Friday, April 14, 2017

The Battle For Three Worlds!

Of the many issues of Marvel comics that have had the caption "This One Has It All!" slapped on their covers, the 1981 X-Men Annual should be among them. An engaging and exciting read from cover to cover, the 39-page story features the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Shi'ar, Arkon--and the Brotherhood of Badoon, who have not only successfully attacked and conquered Arkon's world of Polemachus but, with the help of the captured FF, also plan to exterminate all the super-beings of Earth so that they can extend their rule to that planet--and from there, the Shi'ar homeworld, as well.

Scripted by Chris Claremont, the issue is pencilled by Brent Anderson, whose portfolio is extensive and who does an amazing job here of pacing the issue and dealing in all the parties without short-changing anyone (with the exception of Arkon, though technically we really owe the blame to the Badoon, as we'll see). Anderson's style offers a refreshing change in visuals for fans of both X-Men and Fantastic Four, and demonstrates an excellent take on the characters of both teams as well as the story's entire character roster.

For the FF, their involvement comes as a result of a police report of a running firefight involving a woman with a type of laser weapon--yet it's a firefight of one, since the woman is firing at seemingly random targets. With the location of the woman being so near the Baxter Building, the FF decides to investigate pending the arrival of the police--but there's more to this story than what the police are aware of, and more than even the FF will be able to decipher, since this woman's pursuers are cloaked in invisibility.

Sharp-eyed readers will recognize the unseen armed aliens as the Badoon, who have infiltrated Earth before using such technology to shield themselves from detection, and who make use of it now to not only keep their target on the defensive but also to manipulate the arriving FF into taking down their prey for them--after which they slip in to finish the job.

With just a few words, Claremont has made the injured and now murdered Shi'ar agent, D'syndri, the catalyst for the events of the entire story, providing everything needed to cause the FF to further investigate her actions as well as her mysterious death. Yet this scene has not yet played itself out--as the Badoon, still undetected by the FF, swiftly move to take out the FF's threat before the heroes even have a chance to put together the pieces of this puzzle.

What is going on? One of the Shi'ar, fleeing through the streets of New York? The Badoon once again on Earth, pursuing and assassinating what will be revealed to be an escaped Shi'ar prisoner? Jumbled words of warning that mention not only the Badoon, but also the Shi'ar Majestrix, Arkon, and Charles Xavier? And now the FF gunned down in broad daylight? It appears that the Invisible Girl's force field has saved her from sharing her teammates' fate--but what happens now? Through D'syndri's gunscope, Sue sees these creatures moving toward her, no doubt preparing to finish her off--and weakened by their weapons fire, her death seems certain. Do the answers to this mystery die with her?

Including the Shi'ar in this story's roll call may have you thinking that this issue is going to be a blockbuster in terms of its scope, but their involvement--if you want to call it that--really begins and ends with D'syndri, with the name-dropping of Lilandra representing little more than a token reference. Without revealing too much at this point, D'syndri's investigation involves Shi'ar traitors who have provided the Badoon with technology that will be used in a three-pronged attack involving Arkon, Earth, and Lilandra; but at present, we only know that she was an escaped prisoner of the Badoon, and that she's a Shi'ar "pathfinder" (i.e. scout) attached to Lilandra's staff. We can presume all sorts of things from those bare facts, but not much. It's unlikely that the Shi'ar would have any interest in a world that exists in another dimension, though very likely that their intelligence gatherers are constantly keeping tabs on the Badoon, a very dangerous race in their own right and born conquerors--so D'syndri could have been captured either before or after the Badoon invaded Polemachus. Her presence in the story doesn't hurt its credibility, even though it seems her role is meant only to move things in the direction of Xavier and the X-Men--and indeed, it's difficult to see the Badoon posing a "danger" to the Shi'ar, a race whose empire has always appeared both incredibly formidable and aggressive in its military posture. We'll discover that D'syndri is working with one of Arkon's underground, who has already taken steps to involve the X-Men--so as far as the FF's involvement, it was really only necessary for D'syndri to simply mention Xavier to the FF to have Sue move forward from there.

All of which is to say that you've seen all you're going to see of the Shi'ar in this issue. (Please, don't grab your "basic weapon" and shoot the messenger.) Yet by the time the X-Men are hip deep in their mission, things will be more clear as to the stake the Shi'ar have in this conflict, as well as the overall threat that the Badoon present.

As for Sue, it looks like her number's up with the rest of the FF--but she catches a break when the police arrive in force. With the Badoon's weaponry and invisibility, and their overall contempt of "mammals," that really doesn't concern the aliens in the least--but they see no reason to remain, either, since their target has been terminated. They also discover that the male members of the FF are alive, and decide to return with them to Polemachus for interrogation. Luckily, Xavier's name gives Sue a starting point to search for answers. Retrieving her son from the Baxter Building, she arrives at Xavier's school, where it turns out Storm has been experiencing dreams that suggest that the X-Men and Arkon are in a fight for their lives against invading aliens on Polemachus. And when everyone compares notes, a plan is made, and a course set.

Fortunately, the X-Men had already had a prior altercation with Arkon, and had captured a supply of the warrior's "bolts" that he uses to transport himself and others to his world--and so they make the transition and find themselves in a ruined palace, standing in front of Sashia, an apprentice of Arkon's Vizier (yes, with an entire world to land on, they've materialized directly in front of the person they need to see), who set in motion the plan that led the X-Men to Polemachus. Sashia recounts the grim events which led to the fall of her people, including information of the Badoon's trans-dimensional stargate--a new wrinkle in their arsenal, which basically means that they don't need to rely on ships to conquer other worlds, but can use staging areas in other dimensions to remain undetected until they suddenly appear in force and take their victims completely by surprise. Using that information, Cyclops cuts to the heart of the matter, and decides on a plan of action.

As clever, resourceful, and advanced as they are, it's a little surprising that the Badoon aren't used in stories more frequently. Ruthless and merciless, they have no agenda other than to attack and conquer, slaughtering their foes without a second thought. On the other hand, using them too frequently would have the effect of making them a laughing stock in terms of being an aggressive race to be respected as fearsome and deadly enemies only to see them repeatedly thwarted and fleeing back to their own space, something that happens often enough as it is. Like the Skrulls, they're methodical planners, gathering the intelligence they need before making their move; unlike the Skrulls, they're too eager to unleash their forces and overwhelm their victims based on the vulnerabilities they perceive in the races they target, seeing their victims as being part of a mass killing ground to revel in. Their methods have admittedly brought them success, with their reputation as conquerors well-deserved; but they're handled quite differently than the Kree or the Shi'ar, which gives the writer who's featuring them a good deal of latitude as to what they'll be up to.

In the case of Reed and the others, it's not surprising that the Fantastic Four have been reduced to resources that will facilitate the plans of the Badoon. In fact, with Reed's treatment, it's easy to see similarities with the Skrulls and their secret invasion--though again, the Badoon have little interest in taking incremental steps to put pieces in place, and will instead move in force as soon as they've obtained what they need.

And speaking of putting pieces in place, it's a talent that Claremont excels at, particularly when he's provided with the room to do so--with scenes that prove interesting for his characters even while the story builds to the point when everything comes to a head. For Sue and the X-Men, that process begins as Sue and Storm proceed to infiltrate the citadel in order to rescue the FF--which calls for subterfuge that even the Badoon can appreciate.

Elsewhere, Sashia, Nightcrawler and Wolverine have hooked up with the remaining forces of Arkon's warlord and prepare to move on the Badoon base where the stargate is erected. It's another opportunity to experience Wolverine's potential and judgment in the field where he operates independently from the X-Men--though in this case, it involves another of Claremont's "standing for something greater than ourselves" speeches, which tend to sound like a broken record. On the bright side, we finally learn the details of how this conflict links all the way back to the Shi'ar, and why Lilandra would have a vested interest in stopping the Badoon.

The warlord makes a fair point about Wolverine, falling along the lines of the old saying about one man's butcher being another man's hero. But it bears mentioning that at one time, Arkon and his people were willing to decimate the Earth in order to save their own world, without an ounce of remorse for the billions that would be killed--so the people of Polemachus can't exactly be regarded as moral standard-bearers or founts of wisdom.

Back at the citadel, Sue blows her cover and that of Storm when she lashes out at the Badoon upon hearing Reed's screams from the effects of his interrogation treatment--and with no alternative but to press on, Storm uses the elements to cover them as they make their way to the FF in order to free them. Outside, Cyclops, Colossus, and Sprite (i.e., Kitty Pryde, before she dropped that code name) begin an assault on the complex as backup. At this point, hostilities are now out in the open as all the groups opposing the Badoon fight to advance Cyclops' plan. But when the Fantastic Four are free and reunited, it marks a turning point in the story that at least allows for the heroes to have a fighting chance.

(Turnabout is fair play--a nice touch to have Sue use her invisibility, a tactic the Badoon have used to their own advantage, to take the guards by surprise so that Storm can free the FF.)

Arkon, as is evident, is effectively out of this fight--and even though it deprives the story of seeing him rally his forces to his side and taking his revenge against the Badoon, his being sidelined doesn't impact the action to any degree with so many other players on the field.

Outside, the irrepressible approach of Cyclops and his team is stopped in its tracks by the activation of the so-called "monster of Badoon," the weapon-of-weapons that the Badoon were forced to trot out in a battle against the Silver Surfer and which now threatens to overwhelm the X-Men. The monster is unquestionably an ace in the hole that has likely served the Badoon well in their conquests of other worlds, and its assault is a sequence that Anderson handles particularly well.

Incredibly, Colossus survives the impact (as opposed to the monster, whose power belies his ability to take a licking and go the distance) and makes his way determinedly back to Arkon's palace--while at the Badoon base, another X-Man may not be so fortunate in his own brush with death in accomplishing his mission.

With the stargate destroyed and the Badoon forces on Polemachus left to fight this resistance with the warriors they have, the time comes for both sides of this conflict to go all in and make their stand. While the fate of Sashia and the X-Men at the Badoon base remains unknown, Arkon's warlord unleashes his forces to attack the Badoon who remain to defend it--while the Fantastic Four and the rest of the X-Men (along with Arkon) continue to fight heavy forces at the palace. But when Reed, always a quick thinker on his feet, makes a quick analysis and discovers a way to disarm the enemy at a stroke, the Badoon "Brother Royal" takes steps to make sure his foes won't live to enjoy their victory.

With the Badoon generator still key to their survival, Reed coordinates with both his team and the X-Men to successfully destroy the unit's self-destruct capability--and soon enough, all of this war's participants (with the exception of the Badoon, who are wiped out to a man by Arkon's forces) congregate to formalize their victory. Yet for the X-Men, that victory might have come at a cost.

As you might imagine, Nightcrawler survives the crisis--and the story winds down with everyone in good spirits and sad farewells, and rousing hails from Arkon's warlord.

There may be some of you who are scratching your heads at the state of the X-Men's ranks in this annual, though we'll have to chalk up the discrepancies to scheduling oversights and/or memory lapses, or Editor Louis Jones spilling coffee all over her notes on the plotting meetings with Claremont. By the time of its publication in January of 1981, the X-Men in their regular monthly title are halfway through their "Days Of Future Past" storyline, where Cyclops has left the team and Storm has replaced him as leader--so the Badoon story would actually have taken place between issues 137-138, before Cyclops decides to depart immediately after Jean Grey's funeral, since Cyclops is still in residence and still in charge of the X-Men in the Annual. And yet Sprite is also present here, in costume and at the point where she's allowed on missions--even though she doesn't arrive at Xavier's school until after Cyclops leaves the team. The only reasonable explanation is that Skrulls at some point replaced the X-Men--or they went straight to the source and replaced Marvel's staff. Or possibly myself.  I hope I went down fighting.

Two excellent renderings of the X-Men by the one and only Mr. Anderson!

From the Marvel Comics Index, Part 9A (1981)

From a commission 30 years later (full details here)

X-Men Annual #5

Script: Chris Claremont
Pencils: Brent Anderson
Inks: Bob McLeod
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski


Anonymous said...

Happy Easter, Comicsfan - don't eat too many chocolate eggs !

Comicsfan said...

Thank you, Colin--I'll do my best, but no promises! :9

Justin said...

Ha! Nice ending. If it's any consolation, I'm sure you took out a few Skrulls with you.

Comicsfan said...

Justin, I'll tell you all about it someday. (Assuming I ever make it back to Earth!)