Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #14, part b

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

“What Stuff Our Dreams Are Made Of ...”

The a-side of this issue finally gave us Lilandra’s origin. Unsurprisingly. Claremont again tied it to a Neal Adams issue – this time, Uncanny #65, wherein Xavier harnesses the brain-power of Earth’s entire population to drive off the alien invaders known as the Z’nox. Uncanny #107 explains that this burst of mind-power hit Lilandra, forging a mental rapport between her and him. He experienced it as nightmares, as shown in several issues of Uncanny beginning with #97. The b-side of Classic X-Men #14 is set in the past, and shows us how Lilandra first experienced that first connection.

Despite these Claremont/Bolton backups always running only 11 to 12 pages in length, each is surprisingly dense with incident, often broken into three complete acts. The present story’s first act is terse little sci-fi space opera, with Bolton having lots of fun playing with Cockrum’s brilliant spaceship designs (as seen on that great two-page spread at the beginning of Uncanny #97). Bolton’s realistic approach to comic book art, as applied here both to Cockrum’s tech designs and Cockrum’s design of Lilandra (with her broad, black, bird-feather hairdo, knee-high boots and one-piece swimsuit) reminds me a bit of Alex Ross’ painterly take on the work of Jack Kirby and other Sivler Age artists in Marvel. The realism manages to be striking in its own right while, at least for me, also making me that much more appreciative of Cockrum’s talent – for design in particular. The sum total makes for four pages of pure, joyous space opera, starring a surprisingly sexy Lilandra. (I’ll argue with anyone that the story’s opening splash page of Lilandra on Page 1 trumps Quitely’s Lilandra cover for “New X-Men.”)

The second act begins on Page 5, in a text-heavy portrayal of Lilandra’s mind reacting to the wave of psychic energy from Xavier. Claremont’s narration, reliant as usual on fairly classical rhetorical tricks, flows well. “Her mind --” he writes, “-- trained to repel the slightest psychic invasion – and her spirit, which since birth has reveled in its defiant, inviolable solitude, untouched and untouchable ... do not resist this alien intruder ... but – to her horror, to her joy – welcome him.” The horror/joy parallelism is nicely evocative.

Claremont then manages a clever trick for getting exposition across that I don’t think I’ve seen used, at least not often: Lilandra becomes confused by the influx of Xavier’s thoughts, so in an attempt to separate her thoughts from his, she begins to recite various facts about herself, her family, the Shi’ar ... all helpful info for the reader. We learn that Shi’ar are of avian descent rather than simian, so her ancestors can fly, and that she has a sister who is “an avatism – a genetic throwback – and fiercely proud of it.” (This is Deathbird, a birdlike villainess who first appeared in the Claremont-written Ms. Marvel series, at almost the exact same time that Uncanny #107 was published. Deathbird would go on to appear in Uncanny #155, wherein her relation to Lilandra is a key plot point.)

When Lilanrda finally figures out that a bond has been formed between her and a man who is “not only alien, but from some fringeworld,” there’s a nice moment in which she forces herself to ignore the urge to head to Earth. That rebellion against her brother the emperor isn’t going to lead itself, after all. It’s only when she recognizes that the rest of her rebellion has already been quashed – ironically, while she was dealing with the psychic assault from Xavier – that she strikes upon the idea to come to Earth for the X-Men’s help. That’s a neat twist on what readers were led to expect, given the flashback from the a-side.

In the final few panels, wherein Lilandra blasts off towards Earth, Claremont engages in some whimsical imagery that he must have fought to resist using anywhere on the previous eleven pages. It occurs to Lilandra that when she reaches her destination, she might learn that Xavier doesn’t feel the affinity for her that she feels for him ... and that’s if she finds him at all. Of course, we readers know that he does and she will. But how does Lilandra handle those doubts? “Take the wind as it comes,” she tells herself. “Trust there’ll be a perch to land on when it’s needed. In the meantime, I’ve a long way to fly.” A liberal deployment of optimistic bird-imagery would’ve seemed trite if introduced a second earlier, but Claremont saves it right to the end, rhetorically energizing these closing panels. The emotional effect is downright effervescent.


Matthew J. Brady said...

You know what these reviews need? Images! Yes, every blogger should be more like me. But seriously, reading this made me really want to see the pages you were talking about.

As for the comparison between Bolton's and Quitely's Lilandra portraits (Quitely's can be seen here), as much as I like Quitely, his depictions of women often leave much to be desired. Also, his art is often best when depiction motion and action, rather than static poses, so I don't think covers like that are his strong suit. So I have no trouble believing that Bolton's depiction is better. Now I just need to find it online somewhere...

Anonymous said...

Just thought I'd say that I'm really enjoying this series. So much so, in fact, that I've recently set about completing my run of "Classic X-Men" issues. The back-ups are absolutely wonderful and often rank amongst Claremont's best work. Thanks for reminding me!

Jason Powell said...

Matt -- I agree with you. Your blog rules, and you always pick great images to really whet the readers' appetites for the material. Sadly, however, while my dad has a scanner, I have no idea how to use the dang thing.

Anonymous -- Mom, is that you? :) (The other month my local store had a big three-for-a-dollar sale, and in the bins were, from what I could tell while skimming, every single issue of Classic X-Men. I could've bought duplicates of the entire Bolton run for about twelve bucks. I kind of regret not doing so... )

Jason Powell said...

Matt --




Not the exact images I refer to, but they are all from the same story. (That third link has a great example of John Bolton's take on Dave Cockrum's bug-like design for the Shi'ar ships).

Matthew J. Brady said...

Yes, scanners can be tricky pieces of equipment. ;-) Thanks for the image links though. Man, John Bolton is a really good artist.

Oh, and thanks for the flattery. It's good to hear someone say that I "rule". Now if only I can coax someone into asserting that I also "rock"...