Saturday, April 26, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #24, part b

[This post is part of a series of posts written by Jason Powell looking issue by issue at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series click Jason's name in the toolbar on the right.]


We’re now entering the phase of the title’s history wherein almost every issue inches the series closer to the sublimely climactic nine-part “Dark Phoenix Saga.” Claremont and Bolton’s final “Classic” collaboration gets the ball rolling, with a Jean Grey solo story also featuring Jason Wyngarde, aka Mastermind, one of Lee/Kirby’s original Brotherhood of Mutants from the 1960s.

(Note: The original presentation of the “Dark Phoenix Saga” made Wyngarde’s identity as an old Silver Age villain a surprise reveal, but I prefer that it being laid out explicitly from the very beginning, as it is in “Vacation.” It’s not the greatest surprise, really, because Mastermind was such a lame villain in the earlier comics. Claremont’s change here is an improvement – he makes Mastermind seem much more formidable, right off the bat.)

“Vacation” begins with Jean in Greece, where she quickly hooks up with local charmer Nikos, who is quickly revealed to readers as Mastermind. The ground covered here doesn’t really add anything in terms of plot – Mastermind’s slow seduction of Jean is given ample play in the Byrne/Claremont run as originally presented.

Where this story really triumphs is in its tone, far more sultry and suggestive than anything Claremont and Byrne could’ve gotten away with in 1979/80. Even before things get heated story-wise, John Bolton subtly signals us as to where it’s going with some of the most sensuously beautiful panels he’s produced for “Classic X-Men.” Note simply the greenery surrounding Jean and Nikos on the fourth page; its teeming lushness alone already suggesting the proper frame of mind for the ambrosial romance to follow. As the story progresses, sexuality is infused into other aspects of the story as well – particularly Jean herself: her wardrobe, her expressions, her body language. Bolton’s skill here is phenomenal.

Claremont’s ornately lavish language is once again perfectly in sync with Bolton’s images. Over a panel in which Jean – outfitted in a toga-like dress – dances with Nikos, the narration reads, “The music strikes a resonant chord in her blood. The strong drink of the islands ignites that blood. And Nikos’ touch fans the flames white-hot.” As should happen in any great comic book story, the words and images here are playing off each other perfectly, winding the sexual energy tighter and tighter, and priming it to explode.

However, since “Vacation” – for all its sultry subtext – is still a code-approved comic, so the climactic explosion must happen in relatively tame iconography: Bolton simply gives us a panel of the Phoenix bird erupting behind Jean (though it is punctuated by a powerfully emphasized “Oh, YES!” in her dialogue). The moment of release, then, is not nearly as persuasive as the coiled sexual tension that preceded it, but then, this story is meant as something of a prologue. Claremont may have deliberately left us wanting more.

So, the Claremont/Bolton series ends with a bang. Bolton will draw nearly another dozen backup stories for “Classic X-Men,” but Ann Nocenti (having just stepped down as editor of the series to make way for Bob Harras) will take over the writing of them. They will not be covered in this series.

For the record, there are four more Claremont-penned backups to be covered: they will appear in Classic X-Men #29, 41, 42 and 43. None are illustrated by John Bolton unfortunately, but all four will be covered at the appropriate points in this blog series.


Anonymous said...

As hinted in that What If story you mentioned to me (co-plotted by CC) - i think Mastermind is influenced by the Shadow King here. Or at least that was CC's original plan.

John V

Anonymous said...

Another disturbing element here (done in a subtle and respectfull way) is that Mastermind essentially rapes Jean. He seduces her via his illusions and psychic powers and it is implied they have sex.

John V