Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Jason Powell on X-Men Annual #9

[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“There’s No Place Like Home”

Continuing from the rousing cliffhanger at the end of the epic New Mutants Special Edition #1, “There’s No Place Like Home” claims – on its gorgeously designed title page – to be an X-Men story “guest-starring the New Mutants.” In fact, it’s the opposite. Storm is a key player in the proceedings, but the rest of the X-Men are the supporting act here; the New Mutants have center stage.

As in part one of the two-part “Home” saga, there’s an incredible sense of sweep and scope to these pages. Claremont, Adams and letterer Orzechowski remain to give the story an aesthetic consistency, but are joined this by a different colorist, Petra Scotese, and a lineup of three inkers that includes Adams himself.

Among the most significant scenes in this issue is, first and foremost, Madelyne’s premonition after the X-Men disappear from Earth. “Oh, Lord,” she says. “Why all of a sudden am I so afraid I’ll never see him ... we’ll never be happy together, ever again?!” It’s dramatic license on Claremont’s part, the author preparing readers for the imminent X-Factor #1, in which Cyclops abandons Madelyne for the newly resurrected Jean Grey. In terms of strict plot logic, there’s no reason Madelyne should somehow sense what’s coming, but her prescience is thematically appropriate for a story set mostly in a land of ancient mythology. The story’s sense of sweep makes the story work in defiance of prosaic logic at any rate, and it is quite dramatic. Meanwhile, Art Adams shrewdly undercuts any potential emotional overkill by including Lockheed in the same panel, a cute little purple dragon wagging his paw in good-bye at the departure of Kitty and the others.

Petra Scotese’s colors aren’t as brilliant (in the less hyperbolic sense of the word) as the work of Christie Scheele in “Home Is Where the Heart Is,” but her palette nonetheless yields some gorgeous visuals, particularly her liberal use of pink in Amara’s fantasy sequence early on. Later, Scotese uses the same shade of pink to color Amara herself, suggesting that she is becoming less and less real.

With so many immensely talented professionals all working at such an unrelentingly creative pitch, the amount of clever details and ingenious moments is too high; an individual cataloguing of each one would become tedious. (Storm takes up the Thor hammer! Warlock becomes the starship Enterprise!)

So let me just point out that X-Men Annual #9 makes one of the best uses of inter-title continuity I’ve experienced as a reader. The story makes several allusions to going-on depicted in contemporaneous issues of Thor, but they are woven in with such economical precision that readers never feel as if they’re missing information, or that only part of the story is contained here. The references are placed just so – just enough information to know why it’s important, never so much that we feel like we have to buy Thor issues to figure it all out.

In terms of the broader scope of Claremont’s X-Men canon, the “Home” two-parter (later collected with X-Men/Alpha Flight in a large, beautifully packaged TPB called “Asgardian Wars”), X-Men Annual #9 is significant mainly for its suggestion – most rigorously espoused by the New Mutants character Sunspot – that perhaps mutants belong on Asgard, where there powers allow them to fit in rather than be outcasts. If the X-Men and New Mutants represent “the other,” than why not relocate to an entire world populated with “others”? Sunspot is, in effect, arguing a separationist philosophy, but not much is really put into the metaphor. Wolverine accuses Bobby of cowardice, and the force of Logan’s personality seems enough to make the younger man re-think his position. Ultimately, there is very little here that contributes in an essential way to the X-Men canon (the repercussions of the story are felt much more deeply in subsequent New Mutants issues).

It really is all about fun. Sure, Bobby’s controversial politics don’t get proper time devoted to them, but it’s still a rousing moment when, only a few pages after having been awed by Wolverine, he answers the question of his and his fellow mutants’ identity with, “We’re Professor Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters – bub! Want to make something of it?!”

Geoff, if the Morrison/McGuiness JLA: Classified comics are your quintessential example of great superhero comics, then this and the New Mutants Special Edition are mine. Action, drama, comedy, pathos -- and the starship Enterprise vs. rock trolls. I could ask for nothing more.


ba said...

as the second half of the asgardian wars (one of my favorite tpbs along with out of the ashes), i love this story just as much as the super size new mutants (i really consider it one long story, actually).

the call back to arkon and the teleport bolts he gave the x-men (back in...annual 3?), nice. great weaving in of a really old plot dangler.

really only one complaint...doesn't dani see death hovering over wolverine? i feel like this was meant to be a future plot point that was dropped, much like the aforementioned forgetting of rachel, and the future hinting of dazzler's death (in ish 240 or so).

but other than that...love this issue, and this plus the mutant massacre is what i consider the beginning of my favorite run of xmen.

ba said...

oh, and google tells me the asgardian wars was made into a computer game...really? any corroboration?

neilshyminsky said...

ba: Dazzler had multiple visions, and as they recurred they became a lot more specific - they would be killed by the Reavers if they returned to Australia. Hence, the escape through the Siege Perilous.

Anonymous said...

ba, Dani's seeing death over Wolverine was addressed at the end of the issue.Hela comes to claim Wolvie's soul but the X-Men fight her off.
Neil, you're confusing two plotlines. In one plot, Dazzler sees visions of her own death. Claremont intended this to lead to Ali's death in issue 247, but Silvestri talked him out of it at the last minute, so the death visions make no sense. In another plot, Gateway shows Betsy visions of the X-Men being killed by the Reavers. It's not clear whether or not the visions are real possible futures but Betsy believes that they are, and violates her teammates' trust by forcing them through the Siege Perilous instead of allowing them to choose for themselves.

ba said...

right, anonymous: something to the effect of an observation that dazzler's ambient light was shifting from yellow to white.

and thx for the clearup on the wolvie foreshadowing...i don't quite remember that from the issue...may have to dig deep into my harddrive to find it and reread.

Anonymous said...

This is the start of a great run of X-Men annuals. 10, 11, and 12 are also great, and three of the four are drawn by Art Adams, with the other one drawn by Alan Davis. Davis also drew two New Mutants annuals during the same period. Great time to be an X-fan.

Gary said...

"Davis also drew two New Mutants annuals during the same period."
New Mutants v. Mojo and New Mutants Annual #3, Warlock v. the Impossible Man, one of the finest, most fun comics ever to see print.

"My Galactus beats your Watcher."
"Does not."
"Does too!"