Saturday, January 12, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #9, part a (UXM #101)

[This post is part of a series of posts looking issue by issue at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series see the tool bar on the right.]

There’s a story that appeared in Les Daniels’ biography of Marvel Comics. I don’t remember the story’s title, but it was written by Chris Claremont and starred Wolverine, and Daniels said that Claremont referred to it as “Wolverine 101,” because it contained all the basic elements that he felt are required for a successful Wolverine story.

Here, however, we have a LITERAL “X-Men 101,” and as chance would have it, there is quite a lot here that one could argue makes up the quintessence of what an X-Men story – particularly a Claremont X-Men story – should be.

We begin with another splash that super-imposes Jean over the careening shuttle (just as Classic X-Men #8, part b ended), and then a magnificent two-page spread of the shuttle crashing in Jamaica Bay. (X-Men #101 is the finest artistic accomplishment of Cockrum’s first run. It’s filled with fantastic images like this.)

One by one the X-Men’s heads break the surface, and then Jean comes careening out of the lake, once again delivering the “Hear me, X-Men ... Now and forever, I am Phoenix” speech. Like Banshee’s amending “we” to “I” in UXM #98, this is another example of Claremont’s intuitive far-sightedness. For better or worse, Jean really will be Phoenix “now and forever.”

At this point, Classic X-Men #9 gives us some newly interpolated pages to get the X-Men out of Jamaica Bay and into the hospital, where Jean is admitted as a coma patient. In the original comic, X-Men #101, this was partly accomplished by Storm using her powers to somehow change everybody into civilian clothes. Claremont revises that here. Instead, Nightcrawler uses his holographic image inducer to make the X-Men all appear as normal people in civilian clothes. This ends up working out nicely, as the image inducer will continue to play an important role over the next few issues. (Meanwhile, a new page shows Phoenix turning her costume into normal clothes while unconscious – which Scott and Professor X immediately recognize as something that would require an insane amount of power. So, the original bit with Storm REALLY has to be ret-conned out now.)

Cut to: a lot of angst, as the X-Men sit in the hospital waiting room, praying for Jean to recover. This is the first time in the original continuity that we learn that Wolverine is in love with Jean (though X-Men #100 hinted at it).

We get some nice characterization from Cyclops, who up till now had thought that the X-Men were what gave his life meaning. “But they’re not,” he thinks to himself torturedly, “It’s Jean.” Nicely soap-operatic moment. Not long after, a doctor announces that Jean has come out of her coma, and Scott collapses onto a piece of furniture muttering, “Thank God. Thank ... God. Very melodramatic, but I like it. After all, the point is that Scott is deeply and profoundly in love – a state that brings out the melodrama in all of us.

The X-Men’s angry reaction when Professor X sends them on an “enforced vacation,” may be a joke on Claremont and Cockrum’s part: There are many times during the Silver Age X-Men run that Professor X announces a vacation for the students at the beginning of the issue, they’d all get excited and head for various fun-time destinations – and then they’d be called back by Page 6 to fight a villain. Having the new X-Men react negatively to a vacation is a funny inverse on the idea.

There’s a great couple of pages that show the X-Men driving along a country road and then arriving at Banshee’s castle. These are probably my two favorite Cockrum pages in his entire run on the comic book. The full-page splash of the castle in particular is gorgeous.

Nightcrawler does a comedy bit with his image-inducer, using it to make him look like various celebrities in rapid succession. At one point, he makes himself look like Groucho Marx and then makes one of the most abysmal puns that has ever seen print anywhere. That part always makes me cringe.

Claremont officially and prematurely truncates the Colossus/Storm sexual tension in this issue. Nightcrawler makes a joke about it, Storm says, “I enjoy being with BOTH of you ... the three of us will go into dinner together, as equals,” and that’s that. It’s a notable first stab by Claremont at a kind of feminism: He’s happy to pair all the male characters off with ladies, but Storm is an independent woman and therefore doesn’t need a boyfriend. Fair enough, and actually a nice way of bucking tradition. (Peter David has commented that when he first read the early Claremont X-Men issues, he tried to guess which male member of the team Storm would end up with, never suspecting the answer would be “none of them.”)

So – an aircraft crash, Jean Grey proclaiming that she is Phoenix “now and forever,” Scott and Wolverine both experiencing angst over Jean, some fun character interaction that includes some gentle sexual tension, and a tough, vaguely feminist super heroine.

That’s X-Men 101.

1 comment:

Scene said...

phoenix saga is like my favourite comic story ever, but it's before my time -- the only version i know of it is through classic x-men issues i picked up in the back issue bins.

i had no idea there were so many little moments that were retconned or shoehorned into it.

i like these posts very much.