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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

X-amining Classic X-Men #41-42

"Little Boy Lost" / "When Dreams Are Dust"
December 1989/January 1990

In a Nutshell
A glimpse of Cyclops' time in Mr. Sinister's orphanage.

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Mike Collins
Inker: Joe Rubinstein
Letterer: Mike Heisler
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Issue #41: At the orphanage where he lives, Scott Summers intervenes in a fight between his roommate Nate and a bully named Toby, then is treated by orphanage's new doctor, Robyn Hanover, who takes an interest in the boy. That night, Scott has another recurring nightmare of falling and flames, while Toby is accosted by Mr. Sinister. The next day, a crowd gathers after Toby climbs up onto the roof of a building, preparing to jump. Despite Nate's objections, Scott rushes up after him and tries to talk Toby down. But Toby jumps, and Scott is unable to save him. Later, Dr. Hanover tries to comfort Scott, much to Nate's apparent displeasure.


Issue #42: Dr. Hanover takes Scott to a nearby airshow, along with friends of her, Trish and Rick Bogart. Scott continues to spend time with the Bogarts, who decide to adopt him. They leave for a short trip, hoping the adoption application will be finalized when they return. One night, Dr. Hanover awakens in a strange place and comes face to face with Mr. Sinister. The next morning, Scott approaches a much more reserved Dr. Hanover, asking after the Bogarts, who have now been missing for weeks. Dr. Hanover coolly tells him if they can't be bothered to follow up on their application, it will be dropped. While Scott doesn't know the Bogarts have died mysteriously, he believes the orphanage has gotten to them, just as it did Dr. Hanover, and vows to leave it as soon as he can. That night, Scott is telepathically visited by Professor Xavier and a young Jean Grey, who was drawn to Scott. He believes the encounter to be a dream, though an aspect of Jean stays with Scott to comfort him.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue is essentially Chris Claremont's combo Cyclops/Mr. Sinister origin, building on the hints from "Inferno" that Sinister was involved in Scott's life as far back as his time in the orphanage (which was run by Mr. Sinister). Picking up after the Shi'ar abducted his parents and sent him and his brother crashing to the ground via a burning parachute (events all previously established by Claremont), little in it directly contradicts the old backup story origin from the 60s (which featured Cyclops leaving the orphanage and falling in with Jack O'Diamonds before Professor X recruited him).

Scott's roommate in this orphanage is a boy named Nate, first mentioned during "Inferno", who seems to both dislike and be obsessed with Scott, and knowing that Claremont intended for Mr. Sinister to be the manifestation of a child-like mutant (something he never got around to revealing), it's easy to see that he intended Nate to be that boy (given what was later established of Mr. Sinister's motives and MO, in retrospect it seems likely that canonically the inverse is true, and that Nate is a disguise of Sinister's, enabling him to keep a closer eye on Cyclops within the orphanage).

These two stories ran as backups to reprints of X-Men #135 and #136, the penultimate chapters of "The Dark Phoenix Saga", and issue #42 ends with young Cyclops being telepathically visited by Professor X and Jean Grey (who was a student of Xavier's before he formed the X-Men), with the eventual Scott/Jean romance being retroactively teased.


At the time of this story, it's already known that ruby quartz lenses seem to ease Scott's headaches, with Dr. Hanover speculating he'll eventually have to wear them all the time. For the most part, this still fits with the notion that a doctor discovered the connection (as revealed in the original Cyclops origin backup story in X-Men #39), though that story suggested the connection was made when Scott was older, as well as the idea that Mr. Sinister discovered the connection (as suggested in "Inferno"), as Sinister could have tipped off the doctor (or been the doctor in disguise).

It's also established that Alex was adopted away from the orphanage almost immediately after arriving there (something later stories establish was arranged by Mr. Sinister as a way to keep Scott isolated).


Art comes from Mike Collins, who will fill-in on a few issues of X-Men in the near future (including the first appearance of Gambit). I don't recall liking his art much in those issues, but it's not too bad here.

A Work in Progress
From the beginning, we see that Scott has a heroic streak to him, and that even though Nate is essentially his only friend at the orphanage, he doesn't exactly like the kid.


Scott is having recurring dreams of falling and fire, repressed memories of his escape from his parents' burning plane.


Dr. Hanover thinks that Nate acts like he runs the place, a hint towards his true identity.


Another hint comes later when she likens him to a changeling or a demon taken the place of a child.


In issue #42, Scott subsconsciously recalls the events that separated him from his parents, calling out for his mom, remembering somebody shooting at him, and telling Alex to hold on.


Claremontisms
Scott spends several pages throughout the story spouting off about airplane stuff, clearly serving as plane-o-phile Claremont's mouthpiece. 



Build Up Your Vocabulary with Beast Mr. Sinister: Jejune
\ji-ˈjün\. Adjective. Naive, simplistic and superficial. (Of ideas or writings) dry and uninteresting.


Teebore's Take
Aside from representing Chris Claremont's biggest attempt at a direct origin story for Cyclops, this two parter is also the closest Claremont will ever come to presenting his intended origin of Mr. Sinister as the manifestation of the dark side of a powerful, child-like mutant obsessed with Scott. However, Claremont is appropriately vague regarding Mr. Sinister (nothing directly connects Nate to Sinister in these issues - presumably, Claremont would have made that connection more explicit in a later story - but if you know what to look for, the hints are there), such that nothing presented here contradicts or gets contradicted too much by how later writers develop Mr. Sinister.

Even better than the continuity nods and the "might-have-been" teases, this is just a really well told story. Claremont crafts a suitably creepy narrative, starring a Scott Summers despondent over his seemingly poor lot in life (as the broken, unwanted boy destined to be alone forever, which is for the best anyway) but still possessing an inclination towards kindness and heroism, and the level of restraint Claremont shows in the storytelling is admirable. Knowing what we know now, we can make a connection between Nate and Mr. Sinister, but the narrative never spells it out, and leaves it open to interpretation just how creepy Nate truly is, and why. Similarly, Claremont doesn't get in the way of the art, letting the images make clear in the end that Sinister has stacked the deck against Scott, somehow altering Dr. Hanover's mind and arranging the deaths of his would-be adoptive parents without dropping any clunky narration into the mix to spell things out.

Really, the only misstep in the story comes in the closing panels, as Claremont shoehorns in a Phoenix reference, trying to thematically connect the "Dark Phoenix Saga" unfolding in the book's A-story to adolescent Scott's fear of fire. The reprinted story ends with Scott proposing to Jean just before the Shi'ar whisk the X-Men off Earth to execute Phoenix. The desire to close the backup story with a nod to that event is understandable, but whether it was an editorial mandate or something Claremont himself felt was necessary, it's a little clunky and ham-fisted. But that aside, this is a well-crafted, suitably atmospheric tale that paints a strikingly sad picture of one of the X-Men's most significant members, an oft-overlooked little gem of Claremont's. And I'm not saying that just because I'm a huge Cyclops fan.   

Next Issue
Next week, things return to normal around here with Uncanny X-Men #253, New Mutants #82, and X-Factor #47.

26 comments:

  1. So you think Sinister altered Robyn's personality? That's sadly my assumption too, although I could also reason that he cloned her, ala her X-MEN FOREVER appearance where she aged relatively little despite the long passage of time (would make an interesting story: the real Robyn in cold storage until the X-Men thaw her out; she is impressed at the man Scott has become, maybe even falling for him). I suppose that's a safety net assumption, because the former idea- transforming a likeable, kind, no-nonsense woman into this cool Ice Queen IS disturbing. I don't wanna know what Sinister did to her...
    The ending did appear a bit rushed. I liked the intention- Scott in hopeless despair, getting a message that someone does care for him- but I think that resolution needed more pages better than the one-page piece here.
    Oh, and despite the lateness, congratulations.

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  2. Good that you've chosen the tale that recall Claremont's original intent for Mister Sinister, i.e. young Nate from the State Home for Foundlings was a 50 year old in the body of a 10 year old (i.e. his mutant power being delayed aging) "creating" the Mister Sinister as a way to get grown adults to take him seriously, since despite his being 50 or so years of age he knew they would not take him seriously in his true body, that of a child (basically a villainous Peter Pan or Billy Batson).

    With this in mind he had to ensure Mister Sinister was someone that scared the shit out of not only adults, but adult villains. So Mister Sinister's presence had to be damn creepy, something perfectly achieved by the alabaster skin, jagged teeth and uncanny valley/ transsexual get-up. And a name with the gravitas of Doctor Doom!

    Also, Mister Sinister had to physically intimidate even villains like Sabretooth…

    …but how?

    Claremont's X-Men Forever #7 revealed young Nate "built" Mister Sinister, and showed his body among a group stored away that had been constructed from synthetic materials.

    This pretty blatantly suggests Claremont perhaps intended Mister Sinister to be an android that young Nate had built; further suggesting the red gem on his forehead/ sternum powered him just like the Vision's solar jewel did.

    But hold on a minute, didn't Mister Sinister demonstrate significant psionic abilities? Well by this stage mutants only had a primary mutation, not a secondary unrelated mutation, and psionics do not have a connection to retarded aging, which was young Nate's primary ability.

    And in X-Factor #39, written by Louise Simonson in cooperation with Chris, he even admits the job of controlling Scott's powers in the orphanage were "technically difficult", not psionic.

    So what if the red jewel on the "Mister Sinister" android does not absorb solar energy to provide the needed power for him to function like the Vision (he lived in the basement of the Orphanage which closed off from outside sunlight), but instead absorbed psionic energy from mutants within his vicinity?!

    Is this the real reason why young Nate was intent on keeping Scott around?

    That is, as Scott’s ability developed young Nate finally had a powerful enough mutant around to fuel the jewel on his android (remember Scott was as powerful as Jean in his own right, able to absorb enough energy from the M'Kraan Crystal which enabled him to weaken its matrix so the X-Men could pass through it despite it being so dense).

    So he needed Scott in the same way Ahmet Abdol needed Alex.

    Does this further suggest he created the Ruby Quartz glasses because he couldn't have Scott expelling and wasting all that energy; the ruby quartz keeping it contained so young Nate could then drain it?

    This might further suggest the gem might also be composed of ruby quartz!?

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  3. Claremont has said in interviews that the "real" Marauders, except for Sabretooth, were all in suspended animation while Sinister used their clones as his lackies. I think Claremont intended the same for Robyn.

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  4. Despite being a big fan of Cyclops, I've never read this story. And whenever Marvel reprints the CLASSIC X-MEN backups, they tend to only do the Claremont/Bolton stuff, so this one gets left out.

    Anyway, it sounds pretty interesting. I like the Mr. Sinister we wound up with, but Claremont's original version would have pleased me just as much (and is, admittedly, certainly creepier than the immortal Victorian scientist version).

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  5. @angmc43: So you think Sinister altered Robyn's personality? That's sadly my assumption too, although I could also reason that he cloned her, ala her X-MEN FOREVER appearance where she aged relatively little despite the long passage of time

    Yeah, my assumption has always been mind-altering, but cloning makes sense too. I actually really like that the story doesn't spell it out. She meets Sinister - then she's totally different. That's all.

    Oh, and despite the lateness, congratulations.

    Thanks!

    @Nathan: Claremont's X-Men Forever #7 revealed young Nate "built" Mister Sinister, and showed his body among a group stored away that had been constructed from synthetic materials.

    Interesting. I've always read it that the idea is Sinister (and later, Gambit) are physical manifestations, like astral representations made flesh, and those manifestations were an extension of his psionic powers (while the whole "stuck as a child thing" was just an after effect of his power).

    Granted, I'm not sure Claremont ever made it clear exactly how Nate's powers were supposed to work, so I could be less remembering that from something Claremont said and more just making it up in my own head.

    @Anonymous: Claremont has said in interviews that the "real" Marauders, except for Sabretooth, were all in suspended animation while Sinister used their clones as his lackies. I think Claremont intended the same for Robyn.

    I could see that.

    @Matt: And whenever Marvel reprints the CLASSIC X-MEN backups, they tend to only do the Claremont/Bolton stuff, so this one gets left out.

    Yeah, I just did another search just to see if this had popped up anywhere recently, but nada. It's a shame.

    I like the Mr. Sinister we wound up with, but Claremont's original version would have pleased me just as much

    Like Apocalypse being behind Wolverine's skeleton, this is another case where I wouldn't have minded the intended story, but I also don't mind what we exactly got.

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  6. Nathan Adler: So what if the red jewel on the "Mister Sinister" android does not absorb solar energy to provide the needed power for him to function like the Vision (he lived in the basement of the Orphanage which closed off from outside sunlight), but instead absorbed psionic energy from mutants within his vicinity?!

    An immensely intriguing idea, but it gets somewhat damped by the fact that during Claremont's tenure Mr. Sinister didn't sport the red gem but had a black (navy blue?) star/diamond tattoo-like design on his forehead.

    Unless of course he was intentionally hiding the gem at the time lest people would draw on his Cyclops connection too early for his machinations from the ruby quartz look of it.

    Does this further suggest he created the Ruby Quartz glasses because he couldn't have Scott expelling and wasting all that energy; the ruby quartz keeping it contained so young Nate could then drain it?

    Do I tell too much about myself if I point out how much this reminds the Taoists keeping their qi from being lost by avoiding... emitting, while also it bringing me back to the scene of butte sex and Jean holding back his... emission by her vast powers?

    Gosh, a child from such a genetic combo would be of so much value to psionic energy absober like Mister Sinister!

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  7. Incidentally, the "mutants die faster the more they use their powers" introduced in X-Men Forever does sound A LOT like the aforementioned qi and the related jing (which I was actually thinking about earlier, now that I looked it up), "an energetic substance contained in the human body" and "once all this has been expended the body dies". Apparently a longevity towards immortality by the appropriate absorption of said vital energies (a side effect of milky white skin is not mentioned in the Wikipedia article).

    Ah, the things you learn from sex & aeroplanes from mr. Claremont!

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  8. @Teebore: I've always read it that the idea is Sinister (and later, Gambit) are physical manifestations, like astral representations made flesh, and those manifestations were an extension of his psionic powers (while the whole "stuck as a child thing" was just an after effect of his power).
    The problem with this is Claremont clearly stated online that young Nate’s mutant ability was delayed ageing (physical Peter Pan syndrome). Second mutation hadn’t been fully introduced by this stage (people might raise Wolverine’s slow ageing as a second power but I believe it was tied into his animal nature, just like dog’s ageing 7 years for every human year).

    @Anonymous: Claremont has said in interviews that the "real" Marauders, except for Sabretooth, were all in suspended animation while Sinister used their clones as his lackies.
    The problem with this is the original Mutate, Vertigo, was not on ice but still working with the Savage Land at the time the Marauders were in operation.

    @Teemu: An immensely intriguing idea, but it gets somewhat damped by the fact that during Claremont's tenure Mr. Sinister didn't sport the red gem but had a black (navy blue?) star/diamond tattoo-like design on his forehead.
    I wasn’t necessarily referring to the diamond mark on his forehead but the crimson one in his sternum. I suspect it was that one.

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  9. Some of Claremont's finest work. I thought these stories were outright creepy as a kid, and the ending with Scott's potential foster parents lying dead in the snow still gets to me today. I wonder if Claremont has any interest in writing a straightforward horror story, because these stories indicate he has talent for it.

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  10. G. Kendall: I wonder if Claremont has any interest in writing a straightforward horror story, because these stories indicate he has talent for it.

    "By Virtue of Blood!" in Bizarre Adventures #27 should count as one, and of course there's Satana Hellstrom, Daughter of Devil.

    Nathan Adler: I wasn’t necessarily referring to the diamond mark on his forehead but the crimson one in his sternum. I suspect it was that one.

    Ah. I was waylaid by the head gem being not only ruby but being illuminated or emitting energy even in post-Claremont portrayals.

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  11. @Teemu: Ah. I was waylaid by the head gem being not only ruby but being illuminated or emitting energy even in post-Claremont portrayals.
    So thoughts now?

    Mister Sinister was impervious to psionic attacks, like Juggernaut, so I wonder if the gem powering his synthezoid body was a fragment of the ruby gem?

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  12. You just have to drop a word like 'synthezoid' just when I'm pondering about Vision also having a forehead gem and a diamond shape on the chest. It's like they both are from the same production line really.

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  13. @Teemu: We need the script for Sinister's first appearance to determine exactly how Claremont described how he wanted Marc Silvestri to draw him.

    But it's obvious.

    By the way I posted a new article on my blog which I'm sure you'd be interested in:)

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  14. @Nathan Adler: I thought Claremont had said in interviews that all the Marauders were clones, but the real Sabretooth was out there lurking around and was way more badass then the Marauders one.

    I also think it's fun to see how many Clatemont ideas still ended up getting used by other writers. Wolverine getting brainwashed into being a Hand assassin and Gambit being involved with Mister Sinister still saw the light of day.

    I kind of prefer the Frankenstein origin we got for Mr. Sinister, tbh.

    And finally, late congrats to Teebore!

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  15. @angmc42: // I think that resolution needed more pages better than the one-page piece here. //

    Yeah. I liked the story overall — even Robyn's abrupt, unexplained-in-detail transformation and the one-panel reveal of the apparent plane crash — but something about that penultimate page comes off to me as just a little too little.

    Jean embracing Scott with the Phoenix effect also makes no sense. I understand that more recent stories have tied the entity to Jean in some fundamental way, but I didn't think that at the time this was published the Phoenix Force was supposed to have entered her life until #100. Maybe it was Claremont protesting the retcon-revival of a Jean separate from the Phoenix identity rather than as originally conceived and on display in these reprints.

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  16. @Jeff: I didn’t dispute Claremont said that all the Marauders were clones:) just Teebore’s suggestion that all the originals were all on ice since the original Vertigo wasn’t as she was still active in the Savage Land.

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  17. One key to the mystery is solving exactly how Mr Sinister recruited Vertigo, a Savage Land Mutate into the ranks of Marauders. Did they ever retrospectively show it? Was Mr Sinister supposed to have been playing some specific tricks at Antarctica at some point (Apocalypse-related?) or was it rather Claremont homaging the original Brotherhood of Evil Mutants having one (Lorelei) amomg their ranks or planning at a Magneto/Vertigo happy reunion scene during Mutant Massacre which never came to fruition?

    (I read the "How Would You Fix... Limbo", Nathan, now need to get it sink in)

    I kind of like the Victorian scientist Sinister too... though an objecting predating hint from Claremont to that is him being a Mister, rather than Doctor Sinister (oh, Byrne would have gone ballistic!). Unless of course it was a Victorian allusion by himself to dichotomy Doctor Milbury/Mister Sinister. Anyway, if it is a cliche, it is one for a good reason, because it's a powerful image of a mad scientist from the era with one foot still in the world of superstition who did not care of the limits of what is now known as conventional science.

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  18. @Teemu: They never retroactively showed Mister Sinister obtaining the genetic sample of the Savage Land Mutate, Vertigo, so he could clone her to become part of his squad.

    It also hasn't been explained how the Mutates and Morlocks both ended up with a Piper!

    Glad you've had a chance to review my Limbo fix. Once you've had a chance to let it sink in would love you to add a comment there:)

    FYI, my next blog post will be on Mister Sinister's true origin, which should be a week or so away!

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  19. Nathan, I look forward to reading how our Mr Sinister junior is in fact the son of Henry Pym and his first, allegedly late wife Maria Trovaya, whose "Hungarian" geneticist father "Dr. Janos Trovaya" was in fact a British Victorian-era gentleman sporting a fake identity since the end of his association with the Nazis and presumably very proud of his grandson carrying on the family business.

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  20. @Teemu: Oh no it's much more inventive than that;)

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  21. Damn. Would have liked Ultron being the way he is towards his daddy-o because of wanting to be a real boy like his brother, the stupid snot-nosed git who steals people's android designs.

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  22. @Blam- in the next issue, Death explains that Jean was *always* meant to have the Phoenix.

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  23. ... and, the reason why young Nathan Trovaya is a mutant with psionic powers is because of his scientist father's exposure to science (the classic) BUT the reason why he won't grow up is because of the genetical residue of his father's usage of Pym particles has messed up his body's natural growing-up mechanism. Yes. No?

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  24. @Teemu: I laughed so hard. I love it:) You need to post this suggestion as a theory on my just this am posted fix for Mister Sinister's origin on my blog here:
    https://fanfix.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/mister-sinisters-origin

    @Teebore: That link's a welcome to all your commenters here to come and review for themselves too if they have a particular interest in the character:)

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  25. @Nathan: The problem with this is Claremont clearly stated online that young Nate’s mutant ability was delayed ageing

    I did not know that he had stated it that explicitly before.

    just Teebore’s suggestion that all the originals were all on ice since the original Vertigo wasn’t as she was still active in the Savage Land.

    Was she? She first appeared in the Marvel Fanfare Savage Land story, then next appeared alongside the Marauders in all their subsequent appearances. What leads you to believe Mr. Sinister didn't just grab the original from the Savage Land, put her on ice with the rest of the Marauders, and start pumping out clones?

    @Jeff: I also think it's fun to see how many Clatemont ideas still ended up getting used by other writers. Wolverine getting brainwashed into being a Hand assassin and Gambit being involved with Mister Sinister still saw the light of day.

    It is pretty crazy out that works out. The Gambit/Sinister probably was inspired by Claremont's efforts, but the Wolverine one, at least according to Millar, came about completely on its own, which is pretty neat (I guess some ideas are just destined to be written about).

    And finally, late congrats to Teebore!

    Thanks!

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  26. @Teebore: About Claremont stating it explicitly, if you go read my fix I've got the direct interview quotes.

    And the SLM Vertigo was seen separate to the Marauders in mid-1991, plus Claremont later had her as a member of the Mutates while the Marauders were still in operation. So Mister Sinister obviously hadn't required her permanently for decanting.

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