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In which Onslaught is a party that goes on way too long; we are grateful that the Hand is mostly someone else’s problem; there’s always time to get hosed down by firemen; and Emma Frost should never, under any circumstances, cook.
- The Golden Archer
- Wolverine #104-105
- Generation X #18-19
- Portions of Elektra’s deal
- Wolverine’s nose
- Gateway and Onslaught
- Several flashbacks
- The Onslaught goblin
- Retcons and character accountability
- A wet open
- A somewhat atypical plane flight
- Toad by way of Chris Bachalo
- The mysterious DL
- Emma’s Montreal mansion and its staff
- Cooking with Emma Frost
- Quasi-benevolent mind control
- A bonus Shadowcat power
- Digital invisibility
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Oh yeah. Magneto’s soul-goblin. It’s a shame this wasn’t explored more, because how Stripe from GREMLINS got in Magneto’s soul might be worth a couple issues.
This backpedal also made me think of Lobdell’s often referenced thing around the time of X-Cutioner’s Song where he kept jamming in this idea that “silly mutants, if Xavier and Magneto worked together everything would be fiiiiiiine,” and since it turned out the result of Magneto and Xavier working together in this case was “omnicidal Gundam,” you would think would explicitly put paid to this kinds of both-sides nonsense.
Hey guys, Matias here! I’ve fan of yours since 2018. Currently I’m super excited ’cause you’re covering the comics and storylines that were a part of my first experiences with the X-Men after the animated series and movies. Seeing how long it will take you to finish the Onslaught story, you should take a well deserved vacation after it.
Hope you’re both doing fine.
It’s interesting that they put the goblin — and the explanation of what Onslaught really is — here, in a side book where a lot of mainline X-Men readers would never see it. Was Marvel looking for a have-the-cake-and-eat-it-too situation? Doing it here absolves Xavier in canon, but without saddling the main story with what is a pretty ridiculous image, even for comics. (It would also let later writers more easily ignore the angle entirely, if Marvel wanted, by keeping it out of X-Men proper.)
Or, was this change made so late in the process that the main story was already pretty much set, so Marvel had to stick it someplace else? Because having Spirit Goblin hop out of Onslaught’s armor after the Hulk wrecks it actually could’ve worked. If nothing else it’d give the Avengers something to punch at the end.
Regardless, I agree it’s very strange that they backpedaled on Xavier’s culpability here. X-Men had already rehabilitated Magneto and Rogue before this; like Emma Frost, they dealt with their past sins and grew as characters (Mags did backslide but that was presumably the goblin’s fault). And Xavier has already shown himself to be flawed before this, so I’m unclear why they thought his supposed sainthood was something worth preserving.
(Aside: That sainthood was going to take a real beating in the next decade, of course. Interesting how editorial turned on Prof. X; I wonder if ‘Deadly Genesis’ and other stories had some root in writers’ poor reactions to the Onslaught clean-up job?)
There is one other thing that absolving Xavier, and making Onslaught a separate entity to itself, does achieve: It keeps Onslaught available as a recurring villain without requiring a mental breakdown/incapacitation by Professor X every time. (Though I’m not sure Marvel ever made use of this until the Krakoa era.)
On Xavier having been shown to be flawed before:
I think that what Harras and Lobdell were probably concerned about was not so much the “whole” Charles Xavier. (And to be fair to them, Xavier had probably already reached the point at which, if you try to take account of everything since the Silver Age, he was simply incoherent and had to be viewed as a character that had existed in different versions. Which is how I view him. It’s no doubt blasphemy against the spirit of this podcast. :))
What I think Harras and Lobdell were probably worried about was more narrow, the Charles Xavier that they had been portraying over the previous few years. This is an extremely saintly figure — in fact, reading through this era along with our hosts, I have been repeatedly struck by the extent to which the treatment of Xavier reads as a remarkably overt Christ allegory.
The closest thing to a wrongful act that they’re comfortable attaching to Xavier is his momentary, on impulse, immediately taken back use of his powers to stop Amelia Voight from leaving for a split second.
On the other side of the balance, you have an awful lot of language about “Xavier’s dream,” and an awful lot of scenes in which the X-Men — and narrative captions — go on about how wonderful, perfect, and worthy to be an object of utter devotion, Xavier is. The most recent crossover, AoA, had specifically been about the idea that if Xavier was not there, everything would go to Hell.
In fact, I might uncharitably wonder if part of the motivation here was that by excavating That Panel from the Silver Age and retconning it so that it wasn’t about ableism, Waid had pulled out a flaw from Xavier’s backstory that’s a lot more meaningful than what Harras had devised, and also something that’s not safely about about a fantasy superpower, but has direct application to the real world.
And Waid’s use of the panel (which worked much better than I was expecting it to) turns on Jean having that ridiculously and dangerously idealized view of Xavier that Harras/Lobdell have been presenting as the correct one — whether or not Waid meant it this way, it works as a critique of attaching all that devotion to any human being.. Because Xavier has inappropriate feelings for Jean, which is a problem, but he didn’t act inappropriately — he kept them to himself. This does however raise some questions about his possible favoritism of Jean, to which Waid points but which Waid pointedly does not try to resolve. This is a Xavier who’s still basically an ethical person, and hasn’t acted in a way that can be pinned down as definitively unprofessional, but is flawed in a realistic and human manner.
I.e., not Jesus Christ.
I guess I feel bad for the 80s/90s writers. They worked so hard for so many years to defend the honour of the characters (“no, Jean Grey didn’t go callous with power and burn down Planet Broccoli, that was a… wizard! No, Charles Xavier didn’t have a nervous breakdown and try to kill the Avengers, that was a… goblin!”) only to watch as, years later, Xavier was portrayed as a schemer with a history of erasing evidence of child soldiers and working with his immortal ex-girlfriend to play chess with the fates of nations, and it turns out people like the character maybe even more
It’s funny listening to these, because you’re so sick of all of this, but when you talk about the actual issues, you’ve been pretty positive about them; I don’t think there have been any that you’ve said were outright bad? It just overstays its welcome so badly.
The “locusts and honey” bit from Wolverine refers to John the Baptist, who in the New Testament wandered the desert eating locusts and wild honey before fulfilling his destiny by baptizing Jesus.
I think Magneto used to make TOAD where a steel belt, didn’t he? So he could move him around. It was a pretty dark, abusive relationship. ……I always read between the lines, that there was sexual abuse happening.
Those were, dark-times for Toad 🙁
And in my ongoing quest to understand what is so very bad about Onslaught…
Alright, for me the soul goblin retcon probably is the biggest flaw so far. I can absolutely see how that might crystallize a sense of dissatisfaction with this whole era of X-books, in fact. It encapsulates how everything is written in a rather overwrought way that tries to sell the reader on a permanent state of gloom and crisis in which the reader is expected to take plotlines Very, Very Seriously as involving cataclysmic threats, but on the other hand, the writers can never bring themselves to *commit* to those plotlines. See esp. the Legacy Virus.
If someone tells me that the soul goblin is where their patience with all the X-crap just snapped, I would have to say that’s not unreasonable. Because I think this scene is asking for the reader’s charity, and might work, if the reader had enough charity to give, but Harras and Lobdell might have made one too many withdrawals from the charity bank.
The main thing is that it’s unclear how literal the soul goblin is supposed to be. Judging from the rest of Onslaught, one would guess that this is a symbolic representation of Xavier’s mind joining with Magneto’s and being influenced by Magneto’s negative traits. (Sure, telepathy, why couldn’t the mind control go both ways?)
But, given the history of superhero comics and the X-books in particular, it’s perfectly possible that there is a literal soul goblin here, that at some point Magneto will be revealed to have been infected by some external and malevolent entity. Very possibly no longer in him (the art does not make it clear) now that it’s in Xavier. One thing that would make that reading plausible in the current X-context is Joseph. And perhaps a certain general desire to reconcile different Magnetos: this could seem to be paving the way for a retcon in which Magneto by *himself* was Claremont’s Magneto at his most positive, and one would explain all the other Magnetos as the influence of the soul goblin.
It’s not even unthinkable that one could imagine a later reveal in which the entire vision is a metaphor, and what it actually means is that Xavier, by giving in to his darker impulses in this moment, became like Magneto, not that something literally passed from Magneto to Xavier. I.e., as written and drawn, this even allows for the Xavier’s Frustrations Made Flesh interpretation of Onslaught still to be on the table as a possibility.
So I can imagine an alternate world in which someone read that scene and went, “Wow, there are all these different possibilities, and I have every confidence that the writers are going to come back to this moment and resolve this when the time is right! Gosh, this is exciting!” You’d still be left with the argument that, at the end of the day, Onslaught straightforwardly being born from Xavier’s mind is both more elegant and more compelling than the retcon. But still, one can see how, in a different context, this might have read as a reasonably interesting swerve.
*If* one could possibly feel confident that it was setting up something for the future and that the writers would definitely be coming back to that something. But I think one could hardly blame an X-reader for not being that naive at this point.
I don’t think Onslaught was bad per se. Especially if you were largely buying the X-Men comics on a regular basis. Certainly, the build up was fairly entertaining if somewhat inconsistent. I also didn’t have any comic collecting friends at the time (and still don’t if I’m being honest) so I don’t know how other people were responding to it at the time. I could see some frustration on the part of people who didn’t buy X-Men suddenly having their preferred titles subsumed by the cross over. Especially if their favorite titles had mini-cross overs within the larger event.
I think Onslaught also suffers from coming in the wake of the superior Age of Apocalypse more than a year before. I think, in general, that the X-Titles floundered for a bit after that because AoA was great but it didn’t leave a whole lot to build off of. It just finished and we were back to our regular broadcast which did feel a bit lackluster by comparison.
It’s also possible that many were annoyed at Onslaught being used to farm out some of the core Marvel titles to people who were basically just there for the paychecks. Of course, that’s purely speculation on my part. I find I enjoy Onslaught much more now than I did when it was originally published.
I think your AoA point is very sharp.
I personally don’t think that AoA is all that good as an actual story. It’s a very long issue of What If?, and there are much better issues of What If?* 🙂 And I don’t care for how it uses genocide as shallow iconography.
Actually, I don’t see much difference between AoA and Onslaught in quality. They’re about the same for me, both fading for me into the general level of not-very-good-ness of the X-books at this point in their history.
But temporarily replacing all the books was impressively bold, and I can see how it might have all seemed exciting to readers at the time. It’s hard for me to feel how that must have felt to a monthly reader at the time, because from a later perspective, AoA inevitably has dwindled into being not much more a bunch of linked miniseries about an alternate universe that got published once upon a time. But if your experience was the regular rhythm of picking up your comics? Yes, I can absolutely get how the subsequent era leading up to Onslaught might have seemed pedestrian in comparison.
Especially in how that subsequent era really did start pushing Onslaught as this upcoming Biggest Thing Ever! right from the start. One wonders if Onslaught might have a better reputation if the hints leading up to it had been more subtle.
*What If Rick Jones Became the Hulk? is a must-read, and anyone who disagrees is pitifully wrong. ”Don’t try to jive Hulk with fancy lingo, bug man! Hulk doesn’t dig it! And Hulk doesn’t dig you, bug man!” OK, I wouldn’t describe it as good, exactly…
Thought I might share this first-time-it-happened-to-me here.
So, I’m reading comics on my iPad. (Devin Grayson’s Titans run on DC Universe, if you’re curious for some strange reason.) And this person asks me what I’m reading, and mentions Claremont’s X-Men. So I talk about how I mainlined Claremont as a teenager.
And the person then brings up Jay and Miles and how much they enjoy listening to the podcast. We went on to have a pleasant talk about how great Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men is.
I think the DL credits are Dave Lanphear.