Iron Man annual #8
Issue(s): Iron Man annual #8
We learn that Willie has created an imaginary friend for himself: an anthropomorphic cigar-smoking frog named Grunt...
...and on Grunt's influence has been acting out in school and using his powers to frighten his teachers and classmates.
Willie's father has been moving him from school district to school district.
We'll also learn late in the story that Willie subconsciously killed his mother when she nagged him too much about doing his homework and keeping his room clean. Willie's father, who in his first appearance was shown to not have a high opinion of super-heroes, opted to not take Willie to Xavier because he wanted his son to have as normal a childhood as possible.
The plot gets moving when, after Willie's latest outbreak, he is taken prisoner by agents of Project Pegasus. Iron Man happens to be dropping off some equipment to be tested at Pegasus while Willie is brought in, and gets concerned that the facility is crossing a line between imprisoning super-villains for study and imprisoning children. Meanwhile, Willie Evans Sr. assumes that it was X-Factor that kidnapped Willie, so he heads to their headquarters with a gun.
When X-Factor settle Mr. Evans down and learn that his son is a mutant that was originally referred to Professor Xavier, they agree to help, and the Beast is able to determine that the kidnappers were from Project Pegasus when Evans describes the horse head emblems on their uniforms.
The team also continues to realize that their X-Factor scheme is doing more harm than good. Scott says, "I think we're on the wrong track with this entire X-Factor thing when a distraught man comes in here believing that we're capable of such an act". But of course, what Project Pegasus does is exactly what X-Factor advertises as their service. And this is the editor of the series writing this.
When X-Factor shows up at Project Pegasus in costume, they are attacked by the Guardsman.
Iron Man shows up soon and immediately recognizes the team as the original X-Men...
...but it takes him a little longer to recognize the Beast.
X-Factor didn't initially recognize Iron Man in his new armor, either.
In a nice touch, Iron Man ends the fight because he trusts his former fellow Avenger implicitly (obviously he didn't even have a fraction of that trust for the rest of the original X-Men). But then Willie, still being goaded by Grunt, escapes from the Pegasus facility on a giant crab.
The Beast raises the concern that Willie might be more dangerous than they originally considered (and therefore maybe Project Pegasus wasn't a bad place for him?), but Jean is having none of that.
Iron Man checks in with Mr. Fantastic to get more info on Willie, and also learns that Nick Fury is sending SHIELD after the boy. Mr. Fantastic has concerns about that, and when Iron Man raises the point that Willie is indeed dangerous, Reed points to his own son Franklin.
When Iron Man reconnects with X-Factor, he notes the chip on Cyclops' shoulder and then gets the more persecuted than thou message from Jean.
The scripting may be a little in your face, but i do appreciate the attempt to highlight the difference in perspective between mutant and non-mutant super-heroes (or at least mutant super-heroes and Iron Man, since what Jean is saying here wouldn't be applicable to anyone with actual super powers). The "you can never know what we go through" message has real life resonance and shows how, in theory, mutants can work as a metaphor.
The superheroes do track down Willie and combine their powers to fight him.
Willie eventually fights against Grunt instead of letting himself be controlled...
...and he unfortunately dies in the effort.
At the funeral (which Iron Man attends as Tony Stark), Jean again is the voice of the oppressed mutant.
It's worth remembering that Willie was offered a helping hand in the form of being directed to Professor Xavier, but his father declined to take it. As Stark notes, Willie killed his mother before he was imprisoned by Project Pegasus. No one hated him and feared him yet or tried to imprison him after his powers manifested against the Fantastic Four, so what exactly is Jean's complaint and/or proposed solution?
The issue ends with Grunt still alive, implying that we might see Willie again.
It seems possible that even with his body dead that Willie might return some day, especially with this ending, but so far that hasn't been the case. And the character had really served his purpose at this point so that's probably for the best.
It is interesting how this plot seems to have come together. The character was introduced and then neglected, and then when the character was rediscovered it made sense to include that neglect into the plot, showing that the father never tried to reach out to Professor X as intended.
In terms of production values, this issue has a kind of sloppy feel to it. Paul Neary and inkers Ian Akin & Brian Garvey normally provide clean artwork, but there's a light sketchy quality to this issue. They also don't do a great job using Willie's powers effectively; for a character who can animate buildings and create evil duplicates of super-heroes, the battles are pretty uninteresting.
I guess i should note that my disappointment in the art is at least somewhat due to the fact that the cover is by Walt Simonson.
Another distraction is the lettering. I don't know if it's the fault of L. Lois Buhalis but the lettering in this issue is occasionally inconsistent in style and it's also very bubbly and seems to not always fit well in the balloons and just feels messier than a typical issue. Looking at it more it occurs to me that the problem may really be that Bob Harras' script is just very wordy. There also seems to be some evidence of rescripting.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: There's a period of "months" between Willie's kidnapping and his arrival at X-Factor's headquarters, but that doesn't affect placement since the Evanses don't appear anywhere else. The MCP places this between Iron Man #208-209 and West Coast Avengers #10-11. X-Factor appears between X-Factor #4-5. Mr. Fantastic's appearance is between Fantastic Four #292-293.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (1): showAngel, Beast, Cameron Hodge, Cyclops, Franklin Richards, Guardsman II (Michael O'Brien), Iceman, Iron Man, Jean Grey, Mr. Fantastic, Myron Wilburn, Nick Fury, Radion (Dr. Henri Sorel), Willie Evans Jr., Willie Evans Sr.
Fun issue, but weird that this story occurs in an Iron Man Annual since the characters has no connection to Willie Evans or mutants in general. This would have been more appropriate as a story for the first X-Factor Annual.
I do like how Iron Man is essentially a counterpart to the entire X-Factor team. Too often writers forget that certain characters are supposed to be "Earth;s Mightiest Heroes" and Iron Man should be powerful enough to handle an entire team like this.
The Willie Evans character is a good reminder of the limitations of a shared universe. It's obvious the reason Willie Evans never appeared again (until this issue) was that the writer of X-Men had other ideas, his own, to write about. So there is just this gap. Even if Willie Evans Sr never saw fit to contact Xavier, given the danger of his powers, why didn't Reed give a heads up to Xavier and Xavier at least reach out to him? The seven year gap (real time, Marvel time may only be a year) doesn't really make anyone look good.
I like Grunt. An evil Jiminy Cricket is a good idea.
At least it is a good wrap up of the Wille Evans character. He was too powerful to be anything other than a plot device, and as a plot device he gets repetitive real quick. All told, FF# 203 and IM Annual # 8 is a good little tragedy.
Posted by: Chris | December 23, 2013 7:14 PM
A minor problem in this- Scott refers to their costumes as "exterminator" costumes even though there's no much of a gap for this to take place in during X-Factor 6-10. I suppose they were tossing the name around before X-Factor 7 but this is more evidence that Warren losing his wings was a last-minute decision.
Posted by: Michael | January 3, 2014 8:19 AM
Another reason Willie Evans, Jr. might have been remembered belatedly was that Fantastic Four #203 was, for whatever reason, reprinted in a hardcover children's book in 1981, part of a series by Ideal Books. My local branch library had this entire series.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | October 15, 2015 6:29 PM
good for Iron man for standing up to Jean's soapbox rhetoric. I rarely agree with Iron man but I do like him pointing out that just because he's a mutant, it doesn't make him a saint. The mutant/racism symbolism never really worked for me because, while muntants might be discrimnated against, they also get a cool power as compensation and real world racism doesnt work that way.
Posted by: kveto | January 11, 2016 10:42 PM
Jean's little rant would work even less if it had been Rhodey under the helmet.
It's particularly weird coming from Jean whose power specifically makes it possible for her to hide in the masses, which is exactly the part that people would be afraid of. I have no idea why people would be afraid of Warren. Oh no, he has wings! RUN!
Posted by: PeterA | January 16, 2016 1:32 AM
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