Waiting for the Trade – X-men

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
X-men: The Asgardian Wars
by Chris Claremont, Paul Smith and Arthur Adams
Collects X-Men and Alpha Flight 1 & 2, New Mutants Special #1 and X-Men Annual #9
Why I Bought This: While I was never a big fan of the X-men’s corner of the Marvel Universe: I am more or less indifferent to them and I actively dislike both Alpha Flight and the New Mutants; I had read New Mutants Special #1 when it came out, probably because it was shortly after they had been part of Secret War II (which sucked but hey I was in junior high and the marketing tricked me into buying all 42 parts of that nonsense), and it was one of the greatest comics I’d ever read. So I decided to track down this trade on Amazon to see if that chapter held up, and not liking Alpha Flight I’d never read the first two chapters of this so I was hoping for a nice mix of old and new.
The Plot: In a quest for power Loki unleashes a scheme that gets the attention of Alpha Flight and the X-men. After they thwart his big plan, he kidnaps the New Mutants to Asgard to get revenge on the X-men. Spoilers to follow:
Chapter 1 – Cyclops and Madelyne Pryor are flying over Alaska (they were married and he was retired from superheroing to run a piloting business with her at this time), when a flash of light overtakes their plane. In the Danger Room Rachel (Scott’s daughter from an alternate reality where Jean Grey lived before Sentinels took over the world and put all the mutants in concentration camps; She is also the most annoying character in comics history) feels Scott disappear which causes her to freak out and flashback to her future past because that’s all she ever does. Rachel flies to Canada and attacks Alpha Flight because she sensed magic in whatever happened to Scott and just assumes Shaman did it because he’s the closest spell caster to Alaska and she’s an idiot. Eventually the X-men break up the fight and the two teams decide to investigate together. Snowbird is also dying from a mystic illness. We learn what’s happening is Loki’s doing, who is petitioning some shadowy elder gods for power but is told to gain their favor he must do something good for humanity. The heroes find a golden palace in the middle of nowhere and inside Madelyne and all of the humans on the plane have been transformed into super-beings. Maddie has healing powers and uses them to cure Scott, Rogue, Puck, Aurora and Sasquatch of their various ongoing physical and mental ills. Maddie revels she is pregnant with Scott’s son, which causes Rachel to freak out again because in her reality she was Scott’s first born child. (Mind you in her reality Jean Grey lived and Scott never met/married Maddie so you think she’d have clued in months ago that this isn’t her reality and never will be). This in a nutshell is why I hate Rachel: she spends every appearance whining about how horrible her future is and how it has to be prevented; but then any time she encounters anything divergent from her timeline she whines about how that disproves her whole existence–so the end result is no matter what happens she whines about it.
Anyway the transformed humans discuss creating a utopia. When Shaman approaches the mystic fountain that caused the transformations a bunch of demons escape from his medicine bag.
Chapter 2 – In pursuing the escaped demons Wolverine learns the magic fountain is using all the magic on Earth and thus will kill Snowbird and Shaman, as well those not present like Dr. Strange and Magik. This leads to a debate on whether the good of the many outweigh the lives of a few, which turns physical with Cyclops, Rogue, Pro X, Nightcrawler, Northstar, Wolvie, Talisman and Shadowcat facing the transformed humans, Colossus, Rachel and the rest of Alpha Flight (Shaman and Snowbird being too sick to fight). Later one of the humans who was an architect reveals the fountain also robs people of their ability to be creative. This leads to just about everyone deciding to reject its power, which causes Loki to reveal himself. He tries to force them to accept it, until the shadowy gods tell him he has failed their test—adding the fountain itself was a good enough deed to get him their favor but by ignoring free will when rejected he loses out. He is furthermore forbidden from harming those present that thwarted his plan.
Chapter 3 – Loki decides to circumvent the letter of the law from the last chapter by kidnapping Storm and restoring her powers she had lost thanks to Forge for a few years in this era (thus Loki is helping not harming her) to make her the new god of thunder (and thus replace his brother), while also having the Enchantress kidnap the New Mutants (which is both not him and not the X-Men). This proceeds easily. Magik tries to teleport the New Mutants out the Enchantress’ dungeon but a counter spell scatters them through time and space in Asgard’s various realms, leaving only Magik behind who is quickly defeated by Enchantress. Karma (at the time morbidly obese because of possession by the Shadow King) ends up alone in the desert where she lies down to die. Cypher ends up in an Asgardian banquet hall where he is physically enslaved by its owner. Wolsbane ends up in a forest where she meets another werewolf and romance ensues. Warlock ends up in Hel and quickly runs away from Hela. Sunspot ends up in a bar, finds his strength is greatly enhanced in Asgard and gets a job as a bouncer. Magma meets some fairies and foolishly eats their food becoming transformed into one of them. Cannonball is lost in dwarven mines, and is wounded saving the dwarf king’s daughter from trolls. Mirage rescues a pegasus from a barbed-wire pit and meets up with a sisterhood of pegasus riders. Meanwhile, Enchantress tortures Magik and eventually releases the Darkchilde from her soul and puts it in charge of tracking down the other New Mutants. This chapter is 64 pages and we get a lot of cross-cutting but ultimately half the team is enslaved by Darkchilde via magic armor that sucks people into it and then takes control of them and the other half find their way back to each other. During the big fight Karma (whose time in the desert leans her out) possesses Darkchilde and the heroes Trojan horse their way back in Amora’s castle where they free Magik long enough for her to banish the Enchantress to Limbo. During his exploits Cannonball learned Loki has Storm and the kids decide to mount a rescue. Also everyone but Cannonball wants to live in Asgard when this is all over.
Chapter 4 – Shadowcat feels Magik’s torture from the last chapter in a dream, and after investigating the X-men decide to journey to Asgard to rescue the New Mutants. They meet up with Wolfsbane’s werewolf boyfriend and via Rachel’s telepathy see her in his thoughts. The teams reunite and then split into two groups made of both teams. Loki appears in Amora’s castle and takes down the team led by Cyclops and Magik with ease. He then chains the captured heroes near Magik/Darkchilde so that her evil aura will corrupt them (and claims this doesn’t violate the no harm order since he’s not harming them directly just preventing them from leaving a harmful situation). Meanwhile Wolvie’s team battles some generic thugs (albeit of the Asgardian warrior variety) and he gets bit by a poison dragon and the magic poison is more than his healing factor can take. They storm the castle and free the others just as Loki presents Storm with her new uru hammer. Wolvie tries to tell her the truth but she blasts him with it only to realize too late that Loki is lying and these are her friends she’s battling (He had told her earlier any X-men she’d seen were mystic imposters). Hela comes to claim Wolverine but Storm, Cyclops and Rachel drive her off. Storm tries to take on Loki but he wisely built a failsafe in her hammer that stops it from being turned against him. However attacking Mirage causes the Valkryie to arrive and we learn that she’s one of them now thanks to that whole Pegasus saving last chapter. As taking on the Valkryie would irk Odin, Loki offers the heroes a choice: he will send them home minus any enchantments they’ve gained in Asgard or let them depart his hall in peace and stay in Asgard but if a single person chooses to stay then all must stay. We see the various New Mutants debate staying but ultimately all choose to go home, Storm being the last to choose as she relinquishes her regained weather powers in the process. Mirage gets to remain a valkryie however because the sisterhood is part of Odin’s law and thus supersedes his authority, and the rest of the New Mutants return to normal.
Critical Thoughts: The Alpha Flight chapters are mediocre at best. The Utopian debate goes on too long and comes off heavy-handed in the end with whole if man has everything they want no one will ever grow and create again theme. Plus there is way too much Rachel in it, and really all of Alpha Flight are subpar characters and nothing in this story changes that opinion for me.
But that’s okay because the New Mutants chapter is still an absolutely perfect comic. The art by Art Adams in that chapter is among the best you will ever see in any comic ever; and the story does a fantastic job juggling several plot threads as the cast separates and unites. Most of the individual stories during the separation phase are highly compelling, which is something I rarely say of the New Mutants. I would say only the Sunspot and Wolfsbane stories are meh, the others are all great. Enchantress is one of my favorite villains; and she was at her best in the 80s in books like Secret Wars and Dazzler. This is appearance is no exception. Her showdowns with Magik are a highlight, and she comes across as much more evil than she usually does in Thor and the Avengers yet at the same time is still not out of character.
The fourth chapter isn’t as good as chapter three, and Storm comes off a bit dense in it but it still wraps things up well enough. Plus Shadowcat standing up to Loki is a great moment for her. I also really like Loki’s portrayal in the final two chapters as his Trickster god persona comes off as great fun for the reader as he keeps finding ways to strike at the X-men while sticking to the absolute letter of the law laid down in chapter 2.
Grade: That New Mutants chapter is a definite A+. The others not as much so, but this is still a must read story that shows just how much fun a shared comic universe can be by taking the X-men out of their normal milieu of human-mutant tensions and putting them in mystic medieval themed adventure. We’ll downgrade a little for the Alpha Flight stuff, and call it an A-.