A wee Toyah reference, since we’re looking at the 80s…
Yesterday I wrote about the New X-Men and the appeal of their most famous author, Chris Claremont’s writing. Today, I thought I’d revisit the Asgardian Wars paperback of 1989. I recently bought it on ebay and the size and smell of it reminds me of the Fireside “Origins” series.
There are four extra-length mid-80s Marvel stories in the book, in which Claremont and his collaborators draw upon the Tolkienesque stylings of Walt Simonson’s Thor. I think you can tell when Claremont is excited by other people’s toys- like the Moore and Davis Captain Britain or Nocenti and Adams’ Longshot.
The X-Men/Alpha Flight team-up was originally pitched as a “five years later” reunion project for Claremont and Byrne. The Canadian creator didn’t take up the opportunity of course and the art is therefore by X-alumnus Paul Smith. It’s airy and glossy, reminding me a bit of Mike Grell but the “Fame” fashions are appalling and Kitty Pryde’s butch look is particularly unflattering. Continuity-wise, the story appears to take place towards the end of the second year of the Alpha Flight monthly.
The Gift presents a rare glimpse of Scott Summers and Madelyne Pryor at work, transporting an environmental survey team in Canada. Time traveller Rachel Summers impetuously attacks Shaman when the plane is lost but then his foster-child and fellow Alphan Snowbird is a victim of a magical assault. Cleverly, Claremont establishes the theme of family ties in both teams.
We learn of Loki’s bargaining for power with the enigmatic Those Who Sit Above in Shadow. Meanwhile the two groups eventually discover the lost survey team in a magical citadel and learn of their new super-powers. ( They are sometimes called “The Berserkers” but not here- it may be a Marvel Age place holder name).
The Gift part 2 comprises a big brawl when the price of those new powers are revealed. The effects of Madelyne’s newly-minted healing abilities ( which are used on Puck, Wolverine and Aurora) are won at the cost of magic-or human creativity. The shadowy gods intervene and revoke Loki’s gifts. The story ends with a reconciliation between Rachel and Cyclops ( her father in another timeline)
The plot reminds me a lot of the Lords of Light and Darkness/Spidey team-up but there, the antagonists mirrored Hindu mythology.
Of the Alphans, Claremont seems more interested in Heather, Aurora and Talisman ( here -and nowhere else, IIRC-called both Tally and Beth). This is understandable since they’re in the vein of his own female characters: forceful but conflicted) Puck, Byrne’s “avatar” and the wise Shaman, with Heather Hudson the other drivers of AF stories, receive less focus. Similarly, it’s the newcomer Rachel, Madelyne Pryor and Cyclops who are the focus among the X-Men.
Loki swears revenge and so the story segues into the first New Mutants Special Edition- actually an oversized annual.
Home is Where the Heart Is: The X-Babies are on holiday on a Greek island where a morbidly obese Karma is trying to recover from her possession by the Shadow King. They are abducted by the Enchantress ( Loki’s instrument of revenge) but Magik’s powers scatter the kids all over Asgard.
We follow their misadventures – Magma becomes a faerie, Mirage a Valkyrie and the repressed Wolfsbane falls for a Wolf Prince. Many of the New Mutants, like Sunspot, want to remain in Asgard but the story is all about taking difficult decisions and straight-arrow Cannonball matures most as a young man.
The incredibly detailed art is a mixture of George Perez and Barry Smith- I think we can see that clearly if we compare Illyana with Valeria from Smith’s “Red Nails”. There’s also a playfulness in the detail- for example when the shape-changing Warlock becomes the aforementioned Longshot ( a future X-Man).
There’s No Place Like Home (Or what are we going to do with 17 X-Men?). Kitty receives images through her psychic rapport with Illyana of the abductions and the X-Men travel to Asgard with the thudnerbolts of Arkon ( Roy Thomas’ sword and sorcery Avengers villain- a cross between Shazam and Conan and a guest-star in two earlier X-annuals.)
While Rachel reveals her new Phoenix identity, Storm has become Loki’s new puppet Goddess of Thunder. A (temporarily) dying Wolverine turns Ororo against Loki and Kitty gets to give the trickster godling piece of her mind. The entire gambit turns out to be an elaborate ploy by Karnilla the Norn Queen to ensure her beloved Balder becomes ruler of Asgard. This revelation reminds me a little of Dr. Doom’s appearance in the Steranko SHIELD/Yellow Claw saga.
While it’s logical that the senior mutant team saves the day, it is at the expense, somewhat, of the X-Babies character development. I was impressed by how deftly Claremont explores his central concerns- belonging, friendship and empire-building. Densely over-populated, a little pompous and extremely “talky”by modern standards, this epic can still be very charming and witty. Imagine how many issues- or miniseries!- it would occupy these days!
Coming soon: Richard Benson,the Avenger; more Blackmark; Captain Britain’s summer special
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