A kind of weird and interesting thing started to happen in the late 90s: around the time of Onslaught, the writers over at Marvel decided that maybe, just maybe, the Juggernaut could be a good guy. Or if not a good guy, at the very least, not a complete asshole. And in reading my way up through the X-Men books, I’m discovering that it wasn’t that far-fetched. Hear me out: people accepted Magneto as a member of the X-Men and as headmaster of Xavier’s school. Magneto. The insane mutant terrorist. Marvel tends to try and get us to overlook that (except when they don’t), but when you compare some of his actions against those of Cain Marko, can comes up roses.
So this period, during which Professor X went crazy, became Onslaught, and killed most of the heroes in the Marvel Universe… the ‘evil’ step-brother Cain didn’t look quite so evil by comparison anymore, so Marvel started him down a path that would, someday, result in his being accepted as a member of the X-Men under the pen of Chuck Austen.
In lieu of an actual “Juggernaut” collection, we’re gonna look at each part of this interesting transformation individually! 🙂
Cain was an integral part of the lead-up to Onslaught moving from an X-Men only problem into a problem that affected the entire Marvel universe. He was beaten by Onslaught and yet had no memory of it, having been thrown half way across the country by the force of the blow. In X-Men # 54, Cain and Jean Grey use the hidden chambers around the mansion to hide from the psionic attacks of Onslaught so that they can scan his mind a figure out who he is, only to discover that he was Charles all along, just in time for Xavier to attack him and literally pull the Cyttorak gem out of his chest, nearly killing him.
Seeing Cain as a victim, and scared, did two major things: it established Onslaught early on as a major villain, capable of taking down a villain that was previously thought to be invulnerable. It also made the Juggernaut sympathetic: not only is he afraid and not only has he been beaten, he’s been beaten by his own brother. This experience doesn’t just change him, but the reader’s perception of him: he’s different now, more accessible as a character.
After Onslaught attacks him Cain is thought dead, but he’s actually just imprisoned within the Cyttorak Gem, which has been casually left in Xavier’s study. Within the Gem is revealed to another world, a mystical world that Cain cannot escape from without sacrifice and torment at the hands of the demonic Spite, nor without help from both Doctor Strange and Gomuur the Ancient. This is the second of (blissfully) very few appearances from Gomuur. I was not a fan of him or of the affect he had on the X-Men books he appeared in. We last saw him in Warrior of the Ebon Knight.
It’s through this struggle that we finally get to see the beginnings of Cain’s soul. Struggle builds character, and its through this struggle that Cain is given a determination of will that then, when channeled in the right direction, allows him to act heroically. Knowing that he has that within him, now all he needs is a cause to fight for once Strange and Gomurr help him escape from the Cyttorak dimension.
As a result of his experiences, Cain now has the spark of something more than simple revenge-based villainy in him: he’s capable of something more. But until he has something to fight for he could still return to his old ways, so Gomurr the Ancient takes it upon himself to make sure that Cain stays on the path of the righteous, which he does in the story (and the town of) Junction.
Cain returns to the town where he grew up, Junction, on Halloween, and remembers a past in which the town did not treat him so well. As a child he was bullied, until the minister’s daughter Marie Cavendish saved him them.
In the present, some kids frame him for destroying a balloon prompting the enraged Cain to destroy the whole town. Gomurr the Ancient tells him that his wild rampages will kill those he loves, and Cain promptly discovers that Marie Cavendish, the woman who helped him so long ago, is bleeding internally from his attack. Cain takes her to the hospital, but is yelled at and attacked. Leaving Marie, Cain leaves Junction for good.
In addition to the suffering he experienced within the Cyttorak dimension and at the hands of Onslaught, he is now being given some context to the consequences of his destructive tendencies: destruction that often has grave consequences on himself and the people he cares about, thus enraging him and starting the circle of violence all over again. Calling this story “Junction” is pivotal, as it is (very much) a junction point for the character’s development despite being very short.
Despite not being present for the actual event, Cain is given the sufficient motivation he needs to change his ways when his longtime friend and partner, Black Tom Cassidy, is gravely inured fighting the young mutants of Generation X.
Despite the journey that Cain has been on, he’s not yet the heroic person he would come to be in Austin’s run. He has learned that his actions have consequences that he did not always mean for them to have, and that he may not be as “unstoppable” as he once thought himself to be. This gives his actions from that point of some context, but he is still not capable of making selfless choices: he helps Black Tom because losing Black Tom would cause him pain, not out of altruism. He is still a selfish character, but he has also learned that what it is like to be on the receiving end of pain and does not wish to cause it anymore: in looking for ways to raise money to help Black Tom, he focuses his efforts on legal methods to achieving his goals, rather than methods that could result in more people getting hurt.
When we next see him, he’s working as a mercenary to make money for Tom’s surgery and is hired to hunt down The Hulk. This sounds like a reversal of the character growth he’s experienced, but it actually is not: not only is the Hulk more powerful than he is (signifying his unwillingness to pick on those weaker than him now that he knows how it feels), but Hulk has been separated from Banner as a result of Onslaught Book Four and has actually fallen under the thrall of Apocalypse as the newest incarnation of the War horseman.
Cain has found himself on the side of the greater good, fighting a far superior foe with the ultimate goal of helping a friend. He is being drawn into the fight against Apocalypse (arguably the most evil and hate-able and fear-able villains in the Marvel Universe) through the lens of his own quasi-selfish quest, but once drawn in something important happens: he doesn’t back down. He’s on the road back to being as unstoppable as he once thought himself to be, but has now learned lessons that will make him a better man and — maybe — a more rounded character and a hero in his own right.
At the end of his battle with The Hulk, Cain claims the ancient sword that had been given to Hulk by Apocalypse as a reward, intending to turn it in for money in order to get Black Tom the help he needs. He doesn’t knock over a bank or steal or do anything remotely wrong: he has come by an item of great worth honestly, and is going to legally fence it in order to help another. This in and of itself would be a high-enough water-mark for Cain’s character, but on his way to get the sword pawned he runs afoul of Spider-Man.
Having fought before and nearly been beaten to death as a result (in the seminal Spider-Man: Nothing Stops the Juggernaut story), and suffering from vertigo as a (apparent) result of a bite from Morbius the Living Vampire, Spider-Man takes no chances when confronted with Cain, and attacks first. Cain, also having had bad experiences (from his point-of-view) with the super-hero community, also reacts offensively… but less so than Spider-Man. His main goal is to simply, no pun intended, not be stopped. He wants to help his friend, and tries several times to just walk away from Spider-Man, only to find that very hard to do.
In a way, this is the “last temptation” of Cain Marko: for once he is, technically, on the side of right of this particular confrontation: he would be more than justified in defending himself against Spider-Man… and though he does, he does so in a way as to cause Spider-Man as little damage as possible. He is trying to do the right thing, the right way… and eventually the two are able to part ways amicably, with Spider-Man telling Cain that “he hopes his friend gets better,” and Cain responding solemnly: “Yeah, me too.” It is here, for the first time, that we see Cain Marko’s soul.
We next see Cain — albeit very briefly — returning to his role as a nemesis of the X-Men… although the changes that his experiences have left him with have clearly altered his behavior. Still seeking to acquire more cash to help Black Tom, Cain gets the idea to claim (and sell) the X-Mansion, which he believes should not be rightfully (and legally) his following his brother’s incarceration. He attempts to claim it through the use of a lawyer and legal maneuvering. It is only because his appearance interrupts delicate surgery being performed on Cyclops that his actions are in any way villainous.
In fact, as a point, the X-Men are (from a legal standpoint) far more villainous than he is in this X-Men #70 appearance. He is, legally and technically, in the right, and his motives in helping someone he cares about are actually pure. It is the X-Men who choose to ignore what the law might have to say about the property rights of Xavier’s Mansion and act outside the law here.
What’s important here is what this means for Cain, and his place in the drama: he has moved from being a cookie-cutter bad guy always on the side of wrong to being someone who has good drama: in that, good drama is when two forces come into conflict when they could both be said to be right.
All this culminates here: In Cain Marko’s first one-shot solo outing as a protagonist, if not a hero. In this he acts in a good- intentioned (if not drunk) way as he is at first manipulated by and then teams up with Spite, the demon from the Cyttorak dimension who escaped the world inside the gem when he did. he helps her defeat her brother D’Spayre, a Marvel Universe villain that feeds off the emotions of others.
Cain is able to overcome the villain and triumph even though he is worn away to nothing but a skeleton until all that is left is the thing that really makes him unstoppable: his hate and despair at the hand life has dealt him. Using this unlikely source of drive, he takes negative emotions and uses them to fuel himself and channels them into a force for good, something that even his lauded step-brother couldn’t do, eventually leading to the creation of Onslaught. Here Cain’s story comes full circle, even though it is far from being over.