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Monday, April 1, 2013

X-amining The X-Men & She-Ra #1

"To Scream Alone in the Halls of Hordak!
1986

In a Nutshell
The X-Men end up on Etheria where they help She-Ra defeat Hordak.

Writer: Chris Claremont & Dom Jon Seepyus
Penciler: P.R. LaFolio
Inker: Dennis Janke
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Colorist: Bob Sharen
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
The X-Men are in space, helping Peter Corbeau conduct repairs on the Starcore space station. Suddenly, a cosmic whirlpool appears, drawing the X-Men into its maw. Meanwhile, on the planet Etheria, She-Ra and her allies in the Great Rebellion are engaged in battle with a contingent of Hordak's forces led by Catra when the X-Men suddenly materialize in their midst. Joining the fight, the X-Men are able to help She-Ra repulse the attack. She offers them a place at their hidden camp within the Whispering Woods. Once there, She-Ra explains their situation: Hordak, the cruel ruler of the planet, has created a dimensional gate with which he intends to extend his influence out over all of reality. Xavier, surmising that it was Hordak's device which unintentionally brought the X-Men to Etheria, pledges the assistance of the X-Men, even if it means stranding the X-Men on Etheria. Combining his power with Castaspella, Xavier is able to discern the location of the gate within a mountain cavern. As Storm and She-Ra devise a plan of attack, the rest of the X-Men bond with the other members of the Great Rebellion.

The next day, the two groups depart for the cave. However, their departure is witnessed by Mantenna, one of Hordak's Horde, who warns his master of the imminent assault. When the heroes arrive, they split into pairs and infiltrate the mountain base. Though Hordak's forces are awaiting their arrival, they are unfamiliar with the X-Men, giving the heroes the edge in their battles. Reaching the gate, they discover it guarded by Hordak himself. As Wolverine and Bow engage Hordak, Storm channels her power through She-Ra's Sword of Protection. The resultant burst of energy destroys the gate but generates one last cosmic whirlpool in the process. The X-Men hastily say goodbye to their new allies, then enter the whirlpool. She-Ra and her friends return to the Whispering Woods, pleased to have defeated Hordak's latest scheme but determined to continue their fight against him, and inspired by their encounter with the X-Men,. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Obviously, this is a crossover between the X-Men and She-Ra, the twin sister of He-Man (of Masters of the Universe fame) and star of her own spinoff, She-Ra: Princess of Power. It's existence is something of an urban legend, one of those things I'd occasionally heard rumor of but doubted actually existed, because I'd never been able to find a copy or even any legitimate reference to it online; not even an image of its cover.

As I understand it, it was intended to serve as a promotional comic (presumably to both help sell She-Ra action figures and test the waters for a possible She-Ra series to run alongside Marvel's Masters of the Universe comic) but has become basically the Star Wars Holiday Special of the X-Men; something that Marvel not just refuses to reprint, but something they and the creators involved refuse to acknowledge ever existed. Then a couple weeks ago I was contacted by Abigail Brady of X-Marathon, who actually tracked down a copy of the issue's script (though not the issue itself, which is why there are no scans) at a local convention (thank you, London!), and she generously shared a copy of it with me and fellow X-blogger SpaceSquid, and the three of us decided to write up a review in our own inimitable styles and post them simultaneously. 

She-Ra debuted in 1985 in the feature film The Secret of the Sword, which later became the first five episodes of her spinoff series (this was during a time when several of the classic 80s animated series were putting feature length movies into theaters, such as the unimpeachable classic, Transformers: The Movie and the GI Joe movie which introduced the world to Cobra-La). She-Ra is He-Man's twin sister, and lives on Etheria (a sister planet to He-Man's Eternia) where she was taken as a baby by the evil Hordak, Skeletor's one-time boss. She eventually meets her long lost brother, frees herself of Hordak's control, and takes charge of the Great Rebellion, a group determined to free Etheria from Hordak's control.

Her series mimicked Masters of the Universe almost beat for beat: she had a secret identity, a magical sword and magic words that transformed her into She-Ra, an animal sidekick that transformed along with her, exactly three allies who knew her secret (one of whom was a bumbling mystic) and a host of other colorful allies, a skeleton-like nemesis in Hordak who had a colorful cast of villainous cohorts of his own, and adventures that presented thinly-veiled moral lessons to its young viewers.

Like the vast majority of cartoons in the 80s, She-Ra: Princess of Power was intended to serve as a daily 22-minute commercial for the accompanying toy line, a series of action figures geared towards young girls (the figures were roughly the same size and design of the Masters toys, but featured rooted hair, like the dolls of the time). Nevertheless, like its contemporaries, the cartoon managed to mask its commercial intentions and tell some entertaining action/adventure stories. The series lasted two seasons and produced 93 episodes.

This issue is credited to Chris Claremont and  Dom Jon Seepyus, which is largely considered a pseudonym for J. Michael Stracynski, who was fond of writing under fake names and a story editor on She-Ra at the time this was published. He later went on to create Babylon 5 and make a name for himself as a popular comic creator. I've never seen Babylon 5, and while his Amazing Spider-Man run went off the rails towards the end (he's responsible, in part, for the much maligned "Sins Past" storyline which revealed that Gwen Stacy slept with Norman Osborn), I enjoyed some of his initial ideas for the title (including revealing Spider-Man's identity to Aunt May), and thought both Midnight Nation and Rising Stars were pretty entertaining.

The Chronology Corner
It's hard to date this specifically (the script just said "1986", which was around the time Marvel was publishing a Masters of the Universe comic under their Star imprint), but Secret Wars is mentioned, Professor X is walking, Storm has the punk look but still has her powers, and Wolverine and Kitty are involved, so it likely falls somewhere after issue #181 and before #183. 

A Work in Progress
Kitty is enamored of Swiftwind, She-Ra's winged horse, and begs She-Ra to let her ride her, only to be startled when Swiftwind responds for himself. 

Madame Razz, the inept Orko-like witch, compares the X-Men's mutant powers to magic, which is a pretty Orko move if you ask me.

Leech, one of Hordak's minions who is able to drain the life force from people via suction cups on his hands, tries to absorb Rogue's energy, but her power cancels out his.

I Love the 80s
Well, it's an X-Men crossover starring She-Ra, of all people, which is arguably the most 80s thing possible. 

Claremontisms
At one point, She-Ra gets to do a Claremontian interjection, telling Storm "they can - must - succeed" in their mission to destroy the dimensional gate.

Later, Claremont almost seems to confuse the Sword of Protection with Illyana's Soulsword, calling it in a caption the "ultimate source" of her power as She-Ra.

Both Nightcrawler and Colossus drop far more German and Russian phrases than normal for this era, though Stracynski is seemingly responsible for many of them. 

Young Love
 Rogue and Bow (pretty much the only man in She-Ra's camp) flirt pretty shamelessly throughout.

There are hints of an attraction between Colossus and the villainous Catra, something noted by a jealous Kitty, which is so on the nose it has to be intentional and also suggests that, in the wake of Secret Wars, Colossus' affection for a strange alien woman wasn't a one time thing.

The Best There is at What He Does 
Wolverine does his best to bond with Bow, but in a pretty hilarious sequence, he's ultimately turned off by Bow's general emasculation and the fact that he's pretty passive for a character who's whole schtick is shooting arrows at people.

At one point, Wolverine is said to be fighting Scorpia, a Horde member with scorpion claws for hands (lots of He-Man and She-Ra heroes and villains had something other than hands for hands), which are somehow able to withstand his own claws.

Teebore's Take
On the surface, this comic couldn't be more in my wheelhouse. Obviously, I'm a big X-Men fan, and the idea of an issue featuring those characters that I'd never read was exciting. But I'm also a big He-Man fan. Before GI Joe, Transformers, Voltron, or Thundercats, there was He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, the very first of the various "let's create a cartoon to sell toys!" shows from the 80s that caught my attention. Some of my earliest pop culture memories come from He-Man. I used to carry around a plastic He-Man sword, shoved down the back of my shirt (like how He-Man wore it in his scabbard), and would randomly pull it out and shout "By the Power of Grayskull!" (true story: once I was in a store with my mom, the sword down my back as usual, and one of the employees expressed pity for me and asked my mom how long I had to wear that back brace). Heck, there was a period of time where I told people I wanted to be He-Man when I grew up, when I was still young enough to not quite get that you can't grow up to be a specific person, especially a fictional one. And all that He-Man love of course translated to the spinoff show starring his sister. I still remember receiving the She-Ra action figure, along with her horse, one Christmas Eve from Santa Claus himself, who made a special visit to my house to deliver it before I went to bed.

So yeah, I was pretty inclined to like this issue from the get-go. Unfortunately, well, it's a hot mess. I mean, a borderline unreadable mess, and a pretty damning example of the worst kind of promotional comics produced in the 80s. I can see why Marvel more or less refuses to acknowledge the existence of this issue. Claremont and Stracynski, two accomplished and professional writers, seem more interested in one-upping each other or mocking the others' material, and most of this issue reads like they were literally alternating pages. Claremont, not surprisingly, does his best to take the material seriously, but most of it comes across as overly pretentious, even for him, when lined up alongside the lighter She-Ra characters. Stracynski, meanwhile, had apparently never read or even heard of the X-Men at this point; the pages he clearly wrote feature the X-Men sounding and acting wildly out of character.

Bottom line, what works within the airy and relatively conflict-light confines of a moralistic afternoon cartoon meant to sell toys simply doesn't mesh well with the grittier and more grounded world of the X-Men, especially at this point in their history. The mutants come from a world where they're fighting for the survival of their species; She-Ra and her friends, while ostensibly fighting to free their planet from Hordak, do so by beating up lots of robots who resemble a pig-faced skeleton man while riding flying horses. Smooshing these two properties together just doesn't work, and neither, apparently, does forcing two otherwise highly talented writers to work together on a project for which both displayed an obvious disdain.

Next Issue
Wednesday, we wrap up the Kulan Gath two parter in Uncanny X-Men #191, then meet Legion in New Mutants #26.

8 comments:

  1. You had me going for a minute, until I remembered the date.

    - Mike Loughlin

    ReplyDelete
  2. @Matt: Thanks.

    @Mike: For the record, all the stuff about my love of He-Man, the sword, getting She-Ra for Christmas, all true. :)

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  3. P.R. LaFolio

    Ha!

    Was there seriously a character called Castaspella? That's ridonkulous even for a lowest-common-denominator '80s cartoon.

    I have near-zero knowledge of She-Ra — just that she was, as you say, He-Man's (or Prince Adam's; I do know some MOTU) twin sister abducted as a child and raised in another realm, created to gin up some crossover appeal with girls. So for most of this review I felt like a dog in a Far Side cartoon: "blah blah Wolverine blah blah blah".

    Later, Claremont almost seems to confuse the Sword of Protection with Illyana's Soulsword, calling it in a caption the "ultimate source" of her power as She-Ra.

    Of course he did... 8^)

    true story: once I was in a store with my mom, the sword down my back as usual, and one of the employees expressed pity for me and asked my mom how long I had to wear that back brace

    !!!

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  4. @Blam: Was there seriously a character called Castaspella?

    There was indeed, my friend, there was indeed.

    Pretty much everything I wrote about She-Ra, from the characters to the history of the show to my relationship it to it (and Masters) was 100% true (at least as far as I know, of course).

    So for most of this review I felt like a dog in a Far Side cartoon: "blah blah Wolverine blah blah blah".

    I can imagine. :)

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  5. Ya got me!

    (Just wanted to say, I appreciate the blog as well as your comments at Remarkable and all the commenters here and there, too. Really enriches the re-reads.)

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  6. I'm re-reading these posts because I'm re-reading CC's run. You got me again, at least until halfway through. Cheers!

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  7. Now I have to wonder, has Claremont even HEARD of She-Ra? It seems like it'd be right up his alley, especially after the airing of "Huntara", an episode featuring a character built specifically to honor his version of Storm (as well as Grace Jones).

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