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Friday, November 29, 2013

X-amining X-Factor #14

"The Mutant Program!"
March 1987

In a Nutshell 
Cyclops vs. Master Mold. 

Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciler: Walt Simonson
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Petra Scotese
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
In Alaska, Master Mold is drawn to Cyclops, just as a pair of police officers arrive at the site of his destroyed home. Suspecting Cyclops of blowing up the house, they arrest him. In New York, Jean and Bobby leave to visit Warren in the hospital, leaving Hank to oversee Boom-Boom's training session, much to her disappointment. In Alaska, Master Mold attacks Cyclops, killing one of the police officers in the process. His glasses knocked off by Master Mold's attack, Cyclops is able to convince the other cop to give him his visor, allowing him to fight back. In New York, reporter Trish Tilby suddenly bursts into Warren's hospital room, demanding to know the truth of his involvement with X-Factor, but Jean and Bobby are able to shoo her out. The commotion, however, causes Warren to pass out. In Alaska, Cyclops and the remaining cop are chased by Master Mold into an oil refinery.


Though Cyclops is able to destroy most of Master Mold's body, the robot continues his attack, forcing Cyclops to lure him between two oil tanks, at which point Master Mold accidentally ignites the tanks, seemingly destroying himself. The surviving police officer helps Cyclops free of the wreckage, and agrees not to arrest him, telling him there's something back at the station he needs to see. In New York, Bobby and Jean receive word from Warren's doctor that a court has declared Warren legally incompetent, granting the hospital, in the absence of any living relative, the right to take whatever measures they deem necessary to preserve his life. To that end, the doctors have begun to surgically remove his damaged wings.  

Firsts and Other Notables
Already badly damaged and infected, Angel loses his wings in this issue, as a court order is handed down giving the hospital authority to amputate the wings in an effort to save Angel's life.


The Twelve subplot gets fleshed out more, as Master Mold identifies five of the Twelve: Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Storm, Franklin Richards, and Apocalypse. With Master Mold's destruction in this issue, however, the subplot largely goes unreferenced until it's dusted off in the very late 90s, at which point these hints will be mainly forgotten/ignored (Apocalypse, for example, is ultimately established as not one of the Twelve, but merely someone who wishes to harness their power, a detail that has always driven me batty. It's right here in this issue! Apocalypse is ONE OF THE TWELVE!).


A Work in Progress
Master Mold's programming has evolved to the point where he believes everyone is a mutant, leading him to target just about anyone in proximity to him. 

Rusty and Skids get kind of snippy over X-Factor's hero worship of Professor X.


Trish Tilby pops up again, storming into Warren's hospital room in order to try and get to the bottom of his involvement with X-Factor.


Young Love
Boom-Boom, who doesn't believe she needs training, is bummed when Hank replaces Bobby in her scheduled training session.


Rusty is still mooning over Jean, even though Skids is right there.


Teebore's Take
Following on from last issue, this issue is essentially one big fight between Cyclops and Master Mold. Thankfully, "guy shooting laser blasts at a giant robot" fits squarely in Walt Simonson's wheelhouse, and he cuts loose, injecting the proceedings with a ton of energy, clever panel layouts, and unique camera angles, milking the action for as much excitement as possible. Louise, meanwhile, manages to advance a few of the book's simmering subplots, notably in the cliffhanger ending which finds Angel's wing removed by court order, but her most important contribution to the issue finds Cyclops, still not-quite-right in the head following the disappearance of his wife and son, hallucinating Professor Xavier throughout the battle, drawing explicit parallels between the robotic Master Mold and the end result of Cyclop's training at the hands of Xavier.

This add an interesting twist to all the fight scenes: Master Mold becomes the embodiment of everything that has led Cyclops to this point, where he's broken, alone, with nothing but his ingrained sense of duty. Blasting away at Master Mold thus becomes a way to blast away his problems, and while Master Mold is ultimately defeated, Cyclops' problems, of course, remain. The end result is nonetheless cathartic, a prime example of superhero comics' ability to make external the internal conflicts of its characters.  All that said, this is still Walt's time to shine, but by adding this context to the big action centerpiece, the end result is one of the series' most energetic and visceral issues yet.

Next Issue
Storm fights for her life in Uncanny X-Men #216, followed by more Xavier/New Mutants fun in New Mutants #51 and the fate of Angel in X-Factor #15. 

13 comments:

  1. In addition to Apocalypse, the later storyline also ignored that Franklin Richards was one of the twelve (and he ended up having nothing to do with the story). A quick search reminds me that the twelve were:

    Magneto
    Polaris
    Storm
    Sunfire
    Iceman
    Cyclops
    Jean Grey
    Cable
    Bishop
    Mikhail Rasputin
    Professor X
    Living Monolith

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  2. Indeed. Reading about the Twelve, I thought it cool to have a non-X character like Franklin Richards be included. But NOOOOO...the Twelve have to have some association with X-Men comics.

    At the time, Franklin was in another universe with Roma. Would have been too much to have ol' Pocky kidnap him?

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  3. Considering Poccy was able to yank Bishop from the freaking future to the present just for the event... no, probably not.

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  4. Well, that and the Twelve included 3 characters who hadn't either been created or appeared yet, as well...

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  5. I kind of like the idea that Master Mold didn't quite have the Twelve set out right. Mainly, I love the idea that because Apocalypse (in the original timeline) stole the Twelve's powers and placed them inside himself, he counted as the thirteenth member of the Twelve. The fact that a machine wouldn't see anything odd in that idea strikes me as kind of amusing.

    The lack of Franklin Richards did bug me a little, though. Why go to all that trouble of setting up Mikhail Rasputin when Franklin's powers could easily have been substituted?

    Unless the fact Richards was elsewhere ended up causing too many inter-book continuity snarls, I guess. Not being much one for the FF, I couldn't comment.

    (On a side note, I love that all five of the comments on this post are about a plot point that remained dormant for fifteen-odd years and was then, by all accounts, entirely pissed away by Davis. I just love the things we comic fans choose to care about :) )

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  6. Boom Boom says... "Hey, Bobby's leaving with her! I better go stop him! I bet he's forgotten my training session!"

    I haven't read a ton of Louise Simonson, but the bits and pieces I have read always seem to feature painful dialogue like this. She seems to like her characters to describe things occurring off-panel, rather than asking her artist to simply show those things, and the end result is a disjointed script/art combination.

    To me, this is more annoying than Claremont's habit of using narration boxes to describe things that aren't in the art. At least in that case it's an omniscient third person narration, rather than a character shouting out what's happening right in front of them.

    SpaceSquid -- "On a side note, I love that all five of the comments on this post are about a plot point that remained dormant for fifteen-odd years and was then, by all accounts, entirely pissed away by Davis."

    To be fair to Alan Davis, I don't think he pissed away anything. I'm pretty sure editorial was making big decisions such as "Who are the Twelve?" and he was merely carrying out those decisions. Davis seemed to have the least creative freedom of any X-writer, ever, at that point.

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  7. @Matt

    I had no idea that was the case. This is what I get for only ever reading the comics rather than paying attention to the surrounding, er, issues.

    My apologies to Davis.

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  8. Well, anyone reading the credits would certainly assign blame to Davis. His name was all over every issue as the plotter. I know I took that credit at face value at the time. It was only later that I learned he was basically being dicated his plot points from Editorial. I think much of the "getting from point A to point B" stuff was up to him, but points A and B themselves were pretty much all Editorial and Marketing.

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  9. @Cerebro: In addition to Apocalypse, the later storyline also ignored that Franklin Richards was one of the twelve (and he ended up having nothing to do with the story).

    For whatever reason, the lack of inclusion of Franklin Richards never bothered me as much as Apocalypse being used as the villain. If he'd been similarly ignored outright, it may not have bugged me as much.

    @angmc43: Reading about the Twelve, I thought it cool to have a non-X character like Franklin Richards be included. But NOOOOO...the Twelve have to have some association with X-Men comics.

    I agree it would have been nice if at least one or two members of the Twelve were an unrelated-to-the-X-Men mutant, though by that time, with the exception of Franklin Richards, it was probably pretty hard to find such a mutant...

    @wwk5d: Well, that and the Twelve included 3 characters who hadn't either been created or appeared yet, as well...

    And of those three, it was Mikhail's inclusion that bugged me the most - the other two were at least active and integral parts of the X-Men at various times, whereas Mikhail was more or less brought back out of nowhere just to slot him into the story. Plus, I never much liked the character.

    @SpaceSquid: I kind of like the idea that Master Mold didn't quite have the Twelve set out right. Mainly, I love the idea that because Apocalypse (in the original timeline) stole the Twelve's powers and placed them inside himself, he counted as the thirteenth member of the Twelve.

    I'm fine with the idea of Master Mold not quite having it right, though I would have appreciated that being acknowledged in the story somehow.

    And, honestly, I never really considered the idea of Apocalypse being the thirteenth member of the Twelve, which I agree is amusing.

    Why go to all that trouble of setting up Mikhail Rasputin when Franklin's powers could easily have been substituted?

    Another reason to dislike the inclusion of Mikhail! And I wouldn't be surprised if there was some kind of snafu getting permission to use Franklin from the FF office (or that editors just assumed as much and never bothered trying). It wasn't quite as insular as the Quesada/Jemas years or the multiple EiC era, but "The Twelve" came out at a time when, if memory serves, the various corners of the MU were pretty separate.

    I just love the things we comic fans choose to care about :)

    Me too. Comics! :)

    @Matt: She seems to like her characters to describe things occurring off-panel, rather than asking her artist to simply show those things, and the end result is a disjointed script/art combination.

    I say this with no disrespect to Weezie intended (because despite some of her flaws and tics, I do generally enjoy her work) but that strikes me as a very "rookie" kind of thing - like, a writer who isn't used to the form of comics writing or is afraid to trust their artist (which is odd, given who Weezie's artist is on this series).

    That said, in this particular instance, I think the dialogue is meant to remind readers of Boom-Boom's crush on Bobby rather than establish that Bobby and Jean are leaving (which is shown by the art), but since Boom-Boom's dialogue also happens to be describing what is happening in the scene, it reads like Weezie was afraid Walt wouldn't draw the appropriate action.

    Davis seemed to have the least creative freedom of any X-writer, ever, at that point.

    That's my understanding as well. Was Claremont also ghost-scripting at that point (prior to his first official return to the franchise) or did that come after "The Twelve"? I can't remember...

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  10. Claremont's scripts showed up during "The Twelve", if I recall correctly -- though it's been many years since I read the story. I'm holding out hope for an Omnibus of that full Alan Davis run, startring with "Magneto War" and ending with "Powerless".

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  11. As I'm basically doing my first ever serious X-read from the beginning, I'm starting to dread what's to come later with things like Onslaught and The Twelve.

    Right now, I've just gotten to the issue where Psylocke becomes Asian, and that's confusing enough (I'm trying to read in publication order). The '90s issues scare me...

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  12. Psyclocke becoming Asian never really confused me. I saw it as simple. She shows up naked and has amnesia after emerging from the Siege Perilous, the Hand brainwashes her and alters her body. The end.

    It's all the Kwannon stuff that Nicieza introduces himself that makes it so confusing. Especially when he started ret-conning his own retcons.

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  13. "Boom Boom says... "Hey, Bobby's leaving with her! I better go stop him! I bet he's forgotten my training session!"

    I haven't read a ton of Louise Simonson, but the bits and pieces I have read always seem to feature painful dialogue like this. She seems to like her characters to describe things occurring off-panel, rather than asking her artist to simply show those things, and the end result is a disjointed script/art combination."

    To me, it's not even the disjointedness as much as the ridiculous, constant use of exclamation points, and childlike phrasings. (Such as in your example ... "I better go STOP him!")

    You could argue that from Boom Boom it's ok, but Simonson even has people like Cyclops and Jean talking/yelling like this. ("Cut it OUT, Jean! I said ... Cut it OUT!")

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