X-Men: Second Team

School begins tomorrow for me, so I've decided to crank out another one of these blogs before I have zero free time on my hands. My focus this time around will be Team #2 of the X-Men and a couple of the adventures that they had during the series. Again, this contains spoilers for anyone who planned on reading Giant-Size X-Men #1 and X-Men #94-117.

The beginning of something special

The first event for the new X-Men team begins in a giant-sized issue which I found to be very appropriate considering the amount of origin stories that needed to be covered. Professor Xavier is recruiting new members to the X-Men, and this time he widens the search to an international level. Everyone on the new team is from a different country. This change was the biggest for me because I got to see how mutation affected people outside of the United States. Many of the prospective mutants are reluctant to leave their decent lives in their own countries to follow some psychic bald man in a wheelchair to America. The one most willing to follow Xavier in my opinion would have to be Nightcrawler, whose choices were to either come to America and start fresh or be beaten to death and set on fire by angry villagers in Germany. The two mutants who I thought were most hesitant to join Xavier were Thunderbird and Colossus. Thunderbird is a Native American so he was of course taught that the white man is evil. Despite those feelings, Xavier manages to convince the poor young man to join him in his quest to save the world. Thunderbird of course finds out quickly what happens when you disregard the warnings of your people, but that won't be covered until later. Colossus was living the simple life in Russia before he was approached by Xavier and persuaded to leave behind his family to pursue the unknown in America. I don't know what else Xavier told these mutants to get them to join, but the stuff he said on-panel in the comics just didn't seem like enough to convince these adults to drop everything they were doing to help him fight evil. The conversations went something like this:

Xavier - "You have a gift that should be used responsibly. A greater calling awaits you."

Mutant - "But my family...my life here in my own country..."

Xavier - "Don't worry about that. I'm your family now. You'll get to visit your home country every 50 issues or so."

Mutant - "Well...You seem to know what you're talking about...I have complete faith in you."

Xavier - *whispers* "You've still got it Charles, more mutant fodder for my dream."

Mutant - "What was that?"

Xavier - "I said great adventures await for you and the rest of my team."

The other two new mutants that haven't been covered are Storm and Wolverine. Storm really didn't have much to lose when Xavier called her up. She was living the nomadic life as an idol of worship to distressed Africans. All she had to lose was her image as an icon at home. Sure people wouldn't recognize her in America, but was that really as bad as leaving an entire family behind? Wolverine's recruitment for me was the most hilarious scene in this entire first issue. No, it wasn't his dialogue that got me or his actions. It was the costume. I had always assumed that the yellow and blue spandex costume was given to Wolverine by Xavier once he got to the school. Yet here I am reading this issue with Xavier venturing to Canada hoping to get Wolverine on his team, and he walks in wearing that outfit. I'm thinking to myself, "Wait, wait, wait, Wolverine was wearing this bright costume during his tenure with Department H (or whatever their Canadian organization is called)? Isn't he an assassin or some kind of undercover agent? Who's he sneaking up on wearing that?" After getting over the shock of Wolverine's costume, I came to the decision that my favorite character was a tie between Storm and Nightcrawler because they are both so tolerant of everyone else and the latter likes to crack jokes (and I like jokers). There were also some human allies for the X-Men during this time as well: Dr. Moira MacTaggert, the Scottish geneticist and former lover of Xavier, and Dr. Peter Corbeau, a space scientist i think. Before I go on, I would also like to mention that there were two other members on the team, Banshee and Sunfire, but they weren't really new since they were around back in the old issues.

Once the new team is assembled, it is revealed that their first mission is to rescue the old team (whaaaat??) and the person leading them is none other than Cyclops. Even with the new additions to the X-Men, I still consider Cyclops to be a cool character. Now he is in the midst of other cool characters (Angel who?). In short, the first team was kidnapped by a living mutant island called Krakoa that wanted to drain their lifeforce and Team #2 was sent in to rescue them. After everyone returns from the near-death experience, all of the original team plus Sunfire decide that maybe they are all risking too much for Xavier and leave the mansion. Xavier is hurt for a second but then remembers that he just put together a replacement team and gets over losing his originals real quick. Sunfire was an arrogant douche anyway so he was no real loss to the team. Cyclops decides to stay because he believes that a regular life is impossible for him and his deadly eyes which puts a monkey-wrench in his relationship with Jean, whose had all she can take of Xavier's deadly antics. The final new team, therefore, consists of Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Banshee, Thunderbird, and Wolverine. By the way, all of this takes place in the giant-sized issue. There was a lot going on in that book. The series continues into issue #94 onward. Remember when I mentioned that Thunderbird went against the advice of his people? Well, he gets killed two issues into the series during their second mission. I was shocked to see a character killed so early on and immediately knew that this would set the tone of the series for a while. I guess when you have a team as huge as this one though, you can afford to kill off one person. I'm just glad it wasn't Storm, the only black person on the team. She would have been a death magnet if this was a horror movie, however, thankfully this comic saw potential in her character. I felt that maybe Thunderbird had more to offer as well because he was the most insecure member on the team and thought that he needed to prove himself. Apparently his days were numbered the moment he said yes to Xavier, and I'm left to wonder if he would have ever been able to mesh with the team.

"She's so powerful!!!"

Despite her withdrawal from the team, Jean spends much of her time with the X-Men and Cyclops. The point of her leaving the team was so that she could get away from all of the danger that comes with being an X-Men, yet she hangs around with the danger magnet and eventually gets caught up in a dangerous situation. There's this guy, Dr. Steven Lang, and he hates mutants. His solution: continue Bolivar Trask's work and launch those sentinels to save humankind. As a result, half of the X-Men team plus poor Jean are whisked away to a space station. It is during this battle that the reader (not me because I already knew) discovers the claws on Wolverine are a part of him not his costume. There's also a little Jean and Wolverine interaction that I found humorous as well. Something happens to Dr. Lang (I can't remember right now), but the X-Men are left with a space shuttle that is on a death plunge to Earth. All seems lost until one person steps up to take one for the team. But who? Jean, the only person besides Dr. Corbeau (who I believe was also on this flight) who wasn't a member of the X-Men, sacrifices herself by going into the cockpit, safely flying the shuttle to Earth, and shielding her friends from the same radiation that she is absorbing in lethal doses. The shuttle makes it back to the planet but crashes into the water. Everyone survives the crash except for poor Jean...but wait out of the water comes Jean in a poppin' fresh new outfit!!! What's happening? How is she alive? What's this space costume? Of course much later we all learn that this isn't really Jean, but that's too complicated for me to try to explain now in detail with so much more still to cover. She's also calling herself Phoenix now (powerful sounding name to go with those new powers i suppose).

I would like to take some time now to discuss a serious condition to one of the X-Men. I will call it CHS known by its full name as "Character Handicap Syndrome". This occurs in characters with the potential to be really powerful and who are considered by readers to be complete beasts when at their best. To counteract this high potential, an extremely significant flaw has to be added to weaken the character. In X-Men, CHS affects Storm who fits the description for this affliction perfectly. She has weather powers that can be pushed to ridiculous limits, she knows how to pick locks, she has fighting skills especially with knives, and she has leadership qualities on par with Cyclops. But that's too much good for one character, so she has to deal with a condition that completely debilitates her. A condition called claustrophobia, which according to scientist, means that a person gets freakishly uncomfortable in enclosed spaces or even when the threat of an enclosed space is present. Storm's CHS comes into play when the X-Men are chillin' in Ireland at Banshee's stone castle fortress. It becomes apparent early that Storm is uncomfortable and feels trapped within the stone residence, but it's not until Banshee's evil cousin Black Tom Cassidy shows up and attacks the X-Men that Storm freaks out entirely. He says these few words (cheap paraphrasing): "This place shall be your tomb." After that, it's as if someone had shot Storm with a "super-useless" dart off-panel because that's what she becomes afterwards. She gets beat up with the rest of the X-Men who do not appreciate her lack of participation at all. The message is clear to all readers: "Sure Storm is cool and powerful, but once you toss her in a closet she becomes as useless as Angel was on the first team" (the horror at that thought). Thankfully, the fate of the X-Men did not ride entirely on whether Storm would be able to function or not and they manage to escape. Two other events happen while Storm was having her breakdown. Cyclops says "no" to Xavier *gasp* when the Professor tells him to get the steppin' over to Ireland and rescue the team. Cyclops replies with something along the lines of: "I would follow your crazy orders any other time, but my lady is in the hospital and no amount of telepathic death threats from you can persuade me to leave her side. The X-Men are on their own this time, homeboy." Again, the X-Men were capable of handling themselves so no harm done. The other event is when Nightcrawler is knocked out for a while and gets carried off by elves. "Why elves and why now?" Those were my questions and I've made my own answers to them. Maybe Nightcrawler was supposed to discover his true origins here and maybe now because Ireland is famous for its magical miniature folk. It was probably better that it did just happen and pass without too much thought put into it because it was pretty random.

Some other goodies that went down in these issues was that Xavier's space soul-mate, Lilandra, came to Earth and stayed at the mansion with the X-Men. Lilandra comes from a race of aliens called the Shi'ar who have an entire empire on the other side of the universe. She is the youngest of three siblings who are in line for the Shi'ar crown and her other two siblings are kinda crazy. The oldest sibling and current emperor, D'Ken, doesn't take too kindly to people who are trying to escape from his domain and makes efforts to capture Lilandra and bring her back to space. She does indeed get kidnapped and returned to the Shi'ar, but the X-Men aren't too far behind thanks to the powers of Phoenix. Phoenix is able to power a star-gate that gets the entire team into space (yet again) and the Shi'ar Empire. It is learned that D'Ken wants to use a space gem called the M'Kraan Crystal as a means to boost his power and control the entire cosmos. Phoenix saves the day again by restoring balance within the Crystal. Keep in mind that while this is all happening, Phoenix still isn't part of the team. There are some important space teams that are introduced during this encounter including the Shi'ar Imperial Guard and the Starjammers led by Cyclops' father (dun dun dun). More on that some other time. Phoenix finally accepts that she spends more time with the X-Men now than she did when she was a member before and decides to rejoin the team.

"No, not again."

The final part of this reflection deals with the fake-death of the team. Why fake-death you ask? Well read on buddy and find out. So Magneto is tired of the X-Men and he can't figure out why he is constantly losing to them. His anger and lust for revenge lead him to kidnap the X-Men and take them to his secret underground volcanic base in the Antarctic. Because good always defeats evil in the end, the X-Men escape but not before completely destroying the base. Magneto safely retreats while Jean and Beast (he wanted in on the action I guess) get separated from the rest of the X-Men. This leads to some fake-death hijinks for many issues. Jean thinks the X-Men are dead and the X-Men believe Jean to be dead. Of course, the X-Men aren't really dead but instead end up in the Savage Land. The team barely gets any rest before they are tasked with saving the prehistoric domain from an eternal winter and a crusty cave man named Garokk. The X-Men also have to deal with Sauron the Were-Pterodactyl who is still trying to absorb the lifeforce of mutants. Sauron is set straight by the team, winter is prevented, and Garokk is defeated and left to die by Storm who can't save him because of a cave-in that triggers her CHS. Now it is apparent to the reader that the X-Men are still alive, but Jean is unaware and tells the Professor that he has lost yet another team. Xavier must have been too traumatized by the news to realize that he didn't feel their deaths telepathically like he usually would and takes Jean's word for it. Maybe the team was out of range for his psychic calls, or maybe Xavier was too busy with his space lady and wasn't paying attention to what was happening to the X-Men. He's devastated so when Lilandra offers him a chance to leave his unfair world behind for life in space with her, he gladly accepts. Jean follows his example and leaves the mansion to go on some kind of X-Men memorial trip across Europe.

So that was about twenty-something issues in a nutshell, yet this blog is getting longer than my first one. The reason is because more happened in these issues that was relevant than in all 66 first issues of the series and I didn't even cover everything. The level of storytelling is top-notch compared to what I had to deal with before. Also, there was no Angel and that's always a positive. I liked that there was so much more individuality with these characters compared to the original team and I would also like to give props to the Claremont/Cockrum (later Byrne) team for providing me with a comic that was nice to look at and read. The stories only get better from here, but I won't do any more coverage here.

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