Friday, August 24, 2012

Pretty's Perfunctory Persuasions

Meet Pretty Boy... a likeable, if not handsome guy. Why is that lady running away from him? Well, here goes... a post on Pretty Boy, maybe the ultimate of mind control goons, a cyborg capable of controlling minds, making his victims love what he does to them and looking positively hot while raping them. He'll make you like it, cos he's just that good.

Pretty Boy was introduced in Uncanny X-men # 228, as a member of the Reavers, a band of marauding cyborg thugs who used the mutant known only as Gateway to teleport them from their base in the Australian desert to wherever they had planned their next heist. And they weren't exactly subtle about it either...

But while most of his fellow Reavers were little more than cybernetically augmented humans with big guns, Pretty Boy possessed a few additional powers.

His foremost ability was to rewrite people's brains using filaments that shot forth from his eyes. He first used this power when he kidnapped banker Jessan Hoan, a gifted financial expert. The Reavers needed someone like her to make sure all the loot they recovered from their raids was put to good use. Jessan wasn't too eager to assist them, but that didn't stop Pretty Boy.

"No muss, no fuss, presto changeo... a whole new you! Isn't that nice?"

Marc Silvestri's art answers that question, Jessan is enjoying the sensation of being violated and reshaped into the person her assailant wants her to be. And Pretty Boy would have gotten away with it too, if not for the X-men who happened to pick this moment to attack the Reavers in their desert town.

Longshot's throwing knives cut off Pretty Boy's mind control tendrils (or, his eyes) causing him to be pretty miffed at the two X-men. He even tried to recruit Dazzler into the Reavers using the same trick, but her eyes proved to be just as dangerous...

"And once these fiber-optic filaments... burrow into your brain... you won't want to fight me anymore. You'll be a Reaver, body and soul!"

Ahhhh, yeah, that's the good stuff right there... Already claiming people body and soul in his first appearance... Lemme tell you, that Pretty Boy is going places!

As it turns out, the place he was going first was Gateway's teleporation gate. The X-men defeated the Reavers and took over their desert base, but Pretty Boy, Skullbuster and Bonebreaker managed to escape. They hooked up with Donald Pierce, former Hellfire Club member and cyborg in his own right to form a new incarnation of the Reavers.

They were later joined by Lady Deathstrike and Cole, Reese and Macon, three former Hellfire Club soldiers who were cybernetically enhanced as well. These Reavers managed to drive the X-men out, relishing in their victory and destroying the team's personal belongings out of pure spite. Here's Pretty Boy hacking away at stuff in Wolverine's quarters...

In a nice bit of characterisation, Claremont has Lady Deathstrike step in to prevent Pretty Boy from further defiling the blade of the Yashida family. Sure, she may be criminally insane and obsessed with killing Wolverine, but Yuriko still knows more about honouring and respecting a great house like the Yashida's than a hick like Pretty Boy ever could. Not that it stopped him from trying to get what he wanted, the only way he knew how...

Pretty Boy's fortright, even arrogant demeanor cost him dearly. Pierce got fed up with his constant lip and after Pretty was damaged during a confrontation with Wolverine and Jubilee, the Donald decided to play a cruel trick when he rebuilt his frame.

Still, his mostly robotic body didn't make him any less of a threat, quite the opposite. A fact Polaris discovered when the Reavers attacked Muir Island in Uncanny X-men # 255.

This time, it was the Banshee's wail that cut Pretty Boy's fiber optic mind control filaments. Pretty Boy didn't get to control any more people during Claremont's initial run on the X-books. And soon after Chris left, he was presumed to have died along with most of the Reavers during a Sentinel attack by future villain Trevor Fitzroy.

Luckily, you can't keep a good cyborg down... So by the time X-treme X-men Annual 2001 came along, Chris Claremont was back and so was Pretty Boy. As usual, both were up to no good...

Ahh, just look at those sensual, seductive and even downright pornorific poses Pretty Boy and his victim Sage are in. He is all ready to use his powers to scramble her computerlike brain and turn the X-men's mentat against them. And with no one to interrupt the process, how'd it turn out?

"I take it then, Pretty Boy's new program didn't take?"

Sage's computer mind proved to be the stronger mental CPU, easily overriding Pretty Boy's cybernetic commands and even using them to take control of him to boot. Considering that annual is the last time Chris Claremont ever wrote the character, one can only applaud the irony of Pretty Boy's story arc.

For close to 15 years, every single attempt to mind control people gets thwarted... And the minute he does succeed and has his (s)way, it backfires... Because he's actually the weaker party in the mind control.

Such delicious irony. One might even say pretty... boy.

Friday, August 17, 2012

O-Gunning For Mind Control Part II: Mind Controlling The Copyright Violations?

When we last left our heroes, Wolverine had just arrived in Japan to rescue Kitty from Ogun, a semi-mystical ninja samurai with demonic tendencies who had taken control of her. Not anticipating this situation (who would), Logan ran right into her trap... and her knife (ten times!)

Any other man would have died on the spot after getting carved up by an age old super powered ninja. But Wolverine's handy dandy healing factor kept him going long enough for Kitty's father Carmen and Logan's associate Yukio to sneak up on little miss ninja. Yukio hit Kitty from a distance with poison darts that knocked her out. 

Yukio and Carmen then dropped off the two X-men at a stronghold of the clan Yashida where they both tried to heal their respective wounds.

While Wolverine's injuries were rather extensive, they were merely physical. Kitty found herself assaulted by the personality and memory of Ogun, who to quote Claremont himself had "Taken her innocent soul and reshaped it into his own twisted image.'

It was up to Wolverine to do a little mind control exercise of his own,  by taking a page out of another Asian sensei's book...

"Take an hour and this rake..."

Doesn't sound nearly as catchy as Mister Miyagi's 'wax on, wax off' exercise from 1984's blockbuster The Karate Kid. Still, Kitty got the message and started raking away...

Only to discover to her horror that she'd subconsciously been creating an advanced Japanese zen garden, which proved she was still being infuenced by Ogun's soul. But how did he even manage to sink his claws into her at all? Prepare for some technobabble exposition in 3-2-1...

An enlightening scene: Kitty wants to be free of Ogun but Logan refuses to let her take the easy way out. Yes, Charles Xavier might be able to rid her of Ogun's influence but that would mean the demon ninja had won, according to Wolverine.

If Kitty can't muster up the strength to beat him herself after what he did to her, she'd never be able to heal herself. Point well taken. So after a period of training with Logan, Kitty goes out to confront Ogun while making an interesting discovery about herself...

"I'm not a kitty anymore... Much as I wish differently... I've grown up. I'm a cat,and I like the shadows a whole lot better than the daylight. Shadowcat."

With a new outlook on life (not to mention that new spiffy codename) Kitty finally squared off against Ogun when he tried to kill Mariko Yashida and her foster daughter Ameiko. Ogun thought his former apprentice an easy kill. He was wrong.

Al Milgrom's art really is quite creative here, showing the shattered demon mask to symbolise Kitty breaking free from Ogun's control. But since this limited series is called Kitty Pryde & Wolverine, we need some *SNIKT* time during the finale... So Wolverine shows up, finally healed after Kitty disemboweled him, and proceeds to fight Ogun to a standstill, but he offers Kitty to deliver the killing blow.

She can't do it, thereby finally proving she's regained control of herself because Ogun would have killed Ogun without a second thought (yes, that does sound a little confusing, doesn't it?). But like in any other horror movie, the monster always returns after you think he's defeated so when Ogun tries to stab Kitty in the back, Wolverine finally takes care of him.

So, how does one end a six issue miniseries that proved life and soul changing for the character of Kitty Pryde? How does she cope with having her mind and body violated by an ancient demon ninja? What will ease the void, the sense of loss and trauma?

Yup, ice cream... because mentally mutilated or not, everything is still better after ice cream, right?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

O-Gunning For Mind Control Part I: Big In Japan

Nowadays, Wolverine's penchant for taking young girls under his wing is well established. Logan's sidekick kick started way back when Kitty Pryde first joined the X-men (as seen in the shortlived Wolverine: First Class series) and it continued on with Jubilee, his goddaughter Aniko right up to X-23.
But Kitty was there first, and her relationship with Logan was the focus of the 1984 miniseries Kitty Pryde & Wolverine that saw Kitty abandoning the X-men when her father Carmen went missing. She traced him to Japan, where she discovered he was involved in a shady money laundering deal with the local maffia... Only to fall prey to mind control. Hey, this *IS* still a Chris Claremont comic after all.

Running away in shock after learning her father is a crook, Kitty's prowess and phasing abilities catch the eye of Ogun. At first glance, he appeared little more than one of crimelord Shigematsu's bodyguards, but appearances can be deceiving. Ogun claimed Kitty for his own and went chasing after her.

Well, that didn't take long at all... Even when she's intangible, Kitty still needs to breathe so a dose of  knock out gas is the perfect weapon against her. So what does this Ogun fellow want with her? 

Take a minute to read the captions... As Ogun grooms Kitty to be his helpless slave/student, she is so terrified of all the horrible things she thinks he might do to her, that the actual humiliation he puts her to makes her feel... almost grateful? "Thank you master Ogun for demeaning me in so graceful and swift a manner"? Sigh... Yet, this was just the beginning.

Yours truly first read these issues when he was a kid. To an eight year old, a seemingly invincible shadow ninja with a demonic fright mask was just about the scariest thing imaginable. Its still haunting, despite penciller Al Milgrom's inventive yet ultimately pedestrian art. 

Ogun's plan was simple: remake Kitty in his own image by breaking down her core personality, getting rid of the unwanted character traits and basically build her up from the ground up to be as deadly a killer as he is. And by the end of this process, we got this scene...

Ogun had succesfully merged his mind with Kitty's, making it virtually impossible to see just where the Japanese master assassin ended and the teenage girl from Deerborn Illinois started.

Luckily, help was on the way. Before Kitty was captured by Ogun, she became desperate enough to finally call her fellow X-men for help. As luck would have it, Wolverine answered... But Kitty was so ashamed about impulsively travelling halfway across the world, she hung up on him. No matter though, Wolverine travelled to Japan to find his 'pum'kin'... and he did.

How that turned out, you wonder?


Find out Logan's fate in O-Gunning For Mind Control Part II: Mind Controlling The Copyright Violations?

Logan, Love, Marriage & Mind Control...

In early 1998, Marvel's then editor in chief Bob Harrass approached Chris Claremont with the request to write a story arc on Wolverine, the series he helped launch in the 1987. The timing couldn't be better, considering Claremont's debut would start with the big anniversary issue # 125.

Most fans figured Claremont would use the opportunity to restore Wolverine's status quo, maybe even restore the adamantium that was ripped out by Magneto at the end of 1993's Fatal Attractions crossover. To his credit, Chris intentionally did the unexpected, unfortunately his three issue storyline was, well, haphazard at best. The anniversary issue starts out with Jubilee running from some bad guys in a scene that mirrors Kitty Pryde's escape from the Hellfire Club in Uncanny X-men # 129.

Jubes was rescued from that particular horror by, well, just guess...

Yup, that's Shadowcat and Lockheed... Looking ever so spiffy in green. But what's caused her sudden change in appearance? And for that matter, why was Jubilee being chased by those Hellfire Club goons, who by the way looked like X-women in outfits similar to Kitty's?

Bless Claremont's gift for exposition. The rather psychotic terrorist Viper, also fond of dressing in green leather, is revealed to be the big bad. Desperately trying to get at Wolverine, Viper used a special mind control poison (because that's what poisons do apparently) to recruit some of Wolverine's closest female friends and associates. Viper had managed to claim Psylocke, Rogue, Tyger Tiger, Jean Grey, Kitty Pryde and Yukio. Jubilee was about to join their ranks, if Kitty hadn't broken free from Viper's conditioning to save her.

Five of their colleagues however, weren't quite so lucky... And neither was Wolverine once the green squad tracked him down.

So why was Viper after Wolverine in the first place? Well, he once sorta promised Viper his hand in marriage in return for her aid. Its rather reassuring to know the lady might be a psychotic, mass murdering maniac, but she sure ain't forgetful!

Wolverine reluctantly obeyed his sense of honor and agreed to marry Viper, but their wedded bliss was cut short by Sabretooth who showed up to kill Logan's better half.

In a nice tip of the hat to a Wolvie wedding that that never was, Claremont has Sabretooth swear he'd kill any mate 'the runt' would ever take. Back in the early 80s, Claremont and Byrne had planned to have Wolverine and his lady love Mariko Yashida tie the knot... Only to have Sabretooth appear as the villain who ripped her apart.

And by 1998, the crazed mutant was about to fulfill his destiny after all. Yet, as the end of the second issue fast approached, even Victor Creed proved to be a mere accomplice to the real bad guy because well... Hey, why *DID* we shovel out that extra dough for gatefold covers that tell everyone what they need to know?

Yep, in the third and final chapter everyone got kidnapped and mind controlled by the Hand, leading to delicious scenes like these...

All the pain they caused Wolverine and Kitty had a remarkable effect on the erstwhile Shadowcat as she appeared like a latter day Psylocke...

But the Hand wasn't just planning on mind controlling Viper. They had a few more of those sensory depravation tanks lying around so why not stick a few more of Wolverine's women in there. In skintight outfits of course, mind control or not, there's always room for some eye candy.

In the end, all the heroes broke free to fight another day and Claremont bowed out after this three issue stint... While leaving the Wolverine/Viper marriage stand and revealing the Hand had reinforced Sabretooth's claws and skeleton with adamantium, making him a truly tough foe.

Alas, these story elements were quickly reversed by future writers who had the happy couple break up because, well, one's a sociopath with odd hair, a bad temper and connections to terrorist groups bent on imposing their views on a world that hates and fears them... and the other is Viper.*

* With sincerest apologies to Craig Ferguson

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Championing Some Mind Control...

Does anyone remember the Champions?

Yours truly certainly does. While he might not have been around (or alive) when this Los Angeles based team of heroes first banded together in 1975, the brief run of the Champions always intrigued me.

The Champions were presented as 'the superhero team for the common man'. An interesting, if not slightly ironic hook for a group that consists of a Greek demi-god, a demonic motorcyclist, two former X-men, and led by a former, seemingly ageless Russian superspy... 'common' wouldn't be the first word that comes to mind.

Still, most of their adventures were pretty pedestrian. After an initial three issue arc by Tony Isabella that set the heroes up as a team, Chris Claremont was brought in to guest write issue 4. By that time, Claremont had 'only' been writing comics for about six years and it showed in his writing. Thankfully, he had already adopted his pet peeve: mind control. 

The issue opens with Black Widow and Hercules enjoying a stroll on the beach, when they run into a crazed man who happens to be super strong, despite his advanced age. Seconds after they subdue him, a generic squad of shock troopers shows up and manages to knock them both out. Once they come to, they find themselves the prisoners of... well, just read...

Just how the Widow knows about doctor Lansing is never explained, but he's more than willing to explain what he's up to. Lansing is a psychiatrist who runs a mental asylum, even though he is insane. He's been experimenting on his patients to create a variant of Captain America's soldier serum. Many of his test subjects turned insane and infantile, his first success was the old man the heroes encountered on the beach. 

"When I've finished with you two, you'll tell me your innermost secrets... And serve me as blindly, as loyally, as any of my mutates!"

... Ahh, the sight of those future tried and true Claremontisms in their earliest appearances... Almost enough to bring a tear to one's eye. Now, in the years that followed Claremont would take plenty of time and pages to show the gruelling mind control techniques... but in these fledgling years, he cut right to the chase.

Gotta love that George Tuska art, with tiny details like Iceman reading an issue of the X-men comic. But here we have Hercules and the Black Widow busting into their own headquarters, ready to kill their fellow Champions.

Even in 1975, the threat of doctor Edward Starling and his mind addled zombies really do feel like a throwback to an early 1960s Tales To Astonish back up strip. Starling, both in design and behaviour, would have been a perfect fit for Ant Man's rogue gallery. From his plain clothes appearance to his remarkable likeness to main Ant Man baddie Egghead... Not to mention that bulky box he uses to control his mutates. All of it just screams vintage Stan Lee.

So, why did Starling decide to have Hercules and the Black Widow attack the Champions? Surely, there must have been better targets? Well, it seems Starling wanted the Widow's associate Ivan dead, who happened to be staying with the team at the time. Starling's big blunder was to send a mind controlled Natasha to kill her best friend...

Furious she broke free from his conditioning, Lansing tried to shoot the Widow in an obviously futile attempt to keep the situation under control. Obviously, he failed and then Natasha did this...

With his control box destroyed, the mutates turned on Lansing and the Champions just... let them kill him? Not too heroic, if you ask me. Still, kudos to Tuska for the creative way of showing Lansing's finale fate in a convincingly creepy way without resorting to gore. Never underestimate the power of suggestion.

Claremont ends his tale on the beach, with Angel having a heart to heart with a remarkably contemplative Hercules...

And so ends Chris Claremont's one issue Champions run. A surprisingly fine story, despite the cookie cutter plot, the generic bad guy and the slightly overwrought emotional ending that is a little out of character for Hercules, who must have seen far worse during the countless battles he's been in.

In retrospect, the conversation would have made far more sense if their roles had been reversed so a relatively inexperienced young hero like Warren would be overcome by the sad, unfair fate of the mutates only to have battle wisened Hercules set him straight.

Ah well, live and learn... at least Claremont realised having his bad guys carry around a mind control mcguffin that screams 'break me to conveniently end all this' was a bad move storywise... So its not all bad, after all. Just like the Champions themselves.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Empathically Emphasizing Mind Control

Meet Empath, he's one hell of a Hellion...

Chris Claremont introduced Emma Frosts' own team of young mutants in New Mutants # 16, as an analog to Xavier's brood. This meant most of them had powers that mirrored those of the New Mutants. There was Catseye, a deadringer for Wolfsbane, the rocketeering Jetstream was Cannonball by any other name... and then there's Empath, a mutant capable of controlling emotions, causing people to follow his every whim. Sort of like the New Mutant Karma, only creepier.

Claremont quickly established Manuel Alfonso Rodrigo De la Rocha (but call him Manny, he knows you want to) to be a sleazy, baseless and arrogant pervert who enjoyed bending people to his will. Even his teammates.

Leave it to Empath to make everybody a certified team player.

Empath's ambitions were made very clear from the start. He wasn't planning on merely serving as a Hellion, he was out to claim position of power as one of the Hellfire Club, who also happened to be sponsoring Emma's Massachusett's Academy.

To prove his mettle, the cocky mutant decided early on to take on the X-men with some of his fellow Hellions ánd the young mutant Firestar who he properly molded a little.

Firestar's presence here opens up a whole different can of worms with continuity enthusiasts, who don't believe there's any room for Angelica Jones to appear in this story in the four issue Firestar limited series that had her as a student at the Massachusetts Academy.

Still, look at Empath go. He not only controls one of Spider-Man's Amazing Friends, he's also able to go toe to toe with ubertelepath professor Xavier himself in Uncanny X-men # 193.

As impressive as this looks, do keep in mind that during their confrontation, Xavier was recovering from near fatal wounds he suffered from a mugging, it is still a testament to Empath's abilities that he was able to hold his own. But his teacher wasn't too impressed,  let alone pleased by his prowess...

"Your self-indulgent manipulation of Firestar's emotions has quite possibly deprived the
Hellfire Club of an invaluable asset!"

Harsh and stern words, most of the other Hellions would fall in line after getting chewed out by their headmistress. Empath, however, wasn't too impressed with Emma's temper tantrum. In fact, he knew just how to handle the little lady...

 "Nobody addresses a De La Rocha in such a manner.
We do not obey... we are not lackies... we command!"

Looks like Emma is in a bit of a pickle. Apparently overcome by Empath's emotional manipulation, she seems rather hopelessly in love with her rebellious student... ever ready to obey his every command.

I can make you do anything, my dear, darling Emma...
Nothing in your life, including your life, is as important as making me happy."

Unfortunately for Empath, the White Queen was only playing along to see just how deep a grave he'd dig for himself. She violently lashed out, using her telepathy to temporarily deny him access to his powers to teach him a valuable lesson in humility. That didn't last long, because Emma was forced to restore Empath's abilities when she wanted to gain control of the New Mutants once again

Long story short: during the events of Secret Wars II, the Beyonder killed and eventually resurrected the New Mutants, wiping their memories of the event itself. This caused the young mutants to slump into an inexplicable depression, along with nightmares and zombie like social behaviour. Magneto, serving as their headmaster, was at a loss when the White Queen showed up with the offer to take them under her wing.

Normally, Magnus would have dismissed her proposal outright, but Empath was monitoring their meeting from a hill on the school grounds, using a pair of binoculars to zoom in on Magneto and influence him so he would be more... open... to suggestion. Still, it was a close call because Empath was caught by Xavier staff members Tom Corsi and Sharon Friedlander who got a taste of Manuel's sadistic streak. 

Tom and Sharon resurfaced in New Mutants # 39, weeks after the previous issue, dressed in costumes that locked them together like slaves, collapsing at Magneto's feet (who was just taking a shower). As it turned out, Empath's mental whammy had done a real number on them.

Pissing off Magneto is never a good thing. Magnus travelled to Massachusetts to free his pupils only to be ambushed by the Avengers who were clued in the (former) mutant terrorist was on the move. During these frantic events, Magneto succeeded in reclaiming control of the New Mutants, but he forgot all about punishing Empath in the process...

Still, when the New Mutants finally learned of the torture Empath had put Tom and Sharon through, they inadvertently did Magneto's job for him when they decided enough was enough and planned to take their revenge on the hellacious Hellion.

Without informing Magneto about it, of course. He may be the master of magnetism ánd  carrying grudges... But he's still an adult so he's bound to be about as wet a blanket Stevie Hunter's ever so gratuitously toweling herself off with.

Teleporting themselves to Emma's academy, the New Mutants discover Empath is up to his usual ne'er do well-ery...

They set a trap for poor ol' Manny at night. When he's about to doze off, Magik teleports him to Limbo where the team subjects him to a nightmarish horrorscape, with a little help from S'ym and the other Limbo demons. But after a while, Empath finds the spine to fight back. 

Ah yes... more slavery bits! Even when the good guys do it on purpose it feels mildly uncomfortable to say the least. Still, lets not forget this is all for a good cause...

After having properly humbled and humiliated Empath, the New Mutants return him to his room where Empath's fellow Hellions are awaiting them. After Manuel went missing, the team did their best to find him because while he might be a sleaze, he's still one of them.

Yet, that didn't mean Empath could get away with everything as shown in these panels after the New Mutants left.

And here's where Claremont's involvement with Empath ends. A character so rife and burdened with mind control issues finally being forced to pay the piper for his many crimes. You'd think future writers would pick up on Manuel having learned his lesson, but, sadly, this was not to be.

Louise Simonson used Empath in a Magma/Nova Roma arc she wrote in New Mutants after Claremont left... And except for surviving the Hellions massacre at the hands of Trevor Fitzroy, Empath wasn't mentioned or seen until 2006's The 198 storyline that showed him with his powers intact, despite the Scarlet Witch's best efforts to the contrary.

When Empath properly popped back into continuity in 2008, Uncanny X-men # 502 revealed him as a slave of the sadistic Red Queen who flogged him to his utter delight for information on the X-men.

Yours truly might say these sadistic scenes are wrong, but for a character created by Chris Claremont it feels ever so right.