A-Z

My Marvel Life Presents: A-Z of Comics Part 8- H

H is for Havok

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As anyone who has read anything I have written knows, I gravitate to the lesser known and lesser appreciated characters, the downtrodden, the put-upon and no one exemplifies that like Alex Summers, the man called Havok.

First appearing in X-Men 54 during Neal Adams’ famed run, Alex was revealed as Cyclops’ brother who was adopted and as a result had a fairly well adjusted up bringing. Then he was reuinited with his brother, learned he was a mutant and then started the process of his life consistently turning to shit.

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Havok’s power set is the production of high-energy plasma blast powered by back-ground cosmic radiation, a power that he often needs help controlling. The visual effect/signature of this is large concentric circles as well as lighting up sections of containment suits.

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The actual story of Alex Summers is a shopping list of misfortune. He meets his brother after years apart and it’s life and death drama after life and death drama. Meets a girl, all well and good, but is drafted into the X-Men. After Krakoa, he sees an out and goes off to start his post grad studies in Geo-physics. (Spoilers, he never gets to finish that dissertation) He and said girl are the mind controlled by an alien spy, during an alien civil war. He then rejoins the X-Men, the leaves again to try the regular life thing again. Cue another alien attack and he’s forced to re-join the X-Men, his girlfriend is possessed by a villain. On the rebound, he shacks up with his brother’s estranged wife and that ends even more badly. Given a cosmic second changes and the universe places him as a stormtrooper in a facist apartheid state. After rejoined the second Freedom Force, which is reorganised as the second X-Factor and he reluctantly leads this crew of second stringers. After this he ends up on an alternate Earth, living the life of an alternate Havok, who has a child an evil wife and the rest think he is crazy. He returns, ends up in a coma, wakes up, learns he has another brother. Said brother kills their dad, becomes an insane despot who also dies. This is a man who can beat any “I’ve been shit on.” claim. Constantly the other one, wherever he is, buried under a massive inferiority complex and living in the shadow of his brother and always trying to live a more normal life. His is a true underdog story. He was once picked by Captain America to lead an (second string) Avengers division, guess how well that went for Alex?

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Some of his best appearances are in Chris Claremont’s X-Men in the 80’s (Uncanny X-Men 215-275 and Peter David’s first X-Factor 71-100) and is a criminally overlooked character.

H is for Heart of Empire

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Heart of Empire was a 9 part limited series released in 1999 and served as a follow up to the 1980’s Adventures of Luther Arkwright, this series was also written and drawn by Brian Talbot and was a full colour sequel to the black and white original. Set over a week 23 years after the climatic events of the Luther Arkwright’s previous adventures, it is the story of the legacy left behind on the parallel earth known as 00.72.87. We get to see that many of the characters have changed and few for the better. The Queen was a ruthless rebel, but has grown into a tyrant, ruling much of the world with an iron fist and a cold heart. Luther himself is withdrawn from things and detached/ The people in parallel 00.00.00 are mostly retirees and an AI with a sense of personal grandeur.

Another cataclysm is on it’s way and the comic never lets you forget that. It’s not as accomplished as the original, much like most sequels and doesn’t stand on it’s own feet nearly as well, but once you get past that, this is an interesting and well told story. There are few heroes here, but many characters to relate to and to root for. The story points out that the great victories and rebellions are never as clean as they should be. There are few happy ever afters to be found here.

The characters are complex, the story interesting and the art is as ever from Talbot, quite beautiful. I would highly recommend this and the Adventures of Luther Arkwright.

H is for History, Continuity and Ret-Cons

Here’s where we seperate the occasional geeks from the hardcore. Continuity is simultaneously both the best and worst thing about comics, so lets look at each word and it’s comics definition.

History: The real world chronology of characters and their publishing, including the publishing of the fictional world that they are a part of.

Continuity: (Deep Breath) This is a little different. Originally a lot of serialised stories existed in a nebulous jumble, stories happened and the characters move on. The stories often had little or nothing to do with one another. When comics started inhabiting more shared universes, this became more of thing as time went on. There was the idea that these stories happened in sequence and could be referred to in the future. This is not a new idea and happens in books, TV and film just as often. With comics being released so frequently, this artificial history became larger and larger. This narrative history is what we think of as continuity. The letters pages began to fill up with people noticing glitches, mistakes and contradictions in these stories as they related to previously established stories (the short hand of this is canon) a generation of continuity nit-pickers was born.

As the silver age ended and comics entered another decade with the same characters, another problem occurred. These characters were not really ageing in real time. Unlike radio and TV, they didn’t really have to. With a  month between each story, it may take 6 months to cover a period in the main character’s life that covered only a few days. As a result of this and some characters’ popularity you had things like Batman in 1969 would have been active for 30 years or more and two members of the Fantastic Four were veterans of a war that had been over for a quarter of a century. It was becoming more obvious that comic-book history and real world history couldn’t match up anymore. Now we had a loose sliding timescale popping up, by the 1970’s for the staus quo to make sense, Spider-Man couldn’t have been Spider-Man in 1962, since he was still at college, so it was roughly 3 years ago instead. For Marvel Comics, this sort of sliding timescale seemed to work and for the time being it still sort of does. Let’s take the Avengers, who would’ve been around for ten years, so that would mean that the entire Marvel Universe post Fantastic Four #1 would have had to take place since 2000. DC had additional problems as they had a dozen different Earths and had bought several other companies worth of comic characters they had to fit in somewhere. Their response? Reboots. Every ten years or so, DC comics has some sort of reality reset allowing their characters and the continuity to have a sort of fresh start. The narrative history is changed, invalidating some stories and changing others. Some stories now no longer ‘mattered’. Continuity became more complex as a result, rather than the ideal result of less. Making comics inaccessible for new readers and off-putting to older readers. This is often the case to this day.

To make matters even worse, we have the third part of this trilogy.

Ret-cons: Retro-active continuity, this is where established history/continuity is either re-examined, (newer stories flesh out older stories) or changed to alter tone or springboard new stories, written by different writers. This can often be beneficial, for example Magneto. When his history was ret-conned, it fleshed out his past, making him a holocaust survivor, which informed much of his later actions. This allowed Chris Claremont to remake him as a nuanced and sympathetic character, the manner in which he’s been mostly used since. A not so beneficial example is the Phoenix ret-con, where the Jean Grey who died on the moon, wasn’t really Jean Grey, which allowed Marvel to bring her back and messing up the X-Men line of comics for years to come.

So the question becomes, how do you navigate these alternating histories and continuities?

DON’T!

There are really only two choices here, one is not to worry about it and if stories clash, just let it go. Enjoy the stories you are reading for themselves and don’t go down the rabbit hole at all.

The other is my personal preference ‘head canon’ that’s where you pick and chose what stories you feel count or not based on what you enjoyed. I refuse to accept that the Amazing Spider-Man story “Sins Past” by J.Michael Straczynski happened. The comics were published, I have the trade myself, but still didn’t happen.

At the end of the day, they are just stories, fictions that have little consequence. Spider-Man was 15 in 1962 and now 55 years later, he’s only in his mid 20’s. It doesn’t have to make sense!

H is for Howard the Duck

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That was a bit of a long and rambling one ta ta for now internet people.

Next Time: I

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