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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

X-amining X-Men and the Micronauts #1-4

"First Encounter/Into the Abyss/Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory/Doppelganger!"
January - April 1984

In a Nutshell
The X-Men team-up with the Micronauts to defeat the Entity, the dark side of Professor X. 

Writers: Chris Claremont & Bill Mantlo
Penciler: Butch Guice  
Inker: Bob Wiacek, Kelly Jones (issue #2)
Letterer: Michael Higgin, Joe Rosen (issue #3), Rick Parker (issue #4)
Colorist: Bob Sharen, Julianna Ferriter (issues #2-4)
Editor: Bob Budiansky
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
Issue #1: In the sub-atomic Microverse, the Micronauts, allied with their enemy Baron Karza, lead Karza's fleet against the mysterious, seemingly all powerful Entity. The Entity makes short work of the fleet, sparing the Micronauts, and destroying the planet D'arnel. In the wake of the destruction, Karza and the Micronauts' living vessel Bioship are able to escape. At the X-Mansion, Professor X is conducting quarterly evaluations on the New Mutants when he's suddenly attacked by Karza, who has traced the Entity's power to Xavier. Despite being only a few inches tall on Earth, Karza is able to hold off the New Mutants, but is overwhelmed by the X-Men. However, when Kitty tries to phase through him, their minds are swapped. Unknownst to the X-Men, Kitty ends up unconscious in Karza's body, while Karza takes control of Kitty's body. Bioship tells the X-Men about the Entity's attacks on the Microverse, and how his power was traced to a nexus on their world near Xavier. Unsure of how that's possible but feeling responsible, Xavier sends the X-Men into the Microverse to help defeat the Entity.


Issue #2: The Entity mentally enslaves the Micronauts. When a sleeping Xavier is momentarily awakened by the New Mutants, the Entity suffers a loss of power, and vows to prevent such an occurence from happening again. To that end, he casts the Micronauts in the uniforms of the original X-Men and sends them against the X-Men sent to the Microverse to stop him. Using Bioship's telepathic link to the leader of the Micronauts, the X-Men trace the Micronauts to a planet featuring a facsimile of the X-Mansion on Earth, with proportions such that the X-Men are only a few inches tall. Inside, they find the Micronaut X-Men being led by the Entity, posing as Professor X. The Micronauts seem to have some knowledge of the X-Men's tactics, and they easily defeat the mutants. Meanwhile, on Karza's throne world, Kitty wakes up in Karza's body.


Issue #3: In the Microverse, the Entity sends the enslaved Micronauts and X-Men against one world after another, while a sleeping Xavier senses each death caused by the Entity's thralls, falling out of bed in the process and worrying the New Mutants. On Karza's world, Kitty-as-Karza orders the shutdown of Karza's soldier-creating body banks and the preparation of his remaining fleet of ships. After the Micronauts refuse to slay a group of captured soliders, the Entity punishes them, then promises a reward to Karza-as-Kitty for his ruthlessness. Later, the X-Men and Micronauts awaken in the Entity's dungeons as themselves, and refusing to give up hope, plan to escape and defeat him. On Earth, Dani tends to a still sleeping Xavier, and when she touches him, Xavier is able to sidestep the psychic barriers keeping his mind trapped in his sleeping body, escaping into the Astral Plane. As the Entity seduces Karza-as-Kitty, he senses Xavier's escape, and joins him on the Astral Plane. The distraction allows Karza to stab the Entity's physical body as Xavier overpowers him telepathically. Captured, the Entity reveals that he the a manifestation of Xavier's dark side and switches forms with him, trapping Xavier in his own mental force field. Meanwhile, the X-Men and Micronauts escape from the dungeons, but are unknowingly targeted by Karza-as-Kitty. On Earth, Dani and the New Mutants believe the worst has past, not knowing that the Entity has taken control of Xavier's body.


Issue #4: On Earth, the Entity takes control of Dani, while in the Microverse, Wolverine senses Karza-as-Kitty's attack, allowing Colossus to block his shot. Just then, Kitty-as-Karza arrives at the head of Karza's armada and launches an attack on the planet, hoping to destroy the Entity. When Xavier is able to briefly contact Kitty's mind, she teleports down to the planet, and comes face to face with Karza in her body. The two fight as the X-Men and Micronauts arrive, believing Karza to be attacking Kitty, but Professor X is able to take control of the Entity's injured body and explain the situation. Just then, on Earth, the Entity uses Cerebro to amplify his power and attack the X-Men and Micronauts. Together, they return to Earth and are attacked by the enthralled New Mutants. In the course of the battle, Kitty and Karza phase together once more, replacing their minds in their respective bodies, at which point Karza flees back to the Microverse. On the Astral Plane, Xavier attacks the Entity. With the Entity distracted by the battle, Xavier is able to briefly regain control of his body and trick the Entity into thinking he's triggered a stroke. The Entity flees into his own now-dead body, ceasing to exist. With the Entity gone, the battle ends, and the Micronauts return to the Microverse to continue their fight against Baron Karza. 

Firsts and Other Notables
The Micronauts represent one of several properties Marvel successfully licensed in the late 70s and 80s (along with stuff like Star Wars, Rom, GI Joe, and Transformers). The Micronauts began as a toyline, called Microman, created by Japanese toy company Takara and imported to the US by Mego. They consisted of smaller 3.75" figures with interchangeable parts, as well as larger vehicles and playsets (in fact, after Mego went bankrupt in 1982, some of the unused Micronaut toys, along with Takara's transforming Diaclone line, were imported into the US by Hasbro and rebranded as the Transformers). The main selling point of the line was the high number of articulation points for figures of that size, the interchangeability of the figures (giving kids an almost Lego-esque ability to alter and build characters of their own), and the conceit that the figures represented the actual size of the characters, all of whom hailed from "Micro Earth" and passed themselves off on Earth as toys. 

The story goes that Bill Mantlo, upon seeing his son open a package of Micronauts on Christmas one year, began writing stories for the characters, and urged Jim Shooter to acquire the license. When he did so, Mantlo was assigned to write the book. I've not read much of the series (I completely missed the toys as a kid - I came of age with the slightly-later He-Man, GI Joe and Transformers toys, amongst other things, and being a licensed comic, Marvel has been unable to reprint very little of the series in recent years due to rights issues), but I understand that, as with his Rom series, Mantlo managed to turn the resulting comic into a well-regarded one, even to this day, that consistently rose above the level of the standard licensed comic, though where Rom was able to outlast its relatively short-lived and underdeveloped toy line, Micronauts the comic had a harder time surviving without its supporting toy line (the series proper ended a few months after this miniseries finished).

In creating the comic book, Mantlo crafted a trio of characters, Commander Rann, Marionette and Bug, to serve as the central characters of the book (the main villain, Baron Karza, was carried over from the toyline). Though Marvel no longer has the rights to the Micronauts (which have appeared in later series by other publishers, and, as a toy line, remains in production, under the Microman name, in Japan, even featuring licensed characters like Batman and Godzilla), because those three characters were original creations of the comic series, Marvel retains the rights to those characters, and they pop up occasionally to this day (I believe Bug is currently a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, for example).

For this series, Claremont teams-up with his buddy Bill Mantlo on the writing duties, while future X-Factor penciler Jackson "Butch" Guice handles the art. Presumably (and I've read nothing to confirm this, so it's just a guess) this series came about in part because Claremont and Mantlo wanted to work together on a project and/or to help shore up the flagging sales of the Micronauts by teaming them up with Marvel's best selling characters at the time.

In addition to regular Micronauts villain Baron Karza (who spends most of the series secretly trapped in Kitty's body), the villain of the story is the Entity, the physical manifestation of Xavier's dark side. Though the story doesn't overtly reference it, this technically marks the second appearance of a physical manifestation of Xavier's dark side, following X-Men #106. The massive 90s crossover "Onslaught" will also take inspiration from the idea of Xavier's dark side wreaking havok, and the Entity has been retroactively credited as being an early incarnation of Onslaught. 

As a footnote points out, Nightcrawler previously encountered the Micronauts in issue #37 of their series.  

Though Kitty is shown in her Ariel costume, Storm has her punk look and Magma is a member of the New Mutants, Rogue is nowhere to be seen, and no explanation for her absence is given.

A Work in Progress
There are a number of clues sprinkled throughout the series as to the Entity's true identity, including the armor he wears (which matches the armor Professor X wore on the Astral Plane while fighting the Shadow King in X-Men #117) and the fact that he dresses up the enslaved Micronauts in the original X-Men uniforms (and appears alongside them as Professor X).

 
Professor X notes that Kitty's thoughts become more open when she's emotional.


I have no idea if this is the official relationship of the Micronauts to the rest of the Marvel Universe, but the X-Men and New Mutants recognize them as being toys.


When Baron Karza reflects Dani's power back on her, she summons up an image of the Demon Bear.


We get our first Fastball Special in ages.


Settling a bar bet probably no one has ever made, it's made clear that Wolverine's claws can cut Baron Karza's armor.

As a result of trying to phase through Baron Karza, Kitty ends up swapping minds with him; I don't believe this ever happens to her when phasing through someone again, and can be chalked up to the combination of her power with the unique properties of Karza's armor. 

Lockheed immediately senses that Karza-as-Kitty isn't the real Kitty.


Later, in issue #4, he can sense when Kitty is in danger. 


Karza realizes Colossus is not the "simpleton" he appears to be in issue #2


In issue #4, Nightcrawler thinks he shouldn't teleport with the Entity's injured body, yet the art clearly depicts him teleporting.


I Love the 80s
This series co-stars the Micronauts, which roots it pretty firmly in the 80s. 

Wolverine's character-defining headshot on the opening splash page of the first series of the issue shows him smoking. 


The New Mutants are seen heading out to the pool. Dani is, not surprisingly at this point, wearing the skimpy swimsuit.


Similarly, the Entity dresses Kitty in a pretty age-inappropriate gown (more on that below). 

Micronaut Fireflye explains how she's able to help Kitty and Karza reclaim their respective bodies, using a pretty dodgy understanding of physics. 


That's a rather bawdy joke, though it likely went over young readers' heads.


Claremontisms
Fireflye is described as a "songstress", and Colossus uses the term "Gospodin" for the first time in a long time.  

"Professor Xavier is a JerkPervert!"
And we thought his crush on Jean back in issue #3 was bad. Professor X apparently has some skeevy desires for his young female students buried in his dark side, as the Entity is poised to do something really inappropriate with Kitty's body at one point.


Later, the Entity-in-Control-of-Xavier more or less telepathically orgasms Dani into submission.


The Best There is at What He Does 
Wolverine makes a reference to his spy days, the first time, I believe, that he overtly mentions having been a spy (though he's made plenty of vague references to that effect prior to this). 

They're Students, Not Superheroes!
In issue #1, Professor X begins the New Mutants quarterly evaluations. He says it is their first, but whether that means the events of New Mutants #1-13 all occurred within 3 months or that this is a new practice he's simply starting at this time is unclear.


Teebore's Take
Like the Magik limited series, I'd never read this before now, having never been a big Micronauts fan nor ever being led to believe much of significance regarding the X-Men occurred in the course of this story. And like Magik, in terms of overall importance to the X-Men narrative, this is largely inconsequential, arguably even moreso than Illyana's series. That one at least fleshed out her origin and played "what if?" with some alt-versions of established X-Men; in terms of the narrative tapestry, this has little more than a loose, retroactive connection to a 90s crossover going for it.

Taken on its own merits, however, it's not half bad. It drags a bit in the middle, as both the Micronauts and the X-Men come under the thrall of the Entity, and the art is standard, at best, and, at least in the scans I was reading, a little muddy. But neither the X-Men nor the Micronauts characters felt overshadowed by the other, and the inclusion of the New Mutants was a pleasant surprise, with the idea of the X-Men and Micronauts fighting them while pocket-sized being silly but fun (and an effective use of the Micronauts MO). There's definitely a Kirby-esque "Fourth World" vibe to the Micronauts' universe, one that made me interested in reading more of their series (which had to be one of the effects Mantlo, at least, was hoping for). This isn't by any stretch of the imagination essential reading, even for X-Men fans, but it is entertaining enough on its own to not be a complete waste of time. 

Next Issue 
Tomorrow, Illyana gets the spotlight in New Mutants #14, and next week, Storm and Kitty hash it out in Uncanny X-Men #180.

7 comments:

  1. I have never read this, nor have I read a single issue of Micronauts, despite hearing often how beloved it is by those who read it at the time. I guess because like you, I was a bit too young for the Micronauts toys (nor do I think I ever even saw one), I had no real interest in the comics.

    Jackson Guice is a hit-or-miss artist for me. From the pics you posted, his work looks pretty good here. But the early issues of X-Factor are kind of crude and ugly to my eye. His fill-in(s?) on Uncanny around the 2-teens look very nice.

    I believe he then moved over to DC for a while, and I have no idea what his work looked like there. More recently he was on Ed Brubaker's Captain America, drawing in that book's somewhat photorealistic style, and I liked him a lot there, too.

    Otherwise, I have nothing else to say about these issues.

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  2. @Matt: nor do I think I ever even saw one

    I've only ever seen them at cons, and even then, only loose. I don't think I've ever seen a carded/packaged figure/vehicle/etc.

    Jackson Guice is a hit-or-miss artist for me.

    Ditto. His X-Factor work is more blah than anything for me, but I do enjoy his X-Men fill-ins and the brief period where he's the pseudo-regular penciller of New Mutants.

    And his recent Cap work is pretty great, even though it seems to bear little resemblance to his earlier stuff.

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  3. "[N]ot ... a complete waste of time"
    — Austin Gorton, blogger at Gentlemen of Leisure

    I like some of Guice's stuff, overall probably dislike more of it. The basic structure is usually sound but mostly his rendering style isn't to my taste. I've just found a link to an X-Men poster of his that I had on my wall some 30 years ago, though.

    Even if this mini was no great shakes I wish that I could've (re)read it along with you; the box is sadly inaccessible, something that I should really try to rectify since a few more spinoffs not on the DVD-ROM are coming up. I'm not aware if I ever got more than the first issue of this, and honestly what you recapped doesn't ring a bell.

    That's some pretty dense synopsis prose, in fact; decompressed storytelling this ain't. I realize that it's partly the writers' fault that the first panel you posted is so wordy, too, but that's still some pretty sloppy lettering.

    Do they address the fact that just to be a few inches tall on Earth the Micronauts would have to increase enormously in size from their existence in a sub-atomic realm?

    I'm right in the Micronauts generation but I wasn't big on them either. I remember vividly getting one for my 7th birthday, in 1977, yet I don't think I ever sought out any more. This may well be because of the size difference with my beloved Mego figures; 8" in height was standard for the times, even briefly for G.I. Joes (Kung-fu grip!) — until the Star Wars figures came along, at which point, well, you had Star Wars figures. I never got into the Marvel series, although I've read some issues here 'n' there, and was surprised when it started getting cult-classic buzz at the very least.

    Rogue is nowhere to be seen, and no explanation for her absence is given.

    I think Sean visited the mansion between issues and she accidentally absorbed his power to be completely ignored.

    Settling a bar bet probably no one has ever made, it's made clear that Wolverine's claws can cut Baron Karza's armor.

    Ha!

    Lockheed immediately senses that Karza-as-Kitty isn't the real Kitty.

    Karza-as-Kitty
    Is not the real Kitty
    He is just a fake Kitty
    Pretending he's pretty
    So won't the real Sprite-Kitty
    Please phase out
    Please phase out
    Please phase out

    ... Sorry.

    I'm not gonna knock a Lockheed sighting, but Claremont remembers that the little guy is around far too haphazardly. Or maybe he, Banshee, Rogue, and Lee Forrester are actually the same person.

    Am I the only one who doesn't remember Lockheed having such buff arms (or, really, such humanoid arms at all), by the way?

    Professor X apparently has some skeevy desires for his young female students buried in his dark side

    I often command-click on the images to open them larger in new windows and loved finding out that this file is called skeevy.png...!

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  4. @Blam: "[N]ot ... a complete waste of time"
    — Austin Gorton, blogger at Gentlemen of Leisure


    Ha! If I could see that printed on a collection of these issues, I think I could say I lived a good life. :)

    That's some pretty dense synopsis prose, in fact; decompressed storytelling this ain't.

    Indeed. I had to make a conscious decision to leave all but the most plot-necessary details out of the synopsis. These issues are definitely dense!

    Do they address the fact that just to be a few inches tall on Earth the Micronauts would have to increase enormously in size from their existence in a sub-atomic realm?


    Not really, but I have a feeling its built into the Micronauts MO, and they just didn't make it very clear for readers of this series who hadn't read much else with the Micronauts.

    I think Sean visited the mansion between issues and she accidentally absorbed his power to be completely ignored.

    Double ha!

    Or maybe he, Banshee, Rogue, and Lee Forrester are actually the same person.

    Triple ha!

    (And agreed on how irritating it is that Claremont tends to forget about him).

    I often command-click on the images to open them larger in new windows and loved finding out that this file is called skeevy.png...!

    Now that I know someone, however randomly, actually notices those file names, I'm going to have to have some fun with them. :)

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  5. I realise I'm behind on this, but I've finally run through this series myself, and I have to say I violently disliked it. A lot of it is fairly standard team-up stuff (though for a comic ostensibly designed to kindle dying interest in the Micronauts title, said heroes really don't seem to come too well out of this at all), but it's punctuated by so much callous slaughter (remember when Phoenix's destruction of an inhabited world led to her survival being vetoed by the editors; simpler times, man), and a degree of horrible skeeziness that Teebore's only scratched the surface of. Not that I blame him for not wanting to wade deeper into the nastiness.

    It's not just Kitty being dressed up in a pair of silk scarves and cracked onto by the Entity. It's the "lewd dance" Marionette is mentally compelled to perform for a baying mob. It's the Entity-possessed Xavier going round using his "psychic fingertips" to stroke young girl's souls until they bliss out in pleasure and agree to do whatever he wants, whilst all the while he mocks Xavier for being so surrounded by nubile flesh and never satisfying his lust. One does not need to go far even in today's American political discourse to understand why the suggestion that teachers might secretly want to screw their kids and make them as sinful and evil as they are is an idea best left well alone.

    It's all very uncomfortable and tasteless.

    Bioship is cool, though, so obviously they kill him off.

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  6. @SpaceSquid: It's all very uncomfortable and tasteless.

    Most definitely, and while some of Claremont's sexual politics/fetishes have been made apparent long before this series, this is really the first time when they become skeevy enough that you start to question things.

    It's definitely something that deserved more attention than I gave it, but I rather felt I couldn't do it justice (at least not in the context of what these posts are intended to do), so I left it at merely pointing out some of the skeeviness.

    Bioship is cool, though, so obviously they kill him off.

    Having not read the regular series, I just assumed he got brought back somehow. If not, that would be a shame. How much would it sucks for one of the characters in the series to be killed off for good in this offshoot mini where the Micronauts were clearly second fiddle?

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  7. I've never been a big Guice fan but this art is great! I'm going to make a guess and suggest that he was imitating Michael Golden at this point, and that's what gives his art here such a strong sense of design.

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