All-New X-Men: What’s the Deal with Jean Grey?

You’re a big blue feline. You’re a genius. Your race is under threat of genocide. You are on your death-bed. What do you do? Well, I certainly do not head back in time and grab a hold of Jean Grey, world destroyer extraordinaire, and hope for the best. That, however, is exactly what Hank McCoy chooses to do. That’s his last roll of the dice, and boy, are the odds stacked against him. Cyclops, free of the Phoenix Force, is stirring up a revolution and irritating a lot of powerful people. His merry band of misguided mutants will now be pitted against Jean Grey and the original X-men, brought with her from the past; Iceman, Cyclops, Angel and a considerably better looking Hank McCoy. What does this mean for Marvel’s 616 universe? Well, we’re going to find out.

ImageThe new cast of CSI: Utopia.

Thrust into this new, altogether alien, world, Jean Grey has undergone some pretty significant changes in a significantly short period of time. Perhaps most alarming among these is the early onset of her telepathic powers; a year early, to be precise. Confronted with these powers, Jean has adapted to their presence very quickly. This is not a good thing. It has led to the deterioration of her moral standards; her sense of what is right has become warped. In All New X-Men #8, we are offered a chilling glimpse into what Jean is capable of. Angel is, quite rightly, panicking; in the future, his wings have been replaced by sharpened, metallic abominations, and no explanation is forthcoming. He wants to go home. Jean, however, has no such plans. Rather than take the diplomatic approach, she takes control of his mind and steers him towards talking about lunch. With no regrets, Jean tells everyone not to worry; that she is ‘in total control’. That is possibly the most terrifying concept in all of comics; is Jean in control of her powers, or is she in control of everything else?

ImageBeware the Bangs of Doom.

It’s not just the strength of her telepathy that is on the rise; her telekinesis has followed suit. Prior to her arrival in the future, Jean Grey’s powers were under relative control. Without Charles Xavier’s guidance and training, however, there is no way of knowing how her powers and her character will develop. With the onset of her telepathy, her telekinesis is impacted. Having suffered through a murderous nightmare in #6, Jean awakes to the total destruction of her bedroom. In #9, we see Jean single-handedly tear down a sentinel generated by the school’s danger room; an act of such immense power that even her fellow time-travelling X-Men express their shock and surprise.  It’s fairly clear that the increases in Jean’s powers, in this new environment, are following a whole new trajectory. How long can she feasibly grow stronger at this rate, without succumbing to some degree of corruption?

ImageContestant Number Two: Godzilla.

Slapped on top of all of this, is the issue of containment. Jean Grey is an immensely powerful individual, in any context. Traditionally, however, Charles Xavier sought to contain Jean’s power through telepathic conditioning and training. Scott Summers, too, played his role in rooting Jean in reality and forcing her to address her own humanity. These characters were largely responsible for the long-term containment of Jean Grey; they kept her in check. Now, though, these cards are off the table. Charles Xavier is dead, by Scott Summers’ hand (Or, well, eyes). Scott himself is now on the run from the authorities, looking to instigate a mutant revolution. He is, however, without his powers; the phoenix force altered his physiology and, thus, they are now defunct. What about the time-travelling Scott Summers? Jean has made is clear that she has little time for him; she appears to hold him responsible for his future sins. Without these individuals to force Jean to retain her sanity, her humanity and her compassion, the deterioration of Jean’s character is likely to accelerate further.

ImageAlways with the dying…

However, Jean is not entirely ignorant of her past, nor can she be accused of naivety regarding the use of her ever-growing power. Delving into the depths of Hank McCoy’s memories, Jean bore witness to her personal history in its entirety. From her marriage to Scott Summers, to her encounters with the Phoenix Force and her ultimate demise, Jean is exposed to the realities of her past (Or her future. It’s complicated). With this in mind, Jean might well have decided to right her wrongs and tackle her past head on. She is aware of the extent of her powers and, more significantly, the impact that they can have on the world and its denizens. This may well steel Jean against corruption and allow her to utilise her talents as a force for good.

ImageTalk about bad memories…

It’s all up in the air right now. Regardless of what Bendis has planned for Jean Grey at this stage, you can colour me captivated. With Cyclops’ arrival at the school in #9, new possibilities abound. Jean may well openly reject him, or resort to violence; he killed her father-figure and mentor. Perhaps more interesting, however, is the possibility of conversion to Cyclops’ cause. Having been exposed to the events of the past, Jean will be well aware of the effects of the Phoenix Force upon the mind; she has caused untold devastation herself, all whilst under the control of the very same entity. There is therefore room for empathy on her behalf. She may well find that her own quest for personal redemption, or personal discovery, is not so different from Scott’s own. They have committed the same sins, are virtually inseparable as characters, and both are currently feared and misunderstood by their peers. Could this be the start of a period of reconciliation? Could we be witnessing the inception of a new mutant age, one led by Jean and Scott? Only time will tell!

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Welcome to the new age…

Otto Octavius: Can a Leopard Change its Spots?

If you’re reading Superior Spider-Man, but not reading its older, better looking, more intelligent brother, Avenging Spider-Man, then I’m about to give you a stern telling off. It’s brilliant. Or, well, it has been ever since Christopher Yost, of Scarlet Spider fame, took over with issue 15.1. It’s really given us an insight into Otto’s journey from his death-bed on the Raft to his thwipping, web-slinging antics as Spider-Man. For anyone who’s been reading the last couple of issues, though, it has become apparent that dear Otto has a plan. Is this a sinister plan, or does the penal system in the Marvel Universe really work; is Otto a new man? Well, this intrepid reporter is going to wildly speculate and pretend to find out.

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So he speaks… how, exactly?

The latest issue of Avenging Spider-Man ended with an unnerving reveal (Spoilers ahead! Run!). In issue 17, we see the Time Variance Authority, who’re effectively less-eccentric time-lords, turn up and declare that Otto is going to participate in some unspeakable atrocity. Many lives are going to be lost, and the matter is outwith the jurisdiction of the Time Variance Authority. Uh-oh. The issue culminates in Otto stealing the capsule that contains whatever’s left of Sandman these days. Not very heroic, right?

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This isn’t the beach! You said we were going to the beach!

Skip to issue 18, and we’re battling Electro with Thor high up in the New York skyline. This issue aptly demonstrates Otto’s continued hatred of his fellow heroes, particularly the Avengers, through his description of Thor’s ‘arrogance’ and general ineptitude. I suspect this will come to the fore in the upcoming Fired storyline. Electro has been juiced up by proton-related physics mumbo-jumbo, but is eventually taken down courtesy of some more cool-sounding-but-totally-over-my-head-science-related-stuff. After his defeat, Otto pops Electro in a capsule and takes him down to his secret lair… where he sits him down next to Sandman. Things just got a whole lot worse. It’s on like Donkey Kong, folks; he’s gathering up the five remaining members of the Sinister Six. The question on everybody’s lips; why?

ImageMatching capsules! Awww!

Otto Octavius is the face of the Sinister Six, and they’re not exactly renowned for their charitable deeds, their camaraderie or their goodwill to all men. With Otto now wearing the traditional red-and-blue of Spider-Man, it’s easy to forget that, with or without Peter’s nagging influence, this was a man who was rotten to the core. The last time the Sinister Six got together under his leadership was during the Ends of the Earth storyline; a storyline which effectively set-up Peter Parker’s eventual demise in Dying Wish. When a new group turned up and took up the Sinister Six moniker, in Superior Spider-Man issue 1, Otto was incensed. He still harbours a sense of pride regarding his previous exploits as a villain, and, therefore, it is hard to argue that he has truly reformed as a character. Sure, he’s clipped Vulture’s wings and lowered the crime rate, but he also shot Massacre in the face. These villainous undertones are present in virtually every heroic act that Otto commits. This could be chalked up to bad habits dying hard, sure, but it does not bode well for Spider-Man’s image at present!

ImageHaven’t you heard of copyright law?

Having said all of that, it’s possible, however unlikely it seems to long-time readers, that Otto’s actions are in the interests of society; that they are heroic. Had Electro been captured by any other hero, he would have, invariably, ended up in the Raft. By the same token, the Baxter Building had just been attacked and had its frailties and security lapses exposed when Sandman was taken. The Raft is a bit like Arkham Asylum; prisoners seem to break out daily. It’s a bit like a holiday camp, if we’re being honest. Morbius broke out as recently as 699.1, and Peter Parker managed it in a crippled, dying body. It can hardly be deemed secure. This is touched upon in the preview of Superior Spider-Man 6, where Mayor Jameson orders the closure of the raft for these very reasons. With the Baxter building’s security protocols in question, and the Raft useless and about to be shutdown, where better to keep Electro and Sandman than in the lair of a super-powered genius who knows how they think, how they act, and what their motivations are. Maybe Otto is trying to do the right thing.

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I didn’t vote for him either.

Additionally, Otto may well be looking to expand the villain-to-superhero reform program that he himself recently experienced. He has witnessed first-hand the effects of employing his criminal genius to fight crime, through the success of his army of Spider-Bots and the commendable improvements to Spider-Man’s technological armoury and costume. It could therefore be reasoned that, now burdened with Peter Parker’s memories, Otto is taking the notion of great power bringing great responsibility to heart, and therefore looking to show these powerful ex-criminals the light. Sure, it’d look a bit weird, but I’d read that story! The Spectacular Six? It’s possible!

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He said it! He said it!

Strap yourselves in, because this is going to be a good one. Regardless of what comes to pass, the Marvel Universes’ fake time-lords have promised us that a catastrophic event is on the horizon; one borne of Otto’s actions. Whether this is an act of evil perpetrated by Otto, or something that he’ll attempt (and fail) to stop, is a total mystery. It’s a little-known fact that an octopus continually sheds the skin on its tentacles and suckers so, who knows, Otto may well surprise us all.

Miles Morales: The True Superior Spider-Man?

Mention the word Spider-Man in these parts and you’ll be subject to a rainbow of opinion regarding the events of Peter Parker’s Freaky Friday sequel, Dying Wish; there’s no pot of gold at the end, though, just a lot of tears and ruined childhoods. Amidst the hype and excitement regarding Otto Octavius’ debut as the new superior, and a tad sociopathic, Spider-Man, it is easy to forget that Bendis’ own Spider-Man, written under Marvel’s Ultimate imprint, has been humming away quite nicely in the background. He’s overcome family crises, saved the life of a president and had the nerve to check out giant-girl’s boobs; is Miles Morales the true Superior Spider-Man?

Image-Those- are big…

This is a superhero book, and superheroes are defined by their powers. Miles is no different, but has a skill-set that’s a pretty big improvement on Peter’s traditional array of talents. Taking cues from Peter’s powers, which were proportionate to those of a spider, Bendis has equipped Miles with spider-powers from some of the more obscure corners of the arachnid family tree. These new powers take the form of a powerful venom strike and, perhaps strangely to anyone who doesn’t study spiders, an ability to blend in with his surroundings; he can effectively become invisible. Coupled with that, he has Peter’s proportional strength and agility of a spider, his spider-sense, and, as of issue 14, a pair of Peter’s web-shooters. It’s therefore, if you ask me, a no-brainer; Miles’ powers, borne of Norman Osborne’s weird experiments on spiders, are an improvement upon those of the original Spider-Man.

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The Amazing Hollow Man, written by Kevin Bacon.

Time is on my side, sang the Rolling Stones, and the same rings true for Miles. He’s squished the Scorpion, punished the Prowler, grappled with Giant Girl, wrangled with the Rhino and united the Ultimates… and he’s thirteen! Not only has he obtained his powers at such a young age, and not only has he achieved all manner of wondrous feats already, but he is now to be trained by Captain America. I’d say that he’s got an awful lot going for him, and an awful lot of time to hone his talents. Peter Parker was without martial training, and received his powers later than Miles; Otto Octavius is reliant on Parker’s muscle memory. In terms of prowess in combat, Miles may end up with the upper hand. ‘But what about right now?!’, I hear you cry. It’s true, Miles is nowhere near the superior fighter at the moment, but it has been suggested that there will be a time-jump associated with the up-coming Spider-Man No More story-line. An older, stronger Miles might well end up thwipping across our pages sooner than anticipated.

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Poor Jessica Drew.

Spider-Man has long been associated with crazy tech’ and superb sci-fi, from Horizon Labs to Spider-Bots or that Space Marine-esque suit from Ends of the Earth; Peter Parker’s, and recently Otto Octavius’, genius is a staple of the series. Miles Morales is no genius. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a sharp kid, but he is not a scientist. Does that make him the inferior Spider-Man? It’s possible, but I’m not so sure. Firstly, we’ve seen Aunt May pass down Peter’s web-shooters and the formula for his web-fluid; these are the two most important pieces of any Spider-Man’s tech’ arsenal. He may not have Peter’s brain, but with these tools, and with Tony Stark sticking up for him in the Ultimates, Miles may find a way to circumvent the issue.

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For the Empero- I mean, Avengers Assemble!

Ultimate Peter Parker had experience, as did the Peter Parker of the 616 universe; the latter’s experiences are now in the hands of Otto Octavius’ Spider-Man. Miles, it could be argued, is therefore at a disadvantage; he doesn’t know who these villains are, and he’s never fought them before! Maybe he should just quit, right? Wrong! In this tech’-savvy society in which we live, people have taken to recording Ultimate Peter Parker’s fights to YouTube. As seen in various issues, and most recently in Miles’ conflict with Venom, Miles has studied these tapes and effectively managed to imitate Peter’s approach to besting the individual villains. This might not be quite as good as having a memory of previous battles, but at least he won’t have as many scars.

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Venom… have you been drinking again?

So, why am I writing this? Why is it relevant? The Superior Spider-Man is in the 616 universe, and Miles operates under the Ultimate imprint. Well, firstly, because it’s cool. Who doesn’t want to compare a pair of Spider-Men? Secondly, as we saw in the limited series, Spider-Men, Marvel seem to have developed a propensity towards crossing characters between universes for the sake of a good story. With a Spider-Men 2 already confirmed by Bendis, it will be interesting to take an older, stronger Miles, with his unique power-set, into Peter Parker’s world and see how he fares when he is no longer a wide-eyed newcomer to the superhero scene. It may well still be Otto under that mask, in which case this study becomes even more relevant!

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This has better not be another -Clone Saga-.

Ultimately (Geddit?), though Miles lacks Peter’s practiced wit, pretty girlfriends, experiences and brilliant mind (Is that all?), he is, in my opinion, the superior Spider-Man. Not yet, I stress, but with his powers, his age and his mentor(s) taken into account, he has the potential to make a lasting impact in whichever universe he may end up. Long live Ultimate Spider-Man, long live Miles Morales.

Who the Heck is Harper Row?

She is full of boisterous spunk, has a vibrant hairstyle and possesses a face full of metal and eye-shadow. No, this isn’t the Avril Lavigne of the early noughties; this is Harper Row. The character has featured, in fits and starts, throughout Scott Snyder’s run on Batman.  From her first appearance in Batman #1, through to her starring role in both #12 and #18, readers have been encouraged to consider what life is like for the down-and-out citizens of Gotham. This is a character largely detached from the Batman’s world; the common ground that the comics so frequently tread. There are no psychopathic clowns, no juiced up, back-breaking immigrants and no lightly frosted Germans. Harper Row’s story deals with the impact of Gotham’s social issues on the masses, and serves as a reminder of why Bruce put on the cowl in the first place; his city is in a pretty sorry state.

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You go girl!

This fair, techno-punk maiden has, with the release of Batman #18 this week, found herself at the centre of some controversy. Damian Wayne, formerly Robin and the son of Batman, has wound up impaled upon the sword of his older, stronger, metal-masked clone (Morrison wrote it. It’s complicated). Harper Row, a gutsy youth hoping to aid Batman in maintaining his status as a hero or an ideal, has begun to follow Tim Drake’s tried and tested method for landing the vacant Robin position; stalking the Dark Knight. Many comic readers have, therefore, complained that Snyder is looking to supplant Batman’s son with a catsuit clad knock-off.

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Best. Internship. Ever.

Snyder has yet to suggest that any character will take on the role of Robin, but the prospect is rightly accompanied by certain concerns. Bruce Wayne has now lost two young boys in his crusade against crime. Jason Todd was beaten to death with a crowbar at the hands of the Joker, and Damian Wayne has met a similarly gruesome end. Hasn’t Bruce now learnt his lesson? As the world’s greatest detective, it is fair to assume that he has now deduced that putting young individuals, regardless of their talents, in the way of super-villains has now, in 40% (2/5!) of cases, led to the death of a Robin. I find it hard to see how Bruce could justify putting another young life at risk.

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Sorry, Damian.

Coupled with this, there is no getting away from the fact that Damian was Batman’s son. To replace his own flesh and blood with a largely unknown girl, however brave she may be, strikes me as distasteful. Batman is, as shown wonderfully in Batman and Robin #20, beset by grief, longing and despair, and these are psychological scars that, even for a resolute individual like Bruce Wayne, will linger for the rest of his days. Robin’s absence, and the impact this has on Batman’s methods and actions, will serve as a superior plot device to the introduction and subsequent character-building of a replacement.

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Warning: Tearjerker

Despite this, I am certainly in favour of Harper Row interacting closely with Batman. The traditional argument is that Batman needs a Robin in order to retain his humanity, his compassion and his sense of perspective. However, I see no reason why this character has to be the boy wonder. As demonstrated in Batman #18, the actions of a single determined, concerned individual are enough to ground Bruce in reality and impress upon him the importance of his status as an idol, myth or ideal; he has to appear to be above grief, suffering, pain or rage. Assuming Harper Row is to continue in this role as Batman’s connection to the people of Gotham and the city’s realities, then Batman need not replace Damian.

If, through this interaction, Harper Row eventually takes on the mantle of Robin, or as a side-kick operating under a separate moniker, then I will be quite content. Snyder’s narrative often depicts Gotham as being a conscious creature; a dark, shifting creature. Harper Row is the only character capable of providing us with insight regarding what life is like on the ground, for Joe Bloggs, in this bleak, grey, gritty environment. Getting away from the manor, the batcave and the fancy gadgets is something that I eagerly anticipate. Batman is at his best when you strip him down to his driven, determined core and pit him against the evils that Gotham throws at him. With this character on board, I’m looking forward to the ride.