158 – No Focus, Less Direction

Art by David Wynne. Wanna buy the original? Drop him a line!

 

In which we return triumphant from hiatus; it’s still always Inferno in here; no one should ever under any circumstances date Cameron Hodge; Kenneth is a fundamentally hilarious name; Magneto’s family gets retconned to death; Pterosaurs are still the absolute worst; and Magik totally deserves a sidekick.

X-PLAINED:

  • Ka-Zar’s real name
  • Shanna the She-Devil
  • Our new production set-up
  • What we did on our summer vacations
  • Previously on X-Men
  • Further limits of the mutant metaphor
  • Uncanny X-Men #273-275
  • A crisis of leadership
  • A comic that is a metaphor that is also a comic
  • Cable’s OkCupid profile
  • Changing creative dynamics on the X-line
  • Archangel’s middle name
  • Gambit vs. Wolverine
  • Censorship Steam
  • The protean X-bathroom
  • Magneto’s retconned family
  • Colonel Semyanov
  • A perhaps ill-conceived team-up
  • The Self-Styled Mistress of Magnetism
  • Some remarkably lucky timing
  • The semantics of heel turns
  • Gender and sidekicks
  • Mr. Sinister’s powers

NEXT EPISODE: The end of New Mutants!


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32 comments

  1. Gene Gray says:

    Woo hoo! I’d been wondering when the return would be.

    Welcome back, Jay and Miles!

  2. XMenXPert says:

    Welcome back! I hope you had a satisfying hiatus. Congratulations to Jay for the wedding.

    Cyclops’ arc over the past 20 years is one of my favourite things. It is a fascinating arc.

    Storm talks about how they’d be removed by living in an alien ship in New York City, but she wants the team to live in the secret basement of a mansion in a small town in New York State. They’re way more isolated there than they would be in the alien spaceship.

    It’s interesting to think how these stories would have read at the time, compared to how they read now, knowing that Claremont was going to be leaving soon. How much of the tension was obvious to readers at the time?

    Can’t say I was sad to see Zaladane get killed. It is interesting that she’s never returned. I checked, and she didn’t even show up in Necrosha, from what I can gather.

  3. Armaan Babu says:

    Welcome back! It was SO good to be hearing the two of you again! I’ve been loving the Lightning and the Storm podcast in the meanwhile but this was sorely missed.

  4. Tetra says:

    Welcome back to X-Plains the X-Men. Hope you continue to survive the experience.

  5. Nick Delatovic says:

    Finally! Welcome back. The X-Tinction Agenda was my introduction to the X-Men so we’re entering a period I have very little in the way of objective critical perspective on. Can’t wait to hear your take on it all 🙂

  6. LAndrew says:

    Welcome back, y’all! You were very missed. 🙂

  7. CitizenX says:

    Yay! Welcome back. I just wanted to add a few comments about the jam issue. I’d be hard-pressed to find the source, but I remember reading a Jim Lee interview where he said he realized he wouldn’t be able to draw this whole issue, and he got permission from the editor to get a bunch of his favorite artists to pitch in. Also, on his website John Byrne said he agreed to do three pages, got the plot, and drew the pages. He was then informed that the plot he recieved was for just one page. This is why his pages were mostly talking heads, albeit excellent talking heads. Does anyone recall a comic drawn by this many artists coming out before this? Jam issues became commonplace afterwards, and it’s not unusual these days to have multiple artists in one issue. Before this, I think it was viewed in the industry as unprofessional. I really enjoyed this story when it came out, especially Whilce Portacio’s splash page with all the characters together.

    • David M says:

      There was The Spirit Jam from Kitchen Sink Press in 1981, issue 30 of that magazine. It had story and framing sequence art by Will Eisner. With additional art by Denis Kitchen, Mike Newhall, Fred Hembeck, Peter Poplaski, Michael T. Gilbert, Trina Robbins, Fershid Bharucha, Steve Leialoha, Joe Staton, Bob Smith, Frank Miller, Terry Austin, Marshall Rogers, George Pratt, Alan Weiss, Alan Kupperberg, Howard Cruse, Harvey Kurtzman, Ernie Colon, Brent Anderson, Bob Wiacek, Terry Beatty, Ken Steacy, Dean Motter, Jim Engel, Don Rosa, Catherine Yronwode, Mike Tieffenbacher, Chuck Fiala, Bill Sienkiewicz, Brian Bolland, John Byrne, Josef Rubenstein, and Richard Corben. It existed for a different reason than many jam comics. It was intended to attract the attention of then contemporary comic fans to the Spirit rather than being a deadline meeting venture. There could well be comics with more contributors, though.

  8. Jen Wolff says:

    Welcome back! I’m sure I’m not the only one to appreciate your timely return on the first Monday in August, not just sometime in August.

    I just wanted to point out one possible exception. Dinah Soar, RIP of the Great Lakes Avengers. This native of the Savage Land was nice, if quiet. I’m just not sure if she qualifies as a Pterosaur or not.

  9. Adam says:

    Welcome back, and Mazel Tov, Jay! Missed you guys, although the Lightning and the Storm served as a much appreciated fill-in.

  10. PineappleTheft says:

    Timed the podcasts nearly perfectly, finished Ep 157 the day after Ep 158 dropped. No break for me [Insert evil laugh here]

  11. Icon_UK says:

    Welcome back!

    I can’t believe you ragged on poor Kevin Plunder without even once mentioning his supervillain brother.

    Though, in fairness, if my parents had saddled me with a name like “Parnival Plunder”, I’d probably have become a supervillain too, but I hope I’d have resisted the temptation to use the name “The Plunderer”.

    • XMenXPert says:

      “Die historic on the Plunder Road!” I love how Al Ewing writes the Plunderer. And keep shaving him pop up as a ridiculous threat to be defeated.

  12. kingderella says:

    Woooooooooo! <3

  13. Icon_UK says:

    Oh, and congratulations on getting married Jay! Wishing you both all the very best!

  14. Devin says:

    Welcome back!

    I definitely understand Jay on the “tough to read when the parallels affect my day-to-day life” aspect, though my feelings are slightly different. On good days, I find X-Men a good reminder of the power and agency we have even as seemingly insurmountable forces are gathering against us. However, on bad days, I just want to scream at them all to join Magneto and/or Bendis-era Cyclops.

    And, yes, when Senator Kelly is better than many of the current people in power, I begin to worry we may live in the darkest timeline.

    As for the sidekick issue, it did have me try to go through Marvel sidekicks in general in my head. It does overall seem to be far less than DC…though, yes, most of the Marvel examples I can think of ARE adult male/younger female (Wolverine & Kitty/Jubilee/etc, Clint & Kate, etc.). The only exception I could think of was Shortpack from Mystique but A) it’s been a while and it may not be a true sidekick dynamic and B) if we really need to dig to a 15 year old, short-lived series to find the exception…there’s work that needs to be done.

  15. Psyche says:

    It’s so good to have you back!

    Also chiming in re: “tough to read”. I think, if anything, recent events have made me more sensitive to when the “mutant metaphor” is not done well, when before I could shrug my shoulders and move on. I think when the metaphor becomes more pertinent it’s more important to demand more nuanced, thoughtful writing versus “hey, this is a thing right now”.

  16. Kelvin says:

    Welcome back, congrats on the Lightning & the Storm and the move and the marriage and everything that happened in the hiatus!

    But again, for me, another Captain Privilege, the metaphor hasn’t held up for years. The X-Men fight to PROTECT a world that hates and fears them. They’d save Senator Kelly, even if he continued being a bigot. The civil rights movement these days seems to be fighting to change the world to one that sees them as the correct minority, something that seems a far more Magneto-esque approach. No…?

    • Devin says:

      I mean, the analogy will always get shaky because superheroes and the fact that it’s not like we live in a world where there’s wide-spread, publicly condoned mass-vigilantism, so there isn’t a minority or majority version of a superhero team.

      That being said, I wouldn’t go so far as to say minorities aren’t fighting to protect a world that hates and fears them. You have minorities joining police forces – looking past some realities and towards ideals of the force – because they believe in the ideals in service and hope that that’s either a duty to the world/their community and/or the only way things’ll change. Similarly, while there are issues with the current military/imperialism/etc., many join out of similar senses of idealism/duty, even if they are fighting for freedoms they do not fully enjoy. (Admittedly, both of these examples work off of how these organizations SHOULD work rather than how these organizations DO work…but that’s pretty X-Menish, isn’t it?)

      And then, of course, there’s how minority organizations are also helping those with privilege, even as they gets blowback from the powers that be. BLM often is leading outrage against white victims of police brutality, people with disabilities were instrumental in saving millions of Americans’ healthcare, the queer community has led the push on AIDS activism for years (it’s not like a straight person would get turned away from an HIV test at a LGBTQ center), etc.

      And then, there’s a whole other thing about how more marginalized members of groups tend to be at the forefront of gaining rights for other members of those groups, who are too-often-ready to throw them under the bus (as a gay, white, cis guy, I realize a lot of the rights I enjoy are because trans WOC raised hell)…

      In short, yes, it’s not like BLM, queer activists, etc. are necessarily stopping the universe from imploding, but they’re far from purely self-interested. If anything, it’s a lot of endless Sentinel stories where they’re stopping the Senator Kellies of the world from making a decision that’ll actually hurt everyone, not just them.

      • Devin says:

        I should note – Rebecca Bunch style – the situation is a lot more nuanced than that with a lot of these things (e.g. military as only reliable means of healthcare/college etc.), but this response was already long enough as it was and I hope I at least got the gist right.

        • Voord 99 says:

          Also ticking all the privileged boxes here, pretty much (straight, cis, white, male, college-educated, and while not particularly wealthy in background or current income, definitely not low-income, either).

          This is not to disagree with Devin, but to add another way to look at it.

          Superhero comics often heighten as part of how they work as metaphors. The X-Men fighting to protect a world that hates and fears them can be understood as a heightened version of a situation in which all minorities find themselves, not just those in professions which seem especially altruistic.

          Pretty much everybody *contributes* to society and helps it work in the way that it does, to the extent that it does, and in so doing helps to some extent to perpetuate things about society that they don’t agree with as well as things that they do. To take an obvious instance, paying taxes. But even that’s too overt. Just going about your daily life reinforces social norms in a thousand little ways every day. For a minority, this is an acute choice in a way that it is not to others.

          The X-Men are superheroes, and for them, contributing takes the form of protecting, because that’s what superheroes do. Hitting other people in brightly-colored costumes is a metaphor for participating in society in “normal” ways, because hitting supervillains defines “normal” in the superhero genre.

          Protecting is also perpetuating – the X-Men save Senator Kelly’s life, and in so doing take the risk that they are not moving society in the direction that they want, but becoming part of the problem. The X-Men stand, famously, for an idealistic meliorist and pluralist mainstream liberalism that assumes that opponents are persuadable and good-faith dialogue is possible, and that by being “good citizens,” you can advance that dialogue and move society slowly and haltingly by degrees towards something better.

          (Grimly, because it’s part of the formula for the comic, they will always fail. There will always be another Senator Kelly or Reverend Stryker. It’s not actually necessary that all futures are dystopian – the X-Men could be given a vision of the better future for which they fight – but in practice, that never seems to happen.)

          This is part of why the connection to the school is important, I think, and keeps coming back. Education has been (at least since ancient Greece, and probably much earlier) a traditional point of contention in all this, because it is seen as key to socializing children into social norms.

          This is also why I think the powers, which people like to point out is where “realistically” the metaphor breaks down, is actually necessary. Because that heightens the choice for the X-Men: to a much greater degree than in “reality,” this gives this particular minority an option of rejecting cautious meliorism. If they wanted to assert themselves with force, they could do so. Especially in those treatments where the X-Men are “sort of” off in their own universe and there “sort of” are no non-mutant superpowered individuals to oppose them.

          This is all the way in which the franchise developed, of course. I would argue strenuously that at its very beginning (specifically before Lee and Kirby introduced the Sentinels in UXM #14), the X-Men aren’t a metaphor for minorities, they’re a metaphor for privilege.

          • Kelvin says:

            Maybe not a metaphor for priviledge (imho), but a world that looks enough like ours to lure us in and give us a glimpse of a struggle we’ve never known. Open our eyes to a world we’re not exposed to. And I like to think it’s working. At least a little. Might be why it gets hard to read for those in the trenches.
            Fight on, X-Men. Fight on.

          • Devin says:

            Good point, Voord, re: taxes, contributing to society, etc being the status quo in life as much as punching guys in spandex is in comics.

            The only difference I would potentially posit is that if the Silver Age is, if anything, potentially a metaphor for Jewish assimilation (I think Jay, Miles, or maybe Kurt Busiek says that in an early episode of the podcast). Granted, the extraordinary abilities and the fear from the general public to police them can be tied to privilege but often bigotry against minority turns up one privilege to 11. For example, Lee/Kirby may have been reacting to the “Jews control/have all the money” stereotype (heightened class privilege) that has survived centuries and was very much deployed a couple decades prior in Europe (among other forms of propaganda, of course). Another example that likely was not on their minds but I feel Bendis nods at is how violence and justification of it against African Americans rely on exaggerating physical ability (and thus able-bodied-ness) – one only needs to look at recent examples of police shootings wherein “white man with gun” is somehow portrayed as the physical underdog to “unarmed black man.”

            In short, where this gets thorny is that bigoted language must first rely on portraying the minority as extraordinary and dangerous so that they then must be controlled or destroyed. Lee/Kirby’s X-Men seems to be taking that premise and instead of saying merely “No, we’re just normal folks,” going to “Well, even if we are extraordinary, we’re far from dangerous.”

            • Devin says:

              I feel I was clear, but just in case I wasn’t, let me be very clear: I do not actually believe any minority uniformly possesses one privilege in the extreme. Merely noting that bigoted language/propaganda loves perpetuating that myth pretty often.

              • Voord 99 says:

                I find the Jewish assimilation reading appealing, and it obviously derives a lot of plausibility from the history of the creation of the X-Men outside the text. It does make me a little uncomfortable, though, because the Nazi overtones of how early Magneto is characterized seem hard to deny.

                In favor of the privilege reading, I’d cite:

                a) The prep-school trappings with which early X-Men are surrounded.

                b) The fact that the only one of them whose class is identifiable, Warren Worthington III, is explicitly an old-money WASP aristocrat.

                c) Early Magneto has Nazi overtones, but he’s also open to being read as a heightened version of someone born with inherited privilege who naturalizes that as “the way things should be” and sees himself literally as a superior kind of human being to those without it.

                (One of the things that’s so important about Claremont’s reinvention of Magneto as Jewish Holocaust survivor is that it retcons Magneto’s Silver Age motivation, which had nothing to do with fear of humans and everything to do with a belief that mutants “naturally” should rule.)

                Against, in honesty, I should note that early X-Men opponents with the exception of Magneto don’t really speak to the metaphor, especially the Blob. But obviously, even on my reading, Lee & Kirby moved decisively away from mutants=privilege towards mutants=minorities when they introduced the Sentinels.

                • Devin says:

                  Yeah, I’d buy that reading.

                  I agree with you that up until the Sentinels, the metaphor is pretty loose with a lot of villains. While I’d really need to go back to fully delve into this, I will say that my main hesitation (i.e. nearly every other Marvel character is in some way an underdog and X-Men as privilege doesn’t gel with that) might also actually fit with your reading (X-Men was notably one of the least successful/critically acclaimed 60s Marvel books and I could see it missing what everything else had being a reason why).

  17. kealundey says:

    The lack of woman/young man sidekick/mentor style relationships is an interesting topic to me when you think of another aspect:

    Generally the male mentor is also a bit of a father figure to the sidekick, but the trope has a but of a reluctant father figure thing too. Like being protective but at the same time eschewing the fatherly role.

    I wonder if that’s part of the reason we don’t see the same dynamic with women in the mentor role. First of all, they would be relegated to a maternal role more often (or as you guys mentioned, the teacher role). Society generally assumes this is a natural role for a woman. So second point, they “can’t” have that same sort of reluctant mother figure role that the father figures have.

    As a childfree individual myself, I think that would be really cool to see. A woman with a sidekick who struggles against and rejects that mother figure label in the same way we expect a male figure to do it. There’s a general sentiment in society of motherhood as the natural and eventual course for women to follow which is damaging to women who don’t want that for their lives. In fiction this usually ends in the woman’s mind being changed by the so-called “biological clock” as they “come to their senses” about the inevitability of motherhood. It would be nice to see that trope die for once.

  18. Porthos Fitz Sh'iar Empress says:

    Welcome back! And congrats on the nuptials Jay, and the spectacular THOR! podcast Miles.

    It is a shame that the restructuring of the line in X-MEN #1 and the departure of the writing teams dropped the Storm/Gambit immediately and separated them into different books. In the few glimpses of their partnership following Storm’s regaining her memories she was easily the senior partner but in the body of a child, essentially turning the side-kick troupe on its head. It would, and should, have been an excellent example of older female mentor, younger male side-kick, and while Gambit’s age is rather ambiguous we can assume he is fairly close in age to Rogue… sooo in the early ’90s I would guess a range of 18 to 22? Storm, while her age (regardless of Nanny’s body warping) has always been obscured and ill-defined, has to be in her late 20s to early 30s. I know it is not quite the same as Batman and Robin, but I still think the immature Gambit being mentored by the regal Storm in the ways of being a hero would have made for some excellent stories. If we had seen this dynamic between them more than 3 or so times I would cite them as an example of the “woman/young man sidekick/mentor style relationship”.

    And just wanted to come clean and admit I am one of those few weirdos who really loves the Savage Land. Yes, it is absurd, but damn how can you hate all that dino and pterodactyl punchin bliss? The Mutates I generally like as just wacky thugs for punching-fodder, but while I was re-reading this X-Men era I was really disturbed by the multiple, pretty direct threats of rape the Mutates and Zaladane’s barbarians make EVERY SINGLE TIME they show up and see a female. Brainchild also seems to have actually gone beyond just threats with Shanna and other prisoners, but I try not to dwell on that too long because what the fuck Marvel editorial of the 90s?

    Anyway, sorry to end on a downer… but… glad you’re back from your break! You were missed!

  19. Andy B says:

    Welcome back!

    One mutant metaphor that isn’t related to being a minority that I’ve found compelling is the generation gap. Millennials are inevitably going to take over the world, and it often feels like we are hated and feared by the older generations.

  20. David M says:

    Welcome back! The Mutates are something I feel the need to have explained. If you have already done this, please remind me of the episode and I’ll cheerfully revise. As it is, I only really understood them to the end of X-Men #63, where we were shown they were ‘…simple swamp savages..’ (Ka-Zar has little respect for indigenous peoples)who Magneto had made into mutants. Once his big machine is destroyed they lose their powers. So apart from Magneto making humans into mutants I understood all that, but then the Mutates keep coming back and I don’t understand what their deal is now. Apart from Neal Adams designed them so people want to use them.
    I was impressed by the hate for Zaladane! Having first encountered her being drawn by Barry Smith (as was then), I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for her. Granted the Jim Lee look she has in these issues means I feel no sentimental loss. Though this was a period where you could tell now and then that Lee spent time looking at Barry Windsor Smith’s work.
    The first of these issues came out in February 1991. The second volume of Maus, ‘And Here My Troubles Began’ was published in 1991. Those chapters had been published in Raw, of course, between 1986 and then. Just those times being so close has me wondering if Maus played a part in the expansion of Magneto’s Jewish background.
    With Magneto the red may be for the blood, but the purple was always for the prose.

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