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Friday, June 13, 2014

X-amining X-Factor #34

"Death!"
November 1988

In a Nutshell 
Death battles Hodge for the life of Candy Southern. 

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

Plot
Deep below a Chicago skyscraper, Death fights his way through Right soliders, in pursuit of Cameron Hodge. Hodge, watching Death's progress on a monitor, sends a group of demons provided by N'astirh to engage the winged mutant. In Hong Kong, Nanny and the Orphan Maker intercept a list of mutant infants sent to N'astirh from Hodge as they add another mutant child to their group, killing her parents in the process. Back in Chicago, N'astirh appears before Hodge, complaining that infants on his list have disappeared. Hodge directs him to the lower levels of an orphanage, then tells N'astirh of Angel's transformation into Death. As Death draws closer, N'astirh withdraws, taking his demons with him but promising to honor his deal to keep Hodge alive.


In New York, Marvel Girl returns from seeing the kids to their new school just as Cyclops prepares to depart in search of his son. She insists on joining him. In Chicago, Death reaches Hodge, and as they fight, Hodge tells Death that Candy Southern is essentially dead already, the victim of Right experiments, as the only thing keeping her physically alive are the machines to which she's connected. When one of Death's metal feathers enters the rocket launcher of Hodge's armor, it triggers an explosion that blows off Hodge's protective helmet. As Hodge disconnects Candy from life support, Death flies in, grappling hand-to-hand with Hodge until his wings slice off Hodge's head. Reaching Candy, Death discovers that Hodge was right: she is dead. Cradling her body, he turns, enraged, to face a group of Right soldiers. He tells them he is the Dark Angel, and his name is Death.  

Firsts and Other Notables
Cameron Hodge seemingly dies this issue when Death's wings cut off his head, though true to the deal he struck with N'astirh, we'll learn Hodge didn't die; he'll turn up next as a head attached to a monstrous robot body (the other part of N'stirh's promise - that Hodge's organization will prosper - doesn't hold quite as true. While the Right will remain a presence in the books for awhile and see a return in Kyle & Yost's X-Force, they will eventually be supplanted in the narrative by newer anti-mutant groups).


While battling Hodge, a still-slightly-sympathetic Warren warns him that he can't always control his wings, the first time since his transformation that the notion his new wings occasionally act of their own dark accord has appeared. This will become a long-standing (and increasingly annoying) source of deep, deep angst for the character (on par with Cyclops and his deadly blasts) in the decades ahead.  


Candy Southern, who's been around since the Silver Age, does die this issue, after Hodge disconnects her from life support after having essentially killed her earlier via experimentation. She will return briefly in a future issue of Uncanny X-Men, alongside Hodge as a "work-in-progress" member of the Phalanx, before dying again, and I don't believe she's come back since.   


Lots of "Inferno" setup in this one, as N'astirh has his demons searching for mutant infants using a list provided by Hodge (as promised in issue #32). That search, and the need for the mutant babies, will factor heavily into both the X-Terminators limited series and the "Inferno" issues of New Mutants. Hodge also directs N'astirh to a group of mutant babies kept in a hidden floor of an orphanage; this location will directly feature in next issue, while also playing a role in Madelyne's origin when its revealed.


 Nanny has intercepted the list of mutant infants Hodge gave to N'astirh, and is attempting to save as many of them as possible (while killing their parents, of course). Hodge attributes the leaking of the list to a breach in Right security, an indication that Nanny was once affiliated with the Right.  


On a personal note, I received this issue as a birthday gift from a friend (it had to have been my twelfth or thirteenth birthday), and I still remember that I was very excited at the time, because I had been thoroughly trained by Wizard to inflate the value of any issue that earned a special notation in their price guide (in this case, "D: Candy Southern"). 

The Chronology Corner
Jean is seen returning from dropping Artie and Leech off at school, while Iceman is said to be doing the same for the older kids, as seen in X-Terminators #1 (which we'll cover in a few weeks, closer to "Inferno", into which its final issues directly lead). Beast is also noted to be off with the Avengers, as seen in Avengers Annual #17.


A Work in Progress
Orphan Maker's real name is revealed to be Peter.
Working with Ship off panel, Cyclops has deduced a likely place to look for his missing son: the orphanage where he grew up (I believe this is also the first time it's established that said orphanage was in Nebraska).


Hodge's ranting in this issue further details his motivation for hating Warren and attacking mutants, all of which essentially boils down to "jealously".


Hodge confirms that the Right captured Candy just as she was about to expose the organization to Trish Tilby, which would have been sometime during X-Factor's late teen issue.


Young Love
Jean accompanies Scott to the orphanage to search for his son, telling him that, unlike when he lived there, he's no longer alone. 


Teebore's Take
This is mostly just one long, protracted fight between Death and Cameron Hodge. There's a few interlude pages for Nanny and the Orphan Maker as well as Scott and Jean (to setup next issue), and Hodge's interactions with N'astirh continues the build towards "Inferno", but for the most part, this is Death, after being relegated to a few subplot pages here and there since his big debut in "Fall of the Mutants", taking over the title for an issue to wrap up some unfinished business with Hodge. Thankfully, Walt Simonson is on hand to inject a fair amount of energy into the proceedings, keeping scenes of Warren and Hodge yelling at each other across video monitors from becoming too dull. Weezie, meanwhile, fills the issue with histrionic dialogue, as is her wont ("They have a cutting edge. They're living death. Their scream gives voices to the darkness in my soul").

But the central conflict of this issue has thematic meaning for the series as well. With Beast back to normal as of last issue, four of the five original X-Factor members have now positioned themselves firmly in the book's post-mutant hunter status quo. This issue does the same for Angel, putting him on the path towards rejoining the team as he battles the man who not only led him towards his transformation into Death and killed his longtime girlfriend, but was the villain who has been retroactively credited with orchestrating all the narrative problems in the series' early issues. With Hodge dead (for now), only one dangling thread from the book's early years remains, one which the Simonsons will start working towards tying up next issue: Madelyne Pryor and Scott's missing son. 

Next Issue
Next week, we look at Uncanny X-Men #238, Excalibur #2, and Wolverine #1, the beginning of the ol' Canucklehead's solo series.

12 comments:

  1. I read this issue after collecting most of the INFERNO issues (X-FACTOR#37 was rather elusive for more than a year), so I already knew about Death decapitating Hodge and losing Candy from X-FACTOR#36.

    Interesting how Hodge tries to rally the demons about the 'evils' of mutants, as if it made a difference to them.

    I always tended to think Hodge's attraction to Warren was homosexual in nature, viewing his wings as the rival that eventually stole him away. I remember a recent ANGEL LS about his early years, where Warren befriends an outcast schoolmate with similar attraction to him. Although he had a different name (the new era of discontinuity), I was clearly thinking 'Cameron Hodge'.
    Still, one can interpret WarrenXHodge as just a strong-but-straight friendship with the same dealbreaker (the wings ruined our beautiful friendship!), ala Judah and Messala in BEN-HUR (1959 Unless you believe film co-writer Gore Vidal's account that he wrote THAT relationship as homosexual in nature, with the break-up and betrayal being less about Jew vs. Roman politics and more because Messala felt hurt that Judah spurned him over renewing their old relationship).

    This issue's Nanny subplot, about the grandmother being from Hiroshima/Nagasaki, made me think about Sunfire.

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  2. If subsequent stories say the wings of Death took Hodge's head off, I can read that into the panels where it would've happened, but I guess this is my week for not picking up on stuff. At no point do we actually see the decapitation — not that I'd expect it to be graphic in a Code-approved book, even in 1988; I would expect a silhouette of the action, perhaps, or narration making it explicit. We're supposed to read that as Hodge's headless body thumping to the ground, I suppose, whereas I just figured that the armor was so massive that it was just swallowing up Hodge's head in that shot or that his head was obscured by the action lines, debris, and sound effect.

    @angmc43: // I always tended to think Hodge's attraction to Warren was homosexual in nature //

    Well, I can't say "always" since I'm reading this stuff for the first time, but to my surprise the jealousy did come off that way here — which gives Hodge's responsibility for Candy's torture and death another dimension.

    It's absolutely painful to see the lines on Angel's Death suit flip-flop between reddish-orange and pink, especially, as on the last page, from one panel to the next or even within the same panel, less for the inconsistency on its own terms than because the colors clash like hell. The digital edition corrects the piping to a uniform purplish-pink, but I just took a look at the original print edition and ugh.

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  3. Speaking of which... I wanted to thank you, Teebore, for being a member of the chorus that prompted me to try Marvel Unlimited, which is how I'm now reading along when issues are available. Currently I'm also picking up from early TPBs of Waid & friends' Daredevil and Fraction & Aja's brilliant Hawkeye, plus starting on All-New X-Men. Even though I'll hit the wall on the six-month lag soon, which also has me frustrated in terms of not being able to sample the newest stuff, and the interface could be better, the value is still undeniable and I'd recommend it.

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  4. angmc43: I always tended to think Hodge's attraction to Warren was homosexual in nature

    Blam: Well, I can't say "always" since I'm reading this stuff for the first time, but to my surprise the jealousy did come off that way here — which gives Hodge's responsibility for Candy's torture and death another dimension.

    So... would you guys say that Goose's death in Top Gun symbolizes the death of the heterosexuality of Maverick, and removal of obstacles from Maverick's and Iceman's mutual love for each other, seeing that Goose was a betaish family man who was sporting a lackluster nickname like Goose amongst very masculine Maverick, Iceman and Viper?

    Other than that, this is a very sad and undeserved end for Candy Southern, who we got to witness being drawn by Byrne as well as Paul Smith in small but not unnoticeable roles along the way.

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  5. @Teemu- I'm not sure about Candy's death being "undeserved". On the one hand, she was party to the "mutant hunters" scam, which resulted in at least one suicide, so she does deserve some karmic payback. OTOH, it doesn't seem fair that she's punished more harshly than, say, Scott or Bobby.

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  6. @angmc43: I always tended to think Hodge's attraction to Warren was homosexual in nature, viewing his wings as the rival that eventually stole him away.

    Like Blam, I can't say I "always" thought of it that way, but now that you point it out, I can definitely see that.

    This issue's Nanny subplot, about the grandmother being from Hiroshima/Nagasaki, made me think about Sunfire.

    Yeah, I almost included that in "I Love the 80s", just as a callback to the old notion that mutant births were the result of the parent getting hit with lots of radiation (like Beast's dad or Sunfire's mother).

    @Blam: . At no point do we actually see the decapitation — not that I'd expect it to be graphic in a Code-approved book, even in 1988; I would expect a silhouette of the action, perhaps, or narration making it explicit.

    I could have sworn (from recollection) that there was a shot of the head rolling, but it's definitely not there. Maybe I'm thinking of "X-Tinction Agenda". At any rate, I can see how it might be unclear if you're reading without the benefit of hindsight.

    Even though I'll hit the wall on the six-month lag soon, which also has me frustrated in terms of not being able to sample the newest stuff, and the interface could be better, the value is still undeniable and I'd recommend it.

    Glad you're liking it! You're right that it's far from perfect - while the six month gap is probably a necessary evil, I wish they added older issues to the database faster/more regularly, and the interface can definitely be wonky (especially on a computer as opposed to a table - but it's definitely worth the money.

    If DC ever did something like that, I'd subscribe in a heartbeat. I'm a little surprised they haven't.

    @Teemu: Other than that, this is a very sad and undeserved end for Candy Southern, who we got to witness being drawn by Byrne as well as Paul Smith in small but not unnoticeable roles along the way.

    Plus, she made it out of the Silver Age, which is more than poor Zelda can say. And I think she was a pretty prominent fixture in New Defenders, so any fans(?) of that title were probably bummed too.

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  7. @Teebore: // Like Blam, I can't say I "always" thought of it that way, but now that you point it out, I can definitely see that. //

    While you may well have intended the "Like Blam" to only carry so far as the "but" I just want to clarify that it read that way to me on the page at first sight. So in a way, I should take back my earlier conditional — because this is the first time I've read the issue, I have "always" thought of it that way. 8^)

    Honestly, I thought it was both veiled, if barely, and rather ham-fisted at the same time.

    @Teebore: // I wish they added older issues to the database faster/more regularly, and the interface can definitely be wonky //

    Random back issues missing has been weird, as I find the search engine idiosyncratic to say the least. I also have yet to figure out why the hell the panel-to-panel zoom begins every new page turn by shunting everything so far to the right that the panel I'm supposed to be seeing is partially off my laptop screen, but hopefully I'll be getting a tablet before long. Killer app / business model, though, and man would I be in hog heaven if DC had a service like that.

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  8. "I'm not sure about Candy's death being "undeserved". On the one hand, she was party to the "mutant hunters" scam, which resulted in at least one suicide, so she does deserve some karmic payback. OTOH, it doesn't seem fair that she's punished more harshly than, say, Scott or Bobby."

    To quote the sufferers in Hell in Neil Gaiman's Sandman arc Season of Mists, "... (T)hat makes it worse. That makes it so much worse …". The "heroes" get snappy new uniforms and a parade, while poor Candace gets served all the karmic payback. By Hodge, moreover, who was the evil guy behind it all in the end and the instigator of the mutant hunter ruse in the first place. Which kind of could clear the X-gang from the need for a karmic retribution, because they weren't the wrongdoers per se but only very, very stupid.

    Verily the 90's is upon us early, as the post-Claremontian purge of the fixture characters has begun. A Silver Ager, even, though only known to me from the classics of the "All-New, All Different". A near-witnessess of butte sex, to to be substituted by likes of Opal and Hiro...

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  9. I've never read this issue, but I knew about it by reputation. I liked Candy in her few appearances I'd seen, so I'm disappointed she was killed off. But she probably wouldn't have fit in with Archangel as well as she did with Angel.

    John Byrne used Candy in X-MEN: THE HIDDEN YEARS, kind of making the series' POV character for a while. Byrne stated his reason was that he learned Candy had been killed off years before and didn't think she was important enough to die, so he set about retroactively beefing up her role.

    Also, count me as another who would subsribe to a "DC Unlimited" service in an instant, if it included as much of a classic back catalog as the Marvel version. I don't have much interest in the modern stuff, but there's so, so much classic DC (and by "classic" I mean seventies-eighties-nineties material), that I would probably get more use out of that app than I do from the Marvel one!

    (Though don't tell Marvel, but I shared my password with my brother, a lapsed reader, and he's been catching up on a lot of stuff lately. He just spent a couple months on the entirety of Ed Brubaker's CAPTAIN AMERICA.)

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  10. Somehow I doubt Weezie was aiming for repressed homoerotic undertones between how Hodge felt towards Warren...but that is definitely one way of reading it.

    This miles and miles much more readable that what she was giving us concurrently in New Mutants.

    Adios, Candy! You were a brief but likeable C-list character (if at that).

    I do love the way Simonson draws Hodge's mask during the scenes with N'astrah. Too bad we lost the design. It was funny and unsettling at the same time.

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  11. "But she probably wouldn't have fit in with Archangel as well as she did with Angel."

    Yeah, but still, no need to kill her off just for an issue or 2 of "Gewn Stacy Syndrome"...

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  12. @Blam: I also have yet to figure out why the hell the panel-to-panel zoom begins every new page turn by shunting everything so far to the right that the panel I'm supposed to be seeing is partially off my laptop screen

    I wonder if it's just a case of the view being optimized for a tablet? Not that that would make much sense either. Regardless, it reads much better on a tablet.

    @Teemu: A near-witnessess of butte sex, to to be substituted by likes of Opal and Hiro...

    Heh. "Butte Sex". At least Simonson makes the effort to replace the support cast with new members. Did Candy need to die for Archangel to start dating Charlotte Jones? Probably not. But at least Vera was spared while Beast pursued Trish. And poor Zelda remains forgotten, now and when Opal appears.

    @Matt: I don't have much interest in the modern stuff, but there's so, so much classic DC (and by "classic" I mean seventies-eighties-nineties material), that I would probably get more use out of that app than I do from the Marvel one!

    I wouldn't even mind some of the whacky 50s and 60s stuff. But I fear that if DC ever does get around to offering a Marvel Unlimited style app, it will by design only feature New 52 issues. Which would be hella lame.

    @wwk5d: This miles and miles much more readable that what she was giving us concurrently in New Mutants.

    Yes, yes indeed.

    I do love the way Simonson draws Hodge's mask during the scenes with N'astrah. Too bad we lost the design. It was funny and unsettling at the same time.

    Me too. I thought it fit the whole juxtaposition of tech-based bigot organization with arcane demons.



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