Friday, July 14, 2017

The Master Spell of Kulan Gath!

Our old friend Kulan Gath caused enough trouble for New Yorkers when a security guard at an art museum was forced to free the wizard's amulet from a display casing and subsequently found himself taken possession of--allowing Gath to put in motion a plan to bring the merciless elder gods known as the N'Garai into our dimension. Gath's plan was stopped by the unlikely team-up of the amazing Spider-Man and Red Sonja; but, six years later (our time), it looks like Gath has held a grudge for the web-slinger, since he returns to Manhattan with a vengeance and comes after Spidey again in a power-packed two-part story that will involve both the Avengers and the uncanny X-Men.

For those of you mostly unfamiliar with Kulan Gath, the following describes him in a nutshell (though you'll be finding out more about him as we go along):

Gath is able to materialize in our world once more when a man named Jaime Rodriguez discovers the ancient necklace containing Gath's amulet, but is later mugged by a low-life street thief who purloins the necklace and gets more than he bargained for when he proves to be more susceptible to Gath's power. But Spider-Man isn't all that Kulan Gath is gunning for this time around, seeking nothing less than the subjugation of the entire human race. And since the shock of the sight of 20th century New York disturbed him so greatly last time, Gath decides to begin remaking the world in his image--starting with the city's most populated borough.

Naturally, the Feds are made aware of the situation and, thanks to eyewitness accounts from those who have inadvertently crossed the energy curtain surrounding the transformed island, a comprehensive review of the facts is prepared by Val Cooper, Special Assistant to the National Security Advisor. It's Cooper's briefing that serves to bring the reader up to date as well, since the story by Chris Claremont jumps right into this whirlwind series of events without any preamble to speak of--and we're able to learn not only what Gath is up to, but also the status of both the X-Men and the Avengers, who will play a central part in this tale.

If you're wondering why the Fantastic Four are left out of this story, join the club, since Gath would no doubt be savvy enough to take advantage of their powers and conscript them along with the others he's discovered. At the time of this story's publication, the She-Hulk, taking the place of the Thing on the team, is dealing with a sleazy magazine publisher, while the Torch and Alicia Masters are hooking up, so it's not like the team is in Latveria, or off-world, or otherwise unavailable for an appearance here. Unfortunately, all the FF receive is what amounts to an honorable mention in the story's script.

The action begins when the Morlock known as Callisto--in Gath's reality, the leader of the Vizier's guard--forcefully attempts to retrieve Storm (a sorceress-princess) for Gath, and a fight breaks out between them. Falling overboard from Ororo's ship, the two are swept by the current past Gath's energy curtain and transform to their former selves--with Storm, naturally, full of questions as to what the heck is happening.

From here, Claremont and artist John Romita Jr. take us on an interesting sweep of the principal players, all but a select few believing themselves to be a part of this time period, thriving in their new roles--some aligned with Gath's forces, others either keeping a low profile or actively resisting his aggressive suppression. Gath, a clever sorcerer who makes it a point to preemptively deal with those who could interfere with his plans, has moved immediately to take out the two most powerful threats to his person--along with the mutant known as Caliban, whose tracking ability Gath merges with the mental might of Charles Xavier.

Soon enough, Xavier's young charges, the New Mutants, are recruited and transformed by Gath's power into a vicious, mystic strike force--yet their alien guest, Warlock, is immune to Gath's "master spell" which has transformed everyone within the radius of the energy curtain, and unsuccessfully attempts to escape with his friends.

Warlock is forced to flee, forcing Gath to make use of his Xavier/Caliban hybrid to locate him. But there is another player in this drama who now stands revealed, an ancient foe of Gath's who also remains free of his spell--Selene, the new Black Queen of the Hellfire Club (whose other "inner circle" members are also conspicuously M.I.A. from this story).

Selene, not one to shy away from asserting herself in a conflict, begins to move to put in place a plan of her own that will curtail Gath's momentum while no doubt taking advantage of the turmoil he's caused to suit her own ends--appearing here and there in order to amass sufficient forces to be of use when the time comes for she and Gath to face each other. She begins with rescuing Rachel Summers and Amara Aquilla (Magma) from one of Gath's retrieval squads; from there, she moves on to Storm and Callisto, who are planning their next move while cooling their heels in Federal lockup. With the exception of Callisto, all of the women have tangled with Selene before; none of them trust her. But under the circumstances, they can't afford to look this gift horse in the mouth.

But what of Spider-Man, Gath's main adversary and target? It goes without saying that Gath's forces have made his capture their priority; and to make matters worse, Gath is inhibiting Spidey's powers through his pursuit squads. But his resistance serves to rally those who have so far remained free of Gath's scrutiny--and when Xavier alerts Gath's men to capture Illyana Rasputin, the choice is made by the transformed members of both the X-Men and the Avengers to come to her defense, as well. And there is another who adds her power to the ranks of the rebels.

Despite her careful maneuvering, however, Selene is seized by Gath and whisked to his palace; yet the rebels have taken the opportunity to make their escape, and retreat to a location which is mystically warded against Xavier's probing.

As for the captured Spider-Man, there is no refuge for him, having at last been delivered to Gath's clutches--and certainly no retreat from one who routinely indulges in the practice of human sacrifice.

Through deduction, Gath's forces conclude that the rebels must be located in the Morlock catacombs, and so the search is on. But the rebels are on the move, making their way to the New York Public Library which, in Gath's reality, was a temple for a number of priestesses--all killed by Gath's men. Soon enough, the group is set upon by those X-Men and Avengers under Gath's control, and the body count rises.

To allow the rebels a chance to escape, Storm flies into a rage at Rogue's death and takes on everyone. Once they're in the clear, Warlock swoops in and rescues Storm, but the effort mortally wounds Rahne Sinclair (Wolfsbane). In addition, Starfox and the Wasp are captured--and at Gath's command, their powers are transformed to augment their nature, with the Wasp now a demon that steals lives and souls that are channeled directly to Gath.

Meanwhile, Warlock is making some progress in getting through to Storm and allowing her to access her true memories, a breakthrough of sorts which confuses her but makes her realize that the life she is living in this place is a lie. Elsewhere, while the rebels are licking their wounds, we get a little more info on Kulan Gath from the temple's chief archivist, Arilynn. The fact that Gath has been proven to be fallible more than once gives the rebels a measure of confidence to take the fight to the wizard, and they meet with some success in penetrating his citadel--thanks to a tried and true technique that dates back a long time ago, and very far away.

The rest of Cap's group approaches the palace through a Morlock tunnel positioned directly underneath it. But as we've seen, there's every indication that each group's progress is being monitored by Gath--and when he decides to pounce, and all hell breaks loose, things quickly go from bad to worse for what's left of the rebel forces, as Claremont takes a scorched Earth approach to rendering their situation next to hopeless. Nor are the casualties limited to those still able to fight.

Just above the chaos, we find that Warlock and Storm have slipped into the palace, just as Spider-Man has unknowingly given Warlock a vital clue as to Gath's defeat that the young alien can pass on to Storm, now that he's able to understand her language. Now on the same page, they dive for Gath and carry out their plan--only to find Selene ready to play her hand at last.

With Storm's permission, the dying Warlock merges with her and transforms her into a techno-organic form of life, another casualty in this conflict--yet Ororo nevertheless acts, taking Selene's life and thus bringing the crisis near its end.

I must have missed something along the way during this dizzying sequence of events, since it's unclear to me what connection Selene's death has to do with Illyana or how that leads to Illyana being able to counteract Gath's spell on Dr. Strange. What "enchantments" did Selene ever cast on Illyana, and when? And how does Illyana's ability to counteract Gath's "slaver" spell allow her to reverse Gath's transformative spell on Strange? In any event, the greater magic being performed here is a reset wave of massive proportions cast by none other than Claremont, who's basically put everything back the way it was.

As for Kulan Gath, his necklace is back in the possession of Rodriguez, who is once again about to meet his death at the hands of the thief sneaking up behind him. This time, however, the super-sentinel known as Nimrod arrives in our time period just in *ahem* time to save Rodriguez's life, and the act causes the necklace to be lost down a drain--an apt fate that applies as well to Gath's ambitious but ill-fated plan. Gath himself would appear again in an Avengers story where he once again attempts to carve out his own little niche of his original era in order to eventually cross over to join his elder gods and thereby cause the destruction of the entire planet. To make a long story short, he pays the price, because he failed to pay the price--the details of which we'll try to clear up at another (say it with me) time.

Uncanny X-Men #s 190-191

Script: Chris Claremont
Pencils: John Romita Jr.
Inks: Dan Green
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski


George Chambers said...

It was at about this point that I gave up on X-MEN as I'd just gotten tired of Claremont's style: too many characters, too twisted a plot, too much mind control, too much dialogue and acres of exposition, including that annoying, longwinded omniscient narrator he always used.

Oh, and the gratuitous torture in this particular story didn't help things.

Comicsfan said...

George, I was thinking that this story might have made a decent X-Men Annual for '85; instead, we had the X-Men travel to Asgard where Storm becomes a goddess in fact as well as in name (the "Goddess of Thunder," of course). The PPoC may tackle that tale, one of these days (probably not)--but this Kulan Gath story has been on the review radar for some time.

dbutler16 said...

I agree with George. The X-Men had pretty much jumped the shark by this point. Back in the day, I kept buying X-Men anyway out of obsessive completism, but in re-reading my X-Men a few years ago, it got pretty lousy (IMHO) around 1984.

Jared said...

I have read Claremont's original 20 year X-men run probably 5 times. This is it. My absolute least favorite Chris Claremont X-Men story (even worse than the dreadful stuff he put out each time they have brought him back). I understand they don't want the X-Men fighting evil mutants or Sentinels every issue. But magical villains never worked for me as well as alien threats. This story is terrible in every sense of the word. My favorite thing about "An Age Undreamed Of" is that it happened during the early 80s. If they came up with this idea today, it would take over every Marvel title for three months and have a half dozen tie in miniseries to go with it.

Comicsfan said...

Perish the thought, Jared!

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