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Jun 21

X-Men Blue #23-28 – “Cry Havok”

Posted on Thursday, June 21, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

When we left off X-Men Blue, the X-Men were tied up in a crossover with Venom, which does not interest me in the slightest.  Since Jean Grey returns to the cast just fine in issue #29, and something happens to Jimmy Hudson in the interim as well, apparently I’m meant to have read that Venom series, but I’m not going to because I have less than zero interest in Venom and it’s Not Technically An X-Book.

So with its core cast otherwise occupied, X-Men Blue gives us that old favourite, the stand-in team arc.  It wouldn’t be fair to call this filler; it’s not.  It pays off the Mothervine subplot which has been building for months.  And it finally does the only thing you can possibly do with Inverted Havok: change him back, and make enough of a fuss about it to pretend it’s a big deal rather than just hitting the reset button on a dodgy idea.

The plot, then.  Miss Sinister’s Mothervine idea is basically to use the mutant DNA she got from the Ultimate Universe characters to create some sort of genetic weapon which is going to create tons of new mutants and power up some of the mutants that already exist.  (This is why some people suddenly had new powers during the Secret Empire tie-in issues.)  Magneto doesn’t have the teenage X-Men to throw at the problem, but he does still have Polaris, Bloodstorm and Jimmy Hudson on hand.  To round out the group, at least by halfway through the story, we have one of the Raksha, Xorn and Daken, whose personality continues to oscillate wildly between titles, and who would really benefit from the editors picking one reading of the character and sticking with it for a while.

Miss Sinister, meanwhile, is hooked up with a rather random assortment of villains: Bastion, Havok and Emma Frost.  We established in an earlier storyline that Bastion is currently suffering from a programming glitch that makes him want to build up the mutant population again, because he’s programmed to kill them as an end in itself, and he can’t do that if he runs out.  This has nothing much to do with the current storyline, but one thing I do appreciate about Blue (and Gold, for that matter) is the juggling of ongoing subplots; there is at least a restored sense of a bigger picture, and of events having consequences.

Havok and Emma are more important to the plot.  He’s there because post-Axis, he’s a mutant supremacist; she’s there because she wants to build up the mutant population and doesn’t have many moral scruples about how to do it.  What they’re going for, I suppose, is that inverted Havok still retains some sense of identity and idealism, but it now manifests as something rather unpleasant; and putting him next to the morally gray Emma is supposed to play up the idea that this is, in some recognisable sense, Havok gone astray, as opposed to just a generic sadist persona.

Naturally, it quickly becomes apparent that there’s a problem with these Mothervine powers, which tend to burn out unpleasantly, or cause horrible, traumatic mutations in the affected humans.  More to the point, it turns out that all the Mothervined mutants are open to mind control by Miss Sinister, so she’s going to wind up with an army – though she tries to spin it as a useful feature to help ease the traumatic transition.  There’s some dodgy plotting on that point.  The idea seems to be that Emma and Alex are planning to let Sinister create the new mutants before taking her out of the picture, but somewhere between parts 1 and 4, Emma goes from being suspicious that Sinister plans to control the new mutants, to finding it an incredible surprise.  (And none of this entirely explains why Sinister really needs them around to start with, beyond the fact that the plot requires it.)

There are quite a few diversions to get this up to six issues, which is presumably why we get a diversion with Ultimate Malice, issues #25-26 throw in some scenes of the original team still waiting to join their Venom crossover, and long forgotten cannon fodder like Wildside and Dragoness.  Even Exodus crops up out of nowhere in the final issue.  But as an arc, it keeps up the pace nicely, it has a decent sense of scale, and Jorge Molina does a great job of juggling an insanely large cast while keeping things readable.  Whether the book really benefits from having quite so many characters running around is debatable; I’m really not convinced Daken and Xorn are adding anything here.  Still, the art handles it all impressively.

But the pay-off for all this is that Emma sees sense and turns on the other bad guys, and then she cures Alex by… um…  Well, there needs to be a reason why she couldn’t have done this ages ago, so the rationale is that having Lorna to hand helps, because they used to be in love, and…

Look, it’s ultimately just a device to draw a line under a bad idea, and it winds up illustrating the problem that was there all along: for the most part, the “inverted” characters simply haven’t been recognisable as versions of themselves, and there’s nothing you can do with them as supposed expansions from the regular character.  Weapon X has been having a bold stab at it with Sabretooth, but only by playing the idea that he might be reverting to type.  This arc has a reasonable go at trying to persuade us that an inverted Havok is a somewhat recognisable mutant supremacist, but it doesn’t really work because Havok doesn’t have the sort of strong character traits that can still punch through when he’s being a villain.

The bottom line is that the story ends with a passing psychic flipping the switch back, with a whole lot of chaos being thrown around to give the impression that it’s a climax of something or other, but it doesn’t really emerge from anything we’ve seen in the story.  It’s doing its best with a bad hand, and the smoke and mirrors more or less get it to work – and I do appreciate the effort to make it feel like a major turning point instead of a reset button.  The storyline is quite good fun as it’s going along, but it does seem like empty calories in hindsight.

Bring on the comments

  1. Si says:

    Ultimate Spider-Man being in the regular comics was meant to be a big thing. He alone was there because of the whim of Molecule Man. There was a whole subplot about it in Secret Wars.

    Ultimate Reed Richards being in the regular comics was meant to be a big thing. He was (partly) there due to the same plot that brought Miles Morales in.

    Ultimate Mjolnir being in the regular comics was meant to be a big thing. It was basically driven mad by having its entire reality destroyed and it alone surviving.

    Ultimate everyone else being in the regular comics is just … a thing? Can you make a strong case for really needing another Wolverine? Seven Wolverines wasn’t enough? Now Ultimate Malice? I thought the whole reason the Ultimate line was gotten rid of was because nobody liked it. This is even worse than all those Age of Apocalypse characters.

  2. Brian says:

    Not Technically An X-Book should have been the name of a spin-off to Uncanny Avengers.

  3. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    ‘Even Exodus crops up out of nowhere in the final issue.’

    While he does pop up unexpectedly in Blue, Bunn has been writing Magneto books for a while now – and Exodus became his ace in a hole back in… Uncanny, I think? At the end of Uncanny Psylocke stabs Magneto, and he survives because he had Exodus and Elixir on stand-by, just like here.

  4. Jacob Dunman says:

    When Havok got half of his face melted, I asked the question “Why don’t they get Elixir to heal it?” This is the same question I asked when Hellion had his hands blown off, since THEY WERE ON THE SAME TEAM. This is also the same question I asked when Karma lost a leg since SHE’S BEST FRIENDS WITH HIS FORMER FOSTER MOTHER. And this is why I think that X-Editor is a think-less job. Or a useless one. Or one that needs to be done.

  5. JD says:

    Even Venom itself didn’t care for the Poison storyline, given how it was relegated to the Venomized mini while the main title was busy tying up its own subplots before getting relaunched in a completely different direction.

    It’s thus rather disappointing that after a fun arc doing a remarkable salvage job on a bunch of infamous dangling plots, X-Men Blue is already back to that darned Poison well. Seriously, does anyone care ?

    (In case you’re curious, Venomized was indeed terrible : lots a running around until Jean single-handedly disinfects everyone, including herself, very anticlimactically at the end. Aside from a few Poison stragglers for the inevitable sequels, of course.)

  6. Francis says:

    @Jacob Dunman
    Pretty sure Elixier left utopia before hellion got his hands blown off (wolverine mentions it in some off hand diologue) and wasn’t seen again until Bunn reintroduced him in uncanny, only to then kill him off (and bring him back again I think?) I could be wrong. Point is I don’t think he was on hand for either event.

  7. Thom H. says:

    I’ve always liked Havok and his over-the-top headgear. I really wish someone had bothered giving him a personality along the way.

    Even when he officially joined the X-Men during the Australian years, he never contributed much more than:

    1. My powers are so strong, I hope I don’t hurt anyone!

    2. I love Lorna.

    and maybe

    3. I admire/am jealous of Scott.

    And he was just kind of the straight man in X-Factor, if I recall correctly.

    Has he been any more interesting in Uncanny Avengers, etc.? I haven’t read anything with him in it in years.

  8. Thomas says:

    This series and Bunn just keep shooting themselves in the foot with this venom stuff. Ugh. I find Bunn to be a good writer but someone please tell him enough Venom and Deadpool already.

  9. Mo Walker says:

    I can appreciate Bunn for trying to pay-off plotlines he set in motion earlier in the series. I agree, this arc felt a little padded. Could this arc have been originally pitched as 4 issues? Then things changed once Bunn (or editorial) knew X-Men Blue would run until issue 36.

    I am glad Havok’s face was fixed in addition to his personality. No artist seemed to figure out to make Alex’s “Phantom of the Opera” mask work underneath his headpiece. I also wonder if Havok become in-inverted was an editorial mandate or a request from Matthew Rosenberg? I sure hope part of Rosenburg’s Astonishing run will deal with Alex trying to fit back in with an X-team.

  10. Voord 99 says:

    Havok is one of those characters who — by dint of having been around forever and having been in a lot of stories (and maybe a little by dint of having had Neal Adams waste a visually interesting depiction of energyblasty powers on him) — *seems* like he should be important and have a lot of potential.

    But there just doesn’t seem to be a there there. In principle, that should make Alex the blank slate where some creator will come along and write the definitive Havok story that defines what he is for subsequent stories and earns him a rabid fan following. But, dear gods, it’s been a long time, and no-one seems to have done it yet.

  11. Luis Dantas says:

    That was Peter David back in the 1990s X-Factor.

  12. Si says:

    Havok was really big in the early 90s. He was the cool version of Cyclops, the core traits that make the character interesting, but with less anal retention and soap opera misery, and more control with his abilities. Of course, later Cyclops got cool in his own right and Havok became slightly superfluous, but he was there. I think his popularity was weakened by them giving him his own title in an alternate universe, where he didn’t get to interact with the other X-Men, so if you weren’t reading that title he was invisible.

    He did often have issues with being the little brother of a superstar, which makes no sense considering he was adopted and would have only the barest familial bond.

  13. Voord 99 says:

    @Luis Dantas: I’m reading David’s X-Factor for the first time along with listening to Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, so I’ll reserve judgement on that.

    But, judging solely on what I’ve read so far, Tom H.’s ”just kind of the straight man” is not far from the truth. Which, in the context of a team book, is fine: it’s effective that David is using Havok as a single character who’s the bland “hero done straight” to contrast with the other, more quirky and colorful, characters. But it’s not the same as making Havok interesting in his own right — in fact, it’s a use that one can argue is positively bad for the chances of that happening.

    Contrast David’s Quicksilver – and maybe more significantly Jamie Madrox. Madrox basically didn’t have a personality before David, and if Havok wasn’t in the book, you could see a version of it in which Jamie, not Alex, was put into the “bland leading man foil” role.

    But there may be stuff coming up for Havok that will change my mind.

    @Si: Anal retention and soap opera misery are the core traits that make Cyclops interesting. 🙂

  14. Paul says:

    Havok was basically the straight man in X-Factor, but there was also the idea that he was overshadowed by Scott and he was trying to prove himself in a Scott-type leadership role. Not wildly dissimilar from what they were doing with him in Uncanny Avengers, really. But there’s only so far you can go with a character who’s defined principally in relation to another, more famous character.

  15. Omar Karindu says:

    We also got some hints about what *kind* of a leader he was, with bits like Havok pretending to poison himself to manipulate a traumatized Guido into Stoing taking an untested antidote, and being willing to just write the mercenary Random a check to end his fight with X-Factor.

    The idea of Havok as utterly pragmatic and less idealistic than Scott might have gone somewhere if cultivated by PAD and other writers, but these hunts were few and far between all the “Havok reacts to quirkiness” stuff per Tom’s comment.

  16. Si says:

    @Voord, Cyclops was more interesting, but Havok was cooler. And not in a giant guns and arms like torsos way either.

    Havok was the straight guy in X-Factor, but not in a way that he was the butt of the jokes. He was the one X-Factor guy who actually got to do stuff in the regular crossovers with the real X-Men and Cable, while the rest of the team mainly stood in the background on splash pages. But as Omar said, part of what made him cool was his pragmatism. There was one issue where a bad guy is getting ready for a fight, and Havok just pulls out a cheque book and pays him to go away. The bad guy says “Sucker, I’d have taken half that”, to which Havok answers, “Yeah? I’d have payed double that.” (paraphrasing a story I read decades ago). There’s also the feeling that he does super heroing not because he’s noble or thirsts for adventure or was messed up by a father figure or whatever, he just does it because it’s a job that needs doing. He’d just as happily go back to geology. I like that.

    All this said, I don’t know what the hell he’s up to these days.

  17. Rich Larson says:

    Havok did have a daughter with Janet Van Dyne Wasp, correct? I can’t remember if he’s still looking for her or if the resolution of Uncanny Avengers wiped that away. But there was something going on there with Havok as a father that could have been/could be a way for him to develop.

  18. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    They had a daughter in the ‘Planet X’ segment of the Apocalypse Twins story arc of Uncanny Avengers.

    Now strap in, because this gets really stupid, really fast.

    Uncanny Avengers manage to go back in time to prevent Earth from being destroyed, thus undoing Planet X and its five years of history.

    BUT

    Kang removes little Katie Summers from the timeline to blackmail Havok into doing something for other for him.

    BUT

    Havok didn’t do that thing and little Katie was undone.

    BUT

    Immortus showed up later to reveal to Havok and Wasp the date on which they should conceive a child (this is back in the present, so before the stuff that would happen on Planet X), so that the child would be born with ‘original’ Katie’s soul.

    BUT

    Even if they had planned to do that, AXIS screwed it up by reverse polarizing Havok’s morality or something and basically breaking him and Wasp as a couple.

    So after all that little Katie Summers is permanently wiped from existence, at least until Rama Tut or Iron Lad or whoever pops up with her in tow somewhere.

  19. Richard Larson says:

    I can’t imagine why I didn’t remember all that. It’s so straightforward when you explain it. Thanks for the recap!

  20. Chris says:

    To which I say that every protagonist in David’s original X-Factor run was interesting… least interesting being Polaris…. and it’s a shame they didn’t offer him whatever he wanted to keep going….

    because the following writers just didn’t measure up….

    and it was great that he had his own thing going there.

    Hell, I loved the differences between the two regular X-Men books, X-Force, and David’s X-Factor but…. all of it was a lot more short-term than I would have wished.

    Frell, X-Force became a team of hitchhiking twenty-somethings, yes?

  21. Chris says:

    Also the Apocalypse Twins story was too frelling long…

    It was a single story, not just an arc, that was longer than David’s entire run on X-Factor, which was several stories!!!

  22. Hugh Sheridan says:

    In what if v2 # 9 Kurt Busiek has Alex decide not to join Cyclops resistance group (against a totalitarian Xavier with Juggernaut powers) as he argues for change “from within” Xaviers corrupt system.

    I’ve always thought that was a pretty good take on the character that fits with his subsequent history. He’s an establishment man who respects power structures and is wary of change – a person with a basically conservative outlook.

    He later heads up the government’s mutant group X-Factor and even later the X-Men/Avengers hybrid team – all establishment plays. His famous speech in Uncanny X-Men is a classic conservative attack on identity politics. It all fits.

  23. Hugh Sheridan says:

    Famous speech in Uncanny Avengers I mean.

    Him landing as a magistrate in Genosha – essentially a police officer (albeit in a another totalitarian state) – post Siege Perilous also fits with all this – the original idea was that the characters lived out their fantasies dream roles post Siege.

    I’m not saying any of this was intentional – but when these synchronicities happily seem to happen over decades of different books, writers and storylines I think they should be seized on. Especially for guys like Havok that otherwise seem to be bland and indistinguishable from other similar characters

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