Tag Archives: Cyclops/Scott Summers

Five Decades of the X-Men edited by Stan Lee

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Today’s topic is an odd one because normally I don’t read books about the Marvel characters I enjoy. This is due mostly to the fact that there are so few novelizations that don’t relate specifically to the comics. The Marvel Masterworks anthologies contain replicas of the original comic books, not black and white original tales or blow-by-blow accounts from the comics themselves.

Five Decades of the X-Men is a collection of short stories, one of which is almost certainly a translation from the first X-Men comic ever written. Published in 2002, the writing here isn’t very good. I don’t know if Stan Lee himself actually edited it but typos, bad grammar, and similar errors abound throughout the anthology. That doesn’t hurt the stories in any major way but it is annoying.

As the title suggests, each piece within this collection is from a different decade of the X-Men’s extensive history. The first tale is from the 1960s, the second from the ‘70s, and so on until the early 2000s, just before Marvel went really crazy. They were drifting that way in the mid-90s, but everything began truly falling apart around ’05, with the famous/infamous Civil War arc.

That’s a topic for another day, though. Five Decades of the X-Men begins, fittingly enough, with a near-direct translation of the first X-Men comic. Titled “Baptism of Fire, Baptism of Ice,” it is told from Bobby Drake/Iceman’s viewpoint. Jean Grey is introduced to the X-Men just before the team has their first battle with Magneto. In the finale, while on a date with a pretty girl, Iceman ends up in a fight with (possibly) a Frost Giant from Jotunheim.

As a story, this installment is just fine. It demonstrates the problems which Jean (known as Marvel Girl early in her career) had to face joining a team full of curious and flirty teenage boys. Since he was the youngest boy and uninterested in dating her, Bobby caused Jean less trouble on this front than Angel and especially Beast did. Surprisingly, Beast made some pretty blatant, determined passes at the new girl during this tale. Given his later, more mature depictions, I never expected to see this kind of behavior from him.

The end for this story was good, in no small part because it showed Stan Lee’s recognition that not everyone fears mutants on sight. Some actually like them and think they are amazing. Although these normal humans might be surprised by a display of astonishing powers, that doesn’t mean they automatically hate mutants. But on the downside this translation adheres far too closely to the original comic’s perspective. It is clearly a narration of a visual story. It gets a little better toward the end, but not by much.

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The original team of X-Men: Marvel Girl, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, and Angel.

 

Following this tale is “First Commitments.” This piece is much better written than the previous story. Jay Sanford, a normal human, is waiting for a job interview at a company called Genetech. Sitting beside him is Hank McCoy – The Beast. To pass the time the two strike up an amiable discussion. Jay feels far inferior to Hank during their chat, as the latter’s intelligence is evident even in a relaxed conversation. So he isn’t surprised when the X-Man gets the job and he is passed over.

However, he is surprised when Genetech calls a few days later and offers him the job Hank supposedly got.

Jay sets to work with a will, studying mutant cells “donated” to Genetech for research purposes. Unfortunately, what he discovers too late is that the company is a front for an organization called the Secret Empire. As power hungry as HYDRA but a bit more subtle, the Empire has infiltrated almost every government branch, police force, etc. in the U.S. In the comics, they actually managed to frame Captain America for a crime and make him a wanted fugitive – until he defeated them on live television on the White House lawn, that is. 😉

Right now, though, the Secret Empire is still in the clandestine stage. And they have used Jay’s discoveries to turn mutants – specifically a number of captive X-Men – into human batteries. Angry and afraid, Jay cannot report the Empire to the authorities because they have been infiltrated to such a degree. Then he gets an idea. Slipping away from the spies that he knows are watching him, Jay manages to get the X-Mansion. Once there he tells the X-Men what he knows and asks for their help.

This has to be my favorite story in the collection. Jay is presented as a thoroughly decent guy who doesn’t care that mutants are different from normal humans. He only cares about what is right, to the point that he risks his life to help stop the Secret Empire in the only way he can. It’s an excellent tale, and possibly the best in the anthology.

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 “Up the Hill Backwards” is next. Set in the 1980s, it takes place after a battle in NYC that decimated the Morlocks and left a number of X-Men severely wounded. The Morlock survivors and injured X-Men have been taken to the Muir Island Research Center to recover. Since it is run by friend of the team Moira McTaggert, they know they can convalesce without fear of being attacked. But until the injured team recovers, the X-Men are officially out of commission while the downed members to recover.

While they are doing this, Storm and Wolverine head out to deal with some…personal matters. This means they can’t train the new X-Men – Rogue, Psylocke, Dazzler, Longshot, and Havok – who will be required to maintain Professor X’s dream of human/mutant coexistence. So Storm asks Sean Cassidy – formerly known as Banshee – to teach the newbies the ropes.

It is not an easy assignment. Psylocke is arrogant and far too sure of herself, while Rogue is still regarded as a potential enemy due to her mishap with Ms. Marvel. Dazzler is withdrawn, nervous, and has a grudge against Rogue due to an entirely different misunderstanding. And Longshot is as naïve as a child because he’s from an entirely different dimension and has no idea what this world is like.

Worst of all is Havok, Scott Summers’ younger brother Alex. Banshee hopes he will lead the team, but Alex doesn’t want to do it. This isn’t just because he is tired of super heroics and desires a normal life. He’s certain that Sean only wants him to lead the team because of his relationship with Scott, the legendary leader of the X-Men.

That’s not Sean’s intent at all, but Alex won’t listen to reason. He doesn’t recognize his own leadership potential, and combined with his distaste for the role, he only succeeds in making things harder for Banshee. Until an exercise with British intelligence goes horribly wrong, the group looks more like a band of squabbling children than a united team of superheroes.

In terms of storytelling, this installment is very good. Unfortunately, it comes with an attached Warning for Younger Readers. There is a fair bit of foul language present in this tale, which surprised me. I was under the impression that sort of thing crept into the comics in either the ‘90s or the 2000s. Apparently that wasn’t the case. There is also quite a bit of gore, but it isn’t particularly graphic. Not by my standards, at least. So “Up the Hill Backwards” is still a good read, but the language and gore may be a serious problem for some young readers.

Now “The Cause” I disliked a fair bit. Set in the ‘90s, this story revolves around the release of one of the X-Men’s enemies from prison. Reverend Striker – no preacher in the X-Men films – is being released on good behavior. But that performance doesn’t extend to mutants in general or the X-Men in particular.

What is more, Striker’s followers are letting them know it. Led by his right hand man Gabriel Merritt, the “Striker Crusade” has been murdering mutants left and right to send the message that they are ready and willing to kill them all regardless of race, sex, or age. They’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest that has started race riots all over the country. Merritt is pleased with these events but he is not so happy with one of his Crusaders.

More than a little crazy, this girl has developed an intense crush on Merritt. She makes her murders or the murders she participates in more gruesome and twisted for that very reason; she is hoping to impress him and make him fall in love with her. So when he gives her the cold shoulder, she’s more than a little upset. And when his attempt to boost the Crusade by having Striker murdered goes awry, “the voices in her head” give her a new target to focus on. (Hint: it isn’t Striker.)

Thinking back, I believe that this story probably qualifies for a Warning for Younger Readers, too. “Cause” starts with the brutal murder of a young mutant making a living as a stage magician, and it’s about as cruel as you can imagine. So this is a story some younger readers may wish to pass over for a few years along with “Up the Hill Backwards.”

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Finally, we have “Gifts.” Set in the early 2000s, this tale follows a more mature Rogue, a humbled Psylocke, and Nightcrawler as they race to save people from Laguardia Airport during an apparent earthquake. With Cerebro detecting mutant activity in the area, the X-Men know they are dealing with one of their own. The problem is they don’t know who they are dealing with. The damage has no discernable pattern or purpose, no one claims credit for the wreckage and, luckily, no one is killed. It looks less like their new mutant is trying to make a statement and more like he/she is just having a temper tantrum.

In addition, each of the X-Men experience strange sensations of increased power during their midnight rescues. The source isn’t immediately visible to these mutant combat veterans/ first responders, but it proves to be as amazing as it is dangerous. By the time they get everything sorted out, dawn is coming.

I enjoyed this story almost as much as “First Commitments.” “Gifts” is vintage X-Men, following the team of three as they search for a mutant just discovering the power they have. There are no villains here and, aside from the constant trouble with earthquakes, no huge stakes. Best of all, this story is very young reader friendly. No curse words, no gore, and no sex. 😉

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Pick up Five Decades of the X-Men at your earliest convenience, readers. Despite the poor grammar (and “The Cause”), this is one Marvel book anyone would be proud to have on their shelf!

‘Til next time!

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Remembering Stan “The Man” Lee

Stan Lee Confirms Three Upcoming Marvel Movie Cameos

As many, if not most, of you know by now, Stan Lee died on the morning of November 12, 2018. It was sad news for all the Marvelites who had enjoyed his universe and characters since childhood. We knew that someday Stan would have to go on the Great Adventure all his heroes were preparing us to face in the future, naturally, but we put all thoughts of his departure as far from our minds as possible.

This made it a blow when we got the news that he had passed through the curtain to the Other Side. I hope his wife and his second daughter were waiting for him when he got off the train. But as with my own fate, what has become of him now will remain a mystery until it is my turn to go through the curtain.

To say that Stan Lee and his friends at Marvel impacted this blogger’s life enormously would be an understatement. Without him and his compatriots, most of whom predeceased him, Thoughts on the Edge of Forever would not exist in the form you know it, readers. The first post I wrote here focused on Marvel’s The Avengers, the big box office hit of 2012 that kicked off roughly ten years of cinematic fun. And as long time readers know, most of the criticism on this site has been aimed at Marvel’s current hierarchy precisely because they were dishonoring Stan Lee’s legacy before he had even said his last, “Excelsior!”

None of this is to imply that Stan Lee was perfect. That would be ridiculous; he was a man, a fallen, flawed human being like me and everyone else in this world. I don’t think he was perfect. Perfect isn’t the point. He was a good storyteller and a good friend to all those who loved his and his company’s work, whether they met him in person or not.

Without his heroes – his flawed, human heroes – lots of people would have thrown in the towel on life and limb a long time ago. Captain America, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, Wasp, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Storm, Cyclops, Rogue, Gambit, Wolverine, Mirage, Black Widow, Falcon, Sunfire, Luke Cage, Namor the Submariner, Hulk, Thor Odinson, Black Panther, Professor X, Silver Sable – they all inspired someone. They all faced evils we could relate to, or could see ourselves encountering some day. They could have turned back from fighting evil lots of times under Stan’s leadership, but they didn’t. They all thought, “I can’t hang on much longer…!” only to come to the conclusion that they had to hang on longer, even if it killed them. Without their strength, many of us would have stopped holding on and fighting years ago.

So I will be forever grateful to Stan Lee for bringing these characters to the world, and for each story he wrote, approved, or spearheaded. Quaint or odd as it may seem, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without his help, distant though it was. Keep on going “ever higher,” Stan. We’ll be rooting for you until it’s our turn to finally glance over our shoulders, give everyone behind us a thumbs up, and say: “’Nuff said.”

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Some Captain America: Civil War “Easter Eggs”

There were a lot of “Easter Eggs,” as they are called, in Captain America: Civil War. I did not see them ALL, but I noticed/thought of a few to share with you, readers.

For one, is it not interesting how much the Accords anger Sam Wilson/Falcon? This may hearken back to the original comics. In the “mainstream” Marvel universe, the government had tried to control the Avengers back in the 1970s (I think). They reduced the team’s active roster to seven individuals whom they selected.

One of their choices was Falcon, who loved being an Avenger. Already a long time partner of Cap’s in the other’s solo series, Sam was happy to finally be a part of his friend’s exclusive superhero club. What he did not love about the arrangement, though, was why the government put him on the team.

The government wanted the Avengers to be a “more diverse” team, and so they added Sam to the active roster simply because he was black. No other reason. Not his fighting skills, which he had honed at Cap’s side; not his empathetic link with his trained falcon Redwing – heck, not even his wing pack was the reason they chose him to be on the team!

No. They chose him because of his race, so they could make a political point/gain a political advantage from his life. Yeah, that is super flattering, isn’t it?

Sam’s attitude with his teammates was genial, fun-loving, and practically sunny during this time. His relationship with their government liaison, Henry Peter Gyrich, was stormy and antagonistic. He hated being a token player, and he was not afraid to say so in front of the public. Sam wanted to be an Avenger on his own merit – which he was, in the eyes of his teammates. But the government put him on the team just to make a statement.

And Sam hated that.

So his dislike of the Accords in Civil War could be seen as a nod to this, in a way. Sam fears he and his friends will be locked up in a dungeon somewhere to rot if they sign the Accords, and his fears are well founded. History has shown that when one signs one’s freedom away it is almost impossible to get it back. The only way Sam and the rest of Team Cap regained their liberty in the movie was through outside help from Steve. And even now that they can breathe the free air again, the law considers them criminals. Outlaws with no Sherwood Forest to inhabit, Team Cap is going to have to do some fancy flying until the Infinity War films.

I think they can pull it off, though.

Now, about that fight Clint and Vision had when the archer went to pick up Wanda at the Compound. In the original comics, Hawkeye is (or maybe now was) the same age as the Maximoff twins. He became enamored of Wanda and was always flirting with her. The Scarlet Witch never returned the favor; she did not hate Clint, but she certainly seemed to find his advances annoying.

When Vision came along, Wanda fell head over heels in love with the android. After a while, the Vision developed his own personality and reciprocated the Scarlet Witch’s feelings. The two announced that they wanted to get married, which caused a huge ruckus. Quicksilver, for one, did not want his sister marrying a synthetic man.

And Clint was not happy about this sudden competition for Wanda’s affections, though by this point the battle was already lost. Neither Wanda nor Vision would be swayed, and they finally tied the knot. After they did this, Hawkeye left the Avengers because he could not stand to see the Scarlet Witch married to someone else.

Thankfully, this romantic triangle is NOT part of the film! Hallelujah!!!!! I am soooo happy!!!!

Okay, fan victory lap complete. Next!

Right, I said I was going to give you a bit of trivia about Wanda. When Tony goes to the Raft, the first inmate he sees is the Scarlet Witch, who is wearing a straight jacket and shivering in her prison cell. The manner of the Maximoff girl’s incarceration here is probably a nod to X-Men: Evolution. In that television series Wanda’s father – Magneto – had her locked up in an insane asylum because she could not control her anger, which made her probability manipulation powers run wild. While she was there she ended up wearing – guess what? – a straight jacket. She did not enjoy it in that series, either.

The inhibitor collar we see Wanda wearing in her last scene during the movie was not part of her incarceration in Evolution. However, such collars are a fixture of X-Men lore. These devices are the only things the comic book authorities have which are capable of suppressing mutant powers. Heh, I guess Disney/Marvel got something mutant-related into their films under Fox’s nose after all!

As an interesting side note, while I do not know how likely it is, if the film writers want to keep pulling plot points and tidbits from the comics, we may see Wanda in a mid or end credits scene in Doctor Strange this November. In the original stories, Wanda’s probability manipulating powers were so hard for her to control that she went looking for help to get them totally under her command.

Her choice of tutor, however, was rather… unconventional. Agatha Harkness, a bona fide witch/sorceress from Salem, Massachusetts, taught Wanda enough magic for the younger woman to make her “hex” power more stable and reliable. In doing this, Harkness realized that Wanda had great potential in the realm of magic. This led to Strange calling on the Scarlet Witch from time to time for help fighting his occult enemies. Eventually, Wanda tapped into this magical potential, becoming the “mainstream” Marvel universe’s most powerful sorceress.

This led to her going loopy at least two, perhaps three, times in the “mainstream” comics. She destroyed the Avengers (and Hawkeye) the first time. The second time, she eradicated most of the mutant powers on the planet (along with Hawkeye, temporarily). The third time, everything else in the Marvel “mainstream” universe was also flying haywire, so Wanda’s mental instability in that event was almost negligible.

Wanda’s powers in the films have so far given no real sign of being out of her control. Still, the writers could pull anything out of their hats between Civil War and the Infinity War films. This is speculation, of course, but it bears mentioning.

Now, about the Raft itself. In the comics, the Raft is a high security super villain prison. Not that you could tell, since it has been subject to prison breaks in the past. Designed to be something of an East Coast equivalent to Alcatraz, the Raft is farther out in the Atlantic in Civil War than it is in the comics. In the books, the Raft is on an island. In the film, it is an island! (It is also, apparently, kept under water until the people running it are expecting visitors.)

During the comic book Civil War, Tony and the government enforcers for Superhero Registration working with him incarcerated captured anti-Registration heroes in an inter-dimensional super villain prison known as 42. 42 was really not a safe environment for the captured heroes. Of course, since Marvel was determined to make Tony a villain (they had succeeded last I looked), this hardly mattered to him or his bosses. The heroes under Cap’s leadership who were caught were bundled off to 42 without a trial, public or otherwise, and left to rot with the criminals they had spent their lives bringing to justice.

The film, of course, could not handle the intricacies of such a prison, so the Raft was substituted in its place. That is all right by me. I do not think I could have handled 42 being jammed into the movie! The Raft was a perfect substitute – especially since its only inhabitants were the guards and the imprisoned members of Team Cap. A picture is worth a thousand words, and the Raft said a million in fewer than ten minutes.

Now for Baron Zemo. Yes, in the movie, he is not a baron. (Whoop-dee-doo, so what?) In the comics, Baron Helmut Zemo is the last of a line of German nobles who have historically had an unhealthy habit of becoming evil. It practically seems to be bred into them, a trait passed from father to son as some sort of weird genetic inheritance. I do not know if there was ever a “good” Zemo in the whole family tree.

Baron Heinrich Zemo, in the comics, was one of Cap’s World War II enemies. A Nazi scientist, Heinrich Zemo had just managed to make a super glue so powerful nothing could break the adhesive. Cap showed up at about that moment and, during the ensuing battle, broke the container for the glue. The liquid spilled onto Heinrich Zemo’s head, which was covered by a hereditary hood/mask.

The mask was then permanently stuck to Heinrich’s face by his own super glue. It made eating and a few other things a bit of a problem. After he was awakened by the Avengers, Cap eventually faced Heinrich for the last time in Brazil. Light from Steve’s shield, reflected back in Zemo’s face, threw the Baron’s shot way off course. The misfired bolt started a rockslide, which killed Heinrich Zemo. Cap saw to the Nazi’s proper burial – which is more than Heinrich Zemo would have done for him – and went home.

A few years later, Zemo suddenly showed up again. Except this Zemo is not Heinrich; it is instead his son, Helmut. The guy has hung around ever since and been nothing but a plague. He can usually be seen leading his own team of anti-Avengers, which he calls the Masters of Evil.

This is one of the things from the “mainstream” comics to make it into the Civil War film. Helmut Zemo having a wife and son is new, but his father – that is old hat. In the comics, Helmut Zemo’s entire vendetta with Cap is based on the fact that he believes Steve killed his father in Brazil. The younger Baron is unwilling to distinguish between his father’s mistake and Cap’s lucky timing. Cap made his father miss, and it does not matter to Helmut that his father’s death was, basically, inadvertent. It happened, Cap was there, and so it is his fault.

Gee, that resembles Zemo’s grudge with the Avengers in the film, now doesn’t it?

In Civil War, Zemo holds all of the Avengers responsible for the deaths of his family, including the demise of his father. Though the inclusion of the senior Zemo is a seemingly throwaway bit of story, it is actually a nod by the writers to the original storytellers. Nifty little trick, I must say.

Attack 2

This is going to surprise some people, but the next thing to point out is that amazing internecine battle at the German airport. I do not know of any Avengers battles taking place in airports in the “mainstream” comics. They probably happened; I just do not know about them. But there is an X-Men battle from the original comics which took place in an airport that I know about. And unfortunately, this airport was not empty when the fighting started!

While seeing the Professor off on a well-earned vacation one day, the X-Men were confronted by a villain calling himself Eric the Red. He had taken control of Alex Summers/Havoc, the younger brother of Scott Summers/Cyclops. (Yes, I know this order has been reversed in the new X-Men films. Another reason I hate them.) Havoc knew he was being dominated, but he could not fight off the villain’s influence. Still, he was able to talk to his older brother and the other X-Men, proving that he was aware of what Eric the Red was doing to him.

Lorna Dane/Polaris, Havoc’s mind-controlled girlfriend … not so much. She was completely under the Red’s spell, and the fight spiraled out of control when she knocked Jean Grey a good one.

Storm retaliated in kind out of fury, since she and Jean were tight friends. This counterattack by Ororo in turn enraged Havoc. Mind control or no mind control, you did not want to go after his girlfriend. Not if you wanted to keep breathing!

It is a long shot to see a parallel between these two battles, I admit. But heck, the Marvel universe is full of long shots! They both took place in an airport. If nothing else, that is an odd coincidence!

Then there is Tony recruiting Spider-Man to Team Iron. When Spidey at last realizes he was used as an “ace in the hole” by Tony Stark for Civil War, there are going to be Whigs on the green. But for now, the important part is his new suit.

Uh-huh, I just said the important part of that scene was Peter Parker being given a new suit by Tony Stark. During the “mainstream” comic book civil war event, Spidey was convinced to join the pro-Registration side of the argument by Iron Man. He revealed his identity to the world, and Tony gave him an electromechanical suit which could sprout three extra legs and shoot repulsors from the hands, among other useful tricks.

In the film, this idea is presented in a slightly different manner. Parker cobbled his original suit out of old fabric in the movie, adding a set of secondhand goggles so he could better process information. The whole effect was far from intimidating. It was not even very appealing.

Tony states he needs an upgrade, which we get to see at the German airport. This suit, while it resembles the original outfit for Spider-Man in the comics, definitely has some Stark flair added to it. The fabric is high grade, almost like a suit of nanite skin, and there are camera lenses in his mask, enabling Parker to focus in on an object, person, or some such. (The lenses can also widen to show his shock when Ant-Man becomes Giant Man!) His webshooters are also more tricked-out than they were previously.

Although the results are different, the gift is essentially the same. Tony thought Spidey’s old suit in the comics needed a little more Iron in order to better protect him. In the movie, however, Parker really was in dire need of a new, better suit. Tony messed up a lot of things in Civil War, but we have to admit he did a very good thing for Spider-Man here!

Finally, there is King T’Challa. Many will already have put this together, but here it is again. In the “mainstream” comics, the mantle of Black Panther is passed down from one warrior in the royal family to another. King T’Chaka is not mentioned as ever having been a warrior or the previous wearer of the Black Panther mantle. More’s the pity.

Anyway, in the comics, T’Challa took the responsibility of being the Black Panther after his father was defeated and killed by one Ulysses Klaw. T’Challa, a child of maybe thirteen at the time, managed to scare Klaw off – destroying his right arm in the process – after the mercenary had betrayed and killed his father. T’Challa’s uncle ruled Wakanda as regent until the prince was old enough to undergo the trials he needed to pass to take up the mantle of the Black Panther. Once that was done, T’Challa suited up, kicked Klaw’s backside, threw him in prison, and became king of Wakanda. Following on that success, he joined the Avengers.

This is similar to the story we see in the film. T’Challa only dons the suit of the Black Panther after his father’s death, so that he may avenge him. In the film, Bucky is the one who takes the rap for killing King T’Chaka, which brings T’Challa into the fight on the side of Team Iron.

A last interesting note is that, in the “mainstream” comics, Panther at first declared neutrality in the comic book civil war event. But he and his wife, Ororo Munroe/Storm, eventually sided with Cap when it became clear Tony had completely gone off the deep end and was going to run everything into the ground, probably killing someone along the way. Unfortunately, the Marvel writers still managed to have him do that. Sorry, Panther.

Well, readers, I have delivered on my promise to discuss the hint I mentioned about Wanda’s incarceration – and then some! So as of now, I will sign off and give you all a chance to have fun elsewhere.

Avengers Assemble!

The Mithril Guardian

Spotlight: An Introduction to Marvel’s X-Men, Part 1

The X-Men at the end of Marvel's X-Men: Evolution

The X-Men at the end of Marvel’s X-Men: Evolution

Greetings, readers! By now, most of you are aware of the fact that I am a Marvel fan, and I really enjoy Marvel’s Avengers, inside and outside of the theaters.

But in all my talk about the Avengers, I have let my old favorites, the X-Men, go by the wayside. Mostly, this is my own fault, but I would say that part of the reason is how Marvel’s writers – for the comics and the films – have been treating the X-Men over the last few years.

As I said in previous Spotlight! posts, the X-Men and Spider-Man were my first introductions to the world of Marvel Comics. Up until a few years ago, I thought that they were the only characters Marvel owned, aside from the Fantastic Four (who I knew of peripherally for many years) and the Hulk.

Much has been said in favor of the X-Men films, but for my part, I detest them. Where Marvel’s Avengers films have a clear roster, clear origins, and tie back easily to the earliest Marvel Comics, the X-Men films are less understandable. The roster for the X-Men franchise is almost always in flux and new mutants are constantly coming and going – even within the same film! There are literally thousands of mutants in Marvel Comics. I only know a few of them. How can I possibly be expected to keep up with all of the characters popping in and out of an X-Men film?

Plus, there have been so many different versions of the X-Men that the relationships in the films are not the relationships which I grew up with. Even a dedicated X-Fan like myself ends up with crossed eyes after catching a glimpse – a glimpse, readers! – of an X-Men film.

So today I thought I would give a little history on the X-Men I know about, where they come from, and who their main enemies are. If you are already well versed in X-Men lore (and know who everyone in the films are the moment they appear) then this list is probably not for you. If you are a newcomer to the Marvel Universe, feel free to consider this a semi-crash course in X-Men lore. Others can tell you more, but I can tell you what I know. So, readers, this is where we start:

What are the X-Men? The X-Men are a superhero team made up entirely of mutants. What is a mutant? Well, unlike real mutants, the mutants of the Marvel Universe are people – men and women – born with an advanced X gene. This advanced X gene is what gives them their powers. These people, thought to be the next stage in human evolution, are called mutants.

A mutant’s power(s) usually manifests itself when they hit their teen or pre-teen years, but some can use their powers from the time they are born. Some mutations in the Marvel Universe are obvious, others are not. Jean Grey, one of the original X-Men, is an example of the latter. Her mutant powers are telekinesis and telepathy; she looks completely normal but is in fact beyond average. Other mutants have very obvious mutant traits that make them stand out in a crowd: fish features, skin that has turned to crystal, wings, twisted faces, fur, or strangely colored eyes and/or skin.

Mutants are known in the Marvel Universe as Homo superior and some people hate them simply for being different, almost the way they hate the Hulk. Some of these people hate mutants because they think that, in time, mutants will outnumber normal humans, who will become extinct as a result. I have never truly bought into that idea myself; but that is what these mutant haters say they believe.

In response to these haters, some mutants have formed radical terrorist groups that say mutants should rule over normal humans. Many mutants simply want to be left alone, and their fear of the haters on both sides of the argument leads many to either hide their mutations or disappear into the sewers – literally.

The X-Men stand in the middle. They believe that mutants and normal humans can live side by side the same way that normal humans have managed to live together since the beginning of time. Those who hate mutants and those who hate normal humans often find the X-Men standing in their way; the X-Men’s job is to promote peace between mutants and humans, and that means protecting both sides from those who hate them. This brings up the next question…

Who are the X-Men? There have been a great many X-Men over the years. Even with all the time in the world and all your patience, readers, I could not list them all, simply because I do not know them all. But the ones I do know I will list here:

 

Professor Charles Xavier/Professor X: Regarded as the most powerful telepath on the planet, Professor Charles Xavier – better known to us X-Fans simply as ‘Professor X’ or ‘The Prof.’ – is the founder of the X-Men as well as the “School for Gifted Youngsters.” This school is both the headquarters of the X-Men and an actual school where young mutants are taught regular academics, as well as being trained in the use of their powers.

A geneticist with knowledge of many other sciences, Professor Xavier suffered an injury in his early adolescence which crippled him. When he saw how humans and mutants were not getting along, often over simple things or a lack of understanding, he decided to do something about it.

Professor Xavier assembled several young mutants and taught them how to use their powers for good. Then he sent these youths and adolescents out to do battle with the forces arrayed against peaceful coexistence between mutants and humans. He has had to rebuild the team from time to time – his first students hit adulthood and decided to retire, or at least take a leave of absence, leaving their cause largely undefended. The Professor then had to find new mutants to take up the banner. Much like Merlin of Camelot, the Professor has been the grounding force for the X-Men and the voice of wisdom they all turn to – even the sour-tempered ones!

 

Scott Summers/Cyclops: The first youth to be recruited by Professor Xavier, Cyclops’ mutant powers are as much curse as gift. When he hit his early teens, Cyclops began having headaches and, one day, beams of force projected from his eyes. He could not shut the beams off; only closing his eyes stopped them. The Professor took him in and equipped him with a set of ruby quartz sunglasses, as well as a visor with a ruby quartz lens which could be lifted to allow Cyclops to project his “eye beams” in directed, physical attacks. Only ruby quartz is capable of containing Cyclops’ “Optic Blast.”

The sheer power of the force beams Cyclops projects can burn through most any substance on Earth and probably a few extra-terrestrial metals as well. Super-powered beings or mutants with healing factors/super strength can withstand his power, though it hurts those with healing factors. Otherwise, Cyclops’ “Optic Blast” can destroy almost anything and kill practically anyone.

Because of the danger of his power, Cyclops is somewhat stoic and withdrawn. With no way to shut off his power, he feels cursed, and this drives a wedge between him and most everyone else but the Professor and the love of Cyclops’ life: Jean Grey. Despite all this, “Cyke” is an excellent tactician and field commander, with natural leadership skills and tendencies. He may not be as personable and likeable as Cap, but the X-Men trust him about as much as the Avengers trust Steve Rogers. (I never really took to Cyclops myself, but I literally cannot think of anyone else leading the X-Men into battle.)

 

Jean Grey: Jean was recruited by Professor Xavier not long after Cyclops was. The two quickly started doing the “Romance Two-step” and Cyke has never really loved anyone but her. A powerful telepath and telekinetic, Jean was the daughter of one of Professor Xavier’s friends. Kind, and with a personality almost as interesting as Cyclops’ (yawn), Jean acts as the Professor’s voice in arguments between the X-Men on the field and in the school. She’s no spitfire, but you do not want to get her angry, either.

Jean’s history with the X-Men is beyond complicated. I do not know all the details myself, mostly because it is all so confusing! Jean is typically kind, friendly, and always willing to help out. But I never really liked her or thought she was the cat’s meow. Still, I cannot see anyone else by Cyclops’ side, seconding for him in the midst of a battle, or breaking up fights as easily as she does.

 

James “Logan” Howlett/Wolverine: Known as Wolverine or “Logan” since he first showed up in the comics, Wolverine has to be the most recognizable member of the X-Men, in no small part due to the fact that he is central to the X-Men film franchise. When exactly he was born I am not sure, though recent rewrites put his birthday somewhere around the 1820s or 1830s!

Traditionally, Wolverine has been a Canadian, but now I am not so sure the writers have left even that part of what little history he had outside of the X-Men alone. For all intents and purposes, though, as far as I know he is a Canadian citizen.

Logan’s mutant power is a healing factor that allows him to survive the worst wounds – up to and including nuclear explosions – and is constantly regenerating his flesh. A side benefit of this is his enhanced, almost animal, senses. He can hear, see, and smell as well as the animal he uses for a codename. His healing factor is also the reason for his longevity, not to mention his apparent “youth.” After all, he does not look like a man who has lived two hundred plus years, now does he?

One other thing Wolverine’s mutant power has given him is a set of three bone claws in each forearm. These claws extend from his forearms and slide out of the skin on the back of his hands, locking into place just above his knuckles. His skin has to heal closed every time he retracts these claws.

Subjected to an experiment at some point in his past, Wolverine’s skeleton was coated with adamantium, a fictional metal in the Marvel Universe which is heavy but as durable as vibranium, the metal which was used to make Cap’s shield. (Interestingly, Cap’s shield was originally made from an experimental mixture of vibranium and adamantium; recent re-writes have made it a purely vibranium weapon.) This is why Wolverine’s claws appear to be made of metal; they are bone coated in metal.

Wolverine’s metal skeleton adds to his near immortality. The guy is extremely hard to kill, but he has come to the brink of death more often than even Rocket Raccoon. Like Rocket, he does not enjoy pain and has to psych himself up to take extreme punishment in battle; the adamantium in his body should also kill him, as so much metal in the body is toxic to a normal human.

But once again, Wolverine’s healing factor keeps him alive despite the metal bonded to his bones (which makes him weigh a lot more than he should and makes it hard for him to swim, not to mention the trouble he would have going through metal detectors).

Sometime after the experiment which gave him his metal skeleton, Wolverine’s memories were wiped from his mind. He can – or could – only recall fragments of his former life, one of which was the moniker “Logan.” Always a tough guy, the fact that he could not remember anything about himself and the fact that he regularly survives things which should kill him, makes Wolverine an unhappy guy you do NOT want to irritate to the point of anger. He has a temper to at least match the Hulk’s lowest anger level – and no one knows just how low Hulk’s rage can go.

Wolverine snarls, growls, and is prone to animal, berserker rages when he is incensed or the pain – physical, mental, or emotional – becomes too much for him. He is hard to get close to but he is not above being gentle; Wolverine has mentored at least three girls in his tenure as an X-Man.

Honestly, I think Wolverine’s penchant for being gentle toward these girls, as well as his never-leave-a-friend-behind sense of honor and loyalty, are what endeared him to me. It is too bad he is so often shown slashing and hacking people to bits in the films; I know he is capable of doing it and has done it in the comics, but it was always a side of himself that he hated and tried to suppress, or at least control. That said, Wolverine is definitely an X-Man you can trust to watch your back. He will growl and snarl about it, but he will not just let someone die. This is the Wolverine I know – or knew, rather.

 

Ororo Munroe/Storm: I thought Storm was one of the coolest members of the X-Men. Born in Cairo to a Kenyan princess and an American photographer, Storm was orphaned at the age of four when her parents’ apartment building was accidentally bombed. Trapped in the rubble for days afterward, Storm’s greatest weakness is her claustrophobia. She is terrified of small spaces and will either collapse as her fear overwhelms her or try to bust her way out of her enclosure.

Storm’s powers manifested when she was roughly thirteen years old. She can manipulate weather patterns, a power known as “weather warping,” in order to generate storms of all kinds, high winds, tornadoes, rain, and she can even cast lightning bolts out of a clear sky. By this method she can also move weather patterns around enough to ensure clear skies for a day or two, though she does not do this very often, as far as I know.

Unlike Thor, who can make new weather patterns out of thin air, Storm is only a “weather witch.” She needs existing weather patterns to generate her storms, and if she pulls too much moisture from one area or too much dry air from another, she can upset the balance of the weather in a region for months, if not longer.

Storm’s powers are closely linked to her emotional state. If greatly angered or frightened, the weather quickly turns wild as she starts whipping up storms, often without clear intention. When trapped in a small space, Storm will unleash her powers in order to blast her way into the open again. If that does not work, she collapses and becomes weak, unable to take being confined as she was when she was a child.

In order to keep her powers under control, Storm is often the center of calm in battles of will among the X-Men. This adds to her regal bearing and motherly tendencies. I cannot recall one X-Man who has ever been afraid to go to Storm about a problem. She is always willing to talk, listen, or be a motherly figure to one of the younger X-Men.

That being said, Storm has the temper Jean Grey so conspicuously lacks. She is not averse to telling someone off for bad behavior – even Wolverine has received lectures from her! And if Storm witnesses an injustice or an act of evil, she will act to correct it – immediately. The more severe the act of evil, the more likely she is to react with extreme prejudice. She is not a lady you want to cross!

 

Remy LeBeau/Gambit: A former thief from Louisiana, Gambit is a great hand at cards. He’s an even better flirt, able and willing to charm the ladies in a heartbeat (think Fandral, but with a Cajun accent and dark brown hair). How Gambit came to be an X-Man I am not sure. But at some point, he met the X-Men and decided he liked them better than thieving. So he joined the team and became one of its most valuable members.

Gambit’s power is the ability to charge any object with kinetic energy.   Gambit’s power accelerates an object’s molecules so that they are going as fast as they can go. As long as he holds the object, everything’s fine. But once he releases it – BOOM! The object will explode, and the bigger the object, the bigger the explosion.

Gambit’s trademark weapons are a thin staff he can use to channel his ability and decks of playing cards. (Hey, he didn’t get the name “Gambit” for nothing!) The cards are what he uses most, charging and throwing them like grenades. They make remarkably high-yield explosives; Gambit has blasted down doors, vehicles, and numerous other objects with his cards.

When he uses them against people, Gambit generally lessens the explosive impact of his “grenades.” At least, I have never seen him blow someone up and turn them into a pile of ash. Knock them down, stun them, yes, but I have never seen him kill anyone, which is one of the reasons why I am so upset at Marvel’s writers (see my post “Poker: Gambit Style” for more on that).

Gambit is a thief and a scamp, but at the end of the day, he is an honorable man who will do the right thing – with his own style and flair, mind you!

 

Anna Marie/Rogue: Growing up, I had four favorite X-Men: Storm, Wolverine, Gambit, and Rogue. I did not know a lot about Rogue there for a while – I was really young when I started watching the X-Men, so a lot of stuff flew over my head – but there were a few apparently “obvious” things about her. She was a Southern Belle who could fly, was nearly indestructible, and could hit with the force of a freight train.

Only, those are not actually Rogue’s natural mutant abilities. She stole them from Carol Danvers, who in the 1990s still went by the moniker Miss Marvel. Miss Marvel ended up with Kree DNA in her system and, as a result, gained the above abilities (as well as a few others). Donning a costume, she became the heroine and part-time Avenger Miss Marvel (in the comics, she worked with the X-Men on occasion and was good friends with Wolverine).

Rogue’s actual mutant ability is far more deadly. When she makes skin contact with a person, Rogue absorbs their memories, abilities, and a portion of their psyches. Mostly, this is described as a “life-force” draining ability. I have always preferred to think that her power makes her something like a human computer. Other people are the CDs, discs, or “documents” to her; she touches them and sort of “downloads” their files.

The longer Rogue keeps skin contact with a person, the more she drains off. A light touch knocks someone out for a few hours, maybe a day; a longer one, several days. If she does not let go, odds are good the person she touched will end up in a coma – or dead.

Rogue first discovered her power when it manifested. She and her boyfriend were having their first kiss and suddenly he passed out. He was in a coma for a few days, but eventually recovered (according to the TV series, the comics have a different take, I think). But Rogue did not recover. She still had a “copy” of his mind in her head; what is more, anyone else she touched got “downloaded” into her head as well.

So she ran away from home and was found by the mutant villain Mystique who, learning about what Rogue could do, took her in and trained her to use her powers…but this was in order that Rogue might be used to aid Mystique in all her plots and schemes, one of which landed Rogue in a fight with Carol Danvers.

During the fight, the two made skin contact. Rogue tried to break free when Danvers’ overwhelming power and anger scared her but Danvers, her Kree DNA whipping her into a fury, did not let go until she passed out. Whereupon Rogue discovered she had absorbed a good portion of Danvers’ powers. Instead of fading away, like all the other powers and talents Rogue had absorbed previously (the powers she absorbs never stay for more than a few days), Danvers powers appeared to be hers for keeps.

Unfortunately, so was a good portion of Carol Danvers’ mind. Danvers’ body remained in a coma but her psyche was largely trapped in Rogue’s mind for years. The separation made Danvers a little loopy (in the cartoon series); she would furiously “attack” Rogue or take control of her. Rogue had learned to deal with the copies of other people’s minds in her head; they eventually faded to phantoms she could barely hear. They had no control over her. Danvers did not fade, and she could take control of Rogue, and Mystique both could not and would not help Rogue get her out of her mind.

At the same time, Rogue began to break down as she realized just what she had done to Danvers. Stealing the woman’s powers was one thing, but she had also locked Danvers in her own mind and body, leaving Danvers’ real body in a coma. She had practically committed murder.

The remorse was too much, and – coupled with the fact that Mystique wanted her to go on using her absorbing powers – drove Rogue to run away again. She ended up with the X-Men, using her actual powers only when the team needed information or it was necessary to help others. For the most part, she relied instead on Danvers’ powers. As a footnote, it is largely because of Rogue that Gambit joined the team. Used to stealing, Gambit was unprepared when a thief named Rogue stole his heart.

 

Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler: A mutant from Germany, Kurt’s mutation is one of those “Hi, I’m a mutant!” gifts. From the time he was born, Kurt has had two toes on each foot, two fingers and a thumb on each hand, a tail, blue fur/skin, yellow eyes, and pointy ears. His overall appearance makes him look like a demon, and so he was persecuted for many years for his appearance.

But his “terrifying” features did not dissuade a German couple from adopting him after they found him practically out in the middle of nowhere. Kurt’s mother abandoned him after he was born, as she was accused of having a “demonic” child. It was years before he knew who she was; as far as I know, he never has tried to find his father.

Kurt’s appearance has ever been at odds with his personality. Instead of being dark and broody, Kurt is often the sunshine on the team. He cracks jokes, smiles, laughs, teases, all with the aim of cheering up his teammates and friends. He has often been called “swashbuckling” and is a very chivalrous, kindhearted fellow. Although beat up, mocked, and screamed at by everyone but his adopted parents as he grew up, Kurt is one of those rare people who turned out just fine despite the persecution he underwent.

His mutation’s physical effects are obvious, but Kurt’s mutant power is not. He is a teleporter who can disappear and reappear up to two miles from his particular position – but only so long as he can clearly visualize where he is going. Otherwise, things get complicated. His ability takes him through another dimension at the speed of, well, thought I guess. Going through and coming back means he leaves behind a puff of smoke and there is usually a “bamf!” sound as air fills the place he left behind.

Nightcrawler’s body is also perfectly formed so that he can almost instinctively pull off gymnastic and contortionist tricks. In a battle, Nightcrawler will often teleport around an opponent (it is not hard for him to teleport short distances), striking and disappearing before his enemy has time to catch him.

As things turn out, Rogue is Kurt’s adopted sister. Mystique is Kurt’s birth mother, and because of his obvious resemblance to her and his also obvious inability to hide his mutation, as she can, she felt she had no choice but to abandon him.

Despite all this heartache, however, ‘Crawler has remained one of the X-Men most loyal to Professor X’s dream of peace between mutants and humans. He is well liked by most every other hero and heroine in the Marvel Universe (including Wolverine), and the fans are not far behind those heroes. I have to say, Nightcrawler never struck me as very demonic-looking. Maybe the first time I saw him, but not after I got to know him. I still wonder how people in the comics and cartoons see him and shout, “Demon!” Or, just as bad, “Monster!”

Tsk, tsk. Don’t judge a book by its cover, people!

 

Peter Rasputin/Colossus: A big farmboy from Soviet Russia, Peter Rasputin is a warrior only because he needs to be. An expert painter, Colossus is said to have a “poet’s soul,” and despite being six feet five (or more) inches tall, Peter is generally a gentle giant.

But get him angry at your own peril. Colossus’ mutant power is to turn his skin into an organic metal. Metal “plates” will suddenly start appearing on his body when he activates his power. Soon, from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, he is entirely made of metal. Depending on the TV series you find him in, Colossus can be laconic or open, friendly, and willing to talk. For the most part, in the comics he was an easy, charming, innocent fella who had a knack for walking smack into trouble.

He is loyal to a fault and kind to the point that he is often easily taken advantage of. But he is an X-Man through and through.

 

Katherine “Kitty” Pryde/Shadowcat: A Chicago girl, “Kitty” Pryde was inducted into the X-Men at twelve or thirteen years old, after her powers manifested.

What is her power? Kitty can destabilize her molecules so that she can pass through solid objects. Called “phasing” by everyone in the Marvel Universe, she essentially becomes insubstantial. In this state she can walk through walls, bullets, or even opponents, all without coming to harm.

Her power can also be used offensively. Although I cannot recall her using her power to internally hurt people, Kitty can phase into a person, turn a part of her body solid, and whack her opponent wherever she can reach. I am not sure just how she does it, but she uses a similar trick to fry computers and other machinery. This either leaves the tech sparking and useless or preps it to blow up. If she concentrates, when she is holding on to someone or something, she can “phase” the other person or object through solid walls – or bullets – as well as herself.

Kitty has learned a great deal since she entered the X-Men. She is one of their top fighters, has excellent leadership skills, and is quite capable of taking care of herself. But that has not stopped her from being a friendly, open lady who follows in the footsteps of her “battle mother,” Storm. The two kind of adopted each other in their years as X-Men; Storm still occasionally refers to Shadowcat as “Kitten,” a play on her childhood nickname “Kitty.”

She is one of several heroes who went through a number of codenames before settling on one. In her case, the codename she stuck with is “Shadowcat.”

 

Warren Worthington III/Angel: The Tony Stark of the X-Men, Warren is a typical rich gentleman. He has the looks, the money, the charm, the manners, and the heart-throbbing smile of a knight errant. As well as a pair of six foot or so long wings which he was literally born with.

These white-feathered appendages gave Warren’s parents no end of headaches. Being a well-to-do family (Warren has his own private jet!), they could not exactly let the whole world know their son had wings! Can you imagine the tabloid headlines on that, I ask you?

So they spent most of his youth making sure Warren’s wings were well hidden. I cannot say how Warren feels/felt toward his parents; they loved him just fine, it was his wings they had a problem with. Anyway, Warren was eventually recruited to be one of the first X-Men by Professor Xavier, and he made a dashing addition to the team.

But, even more so than Tony Stark, Marvel’s writers put Warren through the wringer. In one battle, Warren’s wings were seriously damaged. His father had them amputated, both to save his son’s life and to get rid of those troublesome appendages once and for all. Distraught, Angel tried everything he could to regain his wings. When that did not work, he considered jumping off a building instead.

Archangel

But one of the X-Men’s worst enemies got hold of him before he could do that and gave him what he wanted so badly, a new set of wings, made of metal and capable of shooting out knife-like “feathers.”

The new wings, though, came at a terrible price. Angel, now called Archangel, was enslaved to the man who had given him his wings and was subsequently further altered. He now has blue skin and deals with a “dark side” this enemy programmed into him; though he has control of it by and large, he is not the debonair knight errant with the kind heart that he used to be. I can’t think of him without feeling sincerely sorry for him.

 

Henry “Hank” McCoy/Beast: A scientist and lover of Shakespeare’s works, Hank McCoy’s mutation was not very noticeable for a good portion of his life. Early on, he just looked like a meaty, muscled, ape-framed fella who had a nice face and the keen mind of a scholar. He was a great football player, too.

Beast had all the strength and agility of the ape he physically resembled – that was his mutant ability. But after a while, Beast got tired of being a mutant. He wanted to be a normal man. So he whipped up a serum which was supposed to get rid of his mutant abilities.

Only, the serum backfired. Big time. Instead of losing his mutant powers, Beast accidentally increased them. He grew blue fur, fangs, his senses of hearing, smell, and sight increased – and he gained, for the first time, animal instincts. As well as a new, animalistic fury that can nearly match Wolverine’s berserker rage.

That is the Beast from the comics and some of the newer cartoons. The Beast I knew in the 1990s cartoons certainly looked the part, but he rarely went into an animal rage. Mostly, he was the calm, philosophical scientist who quoted Shakespeare as he knocked a couple of helmeted goons’ heads together.

When he is not in a temper, Beast is as kind and friendly as he was before he took the serum. Unable to lead a perfectly normal life anymore, he stays at the X-Men’s headquarters when not involved in a mission or a battle. He is an amazing teacher and most everybody on the team, even Wolverine, respects and likes him. Unofficially, he is also considered to be one of the smartest guys in the Marvel Universe, just below the “three smartest” heroes and villains in Marvel history. (Interestingly, he briefly served as an Avenger and was trained in hand-to-hand combat by Captain America.)

 

Robert “Bobby” Drake/Iceman: Bobby was in his mid-teens when the Professor recruited him to be one of his first X-Men. Iceman gets his name from his mutant power: he can freeze moisture in the air to form snow or ice. He most often makes ice, covering himself in a thick layer of it as extra armor. Thus Iceman is, obviously, as immune to the cold as Loki.

Iceman also learned to make Hot Wheels type “ice tracks” which he uses to get around. If I had to compare him to another Marvel character, I would say he is probably a lot like Spider-Man. He makes wisecracks, is usually genial, and started out as one of the greenest rookies on record. But he is a tough opponent to beat, even if his enemy has heat powers to challenge his cold, and is a fairly able commander.

 

Jubilation “Jubilee” Lee: Jubilee was the youngest member of the X-Men in the 1990s cartoon. A California girl who was taken in by foster parents, Jubilee’s powers manifested not long after she moved into her new home. She has the ability to shoot streamers of plasma from her hands (I always thought she shot fireworks out of her fingers). The plasma stings, apparently, and can wreck machines even better than Kitty can.

Lost and confused after her powers manifested, Jubilee fell in with the X-Men and, even after a misunderstanding that saw her shoot Wolverine in the back, managed to become part of the team. And odd as it may seem, Wolverine took her under his wing not long after; for most of the series, the two were virtually inseparable.

WHEW! I am wiped, readers! I think you are probably as tired as I am. I am going to sign off now, then come back with a second post detailing the X-Men’s main enemies. I will try to make that list shorter, but I cannot guarantee anything.

See ya around!

The Mithril Guardian

The Purpose of Heroes

Assemble!

Hello, Marvel Writers!

      “A man needs heroes.  He needs to believe in strength, nobility, and courage.  Otherwise we become sheep to be herded to the slaughterhouse of death.  I believe this.  I am a soldier.  I try to fight for the right cause.  Sometimes it is not easy to know.

      “But I do not sit back and sneer in cowardice at those with the courage to fight.  The blood of good men makes the earth rich, as it is here.  When I die sword in hand, I hope someone lives to sing of it.  I live my life so that when death comes I may die well.  I ask no more.”

Sackett’s Land by Louis L’Amour

So wrote Louis L’Amour, best known perhaps for his novels of the Old West such as Hondo, Last Stand at Papago Wells, The Quick and the Dead, The Californios, and numerous others.

Stan Lee started something great when he penned the first Fantastic Four comic book.  He gave readers a glimpse of a universe with heroes, human in that they had flaws and foibles, but magnificent in how they rose above those things when necessity demanded their utmost in courage.

They had, and have, tempers.  They got and get sick, they broke and still break bones, and they retired and still retire (at least for a time) when they were and are emotionally drained.  And yes, they made and continue to make mistakes.  They fought and still fight with each other as much as with their enemies.

But despite all that, they were still heroes.  That’s why people continue to read about their adventures; why they go in droves to view the movies at the theaters.  If these flawed, breakable people can stand up to an evil, no matter the pain they’re in, no matter how tired they are, and say, “No.” – then why can’t we, the fans, do the same?

Yes, Iron Man, Cap, and most definitely Thor, are not real.  No one is going to be walking down Fifth Avenue and have to jump out of the way of a battling Yellowjacket and Ultron.  But what if one of us readers or viewers someday ends up with a choice between helping someone or saving ourselves in a crisis?  What role model will we have to steady us as we say, “No, I will do what is right.  I will help.”

Not all of us have great real life role models.  There are many fortunate people who do, but what about those who don’t?  What are they going to have to inspire them?  The answer is heroes.  Even if they are fictional – and there is no shortage of them inside or outside of comics and theaters – they are characters we can relate to more strongly than we can relate to actual flesh and blood people from time to time, especially in hazardous situations.

I’ve already listed several of the Marvel characters whose behavior of late has been less than inspiring.  None of it sounds particularly heroic when compared with earlier Marvel stories, does it?  So far Captain America has been the only hero to stay anywhere near heroic on and off the battlefield.

But how much longer is that going to last?  He’s already been ‘killed’ once, and he has been changed into at least three different animals in the same number of stories: a wolf, a tyrannosaurus rex, and don’t get me started on the incident where he ended up a spider.  That plot line was absolutely and completely disgusting.

How long can this go on?  How long will readers pay to read comics that spin their wheels in amoral mud?  And if the movies become as depressing as the comics, only the television shows will remain.  How long will it be before those are gone as well?

What I’m trying to say, fellow writers, is that people don’t need stories by ‘artists.’  It’s nice, and they’re great reads.  However, art usually comes about when the author isn’t striving for it, but for story and character.  Moreover, readers don’t want ‘stories’ that ‘delve into the human psyche.’  Psychologists are available if people want a psych evaluation.

What readers and viewers want – and what they need – are good stories well told with heroes who espouse morality and great ideals.  That’s all they want.

And unfortunately, my friends, right now we’re not getting it.

Sincerely,

Mithril (A Troubled and Frustrated True Believer)

Cyclops and Wolverine

Cyclops and Wolverine

Hello, Marvel Writers!

Round Five, people!  This time we go over to X-Men characters Cyclops and Wolverine.  So let’s start with the obvious question: why have these two polar opposites been switched?

Cyclops has, recently, been turning from stalwart leader (or ‘teacher’s pet’ in Logan’s book) to mass murderer on a scale that would make Magneto cheer and dance.  Meanwhile, Wolverine has exchanged most of his berserker temper for the chance to be a principled leader of the X-Men.  Until he deems it necessary to finally take someone down, that is; something he only does in private.

What, exactly, did I miss?

Wolverine was never this gentle except to girls (Shadowcat, Rogue, and Jubilee, for starters).  In the case of the latter two youngsters, this was because he empathized with their tortured or lost emotional states; while Shadowcat needed a strong man she could relate to almost as a fighting father-figure (she already had the female equivalent with Storm).  At the same time, all three girls gave Wolvie an extra purpose to keep fighting: a young innocent to protect at all costs so they wouldn’t end up like him, dead, or worse than dead.

Cyclops’s job was to get the plan ready and execute it, all the while staying true to the principles of Professor X.  He was the young King Arthur to Professor X’s Merlin; he listened, did what he was told, and everything got accomplished in (almost) the right way.  It was no picnic, to be sure, but it was the right thing to do.  To help keep him on the straight and narrow was Jean Grey, his Queen Guinevere who was loved by Wolverine but, unlike Arthur’s wife, stayed true to her love (when her mind wasn’t being manipulated or something of that sort).

Now the positions have been reversed: Cyclops has exchanged Professor X’s teaching for the speeches and ‘grand’ gestures of Magneto while Wolverine has suddenly straightened up and keeps his claws sheathed until necessity demands they be bared.

Why?

It seems that Jean Grey’s inexplicably permanent death (at least in the ‘present’ time of the recent comics) is the root of this change.  On top of that, with the Professor’s sudden loss of direction in his teaching and without Jean to hold him straight, Cyclops is being dunked into his baser nature – and wallowing in it.

Yet Jean’s ‘death’ has had the opposite effect on her clawed knight.  Instead of reverting to his brutish tendencies as he has in the past when she ‘died’, Wolverine has decided to become civilized and adhere to the Professor’s original statutes; at least until such time as his animal rage needs to be unleashed to stop a villain permanently (or as permanently as it has ever been in the comics).

While Jean Grey and Scott Summers have never been favorites of mine, they have been two of the strongest pillars in the X-Men comics, keeping the team on the path of right and forbidding them to go wrong.  Without that support, the X-Men have begun to deteriorate.  Already the team is split: half of the team is firmly entrenched behind Wolverine on the unsteady ethical high ground while the other half blindly follows Cyclops into the moral sewers.  Others can’t make up their mind and spend their time bouncing between both factions while ‘trying’ to do the right thing when they’re not being stretched by opposing loyalties.  It’s total chaos.

The X-Men were a great story because they stood on the principles of right; not only facing evil mutants but a world that would largely be ruled by people in power who had a hatred of them for simply being born different.  Despite saving the world a thousand times in a thousand different ways, there would be people who remained committed to their destruction, just as there would remain villains bent on conquering the planet.  They knew that, and no matter how hard it was going to be to deal with this double hatred, they weren’t going to abandon their post.  That was what made the X-Men strong.

And that, fellow writers, is what has been lost through the latest events in the X-Men comics and Avengers vs. X-Men.

Sincerely,

Mithril (A Troubled True Believer)