Today, we check out War Machine #1, Avengers: The Initiative #20, and then blast to the past for Emma Frost's first appearance in Uncanny X-Men #'s 129-131. Enjoy and tell a friend!
Welcome back! We finally get that War Machine book we've always wanted, Hank Pym keeps on mourning the death of his ex, and the White Queen bothers the All New-All Different X-Men team to tip off The Dark Phoenix Saga! It's a time and a half!
As always, you can easily check up on past articles of Super Reads. If you're reading this on Bludnet, you'll see a link titled "Super Reads SI" on your left where you can check out what happened in every issue dealing with Secret Invasion & Dark Reign. Our syndicated articles might not be so lucky. For you, click here to catch up or remember back on all 32 previous articles. Lots of green aliens and brillo headed arch villains.
And here we go!
War Machine #1
Writer: Greg Pak
Artist: Leonardo Manco
Well, the official answer to the question: "do the new Dark Reign comics reprint the stuff we just read in Dark Reign: New Nation?" is "no, they don't." This is all new material that hasn't been reprinted anywhere yet. So if you haven't picked up New Nation, I'd go get it. Lots of good stuff there you won't get in their proper releases... unless War Machine is the exception to the rule.
Santo Marco! One of the many trouble ridden areas in the Marvel Universe. This time, it's threatened by something of a regime change and tribal warfare. The new powers-that-be are rounding up specific tribes with their refitted Sentinels and are ready to commit some genocide. The UN has sent some people to watch but NOT interfere. They'll just write their reports and go home.
Luckily, we've got War Machine to save the day when no one else will. This time he's sporting red glowy bits instead of blue glowy bits. For the record, they were yellow in Director of SHIELD. He's gone through three different glowy bit color changes in just a few issues. Rhodey, pick a color and go with it! Back on target, he's here for two reasons.
One: Save lives by killing bad guys.
Two: Pick up Parnell Jacobs. More on that later.
For now, we're treated to Rhodey's finesse in the War Machine armor. Much like Tony Stark in his 2008 block-buster movie, he's able to single out the bad guys while leaving the innocents alive and unharmed. The bad guys rally and attack him with heavy artillery. They actually knock his arms off which leads to a flashback!
It's time to learn why Jim Rhodes is a cyborg. One year ago (this must have happened RIGHT after his Civil War appearance in Black Panther and before he started showing up in Avengers: The Initiative), he was involved in an incident where he had been pretty blown apart by some bombers. I'm talking every limb torn off and half his face missing. Bad news all over and while the fine details aren't revealed, we can only assume that he went down saving lives because that's what Jim Rhodes does. Tony Stark (wearing his movie armor if you're paying attention) and his team have taken the bombers into custody and Rhodey berates him for not just killing them. That's not the way Tony rolls (blasted peacenik-- he was saving lives at the end of Civil War, too, when Cap's team was all about kicking @$$). Rhodey laughs because he knows that Tony is already thinking about solutions to the limb loss (and face loss) of his best friend.
We're treated with some panels where Rhodey's lost bits and pieces are replaced with cybernetics and then the surprise of the book: Bethany Cabe! Yeah, Cabe. You don't know who Bethany Cabe was? She was the lady who some see as Stark's true soul mate (though the people who believe that don't think Stark should ever settle with one woman anyway so they negate their own opinions). She was a bodyguard/ security expert who eventually became Security Director of Stark Enterprises before Stark died during the Crossing. They had an on and off relationship throughout the late 70's, 80's,and early 90's. After the Crossing, she disappeared never to be seen again and Stark's on and off love interest role was replaced with... Rumiko Fujikawa... the most annoying creation in modern comics (thanks, Kurt Busiek!). Anyway, Cabe is here to help Rhodey work through his new cyborg issues. This is a temporary solution, by the way. Just to get him through the next year or so until Stark can come up with something a little more fleshy looking.
That ends our flashback as War Machine rises in the present and attacks without his arms. His cyborg parts have made him much more computer-like. He's not able to forget how many people these guys have killedor anything else, for that matter. His mind is like a computer or something. Also, he can fight on even when his limbs fall off like it ain't no thing. Eventually, he runs out of ammo. As the bad guys are rushing him, his detached arms go to work, taking out the the remaining soldiers. With that odd business taken care of, everything reattaches to it's proper place.
It's now time to get to Parnell Jacobs. If you're curious, Parnell was the guy who stole the specs for the War Machine armor way back in the day. He was the bad guy War Machine during volume three of Iron Man (which also featured the joy that is Rumiko Fujikawa). He's an old comrade of Jim Rhodes and married one of his childhood friends, Glenda Sandoval. Rhodey knocks out Parnell and carries him and part of the Sentinel back to his stealth space station.
On the space station, Beth (via computer monitor) and Jim are having a nice little conversation about Jim dying and needing to come in for his new body replacements. She's not happy that Rhodey's taken Parnell up to help him. Parnell will betray him at the first chance. Jim explains that doing so would kill the space station as well and then Parnell would die very slowly. Parnell, overhearing this, puts down his wrench.
Parnell is up here to help Jim keep the War Machine up and running and hopefully keep Rhodey among the living. He has more experience with the ins and outs of the suit than anyone outside of Tony Stark. Now, he just needs a reason. It turns out that, while Parnell was busy being a war criminal, his wife, Glenda, was abducted in Occupied Aqiria. Parnell's got his reason now.
This also explains his behavior in New Nation. When he was under for three weeks, he was scanning the databases of every government, news service, and private security firm in the world that had any importance to his new mission: killing the bad guys. He's set up to right the wrongs that no one else is willing to do anything about.
Parnell sets out to remod the War Machine armor for all out war. Cabe is upset that they aren't doing anything to reduce the stress of wearing the suit on it's occupant, but that's not the two's priority right now.
Parnell's not even worried that he may die in the satellite if Rhodey dies in Occupied Aqiria. He just wants his wife rescued.
Unfortunately, our favorite returned character, Bethany Cabe, may have missed a regime change of her own. While she was watching out for War Machine, Stark had lost favor with the United States government and been replaced by Norman Osborn. Her facility is taken over by HAMMER agents. While Director Osborn himself strides over Cabe's unconcious form, he looks upon a great spoil of war: Jim Rhodes' second body. This one with no visible cybernetic bits.
Are we looking on the new Iron Patriot? Makes ya think, huh?
Avengers: The Initiative #20
Writer: Dan Slott & Christos N. Gage
Penciler: Steve Kurth
Looking to place this into continuity? Well, it happens AFTER The Mighty Avengers #20 and BEFORE Secret Invasion: Requiem #1.
The Initiative Program was one of Hank Pym's ideas but not the Hank Pym running around in today's comic. It was actually the brainchild of Criti Nol: the Skrull that replaced Hank back around the time the New Avengers formed. Worst still is that this is all public knowledge. Camp Hammond has never been very popular with the locals. With the latest revelation, protests around the base have greatly increased. People like Joseph Green, Gauntlet, are having trouble making it past the human wall blocking the gates.
That's really not THAT much trouble for Gauntlet, though. He uses his cybernetic arm to create a huge hand and clears the protesters from his path.
Inside Camp Hammond, the Secret Invasion aftermath is dealt with. Many of those that were abducted (you'll see people like Mockingbird, Jarvis, She-Thing, and Dum-Dum Dugan) are sitting in a circle of chairs. In the center of that circle, Dr. Samson and Alicia Masters are there to help everyone deal with the psychological and practical issues dealing with their abduction. These people need to put their lives back together after other people have been living them for quite a while. It's like mega-identity theft. Alicia Masters had been abducted for quite some time as her Skrull replacement went so far as to get married to Johnny Storm before the Fantastic Four found out and rescued her so she's got some experience to offer.
Some take this better than others. Dum-Dum, in particular, thinks this is a waste of his time and tries to use his SHIELD authority to get out of it... someone should tell him the fate of SHIELD.
Elsewhere on base, Guantlet is telling everyone what happened in Avengers: The Initiative Special. Hardball defected to become the leader of his very own Hydra cell. He's hanging out in Madripoor, which isn't friendly with the United States right now (they were friendly with Tony Stark-- see Iron Man: Director of SHIELD Annual #1-- but, with him out of a job, they are taking it badly). Guantlet wants to sic the Shadow Initiative on them for some undercover action but no one around has the authority to activate them... except Baron Blitzschlag but no one WANTS him to have that authority. It looks like Gauntlet is the highest ranking guy on base unless you count the recently returned Pym.
Which leads us to Hank Pym again. He's having dinner with... Jan? That looks like Jan. Hank's telling her that she's dead. She knows but wants him to pretend that she isn't. Huh. Once a madman, always a madman? She tells him what's happened since he was abducted. Stuff like the fake Yellowjacket making sweet, sweet love to Tigra, creating the G.I.Ant-Man suit, the Fifty State Initiative, and the whole Ragnarok (Clor!) fiasco which lead to the death of Bill Foster. That part really gets to him especially if you remember that the two of them were long time friends.
In the Camp Hammond cafeteria, Hellcat watches as Tigra eats strawberries mixed with pickles... a favorite delicacy among Skrulls. It's also something you'd see a pregnant woman eat during one of her cravings. That's right. Tigra's carrying Criti Nol's love child.
Gauntlet is giving the Shadow Initiative their orders. First off, Ant-Man is joining the Thunderbolts. He skips off to his new assignment as a covert operative (I think that's what the T-Bolts are supposed to be now) as Mutant Zero tries to take off. She never had to attend briefings under Gyrich but it's a brand new day. Gauntlet orders her to sit. Taskmaster has been added to the Shadow Initiative's roster. Komodo's here because of her... um... intimate knowledge on the target. Yeah, Hardball and her were lovers. Komodo demands to be included on the mission for her input and that causes a break so that Gauntlet and her can work out that little detail.
While the Shadow Initiative wait, we cut over to Taskmaster. He has a pretty good idea on who Mutant Zero is. He's gonna check that out.
We cut back to Jan filling Hank in on the important stuff that happened while he was away. You know, like TV shows and celebrity gossip. Good times. It leads to a question about WHEN Hank was actually taken. Now, we saw the moment back in The Mighty Avengers #15 but these people don't have the benefit of our information. This line of questioning is interupted by Trauma.
He's looking for Tigra. He knew the two of them were... oh wait! That was the Skrull him! Ah, sorry about that. He'll go look elsewhere.
More fallout from Secret Invasion is happening elsewhere. 3-D Man shot Crusader in the head because he was a Skrull. According to the authorities, he made the right decision. According to some members of the Initiative, he made a terrible mistake. That's ok, though, because he's leaving the Initiative so that he can star in the Skrull Kill Krew mini-series. But first, he and Ryder (from the Kill Krew) have to bury some comrades. Mostly their heads. Moonstomp, Dice, and Catwalk had their final mission when, as decapitated heads in jars, they served as Skrull detectors for the various Initiative teams in the last issue. They're being buried on the grounds of Camp Hammond by Riot, the insect-like member of the Kill Krew.
Ryder tells Riot that the war with the Skrulls is over. She can turn back into her human form. She does so and, in human form, dies. The two bury her next to their comrades and then go to take on some more Skrulls. Yeah, you can't stop the Skrull issues.
And now... the Taskmaster/ Mutant Zero showdown! Taskmaster knows who she is and a little more fighting here and there proves it to him. While she's giving off an awefully "Phoenix-like" vibe, we've known all along that was a red herring. She is, when it comes down to it, Typhoid Mary. People that wanted Jean Grey back (and I know there are two or three of you out there) are gonna have to wait a few more years.
Meanwhile, Tigra is having a session with Trauma where she faces her worst current fear: a litter of baby Skrulls bursting from her chest and belly. Now that she's faced down that incredible horror (or just been freaked the hell out by it), she's ready to deal with whatever is really on it's way. Turns out, she going to have an abortion. No alien babies for her. Honestly? That's too easy a resolution to a problem that was just introduced. I expect this plot thread to continue.
Jan is questioning Hank on when he was abducted and wonders if maybe he was taken before he commited his wife abusing slap. As we all know, he DID actually do that. He wasn't taken until much later. He reveals this to jan and she walks out on him. Hank asks her if that's what the real Jan would do and Jan turns back into Jocasta (remember: same brain patterns) to respond in the affirmative... even though the two had gotten back together after that incident a few times and had reconciled the entire incident. Well, at least now Hank knows. He asks Jocasta for one more favor.
The two leave Camp Hammond so they can go enjoy their time in Secret Invasion: Requiem before joining the cast of The Mighty Avengers. On their way out, Gauntlet, Hellcat, and Stingray meet them to say good-bye. They're going to miss him but, as Hank reminds them, he wasn't really here. It was all Criti Nol.
And Criti Nol WAS there. So there, in fact, that while Baron Blitzschlag slumbers, a final final failsafe is activated, bringing Ragnarok back online. And that'll lead into Christos N. Gage's first solo arc! Woo!
Now, let's move on to more Dark Illuminati action as we explore Emma Frost's first appearance:
The Uncanny X-Men #129
Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: John Byrne
The All-New All-Different X-Men team is taking on it's first major status quo change since the death of Thunderbird. Banshee is leaving the team. He is depowered and finds that he'll be more use by staying with Moira MacTaggert on Muir Isle as SHE recovers from the death of her son, Proteus. Scott tries to recruit Madrox, Havok, and Polaris to replace him, but there's no love for the X-Men team today. Ah, now there's so many people wanting to be on the roster that they could fill four teams. And they kinda do, don't they?
The X-Men lift off and make the trek across the Atlantic back to the Mansion. On much the same path albiet travelling at a much slower speed, is a Hellfire Club corporate jet with a very particular passenger: Jason Wyngarde. Now, the audience doesn't know it at the time but, since we're not going to get to the actually reveal, I'll let you all in on why you should know Wyngarde if you DON'T know who he is. He is Mastermind. He was one of the original members of Magneto's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants as well as daddy to two daughters with similar powers. As a member of the Hellfire Club, he's been playing with fire and messing with Phoenix's mind. This will eventually erupt into her becoming Dark Phoenix and leading to, arguably, the best X-Men storyline ever. For now, it just leads to "flashbacks" to the 1700's where the two make out.
Scott breaks her out of her trance and they discuss his dating of Colleen Wing. The two are only friends, though. His real love is Jean Grey. He speaks beautiful poetry and the two do their own making out. I'm certain the other X-Men appreciate that PDA.
The X-Men return to the Mansion to see that Charles Xavier has returned as well. It's a heartfelt reunion that turns sour the next day as Xavier tries to instruct the team in the same manner he instructed the original line-up. It's a failing method that Cyclops realized long before. Scott tries to explain that to the Prof but the man is damn stubborn. It'll take time for Xavier to realize that he's actually wrong. For now, it turns out Cerebro has detected two mutants. Looks like it's field trip time!
The Hellfire Club has the same information, provided to them by a bug in the X-Mansion's system. The X-Men have no secrets from them. Wyngarde cautions the very shadowed Inner Circle about dealing lightly with the X-Men, though. As Mastermind knows, they don't go down easily. Those shadows indicate that they aren't underestimating their competition. Yet. Just wait until they do. Until then, it's up to the White Queen to play with them.
In Chicago, we get to deal with the first of these new mutants that Cerebro detected: Kitty Pryde! Yeah, this issue is awesome with first appearances. She's just discovering she's a mutant but has very little control on her powers at this time. She gets home from school to see her parents (who are on the verge of separation) talking to Emma Frost. Frost is checking her as a possible inclusion at her Massachusetts Academy. Kitty isn't feeling good, though. Her mother tells her to go upstairs and lie down. She does so. Unfortunately, she has a huge migraine attack and finds herself in the living room.
This, of course, panics the hell out of her. As her parents watch, she rushes back upstairs, ignoring their guest. The parents appologize about their daughter but Ms. Frost completely understands.
As the White Queen leaves, the X-Men (Xavier, Storm, Colossus, and Wolverine) arrive. They bring an offer for Kitty to join them at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. While the parents talk it up with Xavier, they invite Kitty to hang out with his students downtown. She takes them up on it.
At the local malt shoppe, Storm reveals to Kitty that they're all actually the X-Men. Off a ways, Logan's getting some stress for reading a Penthouse without paying for it. Before he can give some stress back, the X-Men are attacked by armored Hellfire men. During the battle, Kitty is pushed through the wall with the help of her powers. Once through the wall, though, she blacks out. The X-Men beat down the armored men only to be taken out by the telepathic prowess of the White Queen.
On the way out, White Queen orders the malt shoppe destroyed with the defeated men still inside. With that done, the rest of the Hellfire assembled excape on their hovercraft and deal with their prisoners:
Unknown to the White Queen or her men, Kitty has stowed away on their craft. She's getting better and better at controlling her powers.
The Uncanny X-Men #130
Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: John Byrne
Meanwhile, Cyclops, Phoenix, and Nightcrawler search down the other mutant.at a New York discotech. Yeah, this is the first appearance of Dazzler, the disco-themed super hero. Marvel missed the death of Disco by half a year. Now, it takes time to produce a comic, so we can forgive Dazzler's appearance here. What we can't forgive is her subsequent solo series that lasted for 42 issues. Actually, we can't even make sense of that. All we can say is "what the hell?" and move on.
What the hell?
OK, let's move on.
The Hellfire Club is watching their search with great interest. They've tracked this mutant signature a lot like they did Kitty Pryde: the same bug in the same X-Mansion. They alert the attack force and await word to strike.
As they approach the club, Nightcrawler separates from them (he would never have gotten by the bouncer). Jean and Scott enter. The one thing that our creative team gets awesome is that this isn't the best disco ever. This is a run down, beat up, seen better days type of disco and Scott can't speak down to it enough. They need to get the hell out of there before it's disco-ness infects them, so they speed up their search. Jean scans the crowd while Scott uses her mini-cerebro unit in his watch.
It's time to get a first look at Sebastian Shaw, Black King of the Hellfire Club. Jason Wyngarde, hanging out with him for this scene, tries to caution him about dealing with the X-Men. Shaw is confident of their success. Wyngarde will believe it when he sees it but he'll still work on his part of the plan: corrupting Phoenix. He leaves to continue doing that.
Shaw gets in a teleconference with the White Queen next. She's succeeded in capturing Storm, Colossus, and Wolverine, stripping them down to their underwear (all part of the plan), and putting Professor Xavier under heavy sedation (he must have been captured off-panel). Only Kitty Pryde escaped and Emma Frost is certain that she can "convince" the child's parents to send Kitty to her private school. Pryde is as good as captured but not really.
Kitty has been following the Hellfire Club ever since they captured the X-Men. She gives us a quick flashback to the events from the last issue (look up) and then makes her way to a pretty drugged out Storm in a bird cage (affected by an inhibitor field, indeed). Storm is groggy, but is able to hand Kitty a number to call when she escapes from the now chasing Hellfire Club.
Back at the creepy disco, Phoenix is having another hallucination. Man, this is one drugged out issue JUST under the surface. This time, she's getting married to Wyngarde in a late 1700's. Shaw is presiding. During this little escapade, Jean is revealed as the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club for the first time. She awakes from this vision locking lips with the real life Wyngarde as Scott looks on in utter horror.
He really hates disco.
Finally, we get to Dazzler. She's a performer whose powers at this point result in a light show powered by sound waves. This control over light will lead to laser blasts in the future but those aren't really crowd pleasers so we're all about the light show at this point. Even Cyclops' hate of disco doesn't stop him from actually enjoying the music... though he'll never say it out loud or admit it ever again. Another plus: Dazzler's the mutant they were looking for.
Outside, Nightcrawler picks up the X-Phone in the X-Car. It's the Commisioner... I mean, it's Kitty Pryde calling to tell the free members of the team about the fate of the rest of the team. As Nightcrawler is trying to suss out that situation, he is attacked by more armored Hellfire men. There are more Hellfire goons in armored suits attacking the X-Men inside the club. Nightcrawler quickly joins the fight inside and, with the help of Dazzler, they defeat the bad guys.
Cyclops convinces Dazzler to tag along with them for her own safety and the group leaves the disco just in time to escape it's explosion (off-panel!). The team leaves to rescue their fellow X-Men as Cyclops gets one last look at Jason Wyngarde. He's lighting a cigarette outside the burning club with a nice silouette of Mastermind behind him.
The Uncanny X-Men #131
Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: John Byrne
Back in Chicago, Kitty Pryde is still being chased by Hellfire baddies. She's about to be run over when our free X-Men make a timely rescue. Phoenix is particularly brutal in her response. She's giving into her dark side already. She's also the most human looking member of this oddball assortment of X-Men so she's sent to calm the young mutant.
Kitty explains what's happened in more detail as Scott bandages up her feet. The most important thing gained from Kitty's rescue, however, is prisoners. They were actually able to capture two Hellfire goons and this time they didn't even explode! It's good to be winning! Jean enters one of their minds and learns everything our team will need to know about the location of their captive comrades and some info about Emma Frost and the Hellfire Club. This is particularly upsetting to Jean because in her flashback vision things, she's marrying a member of the Hellfire Club. She even met Wyngarde in real life! What does this all mean?
Well, Phoenix isn't about to tell anyone else about all this because they might actually figure it out. For now, they come up with a plan to infiltrate Frost Enterprises (makes you wonder if Emma still has any of this stuff) and make a play at rescuing their teammates. The X-Men pretend to be captured so that they can enter the compound.
While the X-Men enter through the front gate, Kitty goes straight for the captives. She tries freeing Wolverine only to learn that, when she phases through mechanical devices, she shorts them out. This opens Wolverine's cage. Kitty helps him out but before he can recover from the inhibitor waves that hit him inside the cage, Pryde is taken out of the fight by a blast from the Hellfire Club security team.
Wolverine DOES recover, though. It's time to slice through some Hellfire men.
Cyclops' team reveals themselves as they begin to fight their way through the compound to their fallen teammates. The White Queen becomes aware of their entry and sends more men in order to slow their advance. In the meantime, she's going to go about brain wiping Storm. Before she can follow through on her plan, Phoenix shows up. It's brain vs. brain time.
As you might imagine, if armored Hellfire soldiers couldn't take the X-Men then these unarmored varieties aren't going to do the trick either. Soon, Cyclops' team is able meet up with Wolverine and Colossus (and a recovering Kitty Pryde). They take down the last of the Hellfire security force and try to make their way to Storm, Phoenix, and the White Queen.
The telepathic battle between Phoenix and the White Queen is going one way fast. Emma is losing. Storm looks on in wonder and horror. It's hard to imagine just how powerful her friend is. The White Queen is very near defeat when she makes one last ditch effort to free herself. This effort causes the Phoenix Force to whiplash around and destroy the building the trio is in. When the dust settles, Phoenix stands with a weary but relatively unharmed Storm while Emma Frost remains elusive.
And now we're to the aftermath. Our team bids farewell to Dazzler as yet another mutant declines membership in the world famous X-Men. No one wants to join this team! They return Kitty Pryde to her panicked parents. Daddy is nothing if not incredibly angry at the last few issues' events. All they knew is the Malt Shoppe they had sent their daughter to had blown up and her remains weren't among the dead. They didn't know what had happened to their daughter. Mr. Pryde is yelling Xavier out when Phoenix alters his mind so that he is actually pleased to see them all once more.
Yay, dark side! Cyclops and Storm are not very happy about Jean going about altering memories and Storm quickly relates how Phoenix appeared as she fought the White Queen. She's all-different... possibly all-new. They vow to find out if there are outside forces motivating her... but we all know how well that'll work out.
If you DON'T know, I suggest reading up on the Dark Phoenix Saga. You'll be happy you did!
And that is the tale of the White Queen's first appearance and face-off against the Uncanny X-Men. We're also all done for today but make sure to check back with us soon for some more Dark Reign action (with some Secret Invading and War of Kinging mixed in for fun).
Until then: Who Do YOU Trust?
Posted originally: 2009-01-12 13:53:41