Bizarro Back Issues: Avengers vs. X-Men… vs. Evil Time Traveling Wizard Magic (1985)
This week, Marvel kicked off a big ol’ fight between the Avengers and the X-Men in the appropriately named Avengers vs. X-Men. But while the current event promises to be their most important conflict ever, it’s hardly the first time those two teams have met up with each other. They’ve been teaming up, fighting, and otherwise making each other miserable for years. And occasionally, that kind of thing has happened while an immortal wizard turned the clock in New York City back to the age of Conan the Barbarian so that he could crucify Spider-Man.
Things tend to get pretty weird around those guys.One of the things I’ve always really loved about the Bronze Age Marvel Universe is that they had the Conan the Barbarian license so long that they just went ahead and made that stuff part of their official history. It’s actually pretty awesome when you get right down to it, in that Marvel could pretty much claim that every character they published was descended from a dark-haired, sullen-eyed barbarian who once suplexed a gorilla that thought it was a wizard. Say what you want about the characters, but that’s a pretty compelling argument in any inter-company “who could win in a fight” arguments.
As a result, you got the occasional crossover, like that time Red Sonja and Spider-Man hung out in Marvel Team-Up, or that issue of What If where Conan fought Thor, or that other issue of What If where Conan got stuck in the early ’80s and walked around dressed like Tony Montana with a leopard on a leash. And that’s a fact that the legendary Chris Claremont and the equally legendary John Romita Jr. took full advantage of in a two-part story that ran in Uncanny X-Men #191 and 192.
The villain of the piece is one Kulan Gath, one of the many, many evil wizards that Conan fought and, unfortunately for the present, one of the far fewer to get away from everyone’s favorite Cimmerian with his head still attached to his body. Through a series of wizardly machinations, he arrived in the present — or at least in 1985 — and promptly set about working his evil magic on Manhattan.
As a result…
New York City has been dragged kicking and screaming straight into the Forgotten Realms.
Everything inside that big glowing green wall has been transformed into its D&D equivalent — both physically and mentally. Gun-toting soldiers have become sword-wielding guards, super-heroes have become warriors of uncanny power, and everybody believes that’s just the way it should be. There are only two exceptions: the one person who could’ve stopped it, Dr. Strange, who has been turned into a statue instead, and Spider-Man. We’ll get back to him in a minute.
It’s all the first step in Kulan Gath’s master plan to remake the world as he sees fit, slowly expanding his area of influence until it takes over the world and remakes things just as they were in the Hyborian Age. Really, when you consider how often dudes like him got their asses handed to them by Conan back then, it doesn’t exactly seem like a great plan, but it’s what he wants to do. And in a pretty sinister, horrifying turn, he’s fueling his magic by sacrificing children.
Now, the thing about attacking New York in the Marvel Universe is that you’re going to end up scooping up a bunch of super-heroes in the process, which is exactly what happened. Thus, we get the real reason that all this is going down: Storm fighting Callisto from the Morlocks on a pirate ship:
Because really, once you have it in your head that the X-Men should be a team of dungeon-crawling adventurers, you’ll cook up any plot machinations you have to in order to make that happen. It’s worth noting, though, that Storm starts that fight slightly more clothed, tearing off the “silk panels” of her loincloth when some bad guys show up and try to get her all bondaged up, before grabbing Callisto and jumping into the water for some wrestling.
There’s a lot of fetishes going on in this comic, is what I’m getting at.
But there’s another key aspect of that fight scene: During the scuffle, when Callisto takes a swipe at Storm with her knife, it breaks through Kulan Gath’s spell and allows her to remember who she really is. So, just so we’re clear on that, you can make people remember who they are if you stab them.
I have to admit, this is where the suspension of disbelief fails for me. I mean, you want to tell me there’s a dude who can turn to metal or shoot lasers out of his eyes, I’m right there with you. But if you’re going to tell me that there’s seven million fighters, rogues, bards and other assorted adventurers all in one place and they’re not just constantly hacking at each other with longswords, then you’re contradicting pretty much every experience I have ever had with Dungeons & Dragons.
Anyway, while the rest of the populace is getting into groups of four and charging at anything that looks like it has gold pieces, Kulan Gath is working some magic on the New Mutants, tapping into their “darkling potential” to turn them into monsters that’ll do his bidding:
As you might expect if you’ve read any New Mutants comic from the ’80s, this leads to a lot of Warlock talking about “self friend” and “lifeglow,” and as this column has officially proven, you literally could not pay me to care about that.
All that really matters is that their first assignment is tracking down Spider-Man:
A few things to note about this panel. First, Spider-Man has the fancy “translation” brackets around his words because he’s the only one speaking — or in his case, thinking — in English. Everyone else is yammering on in Hyrkanian or whatever, and while this is brought up a few times as a crucial plot point, it never quite pays off the way you expect it to. It does, however, lead to the pretty amazing revelation that speaking in an ancient dead language doesn’t stop Rogue from having a Southern accent, sugah.
Second, I love that Spider-Man references Conan the Barbarian. One assumes that in the Marvel Universe, Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in 1982’s most well-received historical documentary.
As to why Kulan Gath has decided to leave Spider-Man unaffected and bring him in for torture and execution rather than just zapping him into high fantasy, well, it goes back to that issue of Marvel Team-Up I mentioned earlier. I’d go into more detail, but let’s be real here, there are a lot of characters involved in this comic, and if I started explaining why all these people were mad at each other, I’d be here all night. Suffice to say that Spider-Man’s knack for pissing people off is not constrained by space and time.
And when I say that there are a lot of characters involved, I’m not kidding. Selene from the Hellfire Club shows up and starts fighting Kulan Gath while Spider-Man ends up brawling with the New Mutants in a tavern where — of course — the Avengers happen to be hanging out, along with a few of the X-Men and Magik from the New Mutants. Magik ends up focusing the totality of whatever it is she does into her Soul Sword and sets about stabbing Colossus, breaking the spell before she forgets how to do it.
In the fracas, Spider-Man gets hauled off to be nailed to the Tree of Woe. But even with the witchery still upon them, the Avengers have been through this enough to know that once you’re done fighting, it’s time to team up:
You know, Claremont gets a lot of sass for being verbose, and I will admit that that is a lot of talking for three panels, but let’s be honest: If you had Tom Orzechowski doing the lettering in your comic, you’d want as much of it as you could get away with too.
As the second half of the story kicks off, things aren’t looking so good for the heroes. Kulan Gath has turned Selene into a mouthless tentacle monster…
…while Captain America and Colossus try to bluff their way into Gath’s stronghold by offering teenage bikini slaves:
Seriously. A lot of fetishes going on in this comic.
But even that doesn’t work out as well as they’d hoped — Gath has twisted a few of the Avengers to his will, turning Starfox and the Wasp into his henchmen after terrifying them with “their greatest fear.” Starfox’s is that he’ll turn out like Thanos, which makes sense, but according to this comic, the Wasp’s greatest fear is literally turning into a wasp. Not quite sure that really works. Then again, Kulan Gath has also managed to gain control of the Vision, who, even in the Hyborian age, is still a f***ing robot, so who knows anymore?
Either way, it leads to Storm going into a berserker fury and tearing dudes’ throats out with a broadsword:
But like the Vision, Colossus, Rogue, Spider-Man and Captain America, Storm is mortally wounded in the battle. So, as you might expect from everything that has happened up to this point, the logical consequence of all of this is…
Storm gets turned into a robot, then she turns Selene into a robot, which kills Selene, which frees Dr. Strange and allows him to turn back time so that none of this stuff ever happened in the first place. And then on the last page, another robot (an evil one) comes back from the future to kill the X-Men.
Marvel Comics, everybody!