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Thursday, April 18, 2013

X-amining Beauty and the Beast #1-4

"Beauty and the Beast / Heartbreak Hotel / Showtime / Checkmate"
December 1984 - June 1985

In a Nutshell
Beast and Dazzler fall in love and get caught up in an underground mutant fighting ring. 

Writer: Ann Nocenti
Pencils: Don Perlin  
Inker: Kim DeMulder
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colors: George Roussos (issue #1), Petra Scotese
Editor: Michael Higgins
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
Issue #1: In Latveria, Dr. Doom receives word that a boy claiming Doom is his father has reached adulthood and is living in Californa. Doom decides to keep an eye on him. At that moment, Beast arrives in Hollywood, on vacation, while Dazzler mourns the loss of her singing career following her outing as a mutant. She is approached by Alexander Flynn, who wants her to perform in an experimental underground theater for his boss, Hugo Longride. Eager to be back in the spotlight, she agrees. Beast runs into her at a party, and is turned off by the new company she's keeping. However, when her power suddenly goes out of control and she runs off, Beast tracks her down to the Heartbreak Hotel and promises to take care of her. Issue #2: As Beast tends to Dazzler, the pair grow closer and fall in love amongst the other mutants living at Heartbreak Hotel. Flynn finds Dazzler and offers to help her get her power under control if she honors her contract and performs in his theater. She agrees, over Beast's objections. He nevertheless attends her first performance, but is horrified to discover the theater is actually an arena in which mutants fight one another for sport. Flynn claims the whole thing is staged, despite the death of a mutant in the arena, but Beast doesn't buy it, and urges Dazzler to leave. But feeling a kinship with the other misfit mutant performers, she decides to stay.


Issue #3: Beast and Dazzler continue their romance, despite Beast's objections to her continued involvement in the gladiatorial matches. During one of her fights, Beast explores the arena and discovers that Flynn has been causing Dazzler's powers to go out of control via a drug he's been secretly giving her. However, before he can tell Dazzler about it, he's captured and injected with the drug himself. Placed in the arena, Dazzler is forced to fight a now-feral Beast, but he snaps out of it before Dazzler is forced to kill him. The crowd still wants blood, however, so Flynn provides it, killing Hugo Longride and taking over the arena for himself. Issue #4: Dr. Doom arrives at the arena, his visit triggered by the death of Longride, who was a robot sent to spy on Flynn. Claiming to be Doom's son. Flynn tells his mutant gladiators that he intends to lead them in an overthrow of Doom's country of Latveria. Recognizing this as a suicide mission, one of the gladiators frees the captive Beast and Dazzler, who help the gladiators overthrow Flynn. Doom warns him to cease claiming kinship with Doom, while the remaining mutants decide to run the arena themselves, and turn it into something productive for their own benefit. Dazzler and Beast then break off their relationship and go their separate ways.  

Firsts and Other Notables
I have no idea what the genesis of this series was, though I'm not convinced it wasn't just an attempt to use Beast in a series with the title "Beauty and the Beast" (in execution, any allusions to the familiar story by that name are nonexistent, except in the literal sense that Beast is Beast and Dazzler is attractive). We're not too far removed from the launch of X-Factor at this point, which was originally intended to reunite the surviving original X-Men, with Dazzler taking the spot of the deceased Jean Grey. If that plan was already in motion at this point (which, granted, is doubtful), it's possible this was intended to create some backstory between two of that future book's characters. Otherwise, I dunno. Maybe fans in the mid 80s were just clamoring for more Dazzler?

The concept of a group of mutants fighting in underground gladiatorial matches (long a staple of genre fiction), as well as most of the gladiator characters featured in this story, appear here for the first time, and will be picked up by Claremont and used in a story which begins in New Mutants #29 (and then again, decades later, for an X-Treme X-Men story following his return to the X-universe).  


The main villain of the story is Alexander Flynn, appearing here for the first time and only time (he'll pop up in the forthcoming New Mutants story, but will ultimately be revealed there as an illusion created by the true villain behind that story). Flynn claims to be the son of Dr. Doom via an unknown gypsy woman, and possesses a low level telepathic power that enables him to subtly hypnotize people. Doom appears in this series more or less to tell Flynn he's wrong, and I don't believe any mention of Flynn was made by Doom via any of the regular Fantastic Four writers through the years (whereas various other children of Doom, real or otherwise, have occasionally been featured in stories through the years).

Poltergeist, a young mutant with telekinetic abilities tied to his emotional states, who is one of the residents of Heartbreak Hotel, first appeared in Spider-Woman #49 (writen by Ann Nocenti). In this story, he believes Spider-Woman to be dead as a results of the events of the final issue of her regular series, even though it's already been established elsewhere that she's alive (which is acknowledged in this series via footnotes). 

This series is written by X-Men and New Mutants editor Ann Nocenti, and is drawn by Don Perlin, a Bronze Age Marvel veteran best known for a lengthy run on The Defenders. Covers for each issue are from Bill Sienkiewicz.

The Chronology Corner 
According to the Marvel Chronology Project, Beast appears in this series between issues #133 and #134 of New Defenders, while Dazzler appears following Marvel Graphic Novel #12 (the events of which occurred following issue #34 of her series) and next appears in Dazzler #35.

A Work in Progress
As the first issue opens, Beast is in Hollywood visiting Wonder Man (not Wonderman), on vacation from the New Defenders. The pair became friends during their time on the Avengers together, and at this point in time Wonder Man is a member of the West Coast Avengers working on his acting career.


Issue #2 features a number of mutants living at the Heartbreak Hotel, one of whom claims to have flunked out of that school in Westchester, though this is her first and only appearance.


Noting the relatively mundane powers possessed by most of those mutants, Beast thinks it makes sense there would also be a number of mutants with innocuous powers out there.


Somewhat annoyingly, Beast refers to Dazzler through most of the series as "Daz", despite the pair professing to being in love, at which point some variation on her real name, Alison, would seem far more realistic. 

I Love the 80s
In issue #1, Beast wanders past wax figures of Marilyn Monroe, Indiana Jones, and Vincent Price. The name "Indiana Jones" appears on the marquee above Mann's Chinese Theater; given the publication date of this issue, that is likely a reference to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. 


One of the mutant gladiators says that the best thing for his hangover is to look at his sculpture collections, which...okay, sure. Whatever.


That's some outfit Dazzler is wearing in issue #3, as she prepares to fight in the arena. 


Human/Mutant Relations
Anti-mutant sentiment is running high throughout the series, following as it does on the heels of "Dazzler: The Movie". In issue #1, Dazzler comments that at least there aren't separate drinking fountains for mutants yet.


In issue #3, a crowd freaks out at the sight of Dazzler and Beast spending time together on the beach. 


Teebore's Take
Like the Iceman limited series (which was on stands alongside this one), this is another bi-monthly limited series starring (well, co-starring) a former member of the X-Men and a current New Defender that I'd never read before. And like the Iceman limited series, it leaves you wondering who Marvel was expecting to buy this, and is rather dreadful. I wanted to cover it in part because I'd never read it before, and also because all of the business with the underground mutant gladiators gets appropriated shortly by Claremont for a New Mutants story. But man, do I regret that decision.

To begin with, the romance between Beast and Dazzler, ostensibly the centerpiece of the series, is completely forced and tacked on, a perfect example of telling instead of showing. Their voices throughout are remarkably bland and generic, and really, Doom is the only characters in the entire series to ever speak with dialogue that sounds in any way unique (and it isn't like Beast isn't a character with a pretty well established voice at this point). There's the kernel of an interesting idea buried in all the dross about the fickle nature of fame and the price some people are willing to pay to achieve it, but little time is spent developing it. The artwork reaches the baseline quality for art from this era, competent and clear in its depiction of the action, but entirely unexciting. In fact, it's representative of the entire series, which ultimately commits the cardinal sin of superhero comics: it's boring (even the Sienkiewicz covers are boring by his standards). It's neither good enough nor bad enough to be entertaining. It just...is. I've always considered this series to be an unexplored little corner of the X-Men universe; it probably would have been better left as such.    

Next Issue 
Next week, we look at Alpha Flight #17 and Dazzler #38, followed by the X-Men and Alpha Flight #1-2.

10 comments:

  1. Wow. Until this very moment, I seriously had no idea that there had ever been a romantic "thing" between Beast and Dazzler. To my recollection, no one has ever mentioned this again.

    "I have no idea what the genesis of this series was..."

    I recently read a conspiracy theory that around this time, in order to appease the bottom-line demands of Marvel corporate, Jim Shooter started publishing all manner of limited series, to varying degrees of success/quality. I'm not quite sure I buy that, since as far as I know, Marvel was still outselling pretty much everyone around this time -- but the sudden glut of limited series at this point is kind of odd.

    Anyway, after reading about how awful this and Iceman were, I look forwared to your covering a good limited series next week in X-Men & Alpha Flight!

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  2. @Matt: To my recollection, no one has ever mentioned this again.

    Nor to mine, either.

    I'm not quite sure I buy that, since as far as I know, Marvel was still outselling pretty much everyone around this time

    I also tend to question conspiracy theories of this sort which require someone with a head/concern for business (and Shooter definitely had both) to willingly put something out they don't expect to sell just to make/prove a point, but you never know.

    Anyway, after reading about how awful this and Iceman were, I look forwared to your covering a good limited series next week in X-Men & Alpha Flight!

    You and me both, my friend, you and me both...

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  3. Interesting post. I also seem to recall an X-Factor annual with the Beast in it that also had some kind of title like "Beauty and the Beast". Is that a sequel to this mini-series?

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  4. I can easily believe Matt's conspiracy theory. Marvel may have been dominant at the time and making good money, but Marvel was not its own company. It was owned by Cadence Industries, and I believe it may have been fighting a corporate takeover around this time. Jim Shooter has mentioned several times that he had to make business decisions based on earning more money for Cadence.

    For example, I know he stated that originally the New Universe was budgeted so that high price talent could be hired to generate new concepts and create the stories. However, financial needs of Cadence caused him to gut that budget and turn everything over to Tom Defalco and local in house talent.

    If so, Shooter didn't publish this to prove a point. He published it using second tier talents to make a quick buck. Ann Nocenti was an unknown at this time, and this could have been her first writing assignment. Don Perlin was an old thoroughbred artist, but he was far from hot. Kim DeMulder was an established inker, but no following as far as I could tell.

    -Chris

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  5. @Ian: I also seem to recall an X-Factor annual with the Beast in it that also had some kind of title like "Beauty and the Beast". Is that a sequel to this mini-series?

    I don't remember the details of that annual offhand, but I'm fairly certain it wasn't a sequel to this.

    @Chris: However, financial needs of Cadence caused him to gut that budget and turn everything over to Tom Defalco and local in house talent.

    Yeah, there's a whole chunk in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story about Shooter's gran plans for the New Universe and how it kept getting undercut by budgetary concerns.

    Ann Nocenti was an unknown at this time, and this could have been her first writing assignment.

    Not technically her first (at the very least, she'd closed out Spider-Woman), but she was definitely not an established talent, at least as a writer, and likely earned the minimum rate for freelance writing.

    I can definitely buy the idea that this was churned out in an effort to just flood the market with cheaply-produced content in the hopes of goosing sales across the board (as opposed to producing this to say to corporate masters "this is the kind of low-selling crap we're going to churn out unless you give us more money.").

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  6. Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite musicals and will never miss a show so have ordered discount Beauty and the Beast tickets from GoodSeatTickets.com to see the show live!

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  7. Oh, Spambots, you crack me up. I'm going to leave that comment in place because it's so hilariously obvious that a robot generated it.

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  8. Hugo Longride

    !!!

    I have no idea what the genesis of this series was, though I'm not convinced it wasn't just an attempt to use Beast in a series with the title "Beauty and the Beast"

    That sounds about right to me. 8^)

    As someone pointed out here recently, too, Marvel editors were being encouraged to write more at the time — which also led to Nocenti's Longshot mini. So this could've just been an imperfect storm of sorts, including Marvel's continuing expansion/exposure of mutant characters and the somewhat inexplicable push to constantly make Dazzler happen (maybe because Shooter felt a proprietary interest in the character). The fact that it takes place while Dazzler's series is still being published and Beast is in New Defenders every month — not that he's really ever been out of the spotlight since becoming a regular in Avengers post-transformation — is weird, because the romance and Dazzler's trauma are something that you'd expect should be followed up in their respective ongoing series; I'm not saying that didn't happen, as I haven't read those issues, but I doubt it.

    Beast's thought balloon in that panel you show, "It's such a dreadful coliseum -- decadent and distasteful," is hilarious. Yes; I think back on all the coliseums I've visited and much prefer the less ostentatious ones.

    one of whom claims to have flunked out of that school in Westchester

    How do you flunk out of Xavier's — somehow not be worth teaching how to use your mutant abilities responsibly?

    That's some outfit Dazzler is wearing in issue #3, as she prepares to fight in the arena. 

    Oy! And Hank's response is "decadent" again?!?

    Dazzler comments that at least there aren't separate drinking fountains for mutants yet.

    "What's the world afraid of? That we'll create havoc in the gene pool?" To be fair, Alison, Mr. and Mrs. Summers literally created Havok in the gene pool, so...

    Has there ever been a storyline about someone with nefarious intentions, human or mutant, either wanting to breed mutants and raise the children as some kind of superpowered army and/or wanting to breed with mutants to raise his (or her) kids as some kind of superpowered cult?

    a crowd freaks out at the sight of Dazzler and Beast spending time together on the beach

    I don't think either the grandma in the peekaboo collared tank top or the fella in the red half tee, purple short-shorts, and tricorder should be casting stones.

    man, do I regret that decision

    I know I've said this before, but after I picked up the first issues of this and Iceman I had a "fool me twice" moment, really souring on the saturation of lesser X-Men spinoffs. Beast was actually a really fun character in his "Oh my stars and garters!" days, too, which makes this a lost opportunity. Him meeting up with Wonder Man could've been a better story, perhaps with Dazzler in the mix and Simon having to deal with the fact that Alison's hitting it off with Hank rather than with him, while they completely unintentionally stumble into Doom's investigation of this kid claiming to be his son.

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  9. @Blam: Marvel's continuing expansion/exposure of mutant characters and the somewhat inexplicable push to constantly make Dazzler happen (maybe because Shooter felt a proprietary interest in the character)

    Yeah, I never really realized until doing this series of posts just how much of a push Dazzler was getting around this time: a new direction/costume in her regular series, a limited series, a guest-starring gig in New Mutants, and, of course, her ultimately-aborted role in X-Factor, which would have made her something of a de facto original X-Men by association.

    Given the number of creators and books involved in all that, in really does seem likely that Shooter (as the one common denominator) was the one making the push, for whatever reason.

    I'm not saying that didn't happen, as I haven't read those issues, but I doubt it.

    Ditto both on having not read their respective series and also doubting those series followed up on any of this.

    Yes; I think back on all the coliseums I've visited and much prefer the less ostentatious ones.

    Ha! Yes, "tastefulness" is an important quality in your death arenas...

    How do you flunk out of Xavier's — somehow not be worth teaching how to use your mutant abilities responsibly?

    The implication here is that she flunked out because her power is so lame, meaning A. there isn't much she can be taught in terms of using/controlling it (because there's so little to do with it) and B. there's no way her power would be effective in combat, making her useless as a member of the X-Men.

    Of course, I don't think Nocenti was giving it that much thought...

    To be fair, Alison, Mr. and Mrs. Summers literally created Havok in the gene pool, so...

    High-oh!

    Has there ever been a storyline about someone with nefarious intentions, human or mutant, either wanting to breed mutants and raise the children as some kind of superpowered army and/or wanting to breed with mutants to raise his (or her) kids as some kind of superpowered cult?

    Mmm, kinda. Mr. Sinister dabbles in that kind of stuff (Cable is, after all the various retcons, an attempt by Sinister to create a mutant powerful enough to defeat Apocalypse once and for all, and all his manipulations of Cyclops and Jean Grey (including creating Maddy) was to that end). There was a story in the reluanched New Mutants a few years ago involving the army using the now-adult babies from "Inferno". There's probably more I'm forgetting though.



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  10. I loathe the gladiator trope and I'm pretty sure CC has done it more than mentioned. Even in the recent Nightcrawler series.

    Wasn't the B&B title used for TAS, with the blind patient Beast falls for?

    This is a step up from Iceman but it's not much. Too bad. I always feel like these issues can be rearranged with new dialogue to wring a decent 2 issue slice of life story. Any takers?

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