Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Tearoom of Despair's corner of Secret Shame: X-edition!

I still think the Australian X-Men team was the best ever.*

* Of course I'd say that, I was 13 years old at the time, and as leading scienticians have already proved: you are legally required to love the X-Men when you're 13 years old. Those scary physical changes are just a little bit more manageable when there is the distinct possibility they may give you the ability to fly, or run faster than the speed of light, or pick up ice cream trucks and throw them across town.

But those years when the X-Men lived in a whole town full of treasure, ghosts and fast motor-cycles, those were the years for me. Over the years that he steered the X-books, Chris Claremont had a nice habit of tearing the whole team apart and scattering them to the winds, only to have them reform to deal with some unimaginable menace. In the three years leading up to 1987's Fall of the Mutants storyline, leading characters had been crippled, lost in time or buggered off to join some other super team.

So when they all got together against another massively powerful demon who threatened to eat Dallas, it was definitely a case of the band coming back together. One faked death later, a quick establishing of a new, mysterious and exotic base, and a couple of costume changes, and the team was set.

At my most geekily pedantic, I try to remember who was an official X-Man at different times, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit I have literally wasted hours pondering this inane idea. But it's not as easy as it looks. I have been horribly conflicted over when Banshee was officially off the team, while mildly bemused by Angel's status. It usually gets a bit much, and I have to start thinking about something more important. Like the names of every actor who played a Doctor Who companion, and what order they appeared in.

But the Australian team is a cinch, a clearly defined team that almost lasted for two years before Claremont kicked in the sandcastle again. Four male, four female. Storm, Dazzler, Rogue and Psylocke; Havok, Wolverine, Colossus and Longshot. A basic team covering all the skills and abilities that would ever be needed, with a potent mix of sheer power and delicate precision.

There was an aboriginal teleporter up on the hill, odd computer systems in the depths and a teenage runaway girl living in the walls. Genosha made its first appearance and was genuinely horrifying, while Inferno had everybody up against personal and literal demons in an oddly accurate New York/Hell hybrid.

There were natural leaders in Storm and Wolverine, and everybody saved the day at least once. The world thought they were dead, which left the team free to ride in, save the day and fuck right off again. It also meant there was very little interaction with the rest of the Marvel universe, which could get a little frustrating, but was ultimately beneficial for the overall story. It eventually got to the point where it actually was a genuine thrill to see X-Factor and the X-Men finally meet in a demon-filled New York.

Primarily rendered in scratchy magnificence by a young and eager Marc Silvestri, there was also nice art from Rick Leonardi and a couple of others, although the sharpness of Jim Lee and his gorgeous hardbodies made an immediate impact in just one issue.

That Lee-drawn issue is also notable for being the exact point where it all went a bit pear-shaped for the Aussie team. The team had already just lost Rogue, but there was much worse to come. Havok, who was taking his whining to artistic levels, let loose on the bad guy and Storm got caught in the crossfire. The angst got a bit much for everybody involved, and within half a dozen issues, the rest of the team had all taken a magic portal ride into new lives, and Wolverine got nailed to a cross.

Then it all went a bit odd, and there were a couple of years there where there really wasn't any X-Men team. Scattered across the globe, all messed up, inside and out. It wasn't until everybody got back together for a jolly Genoshan adventure in the X-Tinction Agenda that most of the team were reformed, if a bit different. Storm was as magnificent as ever, and Wolverine was just as brutal. Havok went off and sulked for a while, Colossus was back where he belonged at the back of team poses and Psylocke had been all ninja-ed up. Rogue took everything in southern stride, but Longshot and Dazzler went off to do uninteresting things in uninteresting comics.

It all spiralled away from Claremont into the hands of the artists and editors who thought they knew more about writing than the writer, and that led to a decade of dire comics, enough to stain the franchise forever. A few notable attempts to get it on track notwithstanding, the X-Men are still tainted by this immediate past.

Maybe that's why I love the Australian X-Men so much. The comic grew up and we both went our separate ways, and I was off trying to find Hellblazer back issues and sneering at superheroes. But there is always that fucking annoying 13-year-old inside me, with a deep and unwavering love or a bunch of comics published 20 years ago, a status quo that became just another little slice of history.

A slice I still can't help loving.


Patrick said...

I love the Australian era too, and think of that Fall of the Mutants era team as one of the definitive lineups, though you're missing one of the critical people, Maddy Pryor. And, I totally agree about Inferno being a great crossover because it had been built up for forty issues by this point. How long could the X-Men go without seeing Jean? How long will X-Factor think the X-Men are dead? It was a great era for the X-books, and other than the Morrison run, nothing since can match.

Bob Temuka said...

Oh yeah, poor Maddy. She never got a fair deal. At least she got to prove her worth as the team's logistics leader, until she went all demon on it.

Inferno was fucking fantastic, especially after I visited New York a couple of years ago and realised it really was the type of city that could quite happily host a demon invasion and nobody would notice that things were that much different.

But yeah, that fevered anticipation I had leading up to the crossover certainly helps it retain its fondness. Those half page ads they ran before it got going that promised to answer questions and address plots going back years fuelled that anticipation, and its still surprising how much they covered in the crossover.

(Luckily, Claremont still had another eleventy billion plotlines to stretch out...)

But I can still remember exactly where I was when I read the X-Factor issue that had Wolverine show up at the end, more than 20 years later. After just missing each other for more than three years of stories, it really was a big moment.

Unknown said...

I don't know if you've read the new Scott Pilgrim yet, but there's a scene in it that gave me deja vu when I read this, because Scott has a little monologue that's almost exactly like this blog post, in which he talks about how the Australian X-Men were awesome. What a weird coincidence.

Also, if you you're not already aware of this, my buddy Jason Powell has a series going at geoffklock.blogspot.com in which he's examining the entire Claremont era of X-Men, one issue at a time. So far, he's up to about #195, but he'll get to this stuff in time. Me, I've pretty much only read through the John Byrne years of the series, so I missed out on all of the 80s material. Maybe I'll read it someday (but I doubt it).

Nik said...

Oddly the Aussie era is when I first drifted away from the X-Men (and never really came back, although I've bought occasionally since then). I liked parts of it, particularly the whole desperate nobody-left-standing vibe of it all, but never quite cared for the scratchy Silvestri art. My "classic" X-Men era is the whole Paul Smith/Romita Jr. run up to about #200 I think. Your first X-era is always your fave I guess.

Bob Temuka said...

Oh yeah, I've been following Jason's series since it began. It's fascinating reading, along with Patrick's own posts on the same comics at his own blog.

I know these comics are a bit stupid, but I still care about them, and intelligent commentary and analysis is always good for you.

I really don't care about the comics Not Blog X has been covering, but I still check out the blog every single day, because it's thorough, explains stuff that had always slightly bugged me and can be very, very funny.

Unknown said...

Oh yeah, Not Blog X is required reading for me, because that was the era where I started reading X-Men, and thus associate with my teenage years. I don't look back on that stuff too fondly though; it was pretty crappy.

Bob Temuka said...

Absolutely, Nik. I drifted away at the exact moment the Image boys set up their outfit, but that was more to do with the fact that I was 18 than anything that was happening in the comics.

Mind you, the first X-Men comics I remember reading were the last few Byrne issues when I was about five years old, but they never really clicked. I still think the best X-period is when you're a young teenager, trapped in that most awkward of phases.

Bob Temuka said...

It wasn't a pretty crappy period, Matthew. It was unimaginably awful. But there are still tiny bits that are a little bit charming, and the esteemed Mr Kendall at Not Blog X is very good at digging them out.

Tegan O'Neil said...

You have distilled everything I used to love about the X-Men into one wonderful post. The Australia years are my favorite, too. Inferno was amazing, considering that it really and truly was the culmination of at least five years' worth of plotlines in all three X-titles - and on the periphery they even managed to shoehorn in a new Avengers line-up, a status quo change for the Hobgoblin, and one of the weirdest Power Pack storylines ever.

I've always been a fan of Acts of Vengeance, but as cool as the idea of that crossover was, Inferno was the state-of-the-art.

Bob Temuka said...

And it was genuinely spooky. People weren't just killed in Inferno, they could be transformed into strange and grotesque creatures, or turn to steam, or newspaper, or movie characters.

And one of the best things about Inferno were the tie-ins. The connections between titles were so loose, but it didn't matter, because they all just showed various effects of the events on New York.

The results were pretty damn weird, and ranged from geeks holing up in Forbidden Planet in Excalibur, or Spidey punching demons into dust in the offices of the Daily Bugle.

Ann Nocenti's Daredevil issues were the best. The few issues she tied into the crossover, drawn by John Romita Jr, were superb. And insane.