Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Like unto a thing of... mind control

So, remember when Claremont used to do Iron Fist? A few years before Chris Claremont and John Byrne would team up for their classic run on Uncanny X-men, they partnered for the last couple of issues of Iron Fist.

It would turn out to be an enjoyable, productive run... Pitting Iron Fist against foes like the Wrecking Crew and even introducing that villain of villains Sabretooth (or Sabre-Tooth as he was called during his first appearance in issue # 13).

Yet, even back then Claremont couldn't help but himself to some mind control.

In the first panel, a mystic crystal is used to cloud the mind of martial artist and lawyer William Hao. Just call it a simple case of Hypnosis: Murder. Iron Fist survives of course.

And then there's this next scene...

"The Jera'ad Al-Din, Halwan... Wednesday, 10 March, 1976".

Its interesting to see a writer use an actual date and time in a comic. Creators usually tend to shy away from it, claiming it would not only date their work, but also cause continuity issues because the characters themselves don't tend to age in real time. But, getting back to the mind control at hand:

Poor Colleen Wing! I guess associates of the Iron Fist just can't catch a break. Colleen was working on a case in the Arabic state of Halwan when she was kidnapped by the criminal mastermind known as Master Khan.

He deemed Colleen a useful asset in his plans to destroy Iron Fist, but only after she had received some... proper conditioning. To provide these services, Khan called upon Angar the Screamer to break her spirit and put Colleen under his command.

Angar did this by, surprise surprise, screaming. His voice causes people to experience illusions and hallucinations with devastating effects to their psyche...

For early Byrne art, heck, for any artist, this is a prime example of creativity in storytelling. Not only is Colleen's decent into madness being shown in all its harrowing detail, the entire scene itself is actually part of the fortress Khan's keeping her captive in.

Sublimely surreal!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Reed is Doom, Doom is Reed, we all mindcontrol together!

Reed Richards and Victor von Doom haven often been considered two sides of the same coin. Not hard to figure why: both are brilliant and gifted scientists, but their different characters ensure that their genius takes them down very different paths. But what if Doom would be a force for good and Reed was the evil madman? Its an interesting notion, one Stan Lee and Jack Kirby tackled wayyyy back in Fantastic Four vol. 1 # 10.

After his most recent defeat, Doctor Doom was lost floating in space where he was picked up by an alien race known as the Ovoids. Doom soon learned the Ovoid were basically immortal thanks to a mental technique that allowed them to switch their minds between bodies. The good Doctor persuaded the Ovoids to teach him this technique as well and as soon as he was back on Earth, Doom switched minds with Mr. Fantastic. As Reed, he devised a scheme that would kill the rest of the FF, but Reed-Doom convinced the others the real tin-plated tyrant was actually Mr. Fantastic and he managed to cast Doom back into his own body. Imagine that: prologue, setup, plot, climax and resolution all within 22 pages? Nowadays getting to the end would cover two tradepaperbacks.

So what does this have to do with Chris Claremont and his pet peeve of mind control? Well... Nothing really, just trying to provide a proper historical perspective. But still, the final mind control story Claremont introduced during his FF-run, starting in issue # 25 does seem at least partially inspired by the old Lee/Kirby tale of mind switcheroo.

By this point, no one had seen Doctor Doom for over two years. He had disappeared at the end of the Heroes Reborn: The Return storyline that launched the current FF-series. So, his return to the Marvel Universe was celebrated in a big way with a series of Claremont-penned DOOM oneshots. The books filled us in on what Doom had been up to. We'll get to that eventually, but in a nutshell: after the heroes left the Earth they'd been on, it became a mess. Doom was the only one left to restore order and so he did. And Doom finally came back in # 25 of Fantastic Four in which Doom showed up with an army and several superpowered beings to confront the Dreaming Celestial.

Alongside the Fantastic Four, Doom and his Generals manage to stop the Dreaming Celestial's evil schemes for both Earth and Counter Earth. But not before the Celestial plays a cruel trick on Reed and Doom. Unbeknownst to everyone, the Celestial casts Doom out of his armor and encases Reed inside it. Talk about a twist you didn't see coming... When the dust clears, everyone believes Doom is still Doom and Reed quickly realises he has to act like Doom otherwise his Generals would start to mutiny and they might decide to invade Earth with their armies. So, Reed-Doom plays the part of Doom, orders everyone around and proclaims he's taking his place with the Fantastic Four, even claiming the 'widow' Sue Storm as his new wife. Of course, the FF themselves quickly get wise and Reed informs them of his situation: he's stuck inside Doom's armour and he can't break the locks.

This leads to the rather unusual situation of Doctor Doom leading the Fantastic Four, which makes for some very funny and unusual storylines. The entire Marvel Universe is shocked when Doom and Sue announce their marriage to the world. Also, having Doom as part of the team is enough for hardened villains like the Frightful Four's Wizard to stand down without a second thought. But its not to last: Sue quickly learns Reed is being influenced by the armour, his demeanor becomes more and more like Doom every day.

As it turns out, Doom's technology is rewriting Reed's brain synapses to respond more like Doom would in an attempt to optimise performance... It basically is rewriting Reed's mind into a copy of Victor von Doom. Sue is understandably desperate but hasn't the faintest idea how to solve this, then she gets contacted in her sleep by the real Doctor Doom via... dream time.

The Celestial didn't kill Doom, but threw him back to Counter Earth where a naked Doom found himself in the middle of a scorching desert. Still, this is DOOM! DOOM, YOU HEAR! And DOOM SURVIVES EVERYTHING! DOOM CONQUERS AND DOOM... Ow, you get the idea. The exploits of Doom in the desert are covered in a rather excellent Doom miniseries by Chuck Dixon and Leonard Manco that came out around that time. In case you didn't read the last panel: Doom offers to help out Sue, but she has to help him get back to Earth so he can claim his armour back. You think she'd help her biggest enemy and betray her own husband? No? Well... take a look at the cover of Fantastic Four # 31...

Does that answer your question? Well... in the end, Doom gets his armour back and Reed's himself again... in a way. With that, we've reached the end of Claremont's FF run, mind control wise. He only wrote one issue after that, but that was a rather enjoyable tale about Sue and Namor who get chased around by the last of Doom's Counter Earth Generals still free... Dorma, the Warrior Queen of Atlantis.

Next up: probably some more X-related mind control messes!

Controlling Cerebellums at the Comic Con!

Its been said that writing a story, any story, pretty much boils down to choosing from a limited amount of plotpoints and then recycling them. The scenarios and conflicts you can subject your characters to aren't infinite, but when your name is Chris Claremont you do learn to improvise when it comes old storyideas. Take his tale from Fantastic Four # 22-23 for instance. Former FF-member She-Hulk gets ambushed by her archnemesis Titania and her husband the Absorbing Man.

Now, the She-Hulk-Titania conflict goes back to the first Secret Wars. On Battleworld, it was Shulkie who handed the brass and overconfident Titania her first defeat and she's been looking for payback ever since. But not this time around, the pair has been hired by an unknown mastermind to slip the She-Hulk a mysterious drink that turns her evil. Pretty soon, She-Hulk joined Titania and Absorbing Man in trashing New York City, that is... until The Thing shows up to take care of business... Only to get tricked into... Well, you can read, right?

Yup... That's two FF-members mindcontrolled by a simple drink. So, before the issue is over the Invisible Woman knocks both Ben and Jennifer out and kicks Absorbing Man and Titania into the nearest jail cell. That still doesn't solve the problem though: what has them acting so weirdly? Leave it to Claremont's new favourite character Valeria Richards to come up with the answer to that: both Thing and She-Hulk are swarming with microscopic nannites that inhibit their free will, apparently that drink they took was laced with them. By following the energy patterns used to command the nannites, the FF track the main baddie to... The San Diego Comic Con?

This revelation neatly sets up issue 23, "Chaos At The Comic Con!" A fine old busy mess gueststarring the Avengers who happen to be present at the Con. The unsuspecting team gets doused with the same nannites, now operating in easy to employ gas form! By now, Reed Richards has come up with a defence against the nannites' influence so the FF is immune to the gas. So, not surprisingly, the Fantastic Four duke it out with some of Earth's mightiest mind controlled heroes for a few pages while Reed devises a way to disable the nannites once and for all and then... we're pretty much on the last page of the issue. Think we got it all wrapped up, right? Ok, well, next issue the universe is coming to an end, and... Ow, wait, what's that? Who was BEHIND the nannites... Whoops, silly me, almost forgot! Take a look...

Well, wouldja believe it, the Red Skull of all people... He had recently 'acquired' the SHIELD Helicarrier after a storyline in (a coincidence, I'm sure) Uncanny X-men. Now the Skull was just hanging around, toying with the various lethal weapons one tends to have on board a flying battlefortress like the Helicarrier. So, that was basically it: two issues of mind control, fighting, a guestshot of the Avengers and even a cameo by Claremont and Larocca themselves... Only to have the Red Skull pop in for a panel or two to take the credit and cackle the equivalent of "Owww, me so evil, me so bad... bye bye now!" Weird. Just. Weird.