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Oct 28

X-Men Black: Juggernaut

Posted on Sunday, October 28, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

The X-Men Black one-shots have been surprisingly decent considering that they’re effectively fill in stories.  But perhaps we were bound to hit something generic in the end, and here we are.

What is there to say about this one, really?  The Juggernaut finds himself in the Silver Age X-Men mansion and gets into a fight with the X-Men inside, immediately suspecting that something is not right here.  As it turns out, he’s right, but not in an especially interesting way.

There’s a kid running around who turns out to be Cain’s own younger self, and it seems this whole place is some sort of representation of his own mind.  He’s locked young Cain away in the mansion “to keep [him] safe”, because he was afraid of something or other, but young Cain is actually just very angry and wants to smash things.  All of this is being set up as some sort of test by Cyttorak, who has finally lost patience with his avatar’s dodgy win-loss record, but mainly just wants to prompt a bit more rage and aggression from Cain so that he can fulfil his supposed role of fomenting chaos.  Cain is angry about all this.

The last couple of pages seem to be setting up a new status quo for Juggernaut – to be followed up heaven knows where – in which he has to track down all eight of the gems for the other Exemplars in order to travel to Cyttorak’s dimension and get his revenge.  And for no obvious reason, he’s also hallucinating that his younger self is there talking to him.

All of which is… profoundly dull?  Writer Robbie Thompson has done some interesting work for Marvel in the past – Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme had some clever meta twists and formal quirks – but this just reads like a filler story from X-Men Unlimited.  It does through the motions of being a story that explores the character’s psychology, but there’s nothing really there.  The younger Cain is a one-note character who just bangs on about rage, just like Cyttorak himself.  Grown-up Cain is mainly just grumpy about being manipulated and angry with the world.  None of it adds up to much.  We’re supposed to be going with the idea that Cain isn’t holding back any more – presumably an attempt to polish up his credibility again after fifty years of regular defeat – but that’s less than gripping.

A more interesting read on the story, in fact, would be that young Cain is in fact a trick by Cyttorak, and Cain’s self-awareness is low enough for him to be manipulated by this sort of nonsense.  But that would be a very generous reading, particularly as the closing scenes goes out of its way to disavow it.  It seems more likely that the story is trying for some sort of inversion of the trope of the innocent, vulnerable child inside the scary villain – but if so, it doesn’t find any especially interesting angle on that idea.

Instead, it seems we’re just going back to a basic Silver Age take on Juggernaut, though with him being more generically angry, as opposed to being specifically angry about Charles Xavier.  This doesn’t seem like a great idea.  Juggernaut as big angry thug was fine for the first Lee/Kirby story, but it wears thin quickly, and it’s not an angle which has really commended itself to many writers down the years.  Most writers have been more interested in the idea that Cain is a vastly powerful character who lacks the ambition to do anything with it, and winds up mainly hanging around with his mate.  The Utopia era played up the idea that the Juggernaut curse fills you with rage, but did it with a different character.  Cain as just a guy who’s very angry… meh.

The best thing about the issue is Shawn Crystal’s art, which is blocky and heavy in a way that feels right for Juggernaut.  He’s drawn completely out of scale with the other characters, but that’s clearly a case of artistic licence – particularly in the Mansion scenes, where Cain gets almost absurdly large as he proclaims his own importance.  There’s an element of him protesting too much in that.  The tinkering with Juggernaut’s costume, which I assume originates with this story, also works; it’s a rare case of a costume which has got a little bit too familiar and smooth, and benefits from some modest added weight and clunkiness to try and restore the sense of Juggernaut as a living bulldozer.

But none of that really gets away from the fact that this is a would-be character piece with nothing much of interest to say about its title character.  It’s very forgettable.

Bring on the comments

  1. Si says:

    Juggernaut is one of those guys that works best as a plot device rather than as a character.

    Actually a possibly interesting story would be one where the heroes arrive somewhere that Juggernaut’s already been, and have to deal with the mess. Why did he do it? And the answer at the end is there was no reason, he levelled a suburb for fun, and now nobody knows where he is.

  2. Chris V says:

    I disagree that Juggernaut doesn’t work well as a character.
    I’d say that the Claremont characterization of Juggernaut was quite well done.
    Juggernaut went from a character I was really bored of seeing before those Claremont stories, and turned him in to a character who was pretty fun to see interact with the X-Men.

    The book had gotten so dark during that period, with the anti-mutant prejudice and fears of genocide.
    Having the X-Men cross paths with a guy who didn’t hate mutants, and was kind of sympathetic, but also quietly clearly a thug.
    Those stories were a nice break from the doom and gloom of that period of X-Men.

    That’s my favourite period of X-Men, by the way. I’m not criticizing it for its tone.
    It was just an oppressive comic to read.

    Granted, Claremont made a lot of changes with Juggernaut. He was more of a thug and common thief than an unstoppable force.
    However, that works with the idea, as the review pointed out, that Cain just doesn’t ever show any true ambition.

    He could pretty well do anything, but he chose to rob banks and hang out at bars.

  3. PersonofCon says:

    I don’t know–maybe there’s a place in the Marvel universe for a super-strong character who is particularly known for destroying things and a bad temper. I can’t imagine anyone else stepping into that role, so it feels like it’s wide open.

    The red costume’s got to go, though. Gotta go secondary colours. Maybe something…

    (Ok, someone’s got to go through the low-hanging fruit)

  4. Joseph S says:

    Juggernaut is a good character to pop up now and again. The sibling rivalry, brain vs brawn, with Charles works well on an archetypal level. Trying to over-psychologize the character doesn’t work as well. The storyline with Juggs trying to go straight and being a good role model for fishboy Sammy was probably the best part of the Chuck Austen run (an admittedly low bar). But that also derailed the character for years (as with so many others Austen touched). His partnering with Black Tom always seemed arbitrary but he works so well as the muscle to Tom’s schemes. And his lack of ambition really defines the character in so many ways. There’s that great scene when Dazzler runs into Cain in a bar in Scotland and assumes he must be up to no good and starts a scrap with him but he was really just knocking back a few pints. That all works well. I vaguely remember him and Tom showing up the BKV Cyclops mini from years ago in a similarly marginal capacity. Or the first issue of X-Men Blue or the most recent Thor. He’s a good rogue to keep around that doesn’t necessarily benefit from more direction of depth.

  5. Voord 99 says:

    I sort of think that there might still be a great Juggernaut story out there to be written, one that would weave together the various strands of the character.

    There’s quite a lot going on with him. His origins are as a Silver Age puzzle plot character. He’s built around the idea (a big problem in Lee/Kirby UXM from a plotting standpoint) that Professor X’s power can stop any plot in its tracks. So make the story about that, how you remove the helmet that prevents Professor X from using his plot-stopping power, and make the antagonist’s power that’s he’s literally “unstoppable” to underline that. It’s a slightly DC idea, like all those Superman stories in which there’s some gimmicky puzzle for him to solve.

    But Lee and Kirby layer in the much more Marvel family melodrama element by making Cain Marko Professor X’s stepbrother and really developing that at length. (UXM #12 is one of the best things in the early X-Men – quite a bit better than the actual resolution of the Juggernaut story in UXM #12. Among other things, there’s something really fabulous about the combination of Kirby’s layouts with Alex Toth’s pencils.). It’s elegant, because it complements how the plot is built around trying to make the problem that Professor X represents into a strength.

    I think it’s part of why Juggernaut remains to such a degree an X-character. He’s made plenty of appearances outside the franchise, and he’s not a mutant – you could see how he might have drifted into mainly being an antagonist for somebody else. But the family connection to Charles Xavier helps to tie him to the X-books.

    Plus “Cain” is a delightfully on-the-nose bit of Silver Age naming. (I mean, who names their child after *Cain*?) But because the Silver Age can get away with that sort of thing, it raises the conflict between stepbrothers to a mythic level. Cf. Thor-Loki, Black Bolt-Maximus – Kirby was fascinated with this motif.

    In the course of doing that story, Lee and Kirby inject an element of ‘20s and ‘30s pulp adventure in exotic locations in the origin story with the jewel in the lost temple. Which is the sort of thing that was pretty common at the time, and not particularly important (it goes by very quickly).

    But I think it matters for the future, because it makes Juggernaut one of the more central X-characters who’s not a mutant and whose stories have nothing to do with “mutant issues.” In fact, the dog that has never barked is that Cain Marko doesn’t seem to have any prejudices against mutants, as is visible in his relationship with Tom Cassidy. (Also no prejudices against hilariously over-the-top Claremontian phonetic Irish accents.) He hates Charles Xavier as an individual.

    (One could do something with that. Have someone think that Juggernaut must hate mutants, because, after all, he’s always fighting the X-Men, and try to recruit him to the anti-mutant antagonist organization of the week. And then discover their mistake.)

    So you’ve got at least three things going on in the Silver Age character. Then other stuff gets layered in later on

    There’s the intense bromance with Tom Cassidy. (Whose relationship with Sean Cassidy parallels Cain’s with his stepbrother — that’s something to exploit, although I don’t know if it has been.) Juggernaut is to a striking degree motivated by ordinary human friendship, which nicely complements his ordinary human and personal hatred of Charles Xavier.

    This overlaps with the down-to-earth “ordinary joe” element to his character. The guy that you just find drinking in a bar. Joseph S references a scene with Dazzler. There’s also the ‘80s Claremont issue of UXM in which Peter Rasputin runs into him in a bar in New York when Cain is just trying to have a quiet drink. (The ordinariness is nicely underlined by the bar owner’s blasé attitude to all the destruction. He has insurance for superhero fights. Everyone in New York does.)

    But in contrast to that ordinariness, his power is (or can be, depending on the depiction) on a massive godlike scale. And there’s the whole additional Octessence mythology that’s been built up around that of there being other Exemplars. (One of whom is another OTT Irish stereotype. Because apparently that’s what Cain Marko’s life is like.) Not to mention the Doctor Strange connection.

    And with that comes the element of Cyttorak being a person who wants things from his Juggernaut, another person with whom Cain Marko has a relationship.

    There have been good stories with all of these elements, but I think there’s more to be done with approaching this as one complex package and trying to write a story that exploits all of the things going on with Cain Marko and playing them off against one another.

    (I’m choosing to forget about the redemption stuff, though. Because although it wasn’t bad, I think Juggernaut is more interesting as this mythic, larger-than-life, destructive force who is unrepentant about the damage that he causes, and at the same time a really good friend who cares about Tom and whose motivations for criminality are really small-scale.)

  6. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    There’s no need to forget about the redemption stuff, as it wasn’t really much of a redemption. That part was again motivated solely by Cain’s friendships – stuff with Black Tom causes him to call the X-Men, then he’s just hanging out at the mansion, sees something in Sammy and tries to help the kid. And later a similar thing happens with Nocturne, of all people. So Cain’s not really going through a redemption, he’s just hanging out with some people he finds likeable and is content enough to ignore the irritating ones.
    And once the people he actually likes die, disappear or move on, he goes away, not really having learned anything from the whole thing.

  7. Voord 99 says:

    I have this vague memory (which may be inaccurate) that there was some sort of reconciliation with Charles Xavier in there? Maybe in New Excalibur?

    That’s the part that I’d want to retcon with extreme prejudice. Cain hates Charles, always has, always will, going back to when they were kids — that’s the way I like my Juggernaut.

  8. Col_Fury says:

    I have a feeling that someone said “You know, we should portray Juggernaut the way he was in the Deadpool 2 movie, as a big angry engine of destruction.” And this is what we got.

  9. Luis Dantas says:

    I wish we revisited the Exemplars. They were an interesting creation by Kurt Busiek, and can make for some nice action sequences and a bit of mutual intrigue as well. Maybe that is where we are headed for with Cain.

    Voord 99 made a nice summary of Juggernaut’s selling points above. Thanks. I will add that having faced Doctor Strange, Hulk and (to a considerably greater extent) Thor and NuThor, he also has a rare and welcome ability to be well positioned as a villain for both mutants and non-mutants. That might make for an unique role in some crossover someday.

    As for this “no more holding back” element, I think it is a repeat of a World War Hulk situation… and ultimately a bit cheap, even unconvincing. It does not even have clear plot consequences if it is followed on. Besides, the very same idea was used with Thor back in the George Perez days and with Jean Grey very recently in her early days of X-Men: Red. And, again, it turns out to be a nice scent to have around, with little to no actual discernible plot effect.

  10. mark coale says:

    Is it wrong to say the best Juggernaut story is still that Roger Stern Spider-man two parter?

  11. Omar Karindu says:

    Stern’s story is probably the best use of the Juggernaut as a villain, but Uncanny X-Men #182 is likely the best use of him as an X-Men character.

    And that Kieron Gillen story during the otherwise terrible “Fear Itself” crossover is probably the absolute bets use of the Juggernaut as a “plot problem” gimmick character, to the point of exhausting that element of the character for a good while.

    I tend to agree that the Juggernaut, at this point, makes more sense as a general Marvel Universe villain than an X-villain at this point. Really, even the good Claremont-era uses of the Juggernaut treat him more like a Marvel villain with whom the X-Men have some history than a character who has especially good reasons to come after the X-Men themselves, or vice versa.

    Beyond that, I think that trying to define Cyttorak’s agenda is the least interesting thing to focus on with the Juggernaut. He’s more interesting as a callous, anger-prone, vaguely hedonistic, blue-collar goon who stumbled onto enough power to make him think he can do whatever he wants.

    I keep coming back to a bit from (*sigh*) Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where Spike explains why he’s willing to help Buffy save the world from the other villains, and explains that he’s still evil and all, he just happens to like the world the way it is and is perfectly happy as long as he can beat people up, kill when he likes, and watch football matches.

    The Juggernaut works best as that, with the added bonus that he’s very hard to stop when he decides he’s going to do something for money or for kicks. When he’s written well, you could just about mistake him for a reasonable, ordinary person until he casually decides to rob a bank or takes a job kicking over a building because he wants some beer money. (He wouldn’t just demand free beer at his favorite bar; then it wouldn’t be a casual hangout anymore where he could kick back and make small talk and flirt with women.)

  12. Chris says:

    I can’t wait for Black Juggernaut to fight regular Juggernaut

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