Friday, February 27, 2009

There's nothing like mindcontrolling Paris in springtime...

Lets start off with a positive comment regarding Claremont's writing: he never considers himself too good to use characters or plots he didn't create himself.

Case in point: Fantastic Four # 20, which features the FF's triumphant return to the 616, after being stranded in the Negative Zone for weeks. The team reappears in Paris and its a good thing they showed when they did because the capital of France is suffering from major mystical problems... All because of The Ruined, a band of interdimensional beings Scott Lobdell introduced back in Fantastic Four vol. 3 # 1. Back then, the team was just in time to stop the Ruined from changing our dimension into theirs, converting people and matter alike. Mindcontrol on a universal level, a first!

But now, the team is a little too late. The transformation's already begun. What to do? Well... turns out there's still a whole lot left to do. The FF manage to reverse the dimensional shift... no harm done. But their presence in Paris leads to the meeting with Margali Szardos (whee-hay! Another character from the X-men mythos... Who's keeping count, anyways?)

The FF get detained in Paris, so lets skip ahead to issue # 21, which features a mind control centered appearance by everyone's favourite Norse Goddess of Death, the ever divalicious Hela!

Read the panel? So, who is Valeria, you ask? Well, she appeared to be the extradimensional second child of Reed and Sue, the daughter they thought they'd lost back in 1984 after a very sad and unfortunate miscarriage. This Valeria all of a sudden 'time-danced' into Pier Four, the FF's base of operations, while the team was still presumed lost in the Negative Zone. Valeria's older (but because she time-shifted also still younger) brother Franklin and his nannies were dumbstruck by her appearance, but Valeria proved her worth soon enough.

Before they had a proper chance to say hello, FF Headquarters was invaded by the Bacchae, a group of old enemies looking for revenge. Valeria got Franklin's Inhuman puppy to teleport them all to safety, but 'safety' apparently included the domain of Hela... The Goddess of death took a keen interest in Valeria and proceeded in an attempt to mindcontrol her... Before she succeeded, Puppy 'ported the group away again, in their quest to locate the Fantastic Four... Of course, before issue's end they all got reunited again. Talk about a happy ending.. That is, until the next issue featuring earth's mightiest mind control!


By the way, on a completely unrelated sidenote: when he took over FF, Claremont had planned to introduce none other than Kitty Pryde to the team. This of course, would have made using other X-men characters more than extremely easy. Kitty was supposed to serve as a big sister to Franklin and her natural genius would make her click with Reed. Even Sue would be hard pressed to not regard her as part of the family. Marvel Editiorial decided against that, judging Kitty's place was with the X-men. Sooo... We got Valeria. In all fairness, not the worst character in the world, still her timetravel/teleporting shenanigans do resemble the early Rachel Grey and teenage Illyana Rasputin arcs.

The long and winding road... leads me to your mind control!

Dear readers, please be aware: the following post will be a long and hopelessly convoluted one, dealing with different types of mind control that tend to combine into one rather difficult to grasp mess. I considered chopping it up, but hey... that would distract from the fact that Fantastic Four issues # 13-18 are really a gawdful rollercoaster ride filled with stale plots, cheap pastiches and... urgh, here we gooooo...

Issue #13 mainly serves as buildup to a confrontation with the Kree Accuser Ronan on the Moon. The actual fun starts in issue # 14 when Ronan decides to enlist the Invisible Woman, after having easily warded off attacks from the FF and guest stars Iron Man and X-men Z-lister detective Charlotte Jones (...For those of you keeping count: Its been 10 issues since he started on the book and Charlotte Jones is the 5th X-universe character Claremont blatantly inserted in the book).

So... Sue's body is being taken over by an alien parasite with the snappy nickname Mannequin. Mannequin? As in 'genitalia-lacking-doll-you-model-clothes-on'? Wow... Well... I'm sure all the other good names were taken. But hey, all kidding aside... the pink, blobby Mannequin is an actual threat. Sue is completely under Ronan's spell and attacks her former teammates. The Mannequin quickly turns Sue's body into something quite horrific. Becoming more monstrous by the minute, her thoughts are becoming more savage and predatorlike as well. And the worst part is: there's no way to reverse the process, Sue is stuck like this forever...

Now and here's when it gets hopelessly complicated. Being the strongwilled woman she is, Sue breaks free from the Mannequin's mental control. She then helps out to kick some Kree butt. All's well that ends well? Not quite... one) she's still turning into a monster and two) she's turning into a monster in the Negative Zone of all places! Yes, at the end of their battle against the Accuser, one of Reed's dimensional teleportation gizmos malfunctions, causing the FF to get stranded in the Zone... desperately teleporting blind, hoping to get home...

In their quest to get home, the FF fight several different not very interesting foes, including Kree Avengers and the alien Brood (another X-men villain!) and then... its time for a visit to Shadow City, featuring Lockdown and Rosetta Stone!

Okay, here we go: Shadow City is a virtual reality construct, created by a society on the brink of extinction. In order to survive, they locked themselves away inside a virtual reality universe where they could leisurely sit out whatever is threatening their world. Problem is: no one seems to remember they are in a VR-world in the first place! The Fantastic Four arrive on the scene by accident, quickly get knocked out by robots that guard and monitor the VR-systems (yah, I know... believable) and soon, they're plugged into the Shadow City simulation as well.

In Shadow City, the FF is actually a team of villains known as the Tetrad. You got your Stormy Sue, you got your Matchstick Johnny, your Richard Reed and of course Grim Ben. The Tetrad is continuously thwarted by the hero of Shadow City... Lockdown and his young ward Rosetta Stone.

Dark protector of a corrupt city filled with dangerous villains no one else dares stand up to? Battling evil with gadgets, martial arts and his own genius intellect? Cruising the streets with his high tech car? Remind you of anyone... Nana-nana-nana... copyright violation!

Anyways, the Tetrad aren't the only villains in Shadow City, Lockdown also had dealing with an all female team known as the Twisted Sisters. Their superpowers compliment each other... The girls Helix, Coil, Ringtoss and Gyre are able to completely transform a person into their own image... Twisting and changing their bodies and personalities into whatever they please. Here, take a look at how they try and change Sue...

So... Lets see what's happened to Susan Storm-Richards in the space of five issues... Got her body taken over by an alien parasite that changed her into a flesh hungry monster... Only to get mind controlled by a Virtual Reality System that made her believe she's the Shadow City criminal known as Stormy Sue... And then to top it all off, her essence is molded into Torque, the latest Twisted Sister!

In short: the mind controlled victim of an alien parasite is digitally remastered and then mentally recast as a trampy SM-enthusiast with teeth for shoes? Chris, Chris, Chris....CHRIST!

Crucible's crucial mind control menace

And then there was the time the Fantastic Four got mindjacked right out of their bodies! In an astonishingly creative change of pace, Chris Claremont recycled the ol' mind control trick in a stale storyline that ran through Fantastic Four # 10-12. The story? Reed Richards got kidnapped by the Genoshan government (another one of Claremont's creations by the way) and the team races off to the former green and pleasant land. Their Pogo Plane gets shot down and when they awake, they see... themselves?

Yes, while they were out the Genoshans used advanced technology to switch the mind of three mutates with those of the Fantastic Four. Why exactly the Genoshans did this or why they were after Reed isn't really important. All it does is give Claremont an excuse to show a Fantastic Four unfamiliar with their own powers, "Thing" doesn't know his own strength, while "Invisible Woman" effectively blinds herself when she turns invisible... Soon, the real Johnny, Sue and Ben get their own bodies back, free Reed and go on to face the real villains: Crucible and Ayesha.

Who are they, you ask? You really wanna know? Well... Ayesha is actually Her, the perfect female, created by the mad scientists of the Enclave. And Crucible, ah, tis will take some 'splainin'... You see, before Claremont took over with the fourth issue, writer Scott Lobdell was in charge of Fantastic Four. Lobdell introduced Crucible in the first issue of the relaunch, planning to build the character into a major big bad. He was supposed to be a mad, evil genius with ties to the FF's nemesis Doctor Doom. So far, so good... but Lobdell left after the third issue and Claremont had to deal with Crucible. So... Crucible fought Reed Richards in # 5. Mr. Fantastic was able to beat him, but Crucible did manage to steal Reed's creative genius. At first no one noticed this, but after a while it became apparent Reed was no longer able to come up with any new, innovative approaches. In subsequent issues, we got treated to little teases regarding Crucible's identity and his big, brilliant schemes... And now, in issue # 12 we finally find out who's behind the mask... You ready? Its none other than ageing-almost-a-joke Maris Morlak, of the Enclave!

Crucible/Morlak (the graying one with the cane on the far right) reveals he had leeched away Reed's creativity to add to his own considerable intelligence... Now, lets review this motive for a second... First he drains Reed's mind... then, he decides to order the Genoshan Pressgang to kidnap him, thus incurring the wrath of the entire Fantastic Four AND undoing their entire scheme! Why was in necessary to bring Reed to Genosha when the Enclave had already reached their goals by the end of issue # 5? My mind boggles... and its not even being controlled...

Ow yeah: check out the first picture to see another one of Claremont's writing tics on display: characters proclaiming who they are "I am CRUCIBLE!". I dunno, Chris... Somehow having your characters wear nametags seems a lot easier and a whole lot less silly.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ow Selene, learn to control your own mind!

Ah, Fantastic Four Annual 1999... Famous for several things: first it featured magnificent artwork by José Ladronn, it also introduced us to the sensational character find of 1999: Mechamage... Who? Erm... just google. This two-fisted tale of terror ended with the founding of the Shadow Hunters... Who? Sigh...Don't bother, they're never heard from again, but they were meant to be a new demon-hunting team consisting of Daimon Hellstrom, Margali Szardos, Alyssa Moy and the Mechamage...

Anyways, the story so far: Claremont decides to use another of his favourite old X-men characters: Selene. The former Black Queen of the Hellfire Club is now in league with the demonic entity known as Blackheart. As part of a plot too dense to even begin to explain, Fantastic Four associate Alyssa Moy gets blown into a mystic coma which causes the FF to seek out powerful magic wielders to remedy Moy's condition... But Selene has dark servants working for her... take a look...

Ahhh, 'stolen his soul'... a mind control classic! Before the annual was done, the Fantastic Four themselves almost get taken over by demonic entities... Of course, it wouldn't be a Claremont penned tale without that!

The Fantastic Forces of mind control!

Since we've now officially run out of Uncanny X-men clips, its time to move our attention to Claremont's mindcontrol motif to some of the other comics he wrote for Marvel. To have a little break from X-men territory, lets focus on Claremont's Fantastic Four first. Chris wrote the third volume of the series from issue # 4 'til # 32 and spearheaded the relaunch of Marvel's First Family after the Heroes Reborn debacle.

Now, truth be told, his Fantastic Four wasn't all bad. A little dry, maybe a bit too much exposition but certainly not terrible. Still, one of the main points of criticism was Claremont's tendency to reintroduce some of his old X-men creations into the series. Characters who didn't necessarily need to be there... Take for instance Claremont's first actual arc as writer.

In issues 6, 7 and 8 the Omniversal Majestrix Opal Luna Saturnyne sends out the interdimensional bountyhunters known as the Technet to capture Franklin Richards. Saturnyne is worried about young Franklin's growing reality warping powers. This actually makes sense, *I* would be worried too if a kid capable of creating entire sub-dimensions was roaming around unchecked. Of course, the Fantastic Four don't take too kindly to Franklin's capture and fight to get him back. During the fight in issue 7, the first instance of mind control occurs... take a look...

For those of you who care, Sue's manifested heart's desire was being Namor the Sub-Mariner's royal consort, a proud and strong Atlantean warrior queen. Clad in fierce battle armour and kelp that looked a lot like leather... Sigh...

Next up: some more old X-men villains show up to cause trouble for the Four.

Monday, February 23, 2009

And one more mind control for the road

Seeing as this is the final X-men related mindcontrol posting I have to offer, I figured a scene from the 2000 limited series X-men: Black Sun was appropriate. This was written during Chris Claremont's return to the X-books and he was supposed to be on fire... Unfortunately, editorial quickly killed his tenure on the book after a little over a year and a half... During that time, he produced this limited series in which the N'Garai resurfaced to threaten mankind once again. I picked this panel because it shows pretty much all the new X-men that got recruited to fight Krakoa back in 1975... You have your Banshee, you have your Sunfire and of course the usual longtime members like Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler... But an added bonus: it features the N'Garai, a breed of demons Claremont introduced in his second issue as X-men writer... Back then, the N'Garai called Kierok just attacked the team, no mention of mind control whatsoever... but in this book, the N'Garai took over the X-men's minds and used them to... I guess you can piece together what happens, right? This was issue 2, by issue 6, it was all taken care of... Not unlike the Uncanny X-men clips!

Lights, camera, mind control!

Dazzler sacrificed herself with the rest of the X-men, but she finally returned from the Siege Perilous as... well, Alison Blaire... also known as the Dazzler.

This didn't exactly help her get rid of old enemies, as Uncanny X-men # 260 proved. Alison was assaulted by Eric Beale, a Hollywood producer who took a chance on her and invested in Dazzler: The Movie. But once it came public knowledge Dazzler was a mutant, the movie tanked... which bankrupted Beale. Luckily, he took the news lightly...

He finally got his chance in this issue, tracking Allison down and knocking her out, ready for some payback. And here's where Claremont's supposed fetish really shows.

Suppose you are so mad with a person you're ready to commit murder... Hey, it happens... But, after you've knocked her out, would you go to the trouble of dressing her in the exact same outfit she wore when she inadvertently hurt you...

And would you cover her head with a tight bag? It just screams SM fetishist... Especially the end of the issue where Dazzler manages to use her light powers to... ow read it yourself...she uses light to calm him down and he drops to the floor, crying and worshipping her bound and gagged female form...

...Hey kids, comics!

Hell hath no fury like a Sage mind controlled...

So, we covered Chris Claremont's third Uncanny X-men run a post or two back... But its worth revisiting as even Claremont's first storyline features a prime example of rehashing the old classics. Claremont and artist Alan Davis pitted the team against an old Captain Britain enemy known as The Fury... A supposedly undefeatable killer robot from an alternate dimension. No matter what you throw against it, the Fury will adapt and recover. And apparently, it can also invade minds... The X-men's resident mentat Sage was taken over by the Fury, via the team's cybernetic sunglasses (as seen in Uncanny X-men 446).

As a Fury controlled puppet, Sage disabled the Xavier institute's defences and residents before being able to somewhat rid herself of the creature's influence. She remained susceptible to The Fury, as was shown many years later during the X-men: Die By The Sword miniseries in which the Fury reappeared to cause trouble all over again... Still, aren't Sage's sunglasses cool?!

Neo Villains Old-o mindcontrol-o

Back in 2000, Chris Claremont made his triumphant return to the X-universe. After several years of dwindling sales and general apathy, Claremont was brought in to get the franchise on track again.

He took over the reigns on both Uncanny X-men and X-men and started a brand new storyline featuring the massive threat of...The Neo.

Introduced as the next evolution, these uber-mutants were supposed to be mother nature's real successors to mankind... According to Claremont, mutants had been nothing but a trial run and a failed one at that. The Neo were the future.

As interesting as this may sound, the Neo turned out to be pretty bland. Apart from the Neo Warclan, led by the female warrior Domina (last name Trix, allegedly!), Claremont had very little time to develop the other Neo groups he created like the Lost Souls, the Crimson Pirates and the Shockwave Riders. They ended up being little more than colorful punching bags for our heroes.

Punching bags that seemed to enjoy a lot of mind control. That quickly became clear in Claremont's first issue back on the job, Uncanny X-men # 381. The X-men were still looking for Cyclops, who had gone missing after merging with Apocalypse, don't worry about it. This search took them to the Italian town of Venice, where they suddenly found themselves assaulted by the Shockwave Riders....

... A band of, as it would turn out, Neo who attacked the team for no discernible reason other than to ambush Jean Grey and invade her mind to steal some memories...

The purpose of this engramatic grab & smash is never made clear. It's not like there was any time to figure minor details like logic out, not when the X-men got sidetracked when they were roped into helping to bust up a Russian slavery ring with ties to th the outerdimensional slaver called Tullamore Voge... Who also used the powers of the young mutant girl Sketch to take over innocent victims so they could be sold into slavery more easily... *SNOOZE*...

As forgettable as the Riders were, they're actually the only faction of Neo that, to date, have returned in comics. They showed up again in 2008, in the pages of the Claremont-penned GeNext.

Which is more than can be said for the Lost Souls, a band of Goth-like Neo Claremont introduced a month or so after the Shockwave Riders... The Lost Souls sure loved mind control too, taking over the minds of their victims. They apparently have incredible mental powers which they use to play their mindgames, but for some reason still insist on using slave collar technology... Why?

Well... I guess in Claremont's world it just doesn't count as proper mind control unless the victim is properly chained up to signify their submissiveness. In this case, having a big metal band choking the life out of them...

In the end, the Neo and the Lost Souls teamed up against the X-men which resulted in a convoluted crossover that saw the X-men fighting their mind controlled teammates.

Needless to say, everyone came to their senses before the end and banded together against the Neo... but not before we were treated to unforgettably awful scenes like this...


BEHOLD... Incredibly lazy, tired writing!
BEHOLD... Claremont's second Uncanny and X-men run cut short pretty quickly!
BEHOLD... The next post featuring Claremonts third Uncanny run and even more mindcontrol!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Old mind control habits die hard

Who says you can never go home again? Chris Claremont proved poet Thomas Wolfe wrong at least twice so far...During his third stint as Uncanny X-men writer, he and long time collaborator Alan Davis created a Savage Land storyline in which the X-men were pitted against a long lost race of saurids. These evolved dinosaur mutants were every bit as powerful and dangerous as the X-men and they had plans to take over the world. During the course of their schemes, the Saurids managed to capture Rachel Grey, aka Marvel Girl... They succeed in freeing her inner dinosaur, and reverted Rachel to a Saurid... thus controlling her mind and making them one of their own...

Which is slightly ironic, considering the X-men once travelled to the Savage Land before in a Claremont penned tale involving the Savage Land mutates and Brainchild... who used his machinery to revert mutants into sub-human barbaric versions of themselves... Years later, Brainchild used the same technique in yet another Claremont created tale over in an Xtreme X-men limited series:

During the course of that same limited series, we were introduced to a 'new' Savage Land inhabitant known as Leash... She is able to mind control people, which is signified by a mental leash appearing around their necks. Leash controlled Beast and now, both Brainchild and Leash were at it again in the Claremont/Davis run in Uncanny... take a look...

... Ow mind control, when will you go out of fashion? Well, considering this is a land that time forgot, not anytime soon... Of course, mind controlling of the Saurid Raiina was key to winning the day and all the players involved lived to tell the tale... but this was one arc that showed just how heavily Claremont relies on one simple and tired storytelling device: mind control!

Hi, I'm Rogue, thanks to mind control also known as...

So, little known fact: the character of Rogue was created by Chris Claremont (first appearance: the Claremont written Avengers Annual 10, 1981). Basically, Rogue is Claremont's mind control fetish with legs and a nice pair of boobies... Rogue is a mutant who takes over a person's spirit, memories and feelings if her bare skin touches theirs. No matter how brief the contact is, Rogue takes over their entire being, in fact becomes the person...

This became a bit of a problem when Rogue was forced by her foster mother Mystique to hold on to Mystique's nemesis Carol Danvers, better known as Ms. Marvel. Rogue took over Carol's mind, personality and memories permanently, leaving Ms. Marvel a mindless shell. In the years that followed, the Carol Danvers personality would often struggle to gain dominance... Mind control within the mind of an unwilling mindcontroller... Its certainly a unique concept. Time and again, Carol Danvers would manage to 'come out' on top... One of those instances is shown above, Rogue and Wolverine were captured by the Genoshan Magistrates and Rogue was rendered powerless by the powers-blocking mutant Whipe Out. In her cell, Rogue was confronted not only by the sadistic Magistrates but also by her own inner demons... Literally.

As it turns out: whenever Rogue touches someone, she retains a small part of their essence permanently. All those ghost images of her past victims haunted her, including Thor, Loki, a Dire Wraith or two, Captain America, Spiral and teammate Nightcrawler... But Ms Marvel (being the only 'complete' presence, I suppose) came to Rogue's aid and took control... Beating the guards outside her cell, freeing Wolverine and kicking ass generally.

And then we have this scene: the mind controller about to be controlled! Taken from X-men Annual 2001, we have Rogue in battle with the Prime Sentinels, a 90s creation Claremont very gracefully worked into his stories... The Prime Sentinels were normal humans who got outfitted with robot Sentinel parts that caused them to turn into mutant hunting cyborgs, capable of infecting both mutants and humans with nannites that turned them into Sentinels as well... Of course Rogue wasn't infected, thanks to Psylocke's timely intervention, but look at the implied S&M fantasy here: the subdued female, forcibly held against her will, about to be dominated by the agressor who is ready to stab her with a penis shaped object... How very, very subtle Chris!

God Loves, But Mind Control Kills...

One of the most pivotal tales of the X-men is 1982's graphic novel  God Loves, Man Kills... Chris Claremont brilliantly mixes mutant hate with religion when he introduced the reverend William Stryker, a popular televangelist who uses the word of God to launch a crusade against all mutants.

Stryker employs a band of vigilantes called Purifiers who kill every mutant they can find in the name of the lord. Leaving their corpses for anyone to see, in this case by tying the young children to the swing on the playground. Such horrifying, cruel acts cannot go unpunished. Enter... Magneto.

The mutant master of magnetism was drawn to the Purifiers' anti mutant crusade. He swore to avenge all the senseless deaths they had caused. But Stryker wasn't attacking mutants at random, far from it. The reverend had a plan in mind to kill all mutants and it involved Charles Xavier.

Through unrevealed means, Stryker had learned about the X-men and specifically their telepathic leader. After arranging to appear with Xavier on ABC's Nightline to discuss mutants, the Purifiers led Xavier, Storm and Cylops into an ambush on their way back home. Making it appear like a car accident, they left three charred bodies in the burnt out wreck... which didn't fool Wolverine's senses.
But the X-men were still unaware of Stryker's involvement, let alone his plans with the professor. The reverend wanted to use Xavier and his Cerebro machine to identify and destroy any and all mutants that came to his sermons. This way, he could filter out the true and pure believers from his flock.

Naturally the professor would never agree to any of this, so Stryker ordered his will broken. In a truly inspired, utterly horrific unending virtual reality loop, Stryker assaulted Charles by having demonised versions of the X-men brutally attack and mutilate him.

There is so much going on in these panels. From the obvious comparisons to Christ on the cross to the utter depravity of the demonic X-men. Not to mention Brent Eric Anderson's striking art work and the moody coloring job that only uses blood red and pitch black to intensify the horrors on display. Unfortunately for Stryker, all of that still didn't get Xavier to crack.

One has to admire just how methodical they were about it, keeping progress reports and everything. Naturally, they had no chance of breaking the professor. He's a man of great moral fibre, the idea he would ever succumb or use his powers to hurt his pupils? Madness...

Right, well... moving right along...

During his inquiries into the Purifiers, Magneto encountered the X-men who were looking for their missing team members. Deeming Stryker too big a threat to ignore, Magneto allied himself with his most hated enemies.  

In an impressive display of force, Magneto kicked off the final confrontation with Stryker by disrupting his sermon. How did he achieve this? Ow, by simply yanking the dome off the venue... the friggin' Madison Square Garden.

Backstage at the Garden, Stryker had Xavier ready to scan the audience for possible mutants. If he found any, he was forced to... deal.... with them.

Xavier was used as a machine to fire intense psychic energies at any suspected mutants. If you even had a little bit of mutant potential, you'd start bleeding from the ears. Lots of people did in the Garden, including Anne, field leader of the Purifiers and loyal Stryker subject.

When Stryker, fired up by religious fervor, realised Anne was a mutant he tossed her off the canticle. Falling at least two dozen feet, Anne died right before the rolling cameras. To add insult to injury, they also shot Stryker's final conclusion with the team that had him pointing a gun at 13 year old Kitty Pryde... right up until the point a security guard came to his senses and ended the menace of Stryker by planting a bullet straight in the reverend's heart.

Xavier was freed, no one was too seriously hurt and the X-men and Magneto soon returned to Xavier's school. Magneto politely declined the X-men's offer to stay with them and left soon afterwards, just as Charles was getting a little misty eyed...

Apart from the emotional, if not slightly overwrought ending, this graphic novel is a showcase of how to tell a compelling storyline that, despite dealing with familiar subjects, still manages to feels refreshingly original.