Saturday, December 22, 2007

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #8, part a (incorporating X-Men #100)

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series click his name on the tool bar on the right. The only thing I want to say about this issue is that the two splash pages are amazing. I feel bad I only got around to appreciating Cockrum after he died. Also, quick question Jason: is this issue the origin on the fastball special?]

“Greater Love Hath No X-Man”

Since it’s the 100th issue, how about a story in which the new X-Men fight the old ones? That seems appropriately milestonish, right? (Except that it’s a meaningless milestone, because this isn’t the 100th new issue of X-Men. The title was in reprints from issues 67 to 93, so this is only the 73rd issue.)

The previous issue’s final splash page featured the five new X-Men facing off against the five original X-Men, but here the five originals have been joined by Havok and Polaris. So it’s not so much the original team as the team as it existed in Neal Adams’ final issue (i.e., Angel is in his Adams-designed costume; Havok and Lorna have just joined, but the Beast hasn’t left yet, nor has he turned blue, furry and less articulate). Including Havok and Polaris as this issue’s villains is not the smartest narrative move on Claremont and Cockrum’s part, because it gets mixed up with the fact that they were the villains a few issues ago in a story wholly unrelated to this one. Colossus even mentions this while fighting Havok. Strikes me as needlessly confusing.

One thing I really disliked about this issue when I first read it in Marvel Masterworks (i.e., not in the expanded “Classic X-Men” version) is a bit in which Storm asks Jean Grey why they have become enemies, when before now they were the best of friends. What of the confidences we have shared?, implores Storm. Jean replies that she’s “never shared a confidence [with Storm]!” This is Storm’s first clue that it’s not the real Jean. Except ... in the original issues, Jean is right: She and Storm never seemed particularly close. The readers are meant to assume that it happened between the pages – which would be fine, except that to make it a point on which the plot turns the first time you bring it up is sloppy. There’s a tender moment at the end of this very same issue between Jean and Ororo that is also supposed to play on the idea that they are close friends, and it’s equally garish in its original presentation.

“Classic X-Men,” however, has fixed this oddity. Reading the stories in “Classic,” people will have already read the marvelous “First Friends” in Classic #2, so this dialogue in issue #8 works. This is why everybody should read “Classic X-Men.” It’s unfortunate that it has become such a rarity, with so many fans neglecting. They don’t know what they’re missing!

As for issue #100, it’s all just old-fashioned superhero fun, with no depth beyond just the enjoyment of seeing Cockrum’s X-Men go up against Neal Adams’ X-Men. This IS fun, and I particularly enjoy the fact that Claremont writes the articulate, “polysyllabic” version of the Beast rather than the then-contemporary version (blue, furry, and prone to exclaiming “Oh my stars and garters”).

There’s a cool climactic bit in which Cyclops beats down Lang, and then he and Jean Grey team up to blow him up. (At least, that’s what happens in X-Men #100. Classic #8 interpolates another few panels to show that in fact the X-Men saved him at the last minute because “X-Men don’t kill,” but then an unexpected explosion causes Lang to die anyway.) The new pages are a little lame this time around, but the original pages by Dave Cockrum are great.

There’s a bizarre moment toward the end, when Cyclops angrily tries to stop Jean from piloting their space shuttle through a solar flare, and calls her a “Little – !” Was he going to say “—bitch”? Then, Wolverine, in love with Jean himself since Classic X-Men #1, tries to talk Jean out of this as well, but Jean is having none of it, and calls Wolverine an “obnoxious little upstart.” I guess Claremont’s point is that everyone is so frightened that they’re all freaking out – but it kind of seems like the X-Men are just really mean to each other.

The story ends with Jean piloting the shuttle into the solar storm. The radiation starts to get through, and both the art and sound effects deliberately recall the origin of the Fantastic Four. It seems such a simple cliffhanger at the time: Jean is going to get new powers from cosmic rays, just like the FF did. End of mystery. But 35 years on down the line, we know that this is actually the cusp of a huge moment in X-Men history.

1 comment:

Jason Powell said...

"Also, quick question Jason: is this issue the origin on the fastball special?]"

By name, yes, I think it must be -- I'm trying to remember, though, whether, Cockrum drew a picture of Colossus throwing Wolverine during the training-montage of issue 94. (It's there in Classic X-Men #2, but I'm thinking this might be a bit of revisionism.)

In any case, good catch on that! And, I agree, that opening double-splash is sweet.

(Okay, I'm using my cousin's computer in the middle of a family gathering. I should really get back to the family-Christmas-merriment.)

Merry Christmas!