Saturday, December 01, 2007

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #6a (incorporating X-Men #98)

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's Classic X-Men. For more in this series, see the link on the right toolbar. I make a brief comment at the end]

Claremont Appreciation, Post Eleven

"Merry Christmas, X-Men, the Sentinels Have Returned”

A lot of X-Men #98 is an homage to Neal Adams’ Sentinel story in X-Men #s 57-59. This is implicit on the second title page, when a large dialogue balloon spoken by a Sentinel announces “The Sentinels Have Returned!”, which doubles as part of the story’s title. This is the identical trick used in X-Men #57, in the opening sequence with Lorna Dane. More callbacks to Adams’ arc will occur over the course of the next couple issues.

There’s also a tip of the hat here to the X-Men’s creators. In an early scene set in a restaurant, Scott and Jean share a passionate kiss. A couple of extras named “Stan” and “Jack” look upon this ribald display with disapproval, saying that Scott and Jean “never did that when WE had the book.” It’s not particularly funny, but it is perhaps a necessary tip of the hat. Consider that back in the ‘60s, there was only one Lee-Kirby X-Men story that was long enough to comprise three parts rather than only two or one: It was the first Sentinel story, in issues 14-17. Later, although Adams and Thomas’ run was somewhat fluid, you could still break it into rough arcs, and again, the only three-part arc in the run is their Sentinels trilogy. Now, Claremont is doing his first three-part story (it begins here and climaxes in X-Men 100), and it is about the Sentinels. By opening his story with a light-hearted Lee-Kirby homage, while the larger structure of the arc unabashedly echoes Adams and Thomas, whose work on X-Men looms so much larger, Claremont is tacitly acknowledging the chain of influence: Lee and Kirby inspired Adams (who once said in an interview, “I love the Sentinels, they were one of Jack Kirby's greatest creations: unthinking, mindless robots who could beat the sh*t out of anybody and just want to kill mutants; they were such a solid concept”). Adams in turn inspired Claremont (who said in an interview that as a reader, he never liked the X-Men much until Adams started drawing it). While acknowledging the debt, Claremont also uses this as a way of pointing out how the book has evolved over the course of time marked by these various “Sentinel” checkpoints: Lee and Kirby explicitly point out that Jean and Scott’s relationship has matured since their tenure, and only a couple pages later Jean Grey points out that she is more powerful than she was the last time they fought the Sentinels, “back in 1969” (when Adams drew the comic). (Classic X-Men #6 unfortunately dilutes the effect somewhat, changing “back in 1969” to the less specific “years ago” as a concession to the Marvel Universe’s sliding timescale.)

Merry Christmas, X-Men” is the first appearance of Amanda Sefton, Nightcrawler’s romantic interest. There is nothing remarkable about her here (she seems to have been conceived originally just to be a romantic foil to one of the leads), but an added page, unique the Classic #6, teases at the back-story that Claremont will eventually give the character. There’s a clever irony if you know in advance how this will play out: Uncanny X-Men Annual #4 will reveal that “Amanda” is the false identity of Jamaine, a witch who has known Nightcrawler since they were both children, and who is hiding her true appearance behind a glamour. Kurt, meanwhile, is covering his true appearance with his “image-inducer.” In the newly interpolated page, Nightcrawler finds himself wondering what Amanda would do if she knew what he really looks like, thinking, “We’ve only just met, why should I care so much?” Amanda’s thoughts then reveal that she already knows who Kurt is behind his false face. So – he can’t see through her mask, but she has seen through his immediately. This is a quintessentially Claremontian touch: that the female in the relationship has an advantage over the male.

And in this issue ... more revelations about Wolverine (spoiler warning): His claws are a part of HIM, not his gloves! Banshee’s reaction is some kind of brilliant: “They’re a part of you!” he says. “We – I – didn’t know!” Having Banshee amend the “we” to “I” was a pretty amazing bit of foresight on Claremont’s part, as if he just knew that, years later, many writers – including Claremont himself – would want to write “untold tales” featuring Wolverine using his claws, sans gloves, in front of other X-Men who aren’t Banshee. (Examples we’ve already seen in the present study: Jean, Storm and Angel all see bare-handed claws in Classic X-Men #1, and Nightcrawler sees them in “The Big Dare” in Classic #4). Joss Whedon would eventually take this impulse to its inevitable terminus, in an “untold tale” set between the panels of Giant-Sized X-Men #1, wherein a gloveless Wolverine uses his claws in front of every single team member except Banshee.

[One thing that struck me reading this issue -- I am trying to keep up with Jason's posts -- was that there is this big moment when they learn of the sentinel base that it's "not on earth at all." Anyone remember virtually the same line, in the same context served as the issue break for one of Morrison's Assault on Weapon Plus -- Weapon XV flies off and Cyclops, Wolverine and Fantomex realize that the reason they have never been able to find the sentinel base on earth is that it is not on earth at all? Claremont's next plot after this sentinel thing is the Phoenix. Morrison's next plot after the sentinel thing is the Phoenix. Huh. I am not quite sure I want to call that a failure to transcend your influences -- I love Assault on Weapon Plus. But Claremont is really deep in Morrison's head at this point.]


Patrick said...

The thing I like about this issue is the glimpse of the X-Men going about their daily lives. It's those downtime moments that are frequently the most memorable in Claremont's run. The rest of the issue is ok, necessary setup for what will soon become the Phoenix storyline.

Streebo said...

Thanks for putting up that spoiler warning about wolverine's claws. Got a good LOL on that.

Jason Powell said...

Yeah, "They're not on the earth at all!" seems to be an iconic X-Men line, much like "You've taken your best shot -- now it's my turn!" Favorite X-hack Scott Lobdell also used it as the cliffhanger line halfway through the egregious "X-Cutioner's Song." I should've mentioned the line in my review, I suppose -- thanks, Geoff, for pointing it out!

"It's those downtime moments that are frequently the most memorable in Claremont's run. "
***Good point, Patrick. I'm planning on addressing that a bit when I get up to X-Men #110, the first baseball issue.

Streebo, glad to hear it!