Saturday, July 28, 2012

X-Club: "Science Hooooo!"

The X-Club is a group of scientists within the X-Men. While quickly becoming valued members of the team - the X-Club became a minor cult-hit. With Doctor Nemesis leading the charge, with his quick wit and boundless arrogance, the group became popular enough to warrant one-shot issues and a 5-issue mini-series. Before getting into that, here's what lead to the group's formation:

Driven mad by the growing scope of her reality-altering powers, the Avenger known as the Scarlet Witch changed the whole world, a world in which mutants where dominant species, and Magneto, the Scarlet Witch's father, ruled over the changed world; this became known as the "House of M". When the false reality she had constructed began to be challenged, it fell apart -- and in a fit of spite against her father Magneto, who for all his life has dedicated himself to raising up the mutant race, the Scarlet Witch said "No More Mutants"

When reality was restored to the way it was, the effect of the Scarlet Witch's words became clear. Although imprecise in effecting all mutants, for nearly 98% of the mutant race, the X-Gene was erased - leaving roughly 198 mutants left on the planet. (The X-Men, naturally, made up the bulk of those numbers. Marvel still needed a series.) Banding together what was left of the the species Homo Superior, X-Men leader Cyclops lead the remainder of the mutant race - eventually leading to the formation of the island nation of Utopia, where mutants could remain safe.

Dr. Hank McCoy, aka the Beast, did all he could to try and develop a cure for restoring the mutant race. He allied himself with anyone he could find, and eventually brought together and formed the X-Club, to try and save the nearly extinct race.

I dropped off of reading X-Men for quite a while. While Utopia was a very interesting idea - it regrettably segregated the X-Men books. Cyclops, also, was becoming increasingly militant - no longer seeking for man and mutant to co-exist, but to defend what remained of the mutant race at any cost. Wolverine and half the X-Men eventually broke ties with Cyclops and Utopia, re-establishing a school to teach young mutants; Wolverine wanting the kids to be able to be kids, and not soldiers in Cyclops' cause.

I recently picked up a book, called "Age of X". I had heard very good things about the series - and with it being a self-contained tale, it seemed like an easy enough story to enjoy - even though I had been away from the title for so long. Written by Joe Casey - an X-Men's story of an alternate world didn't seem like new territory - yet Casey brought a wealth of creativity and nuance to the story, of a world where the X-Men never existed, and the mutant race was of the verge of extinction. It was a warped mirror of the X-Men's current situation.

Age of X really recaptured my interest in the series, and suddenly reading the after-math of "Age of X", in the pages of X-Men Legacy (a title on Cyclops' side, after the split) - suddenly Cyclops' militant X-Men didn't seem quite as messed up as I previously believed.

Beast, though, who has always served as the scientific advisor to the group, had left the team. He steadfastly disagreed with the direction Cyclops was taking, and left even before the Cyclops/Wolverine split.

Doctor Nemesis

What does all of this have to do with the X-Club? Well, with Beast gone - suddenly the group he had brought together where taking his place in stories, as science advisors to Cyclops.

At first I didn't know who this man in white, with a surgical mask, even was; he was interesting, though - and quickly became a pleasure to see appearing in the series. The character's name is Doctor Nemesis - an unused comic character. He operated as a vigilante during WWII, and later hunted down Nazis.

He is one of the first "modern day" mutants, has extended longevity, as well as a "self-evolved intellect". In battle he wields hypodermic guns, with bullets full of cancer, and other horrible diseases.

He loves all things science-related, and while his rallying cry for the team, "Science Hoooo!", describes the kind of wacky enthusiasm he maintains, I doubt factual science was ever used in the comics, beyond being used as spring-board to justify the plausibility of whatever insane ideas the writers come up with.

Besides Doctor Nemesis, there are three other member of X-Club.

Dr. Kavita Rao

Introduced during Joss Whedon's tenure writing Astonishing X-Men, Rao's presence of the team initially seemed like a form of penance -- as she originally was working to create a cure for mutancy. The X-Men revealed the dark secrets behind this so-called "Cure". So her working to restore the mutant X-Gene seems quite ironic. Since she's a normal human, it's her scientific acumen that makes her an asset to the X-Club.

Madison Jeffries

I was first introduced to this character in his Age of X-persona, where he wielded the cool ability to talk to and command machines to do his bidding. I later found that his powers, also, include being able to psionically rearrange metals, plastics, or glass, into weapons or any kind of technology he wants.

He originally was a member of Alpha Flight, being able to merge his consciousness with a robot body, called "Box". His real skills, though, are in creating and developing technology.


Another character taken from Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men -- from his second story arc, Whedon introduced a new villain called Danger. She, in effect, was the X-Men's Danger room. Made with Shi'ar holographic technology, the X-Men's danger room was able to create any environment or scenario to train Xavier's students. She's basically a holodeck, like from Star Trek the Next Generation. She became self-aware (which holodecks often do). This new spark of consciousness, in effect a new species, was seemingly ignored by Xavier when he first recognized it's presence. So for years the Danger Room continued to be used by the X-Men -- until it was finally able to manifest itself into a robotic body, and seek revenge on those who enslaved her. She is able to morph into any form, create any environment - even outside the confines of her old existence as a holodeck. Most worrisome for the X-Men was that, having trained them, she knew all of the X-Men's weaknesses. Her eventual confrontation with Xavier didn't end well, and Cyclops and the X-Men had a falling out, after discovering how Xavier had ignored the existence of a new species, in favor of being able to train his X-Men.

In the pages of X-Men: Legacy, Joe Casey was busy sending Xavier on a world-wind trip around his own history, confronting and dealing with all his past sins and mistakes; Danger being one of his biggest. Really, it was actually a kind of writer damage-control - to try and humanize Xavier, and mitigate and explain his actions. Seeking out Rogue, who Danger knew would eventually be on Xavier's trip down memory lane - an accident occurred; Danger was damaged, and went into a chaotic state, transforming the Australian landscape they where on, into every key point in Rogue's life. When Xavier, joined by Gambit, arrived - they found various holographic scenarios playing all at once - an entire recreation of San Francisco, the Xavier institute, and many other places. Fighting their way to the center of the crisis, Xavier was able to locate Danger.

Danger, being severely damaged, was dying -- and Xavier found, in the center of the holographic maze, a recreation of how Danger views herself. Inside the confines of the old Danger Room, she views herself as immensely powerful (hence her size), but chained and unable to be free. Xavier is able to initiate a number of subroutines, that begin a repair process of Danger's programming. Along the way Xavier is able to explain how, when he first sensed the existence of the Danger Room gaining consciousness, he didn't entirely ignore it. He tried figuring out what had happened, consulting with Shi'ar engineers. They thought the idea of a sentient holodeck was laughable (really?! It happened all the the time on the Enterprise!). Xavier thought of trying to remove and free the newfound consciousness, but fiddling and dismantling alien technology is risky, especially when his attempts could erase whatever new life this was. How would he know what programs to remove, and not compromise the new life form? So Xavier, for years, worked on the problem - and only very soon before her own self-liberation, Xavier had installed programming to free and unbound the Danger room. Xavier, to his shame, had hesitated to begin the process. So now, to save Danger's life, Xavier is able to initiate the unused programming to repair and restore Danger's consciousness.

Being a machine, Danger seemed quite amiable to joining the X-Men after this. On Utopia, Danger found a new calling in her quest to understand humanity better - she is asked if she would be able to use her simulation-abilities to both cage, but also rehabilitate, the criminals Cyclops imprisons.

Danger was probably the most interesting of these X-Club characters to back-track and read more about.

While I've never read the X-Club mini-series, a TPB is available (here) - the group still appears in Uncanny X-Men. Danger, especially, is a main character on Cyclops' team, in addition to serving as Warden of the X-Men's private prison. Uncanny X-Men writer Kieron Gillen (former writer for Law & Order: SVU), has made good use of the character. The title is due to under-go a large change, as part of Marvel's revamp of their comic line -- so I don't know wether the X-Club will survive. (A cure to revive the mutant race is one of the expected possibilities for the end of Avengers vs X-Men, leading into the revamp. So the X-Club's main mission might be solved.)

All in all, I though the X-Club was simply an interesting group -- and since some of my friends are actual scientists, or studying in those fields, I thought this would be an interesting series to high-light.  I doubt labs or collages would ever broach subjects like ridable electric mutant hammer-sharks...

...or malfunctioning holodecks...

...or luring psychic predators with kitty cats...

...or head-attaching starfish, telepathically broadcasting your inner monologue to the world...

...or escaping from over-lapping dimensions, and Quantum Theory, by positing the theory that all contradictory outcomes are all True, until a single outcome is measured by an observer. Deliberately observing the desired outcome makes it reality-- its Schrodinger's cat, but where the "the cat opens up it's own damn box"

While all of that is clearly science fiction at its most wacky, the enthusiasm and cleaver concepts brought by Doctor Nemesis and company seemed interesting enough that I wanted to share what I had found out about the group.

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