Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Morlock Prince

In the Marvel universe, being born a mutant can be a mixed bag. If you end up looking like a supermodel or chiseled athlete and have cool flashy powers like superhuman strength, healing factor or weather manipulation it can be seen as a blessing. But if you are born a scrawny and slightly disfigured albino with large creepy yellow eyes and a more passive mutant ability, it can be seen more as a curse.

Named after the half human, half monster character from the play The Tempest by William Shakespeare, the mutant named Caliban is not your typical idea of a heroic character. Aside from his less than flattering physical appearance which borders on creepy, he was rather socially awkward and referred to himself in the third person when he spoke. Despite all this, he was on a whole depicted as a fairly good hearted individual.

While he was definitely not one of the more popular characters in the Marvel X-universe, Caliban is a character I am very familiar with and quite fond. While I don’t think he was ever officially a member of the X-Men, he was part of the secondary X-teams whose comics I was an avid reader of, X-Factor and X-Force. So when Caliban’s announcement as the “build-a-figure” for the first Marvel Legends X-Men wave of 2019 left many newer collectors indifferent, I on the other hand was quite excited.

Before he became a member of both X-Factor and X-Force, Caliban was known more as a founding member of the Morlocks, a community of mostly disfigured mutants who lived an isolated life in tunnels under New York. While for the most part, the Morlocks kept to themselves, they did have some less than amicable encounters with the X-Men.

The most notable of which was when their leader Callisto kidnapped the X-Man Angel in order to make him her mate. When the X-Men travelled to the tunnels to rescue him, another member, the young girl Kitty Pryde was infected by the Morlock Plague. Caliban rescued Kitty and took her back to his home to nurse her back to health. When Kitty recovered, he agreed to help her and the X-Men after she promised to stay with him in the tunnels forever. Of course, in the end...she broke her promise and returned to the surface with the X-Men. Enraged, Callisto kidnapped Kitty and tried to force Kitty to keep her word and marry Caliban, he realized that she didn’t truly love him and so he released her from her promise and from then on remained her friend instead. He left her with a parting gift, a single rose with the hopes that she would remember him not as a Morlock monster...but as a prince.

Some time after that, the Morlocks were unfortunately thrust into the spotlight once again when they were savagely attacked by another group of Mutant terrorists, the Marauders. While a great number of Morlocks were killed during this mutant massacre, thanks to the joint efforts of the X-Men and other superheroes, a number of them, including Caliban survived. And he ended up joining the group X-Factor as a trainee.

While Caliban’s ability to locate and track down other mutants was a very useful ability, in actual combat situations he was more of a liability. And his “uselessness” in battle more often than not weighed heavily on him. So much so, that when the opportunity came to betray his team in exchange for more power, he took it.

During an encounter between X-Factor and their adversary Apocalypse, Caliban witnessed the ancient mutant transform the hero Angel into his horseman Death. Impressed by what he saw, he readily turned his back on his friends and offered his loyalty to Apocalypse in exchange for similar power. So with that, Caliban was transformed into Apocalypse’s Hellhound.

As Hellhound, Caliban still retained his mutant tracking ability, but in addition to that, was given superhuman strength and became more feral with razor sharp fangs and claws. If you want to be technical about it, Hellhound was really what his new build-a-figure was actually based on, not the original Caliban.

In his new form, one of his first acts was to return to the Morlock tunnels and track down the savage Marauder member Sabretooth, who he eventually found, fought and defeated. He broke Sabretooth’s back and left him for dead. Unfortunately he didn’t know that Sabretooth had healing factor so ultimately he survived.

Eventually, Hellhound broke free from Apocalypse’s control and rejoined the side of the heroes as a member of X-Force. Taking back the name Caliban he remained a regular ally of the X-men up until his death in 2008. During a combat mission, he literally “bit the bullet” when he selflessly gave his life to save his fellow team member Warpath, jumping in the way to take on a hail of gunfire himself. By this point he no longer possessed his super powered Hellhound body and was killed instantly.

A few years later though, Caliban would have one more appearance after being resurrected from the dead by another X-Men adversary, Selene. This time around, his mutant tracking power was corrupted so that he could now just track down dead mutants for Selene to resurrect as well. In the end, Caliban and all the resurrected mutants had their life energies consumed by Selene as she battled and eventually lost to the X-Men. And since then, Caliban has remained...dead.

So for now, that’s where the story of Caliban ends. He was definitely not one of the flashiest or most popular mutants, but he was still one that I was rather fond of. To me, not being blessed with a kick ass power or even an attractive physical appearance made him a more relatable character. When he first betrayed his friends it was sort of understandable as a moment of weakness. And when he eventually returned to the good guys, he still came out a little damaged from his evil transformation so you could still root for him.

In the end, Caliban made the most with the hand of cards life dealt him and ultimately, evil resurrection aside, died selflessly giving up his life to save a friend. Definitely not a bad way to go out. A rather noble end for the Morlock prince.