Monday, June 8, 2015

X-MEN LEGENDS - June 2000 (Part One)

Every Time a Bell Rings
Written by Brian K. Vaughan

Summary:  Fifteen-year-old Warren Worthington III secretly attempts to fly.  After a disastrous training session, Warren learns from his roommate and best friend Benny Yorkes that a classmate has died.  Later, after hearing screams in the night, Warren discovers a monster has killed the groundskeeper, Hallahan.  He successfully flies for the first time escaping the beast.  Warren seeks counsel from young teacher Father Tim, who’s sympathetic towards mutants, unlike the headmaster, Father White.  Later, after Warren hears the screams of the school’s bully Chadwick in the night, he discovers that Benny is the monster.  Benny grabs on to Warren as he flies away, but as his true personality returns, Benny realizes he can’t live as a monster.  He slashes Warren’s wing and willingly drops to his death.  The night before Benny’s funeral, Warren appears as the Avenging Angel to Father White and convinces him that mutants are also God’s children.

Continuity Notes:  
  • According to the Continuity Guide in the back of the novel, this story takes place “about a year prior” to the back-up story in X-Men Vol. 1 #54 (March 1969).
  • For those keeping score, the name of Warren’s prep school is St. Ignatius in the story, while at some point in the comics continuity, the name was established as St. Joes Preparatory School.  

Review:  Before X-Men Legends was a video game, it was the title of one of the final Marvel prose novels released by Penguin Putnam.  Much like The Ultimate Spider-Man and Untold Tales of Spider-Man, the novel is an anthology collection of various stories from the X-Men’s past.  Brian K. Vaughan was still relatively unknown when this novel was released, although he was beginning to build a name for himself in comics.  Vaughan’s decision to chronicle Warren Worthington’s life in prep school as a young mutant predates the Marvel Knights Angel miniseries, which followed a very similar premise, by several years.

Assuming you’re willing to accept the wild coincidence that two mutants have ended up as roommates in this prep school (which is acknowledged within the story), there’s a lot to enjoy here.  The starting place of the story, Warren studying books on aviation and physics to learn how exactly to use his wings, is clever.  Since humans aren’t meant to fly, Warren has no real clue how to use his wings, assuming they even work in the first place.  After a few pages of introducing the cast, Vaughan evolves the piece into a murder mystery, with two black hat and two white hat potential suspects.  Naturally, one of the white hats turns out to be the culprit, but I have to confess I assumed Father Tim would be the killer, not Warren’s pal Benny.  While the concept of a monster on campus does initially seem ridiculous, Vaughan sells the drama fairly well, and Warren’s confrontations with the beast do work as suitable motivations for Warren to fully develop his powers.  The debut of the Avenging Angel at the end is a cute play on Warren’s identity as an “angel,” as well.  I’ll also give Vaughan credit for not giving into standard prequel-itis, with only one reference in the piece to a character Warren will meet in the future, and it’s a totally defensible one given the context of the story.

Diary of a False Man
Written by Keith R.A. DeCandido

Summary:  Following the death of the Changeling, who was impersonating Charles Xavier, Jean Grey discovers his diary.  She learns that the Changeling was an orphan with no name, who developed mutant powers at puberty and left his old life behind.  After years as a thief, he was recruited into the Factor Three, where he inadvertently played a part in an alien’s plans to destroy Earth.  Months later, after being diagnosed with cancer, the Changeling sought out Xavier to make amends.  Xavier amplified the Changeling’s latent telepathic powers and asked him to assume his identity while he prepared for an invasion by the alien Z’Nox.  Jean Grey was the only X-Man to know of the deception, and now that the Changeling has died in battle, she isn’t sure if she should tell her teammates.  Ultimately, Jean realizes that the Changeling was content knowing he did the right thing, even with no recognition.

Continuity Notes:  
  • This story is set concurrently with X-Men Vol. 1 #43 (April 1968).  The Continuity Guide also claims that the final portion of the story takes place after X-Men Vol. 1 #66 (March 1970), when Xavier is revealed as alive, but there is no jump to the future at the end of the published version.
  • The Changeling’s diary claims that the name given to him by the nuns at his orphanage was Charles Sage.  Morph, an alternate reality version of the Changeling, has the real name of Kevin Sydney.
  • The Changeling grew up in Central City, CA, which is where Fantastic Four #1 was set.  At the age of 30, he personally witnessed the Human Torch flying in the sky shortly after the FF’s famous rocket flight.
  • I believe this is a retcon -- the Changeling claims that he used the Mutant Master’s advanced technology on Banshee in order to "put him under our control."  This is presumably an explanation for Banshee’s earliest appearances as a villain, which I think remain unexplained in the comics.

Review:  As I’ve said many times, the retcon that revealed an imposter Xavier died while the genuine article was in the basement preparing for an alien invasion is one of the dumbest X-Men stories ever written.  It’s also, somehow, become the entire basis of Charles Xavier’s characterization over the years.  I was dreading this story, but to my relief, Keith R.A. DeCandido doesn’t use it as another excuse to portray Xavier as a lying, scheming, deceptive creep.  Instead, the story is a character piece on the Changeling, a mutant the novel’s back cover tells us was the “forgotten X-Man.”  Thanks to the ‘90s cartoon and the Exiles series, the Changeling has new life today as Morph, even though that character is a million miles away from DeCandido’s interpretation.  The Changeling of the mainstream Marvel Universe doesn’t have a backstory that lends itself towards wacky comedic relief, so instead DeCandido pens a story focusing on alienation, boredom, and ultimately, redemption.  The Changeling grows up with no family and no identity, and upon discovering that he can adopt any identity he wants, squanders his talents for years running petty schemes.  In his final days, he wants to make amends, even though he has a difficult time accepting that when he dies he’ll remain anonymous.  

As ridiculous as the Xavier/Changeling swap premise is, DeCandido does evoke a hint of tragedy with the story.  When Jean reflects that even after the Changeling died doing the right thing, someone else’s name will be on his tombstone, I could almost forget how absurd this concept actually is.  DeCandido does try his best to work through some of the continuity issues and logic problems present in the original comics, but there’s only so much anyone could do.  The best moments of the story are the ones that transform the Changeling from a plot device into a believable character; the rest is an attempt to justify a lame comic from the late Silver Age that I would rather forget.  For anyone curious, you can read an excerpt from this story on DeCandido's old web page.


Keith R.A. DeCandido said...

Thanks for the kind, if understandably lukewarm, comments on "Diary of a False Man." Yeah, a lot of it was trying spackle over the absurdities of a particularly dumb Silver Age retcon, but I was also genuinely fascinated by what life would be like for a true shapeshifter, and the Changeling was so totally undeveloped that I had room to play with it. And I particularly enjoyed taking a look at the inner workings of Factor Three and how it might have come about, since the comics didn't really delve into it all that much.


Keith R.A. DeCandido said...

Oh, one other thing! The continuity note was due to an earlier draft of the story having a coda that took place after X-Men #65 when Professor X's deception was revealed. Marvel made me remove the coda, thinking the story ended more strongly where it did in the printed version. Fifteen years later, I no longer have a copy of that original draft, and I don't remember it well enough to know if it was the right call. Either way, I recently re-read the story and was perfectly okay with how it ended, so I guess it was the right call....


G. Kendall said...

Ah, that makes sense. I assumed something was cut at the end, but couldn't guess the reason. Thanks for the info.

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