Imagine facing an enemy you couldn’t lie to; an enemy who knows exactly what you’re thinking and can also manipulate your thoughts. That’s what you’re up against when you confront the mutants of Marvel Comics’ X-Men, whose ranks include some of the most powerful telepaths in the world. Confronting daunting challenges is the precise reason the Avengers, another premier Marvel super team, came together in the first place, and this April that’s just what they’ll do as they take on the X-Men in a battle to decide how best to save Earth from the threat of the destructive cosmic entity known as the Phoenix.
That battle will be chronicled in “Avengers Vs. X-Men” a 12-issue miniseries by an all-star team of Marvel creators. In today’s edition of WHEN TWO TRIBES GO TO WAR, CBR’s in-depth look at “AvX,” we take a look at the X-Men’s seemingly telepathic advantage over the Avengers. What are the X-Men’s telepaths capable of? What kind of strategic advantage do they give the X-Men leader, Cyclops? And how will the Avengers work around and fight back against the mental might of their adversaries? Helping us answer these questions and more are Senior Editor Nick Lowe who’s in charge of the X-Titles, and Senior Vice President of Publishing and Executive Editor Tom Brevoortwhose office oversees the Avengers titles.
Because we can read your minds, we know that are some of you who are just joining us. In that case, welcome! Feel free to get caught up on our previous installments where we look at the role team loyalties will play in “AvX,” the conflict’s four “generals,” and the “heavy artillery” members of the X-Men and the Avengers.
Tom Brevoort: The Avengers have had a few over the years, characters such as Moondragon — but telepathy really hasn’t been a regular part of their arsenal. As for the X-side, I think that comes from two interconnected things: Jean Grey and her status as not only a founding X-Man but as the lynchpin of probably the book’s best-remembered storyline, and the fact that Chris Claremont was a heavy SF reader during a period where numerous authors were exploring the idea of telepathic and telekinetic powers and how they might plausibly work within a SF context. Chris adapted, adopted and improved on a number of those ideas as he wrote “Uncanny X-Men.”
Nick Lowe: Let’s read between the lines, here. It’s because the X-Men are the best.
Telepathy in its most basic form is the power to send and receive thoughts, which is a useful communication tool with a number of strategic uses in battle. What kind of advantage does it give Cyclops and other characters in terms of communication and coordinating troop movements?
Lowe: It certainly doesn’t hurt. Cap and the Avengers know going in that the X-Men have this advantage, so you’ve got to think they’ve got some defensive planning in place to keep Emma from just shutting their brains down. And the coordination helps, but you have to remember how training centered Cyclops is. You can’t go more than an issue of X-Men back in the day without Cyclops drilling his team in the Danger Room and that hasn’t changed. He’s always training his crews and they operate like well oiled machines. No one does as much teamwork as the X-Men (heck they have well-known moves like the fastball special).
Telepathy also allows a person to reads the thoughts of others, which makes it a useful to gather intelligence. Of course, many mutants have a personal code that keeps them from reading the thoughts of others. How would a conflict like “AvX” affect that code? Are there some heroes that won’t have qualms about reading the thoughts of Avengers once things heat up and get tough?
Brevoort: I think it depends entirely on the individual character. My expectation is that the Avengers and the X-Men both are going to comport themselves as heroes, no differently than they’ve ever done. That said; the stakes they’re fighting for are so important that they will push our heroes to the wall in terms of what they will and will not do. And certainly some of the X-telepaths have used situational ethics to guide their actions in the past. Of course, keep in mind that Tony Stark has a lot of experience in building tech to protect himself from telepathic intrusions or attacks.
Lowe: Tom is right (yeesh that felt weird coming out of my mouth) about how the X-Men are going to behave. They’re still heroes. And like I said before, Cap would have to be an idiot not to have something in place to defend his team from this on some level. And he’s no idiot.
Powerful telepaths have another morally gray ability, the ability to erase and control minds. This begs the question, when things get tough will there be some X-Men tempted to use this ability? Or is this seen as a last ditch “nuclear option?”
Lowe: This would not be something Cyclops would be down with unless there were no other option and even then — but, and sorry to repeat again, the Avengers need to have some sort of plan for this.
Brevoort: Again, I wouldn’t think this would be an easily-used option if it were ever seriously considered at all. The X-Men haven’t done this sort of thing even to their most ruthless foes, so I don’t think they’d be inclined to do it to guys they know are heroes but whom they happen to be in contention with.
We’ve talked a bit about how effective an ability telepathy is in general, so let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about how effective it is against the Avengers in particular. Are there any Avengers who have a natural immunity to telepathic and psionic powers?
Brevoort: Iron Man’s armor has been proofed against telepathic attacks in the past. The Vision’s android mind is such that it’s anybody’s guess whether a telepathic strike would do him any harm. A telepathic attack on the Red Hulk is likely to just make him angrier and more savage, so if it didn’t immediately take him down it would likely make things worse. There are a few other examples, but they’re mostly the exceptions — for the most part the Avengers are no more protected from a telepathic assault than anyone else would be.
How aware are the Avengers in general of the strategic applications of telepathy? Can we assume that leaders like Captain America are aware of what telepaths can do and are ready and able to work around them?
Brevoort: I’d say it’s a certainty — especially since there are present and former X-Men among the Avengers’ ranks, who would be likely to disclose that information even if Cap wasn’t already aware of it.
Lowe: They definitely know it.
The X-Men may have an advantage in the area of mental powers, but the Avengers have three of the greatest scientific minds on the planet in Tony Stark, T’Challa, and Hank Pym. How easy would it be for these guys to whip up something that makes them and their team mates resistant to telepathic powers?
Brevoort: Given that we’ve seen Tony at least do this before in the past, I’d say it’d be relatively easy. Doesn’t mean that it’ll work, though, or be 100% proof against a determined X-Man digging down deep and fighting for a legitimate cause.
Lowe: It’s not going to really matter in the end as the X-Men are far superior in every way.