"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
My comic book shoppe had a sale last weekend, and I found a bunch of cheap comics! So we’re back for a while, until I run out of them or he has another sale, in which case we’ll continue! Whoo-hoo! I’m sure you want me to post even more here!
As always, I link to the ground rules for these posts. New readers might be a bit confused. This week, unfortunately, we have a terrifically mediocre comic (I bought some comics that look truly awful, but this is just mediocre). But might it hook a new reader?
Firestar #1 (of 4) (“Mark of the Mutant!”) by Tom DeFalco (writer), Mary Wilshire (penciler), Steve Leialoha (inker), Tom Orzechowski (letterer), L. Lois (letterer), and D. Graziunus (colorist). Published by Marvel, March 1986.
Back in the early 1980s, I watched Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, just like all the cool kids (you know you did!). I did not, however, read comics back in those days, so I had no idea that Firestar was not an existing Marvel character. So here, years after she debuted on television, we get a mini-series showing her “origin” – mutants don’t have origins per se, they have genes, but we still need to see the drama in their lives that make them turn to Professor Xavier or Emma Frost. This is issue #1, so it’s probably more new-reader-friendly than issue #3, say, might be, but still – if you were a new reader, would you want to continue with Angelica’s story?
We begin with a left hand. It’s the hand of Angelica Jones, and two old hands are showing her that she has “the mark” because the lines on her hand converge to form an “M.” Now, Angelica must not be too bright, because anyone who’s ever looked at a hand can see that they all have “M”s on them, but Angelica believes her grandmother when “Nana” tells her she’s special. We also learn this is Angelica’s “thirteenth year.” This becomes significant (well, to me) later on. Angelica’s father – Bartholomew – tells her to get off to her new school, and once he leaves, we learn that Angelica’s mother is “lost” – I’ll assume she’s dead, and not at the mall like Dilbert’s father – and that Bartholomew’s job keeps him moving. We don’t learn what he does in this issue, unfortunately. We also learn that there’s something wrong with Nana – in her words, she’s “just an old woman who’s starting to wear out.” Gee, I wonder what’s going to happen to Nana?
We switch to Angelica arriving at West Morris High School (which sort of exists) and deciding, without speaking to anyone, that she’s a nerd. Of course, the older, trampier girls target her as a “loser,” and Angelica doesn’t dispell this idea because she keeps staring at her hand as if she’s never seen it before. You NEVER noticed the “M,” Angie? Really? DeFalco allows irony to creep into the story as the girl who’s built like a brick shithouse has the nerve to call Angelica “fat.” They quickly forget our heroine, however, because Cassie, the queen bitch (think Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls or, if you’re old, Kim Walker in Heathers) has her sights set on Chuckie Belson, the blond football star – she tells her friends that she’s devoted the entire semester to “putting [her] brand on that stallion.” Okay, that just brings up a lot of weird images. She grabs Chuckie, but of course he sees Angelica, and because men in the Marvel Universe are POWERLESS when it comes to redheads, he ditches Cassie and says hello to our heroine. This is where I felt a bit icky. As I mentioned above, Angelica is in her thirteenth year. I’m sure DeFalco meant that she was 13, but her thirteenth year is technically the year that she’s 12. We can argue that she oughtn’t be in high school, but perhaps she’s really precocious. Now, we don’t have any idea how old Chuckie is, but he’s a football star, implying he’s not on the junior varsity, and he simply looks older – like 17 or 18. I know we’re not supposed to feel skeevy reading as he puts the moves on Angelica, but it makes me uncomfortable. This was 1986, though, a (slightly) more innocent era, so I’ll forgive DeFalco. It’s just a bit weird.
We cut to Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, and DeFalco does a good job explaining what exactly Xavier is doing out there in Salem Center. If you’re reading a mutant mini-series in 1986, you probably already know what Xavier is doing, but this was back when comics writers and editors didn’t automatically assume everyone reading was a long-time comics nerd who could tell you if Mary Jan Watson was a natural redhead (she isn’t, of course – didn’t everyone read the original, suppressed Amazing Spider-Man #154, “MJ’s Shocking Secret!”, which was banned because it showed graphic depictions of MJ’s bikini waxes?), so DeFalco makes sure that people reading this cold will know who Xavier is and why he’s interested in Angelica. We also get a scene at Emma Frost’s Massachusetts Academy, where Ms. Frost treats Hellfire Club guards poorly (she mind blasts a guy for getting some coffee because they might have missed the manifestation of a mutant, even though the entire process is computerized – her machine is called “Mutivac,” which sounds like something to vacuum up any mutants it might come across – and therefore should probably be recording a manifestation) just to show how badass she is … as if the dominatrix gear she’s wearing didn’t give it away. Then, with those introductions out of the way, it’s back to Angelica!
In her class, the teacher has asked her about the Treaty of Versailles, about which Angelica knows nothing, as they didn’t cover it at her last school. I again call bullshit, as if Angelica is really 13, she’s just come from (probably) sixth grade, and I can’t imagine any sixth-grade class covering the Treaty of Versailles. Even if she’s transferred in from a junior high and she was in seventh grade before this, I still can’t imagine a seventh-grade class covering the Treaty of Versailles. And why is she in a class with kids who are obviously so much older than she is (the evil girls again)? Oh well. She tries to make friends with the evil girls, but they shun her (like the Amish!) and as she sits there stewing, her mutant powers activate! We know this because Mutivac turns on just at that moment, plus we see red lines emanating from the carton of milk she’s holding. The dude monitoring Mutivac tells Emma Frost that she’s “emitting an incredible level of psionic energy for a first timer!” because she can’t just be a garden-variety mutant – she has to be a super-mutant! DeFalco then gives us this deathless prose, accompanied by this image:
Yes, somehow DeFalco slipped a money shot past Ann Nocenti (the editor) and Jim Shooter (the editor-in-chief). And one involving a 12- or 13-year-old. Dear Lord.
The teacher who got, um, unloaded upon is the same one who put down Angelica because she didn’t know about the Treaty of Versailles, so of course she’s even lower in his estimation, even though she explained that the milk carton “just seemed to explode when [she] opened it.” I’ll bet. Anyway, Mutivac has lost the trace, but Emma’s not worried – Angelica’s psionic level will grow with each manifestation until they can find her. So a few months later, Chuckie catches up with Angelica and tells her she should enter the ice sculpture contest the school is having. Cassie, the queen bitch, watches this flirtation with narrowed, evil eyes. Later, as everyone sculpts happily, Chuckie runs toward the group, ignores Cassie, and bops on over to Angelica, complimenting her on her kicky beret. Cassie and her evil minions plot … revenge!
The next day, right after Angelica leaves for school, her grandmother drops dead of a heart attack. We couldn’t see that coming! Actually, we don’t see her drop dead, we just see the beginnings of the fatal attack. Then we switch to Angelica being happy to underline the tragedy unfolding at home, but she’s only happy for a panel until she sees that her ice sculpture has been destroyed. She stares at her palm, which causes Cassie to ask her why she’s always doing that, and Angelica reveals that her “M” means she’s special. The other girls, naturally, point out that they have “M”s too, which causes Angelica to believe Nana lied to her and also makes her angry enough to melt all the other sculptures. Chuckie shows up, tries to comfort her, but she runs away, leaving her hat behind. Oh, the hat! She tries to call Nana, but she melts the phone. This, of course, sets off both Cerebro and Mutivac. Xavier and Frost are on the scent!
Angelica hurries home, where she sees the ambulance taking Nana away. Man, she’s having a shitty day. We switch quickly to her and her father standing over the grave, and Angelica tells him they have to talk. She shows him what she can do, and “sometime later” he sits in his room, head in his hands, thinking “My baby … my angel … is some kind of freak! A blasted mutie!” Hey, way to support her, Bart. Dialogue comes from off-panel, offering to help. It’s Emma, of course. She goes into Angelica’s room, tells her the “M” on her palm is special, and then tells her that her father has already arranged to send her to Emma’s school. Just then, Xavier and Nightcrawler pull up in a “sleek limousine” and Chuck realizes that Emma is already there. “We arrived too late,” he says. “We’ve failed!” He then says, as we reach the end of the issue, “That poor girl –! May God protect her!” Man, what a fatalist!
As a first issue of a mini-series, this does its job. It introduces Angelica fairly well, even with the holes in the story. DeFalco makes sure that we know who the opposing sides struggling for Angelica’s loyalties are, and Wilshire’s art is perfectly serviceable. I’m not terribly sure, if this was your first comic, that you would be back. It’s pretty mediocre and does really nothing to showcase why comics are so cool. This feels like a prose story with some pictures, and really, the only nice blending of writing and art, unfortunately, is when the milk carton blows up. And that’s (unintentionally, let’s hope) hilarious.
Firestar #1 won’t make you hate comics and everything they stand for, but it’s also not the kind of comic that makes you think the artform is the greatest thing ever. But it sort-of introduces a cartoon character to the Marvel Universe (she first appeared in Uncanny X-Men #193, but this story takes place “before” that), so there’s that. It could be a lot, lot worse!
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