Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

302 – Space Junk

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

In which you should probably not mess with space junk; Exodus is terrible at many things; Rusty Collins deserved better; X-Men #100 references are dirty (but effective) pool; Magneto goes through a lot of orbital bases; Nate Grey makes things worse; Frenzy is generally the most competent member of any team she’s on; and we sincerely regret not making more Satellite of Love jokes about Avalon.


  • Consequences
  • The foundations of Onslaught
  • X-Men #42-44
  • The Acolytes (more) (again) and several members thereof
  • How not to toast
  • Milan
  • A teleportation incident
  • Juggernaut problems
  • A break-in
  • Several things not to do in space
  • Prioritizing problems
  • A very dramatic confrontation
  • X-Men #100 references
  • An extremely counterintuitive use of Amelia Voght’s powers
  • The return of Cyclops’s castaway uniform
  • A reluctant team-up
  • Cyclops as catalyst vs. focus
  • An unexpected reunion
  • Marrow
  • Determining characters’ ages
  • Dazzler’s powers

NEXT EPISODE: The ethical tangle of creators, creations, consumers, and critics, with guest Laura Hudson

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  1. Y’all are very lucky not to have been DC fans in this time period, given that the Superman books were doing the same as UXM and Adjectuveless, but with 4 monthlies and a quarterly. They put a triangle on the cover to tell you where each book fit in, and let me tell you it has been a PAIN to revisit that shit on DCU.

    1. I have mixed feelings about this question. When I was young, I was very frustrated that Uncanny X-Men and the New Mutants tended to be sealed off from one another (with occasional exceptions), even though in principle the characters all lived in the same place.

      I didn’t want the two to be telling the same story across two books, but I did want regular appearances from the cast of one in the other. Little scenes of Dani or Sam in mid-conversation with Nightcrawler or Colossus in the mansion’s kitchen about what is going on in the other character’s book, before the story of this character’s book interrupts it.

      That goes back to one of the big appeals of Marvel comics when I was a child, that characters would appear, sometimes in quite random ways, in other characters’ book, with little captions that told you to check out Other Book Issue Number to find out what was going on.

      My favorite example is from a 1970s American Captain America comic that a friend of mine picked up, which advertised on its cover that in it the lucky reader would see something like the “Pulse-Pounding Power of Iron Man.” (Possibly “Senses-Shattering,” I forget.). The Pulse-Pounding Power in question turned out to be the power of having a quiet conversation with Captain America in which Iron Man gave Cap some minor help with a problem that Cap was having (and incidentally said, “About Tony Stark — look, I should have told you a long time ago…,” whereupon Captain America interrupted and said that Iron Man and Tony Stark’s private relationship was none of his business).

      That sort of thing was a central part of the feel of Marvel comics once upon a time, that sense that people who knew each other would encounter each other outside the confines of designated series. And that’s how the reference to the terrorist incident read in this to me — it was a brief look into the other book’s story, but you wouldn’t miss anything important about this story if you weren’t reading the other book.

      The interesting question is, though, is whether that was something that was going out of date at this time, an approach that no longer made as much sense as it once did and was soon to make no sense at all.

      Part of what historically made that sort of thing work is that one’s experience of comics was always fragmented, if you were a child and buying comics in locations that weren’t DM comics hobbyist stores — which at one point was the overwhelming majority of the market. A) You would eventually miss an issue, for one reason or another. B) You would pick up random issues from the past second-hand, which would give you brief glimpses into things about which you would have no other information.

      You would gradually piece together a rough sense of the context, or rather contexts, that you did not have (from other random second-hand issues, references in current titles — this was a big part of why What If? worked as a concept in its original time — and, yes, unrelated comics that referred sideways to stuff happening in other titles). But there were always extensive gaps between the little fragments of stuff that you knew about. So this sort of sideways reference — not a problem. It fit with one’s experience of reading Marvel comics in general. One did not find that it *disrupted* the story that one was reading, because one was used to reading over the gaps.*

      (This was peculiarly true of me and other people who were mainly reading comics published Marvel UK, with its haphazard decisions about what exactly to reprint and how to edit it, recut it, and divide it up, supplemented by the odd American original that found its way across the Atlantic.)

      But there are two things that shoot the legs out from under that model, and this comic was being published at a critical time for both. The first is that such a way of experiencing a fictional world does not suit a readership of adult fans for whom reading these things is one of their central leisure time activities.

      Being that kind of serious devotee involves completism, a drive to be an expert in what you’re reading and a lack of acceptance for the kinds of gaps in one’s knowledge that the first kind of reading took for granted.

      Allied to that was the market side, in which superhero comics came to be sold primarily through specialized stores in the direct market, and the absolutely astonishing collapse in sales numbers (as a story in business history, what happened to American superhero comics in the ‘90s is remarkable and fascinating, leaving aside the degree to which one ) and a shift to being a (sort of) luxury product for a narrow market of connoisseurs.

      This produced a different culture of reading with different expectations — and led to superhero comics that presupposed and exploited reader knowledge. Fragmentation gives way to coherence, and isomething that isn’t part of the story *does* disrupt you experience.

      The other thing that made the older type of reading hard to sustain was, obviously, the Internet. Modern tabletop roleplaying games have the cliché “Play to find out what happens,” and I think part of why that surfaced is that we live in an era in which it’s a unique appeal of roleplaying games that they guarantee a narrative in which you only can find out what happens in by experiencing it. The details of what happened in a comic you haven’t read — those you can get online. Unfillable gaps are much smaller, rarer, and about more trivial things.

      In the ‘90s, that was more patchy than it is in 2020, but it was starting to happen. And Usenet and the like is obviously a significant part of the story, because filling the gaps might happen not by sticking things into search engines, but by asking about it in a way that intensified the sense of belonging to a devoted fan community (back to factor 1).

      So one can maybe see this little sideways reference as a window into how the experience of reading superhero comics was changing. Either you went full Superman and did all related titles as a single linked weekly narrative for completists who would buy all of them, or else you did a title as self-contained — the old middle road was being washed away by the fact that while a superhero comic might look fairly similar (at least in dimensions and format) to what it used to be, a superhero comic was becoming very different as a product.

      Also, when Storm replies, “A large number,” when Xavier asks her how many people died — wow, that’s cold, Ms. Munroe. Say “I don’t know, but I’m afraid it was a large number.” Don’t make it sound like you know, but can’t be bothered.

      *I am slightly tempted to go all Scott McCloud and start talking about reading over the gaps as the central experience of comics as a medium, and also talk about the necessity of reading over the gaps in superheroes as a genre, the way one must override the ways in which this bizarre hybrid genre juxtaposes things that don’t make sense together, so that this older fragmented culture of reading is peculiarly suited to superhero comics as medium and as genre.

      1. I loved it when Emma Frost learned that Magneto was coming to rescue the New Mutants from the Massachussetts Academy, and so called the Police, who called the Avengers in to protect the school, because it was logical, yet unexpected, and reminded you of how much of a shared universe it was.

        There’s also an old Captain America story where the Skeleton Crew (One of Red Skulls minor organisations) try to rob the Hellfire Club via the sewers and Selene and a team of Hellfire goons are defending it, when Captain America and Diamondback arrive to break up the fight. They have no idea who Selene is, but know the Skeleton Crew are evil, so intervene in her defence.

  2. Omg I love the facepalming Colossus!

    Joseph deserved better. He was originally such a sweet guy.

    I have a soft spot for Milan. I found him cute to begin with, as the purely tech guy who never went into the fray, but I began to like him even more in some of the X-Men novels (The “Mutant Empire” trilogy) where he has a very childlike demeanor, talks to machines like they’re his friends, and as a very innocent sort of hero-worship of Magneto. I also found it sad how his last words were crying out for Exodus. I kinda like the idea of them as a ship, purely because their names are PARIS Bennet and Francisco MILAN.

    Exodus is a big fave of mine too. I like the concept of this hugely powerful mutant who doesn’t know what to do with said power, and thus ends up following others to a fanatical degree due to his own fluctuating mental issues. But that’s more of what he is in concept than on paper, which is unfortunate. I like him better when he’s characterized as a noble extremist more akin to Magneto, rather than just an asshole like Fabian Cortez, since I like the idea of him and Fabian as sort of the demon and angel on Magneto’s shoulders. Again though, that’s more an idea of something I’d like to see, not anything that’s ever been in canon.

    The Acolytes do feature in the 90s Quicksilver miniseries that comes after this! And in the Magneto miniseries that actually features Joseph, Fabian is delightfully AWFUL in that and I love it.

    Frustrated Frenzy voice omg! And I love the shoutout to how THE OWL was almost the Big Bad of X-Factor!

    1. As regards the names, I must admit that I had the following thought when reading Exodus’ dialogue:

      “No man living knows my name!”

      “…And let’s be honest, they’re not going to guess it. I mean, ‘Paris Bennet’? It’s a pretty unusual name, right?”

  3. I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Christopher golden’s mutant empire trilogy on audible. The reader pronounces unuscione as u-noo-show-nay. I don’t know if that’s correct, but plausible given they released it as such.

    1. That would be very close to what I am moderately confident would be a correct Italian pronunciation. (The first u should be long as well as the second, oo-noo-show-nay. Superpedantically speaking, English oo, English ow (as in show), and English ay are not quite right for the sounds, but are the closest possible in English.)

      UhnooSHOWnay would be credible as an Americanized pronunciation that developed in an Italian-American family, perhaps on the way to becoming uhnuhSHOWnay or even uhnuhSHOWnee. (Italian also has a lot of dialects, and I am not going to swear that in none of them the initial u would not be short.)

      Italian speakers, please correct, especially native speakers! My Italian is adequate for reading purposes, but I’m no expert.

      1. Yeah, I don’t know when/where someone put it in my head that it was an Italian name, but since then I’ve wavered btwn “Oon-ooh-skee-oh-nay” and “yoon-ooh-skee-oh-nay.” But the skee vs show might be my horrible American wrangling of Italian?

        1. Yes, the i would be silent and there to tell you that sc was pronounced sh. Compare “prosciutto.”

          But Italian-Americans often pronounce their names in Anglicized ways, so who’s to say how the Unuscione family prefer it to be pronounced?

          Although that’s not good enough for a real comics fan, so let’s figure out the canonical answer based on wild speculation from trivial details of suspect veracity looked up online!

          Carmella Unuscione seems to be thought to be the daughter of Unus the Untouchable. That is certainly what I assumed, so it must be true. Unus the Untouchable is Italian (not Italian-American). He was originally named Angelo Unuscione, but moved to America and legally changed his name to Gunther Bain. So obvously Unus was for some reason ashamed of his Italianness and wanted a more German-sounding first name and a macho-sounding second name.

          Fortunately, we do not need to explore why that might be the case (very unpleasant possibilities suggest themselves), because we are asking about Carmella. What one immediately notices is that Carmella has not followed her father down the Gunther Bain path. In fact, it is very possible that she was born after he came to America, and that her father originally gave her the name Dagmar or Helga. Since it is is very possible, it is safe to assume that it is true, and so we know for a fact that Carmella changed *her* name to “Carmella Unuscione.”

          Clearly, she did that to assert her Italian diaspora identity in an act of rebellion against her father. It follows that Carmella would want her name to be pronounced in as correctly Italian a manner as possible. Not just her first name — she is careful to correct English-speakers who do not pronounce “Carmella” correctly by failing to sound the two l’s distinctly.

          This is now canon, and we must all make sure to correct people on the Internet about it from now on.

  4. Incidentally, u should check out audible’s x men stuff. They have graphic audio stuff with voice actors and sound effects. They also have more standard audiobooks of the 90s novels e.g. the Mutant Empire trilogy, and a really well narrated Generation X novel!

  5. I remember a scene of Dazzler absorbing sound and leaving blank speech bubbles in her wake in Uncanny X-Men–it was sometime before Fall of the Mutants and the artist was Silvestri.

  6. Rusty Collins is a character for which I have a bizarre, if minor, feeling of nostalgia.

    When X-Factor #1 came out, I wasn’t, of course, aware of the office politics surrounding it. Also, thanks to Dez Skinn, I was in the odd position of having been a fan of the original Silver Age X-Men before I knew much about the current X-Men, something which I shared with one of my comics-reading friends — although by this point my friends and I had been reading the current Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants for a while. *And* the fellow O5 fan mentioned above had picked up a bunch of Peter B. Gillis’s New Defenders, and both of us really liked that it had done interesting things with Beast, Angel, and Iceman (and somehow we were naive enough not to realize that it had been cancelled to make X-Factor possible).

    Finally, there was the excitement of being able to read something from the beginning. (The same thing had my group of friends agree that each of us would buy one or two New Universe titles so that we could read them all from the start. Mine was Kickers, Inc…)

    So, yes, I was very excited about X-Factor at the very start of it, despite it not being very good before Louise Simonson took over. Some of that rubs off the way I think about Rusty as a character.

    It’s a bit weird that, as our hosts point out, Rusty was never all that successful. He’s not on the face of it a character that should have been hard to make work.

    OK, his powers aren’t very distinctive, but the reason why fire powers are so common is that they’re easy to make visually interesting. And Rusty is, I believe, one of remarkably few X-characters whose backstory includes that they were normal everyday members of the US military in peacetime. He makes sense as a person who had his life mapped out — two years in the Navy, then use that to help pay for college, and so on — and is very comfortable in environments that surround him with a lot of structure.

    Take that person, and tear his life apart by giving him mutant powers, and mutant powers that easily symbolize destructive chaos. He’s always trying to find a settled, stable place where he fits, but time and again it falls apart, either despite his best efforts or, sometimes, because he has to tear it apart himself to do the right thing. That seems to me a story worth telling, and while it doesn’t have infinite mileage, you could see an interesting character emerge on the other side of it.

    Also, don’t call him “Firefist.”

    1. After writing the above, I became troubled by a vague sense that I had the story about the New Defenders cancellation wrong. And apparently I have not only looked into this before, but I have posted about it here and forgotten about it.

      But anyway, Shooter appears to have cancelled the New Defenders to make room on the production schedule for the New Universe, and so it would have been cancelled in any case. The launch of X-Factor only affected the exact details of the final New Defenders story that Gillis wrote.

      But Gillis’s New Defenders was pretty damn good and is worth looking at. Peter B. Gillis is generally someone who one can see might have had a bigger career, if he’d ever been given a genuinely high-profile title.

    2. I also have a fondness fo Rusty, though it’s usually tempered by frustration at how little was done with him, and the few interesting things which were, were low key, or quickly undone.

      Your outline actually suggests an interesting idea, the notion that the Armed Forces might seek out their own mutants to operate along lines of any other military unit, but from their existing recruits.

      Have we seen any such thing? SHIELD doesn’t count as it is it’s own superspy thing, but the Army, Navy and Airforce are distinct. Alpha Flight is Government, but doesn’t utilise military structure.

      It strikes me there’s story potential there. Some who join might do it for the oppotunities it offers them, some out of patriotism, and the likes of those, who also turn out to be mutants with powers they can control, or be taught to control, could be utilised in military actions without too much fuss.

      The navy having divers who don’t need equipment, the Air Force having fliers and airborne weapons without needing planes. And teleporters are perhaps the most valuable resource possible in military applications, transporting soldiers and equipment to their destination directly.

      The recuirts would be protected as much by the rules of military discipline and the fact they’d be “Special Forces” as anything else.

      And now I think about it, the closest I can recall to that is either DC’s old Creature Commandos series, or the New Universe’s “The Draft”.

      1. For Rusty in particular, I was thinking less in the direction of a special mutant military unit (which, as you say, pushes in the direction of elite special forces types) than of the fact that Rusty is representative of a deeply normal person in the American military. The US military is, obviously, very large, and lots of young people are in it for the minimum enlistment period, for mundane reasons and doing mundane things. Comics US military people, whether positively or negatively portrayed, are pretty much never the kind of person whose job is to repair air conditioners.

        But you’re right that “The services set up mutant units” is a story that you’d think would have been done to death. It’s an obvious ‘90s X-Factor plotline: how does X-Factor (which seems, although I haven’t checked this, to be under the aegis of some dodgy civilian federal agency) relate to a rival unit set up by the US Army, competing for similar turf, and naturally, trying to have X-Factor’s budget cut?

        Thinking about it, it might be something that relates to Claremont’s interests and political orientation. The ‘80s would have been a natural time for it as a concept, when it would have matched well the sort of thing that was appearing in other media and suited the kind of conservative Reaganite stories that often cropped up in superhero comics.

        But Claremont’s X-Men wasn’t like that, and I can see that he might have been careful to stay away from that sort of thing. It is striking that the character that off the top of my head is Claremont’s most notable creation with a US military background, Forge, is very solidly located as a Vietnam veteran for whom that was a tragic experience.

        The other time when it would have been especially likely was the early ‘2000s (when we did get Sentinel Squad ONE), but then I think it was perhaps foreclosed as a concept by the Civil War/Initiative stuff, which was probably a bit too similar.

        1. A military focused mutant title in the ’80’s would have been fascinating as a mini series to contrast with the X-Men.

          However, since 9/11 I have noticed that Marvel team titles have become increasingly more militarized. Much to the detriment of the X-Men in my humble opinion. I blame this largely on the success of Millar’s The Ultimates.

          Some of those themes were explored to some degree via Freedom Force and Peter David’s early X-Factor run. I know I sound like a cranky old man but I prefer when the X-Men operated as a small family of outcasts.

          Having said that, I am enjoying the current stuff, I just feel it’s gotten too big.

          1. An ‘80s military X-title would probably have been uncomfortably heavy on evil commie bastards and Middle Eastern terrorists, judging from what comics were like back then…

            The militarization of 21st-century superheroes is definitely a thing. It’s striking that even progressive moves have been accompanied by militarization.

            You can create Kate Kane, but she has to be ex-military and have a very military dad. You can move Carol Danvers to the forefront, but she has to be the most fighter-pilot-y fighter-pilot that ever fighter-piloted. (I sometimes miss the Carol Danvers who was a feminist magazine editor.) John Stewart can enjoy a certain prominence, but he has to be defined exclusively as an ex-Marine, not an architect. It’s as if the belief is that people will only accept a hero who isn’t a white man If that person conforms to the most conventional model of American heroism, a military one.

            That being said, I think it’s the Zeitgeist more than the Ultimates. Millar, for all his very many faults, has a gift for keeping his finger on the pulse of the culture, and I think he just spotted the way things were going.

        2. Yeah, the qualification for being a soldier with powers as established in the mainstream MU seemed to be “Must have been a supervillain for some time”, since Freedom Force was made up of Mystique’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Spiral and the Murder Grandpas.

          Now, while you’d know such people had experience with their powers and no issues with using lethal force, putting them in a team and expecting them to toe the military line AND put up a positive public profile (DC’s Suicide Squad of disposable super-villains were at least kept as a covert team, and thus were deniable if things went wrong) seems a tad optimistic.

          But newly enlisted Charlie McKenzie from East Hoboken, who signed up to get her college funding but who can also emit debilitating ultra-violet energy blasts from her eyes, Steve Michaels from South Dakota, looking to see more of the world, who can dissolve concrete with a touch, and the guy from a longstanding military family who can assume a corrosive slime form, would probably be a better bet, with the right training, since at some level they WANT to be there.

          They wouldn’t even need to be Special Forces, don’t build their ego up like that. They’re newly recruited soldiers, grunts with a particular skill set, and the military knows how to use such things. Treat them as such, and spread them around, maybe one such instance per unit. Sort of controlled integration. Lessens resentment (perhaps) and builds teamwork.

          (Not condoning this approach I hasten to clarofy, just attempting to see this through a miliatry’s POV when I have as much military experience as your average hamster)

          There was a bit of that in the “Fifty States Initiative” I guess, with the military training, but again, most of that seemed to be recruiting existing characters and militarising them (Like Cloud 9 and co) rather than building their own supoer-powered soldiers.

  7. One thing that struck me this issue was the contrast between 616 colossus not willing to leave with his “mission” (magneto) before knowing the others would be ok (only doing so after Xavier tells him Jean and Scott are doing their own things to escape) with AoA Colossus abandoning Gen Next (published only two months before, I believe)

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