Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

251 – Triple Word Score

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

In which Jay proposes a new way of comparing superheroes; Beast faces an ethical dilemma; Mister Sinister has an Xavier moment; Sabretooth is a terrible houseguest; Cyclops totally gets what you see in Wolverine; Psylocke would absolutely be into hunting humans for sport; Sage probably vapes; rich people are definitely not like us; Shinobi Shaw is his own best friend; and Classic X-Men backup stories are canonical as hell.


  • Blue Team vs. Gold Team
  • X-Men #27-29
  • Threnody
  • The fate of Infectia
  • One of Mister Sinister’s favorite aliases
  • Dr. Gordon Lefferts
  • Several complicated choices
  • A very frustrating cover
  • A secret meeting
  • The dubious evolution of Charles Xavier
  • Communication
  • An invitation
  • A sick burn
  • Rich people
  • The key to happiness
  • The theoretical adventures of Honey Badger and Princess Powerful

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  1. I shot diet Pepsi out my nose when Miles, in his Shinobi Shaw voice, said “Fancy Sex is the best Sex”. For some reason I imagined two people going at it in top hats and monocles and then wondered if that meant Mister Peanut is the greatest lover of all time.

  2. Oh man, I have a LOT of feelings about the Shinobi issue. So, firstly, I love Shinobi. He’s just such a goofy, harmless, sympathetic villain who oddly doesn’t seem to really get TREATED as sympathetic? He’s problematic AS HELL for bisexual rep, being a boundary-violating hedonist with the creepy undressing, but I can’t help but appreciate him for being so BLATANTLY SUPER QUEER. I also very much got the idea he had an unrequited crush on Warren; I mean, after not seeing him FOR YEARS he wants him to be his White King, and he sent him an invitation to the Hellfire Club on SCENTED lacy paper written in LOOPY PINK INK. Jubilee even makes a comment on it being “Liberace”-like, just to hammer it home.

    Again, super creepy with the undressing, but it also bothered me when Psylocke and Archangel’s reaction to his flashbacks of abuse were to stand over him and say they were better than him because they’d made better choices. Which…is true, but something bugged me about it too. I guess because they had resources that Shinobi simply didn’t. Psylocke seems to have come from a loving family as far as I know (?) and Warren had Xavier to go to (problematic dad though he is)

    Shin’s funny, he’s a comical ineffective “baddy” but there just also seems to be a lot of sad stuff going on with him too. Considering he’s a bisexual, bi-racial abuse survivor with more depth than first glance while also a ton of fun, I’d really like to see him (and his fantasticly ridiculous fashion sense) come back and be written with more sensitivity while also staying true to the ridiculous nature of his Shinobi-ness.

    Also, anyone feel like he was a failed pre-cursor to Daken? Bisexual half-Japanese villain son of an established hairier, burlier white male character is a pretty specific design to hit on TWICE.

    Very looking forward to your Haven episode!

  3. I feel like there’s an interesting conversation to be had on the topic of supervillain incarceration. Miles brought up The Raft on the show, but when I come to think about it, most supervillain prisons that come to mind (The Raft, Belle Reeve, Reed Richards’ Negative Zone Prison, the prison from My Hero Academia) do not have rehabilitation on the table. They’re strictly SuperMax style prisons with apparently de-facto life sentences for their inmates and no opportunities to, for example, learn a work skill or finish a degree while in prison so they have an alternative career path once they get out.

    The closest equivalent we see to any sort of supervillain work release program are programs that aren’t modeled off of actual work release programs, they’re modeled off of The Dirty Dozen (Suicide Squad, The Thunderbolts). That’s not particularly a good route to rehabilitation, particularly since those teams aren’t actually doing superhero work, necessarily. There isn’t really a path for the Wrecking Crew or the MLF to reintegrate into society after incarceration, if they so choose.

    1. Superhero comics are short on rehabilitation and long on vengeance when it comes to imprisonment by the time one gets to the ‘90s, I’m afraid.

      Some of that probably says something sad about the turn away from rehabilitation in popular opinion in the later 20th century, that was part and parcel of the astonishing rise in American mass incarceration. Some of it is genre inevitability: prisons are plot devices, places to store antagonists between stories, but the antagonists are going to stay antagonists.

      Obviously, you have plenty of rehabilitated villains, but paying their debt to society by serving their time is rarely part of the mix in how they come to be rehabilitated. The most prominent example from the last three or four decades that I can think of offhand is Abner Jenkins (M.A.C.H.-various Roman numerals) in Thunderbolts, and even there his prison sentence was cut short by Plot.

      1. True about preferring vengeance to rehabilitation. Also, now that I think about it, the only prison in MHA that we’ve seen is the prison where All For One is being held, and really, you need a Supermax (or Negative Zone) level prison for him – and he’s probably never going to get rehabilitated, considering what we learn about his past offenses (he’s basically the MHA version of the Red Skull).

      2. I’d say that Songbird is just as successful a refromee as MACH n, and some writers (admittedly mostly Kurt Busiek) had her be destined to be an Avenger in her near future, but it never happened.

        We also had Marvel Boy/Justice, who was interested in prison reform when he was serving time for his father’s manslaughter in the Vault, when he became a sort of go between between the prison authorities and the prisoners, seeking more human conditions for the superpowered prisoners, who often had special requirements.

        1. I don’t think that Songbird counts, because Alexander’s point is specifically about rehabilitation in the context of how prison is portrayed, and, unlike Abner, Hawkeye never told Melissa that she had to go to prison to pay for her previous crimes. She’s no different from say, Rogue, or Hawkeye himself.

          It’s a much more compelling moral line that Busiek makes Hawkeye draw there than Lobdell made Storm draw a few issues of UXM back. Songbird is guilty of at least robbery (also dating Angar the Screamer), but what made Abner unique among the Thunderbolts was that he had committed murder. I.e., Clint is prepared to overlook a history of property crime if you’re doing good work now, but not actual premeditated homicide. Objectively, Karla definitely and quite possibly also Erik (who used to be a goon for an actual Nazi war criminal) are worse than Abner, but at least as far as Clint knows, they’ve never crossed that line.

          I really like that original run of Thunderbolts. The best single thing to come out of Marvel in the ‘90s.

          Vance is an interesting case, because he’s not really presented as in need of rehabilitation — it’s unthinkable that he would go on willingly to further illegal acts, prison or no prison. Arguably, there’s a story that you could have done there about how a criminal record plus being a mutant made it impossible for him to get a job after his release and forced him into criminal acts, which would be a highly realistic thing to happen to him. I don’t know if Nicieza ever addressed that — has Vance’s actual source of income ever received much attention?

          1. Just to add something that I meant to say and forgot — but while Busiek makes Hawkeye draw a distinction between murder and lesser crimes in that murder demands a period of incarceration, he also makes it clear that this is, for Hawkeye, the road to rehabilitation for Abner and that rehabilitation is possible even for a murderer.

            Whether or not Busiek meant it as such (I have no idea what his views were or are on the subject), that’s an anti-death penalty point being made at a time when there was much less criticism of the death penalty in the US than there is now and more people would have unequivocally felt that any murderer deserved death, repentant or no.

  4. Beast crossing the moral event horizon as a plot point would irritate me a lot less if he EVER faced consequences for his actions.

    I remember reading the Threnody issue and being appalled at his handling of Infectia’s final moments. Not that I would deny anyone a chance to see a last sunrise, but since the means of spreading the Legacy Virus was still unknown it was an absurdly risky thing to do, especially with a mutant whose power specifically involved creating monstrous genetic distortions. Could he not have set up an isolation tent for her on the roof, something that would let her have her last wish, but with the merest smidgem of respect for public safety?

    Threnody having a power that seemed to be _specifically_ linked to the effects of Legacy Virus just seemed… a contrivance too far. If she was sensitive to dying mutants then that’d be one thing, but being specifically sensitive to a medical condition that had only appeared a few months before (and was created centuries in the future)? Not buying it.

    I blame Betsy’s failure with Creed being down to her obsession with “the focussed totality of her psychic powers”, which limited her effective range to six inches in front of her knuckles. She she first fought him she was flash-frying his mind from the other side of the room, and it worked fine, but once she insists on close physical combat, she’s asking for trouble.

  5. These issues are the beginning of period in the adjectiveless title that was typified by solid stories but a lack of momentum.

    The stories focus on smaller groups of X-men, and do their characters justice, giving the heroes much-needed personal development that had stalled during the previous couple of years. Yet, it doesn’t feel like the X-men are *going* anywhere. There’s no overarching threat that they’re actively engaged against.

    With the wedding of Scott and Jean on the horizon, Lobdell is handling the build-up to that over in Uncanny as well as repeated teases of the Phalanx. Nicieza, meanwhile, seems to be trying his darnedest to move the individual characters forward, but the purpose of the team is not getting the same sent of movement. If the ennui had been directly addressed, it could have been an engaging, ongoing storyline.

  6. Jay has identified what’s always bothered me about Psylocke’s codename: it isn’t a proper noun! The other X-Character names are generally more informative. I sometimes wonder if that’s why she wasn’t in the cartoon. Apart from the overly sexualised costume and the duplicate powerset to Jean.

    Speaking of which, in the Sabertooth encounter, it always annoys me how Betsy even now is the fall girl to show how much “better” a telepath is Charles/Jean/Emma! I get they are the big ones, but Psylocke has become more powerful in her own right. The continued comparison weakens the character (though a few writers have picked up on that self-doubt angle).

    Also agree with Miles – Psylocke more interesting again once Revanche/Kwannon is out the picture. They’ve made a major error bringing Kwannon back as a separate character. They never manage to draw a line under it.

    Anyway, I really enjoy this short sequence of issues. Not derailed by crossovers, they balance both character development and action. They nicely rotate the spotlight on both X-Men and the villians:
    Beast, Rogue & Sinister
    Jean, Cyclops & Sabretooth
    Archangel, Psylocke & Shinobi Shaw

    It’s great pacing!

    Surprised though you didn’t pick up the dodgy sexual overtones of the Jean/Sabretooth cover. It’s never say well with me. And the other point how Beast airily dismisses Rogue’s concerns about Threnody… As you note, surely Rogue of all people would understand how best to help a woman suffering in a similar way she did, with an uncontrolled power?

    Hmm, it occurs me that maybe it would have fitted really well if Rachel Summers had been the one to meet Threnody first. Both for the Hound connotations and also the eventual Sinister connection.

    Also, don’t poke fun at Sage! I kind of feel she was the last Claremont character to be given proper room to breath and develop her own personality tics. Always loved her ever present glass of wine and chess games with Bishop… 🙂

    1. – Another problem with Psylocke is that there is no way really to understand it except as a reference to Shylock. And, umm, the point of that reference is?

      – I think Revanche vs. Psylocke *could* have been interesting, if they’d really stuck with the idea that neither is really Betsy Braddock or Kwannon and both are both Betsy and Kwannon: two new individuals formed by mixing-and-matching different elements of two previous individuals’ personalities.

      But in practice, they seem to have slipped fairly quickly into the position that Psylocke is really Betsy, as indeed the issue that our hosts discussed this week illustrates.

      And I have this gut sense that part of the problem here is the inescapable part of the exercise that was rebooting a character who had been portrayed as a stereotypically “demure” English woman* as a sexy Asian ninja to appeal to the teenage male reader. The point is not to create two new characters to explore issues of identity — the point is to revise an existing character to appeal to a particular audience in the context of early-90s superhero comics.

      *Itself a bit daft, since, as our hosts noted this week, in her existence prior to becoming an X-character Betsy was supposed to be a jet-setting high fashion model.

      1. Agree on all your points. I think it’s to the credit of later writers when they made finally use of the question of bodyswap/identity issues. I mean, as a goldmine of interesting plot points it laid fallow for how many years…? And now she’s “back” to a Caucasian body, I do hope we get some self reflection from the character. But given how busy the current xbooks are, and lacking in character growth, I doubt it.

        Hmm. I also forgot how the bodyswap thing played into the ongoing “x-traitor” storyline. Though I think that was a happy accident.

  7. Hello All,

    What is the board game that Jay keeps mentioning? The game where modern pop culture, etc. across the 20th century is all compressed together kind of like what people do with the medieval period? I’ve gone through some previous episodes, but haven’t come upon one where the title of this game gets mentioned. Does anyone know?

      1. Thank you! David Wynne’s cover art for this episode reminded me that this little mystery has had me stumped for a while. Much appreciated!

  8. Shinobi’s problem is that he never had a good story he was in. His strongest showing was his debut where he reveals that he took over Shaw Industries (we don’t see this very competent businessman side ever again) and then kills his father. It’s all downhill from there.

    It’s just one of the problems of the first wave of post-Claremontian mutant villains; they all were so busy in showing that they were so dangerous by killing the previous set of villains (Reavers, Hellfire Club, Hellions) and they never did anything worthwhile. Later writers brought back groups using the names of the Reavers, Hellfire Club, or Hellions, but I don’t believe there’s been a second generation of the Upstarts or Externals.

    It’s kind of been my headcanon that Sebastian Shaw is a giant anime/manga fan. I mean, he named his kid Ninja! It’s not too much a stretch to think that he built the Sentinels because he loved Gundam and other giant robot shows (and probably bored Emma Frost and Tessa going on about them).

  9. When Sinister suggests there’s a reason Threnody’s powers acted up, I always thought they were setting up for one of the X-Men to develop the Legacy Virus. I could swear there was a Marvel preview magazine put out around this issue with interviews and info about the next year in the comics (previewing Age of Apocalypse as well) that straight up said “Beast’s quest to cure the virus gets more complicated when he contracts it himself.” They didn’t decide to go this route, though. Anyone else remember that?

  10. It’s a bit of a storytelling failure that they didn’t, really. It weakens the impact if the main characters are not affected.

    The LA Review of Books essay that Michael O’Brien links to in the comments to the As Mentioned post makes a plausible argument about this in connection with the Legacy Virus as AIDS metaphor — that the X-books were careful to make this about the perspective of nice people who felt compassion but were themselves unaffected, so as to avoid confronting the reader with a situation in which their point of identification was an actual (metaphorical) AIDS sufferer.

  11. Forgive me if this was covered somewhere and I missed it, but if the Legacy Virus can strike mutants whose powers haven’t manifested (such as Illyana) presumably it’s affected other children, too, whose families and physicians would be unaware of their mutation. So why is considered a mutant-only disease?

    Agreed on the ridiculous specificity of Threnody’s power. And it’d be such an easy workaround to have her simply keyed into the power surges of dying mutants. And perhaps such glitchy powers are part of the normal death process for homo superior, just like organ failure is for humans. It just hasn’t been widely known until this point because:

    a) Mutants are a relatively young species, so heart disease and old age haven’t caught up with them yet
    b) Until the Legacy virus came along the primary causes of mutant death have been explosions, dimensional rifts and magnetism.

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