Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

330 – Suddenly, Ninjas

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

In which the podcast turns seven; Matt has officially edited half the podcast; a lot of things are made by metal; Doctor Strange is a big weirdo; Gambit is a scoundrel, not a villain; Wolverine goes goth; Onslaught could probably use a better herald; Bishop fires two guns whilst going aaaaaaa; and we commit to making what sense we can of Onslaught.

X-PLAINED:

  • How Betsy got her body back
  • Several simultaneous anniversaries
  • Uncanny X-Men #329-330
  • X-Men #50
  • Some ninja bullshit
  • A lot of less-benign-than-it-looks racism
  • Excellent use of a neon sign
  • An odd couple
  • The evolution of art tools
  • Steam vs. metal
  • Gomurr the Ancient
  • The Ebon Vein
  • Catastrophic magic
  • Our favorite iterations of Doctor Strange
  • The Crimson Dawn
  • How one becomes Gomurr the Ancient
  • Tar (Proctor of the Crimson Dawn)
  • Post (Herald of Onslaught)
  • An entity who may or may not be Onslaught
  • Continuity party tricks
  • Survivors of the Age of Apocalypse

NEXT EPISODE: Brood X!


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40 comments

  1. Just a note, Gomurr is clearly visually inspired by the old guy from Ninja Scroll. Whom I have only learned today is called Dakuan. Ninja Scroll was the coolest thing at the time.

  2. Kwannon got her body back from Krakoan resurrection? I’m sure she was around before Krakoa. My theory was that Betsy has subconciously recreated her at the same time she rebuilt her own body.

    1. Kwannon came back at the same time that Betsy reconstructed her original body, although I don’t think it was ever explained how. She went on to appear in the infuriating grand guignol that was Rosenberg’s Uncanny X-Men run. It’s entirely possible – probable even – that she died at some point there and was resurrected on Krakoa, but I don’t remember it happening.

      1. There has been no mention at all as to what occurred between Uncanny X-Men (2018) #22 and House of X #1. I get the feeling that that is by design. I have a theory that there is probably a major twist coming in that area based on how Krakoa worked in Giant Size X-Men #1. For fear of spoilers I will keep that information to myself.

    2. You’re all totally right – we forgot about Kwannon in the Rosenberg storyline. So many dropped plotlines from that era, between the simultaneous Age of X-Man pocket-verse and the subsequent HoX/PoX reset!

  3. In the AoA, I understood it was specifically Nightcrawler that had the same facial markings as post-Crimson Dawn Psylocke. I don’t know that it’s ever been addressed, but I always assumed it was meant to imply that AoA Kurt’s life had been saved the same way. But then, I always forget that AoA came before the Crimson Dawn appears, because I remember seeing Kurt in it and wondering if they were going to mention it. But it must have been when I reread AoA later!
    Do you suppose Betsy’s markings were deliberately chosen to subtly retcon Kurt’s story in AoA, or it was just 90’s fashion getting carried away and too similar?

  4. The great thing about Joe Mad is that you can tell exactly when he got something new–witness this arc dropping soon after NINJA SCROLL and Battle Chasers happening after Sega published Guardian Heroes.

  5. I get the feeling that the AoA characters were largely carried over to give the event some kind continuity weight. If the only repercussion was Bishop’s memoires I feel like most people would have found the event to be inconsequential and a waste of time.

    Reading these issues I find myself wondering why Scott Lobdell wasn’t doing this in his Excalibur issues. They might be more fondly remembered.

    I’m wondering how much Lobdell was influenced by Big Trouble in Little China when he wrote this.

  6. Catastrophe magic was actually a specific kind of magic in Dr. Strange comics at the time. I don’t remember the specifics (and I suspect they didn’t matter very much) but it came out what was supposed to be a Warren Ellis run on that book. He only wrote one full issue and is given partial credit on the next couple. The book ends less than a year later. Still I checked the dates and these issues of Uncanny take place during that time

  7. Hey, I’m listening to this, and Jay, bro, calm down, this isn’t racism, it’s more of a stereotype. There are parts in Queens, NY that used to be called ‘Little Africa’ so the name ‘Little Asia’ isn’t that bad. Can you cue down your white guilt.
    This was a fun little arc and I hope you guys follow the Crimson Dawn as they move over to Excalibur(that was such a good arc) and eventually Psylocke & Archangel: The Crimson Dawn(they win because they are wealthy, but hey comics)

    1. Queens native here. “Little Africa” hasn’t been widely used as an actual locator term in maybe a century, unless the speaker is actively trying to sound racist. And though historically it was applied to several neighborhoods, by far the most prominent was in lower Manhattan, not Queens.

      And “Little Asia”? In the 1990s? Stupid and inexplicably lazy. New York has well-known Chinatowns and Koreatowns, but they’re separated by miles (and in one case, a river). Pick one.

      The whole storyline of needing Orientalist-style Mysticism to repair Western-style Disembowelment could’ve been avoided with a little more forethought. Perhaps Betsy was technically dead for a time after the attack and brought back via CPR or Shi’ar tech or whatever. But her psyche refuses to come back into the body — it’s Revanche’s body, after all, and maybe it doesn’t recognize it. And who knows best to cram Betsy’s mind into Revanche’s body? [Insert Asian stereotype here and cue Ninja fights.]

      It just speaks to a lack of care in the writing, something I’ve complained about with Lobdell before. The comic looks great — I wasn’t reading X-Men much at the time but picked this one up b/c I liked Gomurr’s character design. But I can confirm: It was just as dumb back then.

  8. I’m just dropping in here to say that a: I enjoy the episode illustrations in general but his one is delightful, and b: I really hope that the teaser for next week means that there will be an in-depth discussion of cicadas alongside the X Men next week.

  9. ‘prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people based on their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.’ Yes, Little Asia sounds really bad but it’s just a general shorthand. I was surprised why didn’t they just use ‘Chinatown’. It’s just as bad but it would have more real life.

    As far as X-Men #50, how is Onslaught confusing but you guys can understand Claremont’s jumble? You guys say Onslaught is bad, Inferno is so trash.
    Onslaught was testing the X-Men to see if they would survive in his new world that was the point of the test.

    1. And prejudice is based largely on stereotypes (hence the whole implicit “pre-judging” bit)

      I’d say Onslaught is more confusing than Inferno because they seem to be unsure about what the nature of Onslaught even is at this point and they really should make up their mind (I mean they DO change their mind again, when they decide that Xavier on his own wouldn’t do this, so they have to have a part of Magneto influencing him too).

      Inferno was convoluted (and became too WAY much about characters other than Illyana, IMHO), but they seemed to have a fairly clear idea of what they wanted to do with it, less so Onslaught.

      Onslaught testing the X-Men would make sense, if Onslaught was anyone other than the X-Men’s founder. As Xavier, he’s been testing the X-Men in Danger Room situations since 1963, and has been able to see first hand what their combat skills against any number of opponents of varying levels of lethality and cruelty for YEARS.

      Testing, say, the FF or the Avengers might have made SOME sense as he doesn’t know them as well, but these are mutants he could probably spell out the DNA code for if he had to. Using this approach, what can he learn that he doesn’t already know?

  10. What sense does it make to judge an old/past comic, that was created by people of the time, operating under THEIR time’s standards, by TODAY’s stricter (than then) standards?

    1. I can’t speak for anyone else but I can say that while these comics came out at a time when people didn’t feel as comfortable raising their objections, they are being reviewed in today’s world. There are people who are hearing about these comics for the first time who, based on Miles’s enthusiasm, may feel compelled to check them out for themselves. Some who might find the material extremely objectionable.

      There’s also the adage that “Those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.”. For myself, I freely admit that I had no complaints about these issues and never gave a thought to how others might percieve them. I feel it’s educational, at the very least, to illustrate other’s viewpoints that I had not considered.

  11. Do you want all forms of media from over the years to be combed through for anything that isn’t SJW2021 approvable, and have that stuff permanently deleted from existence?
    What do you want? What’s your goal of calling out that stuff? Just to appear virtuous? Just to appear virtuous, by sticking your nose up in the air & waggle’ing your finger @ it?

    1. Yes, they are trying to permanently delete it by (checks notes) having a whole episode around it.

      Okay, so here’s a pet peeve of mine as someone who has a PhD in literature and spent a lot of time and energy looking at popular reception of things: the “it was a different time and standards have changed” argument doesn’t always hold up. For example…Birth of a Nation, Song of the South, and Gone With the Wind have ALL gotten that defense…and all had protests by the NAACP at the time. Yet, I have heard that defense come up SO much with all of those.

      Admittedly, there may not be a ton of extant writings about Psylocke and such at the time BUT that’s also a problem of archive formation. How much was being written critically about race and gender in superhero comics in general at the time is limited (comics legitimization in the 90s often involved a “not just superheroes” and especially “not just mainstream superheroes” stuff in criticism). Furthermore, fan spaces were not necessarily inviting to BIPOC/women to open themselves up when providing criticism (or hey! maybe they did! Anyone wanna dig up old 90s message boards?!).

      HOWEVER, we can see that backlash would appear in comics over things that we would be equally grossed out about (see: Jim Shooter, Hulk, gay men, and the YMCA), though it didn’t always go over well. In other words, don’t assume that before the past X years, people were cool with offensive stuff and all held those ideas and suddenly they weren’t.

      Furthermore, quite simply, the easiest test of this is to trace the term “orientalism” which by the publication of this comic was nearly two decades old (Edward Said coined it in 1978). All of which is to say, it wasn’t just a different time. This was a critique being lodged against pop culture by this point.

      I would even go so far as to speculate that making it Little Asia MAY have been a half-hearted attempt to make it *better* by not isolating out a single culture as being the Magic One…but it obviously failed for the reasons Jay said.

      1. I would even go so far as to speculate that making it Little Asia MAY have been a half-hearted attempt to make it *better* by not isolating out a single culture as being the Magic One…but it obviously failed for the reasons Jay said.

        I must admit, I don’t find that very credible, seeing as so much of this is historically *about* reducing a vast range of cultures into a single essentialized “the East.” I don’t think anyone trying to avoid orientalism walks into one of its most characteristic features.

        If someone put a gun to my head and told me I had to come up with a charitable reading, I think the best I could do is that this is a parody of how east Asia is represented in comics in general and is a parody of Claremont’s tics in particular (e.g. “Logan-san”), and parodying the orientalizing elements and the essentialism is part of the point. (There is, obviously, the question of whether that’s a prudent thing to do if you’re not Asian or Asian-American yourself. Let’s take that as read.)

        And I think there might be a case for that — this clearly is not handling the tropes with a lot of reverence. But on balance, it’s reveling in them too much for that. And Lobdell has form here — as Mark says above, lack of care in his writing would not be a new thing for him. It reads more as if the story is just using things that are the sort of things that appear in comics, while making some jokes along the way.

        As for whether It Was A Different Time with no bearing on the present day, it’s not as if the current editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics is someone who succeeded for quite a while in passing himself off as a writer called Akira Yoshida whose use of comics stereotypes of Japan was supposedly coming from his deep familiarity, as a Japanese person, with actual Japan, is it?

        1. That’s fair. Yeah I wasn’t like, “Oh Lobdell had the best of intentions” (cause, let’s be real…), more like wondering how someone who I think lived in NY or LA at the time would think Little Asia would ever be a thing (I kinda felt like it might’ve been a “have cake and eat it too”)…but yeah, your explanation would also make sense. And also reminds me of how in Kindergarten I had a lot of clout when I said I read the comic with Wolverine’s last name in it (He’s Logan San).

          As far as “Asian” falling out of favor…obviously as someone who’s very white, I can’t say for sure, but I could see it going either way (there’s usefulness to sometimes having a term for coalitions, but there are the obvious problems). But yeah, terms are the one case I actually am most likely to say “It was a different time”, since preferred terms change not only temporally but even individually. Like, I’m more inclined to give certain narratives using g***y benefit of the doubt depending on when they’re from (and apparently, there are people who explicitly identify as that and DON’T like Roma – I can link if any are curious…it KINDA reminds me of a gay vs. queer thing tbh, though obviously different – but as my stars show, I still don’t feel comfortable using the term yet).

          1. I should clarify: don’t like “Roma” as a means of identifying themselves.

            (Not as a “don’t like the Romani people”)

          2. I am very white living in a predominantly white area of the country (and closer than I would like to some Aryan compounds) so I am only speculating about the term “Asian” falling out of favor. I feel there’s enough anecdotal evidence to warrant that conclusion. Specifically, I know that some Japanese people aren’t happy having Chinese actors play Japanese characters and vice versa.

            1. Oh yes, THAT is definitely on its way out (I hope). I live in a pretty diverse area (LA), but at least going from some of my students have said/written for college essays and so forth, it looks like the goal is more recognizing Asian people as not a monolith but rather groups that all have their own cultures/backgrounds/relationships to imperialism/colonialism, but also that there are some shared experiences, especially vis a vis whiteness.

      2. There was actually a letter published in an issues of X-Factor (#79 maybe?) that called out Marvel on the depiction of Muslims in issue #76. Another issue some people toss under “of its time”. So it’s logical to assume there were eyebrows raised at these issues even if they never received wide spread attention.

        I have a feeling that even the word “Asian” will fall out of favor over the next ten years or so as it lumps many different cultures under one umbrella.

  12. I’m actually looking forward to the Onslaught episodes; I remember some earlier discussion of how the project went off the rails narratively, but can’t remember the details.

    The top-level storyline, with a Xavier/Magneto mashup as the big bad, seems like a perfectly good idea. But none of the lead-up stories seem to support the later chapters — your question of why Xavier would need to test the X-Men *more*, after all this time, is a good example. And why record the fight with video cameras when Onslaught could just read Post’s mind later? And why are the Avengers involved?

    I suppose it could all be a bunch of intentional red herrings to keep the mystery alive, but the actual effect is that the books read like the writer is just scribbling furiously, never thinking beyond the current issue. (Marvel HAD decided that Xavier was the bad guy at this point, right?)

    It also means that all these pre-Onslaught issues suffer upon rereading, as none of the hints will play out later. (Contrast this with the surprise reveal during Morrison’s run, where the reader can spot little clues they probably missed the first time.)

  13. Now that I had that nerd rant above, I just want to say:

    1. I know Miles will occasionally talk about moments that were, um, formative to him (see Longshot and Dazzler caught up in the wind in their underwear). While I don’t remember it, per se, I’m pretty sure an issue that starts with Scott tied up in tattered boxers and then has him tearing up those boxers for bandages is responsible for some percentage of my queerness.

    2. I’m a little disappointed that Jay and Miles didn’t talk about Scott’s adorable glamor shot that cerebro pulls up.

    3. I do love Aaron’s Dr Strange, though I think by this point my definitive Steve Strange has become the one that has emerged in the “Wong-doings” section of Titan Up the Defense.

    4. I totally thought turnaround time with comics was very different in so much that I would have thought that most of Omega would’ve been drawn and such before X-Man 1 hit the stands…thoguh I guess with Diamond’s ludicrous pre-order time and how sales work, maybe that’s what did it?

  14. As a person who doesn’t know anything about Onslaught other then whats been said in the podcast, it made perfect sense to me that he would be plotting his own defeat while villain speeching about how its pointless. Xavier is basically losing a psychic war with himself.

  15. Bill Wu was raising issues of racism and representation in the letter columns of Master of Kung Fu in the 1970s, which I believe came before the 1990s. It is only the erasure of people speaking up and objecting which makes the ‘different time’ argument plausible.
    ‘Crimson Dawn’ makes me think of the Golden Dawn, the privileged British mystic club that Years and Cowley were members of.
    Mr Sinister would make a good herald because of his genealogical knowledge.

  16. The more I think about “Little Asia,” the more it strikes me as spectacularly lazy, even for Lobdell. Suppose that Lobdell didn’t live in New York. Well, he definitely knew people that he could have asked.

    But even that’s missing the big thing — there’s nothing in this story that dictates that the opening bit has to take place in New York City at all! The closest is Dr. Strange’s involvement, and it’s Dr. Strange — he’s not exactly limited in his range.

    Also, I find that I keep hearing “Suddenly, Ninjas” in my head to the tune of “Suddenly Seymour.”

    1. I’m wondering if “Little Asia” was Lobdell’s attempt at creating a fictional local for future stories, not unlike Genosha or Wakanda? It’s still incredibly lazy and doesn’t make it the slightest bit better but it’s the only reason I could see for doing it. It strikes me as something someone would do if their only exposure to (presumably) Japanese culture came from anime.

  17. Now I am thinking about a peculiar mash-up of turn-of-the-century esoteric mysticism and the ‘80s anti-commie teen epic Red Dawn.

  18. So, I’ve got a suspicion for what’s going on with Wolverine’s Fishnets, and it’s one of those cases where a stylistic depiction of a thing from one culture, created by that culture, is then looked at by an artist in a different culture who doesn’t recognize the shorthand and misinterprets it.

    Specifically, some depictions of ninja in Japanese anime and manga will show them wearing what appear to be fishnets, and which I certainly thought were fishnets… until the mid-2000s when I watched an anime called 2×2=Shinobuden (later released in the US as “Ninja Nonsense”), which mentions that that’s supposed to be chainmail, specifically in the context of that show borrowing a joke from early volumes of Cerebus The Aardvark (specifically related to that book’s parody of Red Sonja, and why wearing chainmail against bare skin is a bad idea).

    In Anime & Manga, the fishnets are meant to be a stylistic shorthand for a kind of Japanese chainmail known as Kusari: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kusari_(Japanese_mail_armour).

    Going from pictures, it looks like what’s being depicted in anime and manga is kusari with twisted links, but again, being stylized in their presentation to make it easier to draw repeatedly (particularly in animation). It, like other forms of chainmail, would also be normally worn on top of something.

    And I’d be willing to bet Logan’s going to learn that the only thing less comfortable than wearing chainmail shirtless, is wearing chainmail with notable amounts of body hair. He’ll heal – but it will still hurt.

  19. In terms of which villain would have heralds, wouldn’t Apocalypse already count, what with the numerous iterations of his Four Horsemen riding out in his name? (Though being the pedant that I am I usually only count the first four from X-Factor, as they had thematically appropriate powers and actual HORSES! (Well, horse-like at any rate)

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