Monday, February 27, 2012

The Sage Saga part II: Compelling The Living Computer

Your name is Sage and you are a living computer. This means your formidable brain has a natural immunity to outside influences.

Furthermore, you're also blessed with telepathy, a gift honed by Charles Xavier, the world's premier telepathic intellect, making it virtually impossible for you to ever get influenced, hijacked or controlled. You'll always be you.

Unless, of course, your name is Sage and you appear in a comic written by Chris "don't mindcontrol if I do!" Claremont. Lets take a look at the mind control influenced shenanigans Claremont had his pet character hop through in recent years.

First things first, lets find out how Sage ended up with the X-men to begin with... She was doing fine, serving as advisor to the Hellfire Club until 2000. Then, Chris Claremont took over the X-books and there was a line-wide 'six months later' gap, which allowed all the established status quos to be shaken up. Teams had new members, some old familiar faces were missing, what happened?

Sage was one of those new faces among the X-men, serving along with Forge in an advisory capacity.  It wasn't until about 5 years later when we found out what caused her to join the team.

The answer to that riddle no one really cared about came in the pages of X-treme X-men # 44. Which provided the origin of Elias Bogan, one of the founding fathers of the Hellfire Club and also a long lived telepath near the level of the Shadow King.

Sebastian Shaw had wrested control of the Inner circle from Bogan years ago, thanks to Sage (then called Tessa) and Bogan was out for revenge. He took over her mind and tried to offer her to Shaw for ransom. He wasn't too interested, but luckily Storm was around to save Sage.

Free from Bogan's mind control, Sage aided the X-men in several missions and developed a close working relationship with fellow X-man Bishop. The detective from the future and the woman with the impenetrable computer mind made a pretty good team. And then stuff like this happens...

Remember when Xavier's was turned into a public school for mutants and all sorts of super powered preteens covered the grounds? Sure you do, it was before Wanda Maximoff decimated the entire mutant population with three simple words.

"No more mutants" is something Sage and Bishop undoubtedly would have agreed with in X-treme X-men # 22.  Considering the little trick these kids pulled on them. And wait til you see what they made Bishop do...

Turning an angry black man with guns into a tree snogging weirdo and his deadly lady friend into a rat? No wonder all those young mutants tended to end up dead before their sweet 16... 

After some more adventures with the X-treme X-men team, Sage became a part of the X-men proper, serving as their mentat. Unfortunately, not long after that, this happened in Uncanny X-men # 446...

The background to this story can be found HERE, but suffice it to say, the computer crack'd again.

"Something's happened to Sage" sort of became the official tagline for whatever team she happened to be on in the latter years of Claremont's dealings with the character. That'll be the focus of the  Sage Saga part III: Semi Sapphic Symbolism.

Mind control: the Sage Saga part I

Every writer has his or her own favorite characters, Chris Claremont is no exception to that rule. In the early days of Uncanny X-men, he worked on the evolution of Jean Grey (who ended up as Phoenix, who ended up mind controlled before she ended up dead)...

After Jean, his focus shifted towards Rogue, an identity stealing young girl who ended up sharing a mind with Ms. Marvel, another one of Chris's former favourites. Rogue also ended up dead, incidentally... before getting resurrected as an independent personality near the end of Claremont's original run.

But, surprisingly enough, Chris' most enduring character crush turned out to be someone nobody even paid notice to when she was first introduced wayyy back in Uncanny X-men 132 (1980).

I am, of course talking about Sage, better known to fans of 80s comics as Sebastian Shaw's assistant Tessa.

Say, who's Sage then?

Well, in true Claremontian tradition... a strong woman character with an even stronger adversion to any form of formal clothing. Black leather really is a way of life for most people in a Claremont comic.

Sage started out as the unnamed aid of Sebastian Shaw, the lord imperial of the Hellfire Club, one of the X-men's most dangerous enemies. She made her first appearance alongside the other members of the inner circle, in a non speaking role.

Who knew this almost invisible bit player would grow to become such a major character?

We only learn her name is Tessa, in her second appearance (Marvel Graphic Novel # 4). In that issue, we also find out she is far more than a mere servant. 

Tessa is actually Shaw's most trusted aid, a mutant blessed with a computer-like mind, able to analyse and correlate tons of data and provide detailed analysis at the drop of a hat. Still, computers can be hacked. Call it a trojan, call it digital mind control, but it tends to happen a lot to Tessa.

Chronologically speaking, one of the first cases of Tessa getting herself mind controlled was back in New Mutants # 53, when Karma invades the Hellfire Club looking for information on her missing family. Mind controlling a living computer to hack into an actual computer? That's a first.

Tessa remained a member of the inner circle for many years, until it was revealed by Claremont (when he returned to the X-books in 2000) that she had actually been an undercover agent working for Charles Xavier. The professor Charles had encountered Tessa  years ago while travelling in Afghanistan, during the same trip that made him cross paths with Storm, the Shadow King and Magneto.

She became his pupil, but rather than allowing Tessa to join the first X-men team, he forced her to work for one of the X-men's greatest enemies instead. Still, Charles did spend some time training Tessa, helping her focus her (limited) telepathic powers and ensuring her mind would be virtually impenetrable.

Essentially, this means she's immune to mind control or any other outside influence trying to gain dominance over her thoughts and actions. Yeah. Let's see how that went while she was under Chris' careful guidance...

Here we have Tessa, who at that point prefered the codename Sage, trapped in one of Lady Mastermind's realistic illusions (X-treme X-men # 7-9). Mastermind had subtly tricked Sage into believing her version of reality over, well, actual reality. 

'. Before long, Mastermind was hard at work at winning Sage over to her side, trying to make her destroy her mental bonds with the X-men and Xavier by actually killing them inside her own mind. 

Next time: Sage Saga part 2: compelling the living computer. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Team America: Give me your tired, your poor, your Marauder waiting to break free

Now, I do realise that I've been harping on Chris Claremont and his overuse of mind control as a lazy plotdevice in his stories for quite some now.

But lets not forget Chris is hardly the only writer to use the mind warp as a technique to tell a story. Hell, some creators  even base an entire series around it....

Meet Team America. a group of motor stunt cyclists created in 1982 by J.M de Matteis and Mike Zeck, loosely modelled (to avoid lawsuits) on then-current stuntman / real life daredevil Evel Knievil.

Not only did Team America risk their lives performing dangerous stunts, they also had an ulterior motive for being together. Read on then...

Yes, Team America appears as shocked as the lady Hydra scientist who explains their condition. And who can blame them? As far as origin stories go, this one's a doozy. Their mothers were all unwittingly part of a HYDRA experiment that was supposed to create mutant children. In order to mutate their offspring, the women were injected with mutagenic agents (read: radiation). I've heard that pregnant women have a certain glow about them, but that's just ridiculous.

And also not very effective. Because yes, they did develop superhuman powers, but they only work when all five of them are together. When they join together, their powers combine into 

Yes, that's right... five people combine their mind to take over another person, really any old innocent bystander will do. The personality and body of the horst is transformed into that of "the Marauder", a daring black clad stunt cyclist with a spiffy bike. Think Ghost Rider without the blazing skulls, or Captain Planet with less eco friendly messages and more pointless driving around on gas guzzling road hogs. 

Team America seemed relegated to life as a one off, until Chris Claremont brought them into New Mutants. Now, I would recap the issue, if only Wikipedia hadn't done so sublime a job already: The team temporarily disbanded but yet another attack drew them out of retirement. While performing at a charity exhibition, Team America intervened in an attack on The New Mutants by Viper and the Silver Samuari.

They manifested the Marauder on Danielle Moonstar and the 16 year old Cheyenne girl, in touch with nature's serene spirits, suddenly did this:


Well, its the thought that counts.

Dani was captured and Viper tried to force Team America to steal for her. Before they could formulate a plan of action, professor Xavier showed up and taught the motor team a thing or two about controlling minds. Whether they wanted to or not.

And that's today's lesson, kids: there's always someone better at mind control then you... Even if his set of wheels barely have one horse power. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Blood and mind controlled circuses

What made Chris Claremont's take on New Mutants so interesting, was the same thing that made Uncanny X-men a must read: soapy elements along with the spandex superheroics we all know and love.

Despite this similar approach, to his credit, the book never felt like Uncanny-lite. Claremont quickly found and mastered a distinct tone for New Mutants. He focussed on what its like to be a teenager with mutant powers in the early 80s.

And, judging from the cover to issue # 3, it wasn't exactly as much fun as you'd expect.

Add to that Claremont's tendency to get a little preachy. Especially early on, when every other issue felt like a  heavy handed morality play. Child abuse, domestic violence, stalkers, fear of not measuring up or being shunned by your peers, you name it, Claremont wrote about it...

Usually in such a sincere, but hamfisted way, one still has to resist the urge to yell "Tonight, on a *VERY* special Blossom" after every other panel.

New Mutants ran the risk of becoming the Public Service Announcement of comics, especially during the team's adventure in Nova Roma, a long lost city hidden deep within the Amazon. The citizens of Nova Roma were descendants of ancient Romans and still honoured their traditions. This meant gladiator fights,  brutal bloodsports in the city's coloseum.

The female New Mutants were kept out of the fighting, but Cannonball and Sunspot were forced to compete.

Yes, forced... even here, there's mindcontrol involved.

Ignoring the rather obvious homo erotic subtext of having two underage boys manhandled by half naked men, the only thing that makes them want to fight each other is wine. Drugged wine, perhaps, but beware the mind addling powers of the demon drink. It makes you wanna fight your friends.

And its not like the girls were much better off.

Yes, lets give wine to Dani and Rahne, who are supposed to be 16 and 14. Such totally appropriate behaviour. Lets see how the wine influences them...

The facial expressions artist Sal Buscema came up with are priceless. Two sips and Dani's already a drunken lush who has a 'spot' that needs hitting with a second helping of wine.

And shy, ultra religious and repressed Rahne Sinclair is another drink away from posing for a Playboy photoshoot while falling out of her toga.  

Sidenote: isn't it interesting how the boys and girls react differently to the same drugged wine? Sam and Roberto's drinking turns them into irrational, violent thugs... while Rahne and Dani turn into giggling, playful self proclaimed 'naughty girls' who don't care about anything else but having fun.

Kind of sends a message, doesn't it?

"Too late, the drugs have taken effect."?

... Tonight on a *VERY* special Blossom, indeed.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Spin the karmic mind control wheel

So, how about them New Mutants?

Back in 1982, riding high on the huge sales of Uncanny X-men, Chris Claremont was approached by then-editor in chief Jim Shooter to produce a spin off to the series. After all, more of the same popular thing, equals even bigger sales, right? Ah, the eighties... a stunningly innocent age, in retrospect.

Still, creating a second X-men series wasn't exactly something Claremont wasn't too sure how to do, never mind the fact that he wasn't too eager about rehashing the same formula. Still, alongside his longtime editor Louise "Weezie" Simonson, he came up with a format for a new series based around a group of young mutants studying at Xavier's school for gifted youngsters.

A perfectly legitimate notion, considering the X-men had started out as a book about teenagers coming to terms with their powers, themselves and a world that hates and fears them. But by 1982, the team only had one preteen in Kitty Pryde. The book had strayed off considerably from what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had set out to accomplish, way back in 1963.

Still, the solution to this problem seemingly originated from Kitty Pryde as well, as a 1978 character design by John Byrne proves. After designing 'Ariel', Byrne jotted down some ideas on how she could be used in the book. Go on, you can read it yourself...

So, if it had been up to Byrne, Kitty would have been the first member of a second team of "X-men in training." Of course, things turned out differently when Kitty joined the main team and the notion of a rookie class ended up on the backburner. 

Yet, Claremont was forced to come up with a cast for his new teambook... Kitty was off limits, with the The X-men lost in space, fighting (and getting mindcontrolled by) the Brood at that point. Still, he had plenty of young mutants to choose from...the first being Karma, a character he had created a year or so earlier.


Meet Karma, Xi'an Coy Manh to friends, basically the living embodiment of Chris Claremont's mind control obsession... Karma's mutant power allows her to control other people's mind, taking over their bodies and essentially steering them to do whatever she wants them to. She discovered her powers back in her native country of Vietnam, when she instinctively tried to stop a Vietcong soldier from harming her family.

In her first appearance, she pitted the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man against one another in a somewhat enjoyable yet convoluted tale in which she jumped from hero to hero, causing Spidey and the FF to fight for a few pages. In a nuthsell: Xi'ans brother Tran enjoyed his mind control powers and used them for personal gain, even entering the employ of his uncle, the crimelord Nguyen Ngoc Coy.

What's worse, Tran had taken his two younger siblings with him, and Xi'an tried her darndest to get them back, by any means necessary... Even taking over famous heroes to help her. At the end of the tale, Karma was forced to 'absorb' her brother, into herself which caused her considerable grief.


Traumatic as it might have been, it set Xi'an on the path to becoming Charles Xavier's newest pupil, even though she was already a young adult by that time. Still, Charles can't resist a good attempt at having mutants show off their powers and causing harm to common citizens. He's like Magneto that way, with less hair and more moral fibre. Or does he?


During her initiation at the school back in Marvel Graphic Novel # 4, Xi'an was forced to give a demonstration of her power by taking over Xavier's long suffering associate Moira MacTaggert. Everyone seemed shocked at Xi'an's capabilities. 

But Xavier couldn't be happier about it and even offered her a job on the spot and promoting her to team leader of the New Mutants before the issue was through.

Having a girl in your midst who can take over your mind and body, without you even realising it? Not sure how you feel about that, but it would creep me out, to say the least. Yet, everyone seemed to accept Karma without a second thought, even when she pulled stuff like this:


Ahhh, so her very reason to be on the team was to dominate and control others, yet... she won't allow that power or anyone else to corrupt her.

Yeah, funny story.

Early on in their run, the New Mutants came across Viper and her partner the Silver Samurai. During that mission, Xi'an was mentally contacted and corrupted by the X-men's old enemy the Shadow King. For more on this disembodied mind control maniac, click HERE

The Shadow King took over Karma's body and turned her evil (and fat), thereby proving that Chris isn't above subjecting his characters to cruel twists of fate.

Having the mind controller get mindcontrolled?

I do suppose karma *IS* a bitch, after all.

... Sidenote: with a frowning, scowling look like that, turning out to be the bitchy puppet of an evil psychic overlord isn't that unlikely at all. And the hair, well... yeah. Did I mention Karma came out as a lesbian in the early 2000s? Twas a big surprise then. 

Not to her hairdresser, though. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ms Marvel and the big bloated brain busters

While returning to this blog after almost three years, I noticed an unfinished vintage post that had been lingering in the data buffer all that time.

Might as well polish it off and present a little tale of the 1970s, when Chris Claremont wrote the first ongoing Ms. Marvel series..

Carol Danvers developed as a strong female character under Chris' guidance, often juggling responsibilities as a superhero with her private life and her real job as editor of WOMAN magazine (yes, this was after all the 1970s, so Carol rode in on the fiery waves of the women's lib movement, making sure everyone could hear her roar).

Still, strong, independent females and Chris Claremont tend to be, well... an unfortunate combination.
Take a look at what happened in issue #23...

"It will be a simple matter... to remold her mind and soul... in MY image." 

Ahhh, don't you just love the smell of male domination in the morning?

The Mysterio-lookalike, in case you were wondering, is known as the Faceless One. This one-off baddy is an alien, hellbent on destruction, conquest and all that other good, fun stuff maniacal menaces are in to.

Still, despite all his grandiose claims, Marvel breaks free of the Faceless One's control and strikes back...


So, yeah... not only does the bad guy not have a face, he turns out to be bodiless as well. Yes people, Carol got mentally enslaved by little more than a disembodied head. 

Needless to say, so weird and unbelievable a villain like the Faceless One would never be seen again. Surely, the notion that a mere floating head is enough to conquer the lead character of your book is utterly ridiculous and...



Yeah... There was that other time the Kree Supreme Intelligence and that other big floating head thingie MODOK teamed up to turn Carol into a slave.

... I am woman, hear me roar indeed.                  

Well, in Chris' defence, he worked out his obsession with big giant male heads dominating womenfolk when the 80s dawned.

I guess thát's something, at least...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Spiral staircase to synaptic seduction

Remember when the X-men lived in San Francisco for the first time?
The city by the bay has been the team's official stomping grounds for over four years now, but its not the first the mutants called 'Frisco their home.

Back in the mid 80s, the team spent a few issues in San Francisco, crashing at
Jessica Drew's place at Yarbro Court. In those days, Jessica had recently lost her Spider-Woman powers and was making a go of it as a private detective. But not even her sleuth skills could have deduced what horror the X-men had to face in Uncanny X-men # 206.

And no, that horror isn't Jessica's boyfriend David Ishima taking out a not-even-close-to-16-year-old on a date.

Enjoying a quiet evening at home, the team is suddenly under attack from Freedom Force, a government sponsored team of superbeings, consisting of former member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (Blob, Pyro, Avalanche) and some fresh faces, the second Spider-Woman and... Spiral.

Their reason for showing up unannounced? Spiral will tell you herself.

This multi limbed refugee from Mojoworld alone proved to be almost too much for the team, as her powerset of teleportation and all purpose magic made short work of Rachel Summers, the heir to the mantle of the Phoenix and arguably the team's most powerful member. And ow yeah, she's also capable of teleporting others...

With Pyro and Avalanche joining the fray, Rogue decided to take out Spiral in order to make sure there wouldn't be any more reinforcements. Rogue being Rogue, she decided the best approach was to touch Spiral, absorbing her powers and identity and knocking her out.

A solid enough idea, but unfortunately Spiral is an otherdimensional sorceress, used to having her identity twisted and altered by every single reality she dances through. Compared to that, Rogue's absorption attempt was easily warded off... With a little twist no one saw coming.

Spiral's personality proved more dominant than Rogue's own mind, so her mind was taken over but she quickly made Rogue's body her own and even growing her four extra limbs. Too bad she couldn't do anything about the skunky hairdo, tho.

Spiral in control of the super powered Rogue... Wonder how that turned out for the X-men.

Ouch. That's gotta smart.

Spirogue turned the tide for Freedom Force, knocking out Colossus and helping the others corner Storm and Kitty Pryde. Spiral was so pleased with her new form, she decided to 'pull a Carol Danvers', and touch Spiral long enough for the transfer to become permanent.

So. Lets recap here... Spiral, a slightly deranged teleporting sorceress from another dimension is presented with the opportunity to vastly increase her personal power and all it takes to stop her from grabbing this golden opportunity with all six of her hands is an emotional plea from Storm and... the police?

... Tiny, insignificant creatures she could teleport away with the blink of an eye are reason enough to make her stand down? Guess Chris didn't have enough space left to bring the story to its logical conclusion, not unlike this blog :-)

"...Pickin' up where we left off..."

Whew, so its been almost three years since our last venture into Chris Claremonts mind control mayhem? Guess its time to review some of his more recent work, then. And, not to blow the surprise... The decade may be new, Chris is still up to his old tricks.

In the next couple of weeks, maybe even months but lets not get ahead of ourselves, we'll take a look at Claremont's take on (new) Exiles, (new) Excalibur, GeNext and maybe even his X-men forever run.

Also, as an added bonus, some vintage examples of sado masochistic enslavement fantasies being played out in a four color comics code approved comicbook.

To paraphrase the mind control master himself: should be fun!