Monday, May 5, 2014

1982: Infectious X-Men part I: Planting The Seed

By Jef Willemsen (

The Brood. If there's one truly terrifying foe Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum added to the X-Men's rogues gallery it's got to be this race of body snatching baddies. In this multipart retrospective, we'll be revisiting the Brood's clashes with Marvel's merry mutants all through the 1980s.  

It really speaks to Claremont's strengths as a writer that he was able to sneak what would prove to be so major a villain like the Brood in under the radar. The parasitic alien race made its debut in March 1982's Uncanny X-Men I#155. Initially, they seemed little more than the henchmen of Deathbird, a villain Chris Claremont originally created when he was writing Ms. Marvel in the late 1970s. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's meet the first ever Brood.

"They are dangerous Skur'kll..."

Skur'kll? Guess Claremont got his inspiration for his name from a certain other race of alien bad guys. Even while drawing their first appearance, Dave Cockrum has the look of the Brood down and it's horrifying from the get go. The Brood's look is somewhat reminiscent of the alien from the movie Alien, but just how much they had in common with Sigourney Weaver's chest bursting nemesis would become clear a little later on. Still, the way Cockrum portrays Skurk'll handling his weapon is a testament to his creative genius. 

So, how did Deathbird and the Brood end up being buddies? Well, the story thusfar: Hoping to wrest control of the Shi'ar empire from her sister Lilandra, the renegade villain Deathbird had allied herself with both the Brood and the ambitious admiral Samédar to depose and kidnap the empress. They brought Lilandra to Earth, keeping her locked away inside a spaceship made to look like a Manhattan skyscraper under construction (stretching the suspension of disbelief pretty thin).

Deathbird made it appear as if the Starjammers, led by Cyclops' father Corsair, were responsible, correctly figuring this would lead the space pirates to return to Earth just as Samédar's battlefleet was en route to the planet. Officially, they were headed there to search for Lilandra, but Samédar had secret orders to destroy the world. Before he arrived though, Corsair made it to Earth, inadvertently bringing along a pack of Sidri bounty hunters who were pursuing him. Storm and Cyclops helped defeat them, but not before they destroyed Professor Xavier's School For Gifted Youngsters (thereby continuining the tradition of villains randomly ransacking the place, last observed when Kitty Pryde tore down most of the mansion fighting the N'Garai on Christmas Eve).

Long story short, upon arriving in orbit over Earth, Samédar had professor Xavier and the X-Men teleported on board the flagship, as well as Corsair, Storm and Cyclops. The Shi'ar planned to use Charles Xavier's telepathy and connection to Lilandra to find the empress. When he was unable to pinpoint her exact location, Xavier nevertheless used his authority as the royal consort (Shivarn'n Halanau in proper Shi'ar) to force Samédar to give him and the X-Men 24 hours to locate Lilandra. As a gesture of good faith, Xavier ordered Nightcrawler and Shadowcat to stay in custody on board the ship, which led to truly fun sequences like this.

"From the ridiculous to the sublime!"

Don't worry Kurt, Marvel and the Star Wars franchise are now both owned by Disney so it's not too likely George Lucas will sue over Kitty's final outfit.Getting back to the Brood, though... Corsair, Xavier and the remaining X-Men were returned to Earth where they sought out the help of other New York based superheroes. 

With the Fantastic Four away on a mission, they visited Avengers Mansion to find the only available Avenger was Tigra. And, as we covered before, Tigra's early 80s stint with Earth's mightiest wasn't all that noteworthy. Suffering from extreme stagefright, unsure how and if she even fit in, the werewoman quit after only a few issues. But here she is, needling Wolverine anyway, claiming she's anything but scared.

"I don't scare easy!"

Professor Xavier interrupted this particular feud, asking just where Corsair was. As it turns out, he and Storm had gone for a walk to discuss what they'd all been through. And that's where we get back to Deathbird and the Brood warrior Skur'kll who was ready to shoot the two heroes with a mind altering blast from his ray gun.

"The Brood fears nothing!"

And with that, the Brood had warped the minds of Corsair and Storm, making them believe they were actually each other's worst enemies. The two heroes were ready to kill, even as professor Xavier, Tigra and the X-Men arrived on the scene and Deathbird got involved. While Tigra faced Deathbird, Xavier tried to use his telepathy to rid Corsair and Storm of their mind control. His efforts were noticed by Skur'kll who was readying another psi-scream blast for the "crippled mammal" as he refered to Xavier. Luckily, Skur'kll wasn't the only one with sharp senses.

"The name's Wolverine, sucker. You want Charlie, you'll haveta take me first"

No sooner said than done. Wolverine creamed the Brood, or as he called him "one of the ugliest suckers he's ever laid eyes on". However, Skur'kll wasn't alone and other Brood joined in the attack, wounding Colossus, capturing Storm and eventually trying to ward off the team as they made their way into the construction site that wasn't exactly what it appeared to be.

"Who are these scaley horrors?!"

As fate (and story comfort) would have it, Skur'kll's corpse evaporated just as the X-Men joined Corsair in his attempt to enter the Brood's main base. With Colossus left behind to guard Charles , the team was more than a little surprised Deathbird soon showed up with a captured professor X, moments before the hidden spaceship lifted off into, well... space. And yes, all that happened in just one issue!

Uncanny X-Men I#156 continued the story, with the X-Men finding a mortally wounded Colossus outside the wreckage of what everyone thought was a skrycraper under construction. When police gathered to question the team and Tigra, all of a sudden Corsair's crew appeared on the Starjammer and teleported away everyone except the were-cat as they gave chase to the Brood spaceship. That opening was reason enough to include this classic cover.

"Enter the St*rjammers"

It's no secret Dave Cockrum loved to play with the notion of pirates in space, or swashbuckling of any kind come to think of it. Later, he'd launch the Starslammers (no relation) and he'd even author Nightcrawler in a 1984 limited series that portrayed Kurt as a modern day Errol Flyn in a magical realm. 

The Starjammers pursued Deathbird, while the ship's medic Sikorski tried to heal the mortally wounded Colossus. On board Deathbird's ship, the recently captured Charles Xavier had an emotional reunion with his ladylove Lilandra. But take a look at what he was dreaming of...

"In my mind, I saw... horrible...alien... so evil. I sensed such hatred, such insatiable hunger"

In retrospect, this is a brilliant bit of foreshadowing when it comes to where the Brood storyline would eventually lead. Charles Xavier "dreams" about the Brood, slowly merging into his lover Lilandra who happens to be at his side. Was it a dream, a way for his subconscious mind to work through what he'd just been through or is there something else going on? For those in the know: both Lilandra and Xavier had already been implanted with Brood eggs, courtesy of the Brood Queen, but to casual readers in the Spring of 1982, this could still be filed under the category of "just a dream" years before the shower scene in Dallas turned that into a much hated trope.

Anyhoo, the Starjammers soon caught up with Deathbird and the Brood in space, but not before they encounered one of the most awe inspiring, yet underappreciated double spreads in early 80s Marvel history.

Just. Look. At. It.

One can't help but admire the creativity that went into the notion of a space whale enslaved by the Brood, with cities built into its living flesh, forced to continue to exist at the leisure of his parasitic masters. Sheer brilliance. 

The massive creature swallowed up the X-Men and the Starjammers, spawning an air-lock of sorts that would allow the Brood forces easy access. The mutants and their alien allies fought off the Brood, eventually forcing their way inside and near the cell of Xavier and Lilandra, where we got this unforgettable scene. Never in the entire 1980s did Charles Francis Xavier engage any enemy head on in so direct a manner.

"More aliens, Cyclops, sneaking up behind you!"

Charles Xavier knocked out the Brood, and the mutants managed to return to the Starjammer just as the craft literally rammed free of the space whale. Now free of the Brood, the two teams united to deal with the threat of Sámedar and his promise to destroy Earth.

But more on that in part II of Infectious X-Men: I Put A Spell On You


  1. What a coincidence, I've been going through my old X-Men comics and I'm up to the end of the Brood saga as we speak. I have to say that this is a really great story arc due to the sense of dread and doom that Claremont and Cockrum are able to convey in their characters. And given that about a years' worth of stories were devoted to the Brood you could tell there would be some serious repercussions from their battle.

    With that being said, as I read these issues I just want them to end. I don't know if it's because I read them already multiple times and they're stale in my mind or if it's just taking too long for the plot to resolve. But I do know that I've never really been a fan of the X-Men's space-faring adventures. There are a lot of interesting characters they've encountered, but to me the X-Men work best when they're grounded on Earth. Their plight (Mutants vs. Humans) is, well, a very human struggle, and all of that is lost when they deal with aliens who are stranger than they are. They just become regular superheroes, plain and simple, instead of characters who are genetic anamolies that try and protect a world that fears and hates them.

  2. YOU'RE BACK! Welcome back to blogging, Jef. It's good to read one of your posts again.

  3. Nice post, Jef! Welcome back indeed.

  4. Thanks all :-) Though, in all honesty I've never really quit blogging. For the past several months, I've been working for the Marvel Appendix, covering characters left and right. I recently finished profiling the entire Marvel: The Lost Generation cast: and figured I wanted to stretch a different set of muscles as it were.

  5. By the way, I was just re-reading UXM #137, and there was the Skrull Empress: Rk'lll (apparently, that's a misprint, and it's supposed to be spelled "R'Klll"). Anyway, the similarities struck me, and I got to wondering if she was a Claremontian creation, based solely on the name. It appears that she not (first appearance, FF #206); nonetheless, I wonder if she SPECIFICALLY (as opposed to the Skrull race as a whole) was someone Claremont had in mind when coming up with the name.

    Jef, I'm also glad to hear that you've continued blogging. I knew you'd been working at the Appendix; it's just really hard to find what you specifically have been writing, since there's no RSS to follow. So I've just been waitin' around to see an update from you here or over at your Claremont blog. And lo and behold, you're back! Even though I'm sure you've still been plenty busy, it's fun to read your musings here again.

    1. Ow, go on David, your flattering words go right to my head. And yes, it's true the Appendix doesn't have an RSS feed, but if you check the new entries listing (updated daily) and look for Norvo (that's my nickname there), you'll be able to read my writings and comments on the various characters I profile. For instance, the other day, Peter Bristow of New Mutants fame went up.

  6. "...the X-Men work best when they're grounded on Earth. Their plight (Mutants vs. Humans) is, well, a very human struggle, and all of that is lost when they deal with aliens who are stranger than they are."

    I think being among truly outrageous beings shows just how human our Mutant heroes really are, which is the whole point of the series since the beginning.

    The Brood saga was a huge deal back when these books were published. I was in sixth grade at the time and all of the comic-reading kids were talking about it. How nice that it led into Paul Smith's brilliant, but woefully short run as UXM artist.

    Speaking of the art, I wasn't crazy about Dave Cockrum's "new" art style upon his return to the book but by the time of the Brood saga, his art was once again superb. Maybe it had to do with Dave doing those outer space stories so well.

  7. I echo C.K. here about Dave's artwork. Once those ugly bugs with guns showed up, Dave hit it out of the ballpark! On the other hand, I love the X-Men in space. Nothing says '70s and '80s Marvel to me like the M'Krann Crystal, Dark Phoenix and Brood Sagas.
    Bring on the Infectious X-Men recaps!



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