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Thursday, January 2, 2014

X-amining Fallen Angels #1-8

"Runaway / "I'll Take the High Road and I'll Take the Low Road and I'll Get to Sunspot Before Me" / "Every Card is Wild" / "A Devil Among the Angels!" / "Lost and Found" / "The Coconut Grove" / "Triple Cross" / "Grownups and Children"
April-November 1987

In a Nutshell 
Sunspot and Warlock run away and join a group of teenaged super-powered petty thieves. 

Writer: Jo Duffy
Penciler: Kerry Gammill, Marie Severin (issue #3), Joe Staton (issues #5-6, #8)
Inker: Tom Palmer, Val Mayerik (issues #4-6), Tony DeZuniga (issue #8)
Letterer: Jim Nova, Bill Oakley (issues #3, #5-8), L.P. Gregory (issue #4)
Colorist: Petra Scotese
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
Issue #1: As Magneto invites Moira MacTaggert to the mansion to assist him in teaching the New Mutants, the New Mutants play a friendly game of soccer that ends when Roberto accidentally throws Sam into a tree while powered up, knocking his friend unconscious. Sam is rushed to the doctor, and shunned by his friends, Roberto stays behind. When the New Mutants return, they discover Roberto has run off, prompting Warlock to fly into the city in search of him. Issue #2: In Manhattan, Roberto tries to save a young girl named Chance from a group of muggers, but is overwhelmed and must be saved himself by Warlock, even while Chance disappears along with her friend Ariel. Back at the mansion, Moira arrives, accompanied by Jamie Madrox and Siryn, to whom Magneto gives a portable Cerebro so they can track down Roberto and Warlock. They catch up to the wayward New Mutants just as they're asked to join the Fallen Angels, a group of petty criminals with enhanced abilities, including Chance and Ariel, led by the Vanisher.


Issue #3: The new recruits are brought to the Beat Street Club, the secret headquarters of the Fallen Angels, where they meet fellow member Gomi and his pet lobsters, Don and Bill, and learn how all three received cybernetic enhancements. Ariel, an alien who can telelport by manipulating space between two doorways, retrieves their former member, Boom-Boom, from the X-Factor complex while Siryn and Madrox decide the best way to keep Roberto and Warlock out of trouble is to stay with the Fallen Angels. Issue #4: Ariel teleports the group to an alternate dimension, where they recruit two new members: the primitive Moon Boy and his companion, Devil Dinosaur. Issue #5: Expanding their club house to accomodate their swelled ranks and new members, the Fallen Angels realize their powers are acting strange, alternately not working or seemingly charged up. As they discuss the situation, Devil Dinosaur accidentally steps on Don, killing him.


Issue #6: Mourning the loss of Don, the Fallen Angels continue to struggle with their inconsistent powers, with the mini-Cerebro unit given to Madrox suggesting a latent mutant is in their mix. Feeling crowded and unsafe in their headquarters, Ariel teleports the group to her home world of Coconut Grove. Issue #7: On Coconut Grove, a world where society has stagnated and mutation no longer exists, the Fallen Angels get makeovers and blow off steam. Madrox, using the mini-Cerebro, determines that Chance is the latent mutant affecting everyone's powers. However, just then, the Angels learn they've been betrayed, as Chance and Ariel conspired to bring them to Coconut Gove for experimentation in order to reveal the secret to mutation. However, with both Chance and Ariel identified as possible mutants, they're captured as well. 


Issue #8: The Fallen Angels are rescued by Bill, their one member not to be captured and whose cybernetic abilities are not affected by the inhibitor field imprisoning the rest of the team. They return to the Beat Street club, where Roberto determines his true place is with the New Mutants. He and Warlock leave, while Madrox and Siryn decide to stick with the Angels a little longer.

Firsts and Other Notables
This series represents the first (and to date, only) appearance of the Fallen Angels, a loosely-organized team comprised of teenaged mutants, aliens and cyborgs, "led" by the Vanisher (it was alluded to, but not named, previously, as the group Boom-Boom left when she moved in with X-Factor in X-Factor #12). The group is headquartered out of their Beat Street clubhouse and doesn't really have a unifying purpose beyond hanging out together (though of course it's ultimately revealed that Ariel has an ulterior motive in gathering the group) and performing petty crime (though most of that happens unseen before the series begins) until, at the end of the series, they don't anymore.

A handful of characters make their first appearances in the course of the series, including the mutant alien Ariel, who can teleport and possesses a persuasive ability (the later of which makes her a mutant; the ability to teleport is something she claims anyone can learn how to do), the cybernetically enhanced Gomi and his similarly enhanced pet lobsters Don and Bill (the former of which dies in the course of the series), and Chance, a young Korean woman who can inhibit or enhance mutant powers. With the exception of Ariel (who will pop up again briefly as a resident of Utopia during the "Second Coming" event), none of these characters are seen or heard from again, short of their entries in the 1989 update to the Marvel Handbook (which is where I first encountered them).


They are joined by Sunspot and Warlock (on loan from New Mutants), Boom-Boom (on loan from X-Factor), Jamie Madrox the Multiple Man and Siryn (making only her third appearance, and first since learning she was Banshee's daughter in X-Men #148), Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur (a prehistoric boy and his sentient dinosaur, two of Jack Kirby's later additions to the Marvel Universe, following his return to the company after his tenure at DC), as well as old school X-Men villain Vanisher.

The series was initially titled "Misfits" and was intended to be published sooner than it was, though I've never encountered any explanation for why the series was delayed nor why the name was changed. It's a bit of an odd series in that it was clearly done within the X-office (such as it was at the time), edited by Ann Nocenti and coordinated with both Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson, yet it features no major high profile characters nor any significant developments to the X-narrative, and is written by Jo Duffy, who didn't do much work for the X-office beyond this series.

A sequel was planned (and, I believe, at least a few issues completed), complete with a preview story published in an issue of Marvel Fanfare, yet it was ultimately scuttled. Presumably, it would have followed up on one of the unresolved subplots from this series, involving Chance and the Glorification Church (which is mentioned in passing but never elaborated on). 

Though plenty is made throughout the series of Madrox encountering a duplicate that refuses to be absorbed and is deemed a "mutation of a mutant" for behaving unlike the rest of his duplicates, it will, in X-Factor #75, be revealed that all of the Madroxes which appear in this series are, in fact, duplicates. 

Vanisher is depicted throughout the series as something of a coward, someone who vanishes at the first sign of danger. Largely a generic villain up until this point, this characterization will remain somewhat consistent with future appearances, particularly when the character is drafted into Wolverine's black ops X-Force team during the Kyle & Yost run on that series. 


The Chronology Corner
Like the Kitty Pryde & Wolverine limited series, the absence of the three characters in this series from their regular books is acknowledged and roughly corresponds to the publication time of the series, as Sunspot and Warlock will be absent from New Mutants from issue #53 to #60, while Boom-Boom, having been written out of X-Factor in #17, will not return to that series until issue #22. The events of this series are considered to roughly occur alongside the events of those issues.

A Work in Progress
The first issue of the series contains a clear indication of how the series was held back from its initial publication date, as Magneto references recent trauma undergone by the New Mutants (likely a reference to their death and resurrection at the hands of the Beyonder), and contacts Moira MacTaggert for help in administering the school. Moira's subsequent journey to the school (accompanied by Madrox and Siryn) is made to be a slightly bigger deal than recent events would suggest it to be, considering she had just been at the school in the wake of the massacre, and any reference to the Morlocks currently under her care or to the X-Men's recent visit is, of course, omitted.  


Roberto is described in the first issue (and in every subsequent issue) as being 14 years old.

Warlock's status as a mutant, due to his ability to feel compassion, a trait unique to his race, is mentioned occasionally. Later in the series, whenever Chance is accidentally inhibiting mutant powers, Warlock briefly turns evil. 


In issue #1, Magneto recollects on his time leading the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, including Blob and Vanisher, though neither was part of the group while Magneto led it.


Roberto stumbles across a report card written by Professor X stating Xavier's concerns that Roberto will turn evil like his father, which, following on the heels of his accidental injury of Sam, prompts him to leave the school. 


Issue #2 mentions that Jamie Madrox is a teenager, and while that fits with his later appearances (when he's depicted as being roughly in his early 20s), it doesn't quite gel with his scant few earlier appearances, which suggested he was already a bit older than a teenager.

Madrox mentions that Xavier helped create a teaching computer for him, and that the computer and TV were his only companions growing up.


He also says that while separate from him, each of his own duplicates is their own person, an idea Peter David will explore in his work with the character. 


Issue #3 crosses over with X-Factor #17, recreating some of the scenes depicted there involving Boom-Boom's flight from that group.


In issue #6, Ariel mentions the concern of being targeted by mutant hunting groups, either X-Factor or the Marauders, indicating that Boom-Boom, for whatever reason, hasn't explained the truth about X-Factor (of which she's well aware at this point), while also suggesting that the Marauders have become public knowledge, at least amongst some mutants.


Ariel suggests that an ancestor of hers was the inspiration for the character of the same name in Shakespeare's The Tempest.


I Love the 80s
Roberto says he once dreamed of being a professional soccer player, like Pele.


Young Love
Issue #4 establishes a love triangle between Boom-Boom, Siryn and Madrox, though aside from Boom-Boom constantly fawning over Madrox, her side of the triangle doesn't really do much.


My Hero, Thomas Magnum
In issue #1, Roberto says he yearns to one day be "as great a hero as one of the X-Men, or Captain America, or Thor, or even Magnum, P.I." 

Teebore's Take
So, Fallen Angels. Yeesh.

This is actually my first time reading the series, having seen it referenced occasionally in various 90s X-comics but never bringing myself to read it for whatever reason. All I knew going in was that it was a little off-the-wall and that presumably nothing of significance beyond what a footnote could tell me happened, as I'd managed to get along this long without reading it. And I can safely say I was correct in that assumption. This was mostly a slog to get through, committing as it does the cardinal sin of superhero comics: it was boring. There are enough whacky elements to this thing (cybernetic lobsters, Devil Dinosuar, 80s fashions) that just mashing them together had the potential to be entertaining, either in a genuine or so-bad-it's-good way. Unfortunately, the lackluster execution sinks any of that potential almost from the outset.

The artwork lacks any energy or personality: Tom Palmer is on hand to ink a few issues, giving them at least a pleasant, professional sheen, but everything else is bland, neither exciting nor mockable. The plot shambles along from issue-to-issue (occasionally feeling like something which was intended to be an ongoing series that got cancelled), taking roughly four issues to even assemble the group while what stands as the overarching plot (the business with the aliens of Coconut Grove) doesn't really show up until the second-to-last issue.

And for anyone who thinks Louise Simonson likes to have her characters shout what they're feeling, I give you this series. No disrespect intended towards Jo Duffy, with whose other work I am largely unfamiliar, but her scripting here seems like the very definition of work-for-hire, despite the fact that this was likely something she pitched herself. Aside from their dialogue tics (like Warlock's "self-this" and "self-that" or Siryn dropping in Irish slang), the characters all largely sound alike, lending to the overall blandness of the series. 

As for the characters imported in from other series, little of note happens to them. The series is ostensibly about Roberto, and is loosely told from his point of view. He is the character who (credit where it's due) goes through an actual arc in the course of the series, coming out the other side a different character then when it began (though of course, his character initially gets monkeyed with a bit in order to justify his eight issue absence, so he emerges still roughly the same character he's always been in New Mutants). Boom-Boom is Boom-Boom, largely annoying everyone as she did in X-Factor while substituting her crush on Iceman for one on Madrox (which, while perhaps realistic for a teenage girl, doesn't give her much to do that we haven't already seen).

Then there's Madrox and Siryn, two characters who were largely ciphers heading into this story and come out of it mostly the same. They are given no good reason for hanging around in the first place, something they openly acknowledge at one point before deciding, at the end, to stick around because they've grown to like their teammates. I have some residual affection for these two due to their eventual increased involvement in the X-books (Madrox in particular); for anyone encountering them here, for the first or nearly first time, there's little to suggest they wouldn't go the way of Chance or Gomi.

There's enough quirkiness on the fringes of this series that I imagine some people regard it fondly (lord knows I *want* to enjoy a series with cybernetic talking lobsters). If you're out there, let me know. For me, the execution was just too bland to keep me interested, while the significance of the story in the context of the X-books barely warrants the footnote that introduced me to it.

Next Issue
We catch up with Havok in Uncanny X-Men #219, followed by New Mutants #54, Chris Claremont's final issue and X-Factor #18, which furthers Cyclops descent into madness.

11 comments:

  1. I've had the trade of this sitting around for a while, intending to get to it someday. Your review does not exactly have me anxious to crack it open.

    So Siryn has been living on Muir Island this whole time? I still want to pitch a limited series to Marvel called "The Misadventures of Sean Cassidy", showing him drifting in and out of all the Muir Island scenes he wasn't in during this timeframe. I guess Siryn could wander around with him, then.

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  2. "Warlock's status as a mutant, due to his ability to feel compassion, a trait unique to his race, is mentioned occasionally. Later in the series, whenever Chance is accidentally inhibiting mutant powers, Warlock briefly turns evil. "

    That's kind of an interesting idea.

    "In issue #1, Magneto recollects on his time leading the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, including Blob and Vanisher, though neither was part of the group while Magneto led it. "

    The Blob was, in Defenders 15-16.

    Thanks for the review of this. It looks and sounds terrible. Good of you to take one for the team, Tee. :)

    Tangential note: I remember finding it interesting that Peter David was writing his second iteration of X-Factor, starring Madrox and Siryn, at the same time as he was writing his own creator-owned series, titled "Fallen Angel."

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  3. @Matt: So Siryn has been living on Muir Island this whole time?

    I believe so, meaning the writers are even worse about mentioning her than they are Banshee.

    I still want to pitch a limited series to Marvel called "The Misadventures of Sean Cassidy", showing him drifting in and out of all the Muir Island scenes he wasn't in during this timeframe. I guess Siryn could wander around with him, then.

    I'd read it.

    @Jason: That's kind of an interesting idea.

    It is (arguably, it's the most interesting thing in this series). I can't think of any specific examples offhand, but I'm curious to see if there's any cases going forward where Warlock ends up in a situation where his "mutant power" gets nullfied. If so, I'm fairly certain he won't go evil as a result (since this is the first time I recall encountering that idea) even though it makes a certain amount of sense for him to do so in that situation.

    The Blob was, in Defenders 15-16.

    Ah, yeah, I forgot that Blob also got reduced to infancy alongside Magneto, Mastermind, etc. in those issues. Oh well, at least I was right about Vanisher...

    I remember finding it interesting that Peter David was writing his second iteration of X-Factor, starring Madrox and Siryn, at the same time as he was writing his own creator-owned series, titled "Fallen Angel."

    Ha! I never made that connection before. That is interesting.

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  4. Can anyone explain why Warlock would go after Roberto? I don't recall much of a rapport between the two.

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  5. @angmc43: Can anyone explain why Warlock would go after Roberto?

    In the story, Warlock basically says that he needs to bring him back to maintain the harmony of the group (it's essentially Warlock-speak for "he's my friend and that's what friends do").

    The rest of the New Mutants are still kinda pissed at Roberto for what he did to Sam, so they're fine leaving it to the adults to find him.

    So it's a matter of Warlock being written a little out of character (in that he's not *that* good of friends with Roberto specifically) and the New Mutants being written a little out of character (in that, what Roberto did wasn't *that* bad - it was clearly an accident - so they shouldn't be so willing to just let him disappear like that), and the whole thing coming across as being terribly forced, all because someone (Duffy?) really wanted to use Warlock and/or Roberto in the series.

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  6. There's a trade of this? Oh, man -- it's a hardcover??

    Eight issues is an unusual number for a miniseries. I think it's very possible this began life as an ongoing, with two of the New Mutants brought in for more exposure in the early issues, but then had the plugged pulled somewhere along the way.

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  7. G. -- "There's a trade of this? Oh, man -- it's a hardcover??"

    It was published first as a hardcover a couple years ago. I had no interest and didn't pick it up at the time. But then Marvel reprinted it in trade recently and I broke down, having enjoyed the New Mutants Classic trades in the interim. I'm beginning to regret that decision, and I haven't even read it yet!

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  8. @G. Kendall: Eight issues is an unusual number for a miniseries. I think it's very possible this began life as an ongoing, with two of the New Mutants brought in for more exposure in the early issues, but then had the plugged pulled somewhere along the way.

    It really feels like that was the case, at least initially. Obviously, if it was, then the conversion to limited series was made in time for production to slap a "#1 in an eight issue miniseries" on the cover, but that obviously could have happened pretty last minute.

    But the general aimlessness of the series, combined with odd-for-the-time issue count and the presence of two New Mutants definitely suggests this may have been an aborted ongoing series at some point.

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  9. RE name change from the Misfits, could the reason for that be that there was a recently introduced all-star super group by that name consisting of Toad, Frog-Man and Steel Spider, put together in Amazing Spider-Man #266, cover date Jul 85?

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  10. Misfits was a much better name.

    I've never read Bobby to be only fourteen, so that was a surprise. Ditto the news that Madrox is still a teenager; I always considered him a rough peer of Havok and Polaris just from seeing them working on Muir Island together.

    I don't believe Jean Grey ever posed for a poster like the one seen in Gomi's flashback on Pg. 12 of #3.

    Where's the door on the other side when Ariel leads the group to Moon Boy's planet? Cave openings shouldn't count since part of the whole deal seems to be that you have to not see what's on the other side of the door being traveled through for the whole point-to-point intradimensional shortcut to work. I wouldn't exactly call what she does teleporting, by the way.

    The "L. P. Gregory" credited for lettering #4 is Gaspar Saladino.

    I'm really not sure what I was expecting from this. Pretty much literally all I've ever known about it was the cover to #1 from having seen ads. It was definitely weirder than I'd have guessed.

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  11. @Blam: Misfits was a much better name.

    Agreed.

    Ditto the news that Madrox is still a teenager; I always considered him a rough peer of Havok and Polaris just from seeing them working on Muir Island together.

    Me too. Honestly, contrary to what this series says, I still don't think of him as being a teenager around this time.

    I don't believe Jean Grey ever posed for a poster like the one seen in Gomi's flashback on Pg. 12 of #3.

    And you do wonder how those guys would even know about Marvel Girl/the X-Men, since at the time they would have largely been considered urban legends, or at least poorly documented figures relative to the Avengers/FF.

    Where's the door on the other side when Ariel leads the group to Moon Boy's planet?

    Good question.

    I wouldn't exactly call what she does teleporting, by the way.

    No, but it's the easiest close enough term, and I have it stuck in my head from "Second Coming" when she was specifically targeted by Bastion along with the other X-related teleporters (as that was pretty much my only exposure to her outside the Handbook prior to this).

    It was definitely weirder than I'd have guessed.

    Yet sadly, still not weird enough...

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