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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

X-amining Marvel Comics Presents #24-31 - Pharaoh's Legacy

"A Change of Heart" / "A Heart Reborn" / "A Heart on Fire" / "A Heart Unleashed" /"A Heart Determined" / "A Heart Beaten" / "A Heart Defeated" / " A Heart Attacked"
Late July - Early November 1989

In a Nutshell 
Havok battles the Cult of the Living Pharaoh and their new leader. 

Writer: Howard Mackie
Breakdowns: Rich Buckler
Finishes: Joe Rubinstei, Bruce Patterson (issue #28-31)
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Andy Yachus
Editor: Terry Kavanagh
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Issue #24: On leave from the X-Men, Alex Summers rescues a stranded woman from an attack by a group of heavily-armed mercenaries. He fights them off, but his car is destroyed, forcing them to walk to the nearest town. The woman introduces herself as Leila O'Toole, and tells Alex of how she escaped from a group of Egyptian cultists, who employed the mercenaries which attacked her to get her back. Just then, the pair is caught in a trap laid by the mercenaries. Issue #25: Alex blasts free of the mercenaries' trap, and he and Leila fly off in one of their vehicles. Reaching town, the pair decide to stay together, and over the next few days, draw closer to one another. At dinner, the mercenaries attack again, this time led by someone resembling the Living Pharaoh, and they manage to escape with Leila.


Issue #26: Havok tracks down the mercenaries' leader, and learns that Leila has been taken to Egypt. Issue #27: Alex arrives in Egypt, and is immediately targeted by the Pharaoh's Cult. He fights them off, then makes his way to their headquarters, where he encounters more Living Pharaoh doppelgangers called Trackers. Penetrating deeper inside the cult's temple, he finds their leader holding Leila captive, and is told that to save her life, he must duel to the death with the Trackers. Issue #28: Havok battles the Trackers, defeating all but one, who seems to grow more powerful the more Havok blasts him. Finally, Havok knocks the last Tracker through a wall, but the Tracker emerges from the rubble, armor falling away to reveal a masked woman named Plasma, the rightful descendant of the Living Pharaoh, whom the cultists declare their queen.


Issue #29: Havok manages to escape from the temple, fleeing into the Egyptian desert where he's found by Wolverine, who's been tracking him since Cairo. Together, they fight off a group of cultists sent to retrieve Havok, but he vows to return to their temple, still determined to rescue Leila. Issue #30: Havok and Wolverine fight their way into the temple, eventually reaching Plasma, who reveals herself as Leila. Issue #31: Leila explains how she was indoctrinated into the cult and sent to capture Havok. Coming in close proximity to him, she realized she was the rightful heir to the Living Pharaoh, her uncle. She asks Havok to blast her with his full power so she can continue the Rule of the Pharaohs, but he refuses. They fight, with Havok careful not to blast her, but her stray blasts begin to collapse the temple. Havok ultimately punches out Leila, saying that's exactly what she deserves. With that, he leaves, swearing that she'll be the last woman to ever use him.

Firsts and Other Notables
 The villain of this story is Plasma, the niece of the Living Pharaoh and the new leader of his Egyptian cult. She first appears as Leila O'Toole in issue #24, then as Plasma in issue #28. As far as I know, she appears once more, in a Moon Knight story, and that's about it.


As of issue #29, Wolverine guest stars in the story. Apparently, Marvel didn't think Havok could headline the series for long without a little help from his more popular teammate. He doesn't really add much to the story, other than to put this story into comparison with the Meltdown limited series for both featuring an otherwise unusual Havok/Wolverine team-up.

After the Cyclops story wraps in issue #24, Havok takes over top billing from his brother for the duration of this story with issue #25.

This story is written by Howard Mackie, who is probably most well known (and somewhat unfairly reviled) for his work on the Spider-Man books in the late 90s and early 00s. Unfortunately, this won't be the last we see him, as he'll eventually reunite with Havok while running X-Factor into the ground towards the end of its run then relaunching it as the Havok-centric alternate universe series Mutant X, work for which he is mostly fairly reviled. 

Art comes from Rich Buckler, whom we recently saw filling in on New Mutants #76.

The Chronology Corner
Havok and Wolverine appears here between X-Men Annual #13 and the Meltdown limited series. 

A Work in Progress
In the X-Men's version of "trained in hand-to-hand combat by Captain America", Havok notes that he's received hand-to-hand combat training from Wolverine.


In issue #27, Havok says he left word with the X-Men as to his whereabouts, knowing how Wolverine worries about him. Which doesn't quite gel with the Wolverine/Havok relationship we've seen thus far. Similarly, in issue #30, Havok refers to Wolverine as his best friend, which is either woefully inaccurate or kinda sad.


Issue #31, which reveals Plasma's identity to Havok, also establishes that the super-powered Trackers he fought throughout the series were Leila's cousins. She is, of course, wearing her dopey headband beneath her Plasma mask, because how else would we recognize her...

Leila says that she was able to locate Havok, despite the X-Men having faked their deaths, thanks to the shared psychic bond she inherited from her uncle.


Young Love 
In the wake of both Polaris and Maddie turning evil, Alex swears he'll never love again. Of course, he more or less falls in love with Leila in this story. Then she turns evil. And he swears to never fall in love again.


Teebore's Take
Well, it's a Havok solo story, which, even in 1989, means it has to involve the Living Pharaoh. The Havok/Pharaoh connection is one of the weaker elements of the character's history (in that it's a completely arbitrary connection born of whacky Silver Age plotting), but thankfully, Mackie tweaks it a bit (in, granted, the most obvious way possible) by making the villain of this story a relative of the Pharaoh rather than the Pharaoh himself (kudos also for making it a niece and not a daughter). One of the reasons the Pharaoh keeps getting dragged out for Havok solo ventures (his turn in the old Marvel Team-Up also centered on the Pharaoh) is that, unfortunately, there's still not a whole lot else to Havok's character at this point. To Mackie's credit, in addition to the Pharaoh connection, he does pick up on one of the more notable (albeit recent) elements of Havok's characterization for this story: the fact that the women he loves keep getting turned into villains.

That makes the whole thing, particularly the ending, a bit edgier than I imagine many Marvel Comics Presents stories to be (I doubt many of them feature the hero telling the villain to suck it as he leaves her to die, all because he's sick of women messing around with him), particularly since it was blisteringly obvious to everyone but Havok that Leila was Plasma all along. It's not enough to elevate the whole story to "must read" level - it's still about two chapters too long and the Wolverine appearance is entirely gratuitous and adds nothing (Mackie picked up on the Havok relationship woes, but calling Wolverine his best friend seems like a stretch, and Mackie struggles with Logan's voice throughout the story). But "Havok as a sadsack whose lovers keep turning evil" is a far more entertaining depiction of the character than "Havok as a living power battery with a rando connection to some whacky Egyptian cultist", and that added angle gives this story just enough juice to keep it from being a complete waste of time.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, more Atlanteans attack in New Mutants Annual #5. Friday, more of the Havok/Wolverine bromance in Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown #1-4. Next week, Master Mold returns in Uncanny X-Men #246.

14 comments:

  1. "This story is written by Howard Mackie, who is probably most well known (and somewhat unfairly reviled) for his work on the Spider-Man books in the late 90s and early 00s...he'll eventually reunite with Havok while running X-Factor into the ground towards the end of its run then relaunching it as the Havok-centric alternate universe series Mutant X, work for which he is mostly fairly reviled."

    Oh yes. His X-factor was definitely one of the worst things the X-offices gave in the 90s, especially when Jeff Matsuda takes over the artwork (at least the first year or so had some really nice, if wasted, Steve Epting artwork).

    "Havok and Wolverine appears here between X-Men Annual #13 and the Meltdown limited series."

    I guess someone at Marvel thought Havok and Wolverine would be a good pair, a la the mismatched buddy cop trope?

    "Havok refers to Wolverine as his best friend, which is either woefully inaccurate or kinda sad."

    I'd have pegged Longshot as his best friend at that time, which is still kind of sad (for Longshot, anyway).

    "Leila says that she was able to locate Havok, despite the X-Men having faked their deaths, thanks to the shared psychic bond she inherited from her uncle."

    Roma must have had a brain fart when she was going through her checklist of all things the X-men should be immune from, detection-wise.

    "In the wake of both Polaris and Maddie turning evil, Alex swears he'll never love again. Of course, he more or less falls in love with Leila in this story. Then she turns evil. And he swears to never fall in love again."

    Hey, at least Scarlett didn't end up being evil, right?

    "that added angle gives this story just enough juice to keep it from being a complete waste of time."

    Which would make it a regular waste of time instead of a complete waste of time, I guess...;)

    At least the Cyclops story had some things going for it, in terms of relevancy. And the Colossus story had some good artwork. This has...not much going for it, it seems. Are any of the back-up stories in this run of issues memorable?

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  2. I really feel sorry for Alex. All the chicks he falls for turn out to be crazy psycho bitches.

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  3. Horrible title names. Reminds of the fact that the UXM story where Alex had to first face Malice-Polaris was titled "Heartbreak". If it's all the same to you I'd rather he was the "guy with vague connection to Living Pharaoh" (or "the first Summers boy to get his own arch-nemesis") than Marvel equivalent for Ross Geller.

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  4. Man, Havok has such a boring logo on the cover! But at least, in a nice bit of remembrance on somebody's part, it's the exact same boring logo he had for his appearance in MARVEL TEAM-UP #69, more than ten years before.

    "...then relaunching it as the Havok-centric alternate universe series Mutant X, work for which he is mostly fairly reviled."

    Interesting... I knew everyone hated his X-FACTOR, but I thought MUTANT X had a following? Or maybe that was just for the initial few issues or something. I never read it, but I had heard good things about it at the time.

    Mackie also writes Plasma's return appearance in MARC SPECTOR: MOON KNIGHT. The story is drawn by Mark Bagley, who bulks her down considerably, transforming her into the typical slim-but-buxom Bagley archetype. (That's not meant as a slight against Bagley, by the way -- I love his artwork nowadays, though it was a little rough when he started out.)

    "Havok refers to Wolverine as his best friend, which is either woefully inaccurate or kinda sad."

    When you think about it, it's not like he's ever been seen to have any friends aside from Lorna. Which seems odd, now that I think about it. Unlike his brother, Alex Summers grew up with a loving foster family. Wouldn't you think he'd still keep in touch with them? I'd expect he might've made some friends growing up, too, but I don't believe his life prior to the X-Men has ever been touched on in much detail, if at all, has it?

    wwk5d -- "Oh yes. His X-factor was definitely one of the worst things the X-offices gave in the 90s, especially when Jeff Matsuda takes over the artwork."

    Funny, as a teenager it was Matsuda's art that got me to pick up X-FACTOR regularly for the first time, after what I had then perceived as "boring" work from Steve Epting before that. Funny how tastes change!

    I should also add that it was Mackie's writing which got me to drop the series after only about two issues -- but, while I disliked him on X-FACTOR, I will never stop defending his pre-reboot Spider-Man.

    Teemu -- "...Marvel equivalent for Ross Geller."

    I'm serious cracking up at this. Remember that time Havok and the gang were trying to move a couch and Havok kept manically screaming, "PIVOT!"

    I'm not kidding... I may have to start reading all future Havok appearances with David Schwimmer as his voice in my head.

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  5. @wwk5d: I'd have pegged Longshot as his best friend at that time, which is still kind of sad

    I'd agree. Though admittedly, that's pretty much just from them having seen a movie together in issue #224.

    This has...not much going for it, it seems. Are any of the back-up stories in this run of issues memorable?

    Not really, especially in relation to Meltdown. As for the backup stories in this run, I admittedly only read the X-related ones, and there weren't any in this one. There's a Peter David Hulk story that might be interesting, and one of the four slots every issue is currently taken up by a huge (like, 30 parts) Black Panther story that seems intriguing just by virtue of its length, but, yeah, I haven't been reading any of them myself.

    @FuryofFirestorm: I really feel sorry for Alex. All the chicks he falls for turn out to be crazy psycho bitches.

    At least Lorna eventually comes around, for a good long while, at least.

    @Teemu: If it's all the same to you I'd rather he was the "guy with vague connection to Living Pharaoh" (or "the first Summers boy to get his own arch-nemesis") than Marvel equivalent for Ross Geller.

    Heh. Like Matt, I'm loving the casting of Havok as Ross. "Pivot!" indeed.

    It makes want to cast the rest of the Oz X-Men as the Friends. Is Wolverine Joey because he's the one who got a spinoff, or is he Chandler, because he's the most sarcastic of the X-Men? Dazzler would be Rachel, right? And Storm is clearly Phoebe, which means Psylocke is Monica? Or Rogue, because they're both kind of neurotic?

    @Matt: Or maybe that was just for the initial few issues or something. I never read it, but I had heard good things about it at the time.

    I've not read much of it myself, either, but I think the general consensus is that the early issues are uneven but promising, and then it quickly goes off the rails. I believe Paul O'Brien is semi-internet famous (at least in the comic book corner of the internet) for his scathing and hilarious reviews of the final issues of the series on the old X-Axis. Maybe that's what made me think the series as a whole is mostly reviled.

    I'd expect he might've made some friends growing up, too, but I don't believe his life prior to the X-Men has ever been touched on in much detail, if at all, has it?

    The only thing I can think of offhand is the "minus 1" flashback issue of X-Factor, which showed young Alex with his foster family and getting manipulated by Mr. Sinister (obviously). You're right that it's odd his adoptive family never gets brought up much, if only because it stands to reason they'd eventually be retconned into being secret villains or aliens or something, because comics.

    Funny, as a teenager it was Matsuda's art that got me to pick up X-FACTOR regularly for the first time, after what I had then perceived as "boring" work from Steve Epting before that.

    I was always lukewarm on Matsuda (I liked Madureira, and he just seemed like a pale Madureira clone, which he was, of course), but I LOVED Epting's artwork from day one, when I first encountered it as part of his Avengers run with Harras. I think this makes me a better person than you. :)

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  6. Matt: I may have to start reading all future Havok appearances with David Schwimmer as his voice in my head.

    Okay, that magnificently backfired on me because that's what I'm going to do after reading that. Luckily Betsy will shove him into Siege Perilous in no time. Though at the same time there is a sick portion of me hoping that someone at FOX is following the blog...

    Teebore: It makes want to cast the rest of the Oz X-Men as the Friends

    Now I know how Dr. Frankenstein must have felt watching his creature lurching towards the village. :)

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  7. Joey is Longshot, because of his way with women.

    Chandler is Wolverine, because of his sarcasm, and Chandler does smoke as well.

    Ross is Havok, because.

    Phoebe is definitely Dazzler, not Storm. Ditzy folk singer/ditzy disco queen and whatnot.

    Monica is Psylocke, more for being reserved and prim but with a hidden kinky side.

    Rachel is...(in Moe voice), oh, let's just say Rogue.

    Sorry, Storm and Colossus. Oh well.

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  8. Someone somewhere has noted that Siege Perilous "rewarded" the X-Men going through it by giving them their heart's desire. Rogue gets rid of Carol Danvers, Colossus becomes an artist, Psylocke ends up with a body more in line with her inner violence... and Havok becomes a fascist.

    Is it because his life has become such a turmoilous chaos that the thing he most craves now is order and some truths given for him from above that he doesn't have to think over himself?

    Of course, it being Havok, the truths the universe is giving to him are obviously the wrong ones. Is that again some meta from Claremont, the karmic resonance falling on any Summers, because Scott is being editorially protected from it?

    Also, - insert a pun of his upcoming prolonged sabbatical and him being on a break with Lorna here -

    In the X-Men's version of "trained in hand-to-hand combat by Captain America", Havok notes that he's received hand-to-hand combat training from Wolverine.

    I kind of love that particular on-going off-panel thingy. If the story suddenly demands anyone having any pre-existing combat training, like Storm shooting a handgun, just bring in a mention or a short flashback of Wolverine once giving it to him/her. We have had enough scenes every now and then of Wolverine giving an impromptu lesson to someone so you can't call it an ass-pull, and like with Captain America, it fits to his soldier background to stress the importance of being prepared more than the other X-Men.

    In issue #27, Havok says he left word with the X-Men as to his whereabouts, knowing how Wolverine worries about him. Which doesn't quite gel with the Wolverine/Havok relationship we've seen thus far. Similarly, in issue #30, Havok refers to Wolverine as his best friend, which is either woefully inaccurate or kinda sad.

    There may be some cameradery between Alex and Logan because both have a Relationship with Scott. At the same time Logan still recognizes it's Scott who has all the backbone in the family. Both Logan and Alex feel Alex is of softer compound, and both from their own perspective feel it is a problem that needs something to be done to it. In that regards Logan may not be the friend Alex wants but the friend Alex recognizes he badly needs at this time. Who truer friend.

    Since Kitty has been gone, Logan seems to have to on some level adopted some of the new junior members of the team as his protégés. In addition to Alex Dazzler is constantly being pestered to choose if she is a singer or an X-Man. Also Rogue gets a lesson. Note how he thinks Betsy to be well above their level and only gets the armor suit for her. UXM 213, gentlemen.

    Claremont is a goddamn genius, and Mackey does well here picking up the clues and judging by his later credits seems to have developed a crush on Havok character somewhere along the path.

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  9. "Someone somewhere has noted that Siege Perilous "rewarded" the X-Men going through it by giving them their heart's desire. Rogue gets rid of Carol Danvers, Colossus becomes an artist, Psylocke ends up with a body more in line with her inner violence... and Havok becomes a fascist.

    Is it because his life has become such a turmoilous chaos that the thing he most craves now is order and some truths given for him from above that he doesn't have to think over himself?"
    Claremont has said in interviews that the idea was Alex was supposed to be sent to Genosha to lead the RESISTANCE. The idea was either that he wanted to be a leader like his brother or he wanted revenge on the Genoshans because Maddie's Goblin Queen persona only emerged when they were torturing her or both. Unfortunately, he shows up as a brainwashed agent of the Genoshans, which is completely nonsensical.

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  10. "Claremont has said in interviews that the idea was Alex was supposed to be sent to Genosha to lead the RESISTANCE. Unfortunately, he shows up as a brainwashed agent of the Genoshans, which is completely nonsensical."

    It isn't that nonsensical. As part of Psylcoke's premonitions when she herself was being brainwashed by the hand, Havok WAS leading the resistance. My fanwank is that he showed up on Genosha with no memory, and was either scooped by the Genoshans or, despite his amnesia, realized he was a mutant and tried to lead a revolution.

    In any case, he gets captured, but the Genoshans are unsure what to make of him, since he's an amnesiac who seems to have the same power as the member of X-men who destroyed the previous citadel. So maybe the established leadership decides to make him a mutate. Of course, enter Hodge, who possibly has insinuated himself within the Genoshan government and is able to recognize who Havok is from his X-factor files. The idea to brainwash him into a loyal Genoshan citizen, and a Magistrate no less, is definitely his and a delicious way to get back at Cyclops and the rest of X-factor.

    Granted, I probably overthought the whole thing, but it isn't the most ridiculous idea for Alex to end up where and how he did.

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  11. // Alex Summers rescues a stranded woman from an attack by a group of heavily-armed mercenaries. //

    I get that he doesn't have any reason to think they're after Leila, yet as he notes in #31 pretty much everyone believes he's dead and her involvement feels awfully telegraphed to the reader. Here's a hint, buddy: When an apparently normal young woman sees fellas with laser guns in flying cars strafing her, and her reaction is "Oh, No!" — not "What the hell?!?" or "Aieeeeeeeeeee!!!!!" but "Oh, No!" — then she probably knows more than she's letting on. (I realize that ultimately we learn the mercenaries were after her and Havok, but I think my point stands. Not that anyone's arguing this was masterful comics.)

    // This story is written by Howard Mackie //

    Whose dialogue for Logan reads as if his only reference was, like, X-Men #94, as I see you noted in closing. And judging from the "boyo" in #30 he mistook Banshee for Wolverine to boot.

    // Havok refers to Wolverine as his best friend, which is either woefully inaccurate or kinda sad. //

    That sure surprised the heck outta me. I guess the pickings are slim at this point, and at least with them being teammates hiding from the world the pairing in Meltdown doesn't seem as random to me as it did when it was published. Clearly I wasn't even looking at Uncanny's covers as I perused comics-shop racks on break from college, let alone flipping through it, because I don't even recall knowing Havok was on the team back then. (Frankly the depth of my dissociation from the series is starting to worry me.)

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  12. Notes on the cover to #31 [front and full]:

    Havok sure looks like he was penciled by Dan Jurgens. I'm not saying Jurgens roughed the cover for the credited Jon Bogdanove — Jurgens had done almost zero work for Marvel at this point and I don't think Bogdanove was in the Superman mix yet, so there's no circumstantial evidence — or even that Bogdanove lightboxed the pose, but it's nagging at me enough I figured I'd mention it.

    Although the inside front cover has Bogdanove and P. Craig Russell as cover artists, the back is signed "Bogdanove and Barta / Team Supreme". So I guess either Hilary Barta (regular inker over Bogdanove on Power Pack at the time) was a last-minute substitute here or nobody changed the Russell credit from the previous issue in PageMaker.

    Havok also looks like he's being force-shtupped by Plasma, adding a whole new dimension to this exchange from Pg. 4: "Now give me what I desire, Alex. Release your energies at me ... ." Why am I always the one who notices the dirty stuff?

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  13. Man, Havok just can't catch a break! Even currently, having a wife an kid in an alternate future that are lost to the timestream...

    Anyway, time for me to vent about Mackie, heheh--

    @wwk5d: "Oh yes. His X-factor was definitely one of the worst things the X-offices gave in the 90s, especially when Jeff Matsuda takes over the artwork (at least the first year or so had some really nice, if wasted, Steve Epting artwork)."

    Hear hear! I actually liked the post-Peter David era, with J.M. DeMatteias and then John Francis Moore. But once Mastuda joins on art after AoA the series goes down the gutter pretty rapidly.Then straight to hell with Mackie. I'd understand if he was given editorial edicts to add Sabertooth to the team and managed to write a good story. But Wildchild? Shard? The XSE?

    @Matt: "Or maybe that was just for the initial few issues or something. I never read it, but I had heard good things about it at the time."

    Don't ever subject yourself to Mutant X. Ever. Being a huge Havok fan, and even reading through to the end of Mackie's X-Factor, I took the risk of trying out Mutant X, feeling "surely Mackie can't do any worse". Well, he does. I'm under the impression that Mutant X sold well initially just based on the premise, but Mackie quickly devolves into the nonsense he churned out on X-Factor: lack of between-issue continuity, characters appearing and disappearing out of nowhere, unclear character motivations, etc. Paul O'Brien's X-Axis reviews are hilarious, though it's hard to find those original posts. Made the absurdity of Mutant X more bearable.

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