Monday, January 14, 2013

You Take My Self, You Take My Self Control

Marvel 100th Anniversary Issues


Marvel Team-Up #100

Marvel Team-Up at its 100-issue mark may be arguably showing its age, but it appears to still be a viable product for Marvel at this point in time. Having one character--Spider-Man--carry the book all this time may be a little tiresome to regular readers, but the character has proven to be popular for the run of MTU, and the book has managed to keep the team-up concepts reasonably fresh and its pool of creative talent revolving fairly smoothly.

For its hundredth issue, MTU fits in two stories resulting in a double-sized issue. The first story, which takes up a majority of the pages, is a usually-reliable one-two punch of Spider-Man teaming with the Fantastic Four which is bound to play well on the cover. Yet the story's guest is a curious choice, indeed--Karma, a/k/a Xi-an Coy Manh, who would later become a charter member of the New Mutants when that title is launched just over two years later. Yes, that Karma--remember her? The character who pretty much went nowhere in that book? The character whose power is to possess people and thereby use their memories and abilities to her advantage? And that was always the problem with Karma. When Karma possesses someone, Karma herself, for all intents and purposes, fades into the background--because it's her target who then takes center stage and basks in the limelight of the plot development, while Xi'an is basically a stationary puppeteer for the duration. Tell me--do you ever get excited when the Puppet Master appears in a book? Exactly.

Writer Chris Claremont obviously had high hopes for Karma's launch here, stacking the deck as he does in this story. The format of the title alone is enough to make you wonder what he sees in her, particularly when it almost resembles a sideshow marquee:

That's almost like giving a story the title, "The Torch--He Bursts Into Flame!" Well, alright, so Karma possesses people--so do many other Marvel characters. Xi'an doesn't need such fanfare (along with a plethora of exclamation points) in the title to get us excited about her, does she? Or does she?

At any rate, to make a long story short (i.e., let's zip past a lot of pages where Xi'an, taking possession of Spider-Man and "test-driving" him, is exhilarated at all of the abilities she's discovering in him), Xi'an is trying to find a useful-enough pawn to allow her to liberate her younger brother and sister, Leong and Nga, from the influence of her criminal uncle, General Coy, and her corrupted brother, Tran. She even gets as far as finding them (as Spider-Man) at a charity reception Coy is hosting for sculptress Alicia Masters:

Which of course leads to "Spider-Man's" confrontation with the FF, who are also attending the reception. The FF think Spider-Man has turned bad, and--well, you get the idea. A misunderstanding that leads to a battle, which we've seen countless times before. And Spider-Man does pretty well against the FF, given that the Torch is absent and the other FF members aren't out for blood. And so Coy instructs Tran--who can also possess people but who apparently didn't rate the fanfare Xi'an got--to take control of Spider-Man himself, which he does and thereby bringing the altercation to a halt. The FF then take over and take Spider-Man into custody.

When the FF and Spider-Man compare notes later, they manage to track down Xi'an at a church she's been staying at, and--you guessed it, another battle among allies, but this time with Xi'an possessing the Torch and sending him against Spidey (presumably because we readers weren't treated to that match-up last time). After a few maneuvers are exchanged and some flame bolts are thrown, the FF settle things down and a tearful Xi'an tells her story. After that, a sympathetic FF and a fighting-mad Spider-Man head off to confront Coy and Tran and free Leong and Nga.

Of course, Tran knows which side his bread is buttered on--so when Coy's back is to the wall and he instructs Tran to prove his value to him, Tran doesn't hesitate. After taking Xi'an out of the fight, he harnesses his own power of possession, and...

Well, I hope you're not tired of Spider-Man vs. FF battles yet:

Now, if you were Tran, and it was in the best interests of yourself and your uncle to settle this matter with dispatch, you'd take possession of Spider-Man along with the FF--not leave him in a position to go into action and possibly throw a wrench into your plans, right? But since he blames Spider-Man for setting all of this into motion, Tran insists that Spider-Man's death "be as agonizing as possible," and that the FF be his executioners. Okay, fine--any reason why that can't be done with Spider-Man in thrall? If one of the FF slits my throat while I'm helpless, believe me, I'm still going to find that agonizing.

Again, Spider-Man gives a good accounting of himself, this time against the entire team. It takes another five pages before Spider-Man is finally on the ropes--partly due to the fact that artist Frank Miller is under the impression that all the Invisible Girl knows how to do with her force field powers is to fire "force bubbles," which look as ludicrous and ineffective as they are. But finally, Xi'an re-enters the fight, and attacks the problem at the source, and lethally:

Afterward, with the FF and Spider-Man themselves again, Xi'an reunites with her younger siblings and announces that she's taken the name of "Karma," which represents the joining of her soul with that of Tran in a positive/negative incarnation.  (And yes, she attaches an exclamation point to her name.  Did you have to ask?)

Karma's story really isn't a bad one at its heart, with its elements of family tragedy and despair; in fact, it makes for a splendid team-up story, providing some of the stumbles mentioned here could be shored up or avoided altogether. We do have a nice closing to this 100th issue with the second story, which teams up the Black Panther and Storm and flashes back to how they first met:

"Cry--Vengeance!" is short and sweet, doesn't overstay its welcome, and pairs two familiar characters seamlessly while giving them an interesting and refreshingly ordinary antagonist as a reason for joining forces and investigating their shared threat.  The story also has the dubious distinction of being the silver lining in a double-sized 100th issue which didn't exactly give readers a reason to look forward to the next hundred.

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