Sunday, June 23, 2013

Illyana's Beyond(er) Mind Control

Today's entry comes from the nine month period every Marvel comic had to get involved with Secret Wars II, which meant guest appearances by the Beyonder.

Ahhh, the Beyonder...

More often than not, the involvement of the one from beyond added little to the story. Some writers, like John Byrne in Fantastic Four, used the entity to further the ongoing storylines.

Either way, the Beyonder is basically just a tool. And a big one at that.

Chris Claremont managed to get at least some mileage out of the Beyonder over in New Mutants. Take issue # 36, in which he paid a surprise visit to Illyana Rasputin who was riding the subway in New York right when he popped in.

"Hello Illyana."

Naturally, the teleporting ruler of Limbo was ready to attack... But she didn't stand a chance. Luckily for her, he didn't want to hurt her. No, quite the opposite: he came to help her.

"This part of your being... you call it evil. You fear it."

And with good reason... Illyana lost parts of her soul to Belasco's bloodstone ritual. This gave her incredible magic powers, but she also lost part of her humanity in the process. Now, the Beyonder undid Belasco's handiwork and made the young Russian mutant whole again. Gone were her eldritch armor, soulsword and beatrice medallion...

But magic is a form energy... And energy can't be destroyed, it just exists in another form. Or in this case, another host. When the Beyonder removed the magics from Illyana, all her trinkets appeared on a rather shocked Kitty Pryde who was doing a little studying in New York's public library. Immediately recognising the armor, sword and pendant as Illyana's, she didn't have much time to adjust when a demon popped out of thin air and attacked her.

"Where's a Ghostbuster when you really need one?"

Ah, don't you just love the mid 80s?

While Claremont has Kitty think to herself in full detail just what the soulsword is (you're welcome new readers!), artist Bill Sienkiewicz once again knocked over his ink well to give the demon a distinctive, creepy appearance. But Kitty wasn't the only one dealing with a sudden increase in demonic activity...

"Dani... a monster!"
... Said the werewolf girl.

The New Mutants quickly deal with their uninvited pool guest and then... Illyana comes home... Using the subway.

"Take my hand, dear friend. Let me teach you what I have learned."

Apparently, Illyana also learned how to lift an entire metro train into the air and fly it over 40 miles to Westchester. Still, ignoring this super power we'll never see again... Illyana shares her 'insights' with Cannonball and meets the others after landing the subway train on the mansion's lawn.

"Join with a universal consciousness called 'the overmind'."

Illyana tells the New Mutants she wants them to join the Beyonder's cause, after all he has the best intentions for mankind... But the team is a little more concerned with their unexpected demonic visitor. Especially after Illyana rather casually identifies it as part of a large scale demonic invasion... And to think Inferno was still at least two years in the future at that point.

Surprisingly enough, Illyana's response is a rather glib 'no big deal.' According to her, these demons pale in comparison to the Beyonder so who cares. She's far more concerned with recruiting the New Mutants for the Beyonder's cause. All she has to do is touch them to make sure they see the light...

"Y'all don't understand! We got no choice but to show you!"

None of the New Mutants were too eager to have Illyana show them this new truth of hers. Karma was especially vehement in her refusal, which is understandable considering she'd only recently regained control of her body after the Shadow King mind controlled her.

So if politely asking doesn't work, try using force...

"Alarm... fundamental alteration in prime circuitry nets! Cannot inhibit... perceptions changing... thoughts... beliefs... data twist loop scramble dump purge...*"

For those who aren't fluent in mid 80s made up computer lingo: Illyana was trying to mind control the techno organic mutant Warlock.... And she would have succeeded too, if not for the fact a giant black demon (there goes Sienkiewicz's ink well again) showed up at the mansion, carrying an old friend...

"Now, with her lifesoul... and one more besides... shall the gateway at last be open..."

Yeah, poor Kitty. Even though she had 'inherited' all of Illyana's magical artifacts, she lacked the necessary skills to use them effectively. Now, she'd fallen prey to the demons who were planning to finish Belasco's bloodstone ritual and merge Earth with their dimension. And of course the New Mutants tried their best to stop the creature...

Mutants, stop him! Shan, can he be possessed?!"

It's a quintessential panel of Claremont's New Mutants and the way they approached a combat situation. Wolfsbane's on the frontlines clawing away at the demon's foot, while Dani Moonstar and Xi'an 'Shan' Coy Manh use their mental powers to inflict their own particular brand of mental domination.

While way in the back, Doug 'Cypher' Ramsey is feeling useless and a bit scared because a) he's halfnaked and b) being a mutant universal translator make him pretty much worthless in actual combat... a cipher if you will... 

In the end, the demon appears impervious to the New Mutants's powers. How can one scare, scratch or burn a creature from a hellish dimension, after all. No, it's up to Illyana to save the day by willingly embracing her evil once more...

"To save her, I've got to take them back. Become evil.
If I let her die though how can I call myself 'good'?"

Chris Claremont confronts Magik with an interesting no win situation. Illyana truly wants to do good, but what does that mean in this case? Either she embraces her demonic side in order to save her best friend, or she lets Kitty die so she won't be the 'Darkchylde' anymore... But can anyone who stands idly by and watches a fellow human being die truly be considered good?

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

In the end Illyana took back what was hers, cast aside the Beyonder's gift of a 'normal' life and rescued both Kitty and every single person on Earth from getting devoured by demons... And all it took was her own life and personal shot at happiness...

"Hey why so glum, roomie? I knew you'd save the day".

With one demon invasion stopped and one best friend saved, it would seem Illyana made the right choice. Even though 'right' is all but relative. Considering what happened in New Mutants # 71...

Would the life of Kitty have been worth preventing Inferno, the demonic infestation of New York city that killed dozens of innocents?

Discuss amongst yourselves...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Mind The Concealed Controller Part III: Oh Goth, Not This Again!

Y'know, every so often one has to feel a bit sorry for Chris Claremont.

Just this week, as I was compiling the third and final part of the X-men's war with the Neo, Uncanny published a fascinating piece on how Claremont got treated by Marvel. Editors casually changed year long, already okayed storylines on him which caused him to think on his feet and still make the books feel organic. That takes talent, professionalism and a lot of patience.

"The comic that inspired X-men the movie"

The same editorial meddling occured in the Neo storyline. Originally, Claremont had planned to keep Wolverine's team seperate from Storm's X-men in their own titles. But all of those plans got trashed when the first X-men movie did surprisingly well at the box office and Marvel decided to capitalise on its success.

One problem though: even though Uncanny X-men had inspired the movie, the comic and the characters looked nothing like their movie counterparts. It would take Grant Morrison's 2001 New X-men to adapt the look and feel of the team to the movie with the introduction of all purpose black leather outfits.

But for now, the editors deemed it necessary to at least reunite the two teams and have them live at Xavier's school. And that's just what Uncanny X-men # 385 set out to do, in a workmanship style tale that tried to wrap up as many plotlines as possible while still relying on an awful amount of mind control.

Let's set the scene: several factions of the Neo had been kidnapping humans and X-men alike for the interdimensional slavetrade. Storm, Gambit, Cable, Colossus, Psylocke and Thunderbird had been abducted by the Neo clan known as the Goth. Eventually freeing themselves, the X-men struck a deal with the Goth and their fellow Neo the Crimson Pirates to work together, all the while planning to betray them at the first opportunity.

Meanwhile, X-men like Rogue, Wolverine, Phoenix, Beast and others had been searching for their teammates, unaware of the deal they'd struck. That's why when the two teams finally met in Madripoor during another slave razzia, they inevitably came to blows.

Unfortunately, the Neo weren't beyond mind controlling their X-men allies...

"You're being far too gentle. Let me help."

Beldame uses her powers to override Storm's control of her own powers and forces the weather goddess to push her abilities to the limit, thereby weakening Phoenix' defenses long enough for her to fall prey to the Neo slavers who recognise an opportunity when they see one.

"And that window of vulnerability is all Bess requires to affix a slaver cowl and take her prisoner."

But the Goth-allied X-men were less free than they imagined themselves to be. For instance, when junior member Thunderbird had trouble pretending to fight his fellow X-men, it seemed the Neo had a little assurance for cooperation built in...

"Thunderbird's wearing a slaver collar! Activated by remote control!'

Mind control made easy... It does make you wonder why the X-men didn't ditch their slaver collars the minute they escaped from the Neo's prison. The previous issue made it seem as if Gambit had convinced the X-men to simply play along and when the fight started in # 385 Phoenix claimed she didn't sense any mental coercion whatsoever... but let's see what happened next...


Before Beast has a proper chance to investigate the workings of the slave collars, Colossus seems determined to kill him. Not exactly what you'd expect from a teammate who is actually working with you undercover. The same thing occured when Rogue finally had a moment alone with her paramour Gambit. She wanted to know what kind of game the ragin' cajun was playing. And the second he managed to win her confidence, this happened.

So, how mind controlled are they? It's never made clear. But for my money, if Gambit's team was uncontrolled the whole time, there's no reason they wouldn't have switched sides the minute the other X-men showed up so that the reunited team could take out the Goth, the Crimson Pirates ├índ the Neo slavers at once. 

"It has nothing to do with Gambit's caper. This is something wholly within me!"

Ah yes, the actual story... Consider Cable's musings after defeating Wolverine. It seems he is being influenced from within. This might be the Neo, but it's more likely that Stryfe is inside him causing mischief. After Cable is able to knock out even Wolverine, Gambit's team takes Rogue and the others to the Goth's secret Chinese hideout and slaver distribution center. They present their captured teammates to slaver Tullamore Voge, the Goth and Killian of the Crimson Pirates.

"Dis how you treats your friends, Goth?"

Looks like the massive Neo known as Goth had all but forgotten the deal he struck with Gambit. And look, there's Colossus clearly enthralled and ready to as Sanguine claims 'once more embrace glory'. What could he possibly mean by that?

"You will rejoin your compatriots... as slaves!"

Things sure looked bleak for the X-men, still... it's always darkest before the dawn, as this scene proved between Beldame and Tullamore Voge, the gluttonous but ever indulgence ready slavemaster. 

"That sounds naughty. Like someone's breaking the rules."

Well, surprise, surprise... Beldame is actually Phoenix who used her telepathic powers to disguise herself as the Neo. The real Beldame was wearing a slave collar (even though it's never explained how  Jean was able to overcome the effects of the collar, but hey... comics). Naturally, this ruse meant Beast wasn't enslaved as well... and mama McCoy's favorite blue haired bouncing Beast used his scientific genius to do the thing everyone was expecting...

It's an interesting claim: thanks to Jean's telepathy Hank is now able to access the inventive genius of the mutant inventor Forge, which added to his own brain power, makes every task easily achievable. So unlocking a few slave collars really isn't that hard. Guess what effect that had in the Goth throne room.

"The X-men are now free!"

Talk about creating a diversion. With all of the X-men now uninhibited by mind control or slave collars alike, the Neo scrambled to defend themselves. While meanwhile in Tullamore Voge's control room, Psylocke made sure the Slaver's business would be critically crippled by destroying the operation's transmat teleportation system. Without it, they wouldn't be able to pop in all over the world and claim new victims...

But the Goth wasn't too impressed by this achievement and attempted one final, mind control heavy attempt at winning the day...

"I am darkness absolute, the avatar of iniquity! As I drain the brilliance of your lives, I shall lay waste to the landscape of your souls! Until you are but hollow vessels... aching to be filled with mine own corruption."

Gods of earth and air, that *is* an impressively verbose way of saying your evil is so intense and dominating it will eventually cause everyone to turn into a bunch of mindless vegetables willing and able to receive whatever programming you see fit.

It even makes you wonder why the Goth faction even needed other Neo or human agents for that matter. Wouldn't it have been far easier for them to simply use their transmat technology to transport the Goth into the middle of any mall in America? Just have the guy sit down at the food court, sit back and watch as his evil turns every shopper into a mindless zombie ready to be processed?

As the X-men are pelleted by the Goth's evil, Rogue kisses Gambit, takes over his mind and powers, learns of his secret plan to deal with the Goth and then proceeds to use both their mutant abilities to actually kill the big, bad Neo...

And that's the last we saw of the Neo in Uncanny X-men, the comic that inspired the movie...

Sort of.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Mind The Concealed Controller part II: Neo-thing New, Really...

When we last left the (Uncanny) X-men, the team was in Russia investigating outerdimensional slaver Tullamore Voge's motives for setting up shop in Moscow. During a routine mindscan, Phoenix was contacted by Wolverine back in New York that the Neo had assaulted his X-men team as well.

Before they could compare notes, another faction of Neo called the Crimson Pirates attacked the facility where Voge was being held. At the same time Stryfe attacked from the astral plane and mind controlled Cable, using his abilities to take out and imprison Storm and Gambit. Only Beast and Phoenix managed to escape to fight another day and they did so, showing up in Hong Kong with Wolverine's team in X-men # 104.

Y'see, the slavers in Russia were part of a larger trade system with ties to the Neo. Wolverine's team encountered the Neo in Salem Center, where they kidnapped a huge part of the local population, including Psylocke, Colossus, Archangel and Thunderbird.

There's a similar operation in Hong Kong and by making their presence known, the X-men hoped to provoke a response from either the Neo or the slavers.

They got one.

"We are the Crimson Pirates. Surrender... or die!"

The Pirates attacked the X-men in their own home, which is exactly what they'd hoped for. Rogue took over Phoenix' mental powers and fooled the Neo with mental illusions of the team. They actually were breaking into the Neo's headquarters to find out where their teammates were being held. Rogue escaped after the Neo found out, but not learning the sad fate of one of Nightcrawler's ex-girlfriends...

"And Kymri herself, bound to Killian's pirates as his own personal Hound."

Speaking of costumed heroes in chains... Let's check in on the X-men who got kidnapped by the Neo. Wonder what they're doing...

Chains? Check. Collars? Check. Gimp-esque face masks? Check. Needlessly sexual undertones? Check! For new villains, the Neo sure got the Claremont classics down... Now all we need is some mind control and...

"The cowl will steal away your very thoughts... and replace them with whatever I choose."

... Ahhh, there it is. Right on time. Good ol' mind control, you never disappoint.

Luckily, Gambit's able to use his powers just enough to break free and soon, the X-men are roaming around in the Neo's homebase, wondering where the heck they are and what to do.

"Wouldn't it be more prudent to find out where we are and establish a line of communication with the other half of the team?"

Yeah, what Cable said! ... Hey, waittaminute! Wasn't he supposed to be possessed by Stryfe and working with the Neo to take down the X-men? What was he doing chained up in the basement with them? And erm... why are they still wearing their cowls? Didn't they hear the Neo lady explain it steals away independent thought? 

Still, they were free and the other X-men were on their way as well. Will the two teams reunite and fight together? The answer might surprise you in part III of Mind The Concealed Controller: Goth, Not  This Again!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mind The Concealed Controller part I: Tullamore's Mind's A Mess

Today's entry revisits Chris Claremont's 2000 run on Uncanny X-men and the early misadventures the mutants had, fighting their mysterious new foe: The Neo.

The Neo actually consisted of quite a few subgroups. Apart from the main clan led by Domina, the team also encountered the Shockwave Riders, the Lost Souls, the Goth and in Uncanny X-men # 383... meet the Crimson Pirates.

But first, say hello to Tullamore Voge.

This rather obese blue refuge from an alternate dimension is actually a slaver, who tried to profit from trading Russian mutants all across the omniverse. The X-men had already put a stop to that business an issue earlier, but now they wanted to know just who he was working for.

Conventional interrogation methods were getting them nowhere, and and this was well before 9/11 okayed the use of 'enhanced interrogation techniques' (though if you waterboarded a blue guy, who can tell the difference)... So they figured the best way to learn what's on his mind is to, well, go inside his mind.

Despite Cable's misgivings, Phoenix volunteered for the job.

"My telepathy will allow me to do virtually anything..."

Famous last words, Jean... Because inside Voge's mind, there just might be (Tulla)more than you can handle. And the first surprise is that inside Voge's head, she encountered Wolverine, of all people.

"I hate this flamin' fishbowl! My skull feels like it just got dropped in hot oil f'r fryin'!"

Yeah, let's call it an (unfortunate) coincidence... But the second Jean used her telepathic powers to conduct her investigation into the villain's mind, she's also contacted by Wolverine via Cerebro. 

"I'm fine, darlin'... But the X-men got serious trouble."

He just 'called' to give her an update on the Neo his team of X-men had been facing back in New York. But their little reunion is cut short when Voge realises someone's been using his mind for a conference call.

"Silly little piece o'fluff, wot. Figurin' t'match wits with a master?
Been breakin' mentats like you to the harness for donkey's years now."

For those of you not fluent in what appears to be an interdimensional take on cockney English, Voge is rather unimpressed with Jean's telepathic prowess and he plans to bend her and Wolverine to his will. He figures the combination of their genetic potential (i.e: kids) could be very profitable...

All the more reason to turn them into his slaves. Heck, he'd already constructed their new identities as his mindless Hounds. If those creatures beat Wolverine and Jean, they'd be taken over permanently.

Jean wasn't having any of this and took swift action. Just as Wolverine was getting transformed into a Hound (apparently he was already pretty close to one anyway), Jean pushed Logan out of Voge's mind and back into his own body, keeping him safe.

"Which begs of course the final question, o blessed matriarch... Who's left to rescue you?"

The mysterious fanged bad guy with awful dental hygiene makes a good point. But before we go into the question who he is, let's see if Wolverine survived the trip back from the astral plane.

"I was comin' apart inside, bein' twisted inside out like taffy. Happened so fast, didn't think such a thing was possible. I saw the collar of a Hound...
and suddenly, more than anything, I wanted to wear it."

So, Wolverine narrowly escaped getting mind controlled... But back in Russia, Jean was still trapped inside Tullamore Voge's mind. Her body had collapsed, which made the X-men more than a little suspicious and convinced Cable he'd better follow her in to see what was wrong. Upon arrival, he got a pretty good clue who the mystery mind mucker is...

"When you behold the face of the Gorgon, do you ever wonder if you're looking into a mirror?"

In a clever bit of misdirection, Cable thought he was facing both Onslaught and Jean herself. But he was actually facing, of all people, Stryfe. This was never revealed in the issue itself, Claremont planned to use Cable's clone turned master villain in future storylines... Unfortunately, he was taken off the book before anything could come of this. 

But while all this was going down on the astral plane, the X-men were under attack from this new band of Neo calling themselves the Crimson Pirates. They had come to free Tullamore Voge, which was something the team simply couldn't allow. They stood ready to take them on, even Cable had returned to his own body... Or had he?

"I can't sense a trace of the virus... it's been purged from my system. And my eyes... they're both normal! My scars are gone. I've never seen my face like this."

Yeah... In retrospect, it's pretty obvious Claremont was already writing Stryfe here. From his earlier comment to Jean, refering to her as 'matriarch' (after all, Stryfe's birth mother was Jean's clone Madelyne Pryor) to his comment to Cable about looking into a mirror. But clone and original were about to get even more intimately involved...

During the fight against the Crimson Pirates, 'Cable' suddenly switched teams...

"The Psimitar is a fabulous weapon and Nathan Dayspring Summers is the unchallenged master in its use. Such a shame the same cannot be said for his soul and for his body!"

Which is a rather wordy way of saying... Cable's mind has been taken over, which is something Storm and Gambit realised a bit too late. The Crimson Pirates then proceeded to free Voge and planned on capturing all the other X-men to use as their mindless pawns. However, Beast and Phoenix managed to run away to fight another day.

This conflict would be resolved a month later in Uncanny X-men 385, as we'll cover in part II of Mind The Concealed Controller: Neo-thing New, Really...