Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #10, part b

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's Classic X-Men. For more in this series click the link on the right toolbar under "Guest Bloggers".]

"Tag, Sucker”

"Tag, Sucker” is set somewhere at an indeterminate point in between the X-Men’s earliest adventures. I’ve come to think of it as the final in a four-part set of character sketches focusing on the four pillars of Claremont’s original “new” X-Men cast. Storm was the focus of Classic X-Men #2b, Nightcrawler of 4b, Colossus of 5b, and now Wolverine takes center stage here. Each one of these stories gets quickly and directly to the core of what each character was originally all about, in elegantly simple terms. The premise behind “Tag, Sucker!” is that when Wolverine returned to the States as an X-Man, he inadvertently got the attention of an old nemesis, called Sabretooth. We never see Sabretooth in this story (well, except his hands), but he plays a game of cat-and-mouse with Logan and wins, ultimately tearing out Wolverine’s throat and leaving him for dead. Logan survives thanks to his healing factor, a little shaken and a little humbled.

That’s the plot, very much “Wolverine 101” in terms of structure. Some of Claremont’s technique here has come to be thought of as clichés when it comes to this character – most particularly the tough, brooding first-person narration that always manages include an expositional laundry list of Wolverine’s various and sundry abilities and powers. Still, it’s a good lesson in how to write the character properly, and indeed, the art of writing a good Wolverine story seems to be lost, if things like “Origin” and especially the more recent material involving characters like Romulus and Lazarus, etc., are any indication.

There is a temporal contradiction in Wolverine, made explicit in “Tag, Sucker.” Wolverine is more animal than man, a savage more at home in the wilderness than among civilization. However, he also has a skeleton lined with adamantium and three razor sharp claws that extend from each hand, making him (to quote the present story) “some fancy sci-fi piece of work.” The use of “sci-fi” is reminiscent of what Geoff wrote about Batman in “JLA: Classified”: “He identifies all the crazy gear he has as ‘science FICTION’ gear even though, for him, it is real.” In Wolverine’s case, his reference to his own technological enhancements as “sci-fi” is derisive, because his inclination is in the other direction – more rooted in the values of the past, rather than the “sci-fi” future; away from technology, not toward it.

Wolverine’s hatred of civilization, particularly of cities—with their noise, pollution, etc. – is intrinsic to his own character but also important in the context of the other members of the cast. Classic X-Men #5’s “Prison of the Heart” pointed out that Colossus feels more at home among the wide expanses of his collective farm in Russia (where he knew all “1,237 souls” by name) than in the crowded city. And in “First Friends” in issue #2, Storm’s thought balloons discuss how ill at ease she feels soaring in a sky where there are huge, claustrophobic buildings that block out the sun and cut their residents off from mother nature. It’s an interesting thematic element for Claremont to bring in, positioning three of the pillars of this X-Men cast as being incompatible with their environment.

Nightcrawler, curiously, is the only one who seems more at home in a modern city than he was in his old home (a kind of generically, stereotypically Bavarian community, as shown in Giant-Sized X-Men #1). It’s fitting perhaps that the “ugliest” of the new X-Men is the one who is most comfortable with his surroundings.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jason:

"Nightcrawler, curiously, is the only one who seems more at home in a modern city than he was in his old home [...]"

I've taken a look at Classic X-Men #1 and it doesn't seem like the drolly named "Winzelsdorf" can be called Nightcrawler's home. From what is mentioned in that issue, Nightcrawler left his "Jahrmarkt" (translation: side show?) and *tried* to find a place to live but from the townies' reaction it's unlikeley he managed to be left alone in Winzelsdorf for very long.

BTW, am I mistaken to argue that Marvel's copy reading for any foreign language, be it French, German, etc., isn't quite, let's say, meticulous? More often than not there are mistakes, almost to the point where you believe this is some kind of inside joke. An example in Classic X-Men #2: In the Danger Room, Collosus is squashed against the wall by a monstrous contraption and Nightcrawler comes running for help with "Ach Du Leiber!" instead of "Ach Du Lieber!" ("Oh, my dear!")

Addendum: I should have looked the usual sources first, namey Wikipedia :-)

...it says that Nightcrawler was only for two days in Winzelsdorf.

FrF

Jason Powell said...

FrF, of course, you're correct, thank you. I just last night re-read X-Men Annual #4, which expands a bit on what Nightcrawler was up to in the days leading up to when we saw him Giant-Size #1.

I'm not sure Claremont ever made explicit reference to where Nightcrawler lived (other than "in a circus") before coming to Winzelsdorf, though other writers may have.

(Please tell me, what is droll about the name "Winzelsdorf"?)

As to the second point, you are probably right. Speaking as a copy editor myself, we do have a terrible habit of getting a little huffy about writers who force us to deal with foreign words, throwing up our hands and saying "Well, I'm just gonna have to trust you on this -- I'm an *English* major, not an *other-languages* major, okay?"

Anonymous said...

Jason:

"Please tell me, what is droll about the name "Winzelsdorf"?"

"Winz" does remind me of "winzig" (tiny) and "Dorf" means "village", so Claremont is talking about a "tiny village". Admittedly, this doesn't sound funny in English but I wager that most German speakers would get a smile out of "Winzelsdorf".

This reminds me of another funny German name in a Marvel comic - Marvel Team-Up No. 36 from August 1975. This issue's villain is "Baron Ludwig von Shtupf". Wait, that isn't all! The following conversation ensues when the laser-stunned Spider-Man, having just awakened, finds himself tied alongside...the poor Monster of Frankenstein. Von Shtupf obviously isn't up to no good with them.

_____

Von Shtupf (enters): Many inmates of mental institutions do not deserve incarceration. Yet quite frequently a harsh and imbecilic world punishers those who would be different...by naming them insane.

Spider-Man: Don't tell me you're the local mad scientist.

Von Shtupf: Your humor fails to impress me, Spider-Man.

As for my identity, I am indeed a scientist!

My name is Baron Ludwig von Shtupf --

[I had to laugh at this point.]

-- but you may call me the Monster Maker! Almost everyone does, you know!

Spider-Man: Buddy -- what I'd like to call you --

[He delivers a "crushing blow" to von Shtupf.]

-- couldn't be printed!

[I had to laugh again, but not because of the routine fight that now begins.]
_____

Marvel Team-Up 36 & No. 37 (Man-Wolf joins Spider-Man and Frankenstein in the latter issue) is a nice two-fer with a melancholic ending.

FrF

Jason Powell said...

Frf, so "Winzelsdorf" is kind of like the German equivalent of "Smallville"? :)

In the interest of proper credit, it's probably Len Wein who came up with Winzelsdorf, in Giant-Sized X-Men #1, not Claremont.

Funny about the"Von Shtupf" stuff. For some reason, it's making me flash on Carl Reiner's character in "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid."

Anonymous said...

"So "Winzelsdorf" is kind of like the German equivalent of "Smallville"?"

I hadn't thought about this connection but you could say so :-)

From what we see of Winzelsdorf, Smallville is -- with all the caveats small town life may merit -- an infinitely nicer place, though!

FrF

Anonymous said...

rereading the old Sabretoth appearances - there are quite a few hints that he is Wolvie's father.

For instance - he stalks Wolvie on his birthday (as revealed in Wolverine #10) - how would he know when that was..easy..he was there! Clever on CC's part (was it stated this issue that it is Wolvie bday as well? or was that only in Wolverine 10?)

John V

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this blog! Claremont was the first writer I made an effort to collect. I just wish I'd caught caught it when originally written.

Sabertooth being his father and trying to kill him every year on his birthday was one of my favorite Wolverine subplots before Marvel started tacking on all the memory implant bullshit. Don't have the issue on hand and can't remember if its actually stated but its definitely implied that it's his birthday. That's why he goes off on his own.

Derek E