Three guys talking about comic books, sports, movies, TV shows and the numerous other pastimes that make us Gentlemen of Leisure.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

X-amining Marvel Team-Up #100

"And Introducing Karma! She Possess People!" / "Cry -- Vengeance!"
December 1980

In a Nutshell
The first appearance of future New Mutant Karma

Writer/Co-Creator: Chris Claremont
Artist/Co-Creator: Frank Miller, John Byrne (2nd Story)
Artist/Embellisher: Bob Wiacek, Bob McLeod (2nd Story)
Letterer: A Kawecki
Colorist: Carl Gafford, Robbie C. (2nd Story)
Editor: Denny O'Neil
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
Spider-Man is possessed by an unseen figure and made to attack a party hosted by General Coy. The Fantastic Four are in attendance, and defend Coy against Spider-Man. When Spider-Man gets the better of them, Coy's nephew Tran secretly intercedes, breaking Spider-Man's possession. The FF take him to the Baxter Building, where a scan reveals evidence of the possession. Mr. Fantastic contacts Professor X, who confirms the presence of a new mutant in the city. The FF & Spider-Man track the mutant to a church, where they encounter a young woman named Xi'an. She tells the heroes of her childhood in and flight from Vietnam, and how her criminal uncle General Coy and her twin brother Tran have taken her younger siblings hostage in order to force her to work for them. It was they whom she was attempting to rescue using Spider-Man (who she believed to be a criminal, thanks to news reports). The FF & Spider-Man agree to help Xi'an, but when they attack Coy, Tran, who shares Xi'an's mutant ability, takes control of the Fantastic Four and pits them against Spider-Man. This forces Xi'an to use her power to counter her brother's, ultimately killing him. Accepting she shares some her brother's darkness, Xi'an christens herself Karma and is reunited with her siblings, as the FF & Spider-Man marvel at her power.

2nd Story
Storm is shot by an assassin but only slightly injured. She forces the shooter to tell her who sent him. In turns out to be Andreas De Ruyter, a man she fought alongside the future Black Panther as a young adult. She proceeds to the Wakandan embassy, reunited with Black Panther for the first time since they both were children. The pair discover De Ruyter is living in a mansion in Long Island. Breaking in, they're confronted by a massive robot with De Ruyter's voice. After destroying it, they discover De Ruyter dead; he had been psychically linked to the robot, and its destruction killed him. Marveling at how De Ruyter wasted his life on vengeance, the two heroes part, still sharing affection for one another following their time together as children, but accepting they can never be more than friends.

Firsts and Other Notables
The main story in this issue features the first appearance of Karma (aka Xi'an "Shan" Coy Mahn), who will go on to join the New Mutants as part of their inaugural class, though her involvement with the group will be spotty, at best, as she'll be written out of the series early on, and then again after a short stint with the group. As a result, she is one of the few living New Mutants to not "graduate" into X-Force (or another X-team) in the 90s, and will continue to make sporadic appearances (such as in the '94 "Child's Play" X-Force/New Warriors crossover and the '97 Beast limited series) throughout the decade, until the 00s, when she'll start to be appear more regularly in various series.


This issue also lays out Karma’s origin, from her childhood in Vietnam, getting left behind by her uncle and brother, getting attached by Thai pirates on her way to America, up to her uncle’s first attempt to use her younger siblings as leverage to get Karma to work for him.


Karma’s evil twin brother Tran makes his first and last appearance, as Karma kills him in order to save Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four from killing each other. His death inspires her codename, as his darkness becomes part of her.

In addition to Tran, this issue also introduces Karma's evil uncle General Coy (who will maintain a presence as a third-tier X-villain for a number of years, battling the New Mutants & Wolverine, amongst others), and her younger siblings, the twins Leong & Nga, who will rarely exist as characters in their own right but whose well being will be Karma's primary motivation for most of her existence (this story introduces Karma working to save the twins from General Coy; barring the period between this issue and their disappearance during "Mutant Massacre" - with Karma herself missing in action during most of that time - finding/saving her younger siblings will pretty much be Karma's chief motivation in all her appearances).


The second story reveals that Storm and Black Panther encountered one another as twelve-year-olds, forming a bond & affection for one another that lasts into adulthood. This story will later provide the justification for the Storm/Black Panther marriage in the 00s.


Creator Central
A pre-crazy Frank Miller, a month before his first outing as both the writer & artist on Daredevil, draws the main story in this issue, and is also credited as a co-creator, whatever that means (I don’t think he’s considered a CO-creator of Karma). He and Claremont will, of course, later team-up for the seminal Wolverine limited series.

There’s also a note in the credits thanking Ithacon ‘79 for the inspiration - presumably a comic convention at which the creators involved hatched the idea for the story.

The second story comes from Claremont & Byrne, who, in addition to their long run together on X-Men, also had a run together on this series about 40 issues earlier. This issue was on sale around the same time as X-Men #140, so it made it out just before their partnership came to an end.

A Work in Progress
Continuing the trend of the X-Men doing more training and new mutant-detecting in their guest appearances than their own book, when Reed calls Xavier he’s supervising a training session, and Xavier says he was just about to check out the new mutant presence Cerebro detected (that is Karma).


At the end of the first story,  Mr. Fantastic teaches everyone what “karma” means.


Storm picks a door lock; always nice to see her using those skills.


Storm notes that Professor X mind-wiped the assassin who attacked her in order to protect the existence of the X-Men, something he should probably be doing more often to that end (and maybe we should assume he has been...).

Later, Black Panther assures Storm that he used his Avengers Priority status to keep her involvement out of the official report.


That 70s Comic
Hostess Fruit Pie ad!


Austin's Analysis
Chris Claremont is known for rarely letting a character he creates or writes for an extended period of time waste away in comic limbo, but even given that, it seems pretty clear that when creating Karma for this issue (in what is, essentially, a fill-in story, at least for him), he did so with the intent of using her somewhere down the line. It's possible the seeds of the future New Mutants book were already growing in his head (it would be a few years before the series would launch, but Jim Shooter was already pushing for a second X-book, and Byrne was sketching out ideas for potential characters), but regardless, he presents Karma here as a fully formed character, with an extensive background (her deeply tragic & disturbing childhood in Vietnam & flight to America), an arch-enemy (her uncle General Coy), a specific goal (protect her younger siblings) and a character arc (learning to  balance her evil twin brother's darkness with her goodness to become a more effective protector/hero). As much as the Fantastic Four & Spider-Man are involved in this issue, it is very much the brand new Karma's tale, from top to bottom.

The second story is much more slight (especially before it became used as the justification for the dubious Black Panther/Storm marriage) but still kind of fun, mostly for being a somewhat overlooked Claremont/Byrne story. There's some (most likely unintentional) casual racism at work in the idea that two of Marvel's black characters (out of not that many) of course ran into each other in Africa as young adults (because Africa, the continent, certainly isn't huge...) and, in contrast to the main story (which is clearly positioning Karma for something in the future) it's not entirely clear what the point of the story is, but it's tough not to enjoy a little more Claremont/Byrne goodness. All in all, it's a fun, jam-packed celebration of the series' 100th issue, even if its ultimately more relevant to the X-Men than Spider-Man, the ostensible star of the series.

Next Issue
Next week, Wolverine teams up with Nick Fury in Wolverine/Nick Fury: The Scorpio Connection.

6 comments:

  1. How was it possible that Byrne, one of my favorite writers, was able to draw two or more comics PER MONTH in the late 1970s and early 1980s and never miss a issue due to lateness? For the past 30 years that has become increasingly rare. Pencilers can’t even draw nowadays a single book without the need for a fill-in after three issues! Say what you wish about Byrne, but if he didn’t get into fights with editors or co-creafors, he could easily stay forever in a comic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is a semi-recent trend I've noticed, and it's a bummer. Even a book I was looking forward to had to have a fill-in artist for its launch (granted, it was due to a family emergency, which is understandable, but it still felt strange that a new launch had such a short deadline). And I'm always surprised by how close to release some "preview" pencils I see on Twitter from artists I follow are to the actual release. It feels very odd that comics doesn't have a larger buffer zone or a response to delays other than "don't put it out" or "put it out with lesser work".

      Delete
    2. I don't know when that trend started, but it's certainly been going on for a long time. And heck, nowadays even pencilers who can maintain a monthly schedule get punted from title to title by editorial. Mark Bagley comes to mind; over the past few years he's had really short runs on a bunch of titles, rather than sticking it out on one (remember, this guy drew 110 consecutive issues of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, often with a double-shipping schedule). John Romita, Jr. was in a similar situation. I'm not sure what he's been up to at DC, but before he left Marvel, he just kept getting thrown around from book to book for single arcs rather than doing extended runs. And I know Romita said it was the editors who moved him around so much, so I just assume that's been the case with Bagley as well.

      And I'll agree with you on Byrne, Licinio -- whatever else he may be, it's impossible to deny he was a workhorse. I'm reading his Superman stuff for my blog right now, and at present he's writing SUPERMAN, ACTION COMICS, and ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, penciling two of those, and inking one (though he does have fill-ins on art now and then). Whether this overextended him and caused the quality of the work to suffer, however, is another thing...

      Delete

  2. I got this off the spinner rack. The series wasn’t a monthly buy for me — at 9-10 years old, very little was, purely as a practical matter — but that cover sure did its job.

    What a neat hybrid of Ditko and Miller’s own style that splash is. And I think it’s due as much to Wiacek as Miller; the priest’s face in a panel after the fight in the church is so Ditko right down to the brush strokes that it looks not just beyond homaged but beyond swiped. On sale the same month as this was Amazing Spider-Man Annual #14 with Miller’s breakdowns on a Spider-Man / Doctor Strange team-up finished by Tom Palmer that as I recall (and like you’d expect) had some really nice Ditko touches. Matter of fact, I just poked around online and found that while stylistic touches vary at least as much as in this issue a nice splash panel with very Ditko highlights was repurposed as the cover of a later reprint. [Here’s the original art on the Heritage Auctions site.]

    Other art notes:

    I don’t know that it ever registered with me before how quintessentially Frank Miller (of this era) the visual of Karma’s power is but when you see it drawn here, before anyone else took it for a spin, it’s so clearly him.

    Nice use of color and texture on the flashback.

    Three pages during the climactic fight on the ship repeat a layout with the first, horizontal panel holding a medium shot on the same location.

    Moving on…

    Professor X’s asides to the X-Men training in those panels you posted should’ve been telepathic rather than word balloons mixed into the conversation with Reed. And if anyone can multitask, based on general depiction, it’s Xavier, which is weird for Claremont of all people to neglect to show here. Not to mention how clunkily those asides provide exposition on the characters’ powers that readers don’t even need for this story.

    I feel like the possibility of the chemical weapons being responsible for Xi’an and Tran’s powers, as she offhandedly states over her flashback, has to be one of the last such suggestions we get tying mutants’ mutations to atomic-age environmental factors, maybe because the march of time meant characters’ parents would no longer be old enough to hail from a time of less-regulated nuclear activity.

    I had totally forgotten that Xi’an absorbed her brother — and that it was the origin of her codename. Which is a potentially very interesting piece of her psyche, if you’ll pardon the unintentional New Mutants cross-reference, but I don’t recall seeing it brought up again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have vague recollection Tran may have been mentioned in the SPIDER-WOMAN issue(s) with General Coy and Karma.

      Delete
    2. ... and upon checking it up I must report I recollected it wrong. Coy is asking Kingpin to secure Xi'an and her younger siblings for himself from Xavier in SPIDER-WOMAN #46 in a panel that refers to MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL #4.

      Delete

Comment. Please. Love it? Hate it? Am mildly indifferent to it? Let us know!