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#70 (Marvel Comics #10)
'FRIENDS LIKE THESE'
by Dan Abnett

Featuring: James, I.Q., Tracy, Gordo, Phoebe, Trevor, Mr Milbanks, Coach Mitchell, Doctor Derange, Skullcap.

Synopsis: At the local train station, James collects Evan Moore, a new student from America, to take him back to Warfield in the sports car. On the way, they're followed by Skullcap in a van, firing bullets from the bumper. He attacks with grenades - but Evan whacks them back at him with a baseball bat, destroying the van completely and apparently Skullcap with it. Back at Warfield, James is in trouble with Mr Milbanks, who catches him screeching into school; but Evan tells Milbanks about Doctor Derange and Skullcap, whom he claims his father, an F.B.I. agent, has had to deal with on many occasions, and this seems to get the pair of them off the hook.

James thanks Evan for the support. 'What are friends for?' he replies. Later, Phoebe surprises Tracy when she declares herself over James, and that Evan is now her Prince Charming. Tracy concedes that he is rather attractive. Evan's also getting very chummy with Gordo, and even Trevor. James is then mortified to learn that Evan's been testing I.Q.'s inventions, and begins to feel jealous. He goes to Coach Mitchell to ask his advice, but finds the Coach giving Evan a fencing lesson; he dismissively tells James to come back later.

Watching from a distance, Doctor Derange revels in James's isolation, and we learn that it was merely an android version of Skullcap driving the van that exploded, part of a ruse designed to get Evan well established at Warfield. He explains to the real Skullcap that it's the Academy's open day in two days, when the brightest student will be presented to Air Chief Marshal Smithers of the R.A.F., a man with great knowledge of N.A.T.O.'s coded defence strategies. Through Evan, Derange hopes to acquire the information and sell it to S.C.U.M.

In Milbanks' classroom, meanwhile, James is shocked to see Evan score 99% for a test by handing in a blank piece of paper - but when he questions Milbanks, the teacher slams him down and his classmates accuse him of envy. That evening, James uses suction pads to climb up the Academy walls to spy on Evan, sure that something's afoot. In Evan's room, James's friends and teachers sit in awe of Evan. He's hypnotised them to obey his every command! When Smithers arrives, he'll hypnotise him too, so that he'll send all N.A.T.O.'s codes and procedures to Derange.

As he listens, James's suction pad comes loose, and Evan turns to him - with the face of a robot! Pulling his mask back on, Evan leads the others outside and corners James, whom he then begins to hypnotise... The next day, Smithers arrives, and presents the trophy to Evan as planned. But James, who has somehow resisted the hypnotism, has switched the trophy for one that gives Evan an electrical jolt, and his circuits are fried.

The gang are released from hypnosis, and all congratulate James; but Evan has recovered and steals a helicopter. I.Q. and James follow in I.Q.'s autogyro. Evan tries to shoot them down, but I.Q. fires a heat-seaking missile which hits just as Derange uses a homing beacon to bring Evan back to his van. The helicopter, van and missile all collide at once, exploding. Back at Warfield, James is man of the moment. Even Trevor grudgingly congratulates him
.


Review: An unusual story set entirely within Warfield Academy and the surrounding area, bearing several similarities to Hostile Takeover. Uniquely, this story taps into James's own personal insecurities - a road the TV episodes were (with a couple of exceptions) unwilling to go down. Here, with no romantic interest to distract, he's forced to reassess his attitudes about friendship as one by one his gang reject him in favour of the newcomer. The arrival of Evan Moore (read: 'even more') as almost an improved version of James (another popular teen from a family of spies) represents the fact that deep down, James feels inadequate, and isn't nearly as confident in the strength of his friendships as he often makes out. Of course it's eventually revealed that the only way to outperform James in the popularity stakes is to be a hypnotic robot, so all remains well. But for a while he lets his envy get the better of him; and it is that, and not any genuinely unusual behaviour on Evan's part, which begins to make him miserable. Meanwhile, the fact that Trevor grudgingly congratulates an embarrassed James at the end is a small nod to the fact that James is sometimes too harsh on Trevor, even though it took a hypnotised Gordo to tell him that. And a slightly bitter comment to a dehypnotised I.Q. about not having had the chance to test the autogyro is another example of James's insecurity. Although this is nominally a Dr Derange adventure, the mad villain has very little influence on the plot as a whole, the focus remaining on the android, who appears to have a significant degree of sentience in himself. Overall, with high action and intrigue in equal parts, this one could have been very effective as an episode of the TV series - it's a good concept and, though silly, is by no means too silly for James Bond Jr.

Highs: That for once James isn't the centre of attention among his friends at Warfield is an interesting development that ought to have been used in the TV series at some stage.

Lows:
It's revealed far too early on that Evan is a plant, defeating the object of what is basically a character study of James - so that rather than reading his jealousy as James's weakness, we see it as evidence Evan must be up to something, even though he isn't behaving remotely strangely at this stage. Derange's comment about the Skullcap android (see 'Lines to Forget') is also completely out of place, forcing us to consider that Evan may be an android too, long before the reveal, thus spoiling it. Also, the ending is somewhat of a cop-out, as James refuses to explain how he resisted being hypnotised, saying: 'how can I stay the best if I give away all my secrets?' It's never stopped him before.

Lines to Forget: Dr Derange to Skullcap: 'It was certainly worth sacrificing that android of you in order to get Evan so well established at Warfield.'

Gadgets & Gizmos: I.Q.'s autogyro, which he christens 'Little Phoebe', may have saved the day in the end, but it's Evan who gets to test it first - not James.

Notes: Is I.Q.'s name for his autogyro a subtle suggestion that he may have romantic feelings for Phoebe? If so it expands on a possible reference in The Heartbreak Caper.

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