By Jef Willemsen (clarmindcontrol.blogspot.com)
In the fourth part of Infectious X-Men, the team has a lot to deal with. Not only did they just find out most of them are unwilling hosts of infant Brood Queens ready to take over their bodies, they're also about to die from explosive decompression. And oh yeah, long time Uncanny X-Men penciller Dave Cockrum was replaced by one Paul Smith.
First things first... imagine you're a fan of Uncanny X-Men back in late 1982. It's a good time to be following Marvel's mutants. Ever since 1976, Chris Claremont has been delivering solid stories that continue to raise the stakes and enrich the tapestry of the tales. And as for the art... Dave Cockrum had been the book's principle artist, his tenure only interrupted when one John Byrne enjoyed a relatively brief stint on the book. After Byrne left (wonder what happened to him?), Cockrum was back in the saddle. All the fans knew were either the Byrne or Cockrum version of the X-Men. And then, in Uncanny X-Men I#165... Paul Smith happened.
Judging from the cover alone, fans could already tell something new was about to start. Up to that point, Smith had been relatively unknown, mostly doing fill ins. He worked with Claremont before on the X-Men and Ka-Zar story in the opening arc of Marvel Fanfare during which he also followed Cockrum. His highly stylized style is a far cry from the warm, fuzzy and distinctively "dated" feel Cockrum's art evoked.
Smith's take on the characters was somewhat closer to Byrne's work, but in no way comparable. The arrival of Paul Smith effortlessly dropkicked the X-Men into the 1980s, any sense of late 1970s nostalgia went right out the window when Cockrum left (to do Futurians, his creator owned project for Marvel). Speaking of things going out the window... In the opening pages of Smith's debut issue the team was about to get sucked out into space.
Well, for a few seconds anyway.
"Here it comes, Petey!"
Full disclosure: yours truly really started getting into the X-Men during Paul Smith's days on the book, so I might be slightly biased... But it is impressive how Smith was able to capture the essence of the characters so perfectly even in his debut issue. Sure, they look remarkably different from the way either Byrne or Cockrum drew them, but they nevertheless still feel like their distinctive selves.
So, what happened to cause the hull breach? Well, Carol Danvers happened... Or rather, Binary, after she discovered the Brood's experiments gave her the ability to become one with a white hole. After learning her friends had been implanted with Brood eggs and were about to become hosts to the next generation of Brood Queens, Carol grew incensed and flew off to avenge her friends. Seeing as she was now powerful enough to give the Silver Surfer a run for his money, she could actually pull it off.
More on that later, first... Let's check in on Storm, who left the Z'Reee Shar last issue after discovering she was pregnant with what she initially thought was a baby. After sensing it was in fact a Brood embryo, she freaked out and took off in a Shi'ar shuttle.
Things aren't going great.
"This creature is evil... But does that give me the right to destroy it?"
Storm's inner monologue speaks volumes of just how well Claremont understood the characters he'd been shepherding for over seven years by this point. Ororo Munroe was so consecrated to protecting life, she couldn't even consider the embryo growing inside her as an unwanted intruder that deserved to die because it got forced upon her. As cruel and crass as it may sound, Ororo's plight indirectly mirrors the decision female rape victims have to face after discovering their traumatic ordeal left them pregnant. What do you do?
Unfortunately for Storm, her time had seemingly run out...
"Eh...?! My hands...?!"
You can speculate just why Storm's egg was the first to hatch. It might be because she was a woman in her child bearing years, possessing a body biologically ready and eager to gestate new life. This in stark contrast to Kitty Pryde who at 13-and-a-bit would barely have hit puberty... And as for Lilandra and her egg, if the Shi'ar are anything like other avian species they have a very specific, brief window of fertilty.
Oh, and sure... Wolverine's egg was the first to hatch back when the X-Men were still stuck on the Brood homeworld. But that might have been the neophyte Brood Queen's own decision, after sensing her host's mutant healing factor. She decided to take over his body moments after he was left severly injured. It could be she felt this was the right time to force the metamorphosis, only to realize halfway through she couldn't beat him after all.
Anyway, back to Storm... Even as she was changing, her shuttle drifted out of the nebula it had been stuck in. It entered open space near the center of the universe. The intense light of the billions of stars startled the neophyte Brood queen so much she aborted the take over. Briefly restored to normal, Ororo now concluded she didn't have to take another life to save her own... If she decided to end her own existence. Using her mutant weather control powers to summon the solar winds, Storm decided to soar one more time before the end..
"As Storm hopes, the embryo does not survive the ordeal"
Since this is a scene from late 1982, I'm pretty sure it won't be that big a spoiler when I reveal Storm lives through this. But how? We'll find out in a bit.
First, let's get back to the X-Men and Lilandra aboard the Z'Reee Shar. With both Storm and Binary gone and time quickly running out, the team was forced to face some rather grim realities. Kitty Pryde was taking it especially hard...
"It grabs her, she tries to phase through its tentacles but her power no longer works"
After having a nightmare about her funeral, which ended with the grief stricken X-Men looking on while Kitty was being brutally victimized by the Brood that emerged from her own corpse, Kitty Pryde woke up crying. Luckily, Colossus was nearby to console her... Which gave them a fine opportunity to take their already more than a little flirtatious relationship to the next level.
"However, little one, you are not older"
Erm, Peter? For future reference... the right time to voice any of your moral objections regarding tongue wrestling with a 13 year old would be, well, *before* you french the aforementioned child. But rest assured, the alarming thing these (way too) young lovers spot isn't the Comics Code Authority there to shut them down.
We'll soon get back to what caused Colossus to go shirtless in front of the minor he just accosted. For now, let's check in on the other people aboard Lilandra's stellar yacht. Wolverine, Cyclops and Lilandra have been discussing what to do with their remaining time before the metamorphosis. When Logan casually mentions the possibility of heading back to the Brood homeworld to dole out a little payback, we see one of the first signs that show just why Lilandra Neramani is the Majestrix Shi'ar, empress of a warrior race.
"From this moment on, wherever, whenever I find them....
Be they highborn or low, adult or child...
Their lives are mine!"
Be they highborn or low, adult or child...
Their lives are mine!"
Cyclops and Wolverine agree with Lilandra's decision to return to "Sleazeworld" for final retribution. Afterwards, Logan stops by Nightcrawler's quarters to see how his buddy Kurt is doing. To Wolverine (and the readers'!) surprise, he finds him on his knees praying.
"I never figured you for the religious type."
The late, great painter Bob Ross was fond of saying there are no mistakes in art, only happy accidents. These three panels, almost throwaway in their casualness, would go on to define the character of Kurt Wagner for more than a generation.
He already exhibited genuine faith back when the X-Men fought Dracula and Kurt's makeshift cross actually forced the lord of the undead to keep his distance. But here we have him in private conversation with his lord and savior, cross out and all. It was this scene that would eventually blossom into Nightcrawler becoming an ordained priest (before falling from grace, dying and coming back to life with the disciple like Bamf!-creatures following him around).
Almost at the same time, everyone aboard the Z'Reee Shar is surprised by the unexected appearance of several different versions of Storm. From the infant girl she was, thieving on the streets of Cairo, to her time alone in Africa and via her brief interlude as Dracula's lover to her regular self. Well, sort of... Storm had come back and she brought a rather unusual friend.
"I am not the Storm you knew"
I'll say... But that particular mystery was further explained in Uncanny X-Men I#166, in which we finally learned what Binary had been up to. Not to spoil the plot, but she was kinda busy giving the Brood a bloody nose... For instance, by attacking their outpost on the planet of Madreezar just as the Brood were getting ready to "recruit" a new space whale... I mean, Acanti, as they're called. The Brood infect these noble beings with a slaver virus that destroys their higher brain functions and turns them into mindless beasts, easily controlled. Binary destroyed the Brood outpost on Madreezar. Initially excited about having saved the captured Acanti, Carol was ready to set it free when she realized the Brood's slaver virus had already caused irreperable damage.
"Releasing you won't do any good, will it?"
Of course, it's only comics... but Carol Danvers *did* just euthanize a sentient being so it wouldn't continue to suffer needlessly. Pretty bold move for a Comics Code approved book in the early 1980s. Moments after Binary flew off, she was located by Storm in her new form who guided Carol to the Acanti that had swallowed the Z'Ree Sh'ar. As they entered the creature through its mouth, Binary spotted something rather... disturbing.
"Consider it a legacy of one of my... less pleasant moments"
Yup, right here imbedded in the Acanti's lower left cheek was Storm's actual body. It would appear the Acanti's healing factor was trying to restore the shell to full healh, but judging from the way Ororo looks... they're not exactly doing a bang up job. Watching her own body didn't seem to bother Storm as she guided Binary into the Z'Reee Shar to reconnect with the X-Men. After apologizing for her abrupt departure, Carol was on board to help her friends take out as many Brood as possible before their time ran out.
However, Storm proved to be the voice of reason:
"You would accomplish nothing. The stakes are far higher than mere vengeance."
She then used her new powers to show Binary, Lilandra and the X-Men what was truly at stake. In a nutshell: the creatures the Brood have been using as their ships are actually members of the Acanti, an ancient and benign race of sentients led by their leader, the Prophet-Singer. Ages ago, the Brood managed to capture and enslave the Prophet-Singer, turning him into one of the first of their living ships.
They discovered he carried the Acanti racial soul within him, a mark of leadership that made the entire race obey and follow him. Hoping to exploit this, the Brood crashed the Prophet-Singer's massive form on the planet that would become known as the Brood homeworld. Even though his physical form had long since perished, the Brood kept the Prophet-Singer's soul trapped in its rotting shell in order to keep attracting new victims.
Storm then revealed the spacewhale that had saved her was actually a prematurely born Prophet-Singer. When the other Acanti found her dying in space, they bonded her body and soul to that of the infant creature so her mature sensibilities could help guide him along until he was old enough to take care of himself. After explaining her current status quo, Ororo convinced the X-Men to help her free the Acanti's trapped soul. With it, the young Prophet-Singer could finally lead his remaining people away to safety.
"I think we're agreed on this."
With the plan made and agreed on, let's end part IV. Next time, while the X-Men prep for what might well be their final mission, we'll visit Earth to see what professor Xavier has been up to. Remember how he'd been implanted with a Brood Queen embryo as well? No worries, he'd forgotten too, but that doesn't keep him from doing some empire (re)building as we'll see in part V of Infectious X-Men: Interlude (or: How Brooding Charlie Got His Groove Back)