Saturday, January 19, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #10, part a (UXM #102)

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right.]

Grant Morrison, in one of his tortured “comics are like pop music” analogies (which would be fine if he spoke more intelligently about music), has commented that when he wrote X-Men, he felt inclined to play certain “riffs,” which to him meant bringing in material from the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne era: Sentinels, Phoenix, dystopian futures, the Shi’ar. Morrison also suggested that he was the “Jimi Hendrix” of those riffs. I’m not sure about that part, but his point – that every new writer on X-Men has to keep things fresh by adding some new kind of distortion to the familiar riffs – is well taken. In these earliest, Claremont comics, that is exactly what’s happening. He and Cockrum are playing the familiar X-Men riffs (first Sentinels, now the Juggernaut), with the twist being – simply enough – the new protagonists. Note that Claremont here has deliberately kept the remaining Silver Age X-Men – Charles, Scott and Jean – at home so that only the five new X-Men fight the Juggernaut in the present story.

Another twist on the riff is that Juggernaut, Charles Xavier’s stepbrother, has teamed up with Black Tom Cassidy, Sean’s cousin. How did these two link up? It’s not explained in this story, or in any other that I’ve ever read. It’s not just an alliance of convenience, either. At the end of X-Men #103, Juggernaut claims that Black Tom is his “best friend.” Is it just coincidence that two relatives of X-Men members happened to befriend each other?

We also learn Storm’s origin here. She is actually the daughter of an “African princess” and an American journalist named Munroe. So, Ororo’s full name is technically “Ororo Munroe,” which is odd enough on the ears that it will only be spoken about three times in the next 17 years of Claremont X-Men comics. We also learn exactly what happened to make Storm a claustrophobe. Previous stories (specifically Classic X-Men #2b and #4a) told us she was buried alive with her parents, but here we learn more details. Her family was living in Cairo, Egypt when an air-strike buried them. Ororo dug her way out, and was later taken in and trained in the fine arts of begging, thievery and lock-picking by an Egyptian Fagin called “Achmad.” Upon reaching adulthood, she headed to Africa, which she intuitively recognized as her mother’s homeland. A new page unique to Classic X-Men #10 fills in a blank left by the X-Men #102 origin – specifically, when did she learn about her elemental powers? Answer: Eventually. And eventually after that, some local tribes learned of her abilities and entreated her, as though she were a goddess, to help end a drought. She was happy to, and thus we learn how she got to where she was when we first saw her in Giant-Sized #1.

Classic X-Men #10 makes another alteration to the origin. I’ll quote Paul O’Brien for the explanation:

“[In X-Men #102], her parents were killed, 
and she developed claustrophobia, when Cairo was bombed during the Suez 
Crisis. ... When 
that story was reprinted in CLASSIC X-MEN, they deleted all the 
references to the Suez Crisis - but didn't replace them with anything else. There was just a generic airstrike. Apparently people just go 
around bombing Cairo in the Marvel Universe.” 

Paul O’Brien is funny.

There’s also a scene in which Jean tells her visiting roommate Misty Knight that she died and then brought herself back to life. This originally was a fairly oblique reference on her part, and the conversation was never followed up on in any subsequent issues of either X-Men or Iron Fist. Happily, Classic X-Men fixes this too. For one thing, the story told in Classic X-Men #8b has already shown us Jean dying and then being resurrected. Claremont and Bolton’s backup in Classic X-Men #13 will feature Misty following up on Jean’s cryptic reference here.

One final odd thing: John Byrne claims that at this point during Claremont’s run, Claremont had not read any X-Men issues except the Neal Adams ones. But Juggernaut didn’t appear in any of those. So is Claremont just winging it here with his characterization? If so, he’s pretty much spot on – particularly in the moment when Juggernaut says condescendingly to the X-Men, “I – Am – A – Juggernaut!” This is a straight-up reference to the original Lee/Kirby Juggernaut story, when he says “I – Am – The – Juggernaut!” (Yes, the hyphens appear in both instances.) Claremont had to have been familiar with the Silver Age dialogue, or else he included his homage at the behest of an editor (or Cockrum). No way is that duplicated dialogue coincidence.

[Just two things from me:

1. You are being very polite here on the subject of Black Tom and Juggernaut, but let me ask the question -- are we supposed to read the relationship as homosexual, here or in later comics? Is that why there is never an explanation of how the two teamed up, because you can only imply, but never discuss, such a thing in X-Men comics in the 70s?

2. Storm's father says in this issue "I knew Storm was special from the moment of her conception." Is this a normal expression that I am over-thinking? Because it strikes me as a deeply weird thing to say, as it is very close to "I knew Storm was special from the moment after I had sex with her mom," and also because the "moment of conception" is a moment reconstructed after the fact -- you don't know when it is, you only know when it was -- so you cannot really know something about a child from the moment of conception.]


Matthew J. Brady said...

The fun part of this arc is when the X-Men team up with some leprechauns. Hey, they're in Ireland, so there have gotta be little green men, right?

I've never heard Juggernaut and Black Tom discussed as gay, but I might have just missed that conversation. Huh, I should look back at my Essentials and see if I can read anything into them.

Geoff, on your second point, you might be overthinking the expression, but I don't think it's normal. It's a pretty dumb thing to say, but it is kind of Claremontian dialogue. I'm sure we could look through these issues and come up with plenty of examples of that sort of thing.

Fnord Serious said...

While there does seem to be a strong emotional attachment to Black Tom on the part of the Juggernaut, I read it as a father figure/lost child dynamic more than as a sexual one.

Anonymous said...

Three or four years later, they're using Siryn to pull off heists. In San Francisco.Hmm..."Theresa lives with Tom and Cain"?


Jason Powell said...

Fnord Serious probably has the closer idea -- the Silver Age origin of Juggernaut shows that 1) Cain's father was an ass and 2) Cain always felt inferior to Xavier. That is probably the void that Black Tom is filling. Although Anonymous' point about the pair's relocation to San Francisco is hilarious!

Unfortunately we don't get any more clues because Claremont stops using Black Tom after said San Francisco arc. Dialogue makes explicit that Juggernaut and Tom are still "partners" whenever Juggernaut shows up, but we never see Tom. Not sure what that suggests ...

Re: point two. First off, the line "I knew Ororo was special from the moment of her conception" is said by her mother, not her father. It'ss always struck me as a bizarre line; I have always read it literally: She had some kind of epiphany-type moment while she was having sex with her husband. It is over the top, Claremontian dialogue, to be sure, though I view it more charitably than the esteemed Mr. Brady. I think Claremont knew the line would strike people oddly and that it was deliberate. There was something extra-normal about Storm's conception.

In a couple of stories further down the track -- the "Magik" miniseries circa 1983 and the "LifeDeath" stories circa 1985, for example -- Claremont will flirt a bit with the notion that there is something about Storm beyond her mutation, something based more in magic than in (psuedo-)science, and N'Dare's line here might be viewed as a very early seed of that notion.

Matthew J. Brady said...

Jason: The line actually seems a bit less dumb when spoken by her mother. You know, women's intuition and all that. ;-) And I should clarify that while Claremont's dialogue amuses me, I don't hate it or anything. It's just his style, with plenty of baroque phrases and what not. "Focused totality of my psychic power", and stuff like that. It's what makes Claremont Claremont.

Jason Powell said...

"The line actually seems a bit less dumb when spoken by her mother. You know, women's intuition and all that. ;-)"

It does, doesn't it?!?! But are a couple of sexists, for thinking that?

GillBill said...

There is an old Issue of X Factor, or X force or one of the X Books that deals with the whole Sean,Theresa,Black Tom back history. In that issue we learn directly from Cain that he and Tom first met in prison after Sean (working for Intrepol) busted up Tom's criminal empire.
Even at that late date Cain is still devoted to Tom, referring to him as "The Best Friend I ever had." and will only assist in his capture in order to save his (Tom's) Life from a mutagenic drug that is killing him.
Cain even makes the statement
"You guys take him and fix him, I can always bust him out later."

This is a friendship that runs pretty

wwk5d said...

I never saw it as 'gay'...they were just close friends. Black Tom did have a thing for Siryn's mother, though she ended up choosing Banshee.

Anonymous said...

It's not "women's intuition" that makes the line more plausible. Conception doesn't happen instantaneously; it can be hours or even a day or two later. By the time Ororo was conceived, her father may have been across town. Of oourse it makes more sense, whether pseudo-science or magic, for the person whose body it's happening in to notice something special going on.