Author: Corey Blake

Corey Blake does things on the Internet, and sometimes even in real life.

(Re-)Reading Uncanny X-Men: Lifedeath and Other Tales

My epic (re-)reading of Uncanny X-Men continues. The “re-” part of that is in parentheses because some issues I’ve read before, and some are brand new to me. I’ve never read through the entire series, and this is my attempt to do so, from 1963 until… Well, I’m not sure how far yet but at least until the first volume of Uncanny X-Men ended in 2011.

Click here for all my past installments, starting with the most recent. I actually started writing about this on social media, so you’ll notice that the oldest installment doesn’t go all the way back to the first issue of Uncanny X-Men. Eventually, I may go back and fill in the gaps. But for now…onward!

This batch of stories includes Uncanny X-Men #181-188, issues that were originally published with cover dates through the second half of 1984.

The last batch ended with the majority of the X-Men vanishing to participate in the original Secret Wars event. I won’t be covering that mini-series in this read-through, as I’m trying to avoid spin-offs and crossovers unless they directly include the main Uncanny X-Men series. After all, I’m kind of slow at this and I’d like to try to wrap this up before I die.


Uncanny X-Men #181 “Tokyo Story” by Chris Claremont and John Romita, Jr.

Writer Chris Claremont and artist John Romita, Jr., continue their run together. This set of stories really build up nicely with a few plot threads drawn together into a pretty decent climax. There are some pretty solid emotional beats as well, so while I wouldn’t put it on the level of the Brood Saga or Byrne-era X-Men, the series is really humming along nicely during this period. There’s also one issue with guest artist Barry Windsor-Smith, which is gorgeous.

This is the arc where Rogue is first completely overtaken by the suppressed personality of Carol Danvers, Storm loses her powers, Rachel Summers and Forge are introduced, and Colossus and Kitty Pryde break up. The first two and Forge’s introduction are pretty closely connected. All of these things will have long-lasting effects to the characters, some for decades.

Rogue’s fretting over her uncontrollable powers, which absorb powers and memories from those she touches, will eventually become somewhat tiresome. But here it’s still very fresh, and the way we see her shift to Carol Danvers, without really realizing that’s what’s going on, is done really well here. I thought the unsettling reveal in particular was excellent. She essentially kidnaps Michael Rossi in trying to rescue him from an undercover mission gone wrong, thinking that she’s reuniting with an old boyfriend, but he’s never seen her before. The whole issue is pretty heartbreaking and one of the strongest in this period.

That story leads into the government going after Rogue with a weapon designed by a new character named Forge. The weapon detects aliens and mutants (basically, anyone not a normal human) and takes away their powers. Forge himself is a mutant (vague inventing powers), so initially this seems strange that he would betray his own people. But there are two things that clarify this. One is that the weapon was commissioned by the government and designed with the Dire Wraiths in mind, not mutants. The Dire Wraiths are an invading alien race that has been disguising itself as humans (a premise that will be used a few decades later in the Secret Invasion event, although with a much different execution). These creatures are the primary antagonists of the comic book series Rom, so it’s a little random to suddenly see them referenced here so prominently when the two books haven’t had that much of a connection until now. But both books exist in the Marvel Universe, so it’s not completely out of left field. The second aspect that clarifies Forge’s position is that he is actually quite ambivalent, even apathetic, about his own people. Or at least, he initially presents himself that way. Forge is Native American, and an early scene catches the end of a tense conversation with his former mentor Naze. Apparently Forge is neglecting his duties with their tribe, and Forge basically makes it clear that he doesn’t care and has rejected that life. While it’s specifically about his Native American tribe, and foreshadowing some demonic/magic shenanigans that show up soon, it’s also indicative of his initial disinterest in “his kind,” whether it’s Native American or mutant. But once he discovers that the new weapon he just handed over is instead going to be used to bring in Rogue, he suddenly seems to care a lot more.


Uncanny X-Men #186 “Lifedeath: A Love Story” by Chris Claremont and Barry Windsor-Smith

Unfortunately, Storm is the one that gets hit by the weapon. Forge is able to bring her back to his place to try to help her. This is the issue that’s drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith, and it’s such a fantastic character study. There are wonderful quiet moments, as the two characters awkwardly navigate each other and maybe even start to fall for each other. Both are rather stoic characters, and they both find ways to chip away the other’s walls. It’s a beautiful issue that ends with Storm rejecting Forge once she finds out his involvement with the government-sponsored weapon that stole her powers. I’m guessing that Barry Windsor-Smith had plot input because in the very next issue, Storm literally turns around and heads back to help Forge against a raid from the Dire Wraiths. Maybe this turnaround was planned but it felt like a betrayal of the previous issue’s ending that felt very much earned.

The break-up of Colossus and Kitty was also sad because it was so unnecessary. Last time, Peter was starting to get jealous of Kitty’s friendship with Doug Ramsey because they were closer in age and could connect about computer geek stuff. Then Peter and the rest of the X-Men were zapped off to another planet for Secret Wars, where he met this alien woman who had healing powers. The two fell in love as she helped him heal from near-fatal wounds. Then she ended up dying saving his life. So, yeah, pretty intense whirlwind relationship. Kitty takes it pretty hard, which is understandable for a 14-year-old having what I assume is her first heartbreak. Wolverine and Nightcrawler take Peter out to a local bar to really give him a hard time over dumping Kitty. Of course, it just so happens that the Juggernaut is hanging out in the bar too, and naturally a big fight happens. It’s pretty clear that Peter really lost some points with Wolverine. It’s probably the first time that Peter doesn’t come off as a genuinely decent guy. He thinks he’s doing the right thing, but he screwed up, and the implication is that it could harm the trust among the team. Allegedly, the break-up was editorially mandated because Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter didn’t like the idea of a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old dating. Peter might even be 19 at this point. So, yeah. I can see that. Kitty leaves during this arc to join Wolverine in a mini-series that I will not be reading now. Apparently that’s where she gains some fighting abilities training with Logan and officially takes on the name Shadowcat.

Finally, we have the introduction of Rachel Summers, the future daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey that we saw in the Days of Future Past two-parter. So yes, technically more of a re-introduction. The timing of this is interesting because during these issues, Senator Kelly begins proposing anti-mutant legislation, again hinting at the dystopian future glimpsed in Days of Future Past that will haunt this series for a long time to come. Rachel soon discovers contradictions in the history she knows, and concludes that the past she traveled back to is not her past. She comes into conflict with Selene, who will become a recurring villain for a while. Rachel has never resonated with me, she always seemed a bit dry as a character. But I definitely warmed up to her more here as she’s finding her way.

This set of issues also includes a running subplot of Professor Xavier being more active as the leader on missions, now that he’s able to walk again. Storm, who’s previously been in charge on missions for some time now, tries not to step on his toes. Government intrigue takes more center stage during this time too. Senator Kelly grows more as a threat, and Val Cooper becomes more prominent. She is initially pretty staunchly anti-mutant, but an encounter with Rogue opens her eyes more. Mystique also continues her undercover work in her guise of Raven Darkholme. In fact, Forge is her contact, and she brings Val to him to pick up the weapon, which then gets grabbed by another agent, Henry Peter Gyrich, to bring in Rogue. Raven, who of course had been Rogue’s adopted mother, flips out over this but she feels trapped by her undercover role to stop it. So instead she goes back to Forge to get him to interfere.

The interconnectedness of everyone just continues to get more convoluted but in reading the stories, it doesn’t weigh the book down yet. It just feels like a very flushed out and realized world where different people have different relationships with other people. So yeah, good stuff!

(Re-)Reading Uncanny X-Men: Decisions, Sanction and Other Tales

Yes, I’m still here and I’m still reading every issue of Uncanny X-Men. At least, the first volume, anyway. Haven’t decided yet if I’ll continue on when the series got relaunched in 2012. Maybe. We’ll see. I’m only up to 1984, so I don’t have to worry about that right now.

I’ve created a (Re-)Reading Comics category, so you can find all the previous installments in one place, in case you missed any.

This batch of issues, Uncanny X-Men #176-180, covers the immediate aftermath of the marriage of Scott Summers and Madelyne Pryor, and goes up to the team’s disappearance for Marvel’s first big crossover event, Secret Wars.

This also starts artist John Romita, Jr.’s proper run on the series, following a rushed epilogue in the previous issue. He’d been the regular artist for Iron Man and Amazing Spider-Man before this, and continued to be the main artist on both Amazing Spider-Man and Uncanny X-Men for months. Nowadays, almost no one does more than one book a month, so the idea of someone doing two monthly books, and those two books being Marvel’s two biggest franchises at the time, is astounding (as well as amazing and uncanny).

John Romita, Jr. is the son of Marvel stalwart John Romita, who himself had been the regular artist on Amazing Spider-Man for years following the departure of Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko. Romita Sr. defined the new look for Spider-Man that really catapulted the book to new heights. Handing the reins over to his son may seem a bit like nepotism on paper, but fortunately Romita, Jr. is a solid artist completely qualified for the job(s). As time goes on, he develops a striking style of his own, but here he’s still in the Marvel house style established by his father and peers, more or less. While maybe not daring or experimental, it’s clear and effective storytelling.

Meanwhile, writer Chris Claremont was approaching his ninth year on Uncanny X-Men. Nowadays that’s unheard of, but even in the ’70s and ’80s that was impressive. We’re not even halfway through his first run on Uncanny X-Men! Earlier in his career, he had written Iron Fist, Spider-Woman, Ms. Marvel and Marvel Team-Up, among other books throughout the Marvel Universe, but by 1983 and 1984, he was exclusively writing Uncanny X-Men and its various spin-offs, such as the sister title New Mutants and various mini-series projects. It’s probably not coincidental that this is around the time the scripting begins to get more wordy and management of the X-Men property begins to get more dense and convoluted.


John Romita, Jr.’s first Uncanny X-Men cover

Last time, I bemoaned the handling of the Madelyne Pryor mystery, which really felt like the first serious mis-step. The first issue of this batch spotlights Scott and Madelyne on their honeymoon, giving Claremont and team yet another opportunity to finally clean up the ridiculous coincidences and red herrings about Madelyne’s Jean Grey likeness that we keep being told aren’t fishy. That was a little sea pun for you, which I suppose is appropriate due to the (no doubt Jaws-inspired) brush with a shark followed by a superfluous fight with a giant octopus. As a kid, I really thought aquatic menaces were going to be a much bigger problem in my day-to-day life. Of course, this a 1980s super-hero comic, and you can’t go a full issue without some action for the kids, but the fight quota could’ve been handled in one of the cutaway scenes dedicated to furthering subplots. Instead we get fishy fisticuffs. The fight against the elements ends up being much more suspenseful and engaging, and results in a good character-driven decision for Scott to decline his father’s offer of space adventures and settle down with Madelyne, effectively shuffling him off the book. This is at least the second time he’s been written out, and it won’t stick either. But it’s good for now.

The next set of issues brings Mystique and her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants back into the picture. They’re fun recurring villains and make for more exciting battles than the original Brotherhood from the ’60s. The whole ambush ends up being a ruse so that Mystique can sneak in and free her adopted daughter and teammate Rogue. But, she discovers that Rogue left her and joined the X-Men of her own free will. Rogue continues to be the controversial member of the team, despite winning over Wolverine recently. Here we finally hear it from her just how important it is to be with the X-Men, eliminating any lasting doubts about her true motives.

Another subplot is resolved when the Morlocks kidnap Kitty Pryde to make good on her previous promise to the love struck Caliban. She had promised to stay with him forever in exchange for her friend’s freedom, and then waltzed out of his life. The ploy was really an attempt by Callisto to regain leadership of the Morlocks from Storm, which of course fails, but Kitty ultimately agrees to honor her word. Caliban, ever the tragic character, learns that he can never force Kitty to love him, and releases her.

The final issue in this batch finally addresses the changes Storm has been going through in cutting her hair, changing her clothes, and generally being more ruthless (my theory: since being replaced with a flawed duplicate by the space whale in the Brood Saga). They don’t really answer any questions about it, but Storm speaks more directly about it than she had previously, and she and Kitty have a good heart-to-heart about it. The issue ends with a cliffhanger that is continued in New Mutants (which I’ve decided to not read) and the rest of the X-Men getting teleported to another world for the big Secret Wars event (which I also won’t be reading). So it seems as good as any to stop there.

This is kind of a transitional period of the X-Men. Some long simmering sub-plots are finally getting resolved or moved forward. Colossus is feeling jealous over Kitty’s friendship with Doug Ramsey. Professor X finally regains full use of his legs (and even starts joining the X-Men in the field). Nightcrawler’s ties to Mystique are teased again.

It’s a good batch of issues anchored by some good character moments.

Next up: The X-Men return from Secret Wars

(Re-)Reading Uncanny X-Men: From the Ashes

My gigantic reading of every issue of Marvel Comics’ Uncanny X-Men continues!

I’ve made it to the second half of 1983 with issues 169 to 175, and the 20th anniversary of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original creation and debut of the X-Men. Of course, the characters were on hiatus for 5 years in there, but to go from cancellation to being the best-selling Marvel comic book is pretty impressive.

This set of story concludes Paul Smith’s stint as artist, which I was really sad to discover. Having never read the vast majority of his issues, discovering his work has been a delight. He continued to improve and provide clear, graceful, character-driven scenes that really added personality. I really wish he had stayed on longer, but his too-short run remains influential. His cover of Uncanny X-Men #173 was used as the inspiration for a cover by Art Adams for a charity book Marvel produced a few years later. Apparently editor Ann Nocenti specifically requested that the cover be modeled after Smith’s layout and design. This cover was then in turn used for a promotional poster and retailer standee. These images really cemented Art Adams as a superstar artist and the late ’80s/early ’90s look for Wolverine.

John Romita, Jr. takes over on the final 8 pages of issue 175. Apparently those pages were done over a weekend because Smith had left the book over creative differences. I don’t know what the differences were about specifically, but that now makes 2 out of 3 artists that left over creative differences. A pattern seems to be forming. Are the editors pairing writer Chris Claremont with temperamental artists, or is Claremont not playing well with others? Hard to know for sure, likely a combination of both along with other factors, but it’s really a bummer to lose Paul Smith so soon. Nowadays, 10 issues is normal, bordering on a long stint, but in the ’80s, it was expected that creative teams would stay on for years. Romita tried to draw like Smith in those final 8 pages to make the transition somewhat smooth but it’s pretty rough due to the tight turnaround time. A few characters are mis-colored and some are unidentifiable.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This starts off with the introduction of the Morlocks, a misfit society of mutants that live underground in the lower levels of the New York City subway systems. Growing up for me, they always seemed like such an established element of the X-Men mythology, so I was surprised it took this long for them to show up. For some reason, I was sure they were part of John Byrne’s run.

The issue also sees the return of Caliban, who seemed like a throwaway sorta-villain when he showed up two years ago. He’s working with the Morlocks to find them new members but they don’t seem to get along very well mostly because of the Morlock’s leader Callisto, an eye-patched punk who has always looked like some kind of weird, flawed amalgam of Pat Benatar, Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde. She’s kidnapped Angel and wants to marry him. I’m not exactly sure why. I can’t tell if she really expected it to be a binding marriage, or if it was some kind of statement about “pretty mutants” vs. “ugly mutants”. Angel is silent for the entire two-part story, usually unconscious, and is essential a cypher or stand-in. I don’t know if this was an intentional gender-swap of the damsel in distress trope, but I’m going to pretend it is.

The team is outnumbered and overwhelmed, and the only way they can get medical attention to their injured teammates in time is for Callisto to be dethroned as leader of the Morlocks. And of course that is done by a duel to the death. Nightcrawler issues the challenge, but knowing he won’t go through with the “to the death” part, Storm steps in instead despite being one of the injured. In an extreme reversal from the last 13 year of Storm’s deep concern for life, Storm does not hesitate in making the fatal strike. Of course, the Morlocks have a mutant healer in the ranks so Callisto won’t actually die, but it’s made clear she would have.

mohawkstormEver since Storm returned from being reborn through a space whale (a phrase I will never get tired of writing), she has been acting weird. She’s lost her connection with nature, which is causing her powers to go wonky, and apparently it’s also affecting her personality. In the following story, she teams up with former Wolverine lover Yukio, who seems more than a bit crazy, and is inspired to take on a more punk look, complete with mohawk. As startling a redesign as it is for her, it somehow works. Still, there’s a part of me that’s disappointed to see Storm be taken in this direction. Her character needs to go through a challenge or she’ll just stagnate, but the metamorphosis seems too vague. There’s never any reference to the changes she went through during the Brood Saga, that’s my own theory. In-story, she just starts acting tougher and then shows up looking completely different and then everyone carries on. At times, it just feels like she’s being made more Wolverine-like for the sake of making her more cool. I think I’m going to pretend that Storm actually did die in space and the ‘rebirth’ was actually a not-exact, slightly flawed duplicate created by the space whale.

This also features Rogue joining the team. This is the first new X-Man since Kitty Pryde joined in 1980, right after the conclusion of the Dark Phoenix Saga. This is actually a controversial move because Rogue has been a recurring villain since she was introduced in 1981 as a member of Mystique’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. In that first appearance, she permanently stole the powers and memories of Carol Danvers, who after recovering became a supporting character. This was actually an unusual shift as Carol Danvers had starred in her own book as Ms. Marvel for a couple of years and was also a member of the Avengers. Her solo book was written by Chris Claremont at the time of its cancellation, so it’s not terribly surprising that he would take her over to his best-selling book despite her getting de-powered. Still, kind of weird at that time to have a former Avenger as a supporting character for the X-Men. (Although, founding X-Man Beast became an Avenger, so I guess it was evening out the trade?) During the Brood Saga, Carol Danvers gains cosmic powers different from her Ms. Marvel powers and now goes by Binary.

Anyway, Rogue suddenly starts feeling guilty for stealing Carol’s powers and memories, and starts to feel haunted by Carol’s emotions that she absorbed as well. She abruptly flees Mystique and heads straight to Xavier’s mansion. How she knows where the X-Men live isn’t clear – maybe it’s common knowledge? Or maybe it’s due to the mystery man who appears to be influencing her. Either way, Professor Xavier decides that Rogue can stay and announces to everyone else she’s now a full-fledged member. The rest of the team strongly objects, especially Storm who has been in a few fights with Rogue and as the field leader, feels she should have say. Then in a really gigantic coincidence, Carol Danvers decides to pay an out-of-the-blue and unannounced visit to the X-Men, sees Rogue, flips out and a fight ensues. In the end, Xavier’s decision holds, as he makes the point that they defend Wolverine’s position on the team despite his questionable past.

I found this issue really interesting in that the central character, Rogue, doesn’t get much page time. She’s the impetus for a lot, but she’s most often sitting quietly. We know she’s telling the truth about freaking out and not feeling like Mystique can help her, but we don’t really know if she’s truly remorseful and wants to give up her villainous ways. All we really have to go by is Professor Xavier’s word based on his off-panel examination of her. For a few issues, she remains pretty quiet, and understandably uncomfortable around the rest of the team, who have made it all too clear they’re not happy with her presence.

So during much of this, Wolverine was off starring in his first solo title, the 4-issue mini-series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. While tempted, I did not read it. But that’s apparently where Yukio is introduced, and I think where Wolverine proposes to Mariko, who he’s been dating for some time now. The X-Men, along with new recruit Rogue, show up in Japan to attend the wedding of Wolverine and Mariko. But while walking down the aisle, Mariko abruptly cancels the wedding. It’s pretty obvious she’s being mind-controlled because it’s such an about-face. Her change of heart appears to be caused by the same guy who drove Rogue to the X-Men. Paul Smith’s art on the traditional Japanese wedding attire is really nice here.

Meanwhile, Cyclops is getting closer to Madelyne Pryor, who everyone notices looks just like Jean Grey. It’s even discovered that she has no memory of her life before surviving a plane crash where everyone else died except her. And oh yeah the plane crash happened on the exact date of Jean Grey’s death. But you guys, that’s just a coincidence! She’s just a normal person where her entire life makes it seem like she’s the reincarnation of Jean Grey, who became a cosmic entity known for resurrections. Why are you so suspicious? This is totally possible!

What’s particularly frustrating about this is that there is a really good way out of this nonsense just staring at us and it isn’t taken. The mystery guy that manipulated Rogue and Mariko, and probably is at least partially responsible for Storm’s transformation as well, is Mastermind. This is the sleazy guy who tried to seduce and manipulate Jean Grey into being a pawn of the Hellfire Club. It didn’t work out so well, and Jean basically drove him mad. He eventually recovered from the psychic battle but he wanted revenge and set out to basically break the hearts of the X-Men.

So why couldn’t Madelyne Pryor actually not look exactly like Jean Grey but instead just be kind of generally similar looking in that way white people look alike, and Mastermind’s illusions were causing everyone to see her more as an exact match? Why couldn’t Mastermind have basically used Madelyne as a tool, forcing her to forget her life and think she was in that plane crash? She could still have survived the crash even, but maybe not on that exact day? All the ridiculous coincidences would then have been explained as part of Mastermind’s ploy to play with Cyclops’ mind. Madelyne would then get to be her own person, rather than a lookalike forever defined by how much she is or isn’t Jean. Cyclops would then get to finally move on with a new life and a person who isn’t just a Jean Grey proxy.

Or how about Madelyne Pryor doesn’t exist at all, and her entire existence was just a creation of Mastermind? Now Cyclops is really shattered, and he can go off into space with his father Corsair and the Starjammers, an option that kept getting hinted at in the final two issues. It’s obvious Cyclops is getting shuffled off the book one way or another.

But no. Instead, all of the ridiculous questions about her are still in place. And on top of that, they got married. Jeez, way to show up Wolverine, Scott. Way to rub it in. Way to steal his thunder. Still, I think this was the first X-Men wedding, so fun to see.

I was really disappointed with the Madelyne Pryor part of the story, but otherwise these were great. Kitty and Colossus got caught making out in Storm’s attic. Lockheed is still adorable. Nightcrawler didn’t get a whole lot of focus but he’s just fun to look at. Professor X is still struggling at walking with his new cloned body and his space girlfriend is probably going to take off soon. Some really great Paul Smith-choreographed fight scenes (Storm vs. Callisto, Wolverine vs. Silver Samurai). I was tempted to read issue 176 because it’s included in the collected edition of these issues. But the story concluded and there’s a big creative team change-up, so I’d rather stop here.

(Re-)Reading Uncanny X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, Professor X is a Jerk

Thought I was gone, didn’t you? I didn’t quite make it to the end of August, but I’ll keep blogging from time to time.

My epic look back at Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men comic book series continues! For the backstory on what this is, and what has come before, check this out.

This here covers the original graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, as well as issues 168 of Uncanny X-Men. Last time, I decided not to read the spin-off series New Mutants, and mostly I’m going to resist reading peripheral titles unless the story being told in Uncanny X-Men directly crosses over to some other book.

God Loves, Man Kills isn’t a direct crossover, so right away I’m a hypocrite and I’m breaking my own rules. In fact, this graphic novel won’t even be referenced in the main X-Men series for years to come. It doesn’t even exactly fit in anywhere. Kitty Pryde’s code name and costume here contradict how she’s depicted in Uncanny X-Men at the time, but there’s no other time where this cast of characters is living in Xavier’s mansion.

However, it was such a seminal chapter in the development of the franchise, I felt it was too important to skip. It also has a fantastic title.

The Marvel Graphic Novel series were meant to be stand-alone stories aimed at a slightly older reader than the monthly comics. In a sense, it was ahead of its time, as the graphic novel format today is generally aimed at the book store market, instead of the weekly visitors of comic book stores. In the early 1980s, this was still several decades away from being a reality and the infrastructure just didn’t exist to support it. But it was a valiant effort.

Like the main Uncanny X-Men series, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills was written by Chris Clarement (credited here as the more formal Christopher Claremont), with art by Brent Anderson (who also gets a more formal credit, Brent Eric Anderson). Anderson’s name might have been familiar to X-Men readers; he was the artist for the first issue right after John Byrne’s departure in 1981, right before the start of Dave Cockrum’s second stint. He was also the artist for that year’s Uncanny X-Men Annual. But he wasn’t Marvel’s first choice.

Neal Adams was an innovative super-star from the ’60s and ’70s who had saved the X-Men from cancellation in the late ’60s (at least, temporarily; they were cancelled soon after, but they were brought back). By the early ’80s, he’d mostly moved on from the two major publishers Marvel and DC Comics, where he made his name. Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter wooed him back for a special project. It was a great idea to see Neal Adams return to these characters. Several pages were created before Adams left the project because Marvel didn’t produce the type of contract they had verbally agreed to. So with Adams out, Brent Anderson was brought in. Considering Anderson follows the Adams school of cartooning and illustrating, it was a good choice.

After almost 20 years of X-Men, religion was rarely referenced. Only in the last several years was it even referenced at all. Nightcrawler’s belief in God was explicitly established in the Brood Saga stories (as was Wolverine’s agnosticism), and Kitty Pryde’s Jewish heritage, while rarely mentioned by the character, can be seen in the Star of David necklace she always wears. I think Cyclops may have mentioned God in a generic sense in some of his self-pitying monologues. Storm was worshipped as a goddess in a small African village because of her weather-manipulating abilities, and there were a couple other generic tribal religions depicted in the ’60s (South American and Egyptian, I believe). Beyond that, there’s never been a real look at how the mythology of mutants in this world interacts with religion. How does the existence of mutants affect churches and religious institutions in the Marvel Universe. This graphic novel does that.

Of course, this is still superhero comics, so yes there is a para-military group of anti-mutant soldiers being run by what appears to be an evangelical megachurch called the Stryker Crusade. This church is run by Reverand Willaim Stryker, who appears to be somewhat of a reference to the televangelist Jerry Falwell. Stryker spends much of the story excessively quoting the Bible. Not a line or two here or there, but huge blocks of text are quoted. At times, he holds conversations with people where his half of the conversation is just Bible quotes. He is clearly the villain here, a truly despicable man willing to murder his own wife and son. He twists the Bible to support his obsessive bigotry toward mutants. His soldiers are called Purifiers, who kill two mutant children.

This catches the attention of Magneto, who ends up teaming up with the X-Men. Magneto’s involvement is another significant step toward Magneto’s transformation from his clear cut super-villain status from the ’60s to a sympathetic figure conflicted by his past and his ideals.

Professor X is kidnapped along with Cyclops and Storm, which happens a little too easily. Kitty Pryde is almost captured too, and there’s quite the harrowing chase scene. She also phases with another person for the first time.

Through brainwashing and some scifi doohickey modeled after Cerebro, Professor X is going to be used to kill anyone who is a mutant during a highly attended sermon. Of course the X-Men and Magneto bust in, which leads to a pretty chaotic climax.

While Stryker is played heavy-handed, he serves to highlight other characters. In a general sense, we get to see shifting public opinion of mutants and how some religious people see mutants in the context of their belief in God. Not everyone sees it the way Stryker does. Kitty ends up giving a fantastic defense of Nightcrawler and a gripping stand-off ends with a really good unexpected hero. The layout of these pages is particularly good, never once dropping the suspense.

At the very end, Professor X is so shaken by this incident and how he was brainwashed that he considers leaving with Magneto. But at the last moment, he declines the invitation.

ProfXJerkBack to the main series, with issue 168. This opens with the famous “Professor Xavier is a jerk!” line from Kitty Pryde. I’ve seen this image before but never read the issue before. I always imagined that all of the X-Men were there, including Professor X. But she’s just venting to Illyana, who ends up shutting down her tantrum pretty nicely.

Last issue, Professor X made the decision that Kitty would be demoted from the X-Men and moved to his New Mutants class of students. Of course Kitty doesn’t like this because what 14-year-old wants to be taken off the cool adult team and put on the lame kiddie team? Plus, and probably most of all, she doesn’t want to be taken off the team with her crush Peter, who just recently admitted to her that he likes her too. Of course, Kitty eventually proves herself (again) and the Professor agrees to keep her as a full-fledged X-Man.

That cute dragon from the Brood Saga becomes Kitty’s pet or sidekick or something here. It’s clear there’s some intelligence to Lockheed (Kitty names him this, presumably based off the dragon based off the Blackbird jet in her fairy tale she told back in issue 153).

Following the Brood Saga (and the above events of God Loves, Man Kills, if we assume they did occur), everyone is shaken up and needs a little break.

After her weird time in space getting reborn inside that space whale, Storm is having problems reconnecting to Earth’s ecosystem. Her powers kind of turn back on her. This seems to be hinting at big changes ahead for her.

Nightcrawler reunites with his girlfriend/adopted sister (why is everyone OK with this?) and we see a Bamf doll, a cute stuffed animal of Nightcrawler also based off Kitty’s fairy tale. I think it’s the first depiction of one of these.

Wolverine takes off for some alone time in the Canadian Rockies, which leads into an adventure told in the first Wolverine limited series, which I will resist reading now. But that makes spin-off #2 for the X-Men spin-off. It ends up being a big hit and results in a long-running Wolverine on-going series.

Professor X is trying to get used to the clone body he know lives in. Some kind of psychosomatic response is causing his legs to not work as though he’s still paralyzed.

Cyclops goes on a trip to Alaska with his father and brother to meet his grandparents. While on this trip, Cyclops meets Madelyne Pryor, who ends up being a Jean Grey lookalike. This is the start of a can of worms that really sours Cyclops specifically and X-Men in general for a lot of people. I’m trying to stay open-minded, as these two stories were quite good, but I can’t help but think that her arrival is the signal that the peak years for the X-Men are over. I hope I’m wrong. But I suffered through that stupid Locust issue from 1967, so how bad could it get…?

Ran out of day

Must…sleep…must…write… must… multitask…

The Infestation…!


Our apartment is being overrun by weird little moth-type bugs!

I’ve tried reasoning with them. I’ve tried making examples of the bold ones and letting the weaker ones escape to spread the word of my wrath. I’ve tried butchering their families. But none of it matters!

Every day I viciously murder more and the next day more are back.

Sometimes the little moth bugs are wearing police outfits to come arrest me for the crimes I have committed against their kind. Sometime they’re in military outfits. Their efforts are futile but so are my efforts to get rid of them.

This stalemate must end!

How do I defeat them? What is their weakness? When will I be free of their torment? How can I wash the blood of their fallen off my hands?


The Web Space for The Improv Site

Wait, reverse that.

The web site for The Improv Space.

I’ve been performing at this theater, located in Westwood near UCLA, since October 2012 by my count. A few years ago, I offered to help out with the redesign of the website, and I’ve been serving as webmaster ever since. I can’t take full credit for the site because a lot of the overall look was established before I started to help out, and several of us pitch in to update it, but I’m glad to contribute to a really wonderful group.

So if you’re in the Los Angeles area and want to take some classes in how to do improvisational comedy and/or want to be entertained for a night or two or ten, this is a wonderful community with smart and silly players.

We’ve got some classes starting in September with excellent, experienced teachers. You can sign up now.

YOUConventionThere’s a full line-up of stand-up comedy, open mic and jam opportunities, and improv. I perform every Thursday night in the 8:00 hour with The YOU Convention.

GroundControlBefore joining up with The Improv Space, I was part of the Magic Meathands, which incorporated a lot of games and short-form improv into their shows. So it’s been really fun to return to short-form improv with Ground Control, which has a show this Saturday night! That’s going to be a lot of fun! (Fun fact: that fantastic Ground Control logo was designed by the super-talented Kristian Horn.)

And the theater has started a sketch comedy program, and we’re now accepting submissions for writers and performers to help form our first sketch house teams.

So yeah, lots going on in Westwood. Please check out the site and stop by the theater in person. I’d love to see you there.

Trying to Catch Up

Last Sunday, I scheduled most of the week’s blogs in advance. I was so productive and efficient!

Over the last few days, you might’ve noticed that my posts haven’t been going up at the regular time (around 12:30 PM Pacific).

So yeah this is a quick cheat blog to buy me a day and also to remind you that you can still submit a question for me to answer. I love hearing from you!

Hot Rod, You Punk

It only took me 30 years, but what is this nonsense? (Warning: the following is a total geekfest. Proceed at your own risk.)

In 1986, I had been obsessed with the Transformers cartoons and toys since they first debuted two years earlier. As a 10-year-old, that’s a century. On August 8, 1986, The Transformers: The Movie hit theaters. This was a fully-animated feature length film that promised big changes to the toys and TV series. I begged my parents, and my father took me to the movie theaters to go see it.

I remember driving back home trying to figure out how to answer my father’s question of what I thought of the movie. I think I was still in shock. They had killed my hero Optimus Prime. I was stunned. They also killed a bunch of other favorites while introducing a new cast of characters.

It took me a long time to forgive those new characters. I was mad at them because they just couldn’t replace my favorites, especially Optimus Prime. Over the years, I found it in my heart to forgive them and accept them. (Yes, I’m still talking about toys and fictional characters. Why do you ask?)

One of those new characters was named Hot Rod. He was a younger character, a little impetuous, a little rebellious, and a little bit in the way during a crucial battle that caused Optimus Prime’s death, but he meant well. At the end of the movie (30-year-old SPOILER WARNING!), he officially took Optimus Prime’s place as leader of the good guys, and was given the new name Rodimus Prime.

Of course, new toys of these new characters followed. Actually, I don’t know for sure if the movie was released before the toys, but it’s clear they didn’t want to spoil anything on the toy boxes. As was now tradition with the Transformers line, each toy came with a little character bio and power grid explaining their personality and abilities. The power grid portion worked on a scale of 1 to 10 and measured things like strength, intelligence, courage, and skill. To add to the intrigue, the power grids were color coded so that you needed a red plastic thingie from the box of the toy you just bought to read it. Actually, you could usually make it out without the red plastic thingie, but don’t ruin the fun. Called “tech specs,” these mini-character bibles, along with the cartoon episodes, were mined for source material to inspire hours of playtime.

Since I was mad at the characters back in the day, I never got the Hot Rod or Rodimus Prime toys. But a little internet wandering over the weekend led me to a website that has every single tech spec!

It’s been a lot of fun combing through each character, remembering some of the ones I had when I was a kid and learning about others. Every once in a while, the numbers given to a character for their abilities would seem slightly off. Nothing too terrible, but not what I expected. Turns out, the three original jets Starscream, Thundercracker and Skywarp all had their numbers swapped around. Soundwave wasn’t nearly as powerful as I imagined him to be, turns out he’s actually pretty average as giant robots go.

Then I got to Hod Rod. And come on!


This is ridiculous! In case you can’t make it out, he’s basically all tens except for speed (9! For a car!) and courage (7). Averaged out, he basically rates as powerful as Optimus Prime. This is blasphemous! Mind you, this is Hot Rod, before he’s turned into Rodimus Prime. It turns out, Rodimus Prime is the most powerful robot ever.


All tens again, except for nines for speed and firepower!

Just to be clear, on almost all other toys, a 9 for speed is only used in the case for the fastest of jets. 10 shows up for space shuttles and things that go ridiculously fast outside of orbit. Hot Rod turns into a race car. Rodimus Prime turns into a TRUCK! What the entire what?!

Hot Rod was sold as part of the Autobot Cars sub-line of the Transformers. These were medium sized toys when compared to the rest of the Transformers line. Every other character in that line has power levels more in-line with this. They were mid- to high- but not outrageously powerful.

Let’s take a moment to remember that Megatron easily over-powered Hot Rod in The Transformers: The Movie in the midst of a brutal fight with Optimus Prime. At this point in the fight, both characters were near collapse, and then in runs Hot Rod, who immediately gets headlocked by Megatron. According to the above, Hot Rod should’ve been able to take Megatron on his own.

I can begrudgingly accept Rodimus Prime’s levels. He’s the next leader of the Autobots, and despite being a story about giant robots, there is some unexplainable magic to the story where each leader is in some way linked to past leaders. So, I’m fine with Rodimus being more powerful than Optimus. But why bother turning Hot Rod into Rodimus Prime if Hot Rod is already the most amazing robot in the universe? The numbers are so unbalanced from all the other toys, it’s like a fan snuck into Hasbro headquarters and got his own character released. If this wasn’t an official toy, I’d think it was a Mary Sue.

This injustice cannot be allowed to stand! I immediately demand from Hasbro a retraction and apology, plus the release of corrected tech specs for Hot Rod 30 years after the fact. I will accept no excuses, as there is no statute of limitations on fan indignation.

Please watch for my petition.

The Greatest Birthday Playlist Since the Dawn of Playlists and Birthdays

OK, maybe it’s not that good. But I like it.

I play this playlist every time there’s a birthday at the Blake abode. Yesterday was my mother’s birthday, and while she lives in her own abode, I felt it was good timing to share.

I want to add more birthday-themed songs to it, but at the same time I really like how it plays right now. A 16-minute set of shorter songs with comedic relief interspersed among full-length songs to celebrate someone’s life.

Hope you dig it!