Saturday, October 27, 2007

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #3b

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men run. For more of the same click Jason's name in the right toolbar.]


Colorist Glynis Oliver is one of the unsung heroes of the X-Men, having colored almost every issue of the book for almost the entirety of Claremon'ts run. The coloring on the opening page of "Mourning" is particularly gorgeous - arguably her best single page in the entire "X" canon.

"Mourning" takes place chronologically very soon after Uncanny X-Men #95 (the "a" story in Classic #3), as the X-Men bring John "Thunderbird" Proudstar's body back to New Mexico for burial. The opening sequence, with Proudstar's body being stolen, teases at this being a mystery/action story, but Claremont subverts expectations right away. The reader learns immediately who stole the body, and instead this turns out to be another character piece, with each member of the X-Men reflecting - often via flashback - on their brief relationship with Thunderbird. Thus Claremont and Bolton add some genuine tragic weight (retroactively) to his death, while simultaneously offering insights into the psychology of the rest of the cast.

Bolton's best panel in the story is the image of John Proudstar's parents. Bolton etches an incredible amount of character into their single appearance here, and the father's line to Professor X -- "You took our firstborn son from us, and brought him home. You've ... done enough." - is devastating. It's the only time in the Claremont run that we ever see John Proudstar's parents, but it's all we ever need to see. Beautiful.

At the end, Claremont also gives us a thoughtful Wolverine, a long time before we ever saw this version of Logan in the original run. Wolverine's internal monologue when he realizes that Proudstar had been a soldier is excellent:

"You lied about your age. Went off to war, way before your proper time ... and something happened. Don't matter what. But it cut the heart out of your life. Too bad. ... You wear a man's boots, shoulder a man's responsibilities - you take the consequences. It's a lesson all the X-Men better take to heart - real flamin' quick."

Wolverine's line that it "don't matter what" destroyed Proudstar is fascinating, and oddly enough it could apply to the Claremont/Bolton backups in general, in that you don't have to read the old stories to which they're tied in order for them to be effective. This is certainly true of "Mourning" in particular. The tragedy of Proudstar's death is what's important here; the story works perfectly well, if not better, if one doesn't know HOW John died. (The name "Count Nefaria" is never uttered throughout "Mourning" - to do so would be counterproductive to the tone of the piece.) What's striking and significant is the parallelism that Claremont sets up: It was a violent war that somehow damaged Proudstar's soul, and it was another violent conflict that ultimately took Thunderbird to his peace.

It's also nice that Logan stays in character during his monologue - he's obviously got sympathy for John, but only to a point. This is dead-on Wolverine characterization. Contrast his "you take the consequences" line with an earlier, much more sympathetic musing earlier by Nightcrawler, in which he reflects on how obvious it was that John was in pain from the moment he joined the team. "I thought time would work things out for him," Kurt says. "The sad thing is, maybe I was right."

From the beautifully colored opening page to Wolverine's closing ruminations, this is pretty much a perfect story. But Claremont makes a misstep in the final few panels, in which John Proudstar's younger brother, James, swears revenge on Xavier. James' B-movie monologue is jarring when placed after the somber and reflective 11 pages that preceded it, and while it's not enough to derail "Mourning" entirely it constitutes an unfortunate swerve back into Silver Age corniness, which the bulk of the story had studiously avoided.

1 comment:

Geoff Klock said...

Though I do not have access to the backups I will be reading Claremont's issues of Uncanny X-Men (I have the DVD rom) with Jason Powell, and I plan to take a more active role in future posts.

Let me add that the internet is out at my house -- the blog will be updated as usual, but I will be less active in the comments.