184 – Sweetcakes

David is still on vacation. Please enjoy this reasonable gentleman and his fancy accoutrements!

In which the 616 was inside Age of X all along; everyone is very sassy; an attempt at political commentary falls very flat; Wolfsbane kills a straw man; everything is better with Larry Stroman; the Rule of Cool is not transitive; X-Factor Quicksilver is the best Quicksilver; and some allegories are subtler than others.

X-PLAINED:

  • How to hide a universe
  • Bees
  • “War and Pieces”
  • X-Factor #76-78
  • The Incredible Hulk #390-392
  • Open-ended vs. trade pacing
  • Rick Jones, professional tag-along
  • Trans-Sabal
  • The Eisenhower Doctrine
  • The Reagan Doctrine
  • The ethics of cannibalism
  • Fictional pigeon aficionados
  • As story that isn’t about abortion but is definitely about abortion
  • X-Factor vs. due process
  • A very hazardous game of tug-of-war
  • Gratuitous X-planation
  • An unnecessary but well-intended rescue attempt
  • The death of Vic Chalker
  • Irresponsible parenting
  • The second generation of mutants

NEXT EPISODE: Tom Taylor talks X-Men Red and All-New Wolverine!


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53 comments

  1. Kelvin says:

    To be fair, trying to look at this story thru a modern lens might be weird but at the time (pre-9/11) Muslim was not in the lexicon of the average young comics reader. The obvious coding by today’s standards was not so obvious then. Guys who stab their sisters and are ignorant and bad were not considered any more racist than, say, Hand ninjas or Hellfire Club guards. Some times you just need a generic bad guy who happens to be a specific ethnicity, right?

    • Kelvin says:

      Also, where does Josiah Guthrie fit into the mutant kids of mutants discussion? Smasher’s not a mutant, right? Do we k ow if little Josie has powers yet?

      • Icon_UK says:

        Apparently yes he does, Josh has got a blast field like his father. He can fly, and the Shi’Ar who studied him (not in a creepy way, more like super-paediatricians) think his blast field is actually tougher than Sam’s.

    • Icon_UK says:

      Given that the time period of this story (1992) was post the 90/91 Gulf War, I’d have to say that Muslim as “default bad guy” (since the USSR had collapsed) was definitely already a thing in the media, especially Ayatollah Khomeini, who had practically been the bogeyman until his death in 1989 (and who had shown up as himself in everything from the original version of “A Death in the Family” over in Batman, to the New Universe, where he was a paranormal with mind control powers)

      Likewise, Colonel Gadaffi, the dictator of Libya, was also a well known pop culture figure.

      • Jay says:

        Yeah, agreed.

        • Voord 99 says:

          I think, in terms of the exact moment of the appearance of these issues, Kuwait is probably a salient point of reference and intended analogue for Trans-Sabal.

          What happens to Val Cooper is quite unbelievably awful. There’s the terribleness in itself, and then layered on top of that you have the whole racist element of portraying the Middle Eastern person as sexual threat to the blond, blue-eyed American woman and unable to control himself to the extent that he does this to a powerful official in his American patron government against his own interests. Calling this Kiplingy is unfair to Kipling (and I don’t mean that as a defence of Kipling). Bluntly, I hope this is never referenced again, so that it can be regarded as having been tacitly retconned never to have happened.

    • hassibah says:

      Like was already was said the Islamic revolution in Iran was definitely in public consciousness, both cause of the hostage crisis and the 8 year war with Iraq where the US backed Iraqi dictatorship because they considered them less scary than theocratic Iran. Before they decided they wanted the Iraqi government out following the Gulf War.

      Sometimes US foreign policy in the Middle East manifested in xenophobia that expressed itself as anti-ethnicity rather than about a specific religion and often it implicitly conflates the two.

      Not piling on but just having stuff to say cos I’ve had to think a lot about it.

      Anyways, a lot of the racist tropes discussed in the comic are older than the 1950s, they’re easily found in a lot of Victorian and older novels. And then, for example, the brown men kidnapping a white woman and making her dress like Genie is still pretty easy to find (I just found another example when I was watching Jack of all Trades, and I just realized 2000 was a while ago and it’s making me feel really old) but definitely completely normalized 25 years ago.

      As for US interventionism and backing various armed forces against governments we don’t like in pop culture SPECIFICALLY, Rambo III comes to mind, even if that time it was about fighting communists. I suspect stuff like that was probably more influential on writers in this period than actual policies at the time, but I’m no expert.

      • hassibah says:

        ANYhow, I remember reading in that Secrets behind the Xmen blog mentioned before that supposedly Rahne was originally conceived as an Iranian Muslim. As interesting as the potential for that is, I can’t imagine that ever being handled well at that time, even with good intentions.

  2. Damien says:

    I read an interview with Peter David back in the nineties where he was asked about editorial rewrites. He talks about the Fourflusher joke. Apparently originally it was something about him having a brother who could change his skin colour called Foreskin. It’s definitely funnier but I can see why editorial would’ve changed it.

    • Icon_UK says:

      I remember the Fourskin/Foreskin joke reference too. I didn’t find that funny either, but that’s just me.

      • Ggodo says:

        At least for me, it’s less that it’s funnier, and more that the fourskin wordplay actually qualifies as a joke, whereas the line as printed is not really anything, and it’s hard to tell if it’s the writer intentionally having the character flub combat banter, or the author whiffing on a joke.

        Neither one is that great, though.

    • RM Rhodes says:

      My theory is that it’s a reference to when someone has a BM so large that it takes more than one flush to clear the bowl. Thus, a four-flusher is something that required four flushes.

      It’s still not a good joke.

  3. SCOTT SALSMAN says:

    Hey, thanks for the mention (I’m “that commenter”)! And there I thought I’d been ignored. Nice to know I inspired some discussion on my favorite podcast, which was worth a dozen responses in text.

  4. Ggodo says:

    I spent this entire episode with Tom Leher in my head: https://g.co/kgs/dR1bQa

    So much Stryfe. So much sharp pointy bits.

    • Icon_UK says:

      Having Tom Lehrer in your head is always a good thing, IMHO.

      “I got it from Cable, he got it from Stryfe
      We all agree, though real creepy, that he got it from Scott’s first wife.
      Who was also his mother, well mother to his clone.
      Or it might have been the other way round, just.. wait… Oh leave it alone.”

      • Ggodo says:

        “During mutant bortherhood week
        Robert Kelly and Wolverine
        Are dancing cheek to cheek”

        A true genius.

        • Icon_UK says:

          Doug got from Warlock,
          To no one’s great surprise.
          Betsy got it on Mojo World,
          Along with some cyborg eyes

          Rahne gave it Dani
          Via special psychic link
          And Lila passed it on to Sam,
          But that’s… more of a kink.

          • Ggodo says:

            Man, I’ve spent the last hour listening to Tom Lehrer at work and all I got out of it was that one line from National Brotherhood Week and the urge to spend the weekend with a wikipedia list of X-Men names to make them fit The Elements. I envy your wit.

            • Icon_UK says:

              And now I’ve had the damn song stuck in my head for nearly 24 hours straight and I can’t stop myself!!

              Hank got it from Bobby,
              Who got it from Mystique
              In circumstances which, we trust,
              Were memorably unique.

              Sean gave it to Moira
              While doing the Highland Fling!
              Rachel got it handed down
              By Jean… it’s a family thing.

              Broo gave to Quentin,
              Though Broo doesn’t seem the type,
              Quentin does, but to tell the truth
              That’s probably just hype.

              Illyana gave it to Kitty
              Which didn’t made Piotr’s day,
              But since she gave to him as well,
              Kitty’d get it, either way.

              Sam got it from Berto,
              Who get’s it every Spring.
              He picked it up at the Hellfire Club
              Where he picks up everything.

              Kylun got it from Widget,
              Oh Gosh! Oh Golly! Oh Wow!
              Santo’s even got it and
              We’re still, wondering “How?”,

              Lorna got it from Madrox
              Who gave it to himself.
              Cerise and Meggan have it now
              Thanks to a certain blue fuzzy elf

              Kurt got it from Logan
              The rumours are all true!
              The question is which X-Men
              would you like…
              To give it to you!

  5. Lt. Grimdark says:

    I feel that calling Mister Sinister “Mr. S” should automatically be followed by an Arrested Development reference. “Morally Reprehensible Scientist”, perhaps?

  6. RaikoLives says:

    Had a discussion on Twitter about Polaris with a guy who suggested that she wasn’t much of a character in X-Factor. More of “an extension of Alex”. It’s stuff like these issues that makes me shake my head to that.

  7. Jay says:

    RE other 616 kids of mutants: Siryn as daughter of Banshee. Would we count the Stepford Cuckoos as Emma Frost’s daughters?

    • McArdle says:

      Then Laura would presumably count as Logan’s daughter, too.

      Really, given Logan’s age and lifestyle, it’s amazing he doesn’t have kids all over the place.

      • Ggodo says:

        Isn’t it pretty much canon that he did, but forgot them all because Weapon X, and then most of them got killed by Sabertooth, or someone because Romulus? I didn’t follow a lot of the early Daken stuff, I tried, but I was swapping comics with my dad, and apparently even my Wolverine-loving father didn’t get enough Wolverine books to get the whole story.

        • XMenXPert says:

          He was also tricked into killing a few by a group called the Red Right Hand. In one hell of a payoff to what had been, prior to that reveal, a slightly-plodding arc. (It wasn’t that it was a bad arc, it just got repetitive. But then the reveal made it all worth it.)

          • Ggodo says:

            Since I’m apparrntly playing DJ innthis thread, I present Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand”. https://g.co/kgs/NEUsoV

            On a less musical note, maybe I’m combining the two plots. Was the Red Right Hand the group of people who all hate Wolverine for killing their families? Cuz I think that came up, too. I dunno, these are 10+ year old memories of stories I never read all of.

          • Krzysiek Ceran says:

            The Red Right Hand plot would have made more of an impact on me if Jason Aaron didn’t pull the same ‘hero uwittingly kills his children’ plot in a one-shot about Fat Cobra.

            (Just checked to make sure it was Aaron – it was, not in a one-shot, but in Immortal Weapons #1… which was basically a couple of one-shots published as a mini.)

            (Now I should actually check that it came out before the RRH story arc…)

  8. Icon_UK says:

    When you wondered if Rahne ate the guy she killed, it does make me recall, with a shudder, the issue of… X-Force V3, where there was some sort of of trigger that caused her to kill and eat her own father, the Reverend Craig. (I mean he was no loss to the world, I grant you, but still… ICK!)

    I was always disappointed that, after she started assuming her wolf girl form as her basic state (for understandable reasons), she somehow never seemed to switch to full wolf form ever again, which seemed a shame.

    • Ggodo says:

      As someone who is generally against cannabalism for health reasons, I hope not. There’s so many parasites and diseases you can get that way. Also why it’s a good idea to not eat carnivorous animals, more potential that they ate something with a parasite.

      • Icon_UK says:

        I should add how glad I am that you clarified your specific reasons for being against cannibalism.

        As Jay ways “It’s good to be precise”. 🙂

  9. Count_Zero says:

    In terms of just how boring and cliche this setting is: As soon as Jay described it, I immediately remembered my encounter with this type of setting – Ilsa II: Ilsa Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (which I encountered in a review which took the general tack of “This isn’t just racist, it’s boring and racist!”

    DC isn’t exactly clean in this regard either I think Batman: A Death in the Family was two years earlier, and that story was kicked off by Ayatollah Khamenei making The Joker Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, supposedly giving him Diplomatic Immunity. When a chunk of A Death In the Family was adapted into the DC Animated film Under The Red Hood, they ended up completely rewriting that portion of the plot because, well, it didn’t hold up at all, for any reason.

    Finally, with regards to Rayne’s Sideburns – when you mentioned the sideburns in the episode, I popped into “Count Zero Contextualizes Comics Through Anime” mode, because when I think of Very Distinctive Sideburns, and with a character who is trying to find a place between being fully human and being somewhat bestial, I think Go Nagai. Go Nagai’s progatonists, from Kouji Kabuto (Mazinger Z and later works), to Cutey Honey, to Akira Fudo (Devilman), have sideburns like Rayne’s where they sweep forward on their face (though Cutey Honey’s are a little more subtle). And indeed, looking at the picture of Rayne’s Sideburns in the As Mentioned, they clearly look like Nagai-burns. I’m not sure if it’s a deliberate reference or not though. I’m leaning towards a deliberate reference, David and Lea Hernandez’ version of The Punisher for the Marvel Mangaverse appears to be a more dressed pastiche of another Nagai character – Kekko Kamen (don’t Google that character at work).

    Also, whenever the Nasty Boys come up, I always end up wondering when Jimmy Hart ended up working with Mister Sinister, and then I remember that it’s a different Nasty Boys.

    • Icon_UK says:

      I believe DC rather quickly backtracked on the Ayatollah’s cameo, switching it to a fictional, but no less stereotypically depicted, Middle Eastern country. (Though it’s not like the story was any more politically coherent as a result)

      • Voord 99 says:

        I remember it being quite rare for a DC comic to go too long without confronting its hero(es) with the evil machinations of “Qurac.”

        The one positive depiction of Muslims that I can remember in mainstream superhero comics from the era is not all that much of a counter-example: it’s Fabian Nicieza’s heroized depiction of the Afghan mujahideen in Psi-Force. Which is heroized for rather obvious reasons.

        • Icon_UK says:

          IIRC the JL(A)vengers crossover had someone from Marvel visiting the DCU note that their world seemed larger, probably to accomodate all the extra countries the MU didn’t have like Qurac, Biyala, Zandia and Markovia. Which was perhaps a little rich, coming from a universe which had Wakanda, Trans-Sabal and Latveria, but that’s life.

  10. Si says:

    In regards to the intro banter about absolute power within a limited sphere, how about Freedom Ring? His green lant … cosmic cube ring allowed him to do/create literally anything within a small radius around himself.

    • Ggodo says:

      Didn’t Crusader pick it up later for Secret Invasion? He got a ring from someone, but I don’t have my copy handy.

    • Icon_UK says:

      Why I remember this particularly after all these years I have no idea, but Twilight from X-Nation 2099 could create a literal “Sphere of Influence” around her which allowed her to control the laws of reality within her immediate vicinity.

  11. Brian Fleetwood says:

    Guys. Wtf? I know important societal and artistic issues were discussed in the episode. BUT–unless I missed it–did you guys fail to mention that it was established somewhere in these issues that Thumbelina(who shrinks) from the MLF and Slab (grows) from The Nasty Boys are brother and sister? Guys….Wtf?

    Also, Tempo in this issue started my obsession with D-list or forgotten characters. We all know the MLF are just a bunch of costume designs Liefeld pulled out of his ass and slapped powers on, but given a little bit of attention here by David, and suddenly she’s someone you care for. I wrote letters to Marvel about this character! I did not want to see her be forgotten or slotted back into a random group of bad guys, especially after a great showing she has later on in X-Force. Both um kind of happen but hey its better than nothing! As obscure characters go, she fared pretty well really. She pops back up over the years and actually got an ending.

    • Jay says:

      ARGH! I knew we’d left something out–it’s in our notes, but apparently didn’t make it into the actual episode.

      Thanks for the catch!!

  12. Michel Fiffe says:

    Going with the MLF issue being a thinly veiled abortion story, I was always confused by what David was getting at. The MLF playing the role of the terrorists who attack the clinics, making them the “pro-life” zealots in the analogy, right? So far so good… but is Pietro “pro-life” as a result of his love/guilt of his child? That’s fine as a specific character’s POV, but it seems like the “one to grow on” moment that David uses as his final statement on the matter; odd, considering the heroes fight for the right to choose, for *choice*. It gets messier because another part of the argument is tied into mutant pride/self-acceptance, sooo… clinic bad? Am I just reading too into this already super-delicate and somewhat clumsy analogy?

    Love Stroman to death, though. And love the show! Long-time listener.

    • Jay says:

      You’re not wrong or reading too much in, but I think you’re missing the forest for the trees: the point of the story, to what extent there is one, is that it’s messy and complicated, and that you can combine a lot of good people and a lot of fairly valid arguments and still end up with a mess of conflicting conclusions and opinions.

  13. Pat Gunter says:

    UNCOMFORTABLE: Yes, times were different when these comics were made, Jay&Miles. Get over it. If going to analyze these older comics, then YES, obviously u are going to find these questionable things, if your going to hold them up against todays standards. Like i just dont get why u are surprised to find these older ways of thinking in these older comics. When yes, we get it, there is older ways of thinking in older comics, big deal. Now if u were reading a more current comic and found something like that, then yes THAT would be noteworthy & worth taking the time to call out.

    • Jay says:

      You know this came out in the early 1990s, right? Not, like, the mid 18th Century?

      Most of the people setting policy impacting, say, immigration of people from majority-Muslim nations to the U.S. were old enough to drink when this hit the stands. The people writing this generation of comics–and fighting this generation of wars, and making decisions influencing representation in this generation of media–were this comic’s target audience. The guy who wrote this story is still writing comics in the same universe, for the same company, today.

      And even regardless that, the idea that it’s useless to deconstruct the stereotypes and injustices and cultural climates of past eras kind of blows my mind. Do we just pretend that those things don’t influence the world we now live in? Do we uncritcally disgorge summaries with zero acknowledgement of the added perspective time and social development give us? If anything, I think our responsibility to examine those aspects of comics is greater as modern readers looking back than it might have been for contemporary critics: we’re in a position to step back and really confront how far we have–or haven’t, in this case–come.

    • Quintessential Defenestration says:

      While we’re talking about “surprise,” Patrick, you shouldn’t be so surprised that a podcast continues to apply the same critical lens after 100 episodes that it applied at the start; further, I shouldn’t be so surprised that someone would be capable of writing such a smarmy, arrogant comment when said person clearly does not grasp even elementary principles of English.

  14. Voord 99 says:

    There are a lot of possible responses to that, but one obvious one is that this episode was specifically concerned with anti-Muslim prejudice. And that is rather obviously not something that one can simply file away as an “older way of thinking” that has no relevance to today. It is not as if Jay and Miles were pointing out that women in a story set in 17th-century Venice didn’t have the vote.

    On the contrary, I think it is unlikely that the circulation and recirculation of these depictions of Muslims (mostly Arabs and Iranians*) across US popular media then continues to affect the cultural (including the political) environment now.

    *Disentangling prejudice against ethniticies from prejudice against the religion is obviously impossible. But it’s always good to remember that the world’s largest Muslim country is Indonesia, which has practically no presence in US popular culture whatsoever, positive or negative. To take another example, Pakistan registers relatively little compared to the Arab world and Iran.

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