Monday, January 7, 2013

BAB Classic: Born Only to Die?

X-Men #95 (October 1975)"Warhunt!"
Chris Claremont-Dave Cockrum/Sam Grainger

NOTE:  This post was originally published in March 2010.

Doug: Welcome back to the conclusion of our look at the first "regular" (albeit bi-monthly) adventure of the All-New, All-Different X-Men. When last we saw our favorite mutants, they'd been blasted out of the Blackbird by the missiles of Count Nefaria - recent appropriator of the weapons of Valhalla Mountain. If the team makes it safely down, they'll have to contend with a doomsday clock Nefaria has set, threatening to unleash the entire USA missile inventory. It's certainly a precarious situation as we join the X-Men in mid-fall!

Doug: In the midst of the freefall, Cyke barks out orders to Storm and Banshee to grab X-Men and carry them down. An interesting nugget is revealed about Nightcrawler as Cyclops orders him to teleport himself to safety. We learn that Nightcrawler must exit at the same velocity he enters, so in effect he'd go "splat" no matter what -- I have to wonder... was this a Claremont idea, or did it come from Dave Cockrum, Nightcrawler's creator?

Karen: I definitely think the Nightcrawler 'physics lesson' was a Claremont bit - the guy is a science fiction buff and science geek. But does it make any sense to you that Nightcrawler, a guy probably with no formal education at all, would be spouting stuff about the the Law of Conservation of Energy? Why not just say, "When I teleport, I retain the speed I started with" or something like that? It just felt out of character.

Doug: I agree. It was almost like someone else had told him the explanation at some point. You're probably spot on about his education, as it's my impression that Nightcrawler never mutated -- he was born with those elfish looks.

Doug: We see some bitterness (mid-air bickering is great, isn't it?) directed from Colossus toward Wolverine, and Colossus tells that he can get down on his own. His is certainly the best landing. Eventually all mutants make it back to terra firma and are accounted for. Thunderbird wastes no time in getting under Cyclops' skin, referring again to him as "One-Eye". I'll say again that Claremont had his finger on the pulse of this team in the same manner that Stan and Jack had the Fantastic Four all those years ago. Nightcrawler is ordered to teleport inside the mountain, and does so.

Karen: In these early issues, Colossus certainly seemed very self-assured. How could he know he would survive such a fall? Were they trying to show his bravery, or even a little cockiness?

Doug: One could argue that the Soviet government had tested his limits -- after all, if Piotr's brother was a cosmonaut, they would have known about him. But then, that doesn't make sense, because when Xavier came to ask him for his assistance, the word "defection" was never used. Curious...
Doug: Once inside the mountain, Nightcrawler is engaged by Frog-Man of Nefaria's Ani-Men and promptly insults him by referring to him as Herr Frosch. A simple teleport to the rear, a solid shot to the jaw, and Nightcrawler was on his way again. Triggering a door in the mountainside, Kurt is reunited with the team. Entering the mountain, however, proves dangerous as Nefaria attacks the X-Men first with gas, then with entranced Air Force troops.

Karen: Nightcrawler's easy defeat of Frog-Man is pretty much what I would expect for all the Ani-Men. They are completely out-classed. But this is only the third outing for the team, so we'll roll with it. We get a very good example of how powerful Storm is when she creates a flood in the base (!) to wash away all those hypnotized troops. I love the expression Cockrum drew on her face - amused and pleased with herself. Behind her, it's obvious that Cyclops is realizing that these new X-Men of his are a big change from his old buddies.

Doug: I thought Cockrum's art was better in this issue than last, perhaps because of the inks of Sam Grainger (Grainger had done a bang-up job over Sal Buscema in Avengers in the late 1960's). It still wasn't as good as I'd seen of Cockrum in other stories (later X-Men, Legion, and his short but fine run on the Avengers), but it was better than #94.

Doug: Shortly after Storm disperses the soldiers, the Ani-Men attack en masse. It's a good chance to again showcase the abilities of the team, and the Ani-Men match up well in terms of powers. The X-Men prove victorious when they switch off their natural enemies, and do some cross-butt-kicking (with a little teamwork thrown in here and there). Once the dust settles, it's apparent that Banshee and Thunderbird are going to have to sit out the next step, as they were knocked out by Gort the Gorillaman. So it's off to find the Count!

Karen: "Gort" - you know those guys had seen The Day the Earth Stood Still! But I love a good gorilla. Nefaria is such a wimp here, really doing next to nothing in the story; but I guess that's what masterminds do -they leave the dirty work for their henchmen.

Doug: And don't think Nefaria didn't know they were coming! Nefaria makes it into a Marine Harrier and takes off. Banshee and Thunderbird, freshly awakened, pursue and Thunderbird leaps onto the plane as it roars out of the hangar. Banshee takes to the air, screaming at John Proudstar to let go and let Banshee catch him. Thunderbird refuses, and pounds the cockpit in an attempt to get at Nefaria. Meanwhile, the other X-Men have reached the control room and attempt to disable Nefaria's countdown to missile release. Suddenly, Professor Xavier psychically contacts Cyclops to inform him that the battle with the Ani-Men had destroyed the launch capability. He also tells the team to get out to assist Banshee.

Karen: Yeah, you know things are not going to turn out well.

Doug: Finally bursting through the cockpit, Thunderbird bashes the controls until the jet begins to spiral out of control. As Xavier confronts him in an effort to implore him to get off the plane, Thunderbird defiantly continues his assault. Soon the jet explodes, apparently killing both Proudstar and Nefaria. On the ground a horrified Banshee tells Cyclops how he begged Thunderbird to get off, but he would not. A single red feather clings to the wreckage, now strewn across a ravine. 

Doug: I felt the ending of this story was a little rushed. The build-up was done well, and an appropriate amount of time was given to the jet scene to enhance the drama. However, I thought that finishing the scene with three panels where Cyclops is quite callous toward the death of a teammate, and then the team apparently turning to just walk off into the sunset, was not only in poor taste but seemingly done without much emotion. To be blunt, it was a real downer on top of a real downer -- and I felt that way even when I first read this as a 9-year old.
Karen: Due to the vagaries of the comics distribution system back then, I didn't actually get to read this issue until many years later. All I knew was I opened up issue 96 and Thunderbird was dead. Whaaat??? Although he'd only been around a couple of issues, I really liked the character, in part because my grandmother was Sac and Fox Indian and I'd never seen an Indian superhero before, so it seemed really cool. But to find out he was was a big time bummer.

Karen: But I did eventually read the story itself, and it still left me cold. Sure, the guy had feelings of inadequacy, and he was a troubled Viet Nam vet, but why kill himself? It was only when I began to read interviews with Claremont and Cockrum that I learned the truth: Thunderbird was killed because he was redundant. I pulled out my copy of The X-Men Companion volume 1, and in the Dave Cockrum interview, when asked about Thunderbird's death, he had this to say:"We didn't know what to do with Thunderbird because we never thought him out. It was easier to kill him off than think him out." When asked about if he was too similar to Wolverine, Cockrum responded, "He duplicated both Wolverine (and Colossus)...Almost everybody in the group did something he did, and he seemed kind of superfluous." The shock value of killing off a character so early in the book was also mentioned as a factor. This I think owes a large part to what Gerry Conway did with killing Gwen Stacy. Remember, Gwen's death had only occurred a couple of years prior, and was considered shocking at the time. After that, it seemed like everybody was killing off characters.

Doug: This was my first issue of X-Men, and to be honest I can't remember if I'd seen Amazing Spider-Man #'s 121-122 at this point. Regardless, the death was indeed shocking to me. I wonder if they'd chosen to make Thunderbird the champion of mutant civil rights, how he'd have grown. Obviously the backstory of the history of Native Americans would have tied in nicely, as would his deep mistrust of the federal government. I did think that the epilogue to this in X-Men 96 was good, and somewhat of a tribute to Thunderbird's loss. Perhaps we'll get to that issue someday.

Karen: That's an interesting thought. I had a different idea: what if Thunderbird had just quit the team in issue 95, when he got in the fight with Cyclops, and years later he wound up being recruited by Magneto? I think it would have opened some intriguing story possibilities -former ally turned enemy and that sort of thing. He certainly had enough anger in him to "go to the dark side". Now his younger brother is running around in the X-Men black ops group, X-Force, as Warpath. I haven't seen much of him but his look is reminiscent of his brother's.


J.A. Morris said...

Thanks for this review of 94 & 95.

I didn't read these until 1980,I learned about Thunderbird's death in X-men #138(Cyclops' flashback issue).
I didn't find the character too interesting, but I felt bad when I learned that Nefaria survived. It's one thing to die and take out a villain, another thing to die for naught.
I'm sorry to admit that when I first read this I thought the Ani-men were cool! I quickly bought all their Daredevil appearances and was disappointed to learn that prior to their involvement with Nefaria, they were just thugs in animal suits with no superpowers.
I love the blog, will post more comments in the future!

Edo Bosnar said...

Like J.A. Morris, I first heard of Thunderbird in X-men 138, but when I managed to borrow X-men GS and the first few 'new' issues from an older fan a little later, I thought the original T-bird was an awesome character. As you guys pointed out in your post, there was potential for some really great storylines using him, and Wolverine definitely could have used some competition as the X-men's resident grumpy bad-ass.

MaGnUs said...

About Colossus knowing he can take the fall... well; first of all, he knows a multi-ton tractor can't hurt him at full speed; and second, he's had some Danger Room training, as minimal as it might have been. He has something to work with.

As for Thunderbird, they almost killed Wolverine from what I hear. Imagine if Thunderbird had stayed around to battle ninjas and be an immortal Native American? :) Making him turn to the dark side and join Magneto would have been too obvious; I think Claremont made a great move by having gentle-soul-but-disappointed-in-the-dream Colossus join them in Fatal Attractions.

His brother, Warpath, pretty much fills in the "angry at white men male Indian" spot John Proudstar left, when the New Mutants were introduced and James was brought in as part of the Hellions sometime later; there was space for a lot more mutant characters in the X-Men part of the Marvel Universe. He still fills his brother spot as the angry powerhouse. Colossus-with-Wolverine's-rage-and-senses. They even gave him a pair of Vibranium knives to make up for his lack of claws...

Karen said...

Welcome J.A., glad you are enjoying me and Doug's little retro-home. And thanks all for the comments! We like it to be more interactive.


Edo Bosnar said...

Don't have anything substantive to add to my comments from almost 2 years ago (above) or last week, but I did notice something I didn't the first time around: Herr Frosch. Is that really an insult? I mean, the guy's called Frog-man anyway; to me, 'Mr. Frog' is actually an improvement...

Karen said...

Geez, I guess we talked out everything we had to say about this two parter the other day??

Well then I'll just go ahead and hijack the thread, and bring this up: I was sorry to hear that writer Peter David had suffered a stroke over the holidays. Apparently he is recovering and even working a little on his books, which is good news. I'd like to wish him a speedy and full recovery!

Anonymous said...

Regarding X-Men 95... I read the issue when it came out. I loved the original X-Men when I first encountered them, probably just a few years prior to this issue. My favorite wss Cyclops, so I was thrilled he stuck around when the others departed. Ironically, part of the reason he was my favorite X-Man was because he was noted for giving orders while falling out of an airplane (see X-Men #85, which reprinted #37).

Anyway, to my point: I LOVED the first few pages of #95, with Cyke falling, and saved at the last moment! Part of the appeal of that was Cyke's thoughts as he fell, and part was the way Dave Cockrum drew the scene... with Cyclops' awesome pirate boots blowin' in the wind!


Edo Bosnar (a.k.a. Herr Frosch) said...

Ric, Cyke giving orders while falling out of an airplane (one that had just exploded, to boot) is just one of the many reasons he's my favorite X-man.

Karen, re: Peter David. Yeah, saw the news on a number of other comic blogs and comics-related sites. It is indeed troubling and scary. Best wishes to him for a full recovery.

J.A. Morris said...

I always liked the very vague cover copy here:
"You must read WARHUNT!"

William said...

This story always bums me out because Thunderbird was actually my favorite member of the "All New, All Different X-Men". I thought it was mistake to permanently get rid of him so soon. Especially since the book was supposed to promote racial and cultural diversity.

In fact, they pretty much dumped all the minority characters (except Storm) right away. After being included in GS X-Men #1, Sunfire (the Asian mutant) quits the team immediately, and then T-Bird (the Native American mutant) is killed off a couple of issues later as well. We are then left with a really culturally diverse team of white people and one African American Woman. Nightcrawler doesn't count because blue demon elf isn't a really an actual race, and also, if he suddenly lost his mutation I suspect he'd be white as well.

And you can't tell me a talented writer like Chris Claremont couldn't have come up with some way to make one of the only Native American super heroes ever created interesting.

I would have loved to see Thunderbird grow as a character with the rest of the team. To have developed friendships and rivalries with the other members. Imagine the interesting scenes they could have done between him and Alpha Flight's Shaman? What would his role have been in the Dark Phoenix Saga? Would we have had a story called "Thunderbird Alone"? That would have been cool. I think that if you take that much time to create a character, you should at least give him half a chance to develop a fan following before you just kill him off.

Karen said...

Interesting thoughts William. You're dead right, though, except for Storm it was a bunch of white dudes, although culturally, they are from all over the globe, so I guess it counts for something.

Another thing that was intriguing about Thunderbird (to me anyway) is that he was a Viet Nam vet. That's something else they really could have played with. Who besides the Punisher was a vet back then? Of course, it would date him terribly, and I am sure the whole thing has been ret-conned out of existence (just like Ororo's connection to the Six Day War). But it certainly would have given him something to help him stand out from the others.

As far as Cyclops goes, he was just a great leader back in the day. i think he was second only to Cap then. He was level-headed, a great tactician, but cared deeply about his people.

Fred W. Hill said...

Hmmm, at the beginning the New X-Men had 3 malcontents -- Sunfire, Thunderbird & Wolverine -- but by the end of this story Wolverine had the bad boy status to himself and at this point I doubt Claremont had yet figured out (or accepted Byrne's idea) that Logan was well over 100 years old with lots of experience. Wolverine all by his lonesome was more of a heavy load for Cyclops to deal with than Pietro & Hawkeye were for Cap in the Kooky Quartet days.
Also it occurs to me that not only did this story take place just a couple of years after Gwen Stacy's death, but the Swordsman dramatically bit the dust only about a year before. You could still be sure the really big name superheroes and baddies wouldn't really die, but increasingly we couldn't be too sure about supporting characters who once seemed too integral to kill off. Of course, these days anyone can get killed off. Staying dead is another issue altogether.

Anonymous said...

Magnus, Colossus knew he would survive the impact from that height due to past experience (or Soviets testing his abilities like you said). In fact, I have several issues where Claremont (it seemed to be a favourite line of attack) has him dropping out of the Blackbird, transforming in midair, and slamming into the ground like an armored bomb. He's almost always depicted as coming out of the impact crater he's formed, unharmed and ready to fight!

As for Nightcrawler's "Law of conservation of energy" speech, that sounds like Claremont all the way. Dave Cockrum designed the costumes, but here it's clearly Claremont's voice. I agree that it sounds totally out of character for Nightcrawler.

By the way, it's common knowledge that ol' pointy ears was Dave Cockrum's favourite X-man. Doug mentioned it already, but it is intriguing to speculate how much more popular Nighcrawler would have been if Cockrum had not left the series soon after.

Yes, I did find it was shocking that they killed of Thunderbird so early, but hey, I guess Claremont & co figured, "aw well, too much to plot, let's kill him off!"

Cyclops did grieve for Thunderbird - it was shown in the very next issue, #96; Claremont did a bang up job depicting Cyclops' reaction to John Proudstar's death - true to from, Cyclops walks alone in the forest, thinking all the while of his death, internalizing it, then lashing out with his optic beams in a fit of anger. Great stuff.

- Mike 'Claremont's classic X-men is the best mutant team ever' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Edo Bosnar said...

Karen, Cyke was "second only to Cap?" Hmmm, I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree...

Anonymous said...

Nightcrawler's comment isn't correct anyway. The longer he waits to teleport, the greater his velocity will be. If he immediately teleported, he might get
some bruises; by waiting he ensures death. Typical bad Claremont writing.

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