To kick off this weeks What Were They Thinking (the place where we look at all of the stupidest, most ill-advised things in all of comic book history) I've got a scenario for you guys. You are on the creative team for the X-Men at Marvel during the early 90's and you've been given a remit to rejig the series, freshen it up and get rid of some old characters to make way for new, more exciting and more modern ones (read guys with lots of guns and pouches and spikes). What do you do? If your answer is create a new team that goes around killing everyone for an unknown prize, then pat yourself on the back, because you think just like a Marvel employee. And if you also said that you'd just abandon the storyline half-way through without any proper plot resolution, then you obviously know that this week we're going to be talking about The Upstarts.
So, what happened then. Well, as you've probably already guessed from the intro, in the early 90's Marvel decided that it would be a good idea to freshen up the X-Men. The series had acrued a lot of characters over the years (which, unlike other huge super-teams such as the Avengers, rarely if ever appeared outside of X-Men-centric books), including the original X-Men team (Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Angel/ Archangel, Iceman), the 70's recruits (Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Banshee, Sunfire), the 80's recruits (Kitty Pryde, Dazzler, Rogue, Rachael Grey, Longshot, Psylocke, Forge), characters introduced in the 90's (such as Gambit and Jubliee), the New Mutants (Canonball, Mirage, Karma, Magma, Sunspot, Wolfsbane), plus their allies (such as Havok, Polaris and Moira McTagart) and their numerous enemies including Magneto, Mystique and their different and distinct verions of the Brotherhood of Mutants as well as the Hellfire Club and Emma Frost's Hellions. So with all of these characters floating around tied to one base series spread over 3 books, you can see why Marvel thought a bit of maintinence was in order, prune off the excess so to speak.
So, what did they do? Well, they introduced a new team of rebellious teenage mutants called The Upstarts. As part of a plan by Selene, the Black Queen Of The Hellfire Club, they were placed in a competition overseen by an omnisient mutants known as the Gamesmaster. The gist of the competition was this; the objective is to kill as many mutants as possible, each mutant was given a value based on power, skills and importance (so killing Charles Xavier would get more points than killing Toad for example) and who ever had the most points at the end of the competition would win "the prize". Sounds great doesn't it. That is a properly engaging evelator pitch right there, I'm all on board, so who are we going to kill? Well, Sebastien Shaw kicks off our bucket list, done in by his own son, and Upstarts member, Shinobi Shaw (A grade for child naming Seb). That's a nice big name to go straight away, yep, I'm really into this, where's it going next? Next up is Donald Pierce, White Bishop of the Hellfire Club, killed by Trevor Fitzroy, who joined the Upstarts because he had nothing better to do as Bishop had yet to debut. I mean, it's not as impactful as Seb Shaw, but still, not bad. And for bonus points, Trev and Shin get into a fight over who should be leader of The Upstarts. Also killed in Fitzroy's efforts to kill Pierce were The Hellions and Jean Grey (again). Jean had switched her mind with Emma Frost at the time because why not and Emma's body was put into a coma which made it appear as though Jean's mind was dead, but it's Jean Grey so... yeah, death is kinda her thing. And then to ramp up the stakes even higher, Fabien Cortez joined in by killing Magneto. And that's where we're just like, yep, that's not going to stay that way for 5 seconds. And it didn't, because Magneto turned up right as rain whilst the storyline was still on-going. Plus points for that Marvel (sarcasm).
This is where the story sort of falls appart. The original way to enter the competition was to kill a member of the Hellfire Club's Inner Circle (thus eliminating Selene's rivals for control of the Club, though she'd better have told everyone not to kill her seen as she was a member of the inner circle at the time), but that lasted all of 5 minutes with Fenris, Graydon Creed and Sienna Blaze being allowed to join without killing anyone (they tried and failed to kill Cyclops, Professor X, Storm, Sabretooth and Mystique respectively, so at least they had ambitions). After these guys joined, the competition took a much less deadly turn, with The Upstarts trying to kill as many mutants as possible for another month and failed every single time. These guys managed to kill Sebastien Shaw but then couldn't even kill Forge. They then turned their attention to The New Mutants and the X-Force and, predictably, that went about as well as you might expect. They captured some hostages but didn't kill them (because apparently actually killing Mutants in a competition to kill the most mutants isn't a good idea). And then Grandmaster got talked out of the whole thing by Husk of all people and he called the contest off. Wow, that's a deflating end. For something that started off with so much promise, this storyline petered out so quickly. And of course, most of the people who were killed in the storyline was eventually resurrected (minus all but one of the Hellions) and the cast of X-Men is now double the size it was back in the 90's, thus rendering the whole thing pointless. And you know the best thing? They never even told us what "the prize" was. It could have been immortality, it could have been more power, maybe the winner would recieve the powers of all the other Upstarts, or even of all the mutants they had collectively killed, maybe the winner would have taken control of the Hellfire Club its self, we'll never know, because it wasn't actually clearly stated.
What a waste of time and what a waste of a good idea. Which basically sums up 90's Marvel in a nutshell.