Ye Olde Hyborean X-Men

As promised last week, and since we're being exposed to a "fantasy" Marvel Universe through Secret Wars at the moment, let us look at the time a Conan villain called Kulan Gath (which you might also remember from a Marvel Team-Up starring Spider-Man and Red Sonja) turned Manhattan into a fantasy world and all our favorite heroes into D&D characters. It indeed happened, in Uncanny X-Men #190-191 (1985), as chronicled by Chris Claremont, John Romita Jr. and Dan Green. It was "An Age Undreamed of".
Anyone caught in, or traversing into, this realm is turned into a fantasy version of themselves, losing all memory of their former lives and becoming the subjects of Kulan Gath, a sorcerous tyrant whose rule is enforced by the Morlocks, and hopefully opposed by the X-Men and Avengers caught into the spell. Spider-Man is immune for some unknown reason (as is the New Mutant, Warlock).
Gath is essentially trying to gain control of every super-human in Manhattan to squelch all dissent, and the first thing he did was neutralize the island's "wizards". Dr. Strange is made incapable of casting spells, and Professor X is merged with the more compliant Caliban to act as a mutant detector. But there's also Selene, the vampiric mutant Black Queen, who's trying to get her hands on Gath's magical amulet. The stage is set. In addition to seeing the characters redesigned as sword & sorcery characters, Claremont also slips in cute references to standard continuity, redressed to match the setting:
Cool name for a spell, but of course, X-Men fans know the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak in another context, don't they? By the second issue, it's all starting to feel like a What If as WELL as an Elseworlds, with characters dying all over the place, starting with Rogue, whose "darkling" power in this reality is having an invulnerable crystal form she can give away by touch. The gift proves uncontrollable.
And so it goes. Colossus and Vision blow up by trying to exist in the same space. Wolfsbane falls from a great height. Sunder gets his throat cut. And Kulan Gath stops Spider-Man's heart. In the end, Warlock combines with Storm just when Self is about to die, and together they stop Selene, now in possession of the amulet. Freed, Dr. Strange then uses Magik's time slip abilities to turn back the clock so none of this ever happened, Superman Movie-style.
Deus ex machina aside, the story captured my imagination as a teenager who was just getting into D&D, priming me for similar tales, like Busiek's original arc on Avengers, and yes, the current Secret Wars event. Anyone else fond of this old story?


Anonymous said...

I always enjoyed this story too. For me these issues were a bright spot in the title's slide to mediocrity.

- Jason

Siskoid said...

I kept going on the title for another 5 or 6 years, but I don't think we were necessarily in the slide quite yet. I think I'd call it 'round the time JRJR left the book and Silvestri came on? By Jim Lee, it was the pits.

Green Luthor said...

It's been a while since I read these issues, but my impression was that Spider-Man wasn't (necessarily) immune to Kulan Gath's spell, it's that Kulan Gath left Spider-Man "as is" as a way of getting revenge for the aforementioned Marvel Team-Up issue. (But I could be wrong about that.)

The funny thing about the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak is that, other than the Juggernaut connection, it was also a spell in Doctor Strange's repertoire since well before this issue. (I'm not seeing when, exactly, the Crimson Bands were first mentioned specifically, but Cyttorak was first mentioned Strange Tales #124, September 1964, whereas Juggernaut first appeared in X-Men #12, July 1965.) Kinda neat that that connection has been around for so long...

Siskoid said...

Yes, that's a reading that's consistent with what's on the page, though he is giving himself some extra trouble there.

That's true about the Bands of Cyttorak! I'd forgotten (mostly because there aren't a lot of Dr. Strange book of late). An odd connection.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That solves a big mystery for me! I remember collecting X-men in the 80's and not understanding what this issue had to do with anything that came before or after. A Secret Wars tie in. Never put that together! Thanks!

Siskoid said...

Well, I'm being a bit facetious there. It's a remote tie-in with what they're doing NOW with Secret Wars. It wasn't then.

It's really a sequel to Marvel Team-Up story, which is an odd segue for Claremont to make, to be sure.


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