Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Not So Much Fallen As Hobbled and Limping...


Fallen Angels (Marvel, 1987)

I imagine this may come as a shock to you little shavers and young whippersnappers and all you other folks who grew up in an atmosphere where super-powered mutants on the new comic rack are as common as nitrogen in the atmosphere, but there was a time – believe it or not - when you could count all the X-Men miniseries and spin-offs on the adamantium claws of two hands.

I mean, obviously Stan and Jack didn’t launch X-Men #1 in September of 1963 and then follow up in November with fourteen tie-ins, a new origin for Cable and a foil-cover edition special where they bring back Banshee just to off him again. The series had to start somewhere, and for that matter it started off as one of Marvel’s least-popular ongoing series. Even when it finally started making it big in the market share, it took forever to create its first spin-off – and despite what was to come, it didn’t have the common courtesy to slap an “X-“ in front of its name.

The first miniseries and one-shot both come out in 1982 – the definitive Claremont/Miller “Wolverine” and the equally landmark Claremont/Anderson graphic novel “God Loves, Man Kills” – and through the subsequent decade there were hardly a dozen more – although the quality may have started to slip. The very next year you get what Your Humble Editor considers to be a highly underrated series, Magik, but you also get Obnoxio the Clown vs The X-Men, suggesting Marvel wasn’t yet quite sure who their franchise player was going to turn out to be.

Among the lesser luminaries like the uncertain “Iceman” and the criminally befuddled “Kitty Pryde and Wolverine” was Fallen Angels, spinning out of the X-Men farm team’s book, The New Mutants.

Aw, he's fine.
A creation of Jo Duffy and Kerry Gammill (with Joe Staton stepping in for a couple of issues), the premise of Fallen Angels centers around hot-headed New Mutant Bobby DaCosta, who is Brazilian (and that’s weird, because most of the New Mutants are in their teens but this guy is a whole brazilian!) Known as the superhero-in-training Sunspot, on account of how all the good names were already taken, Bobby is capable of adapting sunlight into ferocious, raw strength – a power he uses by having a soccer-based hissy fit and stubbing a whole tree into teammate Sam “Want you cuckoo Cannonball” Guthrie’s frontal lobe, rendering him terminally Southern.

Polluted by crimes and torn by the bitterest remorse, where can Sunspot find rest but in a meandering eight-issue limited series accompanied by titanic gibbering nitwit and the toppled ink bottle which was the leading suspect in a thousand cases of carpal tunnel among the Marvel Bullpen up through 1992, alien shapeshifting novelty keychain Warlock?

Sunspot and Warlock leave the comfort of the Charles Xavier Academy of Not Having All That Many Students Really So You Think You’d Notice Two Of Them Leaving in Westchester and head to nearby seedy New York City, trailed by ancillary X-Men types Jamie “Multiple Man” Madrox and Theresa “Siryn” Cassidy – who, as an aside, have set up for them in this series basically everything Peter David has ever done with them in the pages of X-Factor. There, I just gave you a reason for Fallen Angels to exist.

"...with my enormous
While in New York, Bobby and Warlock manage to walk into street thugs mugging someone every ten minutes – New York, am I right? – and in doing so meet up with the young she’ll-turn-out-to-be-a-mutant-even-thought-she-doesn’t-think-she-is-sorry-spoiler-warning Chance and her pals, The Fallen Angels. Led by former X-Villian The Vanisher – now dressed like Community’s Dean Pelton wearing Bea Arthur’s nightdress as a jacket – and a slightly elongated alien named Ariel who can teleport herself and others through any doorway and who sort of looks like Geena Davis crossed with a televangelist dressed for aerobics class.

I hate to find myself saying “Well, to make a long story short” so early into this, but I don’t really have a choice – Fallen Angels is LONG, despite coming in at no more than eight issues, and it’s mostly exposition and sudden introductions to character after character. Multiple Man and Siryn ultimately catch up with the Angels, a mildly telekinetic cyborg named Gomi and his cybernetic mutant lobster friends Don and Bill are introduced, they pick up Boom-Boom from X-Factor headquarters and take a trip through time and alternate dimensions to come back with Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy. And having finally introduced all the players, I guess we can finally start the story … around the closing pages of issue six.

Yup! On paper, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Fallen Angels. Jo Duffy is a fine writer, Kerry Gammill is nowhere near my favorite artist but he’s a completely competent and likable draughtsman, and while the weird mix of characters was a little too blatantly youth-oriented and the designs were dated before the cash register was finished ringing on the first copy ever purchased, it was actually a pretty appealing title.

Oh god, I want to die.
So why is it a fizzle in the firmament of X-Books? Well, among other problems, I was not kidding when I say that the plot did not start until the end of issue six. It’s at this point that we have it underlined for us that anorexic fashion calamity Ariel was not just your ordinary everyday spandex-addict who could step through doorways to any point in space and exercise small amounts of mind control, she was also an alien! An alien from a planet called The Coconut … called The Coconut Grove. I’m sorry, I nervously hiccupped in the middle of saying that, I may have had a small stroke.

But yes, Ariel comes from a planet called The Coconut Grove and which is decked out like the sets in the dance numbers from Xanadu AND everyone looks like a goblin Liberace. Seriously, if Charles Nelson Reilly’s cravats were ever possessed by poltergeists, it’d look like these guys. “Seriously”, that’s the word I used to describe that scenario…

Anyway, it turns out the Coconut Grove peeps sent Ariel to Earth to abduct mutants, on account of the Coconut Grove peeps have hit an evolutionary dead-end and want to dissect mutants to identify their mutant-ness so that the Coconut Grove peeps can give themselves those qualities and continue to evolve. I’m sorry to keep saying “Coconut Grove peeps”, but the only likely name I could think of for them was “Coconut Grovers”, which sounds like a sex act, a Girl Scout cookie or a sex act involving a Girl Scout cookie.

Naturally, after she’s handed all her Earth friends to her overlords to dissect and mess around with, we discover that Ariel herself is some sort of mutant and is going to be dissected herself, so she rebels. Hey, do you remember a moment ago when I said that the Coconut Grovers were studying mutants because, as a people, they had hit an evolutionary dead-end and didn’t mutate anymore and also how I mentioned that Ariel is a Coconut Grover and also a mutant so obviously that first premise is wrong and therefore this plot – which we waited six issues to start – doesn’t make any sense any longer? Mm.

There was never again any mention of them anywhere forever.
Besides the belated start time and the auto-correcting plot point, I’m going to lay part of the blame for the fact that we’re not checking out X-Men Origins: Fallen Angels in theaters this Christmas at the feet of the other new characters in the book. I am being sincere when I say that there is no end of very good character concept and development going on in this book, at least as far as some characters like Madrox and Siryn go. Both the telekinetic Gomi and tough-as-nails street-wise kid Chance end up taking up prime real estate for their personal story arcs, Gomi even eating up space at the table for an origin story that doesn’t do particularly much for the character and definitely nothing for the plot.

The gimmick of Chance being a secret-mutant is telegraphed brazenly through the series, and generally in lieu of giving her anything of use to do. Whenever other mutants are around Chance, their powers either double or disappear completely, and also they feel compelled to mention it while Chance is hanging around in the immediate vicinity, and also what you might laughably call a ‘portable’ Cerebro unit keeps identifying a mutant that no one seems to know who in the room it is AND ALSO Chance keeps saying she’s not a mutant … Consider the hints picked up.

Oh, and one of the lobsters is a mutant, too. You’re welcome.

In the end, Fallen Angels is a decent book with the one exception that you can’t really explain why it happened. After eight issues, the X-World returned to its status quo without much as a ripple. Sunspot and Warlock go back to the New Mutants to help feed oatmeal to Sam through a tube, all of the other pre-established characters disappear for half a decade or so before they get picked up for new purposes, and the new characters just drop off the face off the Earth - except I looked up Ariel on Wikipedia and she apparently popped up in X-Men recently and then was slugged to death by someone. Possibly me.

I guess our one takeaway is that we got to see Devil Dinosaur pulling off headscarf bandana look a la Travolta in Staying Alive …

Haha, Bill's saying "boobs".


Jeff Hebert said...

I’m sorry to keep saying “Coconut Grove peeps”, but the only likely name I could think of for them was “Coconut Grovers”, which sounds like a sex act, a Girl Scout cookie or a sex act involving a Girl Scout cookie.

That made me laugh right out loud, well done!

neofishboy said...


I miss Bill Sienkiewicz.

negro frankenstein said...

Nice to see you writing again!

Mike Mitchell said...

I'm currently digging through my comic collection (gotta catalog 'em, box 'em up, and replace some of those old comic bags that are reverting to their fossil fuel origins)... and now, darn it, I've got to keep my eyes open for this stuff. I haven't read it since it came out, but I do recall it was... well... pretty much what you described here. Just plain weird.

PS: I also bust a gut with your "Coconut Grovers" sex act comment. Best laugh I've had today.

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