Thursday, October 6, 2011

These folks led the X-Men too

This week in X-Men: Schism #5, the physical scuffle between Cyclops and Wolverine comes to a temporary end, but in the process splits the X-Men in two as the book’s name implies. Over the next several months, we’ll get to see each guy take a stab (or optic blast) at leading their own team and continuing their game of “can you top this” on the ideological level.

Speak with most fans that came in to comics over the last couple years, particularly if it was through the movies, and they’ll tell you Cyclops is the only leader of the X-Men they’ve ever known. He was the guy in the films—even if he never really did a great job of it and I got to laugh at my buddy and Cyclops’ biggest fan, Jordan, as we watched until he chucked the red shades he actually bought at the floor of the movie theater in disgust—he was the guy in the much-read Astonishing X-Men and he’s been the guy for the past several years through Messiah CompleX, Utopia, Second Coming, etc.

Dig a bit deeper and you’ll get to folks like me who entered via the 90’s and remember Storm as head of the Gold Team and the person who took charge more often than not in the animated series. Readers with even more tenure are most familiar with her as their X-Men leader of choice as she dominated the role for most of Chris Claremont’s run throughout the 80’s and then stuck around through much of the following decade as well.

Most people don’t realize there have been other people to lead the X-Men besides Cyclops and Storm. In many cases their tenures were short and not terribly distinguished, but hey, if we still have to acknowledge the Florida Marlins as former World Series champions—two shots at Jordan in one blog, beautiful—why not these guys too.

When Storm lost her powers for a bit, she turned the reins of the team over temporarily to Nightcrawler. Kurt Wagner only got to lead the X-Men for a short period that time around, but I kind of wish we could have seen a bit more, as it was an interesting dynamic shift. With that particular group of X-Men, you had very strong personalities from Wolverine to Rogue to even the never quiet Kitty Pryde, and on the other side you had Cyclops and Storm, who both used the respect they had earned through grit and hardnosed decisions to ride herd. Nightcrawler was a contrast as while his teammates did respect him, they followed his leadership more because they liked and trusted him. He would get a chance to flex this somewhat more casual and congenial style of command during many years as the head man in Excalibur and then did eventually get the X-Men baton back, but we’ll cover that elsewhere.

Logan has had a turn at bat before, as when Storm took another sabbatical and the team had been somewhat decimated during the Mutant Massacre, she put him in charge to shepherd them through a tough time. While Wolvie gave some great tough guy pep talks as one would expect, my main memory of his stewardship of the X-Men was when they were en route to Dallas and he made them land the Blackbird in the middle of nowhere so he could go fight The Hulk alone and then had to be pulled out of the fracas by Rogue and reminded that they were supposed to be saving the world; after that, they finished the trip and made it to Dallas where Forge got them killed. Hopefully this time around a few more years of experience and a headier goal will served Wolverine better.

After the X-Men believed Storm killed by Nanny, Psylocke skirted any nomination process and instead used subtle telepathic suggestion to prod the remainder of her team—just Havok, Colossus and Dazzler at that point—into the Siege Perilous, erasing their lives and memories, effectively disbanding the group. Not the strongest example of leadership, but it was kind of the worst of times, and Psylocke’s karmic payback ended up being the whole Lady Mandarin thing anyway.

Just the Muir Island team, but yeah, this happened, and of course somebody died on their very first mission.

While Cyclops was away on his honeymoon after finally marrying Jean Grey, Professor X made the eminently logical decision to put founding X-Man Beast in charge of the Blue Team. It made a lot of sense: Hank McCoy was a veteran, a genius, a team player and well-liked by those around him. Unfortunately, this was around the time Beast was devoting the lion’s share of his time to curing the Legacy Virus, so he didn’t get any real time in the saddle before Cyke came back; the only thing I vividly remember was him instituting a no smoking policy for the X-Mansion and Gambit bitching about it.

Speaking of everybody but Ryan Penagos’ favorite Cajun, he did lead one of the two X-Men squads during Chris Claremont’s “Revolution” comeback. I wasn’t reading comics at the time and this is one of the few periods I’ve never caught up on, so I don’t know how Remy LeBeau fit in what seems like an odd role for him; can anybody enlighten me?

As with her star-crossed lover, Rogue led a team during “Revolution,” but she also circled back around and headed up the X-Men’s troubleshooting division in the pre-Messiah CompleX days while Cyclops handled the primary team. Say what you will about selecting a roster that included Sabretooth, Mystique and Lady Mastermind among other loose cannons, but Rogue did a pretty impressive job managing a difficult group and getting results in the process. Yes, they eventually turned on her and Mystique shot her, but that was really more a matter of when than if, and that she got a few tough missions accomplished in the meantime is still laudable. She also put Iceman and Cannonball on the same team, so she gets props from me there. Even these days, Rogue is gambling on former villains and leading them on interstellar rescue missions; give the girl credit for guts.

During Joe Casey’s bold and quirky run as writer of Uncanny X-Men, he installed a familiar but unexpected face as unofficial leader, having Warren Worthington III take lead on several cases. As this team went up against threats like bigoted churches and Vanisher trying to become a drug boss, Archangel’s business savvy came in handy, and he ran his crew more like a corporation than a super hero group, which was exactly what the situations called for. After Casey departed and Chuck Austen replaced him, the X-Men went back to their more traditional modus operandi, with Warren seeming less sensible in the lead position, a sentiment backed up by Iceman laughing at him thinking he was the leader at all and letting him know they all thought Nightcrawler was.

I’m actually not sure if Havok ever technically led the X-Men. I think for a second in between Storm’s “death” and Psylocke’s coup de tat mentioned above he may have been in charge, then again during the aforementioned Austen run he seemed to take the reins, and finally when the team pursued his brother Vulcan into the Shi’ar Empire he was the natural candidate, but I don’t think his leadership was ever explicitly stated in any of those cases. Well, if he never has, Alex Summers should get at least a shot at filling his big brother’s shoes some time; he did pretty ok with X-Factor and managed to not get the Starjammers all killed when by all rights they should have been a few times.


Anonymous said...

Fun post! Good point; it should really be Storm and Cyclops, but I suppose Wolvie has been doing some leading with the black ops team.

I suppose technically Xavier was in charge much of the time...

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