Monday, September 3, 2018

Firestar #1


The Fairer Sex
Firestar #1



A Tale of Two Emma’s, part two:
Underdog teen girl learns deal with bullying and cope with emerging superpowers…wait! Didn’t I just do this one?

"Mark of the Mutant”
Writer – Tom DeFalco
Penciler – Mary Wilshire
Inker – Steve Lelaloha
Letterers – Tom Orzechoswki and Lois Buhalis
Colorist – Daina Graziunas
Editor – Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief – Jim Shooter
March 1986


Oh HEY! Yah caught me there, didn’t yah?
What am I doing with this copier and pages from Friday’s Crapbox review?
Well, uh…
Ya see, it’s like this: this story is preeeeety much the same as Friday’s story. Oh sure, it’s about a DIFFERENT mutant teen girl, but it does have Emma Frost in it and the plot has all the beats we saw in Friday’s book (with a few more added in for good measure)…
…so naturally I thought I’d just save myself some time writing up a new review by just posting Friday’s with different pictures.
I mean, none of you are actually reading this ANYWAYS…so, why not?

Hey! Don’t get all huffy. 
Fine! Fine! I’ll make an effort, but you’re going to see quickly that this amounts to almost the same story. In fact, the more I run through the Archie/teenage girl titles in the Crapbox, the more I slam smack-dab into the same cliché tropes: the big dance, cute boys who like the lead character, jerky girls who want to break things up, and out-of-control mutant mayhem!

Okay, maybe not that last one.

Except for in this title. This title has that last one.

Firestar shares a little in common with Harley Quinn. And while you are scratching your head thinking powers or personality, what I’m actually going for is that both of them started in television and then transitioned to comic books after becoming popular. Yet while Harley Quinn became everyone’s favorite slutty Halloween costume, Firestar got four issues and then shoved off-stage. Sure, she later came back to join the New Warriors and finally the Avengers, but these were short-lived appearances as a background bystander that didn’t really spark audiences into loving the character.

At least not the way that preteen audiences of NBC’s animated Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends show back in 1981 loved her. Angelica Jones got her start because the creator of the Spider-Man show wanted the hero to have an ice buddy and a fire buddy. They had rights to the X-Men’s Bobby Drake Iceman, but the Human Torch’s rights were still tied up in licensing hell, possibly still held in the death-grip that Universal Studios had on the character since 1978 (which I only know because I had to watch a Torch-less FF growing up. H.E.R.B.I.E. you killed my childhood.)

So Dennis Marks named her after an old girlfriend of his and after several potential superhero identities such as Heatwave, Starblaze, and Firefly, the name Firestar was stuck on the character. It was neat having her be a part of the cast in it created a love triangle dynamic between Peter and Bobby. Had this been the modern Bobby Drake, an even stranger love triangle might have emerged, but we won’t go there. The show itself was fairly juvenile and my attempts at rekindling a love for it at this stage in my life have been met with utter disappointment.

Her transition to comics came in May of 1985’s X-Men 193 as one of the White Queen's new mutants-in-training group called the Hellions. It isn’t an auspicious debut. She is afforded little time, being little more than a background only character who is mind controlled by the mutant Hellion known as Empath the entire time.

Her next shot at top billing was this series coming in over six months later in March of 1986. It is important to note the time difference as it seems Marvel only had a half-hearted interest in making her a character. The storyline by DeFalco feels off and perhaps that’s Nocenti’s editing assistance. I never cared much for Nocenti’s writing skills and I’d rather put the blame there than on DeFalco. That said the story comes off as a simple “underdog discovering herself” kind of tale, with two factions vying for her powers. One of those decidedly more evil than the other.

I like that this book presents an opportunity to show Emma in all her pre-turn nastiness. Firestar #1’s inclusion here is as much a chance to show off that character as it is to delve into Ms. Frost a bit more. Let’s not wait another second and dive right into this mess, shall we. Any similarities between this and Emma’s story are purely unintentional, I’m certain.

We start with Angelica’s grandmother pointing out a specific pattern on her granddaughter’s hand that marks her as special. The fact that it is the letter “M” gives us a hint of nicely done foreshadowing.



If we compare homelife between Firestar and Frost, what we find is completely the opposite. Angelica lives with her doting grandmother and hard-working, blue collar Father, both of whom strive to give her a decent upbringing.

Oh, and the happiest cat in the entire Marvel universe.



She is taught that hard work and dedication pays off. The only thing missing is a Mother, whom she “lost” according to the grandmother. They are forced to travel around as the Father has to keep moving to find work. Not to mention this bit of horrible foreshadowing about the grandmother that provides so much inspiration to Angelica. 



I liked the homey-ness of this next scene and the sly way Wilshire threw in that picture of Angelica pointed right at the camera. While the art attains that mid-80’s average, there’s a few bits that stand out.



Speaking of standing out, we follow our redhead off the school bus for her first day adventure at West Morris High School, were the instant she leaves the bus’s steps she attracts the attention of Cassie and her girl gang of three. Not in a good way, either.



Yup. Just as in the Emma Frost book, Angelica Jones becomes the object of abuse by a clique of girls who serve no other function in the book. At least this trio has some different physical characteristics about them, not just “skinny, perfect generic prep school”. Nope, we have giantess Martha, short-n-sassy blonde Eve, and riding the line between hippy and punk, ringleader Cassie. 

And the conflict will get deeper than just surface dislike for Angelica, mainly because of this young fella:



Chuckie Belson! Chuckie looks to be part of the football team (possibly quarterback) and Cassie wants to put her “brand” on him. As soon as he comes into view, she latches on to him like a lamprey. But Chuckie has other things in mind…



…namely getting to know Angelica, which sets off our rivalry between the two girls. Because whether either Angelica or Chuckie knows it or not, Chuckie is the property of Cassie.

And while Angelica is making friends and life-long enemies, we switch over to the X-Men mansion where Kitty uses her powers to help Charles Xavier and Nightcrawler fix up Cerebro. Seems Professor X needs to do a little mutant scoping. 



We are then shown X’s junior squad just so we can shift perspective on the following page to…


…the infamous Massachusetts Academy, where Emma Frost walks the grounds and greets each student by name (which freaks out the ones who have only met her once and know little of her mutant powers.) Because you see, the Massachusetts Academy takes both kinds of students, but only the mutant kind know about secret training facilities below the school. And about their headmistress’s penchant for walking around in lingerie while chastising the Hellfire Club guards.




I like this bit with the guard who shouts out her name when she arrives and she tells him she knows which of these two options caused him to do that. We never figure out which it is, but Emma can read the guy’s mind. 




Perhaps it was to warn this poor schlub, who happened to get a hot cuppa Joe at exactly the wrong moment. It earns him a painful mindblast to be away from his mutant monitoring station for the few moments it takes to refill that coffee. Yup, this is the Emma we all knew and despised. She uses that psychic zap on anyone who annoys her delicate sensibilities, including her own Hellion students next issue.

Going back to Angelica, we find that she’s having a horrible time in school. From unsympathetic teachers who expect her to have caught up with all of her make-up work on the first day of class…



…to that goon squad whom, and we have to give Angelica props here for taking the bull by the horns, she approaches at lunchtime in an attempt to make nice. They respond like assholes, all because Cassie is still feeling butthurt over Chuckie.3

 

All of this leaves Angelica feeling a bit raw emotionally, and for a person with uncontrollable microwave powers that can cause some unexpected developments. Developments that don’t go unnoticed by Emma’s java boy over at the Massachusetts Academy.




Nor by the passing educator who gets a boiling chocolate milk shower. Guess he hadn’t heard that you shouldn’t cry over spilt milk, because he immediately blames Angelica for the “joke” of the exploding carton and she earns detention. Poor girl can’t catch a break.



Neither can Emma, as Angelica’s power spike slips off her radar screen before they can zero in on her.

Dodging being a part of the Hellions just a bit longer isn’t the only good thing in her life at the moment. Chuckie still digs her. He not only strikes up a conversation with her, but appears genuine in his interest in Angelica. He motivates her to try her hand in the ice sculpture contest, which is overheard by queen bitch Cassie. We can tell where this is going.



The teacher issues the ice blocks and tells the students there is no second chances as they only have one block per student. Cassie and her girl gang are among Angelica’s competition…and speaking of competing for something…it appears that Cassie hasn’t told her group that Chuckie is blowing her off to spend time with Angelica.

 

A fact that becomes all too apparent in just a moment as Chuckie arrives and totally ignores Cassie. Eve suggests they get even with Angelica for stealing Cassie’s boyfriend, know what I mean?



And here is where we reach the downward spiral of poor Angelica’s rollercoaster ride through those awkward teen years. She is bullied by classmates and educators alike, but she’s found a measure of happiness in Chuckie’s romantic attention that might sustain her. Might, if on the day of the ice sculpture judging after she leaves home her grandmother doesn’t suffer a massive heart attack...



…and if she doesn’t find that someone has destroyed her hard work on the ice sculpture minutes before the judging is to take place…



…and if it isn’t revealed that it is probably these gals, the trio who have been harassing her all this time…



…and if, as a final act of irritating her, the girls don’t point out that the line her grandmother fed her about being special because she has an “M” in her palm is made-up bull shirt. She was kind of naïve for believing that one anyway. 



All of this is enough to make a girl scream in frustration.



Or make a mutant’s barely accessible power fully realize itself and melt an entire ice sculpture competition’s worth of ice statues.

Angelica realizes what she’s done and in shock, she runs away from the one person who has shown her continuing kindness through all this adversity.



She attempts to call her grandmother, but we all know where that storyline is headed. Before she can even dial the first number, her power flares up and melts the receiver. This use of her powers has both the X-Men and Emma Frost both trying to pinpoint her location as the next big mutant thing.



Angelica just wants to get home to see her grandmother. But, alas…



…the poor old woman succumbed to her ailment and passed.



After the funeral, Angelica tries to reach out for help with her emerging powers to a Father that seems distant…



…and a bit scared by the thought of having a mutant daughter. Let’s just face it here folks: Angelica is getting MORE than her share of tragedy in this series and we ain’t even out of book ONE. Not to mention where she is going next is foreshadowed by who is telling Mr. Jones they can assist him with his daughter and her newfound powers.



In what we knew was a foregone conclusion, Emma Frost is the first on the scene to console both Father and mutant daughter while at the same time extending an offer to them for a full scholarship to the Massachusetts Academy’s special mutant training classes.



And while Emma comforts the poor girl, Professor X and Nightcrawler sit in a car parked outside. They don’t attempt to approach the Father with a counter-proposal or do so much as get out of the car. I find that a bit out of the spirit of someone who literally pulled Kitty Pryde from Hellfire club clutches in the X-Men. I suppose they just don’t care as much for a C-lister like Firestar.



Too bad. Girl seems to have a bunch of hard luck so far. Shame to see her turn evil because of Emma’s brand of teaching.

So maybe I spoke too soon when comparing this to the Emma Frost book. Certainly there are some of the same tropes in play: underdog with special powers, girls ganging up on her, one male friend who is sympathetic to her plight, etc. But Angelica feels more like a mutant version of a Dickensian nightmare, at least in this first issue. I’m sure the problems that naïve, innocent, and kind soul Angelica encounters when thrown in with Frost’s class of selfish jerky Hellions will only increase in the next three issues.

While the Crapbox moves ahead to some other female (yes, we are stretching this into September too), I’ll probably take the time to read on and see. The four issue series is common enough to find in most bargain bins.

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