Mister Sinister’s origin?

Mister Sinister debuted in the title Uncanny X-Men, first being briefly mentioned by Sabretooth during the Mutant Massacre crossover as the leader of the Marauders who had sent them to slaughter the Morlock population.

Figure 01_UX212_MrSinister

In the following issue, the X-Men member Psylocke picks up a shadowy mental image of the Marauders’ “Master” from Sabretooth’s mind.

Figure 02_UX213_Flashback

Mister Sinister finally appeared on-panel in issue #221.

Figure 03_UX221_Sinister1stappearance1

The character plays a major role in the Inferno crossover, where it is revealed that Sinister cloned Madelyne Pryor from Jean Grey for the purpose of having her conceive a child with Cyclops, their son Nathan; Sinister also reveals to have manipulated Cyclops’ life since early childhood. After a battle with the X-Men and X-Factor, the villain is apparently destroyed by Cyclops’ optic beam.

Figure 04_XF39_Mister Sinister dies

Months after Mister Sinister’s apparent death, Claremont pens Classic X-Men #41–42 (December, 1989) detailing the role he played in Cyclops’ life at the orphanage in Nebraska where Scott was raised.

Figure 05_CXM41-2

The story features a boy named Nathan who is obsessively fixated on Cyclops…

Figure 06_CXM41

…and whom Claremont intended to actually be Mister Sinister.

Sadly though Claremont was removed from his beloved X-titles before he could firmly establish his above planned origin; and future writers would go on to reveal Mister Sinister as a Victorian era geneticist obsessed with evolution named Nathaniel Essex who made a pact with the ancient mutant Apocalypse, leading to his signature look and longevity…

Figure 07a_FACP03Figure 07b_FACP04

…that eventually turned sour, prompting him to work behind the scenes where he manipulated the creation of Cyclops’ son Nathan (who became the time-travelling soldier Cable) to destroy Apocalypse.

A further layer to this origin was added in recent years where we discover the reason he made his initial pact with Apocalypse was to gain knowledge which would enable him to merge with the Dreaming Celestial and use its power to turn hundreds of thousands of people into doppelgangers of himself as part of a plan to bring about “Alpha Day” early whereby the Celestials would return to Earth, eradicate all life, leaving only his perfect clone-race to rebuild the planet and become its dominant species.

Figure 08a_UXM02Figure 08b_UXM02Figure 08c_UXM02

And fans had the audacity to accuse Claremont’s initially proposed origin as complicated!?

Okay, so let’s go back and delve a little further into Chris Claremont plans for the character.

In 1995, in interview with Tue Sǿrensen and Ulrik Kristiansen for Seriejournalen.dk Claremont reveals:

“Scott’s boyhood friend (Nathan) in the orphanage was an eight-year old kid he’s always been an eight-year old kid. He ages one year for every 10 of everybody else. So, he’s a 50-year old guy in a 10-year old’s body and boy, is he pissed! That’s why he works with clones. It’s the only way he can deal with the adult world because he is not gonna be an adult for another 50 years, at the earliest! And that’s why he takes a long view of things because he’s going to be around for a 1000 years give or take a few at least!”

So he conceived Mister Sinister as a new villain for the X-Men, after feeling “tired of just going back to Magneto and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and the same old same old”, further recalling in an interview on Comixfan.com:

“Dave Cockrum and I were over ideas and what we were coming towards was a mysterious young boy – apparently an 11-year-old – at the orphanage where Scott (Cyclops) was raised, who turned out to be the secret master of the place.

Figure 09a_CXM41

In effect what we were setting up was a guy who was aging over a lifespan of roughly a thousand years. Even though he looked like an 11-year-old, he’d actually been alive since the mid-century at this point – he was actually about 50 […] He had all the grown up urges. He’s growing up in his mind but his body isn’t capable of handling it, which makes him quite cranky. And, of course, looking like an 11-year-old, who’d take him seriously in the criminal community? […] So he built himself an agent in a sense, which was Mister Sinister, that was, in effect, the rationale behind Sinister’s rather – for want of a better word – childish or kid-like appearance. The costume… the look… the face… it’s what would scare a child. Even when he was designed, he wasn’t what you’d expect in a guy like that.”

Figure 09b_CXM 041

While this addresses his origin for the child-like mutant (Nathan) who is obsessed with Scott, he is appropriately vague in the abovementioned Classic X-Men story with regard to Mister Sinister, such that nothing presented in those issues appeared to get contradicted too much by how later writers went on to develop him.

Or so it would seem at a cursory glance!

But I would posit that while these issues on first glance provide no scenes that directly suggest just what Claremont’s original intent for Mister Sinister was, when considered with scenes he had seeded outside of this particular story the hints have been RIGHT THERE… and yet none of us saw it, but how in the hell could we have MISSED it?

So now it’s just a matter of working out how, if Claremont had remained, his planned origin for Mister Sinister might have played out in-story?

Well we know from Claremont’s interviews young Nate had been secretly running the Nebraskan orphanage for years, and was responsible for Scott being transferred there…

Figure 10b_XFAC39

…after his parents were abducted by D’Ken (though why he let Alex be adopted out is a mystery to this day).

Figure 10a_CXM41

In the Comixfan.com interview above Claremont recalls that young Nate “built himself an agent… which was Mister Sinister” as a way to convince the criminal community to take him seriously…

Figure 11_XMF07

…since despite his being 50 years of age he knew they wouldn’t take orders from somebody in the body of an 11-year old.

With this in mind young Nate had to ensure his agent for interacting with criminals/ supervillains was someone that scared the willies out them.

So Mister Sinister’s presence had to be damn creepy, something perfectly achieved by the alabaster skin, jagged teeth and “Uncanny valley”/ “Frank-N-Furter” get-up!

As for an appropriate name, he chose one with the gravitas of Doctor Doom!

And a form that could physically intimidate even villains like Sabretooth.

Figure 12_UXM221_Mr. Sinister

But how!

Well Claremont’s X-Men Forever #7 furthers the earlier hint that young Nate “built” Mister Sinister, showing the supervillain’s body among a group stored away that had been constructed from synthetic materials.

Figure 13_XMF01-03Figure 11_XMF07

This pretty blatantly suggests Claremont intended Mister Sinister to be an android that young Nate had built.

In addition the placement of the red gem on Mister Sinister’s forehead/ sternum seems further inspired by the design of Marvel’s most famous android, the Avenger called Vision whose solar jewel – on his forehead – provided him with the power required to function and manifest a range of energy powers.

Figure 14_A102_Vision

A further clue to Mister Sinister being an android occurs during Claremont’s original run in Uncanny X-Men #241 when Madelyne Pryor, in her guise as the Goblyn Queen, demands Jean Grey’s demonically transformed parents bring her his heart, and he boasts that, regrettably, he has no heart. While most would read this to be the boastful claim of a cackling supervillain, I’d suggest in Claremont’s case it was an extremely subtle, veiled reference to the fact he intended him to be a synthezoid, and not an enhanced human.

Figure 15_UXM241

But hold on a minute, Mister Sinister demonstrated a range what appeared to be psionic powers, including the ability to a) take instant control of the minds of other persons, b) establish mental blocks in the minds of others thereby preventing them from striking against him, and c) to project his mind onto the astral plane!

Well yes he did and I’ll get to this further below, but first recall that at the time Claremont introduced Scott’s boyhood friend (Nathan) in the orphanage, mutants only had a primary mutation, not a secondary unrelated mutation, and psionics do not have a connection to retarded ageing which was obviously the mutant ability Claremont intended for young Nate. And there is evidence to suggest a range of Mister Sinister’s superhuman abilities are derived from other sources. For instance, in X-Factor #39 Louise Simonson maintains Claremont’s idea by having Mister Sinister admit that the job of controlling Scott’s powers in the orphanage were “technically difficult”.

Figure 16_XFA039

This may suggest his ability to take control of other minds is not derived from his mutancy.

So what if the ruby gem worn by the “Mister Sinister” android does not absorb solar energy to provide the needed power for him to function like the Vision (he lived in the secret high-tech catacombs of the Nebraskan orphanage which was closed off from outside sunlight), but instead absorbed psionic energy from mutants within his vicinity?! Was this perhaps the real reason behind young Nate being intent on keeping Scott around? That is, as Scott’s ability developed young Nate finally had a powerful enough mutant around to fuel the jewel on his android. So did young Nate need Scott in the same way Ahmet Abdol needed his brother Alex?

Figure 17_MTU69

And did he create the Ruby Quartz glasses because he couldn’t have Scott expelling and wasting all that energy; the ruby quartz keeping it contained so young Nate could then absorb it!? Might this then suggest the gem was also composed of ruby quartz!?

I’ll come to this further down, but first…

Once Scott fled the orphanage, young Nate would need to find a replacement if he were to continue in his guise of Mister Sinister so perhaps expanded its operations to begin procuring mutant babies (between Classic X-Men #41-42 to X-Factor #35 operations had certainly scaled up)…

Figure 18_XFAC35_Pods

…all the while intent on getting Scott’s powers back somehow.

So does he continue his development of synthezoids, using them, along with clones, to conduct his activities in the “adult world”; including procuring Jean’s DNA to create Madelyne Pryor, a “brood mare” who would conceive a child with Scott that he could then have transferred to the orphanage to become a substitute to energise his gem given he was likely to never get Professor X’s golden boy back!? He then manipulates the formation of the Marauders to abduct the child and return it to him at the orphanage. However, knowing the infant’s powers won’t fully manifest for some time, (which he’s not overly impatient about as shown in Uncanny X-Men #239 when as baby Nate floats in his stasis chamber he declares that “time, as always, is on my side” given his retarded aging)…

Figure 19_UXM239

…so he uses Malice in the interim, a mutant of pure psionic energy. But while Malice is disembodied her energy is dispersed, the same problem he faced with Scott’s release of optic blasts. So he convinces her that she requires a host, manipulating her to bond with Lorna Dane, her psionic energy thereby contained and his gem then able to absorb the required amount.

Figure 20_UXM239

So now the question left is where young Nate procures the “Ruby Gem” that powers his Mister Sinister android?

To determine this, I would posit that we need to look back at just what abilities the gem powering Mister Sinister could be enabling him to manifest.

And so I return again to Uncanny X-Men #241 which not only hints that Mister Sinister is a sythezoid, but perhaps also the origin of where his wide range of other superhuman abilities might be derived from. When Madelyne calls him “devil”, he replies “The devil perhaps I am” and while again this could be read as the boastful claim of a cackling supervillain, after he further boasts to Madelyne that he has no heart, he also states that neither is he about to be bested in his own “sanctum sanctorum”.

Figure 15_UXM241

I would posit that when Mister Sinister refers to his secret base as his “sanctum sanctorum”, Claremont is dropping a huge hint. That is, in the Marvel Universe this term only tends to be used by sorcerers when referring to the base from which they conduct their mystical activities (e.g. Doctor Strange in Strange Tales #125, Baron Mordo in Strange Tales #132 and even Claremont’s very own Illyana Rasputin in New Mutants #44).

Figure 21a_Strange Tales 116, 125,132Figure 21b_NM44

This all appears to be driving the point home that young Nate is akin to another of Claremont’s mutant villains, Selene. Recall Selene was shown over time to be not only a mutant but a powerful sorceress possessing a wide range of superhuman abilities (the extent of which are outlined by Claremont in the scenes below), it never being clearly defined which of these was her mutant ability and which were skills derived from magic or other sources.

Figure 22a_NM10Figure 22b_UXM184Figure 22c_UXM184Figure 22d_UXM184Figure 22e_UXM189Figure 22f_UXM189Figure 22g_UXM189Figure 22h_UXM190Figure 22i_UXM190Figure 22j_UXM191Figure 22k_UXM208Figure 22l_F4ANN1999Figure 22m_UXM454

I’d therefore suggest this was the same for young Nate, who possessed the genetic mutation of retarded aging, while the wide range of superhuman abilities Mister Sinister showed were skills derived from the ruby gem he wore. And the ruby gem powering young Nate’s “Mister Sinister” android enabled him to access a range of mystical abilities.

As further evidence of this, Uncanny X-Men #241 provides even more hints. That is, in this issue Mister Sinister casts energy at Madelyne which results in her being bound by chains around her legs, arms, waist and neck, and engulfed in flames. He tells her that her struggle is useless, explaining that his defensive systems simply turns her energy back on her, using them to bind her all the more tightly. Even her ally, the demon N’astirh abandons her and teleports himself to safety when he sees Mister Sinister begin cutting loose with his powers.

Figure 23_UXM241

The only reason a demon of N’astirh’s level would flee would surely be because he realised he was in the presence of a sorcerer more powerful than himself.

But aren’t mystical villains left to the mystical corners of the Marvel Universe (i.e. Doctor Strange) and not the X-titles you ask!

Well, leaving aside the Margali Szardos, Belasco, Kulan Gath, Selene and the Adversary, there is precedent as far back Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s X-Men #12 which introduced Cain Marko who became transformed into Juggernaut, the human avatar of the mystical entity/ demon Cyttorak, by the Ruby Gem of Cyttorak which empowered him with the power of the crimson bands of Cyttorak.

Figure 24_UXM12

Juggernaut was always an odd concept to introduce into a title about mutants, what with his creator, Cyttorak, being a character more at home in the corner of Doctor Strange. However, I always wondered whether there might have been a plan by Kirby to reveal Cyttorak as somehow connected to the mutant world; after all he did provide Cain with a “psionic helmet” capable of protecting him from any telepathic attack!?

Figure 25_UXM13

I once theorised back in the 1980s that Cyttorak had recognised the psionic potential of Charles and lured him inside the ancient temple to transform him into his avatar on Earth, but Cain’s bullying bravado prevented this occurring. However, I have since become attached to the alternative idea that Cyttorak foresaw that one day Charles Xavier would become a threat to the mystic dimensions and Juggernaut was created as a protocol against mutant psionic threats! I mean how coincidental is it that his step-brother gets turned into an avatar able to withstand “psionic” power, the very foundation of Charles’s abilities?! Could this mean it would have been revealed there had been previous Juggernauts that had the specific purpose of putting down psionic threats throughout Earth’s history? But no you say, not during the Lee & Kirby run, since Charles seemed to believe mutant powers were caused by all the radiation their parents had been exposed to at the nuclear research centre before he was born (cf. Uncanny X-Men #12)…

Figure 26a_UXM12

…and Beast had a similar theory when he explained his father was an ordinary labourer at an atomic project (cf. Uncanny X-Men #15).

Figure 26b_UXM12

However, was that meant to be the bland origin but as time went on it would be revealed that mutant powers had a much greater history, one that would lead to a huge destiny in the MU (akin to that hinted at by Claremont in Uncanny X-Men Annual #11)?

Figure 27_UXN Annual 11

Could the introduction of Juggernaut have been intended as the first major hint that put into question the Atomic Age as behind the origin of mutant powers? Recall just the issue before the Stranger appears on Earth to study mutants saying his people are greatly interested in their emergence. This issue it is also revealed that there are mutants on other planets; and whereas the Collector has a wider-brief for his collection obsession, the Stranger says his people primarily focus their interest on collecting mutants from planet to planet.

Figure 28_UXM11

Yet we’ve not really had mutants introduced from other worlds in the MU (except perhaps Warlock from the Technarch). So could the Stranger’s introduction have been the start of an eventual story to reveal a longer history of mutancy, and the Juggernaut was the first example of dimensions beyond ours establishing protocols to defend their realms from the threat of mutants (so in essence Juggernaut was a Sentinel of the mystical dimensions)? Perhaps if Kirby had stayed on this could have been the direction they headed in!? What I like about this is it makes what previously appeared as non-mutant characters like the Stranger and Juggernaut having a legitimate reason for appearing in the title by properly tying them directly into the mutant mythology.

So could Cyttorak be an anti-mutant force here…

…and Claremont had picked up on this, and therefore intended the gem that powered the “Mister Sinister” android to be a fragment of the Ruby Gem of Cyttorak, and N’astirh fled his “sanctum sanctorum” upon seeing a demonstration of his powers because he recognised it as the power of the crimson bands of Cyttorak?

Now, as earlier promised, to explain how the source of his wide range of superhuman abilities Mister Sinister demonstrated is the Ruby of Cyttorak, and not his mutant ability…

When first introduced in X-Men #12, the giant glowing ruby which Cain Marko picked up in the ancient temple which he had fled inside to avoid being shot while serving in the Korean War had an inscription that read “Whoever touches this gem shall possess the power of the crimson bands of Cyttorak!”

Figure 29_UXM12

If the ruby gem which powers the “Mister Sinister” android is a fragment of it, this would seem to suggest his abilities are all applications of the crimson bands of Cyttorak.

How so?

To answer that question we need to go back to the Marvel Universe’s definition of them.

The Crimson Bands of Cyttorak were initially introduced in Stan Lee & Steve Ditko’s Strange Tales, where they were shown as a binding spell that sorcerers used to encase their victim in a circle/ cage of red bands that could not be easily broken out of (e.g. Strange Tales #125, 126, and 128)…

Figure 30_Strange Tales 125, 126, 128

…then Doctor Strange called on them to reveal where his Cloak of Levitation and amulet, the Eye of Agamotto, had been hidden (cf. Strange Tales #143). This alternate use for the crimson bands has never been resolved, and seems inconsistent with its earlier applications.

Figure 31_Strange Tales 143

But might the answer lie by looking more closely at the superhuman abilities Mister Sinister put into application!

In Uncanny X-Men #243, the epilogue to Inferno, Jean begins experiencing a psychic attack after integrating the Pryor clone’s memories, putting up a telekinetic barrier around herself to protect the rest of the team in fear that it might be Madelyne intent to use her powers to cut loose against them.

Figure 32_UXM243

To break through Jean’s telekinetic barrier so they can help her, Psylocke forms a bond with Cyclops, Wolverine and Storm to psi-shift their astral selves inside her mind.

Figure 33_UXM243

While they are observing her mindscape, finally getting close to pulling back the veil of Madelyne’s origin, Mister Sinister’s fist shatters through the mindscape and begins shattering one memory shard after another.

Figure 34a_UXM243Figure 34b_UXM243

While this might not seem connected to Cyttorak’s power at all, recall the Crimson Bands bind because they are unbreakable!

And given they’re unbreakable, this is likely how the power of the Crimson Bands, granted to Cain Marko by Cyttorak’s gem, transform him into an unstoppable physical force (since whatever he motions against effectively “shatters”).

Figure 35_UXM13

So does this firstly explain how Doctor Strange was able to call on the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak to reveal where his cloak and amulet were in Strange Tales #143? That is, if you extend “unstoppable force” to a person’s willpower, then was Doctor Strange able to find out where his cloak and amulet by calling on the Crimson Bands to empower his will so he could break through the spell concealing them? It would seem “Most likely”!

Now onto how the source of Mister Sinister’s wide range of superhuman abilities are derived entirely from the Ruby of Cyttorak, I would further suggest that when the ANDROID is able to launch what would appear to be a psychic attack on Jean, and start shattering her memories, is not the result of young Nate possessing any mutant telepathic ability, but rather the ruby gem powering Mister Sinister android with the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak which enable the android to “exude waves of force” to break through psionic shields.

I would further posit evidence to support that the psionic powers are not possessed by young Nate, but that he instead requires the “Mister Sinister” android to exert control over the minds of others on his behalf comes in Classic X-Men #41, when another boy at the orphanage, Toby Rails, upon beating up Nate and teasing him, suddenly finds himself in the clutches of Mister Sinister when heading back to his room. Sinister gloats that he “must now be dealt with… as he most richly deserves”, and the following day Rails, not seeming in control of his faculties, makes his way to the orphanage roof and jumps off, falling to his death.

Figure 36a_CXM41Figure 36b_CXM41

If all of the above hasn’t yet caused you to face fully front true believer, compare the signature energy colour of Mister Sinister’s power, on display during Inferno below (particularly the last panel scene where he releases energy which forms as bonds, tying Cyclops’ hands behind his back from X-Factor #39), with that of the “crimson bands” on display in Strange Tales #124, 126 and 128 above.

Figure 37a_UXM241Figure 37b_XFA39Figure 37c_XFA39Figure 37d_XFA39

So the truth behind Mister Sinister is that he is not a mutant, but rather a synthezoid built by a young mutant; and powered by the Ruby Gem which provide him with a wide range of superhuman abilities derived from the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak.

As for Mister Sinister’s motives cloning Jean Grey; and then manipulating events so this clone would become his “brood mare” and seek out and conceive a child with Scott Summers, might this suggest that Cyttorak wanted control of the Phoenix power. Earlier in Uncanny X-Men #239 “Mister Sinister” claims that young Nathan Christopher Summers will help him win a long-range game. Is this game perhaps with other mutant sorcerers, including Selene, and being run by Cyttorak in a bid for supremacy of the higher dimensions?

Figure 38_Cyttorak

And of course just as Claremont suggested, in his Seriejournalen.dk interview with Ulrik Kristiansen and Tue Sǿrenson in 1996, the story of a young boy using the Ruby of Cyttorak to animate superhuman clones and manipulate heroes into battle with them was rejected and suddenly came up a few years later, starting with Avengers West Coast #64 where a young boy, Stevie, found the gem and gained various mystical powers without becoming the Juggernaut.

Figure 37_AWC64

Post-script: The question remaining is where a child scientific genius with expertise in the fields of cloning and robotics acquired the knowledge to build a highly-advanced android. Could he have inherited his scientific genius from a parent… and if so, which one? By Claremont’s estimates young Nate had been alive since the mid-20th Century so it would need to be one who was old enough to conceive around that time.

Acknowledgements: Thanks go out once again to fnord12 of the Marvel Comics Chronology and the Ancient One of Alvaro’s Comic Book Message Boards for tracking down some hard to obtain images and last of all Kirby historian, Richard Bensam (of Estoreal) for being a patient sounding board on my Juggernaut as “Cyttorak’s protocol against psionic mutants” idea.

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…the reason for the Reed Richards’ Rocketship?

fantastic_four_cosmic-rays-112Today’s guest post comes from Justin Zyduck, who used to write about superhero comics at the Adventures of Wyatt Earp in 2999 and was a semiregular guest contributor to Mightygodking dot com from 2009-2010. Since then he’s had two children and has retired from active blogging, but he still thinks about comics all the dang time even if he’s not writing about them. These days he writes and performs music as half of Madison, Wisconsin-based indie pop duo Evening Afternoon. He’s also published some short horror fiction under the name Justin Pollock and still works at prose in fits and starts.

“If Reed Richards is so smart, why did he take his girlfriend and her kid brother on the first test of his experimental rocket?”

Everyone from J. Jonah Jameson to Jay Leno has posed that question, or some variant of it, over the years.  Professional and amateur pundits alike have long debated the reason behind Susan and Johnny Storm’s presence on the historic flight that created the Fantastic Four. Feature films and other fictionalized versions of their exploits tend to portray the Storms as fellow scientists or astronauts to Reed Richards and Ben Grimm.  But, in reality, they had little, if any, training in those fields.  Sue Storm (now Richards) holds a bachelor’s degree in theatre, and Johnny Storm was, by all reports, an average-to-bright but underachieving high school student at that time.

When faced with the question himself, Richards plays it off charmingly.  “Even before we were the Fantastic Four, we were a team,” he said at a press conference shortly after their public debut.  It’s a sentiment he’s repeated many times since. “Every risk we took, every success we celebrated, we shared equally. Sue and Johnny are two of the bravest individuals I’ve ever known and – with no disrespect intended to the highly trained and dedicated astronauts in the international space-exploration community – there’s no one I’d have rather had with me.”

Beyond this seeming non-explanation, we can only speculate. Frustratingly, due to the nature of the U.S. government’s funding and involvement, official explanations and documentation on the Richards rocket project have been largely classified. In most cases we must depend on the licensed Fantastic Four comic books as primary sources.  However, whether through deliberate or accidental miscommunication between the Fantastic Four and the creative teams behind the comic – or perhaps even for matters of simple artistic license – details are often inconsistent.

Indeed, the very nature of the rocket itself has been inconsistently portrayed over the years. The flight was described as a mission “to the stars” in the debut issue of the Fantastic Four comic book (Vol. 1, #1.)  Later retellings frequently speak only of a nebulous “spaceflight” that may or may not have involved a “hyperdrive” or “star drive.” Furthermore, the first issue presented Richards’ decision to launch the rocket without official clearance as a spur-of-the-moment impulse because “conditions are right tonight.”  Only later did Vol. 3, #11 reveal that Richards effectively stole his own ship after the government withdrew funding from the project. When we don’t even know why Richards himself undertook that flight, is it any wonder that researchers and journalists have had difficulty reading between the lines to figure out what exactly the Storms were doing there?

But what if, instead of trying to determine what Richards is not saying about his friends’ involvement, we were to focus on what he is saying? Perhaps it’s a dead end to read such statements as the one quoted above as merely some kind of media-friendly deflection. What if we take him at his word? A man goes into space with his three closest friends. What would it suggest about the mission?

In following that question to its logical conclusion, we may discover not only why the Storms were on that rocket, but the purpose of the flight itself. And, quite unexpectedly, it may also lead us to the secret behind one of the other great and terrible marvels of the modern age: the so-called “Incredible Hulk.”

*

Let’s begin with one of the few details that remains consistent in almost every account: the Fantastic Four gained their powers because the Richards rocket was insufficiently shielded from cosmic radiation.  What was the nature of that radiation? “Cosmic rays” are not in fact unusual in outer space.  Their effects have been known, studied, and guarded against in the shielding of conventional spacecraft for years. Why, then, was the Richards rocket not so protected? Critics of Richards cite this seeming negligence on his part – negligence paid for by Ben Grimm in his transformation into “The Thing.”

Others, however, rush to defend Richards. On a special edition of the TV news magazine Lateline, Dr. Henry Pym – a leading biochemist and founding member of the Avengers under identities such as Giant Man and Yellowjacket – stated the incident was “a freak accident. No one could have predicted it. A cosmic ray storm on the surface of the sun produced particles that reacted with the star drive” (Vol. 3, #543.) This statement suggests a singular, anomalous incident that Richards was not and could not have been prepared for, which would seem to absolve Richards at least partially of blame.

The “freak accident” theory, however, while occasionally repeated elsewhere, can’t be entirely accepted because the effects of the cosmic rays have been reproduced. Specifically, rogue scientist Ivan Kragoff – alias the Red Ghost – exposed himself and his trained “Super-Apes” to what would appear to be the same type of cosmic rays, as did the terrorist group known as the U-Foes. Both teams traveled in spacecraft even less shielded than the Richards rocket for the deliberate purpose of gaining cosmic ray-derived superhuman powers. The Fantastic Four themselves have re-encountered the same or similar cosmic rays on subsequent flights.  During the account of their first battle with the extraterrestrial Skrull race, a spacecraft containing the Fantastic Four passes through a “radiation belt” that temporarily cures Grimm of his condition.  It is suggested that this same belt gave them their powers in the first place (Vol. 1, #2.)  Today, it is commonly held that this radiation belt was the Van Allen belt, two bands of trapped particles held in place by the Earth’s magnetic field.  At least one account of the Fantastic Four’s origin, in Vol. 3, #60, explicitly names the Van Allen belt as the source of their powers.

We can even resolve the Van Allen belt explanation with some of Pym’s comments.  As recently as 2013, space probes detected a third radiation belt, presumably created by unusual solar activity and apparently destroyed by a subsequent shock wave from the sun.  A “cosmic ray storm on the surface of the sun” as Pym describes might indeed have created an additional, temporary radiation belt with unexplained properties – a “fantastic belt,” if you will – that interacted with the Richards party to alter their genetic structure.  A reaction with a “star drive,” however, seems unlikely given that Kragoff and the U-Foes’ ships would almost certainly not have had the same hyperdrive on board.

In any event, we can likely pinpoint the cause of the mutation as abnormal, but by no means unique, activity in the Van Allen belt.  Such fantastic belts may be created and destroyed all the time.  The ones that affected Kragoff and the U-Foes might have been different belts that shared a common origin with the one that empowered the Fantastic Four. At the time of Richards’ flight, however, the existence and effects of these fantastic belts would have been unknown.  So, it is quite possible that the “insufficient shielding” of the rocket might have been perfectly sufficient if not for the unusual Van Allen belt activity.

*

Still, there is the detail, again unusually consistent among accounts, that Ben Grimm warned Reed Richards about the shielding on the rocket. Many underestimate Grimm due to his gruff layman’s persona, often portrayed referring to Richards’ inventions as “doohickeys” and “whoziwhatzis.”  But, his credentials in the aerospace field are not to be sniffed at.  It does seem unusual that he would have been so incredibly right and Richards so incredibly wrong about the shielding. In fact, why would anyone build a rocket with anything less than the standard amount of shielding?

But perhaps the shielding not being “standard” was precisely the point. Radiation shielding is bulky and expensive, and any spaceship traveling to interstellar space would require even more than conventional spacecraft. Seeking to get around this, Richards may well have used unconventional shielding. Scientists today have proposed spaceships that generate magnetic fields to block cosmic radiation; Richards may have beaten them to this notion several years ago.  Therefore, Grimm’s concern in Vol. 1, #1 that “[they] haven’t done enough research into the effect of cosmic rays” may not have been referring to the cosmic rays themselves, but rather the ability of this unconventional shielding to successfully block it.

*

Because we tend to focus on the failings of Richards’ rocket and the seeming impracticality of bringing largely untrained astronauts aboard, we tend to overlook the true marvel of its engineering: the very fact that it could be successfully operated by civilians.

It was eventually revealed that Richards and Grimm were originally intended to pair with two trained astronauts identified as Burroughs and Hennessey, although those might be pseudonyms employed by Marvel Comics for legal reasons.  Vol. 3, #11 shows that these two were pulled from the mission, along with the government’s funding. Yet, on short notice, Richards, Grimm, and the Storm siblings launched the rocket without clearance, without ground support, fast enough to take off “before the guard can stop them” (Vol. 1, #1.)  Then, in the worst possible conditions, they navigated the rocket safely back to Earth.  They achieved all this despite half their number having effectively zero astronautics training.

We can attribute their takeoff and survival to luck, or we can ask a more compelling question: what if the Richards rocket was designed to be operated by untrained astronauts? Richards’ decision to include the Storms on the mission would no longer be a massive mistake, but instead a test of the rocket’s intended function.

This question, however, seems to muddle the purpose of the mission at first glance. By itself, a spacecraft that can be launched and operated by a mix of professional and amateur astronauts with no outside support is a lofty goal.  Faster-than-light travel is even more wildly ambitious. Combining these two parameters makes the job exponentially more difficult. Why would Richards need to build an interstellar spaceship that requires minimal training?

*

On the same edition of Lateline where Pym described the incident in space, Dr. Herbert Eagle, former Dean of Men at Eastern State University, is quoted as saying, “When [Richards] proposed a practical hyperdrive… financial backers fought for the opportunity to invest in his prototype.” Yet, ultimately, the project was funded and pulled at the discretion of the U.S. government. With the private sector champing at the bit to fund Richards’ project, why was the government interested enough to foot the bill themselves, and again, why was a hyperdrive and the ability to be operated with minimal training a necessity?

It was only after Reed Richards’ encounter with the extraterrestrial creature known as Gormuu, self-proclaimed “Warrior of Kraalo,” was declassified and published in comic book form (Vol. 1, #271) that we could begin connecting these dots. The account revealed how, some time before making his flight with the future Fantastic Four, Richards helped defeat this would-be conqueror through ingenuity and quick thinking. The incident strengthened his resolve to complete his in-progress “experimental star-drive rocket” because “this experience with Gormuu has shown [the] universe to be more dangerous than anyone ever suspected.”  It seems probable, even likely, that the U.S. government agreed with Richards’ assessment, and that they agreed to finance the rocket not for research or exploration, as Richards intended, but for defense purposes: as a prototype for the next generation of military vehicle, one that could engage extraterrestrial threats.

Here, the unusual requirements of the rocket start to make sense. It would be prohibitively expensive to create a military fleet of conventional spacecraft with heavy radiation shielding, each of which would require massive, highly trained crews on the ground and in the air just to take off and land. But, what about a spaceship, with cost-effective magnetic shields, operated by one or two experienced astronauts that would allow additional, minimally-trained personnel to perform other functions, perhaps even combat?  Whatever Richards’ original goals for faster-than-light travel, such a ship creates compelling military implications.

Why, then, would the government abandon this idea? In fact, they might not have, at least not completely. Shortly after the Richards’ flight, a lower-profile but still very unusual space launch was undertaken by Col. John Jameson – not from NASA’s usual launch site at the John F. Kennedy Space Center, but just outside New York City.  This launch could take place close to a major metropolitan center, with relatively little preparation time.  Jameson was not even in the rocket fifteen minutes before launch! Perhaps this unique launch received so little attention because it was overshadowed by a malfunction with the rocket and its subsequent rescue by the burgeoning vigilante Spider-Man, then known largely for his television appearances and live stunt shows. But might that rocket have been a derivative of Richards’ technology? Did the government steal Richards’ designs and then shut down his program in favor of a homegrown one? Richards might have been uncomfortable with his work being used for explicit military purposes.  His own subsequent work, after all, has largely been focused on exploration, with superhuman combat used only when needed and as a last resort.

*

We can make an even wilder speculation here, an intriguing speculation which has never been proposed before now. Consider the other unusual major military project undertaken at around the same time as the Richards project.  Just what was Dr. Robert Bruce Banner working on in the New Mexico desert before the accident that transformed him into the Hulk?

If the Richards rocket was top secret, Banner’s project was doubly so. The official story, as it was originally disseminated, was that Banner was studying gamma radiation for medical or genetic research.  Some sources or adaptations continue to use that explanation, undoubtedly because it makes Banner a more sympathetic figure. But today, we know that Banner was actually working on a gamma-powered weapon, although its purpose has never been made clear.

A “gamma bomb” would likely be considerably more powerful and considerably more deadly than any conventional nuclear weapon in history. The utility of such a weapon seems limited: most nuclear weapons research focuses on variable yield rather than just a bigger payload.  Whatever your political and ethical feelings about weapons of mass destruction, harnessing this highly unusual radiation for a bomb that could only sanely be conceived of as a “use only in case of Armageddon” deterrent would seem to be an egregious waste of a potentially world-changing form of energy.

But what if the gamma bomb was never meant to be used in defense or offense against another nation on Earth? What if it was a weapon designed to be used against Kraalo, or the other hostile civilizations of the universe we were only just beginning to encounter? What kind of deployment system would such a weapon require?  In light of the Fantastic Four’s reputation as peaceful ambassadors representing humankind at its finest and most high-minded, it is chilling to consider that in other circumstances, the Richards rocket might have been used as an interplanetary Enola Gay carrying a gamma-powered Little Boy.

…Cable’s origin?

Figure 00_prophetcable1

Rob Liefeld had originally planned for Cable to be a traveller from thousands of years in the future who journeyed back to our time to combat specific menaces that threatened the future of the Marvel Universe, intending Kang the Conqueror as chief among these threats.  To support this Rob reveals, in Prophet/Cable #1, that Prophet was originally intended to be a police officer from the future sent by Kang, a warlord in his era, to bring back Cable.  While this never came to be, here’s my attempt to increase his importance in the wider Marvel Universe… but with a twist;)

In Chris Claremont’s End of Greys tale the Shi’ar, in an effort to prevent the manifestation of the Phoenix through her descendants, decide to end Rachel Grey’s line by having their Death Commandos slay the entire Grey family (cf. Uncanny X-Men #467-468).

Figure 01_Uncanny X-Men V1 468 - 11

In Uncanny X-Men #468, Rachel wonders why the Shi’ar missed Cable when he’s her carries the genes of her mother’s clone.

Figure 02_Uncanny X-Men V1 468 - 21

We know the Shi’ar have technology far exceeding anything even Mr. Sinister would possess in determining Cable’s lineage, and yet they choose not to involve him in their purge.

Figure 03_Cable V1 06

This would seem to put an end to the erroneous argument that Cable is the offspring of Jean Grey’s clone…

Figure 04_mother of Nathan Summers, Madelyne Pryor_Uncanny X-Men V1 241

…and goes along with his creator Rob Liefeld’s own hope “that one day, the Askani aspect will be revealed as a dream, a hoax or an imaginary story and that Cable’s true identity will be revealed” (Robservations XI: The Secret Origin of Cable)

Interestingly Chris Claremont also contended on Comixfan that it was never his intention for Rachel to evolve into “Mother Askani”!

Figure 05_Rachel as Mother Askani_Cable V1 23

So here I am again with a solution, this time for how the Askani aspect of Cable’s origin can be revealed as inaccurate.

Figure 06_Soldier X 08

I’d do this by firstly suggesting that young Nathan Christopher Summers and Cable are not the same being.

Figure 07_Nathan Summers of Earth-161

Okay then!

Endgame” did happen, and I felt I should make it work, so in line with Fabian et. al., I’d retain the account that young Nathan Christopher Summers was infected by Apocalypse because the Celestial caretaker had been advised that the infant would somehow prevent his ascension.

Figure 08_Nathan infected by Apocalypse

Hence Askani appears on the scene and offers to take him through time to cure him of the infection.

Figure 09_Askani takes Nathan to cure

However, in line with Claremont’s contention that Askani might not have been intended to be from 4000 AD, I’d instead reveal Cable was from the alternate world, Warlord’s Earth, where Nathaniel Richards dwelt.

Figure 10_What If v2 39 p10

I say alternate world because in X-Factor #67 on page 6, the world that Apocalypse rules (and Askani hails from) is referred to as “Sidereal scantime.” So it’s a SIDE REALITY, as Other Earth is.

Figure 11_X-Factor 67_Sidereal

I’d further reveal the Askani Sisterhood as a future version of the matriarchal society of the Eyrie on Warlord’s Earth, as shown by John Byrne in Fantastic Four #273.

Figure 12_Eyriennes from Fantastic Four 273

Upon being cured of his techno-organic infection, I’d propose the Askani placed him in the care of this timeline’s Richards clan who are descendants of this timeline’s Franklin Richards and Rachel Grey.

Nathan Christopher Summers is hence raised as a Richards to protect his identity from Clan Akkaba’s spies who will stop at nothing to kill him since he is destined to become Apocalypse’s greatest enemy.

2eb4gnt

Young Nathan is then secretly trained in the use of his powers, in much the same way 1A trained Magnus the Robot Fighter (but perhaps still ignorant of his true identity).

Figure 13_1A training Magnus the Robot Fighter

Upon discovering the truth, he embraces his destiny, and travels back in time to become Rama-Tut with the aim of preventing the High Lord from becoming “all-powerful”.

Figure 14_FF273_Kang

Unfortunately, in an ironic twist, the Fantastic Four return to the same period…

Figure 15_Fantastic Four's arrival in ancient Egypt_Fantastic Four V1 19

…and it is their interference…

Figure 16_Rama-Tut's defeat_Fantastic Four V1 19

…that prevents Rama-Tut from stopping Apocalypse before he begins his meteoric rise to power.

Figure 17_Apocalypse rise to power in Egypt

As for Cable’s true identity, around the same time as his introduction there was another character in the Marvel Universe having similar features.

That is, Nathaniel Richards Senior – Reed’s father.

Figure 18_Fantastic Four V1 375 - 45

In addition, Cable regularly used the Askani curse-phrase “stab his eyes”…

Figure 20_Cable Blood-Metal 02 - 28

…and when Nathaniel was reintroduced during Tom De Falco’s run on Fantastic Four he was teaching Franklin curses including “Stab my eyes”…

Figure 21_Fantastic Force 09 - 16

….which seemed to imply that the reality he raised his grandson in was one where the Askani held sway.

This could further resolve why Cable’s first name is Nathan.

But fret not!  I’m not suggesting this is because he is Nathan Richards Senior…

…rather that he is the unnamed son from Nathaniel Richards Senior’s marriage to Cassandra, Warlord of Otherworld.

Figure 22_Fantastic Four V1 272 - 21

Figure 22_Fantastic Four V1 272 - 22

While completely out there, look at the similarities in their armour; that worn by Cable during New Mutants #90…

Figure 23_New Mutants v1 90

…and moreso during the Sabotage X-Over in X-Force #3…

Figure 24_X-Force v1 03 - 09

…and Spider-Man #16…

Figure 25_Spider-Man V1 16 - 12Figure 26_Spider-Man V1 16 - 13

Figure 27_Spider-Man V1 16 - 16-17

…was almost identical to Nathaniel Richards Senior’s psi-armour worn during flashbacks in Fantastic Four #390 (p. 10)…

Figure 25_Fantastic Four V1 390 - 11

…and #393 (p. 4).

Figure 29_Fantastic Four V1 393 - 04

I would posit that Cable’s armour was meant to be psi-armour rather than generic (which could be used in concert with his telekinesis to absorb Juggernaut impacts), and this is the reason it looked so similar to that worn by Richards.

This would further explain why, as stated in Cable’s costume specifications in his Marvel Universe Master Edition #3 entry, the various suits of body armour he wore were of “unknown composition”.

Figure 25

Furthermore, the armour worn by Reed Richards during his “battle-in-time” with Dr. Doom during Fantastic Four #352 was extremely similar to that worn by Nathaniel and Cable.

Fantastic Four V1 352 - 12

So Cable wears this trademark armour due to his being the son and heir of Nathaniel Richards Senior and a time-traveller like his father, since that would appear to be the function of that worn by both Nathaniel and Reed; and claims affiliation with Cyclops and Nathan Summers as a cover story.

Why?

Maybe Nathaniel Senior discovers the destiny of young Nathan Christopher Summers, and raises his and Cassandra’s unnamed son to travel to Earth-616 and begin involving himself in missions that would eventually suggest to Apocalypse that he was in fact young Nate.

In this way they could prevent Apocalypse from realising what the Richards Clan were really up to.  That is, training Nathan Summers to go back in time and prevent his rise as Rama-Tut.

I feel the revelation of Cable being a Richards would also fulfil Rob Liefeld’s plan of his being a technologically advanced time-traveller with a strong science background (since science certainly runs in the Richards family).

This is why Reed’s father, at times, appears enigmatic and his occasional machinations seem opposed to the Fantastic Four.  Nathaniel Sr. can’t reveal the truth to them for fear that Apocalypse may discover the truth.  That and he is still miffed at their interference in preventing Rama-Tut from putting a stop to Apocalypse.

As mentioned above Claremont’s End of Greys storyline puts an end to the argument that Cable is the offspring of Jean Grey’s clone.

In addition, it is more likely, as I suggest, that Cable hails from an alternate earth, rather than the far flung future of 4000 AD. Cable can still be a time-traveller and travel from Earth-6311 to Earth-616, as time machines have previously been proven to be able to access both realities.

It is further doubtful that Cable travelled from this future to our present, since after Pryde’s Time-Switch, the Hierarchy set in motion appropriate counter-measures installing Ahab and his Sentinels and Hounds at the temporal Nexus to prevent any further time travel from the future back to the modern era…

Figure 29

…so Cable would have been prevented from travelling from the future to our era prior to 1990.

While one could argue that Bishop had done the same, this was only after Claremont had Ahab defeated and Cable had arrived in our era prior to this.

If we maintain Cable was a alternity traveller, this further supports my theory that he did not come from the 4000 AD, but rather the period of Warlord’s Earth that Nathaniel Richards Sr. had settled in (hence my positing above that he is Nathaniel’s other unnamed son, by way of Cassandra).

All that’s left to figure out now is how Cable knew the Master of the Hounds, Ahab in Uncanny X-Men Annual #14 (and no I don’t believe the two were originally intended to be the same character and here is my reason why).

Postscript: What would make this whole scenario perfect for me is for the Shi’ar to eventually make an attempt on one of the incarnations of Nathaniel Richards Jr., whether that be Rama-Tut, Kang or Immortus.

…the origin of Hope Summers?

New Avengers #25 is being touted as an Avengers Versus X-Men tie-in where “Iron Fist Discovers the Shocking Connection Between Himself And The Cosmic Phoenix Force.”

prv12136_cov

Now regardless of the re-emergence of the Phoenix definitely occurring in this crossover…

AvengersVSXMen_4_Preview1

…now that we know of Iron Fist’s involvement, I’d posit that Hope Summers is not the reincarnation of Jean Grey and thereby inheritor to the cosmic force.

But if not inheritor to the Cosmic Phoenix Force, then what special heritage is held in store for her?

Given architect of the this event, Brian Bendis, has made it known for the last decade what a fan he is of Marvel’s 1970s properties, demonstrated through his revival of b-list characters from that period including Luke Cage, Jessica Drew, Carol Danvers, Danny Rand, Brother Voodoo, Dazzler, Rom Spaceknight (not to mention villains from that period), I’d suggest returning to a story from that period…

…in particular Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #19-25, written by Chris Claremont, where we were introduced to the Firebird.

Deadly Hands 19

Before the Great Cataclysm just after the N’Garai were banished from ruling the Earth…

Jade

…a woman known as Jade was physically and sexually assaulted by a band of men and left for dead in the woods.

When she recovered she was so mentally anguished that she prayed for death; and in response was exposed to a blinding light which set her afire, and transformed her into the Firebird, the mystical embodiment of all that is good, kind, decent and noble in humanity.

Firebird2

In this way Jade represented all that is best, and served as humanity’s soul, and thus lifted humanity out of the charnal pit the N’Garai had dug for it, allowing it to rise above its damned infancy.

Firebird

Millennia later, the demon sorcerer Dhasha Khan sought the power of the Firebird, directing a group of people to assault its human manifestation, Jade, in Feng-Tu, the realm of the dead for the people of K’un L’un.

Dhasha Khan

This assault was prevented by Iron Fist, who it was suggested was Firebird’s protector.

Iron Fist champion

With this in mind, it’s interesting that the upcoming Avengers Vs X-Men is suggesting that Iron Fist is the protector of Hope Summers.

NEWAVN2010026_02

So would it not be more interesting if Hope Summers was revealed not as Jean Grey, but the reincarnation of Jade from Feng-Tu…

And this all looks very Kung Fu don't you think?

And this all looks very Kung Fu don’t you think?

…and that K’un L’un’s Book of the Dead reveals that the duty of each Iron Fist down the ages has been to protect each incarnation of her!

Jade represented the soul and potential for goodness on Earth. She possessed minimal offensive abilities, but her soul, the Firebird was what helped mankind stave off its baser instincts. Without Jade, humanity would descend into unknown darkness and depravity. In addition, the power of her soul could be harnessed by others to perform massive, planet-wide, changes in reality.

So how cool would it be for there to be an unseen twist that the mutants are backing the wrong horse, and Hope turns out to be the re-incarnation of Jade (with the Firebird manifesting through her giving all the signs of the Phoenix), and not an actual avatar of the Phoenix as suspected?

Postscript: With what New Avengers #25 revealed about Yu-Ti and the Phoenix, it is interesting to note that seeking to save the Firebird (Jade) from Dhasha-Khan in Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu #21, Lord Tuan (Yu-Ti) pretended to be showing Iron Fist how to defeat Dhasha Khan, guiding him to see Feng-Tu as it really was, the Land of the Dead.  In doing so, however, Tuan entranced Iron Fist so that the Bowman could slay him… that he might die in Jade’s place.