While using his super-hat, one of the Prof's stray brain waves hits Johnny Storm - yes, THE Human Torch of Fantastic Four fame. Squee! (A little something for the LADIES to ogle, this issue, eh, Stan Lee?)

Meanwhile, the Men of X continue to fight the Juggernaut ... and they're not doing so well, 'natch, until, out of nowhere - and seemingly based on pure speculation - The Professor pings Beast's brain with the message, "Go for the helmet!"

Perhaps this was just the Professor's way of giving the X-Men hope, seeing as how it looked pretty bleak? Maybe he didn't know it'd work and it was just a really good guess? Or X has been holding back information from the X-Men. Either way, it's a crummy thing to do to these kids who worship you like a be-wheel-chaired god.

His other weakness? Chocolate.

Of course the Beast muffs it, being pushed aside before he can remove ole Jug-o's dome. But ... what's this?! Why it's Johnny Storm, come through the window to distract Juggernaut long enough for Angel to swoop in and pluck the helmet from the villain.

More like Johnny Flashbulb, right?!

Meanwhile, Beast is over in the corner grumbling, "Well, I LOOSENED it for you..." like it was some pickle jar his wife succeeded in opening after he'd just spent an emasculating 10 minutes fighting to open. Juggernaut Pickles: "They lose their powers once the lid is off!"(TM)

Had it not been for the Fantastic 1/4, the day would never have been won and to thank him, the Professor wipes Johnny's memory and sends him on his way. Well that's a fine how-do-you-do! Though, I understand that it was probably for the sake of the Fantastic Four's continuity, but still! Stop playing with people's memories, Xavier! It's like he gets a sick kick out of it.

With so many people going under his memory-wipe, I'm beginning to wonder if maybe I've met Professor X and just don't remember!
"Thank you, son, for delivering this most delicious pizza I've ever encountered here to my normal-seeming mansion! Now ... forget me and all you've seen! Especially forget my order of pineapple and pepperoni deep dish!"

With all the X-Men injured - except for Jean Grey - we get to be treated to this cringe-worthy moment:

Xavier's School For Exceptionally Cliche Male Fantasies

Despite that - and the fact that Professor X continues to be a mind-wiping jerk - this two-parter was a cracking great story. Well told, well paced, well ... Juggernauted?



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Want to read along? This story are covered in X-Men Volume 2 (Marvel Masterworks)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Perfect The Stranger (Issue #11)

I could not get past the cover of this one without having to stop and blog because I noticed this:

A stranger is just someone you haven't met yet ... so....

Also: How well do we really know anyone? Aren't we all just strangers, even to ourselves? Perfect Strangers? Don't be ridiculous. Bibby babka. Help me...

SUMMARY!
Cyberno ... I mean Cerebro picks up the scent of a super being so powerful that it breaks the projected image. Yes. It BREAKS the projected image! (Not the projector ... the image!) Think about that! A being so powerful it cannot be contained by projected light particles! Why ... it almost defies sense! And physics, too! But I guess if we've already bought in to eye-beams and icemen, I think it's safe to say that physics and sense have left the building in a blaze of tangible light and unicorns.

MORE shocking, however, is the fact that Iceman is back in his booties! NOOO! (Why does this bother me SO MUCH?! Does he wear them because his feet get cold?! Are they special boots?! We are given no clues and it's slowly destroying my brain.)

Anyway!

Since this The Stranger fellow might be the most powerful yadda yadda we've heard it all before, naturally, both the X-Fellows and Magneto are looking to recruit him.

Magneto and the Brotherhood Of Evil Mutants find him first by cleverly waiting on the other side of a wall that he feels compelled to walk through. (Apparently, Magneto picked up "Stranger Scent" at Bass Pro Shops to lure him in there. What? It's as good as the no-explanation they give in the comic!)

But wait, turns out, getting a mutant to join your band of evil isn't as easy as finding him first and saying, "Ah-HA!" because The Stranger isn't so keen on being strong-armed into joining the BOEM. As one will, he expresses his displeasure by turning Mastermind into stone and cocooning Magneto and Toad. (And I don't mean "making old people randy and talk in ways that make younger viewers embarrassed to be watching it with their parents and grandparents, because the parents heard it was 'funny'" type of cocooning, either.)

Seeing this, The Scarlet Witch and her way-to-close-to-be-comfortably-siblings brother, Quicksilver take this as their cue to high-tail it back to their home in "central Europe".

Back to Vaguelvania (or possibly Genericstan) for us!

To nobody's surprise, The Stranger turns out to be an alien who is - to everyone's surprise - on a specimen-gathering mission, but not the sexy / gross kind (I'll leave whatever that means up to your imaginations). Nope, he's tasked with collecting mutants from around the universe to bring back to his planet for study. He has chosen Magneto and Toad, so it's no wonder the rest of the galaxy hates us, if those two are our good-will ambassadors to the stars. The Stranger, with captive mutants in tow, rockets off to the stars, never to return.

Which is weird, because I'm pretty sure I remember Magneto being in at least some of the comics I read in the 90s ... guess I was mistaken! ? Maybe it was Magnooto I'm remembering? [Five points to the reader who sends in concept art for Magnooto!]

With The Stranger gone (we barely got to know him!) and Magneto and the BOEM disbanded / abducted / stoned, the X-Men can return home to their safe-haven, Xavier's mansion ... which they have to check top-to-bottom for bugs!

How do they expect to keep others safe?

This is a way better method than simply, oh, I dunno ... BUILDING A FENCE?! You're telling me, X-Men, that EVERY time you return home you FREAK OUT about the possibility that you've been infiltrated and bugged? I used to feel that way, too, then I remembered my front door locks. Maybe you should look into that? Though, the fact that they have NO at-home security makes that scene from issue #3, in which a GIRAFFE was able to sneak up to the mansion's window and surprise Iceman, seem a bit more plausible!

Side note, now that I think about it, the giraffe was the carny folks' first salvo of attack in that scenario? Interesting choice! "Maybe they'll be so freaked out by this evolutionary wonder that they will be stunned into giving up!"

Also: BUILD A GOD DAMN FENCE!

The results of their search turn up nothing, but then Cyberno, dammit, CEREBRO starts beeping.... Something BIG is coming! Wait for it... WAIT FOR IT...

CONCLUSIONS!
Pretty (seemingly) final ending for some of these characters, huh? I'm guessing that in 1965 "turned to stone" and "sent into space" was the closest the writers were allowed to get to "died horribly"? Though you can just bet that I am drooling at the prospect of seeing the first important character die in these books! (Heck, seeing a minor character die would be something.) YES, It's ghoulish and grim, but, to me, it's like watching your child grow up. It'll be a rite of passage for these books. I'll take video of it and post it to Facebook. I'd be a great parent.



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Want to read along? This story is covered in X-Men Volume 2 (Marvel Masterworks)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Avengers Vs. X-Men and KAY-SAR (Issue #9 and #10)

ISSUE #9!

FINALLY, an opening scene which isn't confined to the danger room as the X-Men exposit their way through their superpowers while dodging, I dunno, rockets, rolling cylinders, and robot-hands. THIS opening manages to key the new reader in on all their powers, but in a scene about Cyclops saving the cruise ship they are on from an iceberg, then getting a really bad headache.

My faith in Stan Lee was restored by JUST a bit by this opening scene!

But wait! Let's go back to the cover: This ish promises a showdown of The X-Men vs The Avengers! Is it interesting to note that in the as-of-this-writing present of 2012, where I sit blogging this, the current runs of The Avengers and The X-Men are gearing up to a massive event called ... "Avengers Vs. X-Men". Everything old is new again. (At least I hope, as I have started wearing Skidz again and eating expired foods.) Hopefully, with a clever application of keywords on this post, I can lure some of those comics fans to my blog ... where they will be extremely disappointed and flame me in the comments. Welcome new, disgruntled readers!

And speaking of "events", when do those start happening in The X-Men? So far I've seen loose continuity, a couple of multi-parters, but for the most part they are all "Monster of the Week" episodes. When do things get EPIC? I continue to wait patiently.

SUMMARY!
Yes, there is an opening scene revolving around a cruise liner about to hit an iceberg. As I write this post (in my present of April, 2012) the world is "celebrating" (SHOULD be "commemorating", but let's be honest, people seem WAY to "into" it for it to be solemn) the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. However, I can't read these opening pages without thinking, "Too soon!"

Luckily, the X-Men are aboard, specifically Cyclops, because: ZAP! One Iceburg becomes ice cubes and another cruise ship doesn't have to have a James Cameron movie made about it. These jokes ''will'' go on, people. Sorry. BUT! Taking out the 'burg has given Cyclops a headache.

Thanks to all the Marvel movies, every time an "extra"
speaks in one of these books, I think it's a Stan Lee cameo.

So, the X-Men are on their way to rendezvous with Professor X who is currently spelunking. Yes. In a cave. In what looks like a battle wheel chair.

You just THINK all the stuff in the Sharper Image
catalog is junk ... until you need it.

Contacting them via his mental powers, Prof X says that he's on the trail of the one called Lucifer, the person who many years ago caused Professor X to lose the use of his legs. My RetCon detector just pinged. I feel like this origins story might not remain true for the next 50 years.

Lucifer, in his underground lair, releases an "artificial dust devil" which captures Xavier and brings him in, encasing him in a glass bubble. Luckily Xavier has the most powerful weapon of all at his disposal: His mind.


And by that I mean a gun.

"Look, mental powers are great, but sometimes you just need to blast a cap." -Xavier

But where are these Avengers you promised us? Well, before they get here, this has to happen:
what?!? A terrible, unavoidable... hole! And I was just about to write about how it finally feels like the writing is all coming together. Sigh

"Unavoidable Holes", the true story of the Chilean miners
And I JUST gave Stan Lee compliments on his how that opening was really showing his growth as a writer!

Then, as if Marvel Girl's near-hole experience wasn't enough edge-of-your-seat excitement, now the Avengers show up! Turns out, they are tracking a mysterious force and are on a mission to kick its ass.

But alas! Xavier has told the X-Men that Lucifer has wired a bomb capable of destroying the world (a doomsday machine, if you would) to his heart! So if they let the Avengers kill Lucifer, everyone dies. Opting out of the "let's talk this through" route, instead, they fight. And it's as epic a confrontation as four whole pages will allow. I hear they are just going to copy and paste these same pages over and over until they have enough for a a trade paperback to sell as the new "event". Marvel secrets revealed!

As the two super crews fight above, down in the caves, Professor X does manage to immobilize Lucifer -- but Xavier's awesome brain was too good at knocking out his foe and now Lucifer's heart is slowing down TOO much. (If this heart beats less than 55bpm, the bus - I mean BOMB will explode!) Lucky for all of us who like living on this planet we call Earth, Cyclops can pin-point his force-beam vision into a small enough ray to diffuse the bomb without it going off. "Great!", you might say, "Now they can kill Lucifer with impunity to prevent him from trying such a thing again!" OR they can let him walk away.

Professor X didn't even want to smash Lucifer's legs, in a revenge-crippling!

Reminder: The Vanisher will never remember hearing his child's laugh for the first time, but Lucifer - a man who held the world hostage AND crippled the leader of the the X-Men - gets to walk away with a slap on the ass and a "Good game, brah! You're one FINE opponent!" ?! Ridiculous.

Despite all this, it still felt like a pretty solid issue. Though maybe that's merely "The Attack Of The Clones" effect speaking (you know, where something is slightly better than what came before, so it feels much much better than it really is?)


ISSUE #10!

I know that last recap was long, but issue 10 is too short to stand on its own, so I'll throw it in here as a bonus for you all. "Hooray?" I hear you ask. Hooray indeed!

RIGHT OFF THE BAT, this happens:

Couldn't come up with something that doesn't require a pronunciation key?
COSTUME UPDATE:
After only two issues, Jack Kirby is back to drawing Marvel Girl in her cowl, rather than in a mask. This news is fascinating to you.

SUMMARY!
While watching TV, the X-Gang see a report about a strange attack at a base in Antarctica, so they go investigate. As unexplained to you in high school geography class (for political reasons - TEACH THE CONTROVERSY!), there is a hidden zone at the very pole of the Earth which is lush and verdant and inhabited by Ka-Zar and dinosaurs. (Ka-Zar is a cave-man-like human with very rudimentary speech-functions and a pet Sabertooth tiger, 'natch.) This issue is like Tarzan meets Land Of The Lost ... but minus the Sleestaks and Cheetah and Jane and Marshal, Will, and Holly ... and plus a tiger ... and the X-Men. [Worst elevator pitch in Hollywood history?!] OH! And plus lots and lots of "savages"!


Uht oh! The old "savages kidnap the girl" routine!

Marvel Girl forgets, sometimes, that she is a super human and lets regular men man-handle her. Their plan is a simple one: Kidnap the new girl and feed her to a T-Rex. Why? Who cares! It means the team fights a T-Rex and a bunch of stone-age savages.

And the result is awesome. It's like reading an old B-movie, except better, because there isn't an attempt to have a plot and they are not fettered by budget constraints. (Like the T-Rex isn't a gecko with a comb stapled to its head, either, which helps.) So what if it didn't have Magneto or a "story"? It was face-smashingly fun and filled with plenty of kick-ass-ery.

I'd never heard of Ka-Zar before, but it turns out he had quite a long career in the comics. I'll let Wikipedia explain it all to you, if you want (It's DULL!). That fact kinda makes this issue less awesome, because I just assumed that Stan Lee made it all up, just for me, Me, ME! It's like when I found out that everyone is told the story of Santa Claus when they are a kid and I realized that my parents weren't just super-creative weird-os.

FINAL THOUGHTS!
If I were a kid again, I'd bet that this sole, solitary, singular issue would have been my favorite of the lot, so far. After all, there were dinosaurs in it! And what kid doesn't like dinosaurs? (A commie kid, that's who! 'Nuff Said!)



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Want to read along? This story are covered in X-Men Volume 1 (Marvel Masterworks)

Monday, April 16, 2012

You Can't Touch This (Issue #8)

Happily, this issue starts with Cyclops telling Bobby to "refine his ice crystals", leading to a less-lumpy Iceman. This is a welcome change, as he is now drawn less like Cottage Cheese man and more like an Iceman aught.

Chiseled pecks?
We are also introduced to the beginnings of Jean and Scott's rocky relationship - nice to know they got into a complicated relationship right off the bat. So many youngsters these days are waiting to get complicated. It's nice to see that these kids are being traditional.

It's THE Will They/Won't They relationship of all time. Bigger than
Ross/Rachel ... bigger than Kirk/Spock!
I realize that this is probably going to played to the hilt for drama, so I mentally settle in for 50 more years of variations on this theme.

SUMMARY!
After saving a child's life, Beast is then chased through the streets by a group of bigots. Fed up with protecting a humanity that would rather chase him with pitchforks, Beast - understandably - calls it quits and leaves the X-Men FOREVERuntiltheendoftheissue.

Since he's genius-level smart, it's only natural that Beast decides to join professional wrestling. Sure. Why not?! In one of his matches, Beast is mysteriously defeated by Unus The Untouchable who, despite his name is ... no ... wait... yeah, he's untouchable.

I had a similar power with girls from 1985 through 1999, inclusive! BOOM! NAILED IT! (In a way I wasn't those girls in my adolescence!) BOOM! TWICE TIMES NAILED IT! HIGH FIVES ALL AROUND!

Anyhoo, Turns out, Unus has applied to join the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (THOSE guys again!), but is informed that his application isn't evil enough and that he will be looked upon more favorably if he defeats an X-Man or two (he also must provide two references (evil references) and his salary requirements (EVIL salary!)).

The X-Men, being unable to touch him, are soon rebuffed and head back to the mansion to think of a better plan than, "GET HIM!". Upon entering, they come across Beast, working on some device. He swears he has a plan that he simply cannot, WILL NOT, tell anyone else about, so he lets the entire team think he's gone evil.

Forty Five years later, this type of writing would form the cornerstone J.J. Abram's ethos: Have your characters say nothing until the misunderstandings pass the "zany" stage of a good "Three's Company" episode and enter a dark, suspicious place where you don't know who your friends are anymore. LOST!

Personal question: Is this how long friendships last in the X-Universe? Are the good times so soon forgotten? "Hey, remember when we kicked Magneto's butt together? Good times ... NOW DIE DIE DIE!" Or am I keeping my real friends around for too long? Should I accuse my best friend of trying to help my enemies more often? I'll try that and tell you how it goes.

OF COURSE, Beast's plan is to zap Unus with a weird ray that enhances his power, leading to comical scenes such as this:

Hey, kids, don't smoke! Or ... do? I dunno, is this an anti-smoking ad?
Just like when the clown in your basement dies, laughter turns to tears as Unus realizes he cannot touch anything - including food - and after an hour of being hungry and not able to smoke, Unus is ready to beg the X-Men to un-super-charge him. Which he does. In the end, he is told in no uncertain terms that they'll zap his ass again if he starts acting all uppity, but, for now, he is allowed to go back to his "rasslin'". So... the punishment fits the crime?

AUTO CORRECT WORDS ADDED:
Unus, 'natch.



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Want to read along? This story are covered in X-Men Volume 1 (Marvel Masterworks)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cyberno?! (Issue #7)

So far, Stan Lee, I am not impressed! Is this guy, like, the Isaac Asimov of the comic book world? (In that he has great ideas, but his execution and actual writing style leave ... something to be desired? I mean, don't get me wrong, Dude came up with some of the greatest heroes of all time, so he definitely deserves his place among the pantheon of powerful personages (alliteration an homage to Stan the Man, 'natch.)

Is what I am saying heretical? Sacrilegious? Are a band of True Believers going to storm my house and shout "Excelsior!" at me until I cave? Or do most people agree with me? Or does Stan get better with age?

QUESTIONS! QUESTIONS! QUESTIONS!

'Nuff said on that! (for now!) I will revisit this topic, later, maybe he's just finding his way with these stories.


RECAP TIME:

Its graduation day and all the kids are receiving their diplomas in X-Menology! Which makes me wonder ... if they're all teenagers and they are at a boarding school, have other studies been left out? Has The Professor created a team of super-loyal, super-stupid soldiers at the expense of general knowledge? I'll bet they're all crap at Jeopardy! (Alternative joke for those who find Jeopardy! too "uppity": ARE the X-Men smarter than a fifth grader?!)

An X-FIRST then takes place in this issue, as we are intorduced to Cerebro! (Which is now another new word that my cell phone has learned.) And Cerebro is a HOT MESS. Wires everywhere.

Johnny Ives is having a heart attack, seeing this.
The Prof is only showing Cyclops this because he is to become the deputy leader of the X-Men when the Professor is away. Mere panels later:

CYBERNO?! Were you even
listening, "leader-man"?
Not shown: Professor X face-palming and immediately regreting his decision.

But where's the conflict? Well, I'll tell you, though it's not frightfully exciting: The Blob is back! Yes, the least exciting mutant of all time (and yes, I put Toad above The Blob, mainly because I have, in real life, seen someone so fat that they could not be moved by natural human means - and by that I mean a Rascal(tm) - yet I have not seen someone bounce over an entire track team, as Toad once did.)

But, you splutter, what about the unbreakable mental block that the great and powerful Proz X put on him?! That? Oh ... yeah, that broke when The Blob fell down. Seriously.

Side note: At this point in the game, Mr. Lee could have created ANY character he wanted to, since the X-world is fresh and new. Yet he returned for a second dip in the "obese carny trash" well. Interesting choice! Were carnivals really popular, back in 1964? Was the world screaming out to see MORE freaks on the pages of their comics? Alas, Gallup never bothered to measure these metrics, so the answer is lost to time.

Thankfully, the X-Men have Cerebro / Cyberno is to warn the X-Men of the fat mutant (fatant?) returning:

LOOK AGAIN! Under "Known Hostile
Mutants" is a listing for "UNKNOWN".
This will be the logic flaw that causes
Cerebro to explode, right after Kirk orders it
beamed from the ship.
Then the X-Men hang out with hippies and this happens:

Dig those crazy paws, daddy-o.
Oobley-oo?
Not much more to say, really, other than The Blob joins up with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, everyone fights, The Blob gets mud in his eyes and screams, "I have mud in my eyes!", the X-Men defeat the BOEM at which point The Blob says, "Screw this, you mutants are crazy, I'm going back to my normal job of being shot with cannonballs in the carnival!" making this the second X-Story in a row to end with the new "threat" of the issue saying, "Screw both of you!" and wandering off.

Now do you see what I was saying about Stan Lee?!



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Want to read along? This story are covered in X-Men Volume 1 (Marvel Masterworks)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Say NaMOR! Say NaMOR, squire! (Monty Python Reference? No?) (Issue #6)

Wow, I've already read my way through an entire year of the X-Men! Of course, there are only six issues in a year, so I feel cheap celebrating it ... but anytime I get to have cake and wear a party hat is good by me. CAKE!CAKE!CAKE!CAKE!

You know who WOULDN'T like cake? Namor! (He's kinda a jerk!)
[I am not getting nominated for that "Best Segue In A Comic Book Blog" award, am I?]

But more on that later, you know who DOES like cake? The X-Men. [SECOND non-nomination!] Especially if it's brought to them by the obliging Jean Gray who cannot wait for the Women's Movement to gain some more steam ... or can she? She seems rather accepting of her role, actually:

"Why, whatever else is a woman FOR, Professor?!"
While Jean continues to hover in the background, wearing an apron and scolding the boys on their table manners (all true!) The Professor reads in the newspaper that Namor, the Sub-Mariner, has been spotted in the area. His decision that the X-Men should go out to find him and get him on the side of good before Magneto does. It is SUCH a mid-sixty's arms-race parable type of story that I cannot decide if it's intentional or not. If it's intentional, it's so thinly veiled that even the most liberal of harem masters would say it's indecent. (In this analogy, the arms race is a harem?)

Then this happens:


For someone who has just been told they are a mutant, he certainly buys in quick. Shouldn't this have been a bigger deal for him? Yet he accepts it with all the casualness of someone being told that the Talapia special is, in fact, sold out. (Though, personally, I do a LOT more soul searching and weeping when that happens to me, but I'm no sub-mariner who is used to having fish run away from him before he can eat them, I suppose..)

It has just occurred to me that I should attempt a "Sub Marinara" joke when I order my next meatball footlong at SubWay. I'll let you know how that goes.

I'd also like to note that, because I take notes for these blog posts on my phone, my phone now recognizes "Namor" as a correct spelling and has added it to its dictionary. This X-Men project is the gift that keeps on giving. I can only hope that in a few years I'm going to misspell "no more" and my phone will suggest "Namor". The smile that that will cause will last all too briefly, but it'll be powerful. Future good times!

I seem to be increasingly fascinated with costume changes, and it scares me, but Jean Gray's costume changes from a hood to a mask

"Whip My Hair" really moved her.
Wrapping it up, Namor realized that he's been played and wants no more to do with us filthy land-walkers and returns to his watery home to be among his people, the sea-swimmers. The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, who were caught by the X-Men, are allowed to escape because, as Prof X says, he'd rather they, "...join us of their own free will." (You know, that free will that he took away from The Vanisher?! Ok Ok, I'll lay off The Vanisher fiasco, for a while, I promise). Jean Gray chimes in:

Women just don't want to see other women succeed.
Yes, Jean. It's better she go back to her abusive relationship with Magneto than stay and compete with you for the affections of the X-Men. Also: Not said, but you can tell Jean is thinking it: "Magneto gets mad at her because of something she did." So, overall, yeah ... this issue set women's lib back a couple of months, at least.

In conclusion:
As I move from one ... fiscal? comical? issue-ical? ... year to the next, I ask myself this question: If I were a kid in 1964 (and despite my grousing like an old person about the weather, kids today, and sodas just not tasting the same as they did when I was younger, I was NOT) would I have stuck with this series? Would I have continued reading? The honest answer is: Probably. Though, if only because this comic is about outsider kids, suffering from alienation. And if my youth in 1963 would have been anything like my real childhood, then I'd have been a helpless nerd who needed any friends he could get - even ones made of ink on paper.

I also would have continued reading in the hopes that it would be a sign of my devotion to mutants and that my strong faith in them would one day transform ME into an X-Man, myself. (Which, secretly, is also the reason I'm doing this project, in the first place. Professor X, you have my number, use it!)

One last thing. I know I've not given much (any) space to discussing the marvelous ads that these old issues have, but...

a-WHAA?



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Want to read along? This story are covered in X-Men Volume 1 (Marvel Masterworks)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

GLOSSARY POST: Silver Age

I've been throwing around the term "Silver Age" a bunch in these blog posts, so I thought I'd just take a moment to explain that term, as I understand it, for those of you who have not read the Wikipedia page, like I have.

To my knowledge, the Silver Age of comics is defined by the period of time from the mid-50s to the early 70s when comic books were seeing a resurgence in popularity. Was it due to the fact that comic art was getting better? That the stories were getting more deep and meaningful? Well, that's a debate for some other time.

It was called this because it was seen as a second great age of comic books (the first being the Golden Age - a period from the 30s to the 40's - in which comic books were new, exciting, and popular.)