Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Kill Or Be Killed

It's been almost thirty years since Marvel shifted toward a more violent posture for its characters, by producing a series of stories in 1986 that tested those waters with crossovers between three main titles:

All coinciding with the company's 25th anniversary--which you might think would be a celebration of the special brand of heroism and entertainment that Marvel's comics and characters brought to the industry, but now gives us a "that was then--this is now" impression. Starting with this raw, brutal murder scene, where a young mutant girl is stalked by a pack of killers from Los Angeles to New York and discovers that her flight has made it possible for her home to become a killing ground.

As the closing caption promises, the scene is a prelude to the so-called "mutant massacre" event that begins in Uncanny X-Men and ripples through several other titles, as the gang of killers known as the Marauders invades the tunnels beneath New York City that give shelter to a large number of homeless mutants known as the Morlocks and begins wiping out countless men, women and children, as they were hired to do by an as-yet unnamed party.

The core group of the Marauders consists of their leader, Scalphunter, a virtual walking arsenal; Scrambler, whose touch can neutralize any mutant's power; Harpoon, whose weapon of choice is a supply of (what else?) harpoons that become deadly energy lances when hurled; Vertigo, whose power is, given her name, self-explanatory; Riptide, whose spinning form launches an array of deadly sharp objects that pierce flesh and blood like daggers; and the super-strong Arclight.

There are more members of the group who have taken other positions within the Morlock tunnels--the brute called Blockbuster; the crystal being known as Prism; the deadly Sabretooth; and Malice, who acts elsewhere to take control of Dazzler, and, later, Polaris. Obviously, to say that the Marauders' actions are premeditated is an understatement.

The result is a dramatic change in the X-Men we knew, who adhered to the dream of Charles Xavier that humans and mutants could live in peace but who, because of the toll this attack takes on both themselves and their friends, as well as the sight of the sheer horror that the Mauraders inflict, now become harder and adopt more of an edge, regardless of the fact that the Marauders themselves are mutants. There are other events, other crises, waiting in the wings for them that will also produce changes in the X-Men's modus operandi, particularly in the absence of Xavier at this point in time; but the attack of the Marauders seems to light the match.

The issue is a killing spree from start to finish, and is something of an eye-opener for the reader who expects their copy of X-Men to be action-packed but basically focusing on an entertaining story, as has been the status quo with the book. But it becomes clear that the Mauraders are taking no prisoners, and there will be no reprieve in the rise of the body count--not until all the bodies are accounted for, in blood.

The X-Men arrive in response to an escaped Morlock who has made it to their Westchester mansion and pleads for help. The sights which greet the team are horrendous enough in and of themselves; but the X-Men are caught by surprise by the attackers almost immediately, and the Mauraders prove as merciless to them as they did earlier to their more helpless victims.

It's clear that the X-Men's tactics, as usual, are still in accordance with their refusal to take a life, putting them at a disadvantage against a ruthless, well-coordinated attack that hits them head-on and aims to kill with every strike. Temporarily cut off from their attackers, they decide to withdraw with what survivors they've gathered and make their way as best they can back to their mansion in order to save lives and to return for the Mauraders immediately after. But when Colossus rejoins the group with more wounded, other Marauders make the scene--claiming more victims in another surprise attack, this time including some of the X-Men.

And then, in a scene which likely has the reader wondering if they can believe their eyes, Colossus personifies the stark changes that Marvel has initiated with these characters by having Peter Rasputin cross a line that, until now, had been unthinkable.

The remaining attackers retreat for now (heck, I feel a little like retreating from Colossus, myself), and the X-Men return to their original plan to save those who still live. But Storm, who has been slowly evolving from the "goddess" who held life sacred, now embraces her hard-edged new role completely and sanctions Wolverine to remain and deal with any opposition he encounters. Her meaning is perfectly clear.

Meanwhile, the original X-Men, as X-Factor, are also present in the Morlock tunnels looking for one of their charges--the "projecting" child, Artie, who came in search of another who fled their headquarters. And when the Angel is cornered by other Marauders, we discover that the merciless brutality that Uncanny X-Men has embraced is being given generous exposure in other titles, as well.

Angel's injuries will regrettably lead to his wings being amputated, and, from there, his adoption of the deadly form of Archangel. By rights, of course, he should be dead, at the mercy of these Marauders who fully intend to kill him; but fortunately for Angel, Thor is also investigating these tunnels in his own title, and arrives in the nick of time to deal with Angel's attackers.

Thor succeeds in driving off the Marauders like whipped dogs; but still unknown to Thor is the fact that the Goddess of Death, Hela, has inflicted him with a curse that makes him vulnerable to injury, and, once injured, unable to heal. And so when Blockbuster returns to exact revenge, even Thor falls prey to Marvel's seemingly relentless march toward the graphic portrayal of injury and suffering.

As an Asgardian, Thor is of course no stranger to dealing with his enemies with deadly force, though slaying Blockbuster has now set a new standard with him as far as his treatment of mortals is concerned. Granted, it makes sense for Thor to regard his action as necessary, given his condition and the imminent danger to Angel, though he's previously demonstrated the ability to hurl his hammer in precision strikes that can deal with mortal super-villains without resulting in fatalities.

These events also ripple through the Power Pack, Daredevil, and New Mutants titles before returning to X-Men to play out over time.

Oh, you thought Marvel's new trend toward slaughter was over, did you?


Colin Jones said...

I stopped reading Marvel comics circa late 1983 or thereabouts and I didn't return till 2007 so I completely missed the whole violent and gritty period from the mid-'80s onwards - I missed plenty of other things too...Johnny Storm married Alicia who turned out to be a skrull !! Reed and Sue left the FF to join the Avengers !! Spider-Man got a new black costume - actually, I heard about that one. By the way, it's interesting that Marvel were celebrating their 25th anniversary in 1986 but in 2014 they were celebrating their 75th anniversary because apparently Marvel began in 1939 not 1961.

david_b said...

Colin, much the same for me.., I stopped my main collecting around 1975, and except for a few issues here/there, totally stopped until around '84 due to boredom.

Could NOT believe the uprise of X-Men during my departure. And who exactly was this 'Wolverine' guy...?

My how things changed. :)

Warren JB said...

Woah. Déjà vu with that Arclight vs. Colossus scene, and Angel Dust in the Deadpool movie.

Also, "the rest are yours". That's cold. In fact, I know Wolverine wasn't as much of a flanderised irresistible force back then, but letting him off his leash is more chilling than Peter's neck-snapping. In only seeing as much as this blog post allows*, the imagination fills in the gruesome details... or at least the gruesome impression.

*I only started with comics in the mid-nineties, myself! In fact, I'd be in my own 'quit from boredom/frustration' phase right now, if it wasn't for blogs like this showing me what I missed.

Comicsfan said...

I quite agree, Warren, about the implication of Wolverine being given a free hand in dishing out payback speaking volumes. I also think the scene is given more impact by having Storm, of all people, sign off on it, without even a moment's expression of conflicted feelings. This issue was a departure from the norm in many ways, and for several X-Men.

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