Monday, December 3, 2012

Shooting Up The Daughters Of The Dragon

Today's entry might just be a little too graphic for readers who are used to Chris Claremont's writing being reigned in by the edicts of the Comics Code Authority.

Cleverly capitalizing on the martial arts craze of the 1970s, Marvel launched Deadly Hands Of Kung Fu, a black and white magazine that didn't adhere to the Comics Code, which meant creators were free to indulge themselves. Show some nudity? Go ahead. Have your characters curse? Be my guest. Overt substance abuse? Don't let me keep you.

When Chris Claremont was asked to write a story, he crafted a tale featuring martial artist Colleen Wing and her partner Misty Knight, the tough New York cop with a bionic arm. Together, they'd been making waves in the Claremont penned Iron Fist as the Daughters of the Dragon.  However, while this tale does have some ties to then current Marvel chronology, all bets were off.

After the traumatic experiences she suffered in Iron Fist # 5, Colleen Wing returned to Japan in order to find herself, with some help from her grandfather Kenji Ozawa. Unfortunately, agents of Hong Kong crimelord Emil Vachon killed him, which prompted Colleen and Misty to seek revenge... to the death.

Arriving in Hong Kong, they quickly got involved in page after page of senseless but entertaining fighting as they sought out Vachon. Over the course of their many confrontations, their clothes slowly got ripped to tatters which gave their their ample tatas plenty of opportunity to show. In an interview, Marshall Rogers defended this artistic choice rather effectively.

"Chris's plot called for Colleen and Misty to move from point 'A' to point 'B', fighting a shitload of bad guys along the way. My thought was, 'When a male protagonist was in that situation, nine times out of ten, he would end up with the shirt ripped off his back. It would be very sexist of me to assume that a woman wouldn't fight as hard or be in a less precarious situation so...' the shirts were ripped off their backs."

After a few more hijincks, Colleen and Misty finally caught the attention of Vachon after they managed to blow up quite a few of his ships that were docked in the Hong Kong harbour. However, the explosion knocked both of them out and they were pulled out of the drink by Vachon's henchmen who, in issue # 33, brought them over to the crimelord's lair inside a hollowed out volcano...

By 1976, Vachon was already enjoying anti-gravity in his 'eagle's nest'. In retrospect, that makes this scene with the avant guard mutant inventor Forge in his Aerie from 1984's Uncanny X-men # 186 seem rather dated.

Either way, Vachon had a far more sinister plan in mind for his unwilling prisoners. He wanted to make them pay for destroying his fleet of smuggling vessels. How? Well, by making them drug addicted sex slaves, of course!

"The days blur, one into the next, time losing all meaning as it focuses down to the eternity between the fixes. They fight at first, their minds denying the drug, their bodies hungry for it... but by the second day its all over. By the third, they're shooting the smack themselves."

The lack of a professional bad guy in a flashy outfit using mental or otherwise supernatural powers to bend Colleen and Misty to his will, is reason enough for some to claim these chilling scenes aren't evidence of 'proper mind control'. But consider this: the simple act of forcibly drugging Colleen and Misty with heroin until they are so addicted they actively crave it is indeed an act of forceful control and might even be considered a form of rape. Speaking of rape... 

Just read the dialogue for yourselves... without the Comics Code Authority in place, Claremont and Rogers were free to combine kids' friendly issues like forced drug addiction and rape. The first three panels contain so much distasteful imagery and dialogue, one wonders what anyone was thinking. 

Thankfully, Misty Knight comes to the rescue, snapping Hartmann's neck and revealing she wasn't affected by the forced heroin bender because she'd been injecting the drug into her bionic arm. However, Colleen was still struggling with the severe withdrawal symptoms...

In a powerful scene, Colleen enters a deep state of meditation to combat her addiction head on. Marshall Rogers' art impressively captures the deep anxiety and pain she has to face in order to overcome her plight. The artwork and text keep the outcome of this struggle in doubt, as Colleen is seen lurching butt naked towards the loaded syringe. But, spoiler alert, check this next page...

In retrospect, its amazing to see what gifted artists like Claremont and Rogers could come up with if their creativity wasn't severly curtailed by the edicts of the Comics Code Authority. Both Colleen Wing and Misty Knight felt like real people who were able to show genuine emotions. Marvel wouldn't drop the Comics Code until 2001, which saw the launch of the supposedly 'edgy' MAX-imprint. 

And while those books were loaded with extreme violence and tons of shock value, they didn't reach the level of maturity and class the Daughters of the Dragons had mastered a quarter century earlier.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Beware Mind-Master's Daring Bedevilments

Man, the 1970s sure were a strange time for comics...

For instance, to fully explain the plot to 1976's Daredevil Annual # 4, it would take at least two or more additional chapters, not counting about the utter randomness required to make this cover possible.

First things first... Namor the Sub-Mariner doesn't break up any fight between Daredevil and the Black Panther. In fact, he only appears because Daredevil overreacts and believes Namor is the bad guy. 

Oh, you actually want the full story?

Well, the annual opened with Robert Trevanian Mallory, a wealthy inventor/industrialist who was pitching a business deal to the Black Panther. Mallory has designed a 'tidal power station' that taps the 'vast energies contained in the deep ocean currents'. But he needed some Wakandan vibranium to actually build the thing. Unfortunately, right in the middle of closing the deal, the phone rings. 

And here's where things got a bit wobbly. The story continues with Daredevil patrolling the city and spotting a crashed police car. As he investigates the scene, he discovers a wounded cop who rather eagerly tells him about Mallory and the apparent involvement of the Sub-Mariner. This prompts DD to search out Namor... And when he finds the prince of the realm, he manages to kill about half a dozen pages with a fight scene that leaves him injured and none the wiser.

Black Panther, however, decided to take an active part in finding Mallory's son Keith. After hours of tracking, T'Challa confronted the true culprit: small time criminal Ruffio Costa. Despite his polite demands that the child be released, Ruffio actually manages to take the Panther hostage as well... by pointing a gun at the man with jungle cat like reflexes.

Not too long afterwards, Daredevil received a call as his civilian alter ego, attorney Matt Murdock. Ruffio demanded 5 million dollars ransome money from the Avengers for the Panther's release. Changing back into his Daredevil duds, DD pays a quick visit to Murdock's law partner Foggy Nelson who happens to have that kind of money lying around.

On his way to get the money to the crook, Daredevil bumps into Namor again who is still frustrated about... well, everything... And decides to use DD as a stress relieving punching bag for a while longer, almost ruining the entire rescue plan when he tossed both Daredevil and his suitcase full of money into the water. 

Retrieving it just in time, Daredevil fights Namor some more until he finally gets billy clubbed with some common sense.

Finally listening to reason, Namor backs off... although offering his strength to help solve the case would have been far more appreciated. Not that it seemed necessary, this Ruffio character seemed little more than a small time crook and indeed, was easily defeated by both the Panther and Daredevil when he got caught in the blastwave of some exploding machinery.

All's well that ends well, I suppose. No way there could still be anything mind control related going on, right?

Wait for it, waaaaaait for it...

Ahhh, that's the ticket! Chris, you tease, 29 pages in but you finally delivered. A classic hero versus hero mind control heavy fight in the closing moments of a rather disappoint annual so far. Lets have a little taste of those sweet, sweet cliches...

"The harder I hit the Panther, the easier I make it for Mind-Master to take him over body and soul."

That's got to be one of the earliest uses of what soon would become one of his favorite chestnuts, the taking over and controlling of someone, body and soul... And heck, the Panther's already used to wearing black leather, so its a natural fit.

Meanwhile, the fight is going poorly for Daredevil whose radar sense is being disrupted by the residual energies from Mind-Master's powerblasts. That's why he doesn't 'see' this coming...


Apparently, that's the appropriate sound effect when hitting someone in the face while slinging from the ceiling. Who said comics couldn't be both fun ánd highly educational?

Panther only managed to break free because Mind-Master's concentration was broken but both heroes were still... FOOK-ed... because their best blows didn't seem to harm the bad guy. That's when Daredevil decides to do something really daring and goad the villain into pouring on the power, pushing himself to the limits... And gets killed for his efforts. All according to plan.

Right before he can kill the Panther too, Mind-Master runs out of juice and reverts back to his human form who the Panther easily knocks out spouting some lines that are just a little too precious...

... Ehm, T'Challa? Its a pretty safe bet the 'other maffia thug'  that will take Costa's place isn't a mind controlling super villain in his spare time. Also: killing's never been the Panther's way? I'm no expert on Wakandan tribal customs, but I'm guessing that chieftains who outright refuse to kill, not even to defend their people, soon find themselves out of a job. Or a people.

Anyhoo, lets wrap this headache of an annual up...

Friday, November 30, 2012

Captain's Marvel At The Early Mind Control

So, who knew Chris Claremont ever wrote the sensational... Captain Marvel?

I know I didn't... Thankfully, Chris' Wikipedia bibliography educated yours truly considerably. Yes, Claremont penned the September 1976 issue of Marvel's bi-monthly space epic in which so much happened I got lost... during the recap page. See how you do.

Frankly, Captain Marvel # 46 is a bit of a convoluted mess, even for the uneducated... which isn't Claremont's fault considering he only wrote this one issue that was supposed to cap off a multipart epic started by Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom. To give you an idea just how out there this tale was... Englehart had Captain Marvel and his companion Rick Jones ride mechanical cattle through space only three issues earlier. 

So, lets throw common sense out the nearest airlock and focus on condensing the story at hand. Captain Marvel is a rogue Kree officer who rebelled against the rule of his commander, the collective  mind known as the Supreme Intelligence. The Intelligence perceives Earth as a threat and seeks to destroy her, but both Captain Marvel and his young earthling sidekick Rick Jones struggle to prevent this, aided by people who for the sake of this review don't really matter that much. 

As Marvel's band of insurgents hurtle through space towards the Kree homeworld of Hala, they are intercepted by the Intelligence Supreme aboard the imperial dreadnought Star Of Vengeance. Their enemy arrived in the most powerful battlecruiser in the fleet to take them out.

And in true grand villain style, the Intelligence only takes action after some overly wordy recap/exposition...

Both heroes are zapped away, courtesy of the Star Of Vengeance's teleportation systems. Captain Marvel finds himself on Hala where he has to face the physical representative of the Supreme Intelligence... the Supremor.

Ah, yeah, the legend of the Millenia Bloom... we'll get to that in a bit. The Supremor was a tad too occupied with Captain Marvel, who in turn was upset about the disappearance of Rick Jones. The Captain's partner however, was teleported to the Star Of Vengeance and was about to face an oddly familiar foe.

What the...?! I'm not sure how I know, but I think I'm on that starship..."

Yeah, lets just say that by 1976, Chris Claremont characters hadn't quite mastered the art of natural exposition yet.

The Supreme Intelligence had become aware of the change in status quo Captain Marvel and Rick Jones, or Rik Jonzz rather, had recently gone through, In the old days, the two of them were bound together courtesy of the negabands. While one of them was running around the galaxy, the other one's body would be held in suspended animation inside the Negative Zone. 

They could only switch places when the one active in normal space/time banged the bangs together. Basically, think DC's Firestorm, the Nuclear Man with fancy jewellery. However, not too long ago Rick tired of his time share existence and entered the Negative Zone, courtesy of Reed Richards, to retrieve Mar-Vell... They decided to share the power of the Nega bands by each wearing one.

However, this new arrangement had a weak spot the Supremor was about to exploit... A massive demand on the bands' energies from one user, meant the other was left virtually powerless. And wouldn't ya know it, the Supreme Intelligence had his Supremor bodies attack both Rick and C.M. at the same time, sparking a desperate power struggle. 

By the by, all of these battle scenes and conflicts were solely meant as a distraction so the real villain could prepare and show itself... a villain that, as it turns out, had all the added threat level of a potted plant. Meet the aforementioned Millenia Bloom, a once in a generation sprout that had the Intelligence up in arms... obviously unaware of floral seed preservation and cloning...

"In mere moments, when the flower has fully bloomed, that song will reach into the core of your very beings... and then it will consume you, expunging all that makes you individuals unique unto yourselves..."

Man, that early days Chris Claremont sure was wordy... Yet, in the middle of worlds living and dying, the Kree supreme commander's biggest concern was the well-being of a plant, that somehow seemed capable of miraculously mind controlling the two of them. But, wait, there's more!

By mind controlling Rick Jones, the Supreme Intelligence hoped to control the Destiny Force it had awakened in him a few years back during the Kree/Skrull war. But because every Earthling had the capacity of accessing this all powerful energy source, the Supremor wanted to destroy Earth. It also helped to get those pesky, meddlesome superheroes out of the way.

Naturally, it didn't go as planned...

Nowadays, a plot like this may seem overly familiar and even cliched, but keep in mind that this was written in 1976, Star Wars had yet to premiere. That actually makes this kind of space opera seem ahead of its time. Incredibly hokey, sure, but innovative all the same. 

Captain Marvel uses the mental link he shares with Rick thanks to the negabands to send him a message: access missile control and fire the ship's rockets into Hala's sun. This caused a massive solar flare that threatened to destroy the entire planet... and well, just read...

So, by firing a few missiles into the sun, the entire Kree race shut down? Does this mean the Supreme Intelligence controls the minds of every single living thing on Hala? And where did both Supremor androids conveniently disappear to? Also, what of the soul sucking influence of the Millenia Bloom? Why did it suddenly stop having an effect? Where was that plant located anyways, if it was to influence both Rick and C.M. while the two of them were thousands of miles apart?

All in all, Captain Marvel # 46 is riddled with plotholes big enough for a stampede of Supremors to fit through. To be fair, Claremont only had 17 (!) pages to wrap up an ongoing storyline in what was essentially a fill in. That didn't stop the editors from using the closing captions to appease any exasperated readers, tho...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hording The Mind Control Part II: The Drop Becomes The Ocean

"I want you to break into the Citadel of Light and Shadow... and steal for me its legendary treasure: the CRYSTAL OF ULTIMATE VISION."

How's that for an instant recap, then? The supervillain Horde abducted the X-men and the visiting Captain Britain and Meggan to heaven knows where to do his dirty work. Agreeing to get this crystal for him, the team went inside the citadel and quickly realised they had entered something of a death trap when the entrance slammed shut behind them.

Wolverine set out on his own, trying to track the crystal while the rest of the team stuck together as they made their way through the citadel which appeared to have mind controlling capabilities. All of the X-men were presented with their ultimate desire, in an attempt to lure them away from reality and into the grasp of the citadel's consciousness...

Rogue was the first to fall prey to her deepest wishes... to actually live the life of a normal southern girl, unburdened by her mutant powers, free to touch whoever she wanted.

Giving in to her desires, Rogue disappeared... apparently absorbed into the citadel itself. But she was only the first to fall. Havok was next, as the structure preyed upon his growing frustration over his powers. Havok constantly converts solar energy into plasma, which means he has to be alert at all times lest his energy levels spiral out of control to cause untold devastation. In the fantasy presented to him, Alex finally goes all out and turns into an actual star, inadvertently killing his teammates. 

Two done, so many more to go. The next X-man to disappear is Longshot. He isn't tempted by anything at all, the citadel seemingly just absorbs his essence.

Of course, Psylocke's explanation for Longshot disappearing into the citadel makes little to no sense. Claiming the citadel couldn't stand Longshot not having any innate heart's desire doesn't fly, not with  Meggan right there... As an empathic metamorph, a creature whose very purpose is becoming whatever another person desires her to be, she's the textbook definition of someone lacking a hearts' desire. But hey, lets not allow a little pesky thing like logic to stand in our way. 

Longshot's disappearance caused Dazzler to throw a tantrum and run off... which allowed the citadel to undermine her already shaky self confidence with an array of roads not taken.

"Someone help me... tell me which is best... Which to choose! Its up to me."

Alison Blaire finds herself at a crossroads, presented with various versions of her life. This played nicely into her doubts about her 'career' as a superhero. She never really felt comfortable as an X-man, not when there was still the chance she could be the pop star she always dreamed of... And, failing that, living a normal life as a big time lawyer, the way her father raised her to be... Yet, there was also the nagging fear of total self destruction, represented by a vagrant baglady Ali in the alleys.

In the end, her inability to choose a single path condemns Dazzler to be taken over by the citadel. But in all fairness to Claremont, he really knew what he was doing. This seemingly throwaway dream scene was revisited a good two years later in 1989's Uncanny X-men # 246, when Ali used her light powers on the Siege Perilous and got a view of some very similar alternate versions of herself.

Getting back to the story at hand... With Dazzler out of the picture, the number of active X-men was dwindling fast. Next up were guest stars Captain Britain and Meggan who got suckered into believing they could have a normal life and even tried to include Psylocke into their idyllic, small town version of reality. Unfortunately, Betsy had an... ironclad... vision of who she was supposed to be.

In an interesting twist, Psylocke turned into her heart's desire yet didn't get claimed by the citadel like the others. She and Storm pressed on in their search for the crystal, eventually finding it right before Storm got tempted as well by a dream figure of her best friend, the Japanese daredevil ronin thief Yukio.

Storm proved powerful enough to withstand the temptation of outright embracing her idealised existence, despite the obvious impact it had on her. Meanwhile, Wolverine had clawed himself free from a similar fantasy involving both Mariko and Yukio before crashlanding near Storm. 

They both scramble to get to the crystal, when Horde all of a sudden shows up dragging along Psylocke's disembowled robotic form. Wolverine instantly decides Storm needs to survive by shoving her back into the mind control heavy dreamworld she denied only moments earlier.

And this is where the plot absolutely abandons all sense. Why is Horde even inside the citadel, within arms' reach of the prize when the entire story seemed based on the fact he couldn't get to the crystal himself? 

But if you think that's bad... take a look at what happens next. Wolverine fights Horde, but loses... badly. How bad is it? Well, Horde rips out Wolvie's heart just to watch him die... Yet, tearing Logan apart turns out to be the worst thing Horde could have done, as a speck of Logan's blood lands on the crystal and an incredible transformation takes place.

Yup... the crystal managed to resurrect Wolverine from a single drop of blood... Ignoring for a minute such painfully awkward repercussions like the question why Wolverine regenerated his adamantium skeleton while it was artificially grafted on in the first place... the newly revived Logan yanks the big crystal from Horde's brow and wins the day. As the villain shrivels away, Wolverine threatens to get overwhelmed by the influence and might of the crystal...which turns out to be able to alter reality. 

Wolverine is about to mind control all of existence before he realises what he's getting himself into and stops before ever changing a single thing. A remarkable feat of restraint, even though Logan's inner monologue does manage to raise an eyebrow or two.

"Thing I always hated most was a body muckin' with my mind an' soul. If I can't abide that bein' done to me...I got no right doin' it to others... No matter how fine my rationalizations."

Words to live by, Chris...

Wolverine destroys the crystal, thereby returning the X-men back to life and as the citadel explodes, they all find themselves back at Xavier's, safe and sound but unsure if what they had experienced was all that real. It sure felt like a dream, after all. Claremont put all of that to bed in the final page of the annual...

Hording The Mind Control Part I: Kiss Kiss No, Wait, Why?

The year is 1987.

Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered in syndication, Ronald Reagan urged Soviet premier Gorbachev to 'tear down that wall', Microsoft celebrated the debut of Windows 2.0 and Chris Claremont paired with Alan Davis to produce the undeniably odd, mind control ridden Uncanny X-men annual # 11. 

In many ways, this annual reads like a test run for Excalibur, the British spin off Claremont and Davis would launch a year later. Not in the least because the story prominently features future Excalibur mainstays Captain Britain and Meggan.

The annual opens with Wolverine staggering home to Xavier's after an intense night of boozing. Dangling a sixpack in one hand and loudly slurring an old drinking song, his approach wakes up the entire team, who appear genuinely concerned for his well being. But Logan slumps past them, ignoring their concerns. Turns out today was supposed to be his wedding anniversary, that is if Mastermind hadn't mind controlled Mariko Yashida into cancelling the proceedings.

Even after Mastermind's involvement was discovered, Mariko still refused to marry him because of the responsibilities she has as head of her clan. His greatest desire was to win her heart again, but honor and duty bound him from pursuing the matter. This caused him considerable pain, which he tried to dull by going on a bender. Unfortunately, not even an alcoholic stupor could provide relief. His healing factor treats alcohol as a poison and quickly counteracts its effects.

Of course, Wolverine never shared this information with his teammates, who were understandably concerned about his erratic behaviour. Then again, Wolverine's always been portrayed as a considerable drinker... It still has Psylocke and her British guests worried though, yet before long Brian Braddock turns the subject to how his little sister is doing after she decided to remain with the X-men in the 1986 annual.

Psylocke appears to be riddled with self doubt, questioning her role with the team and how she even fits in with them. The awkward discussion is cut short when Psylocke picks up a mental alert from Storm, who was right in the middle of getting mugged in her own attic by a mysterious assailant. After a quick mental summons, the team races to her aid only to find the villain of the piece hard at work...

Just how someone decides on the codename 'Horde' while still being just one person is never mentioned. He is too busy making his case to the X-men, making sure they know he means business. 

"Evidently, our initial encounter was an insufficient demonstration of my power."

This is a cue for the X-men to attack Horde with all they got. But the villain proves completely impervious to all their attacks. Which is fitting because, in true Claremontian style... Horde seeks to subject and dominate the X-men, especially Storm whose beauty pleases him. Must be because of the similar hair do. 

So, what is this 'great task' Horde wants the X-men to undertake? 

"Why sully MY nails, dollybird... when I can have menials do so FOR me?"

Horde wants the X-men to infiltrate the Citadel of Light and Shadow to steal its legendary treasure: the crystal of ultimate vision... A textbook MacGuffin if ever there was one. Horde's motivation for recruiting the X-men is flimsy at best. If he truly is as invulnerable as he appears, he wouldn't even need to rope along unwilling accomplices. But Storm agrees to it anyway, reasoning that Horde is lying and is actually too afraid of something inside the citadel to get the crystal himself.

But before the team enters the ominious looking building, we're treated to this scene...

Out of the blue, Logan and Storm kiss. There's absolutely no established, let alone legitimate reason for their behaviour, but this one scene set a precedence for the years to come...

For instance, Uncanny X-men # 245, in the middle of the X-men's time in the Australian outback. The men on the team had just returned from a rather eventful night on the town, which Logan capped off by going in for a repeat performance...

After Claremont left, the physical relationship between Storm and Wolverine was completely ignored, that is until Chris returned to the X-books for a third time in 2004 and we get this scene...

"I'm the best there is at what I DO."

And apparently what he does best is platonically snog teammates. Well, so long as they're having fun.
Speaking of fun, that's the last thing the X-men have in part two of Hording The Mind Control: The Drop Becomes The Ocean