Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

394 – We All Have to Go Sometime

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

In which there’s always room for another X-cast; Cecilia Reyes wasn’t even supposed to be here today; Sabra has indestructible underwear; prime sentinels are probably even worse pets than quail; Marrow probably swears more than superhero comics allow for; and Operation Zero Tolerance comes to an end.

X-PLAINED:

  • The original proposed ending of Operation Zero Tolerance
  • The actual ending of Operation Zero Tolerance
  • X-Men #66-69
  • Operation Zero Tolerance (so far)
  • Prime Sentinels (again)
  • Bastion (more) (again)
  • Spidey and His Amazing Friends
  • Cecilia Reyes
  • The most reluctant X-Men
  • Nanomachines
  • Trust
  • Miles’s least favorite X-Men story
  • Sabra
  • Superheroes who wear white
  • Wizard dogs
  • Indestructible undergarments
  • Angie Quail
  • Candy Southern (again)
  • Actual quail
  • Bones
  • Metal Gear Solid
  • Officers Aguinal and Cleaveland
  • The sound of a soul losing its shape
  • One of many problems with the carceral system
  • What men do in bathrooms
  • A showdown
  • Operation Zero Tolerance in retrospect
  • Silly superhero names
  • Non-mutant characters who pair well with X-Men

NEXT WEEK: Hawk Talk

NEXT EPISODE: Bastion’s secret origin!


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11 comments

  1. Haven’t listened to the podcast in a very long time, so I don’t know if this was addressed elsewhere, but Paul O’Brian has indicated in various X-Axis posts from a long, long time ago (I do not recall specifically where) that Lobdell had an origin for Bastion planned that was completely different from what eventually saw print in the Machine Man/Cable Annual in 1998. Would you guys happen to know anything about that? I’ve always been curious how Lobdell intended that to go.

    Also, I had not previously heard about the Magneto plan. That would have been awesome.

  2. I read this storyline back when it came out and the ending always struck me as really weird. It felt like the story was just building up to its climax when SHIELD shows up and arrests everybody. It leaves the story lacking a truly cathartic resolution and, perhaps most damningly, it basically just stole the ending from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

    On a sidenote, I love Cecilia Reyes. It was really fun to see the world of the X-Men from the perspective of a character who wanted absolutely nothing to do with any of this. It’s a pity that she’s mostly been relegated to only showing up when the X-Men need a doctor who isn’t Beast.

  3. I don’t recall much about this story from when it was published and after listening to the coverage I can see why. It has a lot of set up, a good intro and then it’s a case of “Rocks fall, Bastion dies” (except he doesn’t) amost immediately everything is over.

    Jubilee seems to have been held prisoner for a lot longer than the event actually lasted.

    If OZT is an global political movement, I fail to see how could SHIELD shut it down so effortlessly with mere military tactics? (And without even crashing at least one Helicarrier for old times sake!) That sort of ideological hate movement is like a cockroach, they don’t go away, and yet I don’t think OZT has much impact beyond this, outside of the Prime Sentinels now being a thing in the MU.

    Having half the main team off Earth for the event that was supposed to redefine human/mutant relations is another odd choice. I mean, Cecilia is an interesting character, but she, Marrow and Iceman just aren’t much of a team to take their place at a key moment.

    Without the presumed second arc with Magneto this just doesn’t feel like a whole story, it’s the set up for a much more interesting one, and even then, Magneto would have needed a lot of explanation as to why he’s suddenly leaping in at this point in time.

  4. Having been a man for longer than I care to admit, I was unaware that there was any particular bathroom etiquette. I distance form other people on general principal so it never occurred to me.

    O:ZT, in both structure and X-ecution, (see what I did there?) reminds me a lot of the Mutant Massacre. I thought Mutant Massacre was the better story but like O:ZT, there really isn’t a definite climax. It just kind of ends and the X-Men story continues. I liken it to a natural disaster, like being in a flash flood. There’s lots of destruction and everyone is scrambling to help others and just survive. Except that the Mutant Massacre had fallout and this story just… doesn’t.

    Even with the editorial mandate to return to a status quo you would have though they could have crafted an ending to justify the existence of this crossover. Instead, everyone basically just shrugs and goes about their day.

    And I’m with Miles. Deadly Genesis is probably my least favorite X-Men story. I’m no fan of Xavier but that story was just bad. Ed Brubaker has many strengths, but writing X-Men wasn’t one of them.

    1. “The Mutant Massacre” having a more quiet end I can sort of see, because the Marauders whole goal of the event was “Kill the Morlocks… and anyone who gets in our way because of it, at the behest of unknown new villain Mr Sinister” and that was it.

      There was no long term plan on the part of the Marauders, they did their (horrific) job and, mostly, left because there was no reason for them to stick around. What it did achieve in longer term repercussions was to take Shadowcat, Nightcrawler and Angel out of circulation for over a year, so, even in that context, it was a confined, “local” problem.

      OZT Seems to have been designed on a far grander scale, setting up large scale, ongoing, global uncertainty for mutantkind and a heavily armed, politically active and motivated multinational paramilitary organisation which should have been an ongoing threat for a very long time. And they just… didn’t do anything after this..

      1. I agree. And I hope I didn’t come across as implying that O:ZT was comparable in scale in terms of outcome. Knowing what Lobdell wanted to do, you can see those seeds being planted for what would have been a major turning point. It seemed like Lobdell ran into the same problem that Claremont did; there’s only so far you can take the initial concept of X-Men in a school before your narrative options start running out for anything new or original. It’s also telling that the status quo is kept intact and Lobdell leaves the X-Men. I’ve never heard if the end of his tenure was by his choice or if he was slowly pushed out like Claremont and Simonson before him?

  5. One thing that I might add to our hosts’ comments on Sabra is how much the aspects of her that bother Jay are new to Lobdell’s version of the character.

    Two caveats. One, this is not to say that the original Bill Mantlo character is ideal as an exploration of Israel and Palestine. Or indeed as a character — even by the standards of American superhero comics depicting characters from other countries, Sabra is a painfully thin, one-note, national stereotype. Two, aside from her original Bill Mantlo appearances, Sabra had also appeared in a couple of New Warriors issues*, and I haven’t read those**, although from synopses, I think that what I’m about to suggest is Lobdell’s doing in the issues covered by our hosts probably is basically Lobdell.

    OK, so what is that? Mantlo’s Sabra, as mentioned above, is a desperately thin one-note character. And that one note is that she is violently and unfairly prejudiced against Arabs.

    The conclusion to her first appearance in The Incredible Hulk: It has taken the Hulk to make [Sabra] see this dead Arab boy as a human being. It has taken a monster to awaken her own sense of humanity.

    And again, in Contest of Champions: ”You mean you [the Arabian Knight***] ordered your carpet to save me?”

    “We are team-mates, are we not?”

    “I would rather be dead than allied with you!”

    Now, none of this should in any way be thought to be a nuanced and sensitive treatment of the issues.**** But the specific un-nuanced form that it takes in Bill Mantlo’s original conception of Sabra is not one-sided aggrandizement of Israel: it’s plague-on-both-your-houses both-sides-ism. Unsubtly so — here is that noted geopolitical thinker, the Hulk: “Boy died because boy’s people and yours both want to own land! Boy died because you wouldn’t share!”

    So, that’s Sabra before Lobdell. Against that background, what does Lobdell do with the character, presumably in preparation for making her a leading character in the X-Men? He makes her a mutant and then identifies the position of mutants in the context of Operation: Zero Tolerance with that of Israel, “a country surrounded by enemies on all sides.” The equation goes both ways: the text explicitly identifies the “mindless bigotry” of the (presumably Palestinian) terrorists who killed Sabra’s son (a detail that I believe Lobdell invents here — at any rate, it is not Mantlo) with the “cancer” of OZT.

    OK, this is all focalized through Sabra, not endorsed by narrative captions. And it is just about possible that Lobdell’s plan was to show all this as Sabra’s point of view, and complicate things later. But there is no hint of that in these issues. So, even without knowing that this constitutes a pretty radical reconfiguration of Mantlo’s original, less sympathetic version of Sabra, I think it’s obvious how Lobdell is choosing to frame Israel and Palestine here.

    When one does know what Sabra was before Lobdell, some things stand out a lot more. In particular, Lobdell’s obsession with presenting Sabra as concerned about children — it is very hard to believe that is coincidental that Sabra was originally created for a story about how she could not see an Arab child as human. Talking about Israel as a “haven of tolerance” means something extra when it’s a reaction to a story that (in a clumsy, awkward way) talked about Palestinians as a marginalized group in Israel (”Sometimes it is very hard to be an Arab in Israel.”)

    In short, there were A. M. Rosenthal columns at this time that were less one-sidedly pro-Israel than Lobdell’s depiction of Sabra, and I think it’s worth registering that it’s not Lobdell working with what was there so much as Lobdell reacting against a both-sides-ist version (that has its own problems, certainly) by making it conform to what I assume must have been his own views on Israel.

    Note that this is from 1997, during. the years of the collapse of the peace process — this comic is taking a side in real-world issues that were highly salient and delicate at the time. And it is not subtle about the side that it is taking.

    *The timing on these issues was absolutely awful, as they told a story in which the New Warriors saved Yitzhak Rabin from assassination shortly before Rabin was assassinated in the real world.

    **There’s a third appearance (sort of) in a later issue New Warriors, consisting of Sabra making a phone call to Justice. But it doesn’t say much about her, except that she finds Justice attractive.

    ***This should not be taken in any way to imply that the Arabian Knight is other than a terrible, terrible stereotype of a character himself.

    ****There are plenty of problems with Mantlo’s depiction of Arabs in these stories. Registering that in case someone might imagine that me not mentioning it means that I’m endorsing it.

    1. I was hoping someone would comment on this, glad to see it so detailed for context. In addition, recall reading that Sabra’s code name itself is often considered a slight on Palestinians.

      For reference sake: I am a person raised Jewish and I always found Sabra to be an uncomfortable character for a variety of reasons, most of them listed in Voord’s comment above.

    2. I remember there being a two part story (written by Lobdell) where Sabra finds a junkie dying in the streets of Jerusalem, and reveals she has the power to give other people some of her own life force, and uses half her powers to restore the dying woman to life.

      The second part of the story has Sabra dealing with the woman some years later. The woman gained superpowers of her own because of the life force boost (perhaps triggering a latent mutation, because controlling the wind has nothing to do with Sabra’s powerset), is now calling herself Windstorm and has joined a group called “Israelis for Anarchy” (Though never mentioning she had powers to the group for some reason) who have kidnapped the young son of the American Ambassador.

      They fight and we find out Windstorm wants to torment and kill Sabra because… well, that’s never really addressed, she just… DOES. So she drops several tons of rubble on the kid in front of her and then plans to kill Sabra.

      Sabra retaliates by taking BACK the life force from Windstorm, leaving her a dying wreck again, and promptly giving half her power to the kid, restoring him to health and more… and she walks away convinced that she has made the right choice THIS time.

      So Israel’s premier superhero takes her powers away from an Israeli woman because she wouldn’t conform and serve the state, and gives them to a visiting young American boy (who happens to be deaf, for added pathos I guess?). Subtle it is not.

      Sabra has mentioned more than once that she’s a member of the “Israeli Super Agents” program, but I don’t think we’ve met any other members.

      I do remember that in her New Warriors appearance (which, checking it out, was written by Evan Skolnick) she, escorting the Israeli PM, starts a fight with Batal, a member of the Syrian Super Agents (at a peace conference, where he is escorting the Syrian President). She mentions her son was killed by “the Arabs” like Batal, who did it, and a furiousg Batal objects that it was a PLO bomb that killed her son, and he objects to her generalisations.

      Anyone would think that trying to encapuslate decades of a complex socio political situation into the pages of a super-hero comic book was unlikely to be a good idea… who could have known?

  6. The “what is a man? A miserable pile of secrets” quote is one I’ve had in my head for two decades, but I would have bet money it was from Shakespeare. Some how I decided it was from Romeo and Juliet, either directed to Tybalt or said by him…. But it’s from Castlevania? I barely played that, how do I know the line?!

    Hashtag: the more you know

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