Thursday, 20 November 2008

SpaceSquid vs. The X-Men #10: Chaos Theory

To start off with, I didn't think an article on Alex Summers would really take up all that much room. My planned introduction ran something along the lines of "Alex can't ever become his brother, and he hates himself for it. We're done; go away."

Certainly, one could consider Havok's entire history from that one perspective alone, and find overwhelming evidence for the hypothesis. If there exists a Marvel writer, past or present, who has gotten their hands on Alex without at least one reference (sometimes earnest, sometimes askance) to the fact that big brother is soooo much more dedicated and capable and level-headed, then I've yet to see any evidence. Comparing Havok to Cyclops is one of the biggest X-cliches of them all, which is fucking saying something.

Of course, where lesser commentators might be content to simply scribble down "sibling rivalry" in wax crayon, MotCC believes in going the extra mile. The endless comparisons between Alex and Scott might be our jumping-on point, but only because it works so effectively in hiding from view what's really interesting about Havok's character.

The first thing to note about the repeated consideration of the Summers brothers' similarities and differences is that, far more often than not, it's Alex himself doing the comparing. Not long after taking control of X-Factor after the X-Tinction Agenda, Havok admits to Dr Samson (the team's psychiatrist, who also helped Polaris as mentioned last week) that he is sick of having to work so hard to command respect, something Cyclops seems to be capable of without any apparent effort. A few years later, whilst trapped in an alternate dimension (after a makeshift time-machine explodes and apparently kills him, but that's another story), Havok passes up a chance to return home, in part for fear of being once again lost in his brother's shadow. Apparently risking being sutck forever in a messed-up reality whilst surrounded by twisted mockeries of his former friends is a more palatable option than risking going back to being the second best Summers boy. In the Age of Apocalypse reality, Havok's jealousy over his sibling's apparent ability to get everything without even trying ultimately leads to fratricide, though in fairness that particular incarnation of Alex was just too dumb to realise that trying to whine your way to the top is unlikely to work even before you factor in having Mr Sinister for a boss.

The relationship with his elder brother is clearly very much at the front of Alex's mind, then. Even when he isn't directly considering it, he has a tendency to subconsciously carry himself in a manner as similar to Scott's as possible. Lorna points this out to him soon after they have joined X-Factor:
Don't you see what you're doing? You're trying to be like Scott again. Scott's so deadly serious about everything, so you feel you have to be too. If Scott smiled, his face would crack. Some role model.
She might be totally useless 99% of the time, but if nothing else she knows Havok pretty damn well.

There are two problems with Alex's attempts to copy his brother as closely as he can. The first is obvious. Trying to base your personality upon someone else's is a fairly bad idea to begin with, generally speaking, but I'm not sure that's exactly what we're talking about here. There is good reason to believe that Scott himself is constantly trying to base his personality on Xavier's, which means Alex ends up as a copy of a copy. Moreover, it means that every time he fails, he fails twice, since he hasn't managed to live up to either Scott or Xavier. Given this, it is likely little wonder he has questioned his abilities as a superhero so often.

There's another problem with Alex's attempts to ape his older brother, though, and whilst it may be somewhat harder to spot on initial viewing, it is arguably a more fundamental issue: Havok and Cyclops are obvious opposites.

It was Mr Sinister of all people who first cottoned on to this, albeit only on his own selfish terms. Sinister had been keeping track of the Summers boys since they were infants, and had concluded that Scott was the most powerful. Whilst this leads Scott to be tormented inside an orphanage under Sinister's malign control, Alex isadopted by a foster family who had lost their own son to a kidnapper. When that kidnapper takes Alex too, along with his foster sister, Alex accidentally uses his powers to burn their assailant to a crisp.

It was at this point that Sinister realised he has misjudged the younger Summers. Scott might have more control, but it was unquestionably Alex that has the greatest power. This is the crucial metric by which the distance between the brothers should be measured.

There are two ways you can consider Scott Summers. One of them is to assume that his truly frightening degree of humorless inflexibility is a direct side-effect of his inability to control his powers (itself a result of brain damage he suffered as a child); that the constant need to keep his eye-beams under control has left him unable to let go in any other aspect of his life either. It's not a bad theory, by any means, and a number of writers over the years seem to have been operating under that assumption. On the other hand, there are several instances (as mentioned in his entry) in which Cyclops apparently uses his powers as an excuse for inaction. To me it seems just as likely that Scott's inability to control his mutation is simply an ironic curse laid upon a man who wants complete control over his life at all times.

His problems with his eyes aside, Scott is perfectly designed to fulfil the role as the unquestioning, dedicated team leader. He may need to wear a visor, but his powers still give him a precision instrument. After all, how can you hope to have a better aiming system than simply looking at your target? And how much easier can regulating you potential damage potential than by choosing how wide to open your eyes?

Alex, though, has no hope for such accuracy or restraint. His powers are as chaotic as they are devastating (there's a reason for his codename); there have been several instances in which Havok has lost control of them almost completely. In battle he is often as much a risk to his team-mates as to the enemy (this is seen most clearly when he is believed to have killed Storm in UXM 248), and his attempts to fit into teams often prove problematic. Scott thrives on the order and co-ordination necessary to effectively fight within a group. Alex seems almost custom-made to fight alone. Perhaps it was this that persuades him to infiltrate the Dark Beast's brotherhood, pretending to shift his loyalties to an "any means necessary" philosophy which led to him crossing swords with former allies on several occasions.

But how much of that was pretense? Whilst battling Cyclops, Havok tells him:
For the first time in my life - NOTHING IS HAPPENING TO ME! No Living Monolith or Erik the Red ! No Malice or the Genoshan Magistrate! No Dark Beast! I'm not living under the wing of Professor Xavier -- or in the shadow of my brother anymore! Don't you get it, Scott -- for the first time in my life, I am free! FREE!
Whilst his loyalty to the Brotherhood itself is later revealed to be false, it's hard to shake the suspicion that Alex relishes the opportunity to lead a group according to his own vision, rather than those of his brother or his former mentor. Certainly his fears regarding cutting loose with his powers seemed to dissipate. This was fighting for mutants with chaos, not with order. Alex was finally within his element, dealing with crises the way he thought best, and in the manner most appropriate to his skill-set.

It didn't last. Once Havok broke cover, he returns to X-Factor right up until that time-machine blasts him across dimensions. Eventually he is dragged back into his comatose body by Carter, the mutant son of his care nurse, Annie (see Polaris' entry and its comments for more on the resulting love triangle of tedium and bullshit), and he attempts to reintegrate into the X-Men. This proves tricky when Annie leaves and the old Polaris/Ice-Man issue once again rears its head (and they say X-Men has run out of ideas), but ultimately he finds himself in outer space, fighting his insane brother Vulcan, who has taken control of the Shi'ar Empire.

Leaving aside the niggling problems of being stranded light-years from home fighting an unstoppable mutant killing machine and two-thirds of the armed forces of the most powerful alien race in the galaxy, Alex might well be back in the best place for him. Inster-stellar war requires a somewhat different approach to intra-mutant battling on Earth, and Havok's digital power setting of "OFF/BURN TO DEATH" might not cause so much of a problem. On the other hand, Havok has joined up with the Starjammers, who were led by his father right up to the moment Vulcan killed him. Rather than being surrounded by allies who considered his brother a natural leader, Havok keeps company with people who considered his father their master. Whether this will lead to a new crisis of confidence, whether (as seems likely) Havok finds it easier to step into Christopher Summers' role than he ever did Scott's, or even whether he finally chooses to go his own way, time will surely tell.

Right, that's the Sixties done. Next time, we begin to investigate the mysteries of "The Secret Team". That will have to wait a couple of weeks, though, until I get round to reading Deadly Genesis. Have no fear, though, true believers, SS v X will return...

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