I love talking to Sean T. Collins about many things, but one subject in particular I enjoy chatting with him about is 90’s super hero comics, because they are so far out of his wheel house and yet as he works to wrap his head around them, he inevitably makes some pretty canny observations.
Two things he’s always quick to bring up when we talk 90’s X-Men are that everybody was dressed in the same two colors (which are slipping my mind at the moment, but I want to say brown and purple, and interestingly enough not blue and gold) and that any new character had “ill-defined energy powers.” The latter point is quite true as I believe there came a point in comics history where it became far more important to get characters into an X-book via their being a mutant than determining exactly what their mutant cross to bear was.
On the one hand, it’s understandable that after awhile all the good powers are taken, but on the other, Cyclops being unable to open his eyes without “punching a hole in the side of a mountain” and Rogue’s inability to make human contact certainly made for more compelling stories than yet another guy with “bio-electric energy absorption” powers (short version: you shoot something at him, he fires energy blasts back; Bishop was the first and most prominent member of this fraternity, but hardly the last).
These were the guys who populated henchmen groups like the Acolytes, Mutant Liberation Front, Dark Riders and Nasty Boys. I’m talking about mutant-come-lately types such as Katu, who could absorb electromagnetic fields and release them as energy blasts; or Dragoness, who can utilize stored bodily energy and release it as energy blasts; or Lifeforce, who drained others of their life energy to enhance her own strength and release it as energy blasts; you get the idea.
But thinking about it the last couple weeks, while there were plenty of background guys with generic powers, the more interesting thing to me was how there were several headliner mutants whose powers we never really knew or even thought about.
I think it all really started with Cable. It didn’t take long for Cable to become a pretty popular character following his 1990 introduction, but we were just told he was a mutant and that was enough; there wasn’t really an Internet back then, so I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think too many people were racking their brains to figure out what the guy’s powers were, and if they did take a guess I’d assume they figured it had something to do with his robot arm, glowing eye or big guns.
It would be a good two years or so before we’d learn that Cable was actually telekinetic and while later still before he revealed telepathy. His powers would be incorporated into the character in a major way as time went on, but if you had said he was a super-fast typer or something, it wouldn’t have changed his first two dozen appearances.
Cable’s X-Force protégé Shatterstar is another great example of a 90’s mutants where his powers were more or less an afterthought. Since his primary mode of offense was using his swords and crazy martial arts, I just figured he had the usual enhanced agility and speed potpourri. However, I remember the moment—if not the issue—where we learned that in fact Shatty could focus those ever-popular “bio-electric blasts” through one of his swords if he focused hard enough. I think he’s used that power maybe five or six times since 1991, although Peter David is currently adding some more abilities to the mix in the pages of X-Factor as he continues to expand Shatterstar’s character on the base established almost two decades ago (wow).
I was talking to Marvel assistant editor “Double A” Alejandro Arbona the other day about Maverick—alternately known as Agent Zero—and he swore he had some sort of deal where he could touch an object and know said object’s history, but I’m pretty sure that’s actually Longshot. I looked up Maverick, who I always thought had a cool mask and neat body armor to go with his array of guns, and he’s got the following laundry list of mutant powers: kinetic energy absorption and blasts (of course), an accelerated healing factor, an anti-healing factor corrosive and—my personal favorite—inodorosity (meaning he has no discernible scent).
We totally need more characters with inodorosity!
Anyways, I’m not trying to pick on the 90’s—I’m the guy who prefers his Superboy with a leather jacket and Nova rocking the grunge mullet, people—but you have to admit stuff like this was pretty funny, and makes you feel a bit sorry for the creators tasked with coming up with a dozen new mutants a year to make quota.
And hey, my boy Adam-X the X-Treme gets a bad rap sometimes, but Fabian Nicieza made sure straight up that you knew he had the very unique mutant power to oxygenate other people’s blood via hematokinesis and cause them immense pain as a result.
Maybe the moral of the story is that next time you kids complain that X-23 has the same powers as Wolverine, be grateful you at least know what her powers are; I still have no idea what Exodus’ deal was.