Well I haven’t done of these in a while, even though I’m developing quite a backlog of truly bizarre Marvel comics, but I’ve been slacking. However, the recent Saint Patrick’s Day got me in the mood to talk about some comics, and when I thought about Irish comics, this story jumped right out at me. Now, I’ve never been a huge X-Men fan. They’re just a little too complicated, like a whole different company of characters on their own. I dip my toes in every now and then, but it can be damn near impossible to keep track of all the various characters, their abilities, and who they are or have slept with. And really I’ve never read much of the original Lee/Kirby run, even though it’s so foundational. Mainly because that cast of characters don’t really appeal to me. It wasn’t until the Giant-Sized Uncanny X-Men came out with it’s new batch of mutants that I really started to give a shit bout these lovable mutants. And a couple years ago I started working through the Claremont run that really established the X-Men as a major title in the Marvel line. And yes, there are some really bonkers stories from that run, but nothing that really stood out in my memory. Except this one. And I’ll be honest, I hadn’t read this story in a couple years, and man did I forget how truly weird it is. Honestly, the leprechauns aren’t even the strangest thing about this story. But hey, let’s belatedly celebrate Saint Paddy’s day with a silly X-Men story.
I’ll start off by mentioning that what’s possibly the weirdest part of this story is that it feeds directly from the introduction of Jean Grey’s new persona, the Phoenix. The issue that starts this story begins with the X-Men’s plane crashing in the ocean, while Jean is doing her best to use her powers to save them. And she helps a bit, but they still crash, albeit alive. And when they start checking in to make sure everyone’s okay, Jean comes exploding out of the water in her new Phoenix costume, sporting some new, more amped up abilities. She then immediately falls into a coma, because Jean Grey just cannot catch a break. So they rush Jean off to a hospital, and the whole crew starts sitting around worrying about her. But after waiting around for a while the doctors announce that Jean’s going to be fine, and they all celebrate. But then almost immediately Professor Xavier decides that he and Scott are going to take care of Jean while telling the newbies to the team that they need to go occupy themselves some other way. Luckily though Sean Cassidy, better known as Banshee, just got a letter from his families lawyer back in Ireland, telling him that he just inherited his family castle, but he has to go sign some papers to make everything legal. And even though that’s clearly the beginning of a Scooby Doo plot, the X-Men decide to take a vacation to Ireland!
So Banshee, Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, and Nightcrawler head out to Ireland to check out Banshee’s totally-not-haunted castle. Because seriously, there’s no way that a castle like that doesn’t either have a creepy proprietor wearing a ghost costume, or Vincent Price. They then arrive at Cassidy Keep, the giant castle that Banshee apparently grew up and never mentioned to any of his closest friends. I feel like growing up in a castle should probably come out pretty quick when you’re breaking the ice with someone. But as they walk up to the castle the Scooby Doo vibe intensifies as we see that someone is watching every move they make on a series of monitors while biding their time. Just like sane people do. Turns out it’s Black Tom Cassidy, Sean’s cousin and a truly crazy villain, and he’s manipulating the lawyer into getting Sean there. Now, in case you’re not familiar with Black Tom, his power is to fire blasts of energy through wood. He can’t shoot energy out whenever he wants, he needs to be holding something wooden. So of course he walks around with a shillelagh, since he’s Irish, and the Claremont run really liked stereotypes.
But the X-Men aren’t aware of Black Tom or his evil plot, so they start finding rooms for the night before having dinner. We also see Storm start to freak out since she’s confined indoors, but relieves herself with a weird indoor-rainstorm/shower, since Chris Claremont loved finding reasons to have Storm take her clothes off. She then heads down to dinner with Nightcrawler, who at this point in his history used some sort of gadget called an Image Inducer that would create a holographic disguise for him so that he looked like a normal person. Nightcrawler and Colossus then squabble over who gets to awkwardly flirt with Storm as the gang heads downstairs for dinner, when they reach a trapdoor that drops them right down to a dungeon where Black Tom is waiting on a goddman throne with his muscle, the Juggernaut.
Black Tom and Juggernaut announce that they’re going to kill the X-Men and leave them in this tomb, which freaks the hell out of Storm, causing her to fall into a miserable heap. And since Storm was really the most competent of the crew at that point, they’re off to a bad start, which gets worse when Juggernaut just starts beating the hell out of them. Sean and Black Tom begin fighting, even though for whatever stupid reason the comics have devised, mutants who are related by blood’s powers can’t affect each other. And the Juggernaut is handily taking care of Colossus, Wolverine, and Nightcrawler. And for whatever reason this beating is intense enough to trigger a flashback for Storm that rambles on about her weird origin story and really doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the story. We also briefly check in on Jean and Professor X, who are just sitting around hoping Jean will get better, even though she’s starting to show some creepy Exorcist symptoms. But that’s neither here nor there.
But back in the real plot, things are starting to get wacky. Juggernaut is still handily beating up out heroes, and ends up punching Nightcrawler, which knocks the little guy out of the fight completely. He get thrown out of the battle, and ends up landing across the room in a shadowy alcove, where some tertiary mutation of his kicks in, and we learn that Nightcrawler becomes invisible in shadows. Good news for Nightcrawler though, because as he’s passed the hell out in a corner, a little door-way appears and a group of tiny sprites come out to rescue him. Yep, the leprechauns are here! They carry Nightcrawler away as Juggernaut continues his shameful beating of the X-Men, and as Sean and Tom continue to have a spazzy family feud. Although things temporarily start to go their way when Colossus accidentally busts a hole in the wall, which gives Storm a connection to the weather, letting her powers come back. But when she shoots some lighting at the Juggernaut, he just brushes it off, since Storm’s still weak from her stress-induced flashback, so things are still not going great for our crew.But while Black Tom and Juggernaut drag the helpless X-Men off to some weird laboratory/torture room, the helpful leprechauns are dragging Nightcrawler deeper into the castle so that he can save the day.
The leprechauns bring Nightcrawler to their base where they nurse him back to health. And I’ve got to say, Nightcrawler really isn’t phased by the sudden appearance of magical Irish sprites. I guess when you look like he does he just rolls with stuff like that. Who knows, maybe in the Marvel universe leprechauns are a known part of Ireland, kind of like how Dr. Doom and Iron Man didn’t seem shocked that they got transported to literal Camelot. The leprechauns then recap the last two issues to Nightcrawler, and the shameful beating that these superheroes got from two dudes. We also learn that the Cassidy family lawyer is in deep with the leprechauns, and they kind of explain what the hell is going on. Apparently some mysterious third-party convinced Black Tom to go steal back his ancestral home and enslave the leprechauns, for reason that I couldn’t quite figure out. But they move on from that pretty quick, and instead show the leprechauns teaching Nightcrawler about his invisibility powers, which he was apparently unaware of. They also tell Nightcrawler about the crazy torture room that Black Tom has the X-Men locked in, so he goes out to save them.
Nightcrawler finds his friends locked up in strange contraptions seemingly custom-made for their powers, and starts to figure out a plan. And what he comes up with is pretty fantastic. Knowing that the Juggernaut is obsessed with his step-brother Charles Xavier, he uses that weird Image Inducer gadget from earlier and makes himself look like Professor X. Juggernaut predictably freaks the hell out and starts attacking Nightcrawler, who blows his mind by jumping all over the place, which is quite the feat for a paralyzed man. And in the end he manages to get Juggernaut to knock a huge hole in the wall, which gives Storm enough access to the outside to actually use her powers, instead of that little tease from earlier. She ends up whipping a hurricane up, sucking everyone out of the castle and onto it’s grounds as she flies around acting pretty crazy. Unfortunately when she did that she ended up separating the group so that Black Tom and Juggernaut still have Banshee, and they head up to the top of the castle to kill him, since apparently that’s all Black Tom really was into this for.
Storm launches herself up to the top of the castle, which really pisses off Wolverine, who starts calling her a “stupid broad.” And that rubs Colossus the wrong way, who chucks the tiny Canuck off into the castle, although apparently not in the direction of the villains. So Colossus and Storm start assaulting Juggernaut and Black Tom, trying to save their friend while Nightcrawler is still talking to leprechauns. And he’s no longer the only one, because as Wolverine wanders around trying to figure out how to get back in the fight, a leprechaun shows up to give him advice, and he also is not phased. He kind of says he doesn’t believe in what he’s seeing, but then goes right along and follows the little sprite through the castle. It’s also important to note that the leprechaun calls him “Logan,” which was the first time his name had been revealed. By a leprechaun. But anyway, things finally go the X-Men’s way when Nightcrawler is able to sneak up to the tied up Banshee, whom he frees. And with his powers back Banshee is able to get Juggernaut out of the game by blasting him through the castle. He and Black Tom then fight for a bit before Banshee is finally able to kick Black Tom off the damn castle where he plummets to his apparent death. And in what was probably the funniest scene of the comic, Juggernaut leaps after him, also to his apparent death, because Black Tom was “the only friend I ever had,” which is so sad. And with two apparently suicides, the X-Men are victorious!
Now the thing that seems so crazy about this story is how not-insane the leprechaun portion of it was. This story was full to the brim with Bronze-Age insanity, and the type of goofy storytelling that was emblomatic of the early Claremont run. I really love this team, and we even got to leave boring old Cyclopes at home so the newbies could go on an Irish vacation. This was really early into the new team, so a lot of this story has them bickering and getting used to each other, even finding time for that extended Storm origin story. And man is the story silly. I still don’t think I quite understand what the hell Black Tom and Juggernaut were trying to accomplish with their Scooby Doo rouse, but their attempted suicides kind of foiled it. The story also brought back the memory of that stupid “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!” video from about a decade ago, since the episode that it was riffing on was loosely based on this, and the next story in the comics, which made me have some adolescent giggles. And in the end, I think the craziest part of this whole story was the fact that it came straight after the introduction of Phoenix. Jean Grey’s transformation into Phoenix, and her inevitable transition into the Dark Phoenix changed the X-Men series forever, and remains one of the most enduring and important stories of the entire series. And yet the introduction of these story elements took place in a story where the X-Men visit a haunted castle, fight a guy whose powers require a shillelagh, and where two of them come face to face with leprechauns, and don’t even seem that phased. And that, in a nutshell, is what makes the X-Men work for me. When it gets too dramatic of soap-operatic I start to lose interest, but when it’s so incredibly goofy like this, I kind of love these ridiculous mutants. So to celebrate Saint Paddy’s day…which was a couple days ago, put on some Flogging Molly, drink some fine whiskey, and read this story where leprechauns barely startle people.
Uncanny X-Men #101-103 were written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Dave Cockrum, 1976.
Categories: Marvel Madness