Saturday, March 22, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #19, part a (incorporating UXM #113)

[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.]

“Showdown”

Claremont wrestles with the same problem that Silver Age X-Men writers seem to have had trouble with: What to do with Professor X. He’s such a powerful character, writers were constantly trying to find reasons why he couldn’t just save the day in every story with his telepathy. Stan Lee alternately ignored the problem, or shunted Professor X to another country, or used villains like the Sentinels, Juggernaut and Magneto, who were immune – or very resistant – to Charles’ powers. Roy Thomas eventually killed Professor X, erasing the problem until the character’s resurrection. In his first few issues, Claremont first gave us the “nightmare” plotline, saying it was debilitating Charles. With that story done, we come to the solution seen here: Charles can’t help the X-Men now because he is on vacation with Lilandra. Meanwhile, Magneto is “subtly altering the magnetic field of the earth -- generating an impenetrable wall of psychic static to inhibit any and all long-range telepathic broadcasts.” A few issues from now, there will be an even more extreme (but creative) contrivance: have Professor X go to space.

As mentioned in the previous series, this is the conventional second half to a conventional two-parter. The X-Men rally and work as a team, and take Magneto down. There is a twist at the end. Claremont is very fond of a simple-but-almost-always-effective writing trick: Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. In this case, there is a well-set-up twist: It was established last issue that Magneto’s headquarters was beneath a live volcano – the lava kept out by “a bubble of magnetic force.” So when the X-Men start trashing Magneto and his fortress, the inevitable occurs – the bubble pops, and lava starts pouring in on all sides.

Magneto escapes easily, but the eight X-Men are left in dire straights. Phoenix and Beast are separated from the rest of the team, and are seemingly the only two to escape. After such a conventional story structure up to this point, this twist at the very end is a fantastic narrative sucker-punch.

Byrne/Austin Awesome Panel Watch: The nine-panel grid in which Storm snaps her head-peace off, then uses her tongue to grab one of the lock-picks concealed in it. This is another nice narrative turn, again well set-up in the origin of Storm told in Uncanny #102.

Byrne/Austin Awesome Panel Watch #2: When Magneto is blasted from four sides by Storm’s lightning, Scott’s optic blast, Jean’s telekinesis and Banshee’s sonic scream. The four distinct beams come from four vectors, putting Magneto at the center of a makeshift letter “X.” Brilliant.

The interpolated pages unique to Classic X-Men #19a are illustrated by Keiron Dwyer, and include a long interlude featuring Magneto alone on Asteroid M. The pages, unsurprisingly, layer in Claremont’s latter-day interpretation of Magneto (hence, a reference to Auschwitz, and to his dead daughter, Anya). The introspective tone of the pages work as a nice counterpoint to the Byrne/Austin action-extravaganza, but Claremont goes too far with one of the details: a narrative caption says, “[Magneto] numbers some of the finest minds on earth among his acquaintances,” and Dwyer shows a panel of a letter Magneto is writing to Stephen Hawking! I like the implication that Magneto is a genius on Hawking’s level – but are we to understand that Hawking is corresponding with a known terrorist? And doesn’t Magneto, at this point in his history anyway, despise all humans, even really intelligent ones? I have to smile at the audaciousness of the idea, but in terms of internal logic, that detail doesn’t quite work.

11 comments:

Patrick said...

Hawking must be a stand-in for his estranged wheelchair bound, mentally powerful friend, Xavier. Though I'd agree that doesn't make much sense.

neilshyminsky said...

I was out of town and missed the 'my first issue...' stuff, so I hope Jason won't mind if i temporarily hijack the thread.

The very first comic book i can remember reading (though, given my age, it was probably more like 'looking at in awe') was UXM #202 (1986). I had an incredibly vivid memory of the cover, and found it when i was scanning through uncannyxmen.net's cover archive years ago - i was amazed at just how accurate my recall was.

The first comic i can specifically recall buying (okay, so my mom bought if for me at the grocery store) and reading was UXM #237 (1988), and the first in an uninterrupted run of Uncanny X-Men was #239. I dropped it immediately after Claremont left the first time, with issue #280. (Though i guess my better judgment eventually abandoned me, since i bought most of the Scott Lobdell issues when i returned to buying it a couple years later.)

Jason Powell said...

Patrick, hey, that's an awesome observation. I love that!

Neil, one of my very earliest X-issues was #236. That first Genoshan four-parter in 235-238 still stands as one of my favorite X-Men stories. Have you and I talked about that already ...?

neilshyminsky said...

Jason: No we haven't talked about it. I can't recall a whole lot, though - I remember being hooked with 237, though, largely because I was actually afraid for Wolverine. And then Inferno was appealing only because it was big mess with a couple dozen awesome characters and powers. Which is exactly what I would hate about it, now. :)

Jason Powell said...

I think Inferno is much better than its reputation. It's certainly my favorite of any X-over, despite its flaws. (I guess it helps that I started getting heavily into Marvel Comics right at the time when every single one was an Inferno tie-in. Nostalgia and all that.)

j.liang said...

I had a similar "awe-struck" experience reading UXM 173 in a convenience store. I had no idea what was going on, but the silent fight scene between Wolverine and Silver Samurai stuck with me (I didn't buy it) and I remember thinking the phrase "Logan-san" was just weird.

I didn't see those images again until a couple years after I started following the book regularly (around 222), when I picked up the "From The Ashes" TPB. That shock of recognition was pretty powerful, and reading the whole thing again in context was somehow extremely gratifying.

Re: Inferno - was anyone else rooting for Madelyne Pryor or was it just me?

Patrick said...

When I was wrapping up my blogging on the whole Claremont run, I called Fall of the Mutants the end of the 'tv show' and Inferno the big budget movie spectacular that followed. I think Inferno is a colossal mess in a lot of ways, and is a nasty bit of character assassination for Maddy Pryor, but the whole thing is so gloriously over the top that you just have to go along for the ride.

The really notable thing about that crossover is that unlike anything of the crossovers that followed, and unlike any of the ones that came before, it really does feel like the entire X-universe needed to come together to tell this story, and it does pay off and resolve over ten years of running storylines in a somewhat satisfactory way.

And, I was definitely rooting for Maddy Pryor. Perhaps my favorite single moment in the entire Claremont run is in X-Men #224, when Maddy is about to go into the building in Dallas and she tells Scott she still loves him. It's really inspiring that this woman who has been totally rejected by Scott, had everything taken from her and left alone with no memory, can still be a hero and do it out of love, not hate.

So, it's a shame that she was turned into the Goblin Queen and sacrificed so that Scott and Jean could be free of guilt. It wasn't until Morrison's run that anyone really delved into the psychology of what Scott did and how it must have affected him. This guy walked out on his wife and son, that's the kind of guy he is.

But, even with all these issues, I'd still consider Inferno easily one of the high points of Claremont's run. And, even though I like the arc in X-Men 1-3 (w/ Jim Lee), Inferno really feels like the conclusion of the story Claremont started in X-Men 94.

Jason Powell said...

The first time I read Inferno I was going in almost completely cold, so I guess I couldn't possibly have been rooting for Madelyne at the time. I only knew her as the Goblin Queen. (I thought she looked hot, but that's not quite the same as rooting for her ...)

Patrick, I agree with you on all your points, I think. I did like your comment -- both now and back when I first read it -- that "Fall of the Mutants" is the series finale and "Inferno" the movie. I think that's a great, and fun, way of looking at it.

Adding to your comments about Inferno (I agree that it has to be enjoyed as just a big over-the-top ride), I'd argue that the main problem with it was the editors' decision to tell the story not-quite-chronologically. The way the plot crosses through X-Factor, New Mutants and Uncanny (not even including the many other titles) is really chaotic, and for a story with so many threads to begin with, the way it jumps around from title to title is pretty headache-inducing. The core plot actually does make sense, but I think too much work is expected of the reader to figure it all out.

wwk5d said...

"Byrne/Austin Awesome Panel Watch #2: When Magneto is blasted from four sides by Storm’s lightning, Scott’s optic blast, Jean’s telekinesis and Banshee’s sonic scream. The four distinct beams come from four vectors, putting Magneto at the center of a makeshift letter “X.” Brilliant."

Sounds like something you'd expect from Morrison/Quitely :D

wwk5d said...

"Byrne/Austin Awesome Panel Watch #2: When Magneto is blasted from four sides by Storm’s lightning, Scott’s optic blast, Jean’s telekinesis and Banshee’s sonic scream. The four distinct beams come from four vectors, putting Magneto at the center of a makeshift letter “X.” Brilliant."

Sounds like something Morrison/Quitely would do :D

Rob said...

"The interpolated pages unique to Classic X-Men #19a are illustrated by Keiron Dwyer"

Dwyer, interestingly enough, being John Byrne's stepson.

R