Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

350 – The Xavier Protocols

Art by David Wynne. Wanna buy the original? Drop him a line!
Variant cover by Dylan Meconis!
And a real, live, downloadable sketch variant!

In which we celebrate a milestone with a special collectible episode; there may already be a Charles Xavier in your basement; Onslaught lacks subtlety; Bill Watterson may or may not have changed his licensing policy on Earth-616; guns should not have hair; and Jay once again exercises his questionable lyrical skills.

X-PLAINED:

  • Excalibur #100
  • Fantastic Four #415
  • X-Factor #125
  • X-Men #55
  • Onslaught (more) (again)
  • The Xavier Protocols
  • The many secret subbasements of Charles Francis Xavier
  • The Xavier Protocols
  • An extremely poor file-retrieval system
  • Onslaught vs. the Fantastic Four
  • Li’l Charlie
  • A circus, kind of
  • Lang disambiguation
  • Onslaught’s new look
  • Onslaught vs. several Avengers
  • An unlicensed rug
  • The only thing Bill Watterson loves
  • Metaphorical Turkish delight
  • The Brand Corporation (more) (again)
  • Dark Descendents
  • Hairy guns
  • Caps for Sale
  • A really big fight
  • A very dramatic EMP
  • Why Onslaught looks like that

NEXT EPISODE: Yep, more Onslaught!


“Magneto’s Cape” lyrics by Jay Edidin, with apologies to Marsha Norman. Performed by Steve Pence and Adam Faruqi and produced by Adam Faruqi.


CORRECTION: There are only three variant covers to this episode, not four; Jen Vaughn had to bow out due to other commitments.


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35 comments

  1. I still maintain it is entirely plausible that 616 Bill Watterson did allow for licensed merchandise, just like 616 Richard Nixon tried to declare war on Atlantis

  2. Can anyone recommend a good site for Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men back issues? I was only able to grab the standard David Wynn cover and the sketch variant. And I could only get one copy of the Wynn covers. I don’t want to go to ebay because they usually mark them up real quick.

  3. I really wonder if the attendance-based Xavier Protocols videos were inspired in some way by Foundation, because “I can design an AI to predict exactly what crisis is happening based on which specific people enter this room together” is TOTALLY a Hari Seldon move

  4. I don’t know how much Fantastic Four you guys have read, but as someone who’s primary interaction with Marvel has been through their comics, I can’t help but feel that you may be a bit harsh on Reed Richards as a character. Often his depiction in crossovers don’t match how he is portrayed in the main book, which is something I think has definitely been self-propagating in terms of portrayals in future events. Both Mark Waid and Johnathon Hickman’s runs on the book(both considered some of the best) have characterized Reed’s love and devotion to his family as central to his character. I think another portion of more widespread dislike/mocking of the character among people less versed in the team is that he’s often had traits that could be interpreted as autistic-coded, which makes comments about how ‘anti-social’ or ‘dismissive of his family’ he is perhaps a bit uncomfortable. I’d also note that perhaps instances of sexism in silver age comics is perhaps not the most fair as far as modern characterization goes.

    I genuinely adore your podcast and the discussions you have on the content, but as someone to whom Mr Fantastic is a very important character with which I occasionally relate, the common misconception of his character continued in a show I love is a bit disheartening.

    1. Yeah, I’m definitely in a similar “Reed Richards apologist” camp.

      Note here you can add the classic “This is character I’ve cobbled together in my mind from a few distinct panels and throwing out many many many issues” that comes with any reading of any comic character.

      The biggest thing that I often find is the difference between Reed and someone like Prof. X or Doc Strange is trying to be better. And damn, that’s what I love about a good FF comic is that it’s a bunch of people just trying their hardest to balance being a family and celebrities and superheroes and explorers and that balance doesn’t always work out. Reed’s issue that is that people-ing doesn’t come naturally to him (as Jcb327 says, there’s definitely space to read that as autistic coding). And he wishes it did and he beats himself up over it. Furthermore, he has the issue of:

      A) not always having the right answers.
      B. Thinking he does.
      C) Knowing that thinking he does has fucked things up in the past.
      D) having then people look to him for answers when he tries to step back and also knowing things will go wrong if he steps back too much.

      I think I often sum up my counterargument to critiques of Reed as “There is nothing you can say about him that he hasn’t thought himself in his darkest moments.”

      And yes, the Waid and Hickman runs really get to the heart of why I love Reed.

      https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fscifi.stackexchange.com%2Fquestions%2F243009%2Fwhy-does-he-call-himself-mister-fantastic&psig=AOvVaw2YYdzTrEdRtNFkHua99ZkO&ust=1635535329311000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAsQjRxqFwoTCPDRwIbq7fMCFQAAAAAdAAAAABAO

      https://mobile.twitter.com/JimZub/status/1092425357976850434/photo/3

      The second page by Waid and Wieringo (& c.) is probably my favorite Reed page, but I also love the Council of Reeds and the idea that what makes our Reed unique is that the rest of them abandoned their family and he couldn’t. 616 Reed is 616 Reed BECAUSE he’s not what so many fans make him out to be. He still cares about his family, even if he’s not always the best at it.

    2. I’m sorry, I don’t know why when I pasted this in (I’ve written this defense of Reed before in an email), it stripped formatting.

  5. I will say, going from the last few Wrestlemanias, you may want Pretzel Sausage All In instead. (Or Pretzel Sauage Wrestle Kingdom In Tokyo Dome).

    The Overpower thing amuses me because we do end up getting something of a string of repeats of this – in the sense of unified TCG (or other game) systems that allow for crossovers between Marvel, DC, and other companies that quite possibly the licensors might not have originally intended – like the Vs. System card game and HeroClix (in the latter case, also allowing for some independent Comics characters as well, so you could have Hellboy and Ghost Rider on your team). The Vs. System game was also my first introduction to Onslaught, as there was a card in the starter sets that was “Onslaught – Psionic Spawn of Xavier and Magneto”, which let you stun all the cards of one team affiliation at the start of your attack step.

    I also join Miles in standing up for Andromeda.

    1. In fairness, watching Xavier and Magneto spawn probably would stun anyone watching. It might not surprise them, but it would stun them.

  6. Describing X-Factor #125 as “pretty meh” is amazingly generous. I think the quality of it’s writing is so low that I cannot believe that it got past editorial and that the writer continued on that title for multiple years. A case where I was annoyed it was a double-sized anniversary issue because there was that much of it to wade through.

  7. Claremont is a lot of this — he built Fantastic Four versus the X-Men around the idea that Reed is a bad parent. As someone who read it when it came out, and had a lot of affection for the Fantastic Four (they were my favorite Marvel characters as a child), I remember thinking that this was not the way Reed was usually portrayed at that time. I’d need to go back and look at Franklin in Power Pack, but I have a vague memory that Simonson also had a touch of portraying Franklin as a child neglected by both of his busy and famous parents.

    I think Reed is cursed to some extent by the fact that he’s such an early 1960s character. One of my pet theories about the Fantastic Four is that part of why they worked so absolutely well when they were created, and have had a hard time being really compelling since then, is that they were perfectly suited to their time* — it’s telling that updates have a hard time coping with what to do with the way that their origin is tied to the space program. And they are especially of their time in that they are about the future.

    Reed is that classic 1960’s authority figure, the scientist, from a time when scientists were big deal Cold War patriotic heroes. He’s the man in a TV commercial, in a white coat, smoking a pipe, who tells the viewer that the phrase “9 out of 10 times” somehow means that the American housewife should be using this product. That’s tied to 1960s gender roles in a way that is, obviously, horribly dated now. I think it always hangs around the character that he was meant to be that guy, but a contemporary Reed wouldn’t want to be that guy in the first place (one would hope).

    One of my personal ideas about how to do the FF is to deprive Reed of his powers and confine him to the lab as an advisor and the Oracle figure who is communication with the team, and make Sue the leader as a result. That character is admittedly a cliché, but it would do a lot to take the curse off Reed, I think, if he didn’t have the pressure constantly on him of the fact that he was designed as an authority figure of a specific dated type.

    I’ve also always related to him a bit, though. Like Silver Age Reed, if I’m doing something, that’s what I’m focused on, even if it doesn’t seem important to other people, and I find it irritating to have that disrupted, especially by people who come across as thinking that what I’m doing doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t matter to them.

    Not that I say horribly sexist things about being interrupted! But I am very much one of those people who, if you want something done, and it’s not an emergency, say when you need it done, and it absolutely will be done by then. But let me put it on my list of things to do rather than insist that it be done right at this exact moment. So I sometimes relate a bit to Reed even in some of his awful Silver Age moments.

    *There’s a colossal asterisk here, which is Ben Grimm. The other characters are Scientist Leader, Teenager, and Girl — Reed and Johnny are done really well, Sue there wasn’t much there for Lee/Kirby to do well, but they’re all of them obvious archetypes. But Ben is this unique and more rounded character informed by a working-class Jewish immigrant milieu with which both Lee and Kirby were intimately familiar, with his Jewishness left coded just as both Lee and Kirby adopted names that concealed their own Jewishness.

      1. Quick addition that just occurred to me: any characterization of Reed should be compatible with as detail that (I think it’s fair to say) is one of the core things about the FF as it developed.

        Which is that Ben has this guy as his best friend, and has had since college. You make Reed into too much of a $%##, and it’s just not credible that Ben would ever have formed that relationship with him.

        1. I agree about the Reed and Ben bit, and it’s why so many of the takes on Reed in major crossovers suck, because when said crossover results in Sue and/or Ben telling him “This is a dangerous, bad path you are going down and it generally SUCKS!” and he’s not listening, then that’s… NOT Reed Richards.

  8. It seems odd that a telepath would bother with ridiculously complicated computer databases for these sorts of contingencies; just load the Xavier Protocols as post-hypnotic suggestions in everybody’s head and call it a day. (Also, given how often Havok gets mind controlled it seems like one of the X-Men would give him some countermeasures to help, the way Jean did with Jessica Jones.)

    Regarding Onslaught’s design sensibility: Would he really know enough about Age of Apocalypse at this point for that to be an influence? He acts all surprised about the details of AoA when he learns them later. His tower really should have borrowed design cues from some of Magneto’s old haunts, like Antarctic volcano or Octopusheim.

    And he deploys the Sentinels to New York — and THEN drops a huge EMP on the city that destroys all circuitry? Seems like he got that backwards. Also, on the reason he uses the Sentinels at all: I know that Marvel said — later — that Onslaught was feeding off the fear they caused, but is that actually explained anywhere in the story? I haven’t read the Spider-Man and Punisher stuff, maybe it’s in there someplace. In the central storyline, they just seem to stand around to get punched while Onslaught plots with Franklin, mostly off-panel.

    It does make sense that a Xavier/Magneto mashup would use the Sentinels against humanity, as a symbol of the oppression that mutantkind has endured. But they’re pushed aside so quickly by the Franklin issue (and, strictly speaking, if you’ve got Franklin Richards on your side you don’t really need much else). Which makes me wonder, again, at what point the FF and everybody else was brought into the storymaking process. The whole event still seems like a pretty good X-Men tale that got a unwieldy, company-wide reboot stapled onto it — and how that happened is the story I really want to hear.

    1. I read this in reprints two years late, and I was convinced that Onslaught went for the Sentinels because they were muscle – capable, directable, disposable.

      Like, in an alternate version of this story where Onslaught broke open the Vault and recruited all the super-villains, or stormed Lemuria and hypnotized all the Deviants, he couldn’t have relied on his victims operating at peak capacity, or not betraying him, and the lives of the minions would have been *ruined* afterwards.

      Whereas with Sentinels, you do two evenings rewriting codes, and they serve you fulltilt until they blow up, and then you go get some more, no regrets.

  9. Great ep. Thank you for it.

    How many variant covers does this episode have?
    I’m going to have this episode CGC’d and it’ll be worth so much someday!

    Silver-Age Reed Richards was 100% not a raging asshole. I recently reread that.

    OverPower! That was all-the-rage in my grade 6 (in Canada). Had a ton of those. Don’t think i ever truly understood the rules and ever played it 100% correctly. …then again I don’t think the rules ever 100% worked/made-sense.
    My grade 6 teacher had a deal with me if I didn’t get in any trouble for a few months or something, he would give me the Wolverine character card he had. It was HARD being good for that long, but I did it and got that card!

    Ah mannn…I wish I was Nasty Boy.

    57:14 Agreed miles. I don’t care for the cheap type of retcons, like when they did all of that characater assassination stuff and all the writers really piled on poor Chuck, in Astonishing X-Men (Danger), Deadly Genesis (1st XMEN team he sent to Krakoa), where they just reach back into the past, and invent/add something that happened off-panel. That’s easy and cheap, anyone can reach back into the past and do that. I say if it didn’t happen in real-time, at the time of those issues coming out, then it didn’t happen and just move on forwards and create new interesting stories moving FORWARDS only.

  10. I think seeing the non-X titles involvement in this event is fascinating, because they have a completely different aim than the X-books do.

    The fact the likes of the FF and the Avengers are in the event is sort of secondary to the fact they’re all being cancelled in an issues time, with no carryover plot or characters. They’re just.. gone, and IIRC the creators aren’t heading into the Heroes Reborn event.

    So the fact we get good Fantastic Four/Avengers input into a story which is ultimately leading to their dissolution seems to be a testament to the professionalism of those invovled.

    1. Building off of the “professionalism” comment.

      This is the second time in the last three years that a podcast has caused me to read FF #415. Three years ago, I was reading along with Wait, What?’s Baxter Building podcast, and frankly, I had a more negative reaction when reading it in that context, after reading years and years of Fantastic Four comics leading up to it.

      Part of that is because Jeff Lester and Graeme McMillan are in general more critical of what they cover than our hosts tend to be, and it was coming at the end of the DeFalco period into which they had (justly IMO) been sticking the boot.

      Part of it is because I still had the experience of recently having read through the major periods before that: Walt Simonson (writing problems, but *amazing* art, the best on the title since Kirby), Steve Englehart (what the word “problematic” was invented for, but interesting and really trying to drive the book forward for the only time since the 1960s; John Byrne (definitely not as good as people remember it being, but with a rock-hard conservative faith that yes, the FF are the center of the Marvel Universe that has you believing it despite yourself). And yes, none of those three are perfect, but they’re all interesting in ways that harm DeFalco, who is really prone to doing the FF as a pure nostalgia act (which I think is a seductively easy but sterile approach to doing something that in its Lee/Kirby heyday was exactly the opposite of that).

      But another thing, and this is where it connects to this podcast, is that the other big ingredient in DeFalco’s FF aside from nostalgia is shameless imitation of the classic Chris Claremont approach to the X-Men. Really shameless: at one point Johnny is given a love interest who appears to exist primarily so that there is a character with a Claremontesque accent.* There’s an awful lot of angst about a teenage Franklin from an alternate future, because apparently Franklin doesn’t just date Rachel, he *is* Rachel.

      But what emerged for me from rereading FF #415 this time was that DeFalco’s patented combination of nostalgia and Claremont does allow for him to be pretty competent on the fundamentals. I can definitely see what our hosts meant, for instance, when they commented on how DeFalco communicates the character relationships clearly even if you don’t control the background. I liked reading the issue much more this time. And part of that, I’m afraid, is that it benefited greatly from the contrast on basic competence with most (not all, but most) of the X-books of this era. It’s nothing special, but it’s not lazy in the way that Lobdell in particular so often it is.

      Also, there’s a lot of Lyja, and Lyja is one of the things that does work about DeFalco’s FF. (The other is Kristoff. DeFalco’s Kristoff is great.) Lyja is a triumph, in fact, because her basic concept is a reset button to put things back the way they “should be,” a central part of the deadening nostalgia agenda. But DeFalco is so committed to the idea that *this* is Johnny’s OTP that he actually makes it work.

      *Claremont, of course, when he wrote the Fantastic Four, reached deep inside of his soul so that he might focus everything that was Chris Claremont and came up with Caledonia. “You are still the student, Tom DeFalco, and I am the master”

  11. I’m really loving you two coming to team Onslaught! It’s a FUN story! And honestly, while I get while IconUK and Voord99 are saying, I will say there’s a part of me that really loves the FF/Avengers stuff. To me, it almost has the feeling of original Crisis on Infinite Earths. Yes, the Silver Age (and Bronze Age) are well and gone by this point, but this (especially with the language of the End of the Age of Marvels that Apocalypse, The Watcher, and Ozymandius use) does have that feeling of The Curtain Call of a Period. It’s a little late, but..I dunno…it works, to me. Especially when you get the final issues of Avengers and FF in Phase 2, which have some really fun moments that become a beautiful send off to the teams before the big finale.

    Anyway, as far as X-Men Musicals go, I’ve had some thoughts myself:

    1. Dark Phoenix Musical – the two numbers with Reprises I’d want are
    A. “I am fire! I am life” – originally just a few lines of the song that premieres the Phoenix, more triumphant and hopeful sounding. Then given a full number closing Act I with far more ominous chords. Finally, brought back as a plaintiff reprise (aka late Act II Idina Menzel AF) as a few lines in the OTHER reprise as she explains why she must die.
    B. “In Another Life” – original Act I number is a fun, bouncy number as Jean waltzes with Mastermind back into the past. Full of fun stage tricks, like quick costume and set changes. Like, literally she turns from modern clothes to a full ball gown during a twirl.

    2. Inferno Opera or Musical – mainly I just want this to exist so, at the climax, Jean and Madelyne can be singing during their psychic face-off – key would be that the two actresses would have the same vocal register, except Jean would be singing at the top and Maddie at the bottom of it.

    1. Oh yes, “In Another Life” would ALSO have a late Act II reprise, but this time it’s Scott and Jean about to have their last stand, thinking about what their lives could have been like if they didn’t stay superheroes

    2. Oh, I’m not hating Onslaught. It’s no worse than the X-Cutioner’s Song or Fatal Attractions. Actually, it’s a bit better for me than both of those — certainly better than Fatal Attractions —, and I don’t hate those. I keep waiting for the moment to come where I go, “OK, this is why people say this is so bad,” and that moment hasn’t come yet.

      I don’t mind it sprawling over into the Avengers and the FF, although I would like to see the importance of Franklin and his Evil Imaginary Friend to the story reflected by giving the FF part a bit more room to breathe. The “End of the Age of Wonders” stuff does fall a bit flat for me, because I know how quickly that was reversed. The hazards of reading years after the fact. Also because it’s more grandiose and portentous BS in an X-era that has a plentiful supply of grandiose and portentous BS.

      But the character work with Xavier is pretty decent so far. And the only way to make the line “I have no interest in cookies” even better would be for it to be, ”I have no interest in … cookies.”

      1. I’m thinking most of the hate for Onslaught comes from the hastily tacked on tie-ins that permeate non related titles (Green Goblin, Punisher, etc.) and the end of the crossover that removed the major heroes from the 616 for a year. Just reading the core title (Phases) with a couple of relevant Impact titles, it’s actually a pretty solid event. Even if, ultimately, it doesn’t all make sense in the end.

        1. Onslaught and the “Heroes Reborn” thing also allowed for Kurt Busiek to unleash the original Thunderbolts series, and DAMN if that wasn’t some awesome storytelling right there!

          1. Yeah – I’m listening to another podcast right now that’s recapping the Thunderbolts, and I’d interested to see how things got to that, so I was really hyped for when the time came to cover Onslaught.

        2. I wonder — and I’d emphasize that I wasn’t reading comics at this point and so this is pure speculation — if the hostile reaction to Onslaught also reflects developments in the comics market.

          Obviously, Heroes Reborn happened because Marvel’s sales had cratered. By the same token, doesn’t that mean that the readers who were still left reading the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, etc. would disproportionately have been the hard-core longtime devotees? The kind of people who would react most negatively to the titles being cancelled and the characters handed to Liefeld & co. to rework.

          That this happened because a story in the X-books swallowed up the other books, and then the X-books, because of their flagship status and relatively higher sales, were exempted from the reboot that came out of this X-story — I can see that might add to this being a hard pill to swallow for people who loved the other characters who had their history ended (for the moment) because of an X-event.

          Is that misguided speculation on my part?

          1. Well, there were plenty of X-readers who are hostile to Onslaught on his own merits. 🙂 But yes, I think if I were an FF or Avengers fan at this point I’d feel pretty cheated by the whole event.

            Not just for what was done — I thought Heroes Reborn was a worthwhile gamble even if it didn’t pan out — but how. Written out by somebody else’s villain in somebody else’s book; it’s unseemly.

            And unnecessary. You’ve got Franklin Richards and the Scarlet Witch already; if you want to rewrite reality for the Fantastic Four and Avengers, their existing casts had all the tools you’d need.

            And since the selling point of Heroes Reborn was always the creative teams, launching it from a high-selling title like X-Men gives little advantage. I didn’t finish the Onslaught Event and think, “Boy, I’d like to see where Captain America goes after this!”

            We’re all aware of the inside conflicts between Claremont & Byrne/Shooter/Harras/etc.; I’d be surprised if there wasn’t similar dirt on what Marvel’s various teams thought of this.

            1. I also wonder if the X-men thing was also an age thing. Like, people who started in the late 80s early 90s were either reaching an age of “comics are for kids” in late elementary school or just getting new interests in late high school (I almost find that those seem to be two big culling times for comics when I talk to people and Onslaught seems at/near the end of childhood for people who got into X-men with the cartoon and teenage ness for people who got in with the beginning of X-men fever.

              Again, this is pure speculation, but it could be a critical mass moment for what for others is just a general meh distaste (aka how I view Whedon until schism – aka my late high school and college years)

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