X-Men Book Club: Havok Makes Us Cry

X-Men Book Club: Havok Makes Us Cry

In our last x-chat, we discussed the whereabouts of one Douglas Ramsay, a mutant who died poorly and has never really recovered well from that. This time around, the X-Men Book Club subject is a man who lives poorly. Alex Summers, brother of Scott. Codename: Havok. He... dab pic.twitter.com/DA3mVeaY8v — claire napier, et al (@illusClaire)

In our last x-chat, we discussed the whereabouts of one Douglas Ramsay, a mutant who died poorly and has never really recovered well from that. This time around, the X-Men Book Club subject is a man who lives poorly. Alex Summers, brother of Scott. Codename: Havok.

Among the members of the book club, we have a somewhat chaotic knowledge of the X-Men throughout their many incarnations, and enough source material between us to do some research. We don’t claim to be experts, but we do love us some X-Men. Well, most of them.

Definitely not this dude.

Nola: Ugh. This dude. So Havok first appeared in X-Men #54, the original one—we’re calling it Uncanny these days, but it wasn’t officially that until sometime in the late 100s. He was created pre-Claremont, but post-Lee, by Arnold Drake and Don Heck, during that weird time when no one could figure out what to do with the book. Shortly after his powers first manifested he was mind-controlled by Larry Trask, and despite being broken of that programming later, he continued to wear the headgear that was causing it for an extremely long period of time. He basically spent a lot of those early days otherwise being a damsel in distress, before he quit the team after nearly murdering Iceman whilst arguing over Polaris, cementing himself as a man who just makes the worst decisions. Oh, and he fought the Hulk—and won!

After that, he showed up again as a damsel in Giant Size X-Men #1, then again as a mind-controlled villain in X-Men #97. Under that control, he palled around with Erik the Red (the second one) for a bit then got blasted by Firelord. After that he put in some guest appearances in other books, but didn’t really hang around the X-Men until popping up on Muir Island in #119. He was a semi-active reserve member after that, helping during times when some or all of the main team was out of action, before finally, permanently joining the team in #219, riiiiiight before “Fall of the Mutants.”

Havok, his back pressed to a wall, cowers in fear before X-Men who are intent to kill him. "Welcome to the X-Men, Havok"

Hope you survive… Uncanny X-Men Volume 1 #219 (Marvel Comics, July 1987)

Wendy: I’d met Havok during my Classic X-Men youth, but “Fall of the Mutants” is primarily where I got to know him, though he didn’t seem to serve a purpose other than to give Madelyne Pryor someone to hold on to in her anguish, and I guess, speaking in gamer terms, he was useful as a long-range attacker with Dazzler since the rest of the team was comprised of up close and personal brawlers at the time. Okay, to be fair, he served as a rational counterpoint and unspoken second in command to Wolverine’s lead, in the absence of Storm. And then man candy in Australia.

Claire: “Fall of the Mutants” was the ’88 crossover event featuring Uncanny X-Men (where Alex was, along with Scott’s wife Maddy), X-Factor (where Scott was, along with his lover Jean), and the New Mutants that moved the X-Men to Australia, which is the late-’80s X-Men period that climaxed with their entering the Siege Perilous—a magic gateway that spread them around the world, embedding them, many amnesiac, into new lives. For example…

Wendy: The 1990 crossover, “X-Tinction Agenda” was the last time I seriously read anything with Havok. He’d lost his memory and become a Genoshan magistrate, which I feel like, maybe he hadn’t actually lost his memory and was maybe enjoying that role a little too much.

Havok blasts the X-Men logo above his head, while holding a comatose Storm by her shirt

Alex the victorious Magistrate… Uncanny X-Men Volume 1 #270 (Marvel Comics, November 1990)

Nola: He definitely did lose his memory, but it’s still significant that the Siege Perilous took a look at his life and decided, “Your new life is as an oppressor. That is the role that is right for you.” Colossus got to be a quiet artist, Dazzler went right back to being a Hollywood star, both core traits for them outside of superheroing! But Alex Summers? Mutant fascist.

Claire: It’s bizarre that Havok went into the SP and came out exactly the person he was ostensibly trying NOT to be immediately prior (lol Pryor)—he was always sort of reluctant to be an X-Men, and lots of stressful things had been happening to him. Maybe it was an Invisibles-style ultra-kink scenario? He just wanted, somewhere deep down, the relaxation of being an anti-mutant oppressor in a uniform instead of a proud, self-directed mutant superhero. Dazzler always wanted to be a star, Rogue always wanted to be able to touch people and survive alone, Piotr wanted an unassuming, creative life, Betsy wanted to be a warrior. And Alex wanted to give in, completely.

Actually, come to think of it, Alex was influenced to enter by a mind-push (and a kiss) by Betsy Braddock. Maybe not having chosen to step in himself messed up what he was given? Or maybe the magic was like Okay, so being told what to do is apparently big with this guy” and acted accordingly. Maybe he was supposed to experience the greatest brainwash of them all—fascism—and come out of it, as a growing experience for The Guy Who’s Constantly Influenced.

Psylocke coerces/encourages Havok through the Siege Perilous with words and a kiss

Don’t you trust me…? Uncanny X-Men Volume 1 #251 (Marvel Comics, November 1989)

Wendy: Were there any ramifications from his time as a Genoshan soldier boy? Or did he just get welcomed back into the fold again and given a team to lead?

Claire: During a fight with Scott he snapped out of it and, thanks to being the one who finally offed the villain of the day, just reintegrated quite naturally. I think there was some gross Peter David-y “let’s do weird sex stuff with the wee virgin” thing involved; I think this was when Rahne Sinclair (a.k.a. Wolfsbane) “imprinted” on Havok, because she was a captive and he was a guard? Which is a thread that lasted some way into David’s version of X-Factor.

Nola: The Alex/Rahne stuff is weird. David took that thread and used it remarkably compassionately—I say that because he does not have a good track record with writing women—but he basically gave that bond time to filter through the confusing feelings Rahne would normally be having at her age. It’s not really a “weird sex stuff” thing and more an inappropriate girlhood crush that’s mostly expressed through jealousy and tantrums. To his credit, he also wrote Alex (and Lorna) as deeply not okay with it, and it becomes a huge weight on all of them until Rahne could get her mind fixed.

A vicious looking Rahne grabs Alex and confronts him about her mixed up feelings

Mixed up feelings… X-Factor Volume 1 #99, (Marvel Comics, February 1994)

Nola: David was pretty on point with him here, too. He’s introduced on the run refusing to join the team, spends a few issues being a mess while Lorna basically runs things, and then he picks a fight with the Hulk, wins (again) before ending up as a damsel in distress (again).

Claire: I read that whole tangle super differently. I HATE reading those parts, when they filter into my regular X-Men reading via crossovers and rando issues. It’s the kind of setup where I can see there’s a non-horrible way to tell this horrible story, or there might be various ways, but the text as it exists makes my skin crawl and my mouth twist. It feels humiliating to everyone without also feeling safe, which X-Humiliations more usually, in my curated reading, do! David’s X-Factor was the first instance of Havok being the guy—the leader, the Cyclops. I have to ascribe this to the divine right of kings: there’s nothing beyond “Scott’s brother” that qualifies him… except “oldest white male.”

Nola: Oh yeah, I’m not saying it was good, just that it was an accurate surface read of the character. Havok is definitely considered “the leader,” but honestly, reading through it? That doesn’t hold up. Lorna is the one with the skills and the poise, Lorna gives the speeches, Lorna does the press conferences. She projects authority through and through, often I think in spite of David.

Wendy: Circling back to ultra-kink and Being Scott’s Brother, we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about slutty goth Alex. Sexy times in the Outback were some of my favourite X-Men moments and Havok got to partake in those antics, all while stickin’ it to the man—i.e., his brother Scott—by dating his sister-in-law.

Wendy: Have the brothers ever addressed this beyond Inferno? How much of this relationship was actually about Madelyne Pryor versus it just being an opportunity to get one up on his brother?

Claire: You know, I don’t actually know if they’ve ever discussed it? Outside of Inferno itself, which was fairly brutal.

Claire: 1994-2000 is a big gap in my X-Knowledge, and Havok and Scott were in different books after (and during) Inferno. It doesn’t get discussed at the wedding of the latter to Jean, perhaps naturally, which is the only time I can recall actually expecting to see them converse. Because, like … Havok? Who the fuck cares? Why would I chase a book with this himbo in, if he’s NOT wearing the Goblin Prince outfit? I believe this is an opinion shared by many. Maybe everyone, except Matthew Rosenberg.

That said, it can’t have not been about getting something over on Scott. When your responsible, perfect big brother who knows his life’s purpose fucks up so badly his wife calls the team she begged him to leave, a team you are on, the temptation might arise. Plus Alex just loves women who have an air of tragic reluctance. Not in a predatory way exactly? He’s just such an idiot.

A very sassy Havok teases Cyclops, who is bound and on his knees

Deal with your brother, Sassy Havok… X-Factor Volume 1 #39 (Marvel Comics, April 1989)

Nola: That was also played against him spectacularly in the Havok and Wolverine: Meltdown miniseries. He even falls for another redhead.

The ‘90s are also very weird for Havok. He finished out the ‘80s playing evil as the Goblin Prince, then came the whole ultra-kink Genoshan fascist thing, THEN he went on to work for the U.S. Government, a.k.a. the very organization that had been trying to stamp his kind out not long before. Then again this is the same U.S. Government that then went to appoint Forge as a liaison despite the fact that it had been internationally revealed at this point that Forge had sacrificed the souls of U.S. military troops in order to open a demonic portal to murder Viet Cong. So, politics fall aside in favor of convenience, I suppose.

Claire: Well, I mean, during the Forge reveal, Freedom Force—a.k.a. basically the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants—were already federal agents. In the ‘80s, there was no assumption of morality for the government in x-books.

Nola: Which makes it even worse that Havok then joined them! Right after that, he was dimensionally shunted into an alternate universe where he replaced an evil version of himself in Mutant X. He spent fifteen issues thinking the world was a place of welcome and tolerance for mutants, right up until the X-Men got nuked and Nick Fury started trying to round up mutants for concentration camps. He was, predictably, too wrapped up in his own mess to notice the signs. There was a lot of Maddie Pryor, though! The alternate Alex whom he replaced was married to her, and they had a son named Scotty. So, 616 Alex spent a little time being a dad. It’s actually weird that doesn’t come up.

Wendy: He hops to an alternate universe where he has a son named Scotty and is married to Maddie, and tries is best to save both of them, which, his brother utterly failed to do in 616 with his own wife and child whom he abandoned? This is such a fitting What If for Alex, where he gets to be the Scott he wants so badly to be.

Havok tries to protect Scotty from Madelyne Pryor and her demons

Family man… Mutant X Volume 1 #4 (Marvel Comics, January 1999)

Claire: Sorry, what? Alternate Madelyne marriage? Son called Scott? How, why, and how again? Where’s Mister Sinister in all this? (And do you think Alex feels neglected on that point?)

Wendy: Yes, why didn’t Sinister even prep a backup batch for Alex just in case his plans with Scott fell through? He just … belatedly discovered Alex was as powerful, if not more so than Scott and kind of … shrugged and went on with his original plans for Scott. He’s still second best in Age of Apocalypse where Sinister raises them both together.

Nola: Sinister does show up in Mutant X. He lacked the panache of his 616 version though, and Alex basically immediately blew his entire base to smithereens.

Claire: But literally how is there an alternate Maddy? I’m sorry, I digress for my faves. Another time.

Wendy: Okay, let’s switch complementary colours. Are Alex and Lorna Dane (a.k.a. Polaris) back together now? I kind of hope not. I hope she’s gotten to be her own good thing and moved on with her life. She doesn’t need him.

Lorna Dane finds a break up note from Havok and runs away in tears

You can do better than him… X-Factor Vol 1 118 (Marvel Comics, January 1996)

Nola: Lorna and Alex felt like the kind of thing that had to happen—not because of the characters themselves, but because of what they represent. It’s kind of a tense situation, isn’t it, with the meeting of the Lensherr and Summers family trees. I’m honestly sort of surprised the X-offices didn’t capitalize on that, but I suppose they wanted to get away from ultra-powerful babies with Rachel Summers and Nathan Summers already running around.

Anyway, they got together waaaaay back before Claremont even—Lorna’s first appearance was actually five issues earlier than Alex’s, in #49, so I don’t really think it had much to do with Jean; they sort of gravitated to each other right away. I guess you could say the attraction was magnetic.

Wendy: Nola.

Claire: Lorna and Bobby (Iceman, one of the founding X-Men and so present on the team or at the school where they lived when both Lorna and Alex debuted) were conceptually a thing in rivalry to Lorna and Alex being textually a thing—I forget exactly how it went down in comics, because the animated version looms much larger in my mind. (OK I looked it up: Bobby liked her right away and Alex spoilt it for him.) But it certainly evokes the tragic reluctance I mentioned before. Animated series (early ’90s) Scott and Alex met once, I think, and didn’t know each other, which is both symbolic of their comic book development and contains the option for a headcanon where Scott discovers he’s not alone, etc. But comics or cartoon, Bobby is more a part of Alex’s regular, active story than Scott. Lorna and Alex also regularly disagreed over whether or not they should be superheroes. I think he just likes to feel out of place and miserable. I guess he’s used to it.

Nola: To answer your original question, he and Lorna are not together these days. They got back together again when he returned to the 616, but then he left her at the altar because he was apparently in love with his nurse, Annie Ghazikhanian. Surprisingly, they later got back together again, before breaking up when Havok left X-Factor to lead the Uncanny Avengers and give the speech. It seems like sacrificing women to the whims of personal desires is a Summers family trait.

Scott, carrying Alex in his arms, talks about his care with Nurse Annie

*pouty face*… Uncanny X-Men Volume 1 #411 (Marvel Comics, October 2002)

Wendy: I am amused that Ron Garney drew Alex looking like a petulant manchild being grudgingly held in the arms of his big brother.

Claire: Nurse Annie was kind of a mind-controllish sort of situation too, wasn’t it? Like her kid was mind-melding them so they’d be in love so he’d have a family? Howard Mackie “capitalised” (did not capitalise, but noticed and prioritised) Havok as a regularly mind-controlled guy in ’97-’98, by the by. He makes a big fuss about being “finally himself” and is, at this time, evil, so I don’t even know what that’s supposed to add. It’s boring, and I don’t care. And maybe he really was being mind-controlled by Dark Beast (UGH) anyway.

Wendy: Who was mind controlling him when he gave that “m”-word speech in Uncanny Avengers #5?

Havok gives a speech about the "m" word

The “M” word, Alex? Really? … Uncanny Avengers #5, (Marvel Comics, March 2013)

Claire: I dunno, who wrote it, haw hawww.

Nola: So here’s the thing. Remember when I was telling you how Lorna gave the speeches in X-Factor? Lorna did the press? Doesn’t this speech read like a guy who’s heard his girlfriend give a bunch of speeches and thought, “Yeah, I could do that.” Obviously, this was a bad speech; obviously it didn’t work, but given what we’ve run through of Alex’s decision making processes so far, it’s absolutely believable that he’d think enough of Lorna had rubbed off on him that he could wing a speech like this and pull it off. Specifically, it reads like he half-remembered the speech Lorna gave in X-Factor #94. The real trouble here was Remender trying to play Alex off as a competent leading man when he’s anything but.

Anyway, after that, he went evil again, thanks to the Axis event which “inverted his morality” and basically made him a selfish coward. So cowardly, in fact, that he hid behind Iron Man when the fix was applied, and stayed that way even after everyone else turned back to normal. Then he took Janet Van Dyne hostage and threatened to kill her. Eventually the inversion seemed to wear off of everyone, Havok included, and so he decided to try and make amends, at which point Captain America himself took him aside and said, “Look, don’t help.” Havok, being Havok, didn’t listen, and now he’s on the X-Men again along with ‘90s Cyclops and James “Logan” “Hot Claws” “Wolverine” Howlett.

A new team of X-Men led by Cyclops

Backstreet’s back — all right! … Uncanny X-Men #14 (March 2019)

Claire: Stop trying to make Havok happen! Honestly, he is literally an embodiment of “fetch,” to me. He originally happened in the negative, as an example of something not happening (in comparison with Scott), and then ironic and especially dedicated people tried to make him happen for real, so he actually happened to some extent, but his minor happening only makes it clearer and clearer that he was never created with a happening functionality! Fetch is a stupid, shitty word, that sticks around only as an example of the potential negativity of memes.

Wendy: Meh, I guess we can’t really talk about Alex without discussing the on and off again sibling rivalry between Scott and Alex. They seem to be working together amicably in the latest stories, though it’s tiresome that their relationship as siblings is still a topic writers feel needs to be addressed with either hugging or fighting when they’re together, or not giving a shit about the other when they aren’t.

Alex and Scott stand together, fighting as a team, but still make comments leading to Wasp saying "Sibling rivalry till the end."

Can’t stop; won’t stop… Avengers & X-Men Axis #2 (Marvel Comics, October 2014)

Claire: So, Scott and Alex as brothers … it’s kind of, from my perspective, the most unspoken fact of X-History. Because we know it’s a fact. But does it MATTER. You know? Only as an example of how “meaningful” things are sometimes not meaningful.

Alex was introduced, as I recall, at his own graduation ceremony. Scott had had all the X-Men go along with him because he was so proud of his little brother—this was the first time anyone reading had heard anything about Scott having any living relatives. Turns out Alex was adopted into a family while Scott wasn’t (ouch?!) and raised as a basically regular, happy enough son. He finished high school education and went to university, and then on to post-grad, and there’s no suggestion of debt or especial hustle, so I guess his parents paid. What a lucky Summers!

Wendy: What a delightfully mundane and privileged backstory. It’s like the normal life Scott would have liked to lead if he had been trained to care about leading a normal life.

Claire: This was his backstory for ages as far as I know; it wasn’t til the ‘90s that someone added an issue where the tragedy of Alex emerged. The family that adopted him, the retcon went, had had a son that died and Alex was very overtly the replacement. Also, he murdered someone when he was like nine? It’s hazy.

Nola: Who among us, right?

Claire: In the earlier issues, and by earlier I mean right up to 1994, Scott and Alex weren’t really the place you went to get some sibling fiction. They just WERE brothers; they didn’t have brothery stories or any quantifiable close relationship.

Wendy: But they did have that convenient thing where they could each metabolize each other’s powers. In the X-Men’s first battle with Proteus in X-Men #128, Scott explains how their sibling immunity works. My kids hit each other when they are mad. No one seems bothered by the fact that Alex and Scott both have super deadly powers that they once turned on each other, only to discover that those abilities won’t kill the other as they’d originally attempted.

Alex and Scott blast each other in a battle that Storm says Scott must fight alone.

My brother, my enemy… X-Men Volume 1 #97 (February 1976)

Claire: Doesn’t that just make them more boring, though? They can’t even fight in a visually impressive way.

Wendy: Their powers make each other strong and tear up their clothes, making for very manly and epic splash pages/cover opportunities. Isn’t that what comics is about?

Claire: After “Fall of the Mutants” when Scott thinks Alex is dead—after the X-Men “die” and go to Australia (to be fair they really did die, but were revived by Roma)—Scott is, on the one hand, reasonably upset about what he just learnt about his domestic family unit: his wife, who he thought dead, is alive, and their son, who he assumed without evidence was dead, is alive, but he doesn’t know where. Okay. Stressful. But it takes a few issues for Scott to mention Alex’s death at all, and when he does, he’s like, “Don’t feel much. Guess I don’t care!” The grandest clown of all can’t even remember that he felt exactly the same numbness when Jean died, or do his brother the favour of looking to psychology for a reason for his lack of feeling.

It’s possibly because the writer wasn’t fully informed of their brotherhood … but that’s … the point, really, isn’t it? You could miss it and not be blamed. They just weren’t written “brotherly.” It’s weird because the blueprint for Havok, the reason for his presence, his very function, is to be the Brother accessory in the Scott “Cyclops” Summers figure pack. There was even a small push to make Logan and Alex close in the very late ‘80s, as if to mirror Logan and Scott’s vaguely, occasionally combative relationship. Alex doesn’t get his own on-page reunion with their spacefaring, accidentally absent dad Corsair—he simply turns up in a few panels preceding the lost Summers offspring’s return to the Alaskan Grandparent homestead. And that plot line is given over immediately to Scott meeting Madelyne in the first place! Alex just is not a protagonist. Much the same as Corsair, he’s most effectively drawn as a background character.

Nola: It’s true, honestly. Scott and Alex only really count as brothers when Scott needs to punch some sense into Alex—that’s the chief reason their powers don’t work on each other—it’s so that they can get in close and have these dramatic moments with one another. “I’M PUNCHING YOU…FOR LOVE!” They’re very romance-novel men.

Alex and Summers battle each other until their clothes fall off

Very… X-Factor Volume 1 #60 (Marvel Comics, November 1990)

Wendy: The brother accessory sums him up quite nicely. The Second Best Summers sucks, but you need him to fill in the blanks and complete the set.

Claire: I appreciate the way that he sucks, but he does it that way so RARELY, and the rest of the time he’s just a big blunt object taking up space.

He’s a garnish! I’m not saying Havok shouldn’t exist—I’m saying Havok should exist marginally. When I asked for “vital Havok issues,” a helpful Havok fan (they’re real) suggested Rosenberg’s Astonishing X-Men, and I can agree that portions of the Havok/Warpath/Pryde subplot are recognisable as X-Men quality drama. But what I don’t think is that they’re worth the weight of a whole book around them and in their name!

The idea that Alex is a rubbish leader and that being known, except to one person who feels a real loyal admiration for his effort-despite-a-slipshod-nature—that’s solid, that’s fine. It would be good if it was the garnish to a really meaty core cast’s reliable serial story. But trying to make him a main character? Trying to fill up all these books? Why? There’s nothing there. When your Doctor Who said, “I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important,” he didn’t mean “literally everyone on this show is the main character, and it should be called Everyone in the Universe, and our audience should view all moments of Everyone in the Canon Universe’s lives for entertainment and edification, even folding socks.” He meant be nice to people in real life.

He didn’t mean Havok should lead his own book! He meant Havok sucks, and doesn’t want looking at too much, and that’s fine.

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