Saturday, March 29, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #20, part a (incorporating UXM #114)

[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.]


The Neal Adams odyssey continues. Last month Magneto, this month the Savage Land. And, having given us two issues of conventional superheroics, Claremont and Byrne switch things up this time, with a more unconventionally structured issue – heavy on character bits – that in terms of plot merely transitions us from the previous action story to the next one.

It begins with Hank and Jean, the only two X-Men we saw escape in the previous issue. They make it home okay, but figure the other X-Men must have died in the volcano. Note the subtle touch by Byrne on the second page – Phoenix’s costume is torn in several places when she’s asleep in Hank’s arms, but the moment she awakens and powers up in an attempt to rescue Scott, all the rips disappear.

Thus do we begin a rather weird little mini-era in the comic’s history – a time when Jean and Hank believed the X-Men to be dead, and vice versa. Since Jean and Hank get back to civilization first, they also pass their mistaken impressions on to Xavier and Lilandra – and, eventually, to Moira, Havok and Polaris as well. This status quo lasts for a good year, and the longer it goes, the more it strains credulity. Claremont would go on to attempt this “world thinks the X-Men are dead” gimmick a couple more times over the course of his stint on the series, but – in his own words – he “never quite got [it] right.”

Meanwhile, the X-Men have tunneled out of Antarctica and into the Savage Land – a Lee/Kirby invention first visited by the X-Men in Uncanny #10, and later done much more effectively by Neal Adams in Uncanny #’s 62 and 63. It’s brought to life gorgeously by Byrne and Austin, and colorist Petra Scotese. In fact ...

Byrne/Austin(/Scotese) Awesome Panel Watch: The first splash page of the Savage Land, and the following page’s final panel, with a fantastically rendered pterosaur talon about to grab Banshee. We also get the first-ever Byrne/Austin rendition of the “fastball special” (with a fun effect created by replacing Wolverine’s entire lower-half with speed lines).

Among the other noteworthy details:

The mystery of “How could Corsair be Cyclops’ father?” rears its head briefly, only to be completely ignored after this until 40 issues later, after Byrne is long gone. (Byrne was against the whole concept.)

Storm walks around in an embarrassingly cheesecake outfit, and Colossus is going to visit a “special island” with two Savage Land native girls in bikinis. All in all, it’s a pretty randy issue. (The Bolton/Claremont backup in issue 21 will ret-con the Colossus scene to make him seem a little more characteristically naive.)

Meanwhile, Wolverine is hurting over the death of Jean. (The picture he’s looking at is half of a photo of Jean and Scott. Wolverine ripped the Scott-half off in Iron Fist #15.) Scott, on the other hand, simply feels numb. Later issues will explain that Scott forced himself not to feel anything because the grief would have crippled him, but a newly interpolated page drawn by Kieron Dwyer implies that Scott’s lack of grief is because he is not sure that the Jean who died in Antarctica was really Jean (thereby weaving this thread in with the “Jean and Phoenix are two separate entities” retcon).

The other Dwyer pages in this issue go into detail about how the X-Men made their way from the volcano to the Savage Land. It’s a clever sequence, although Dwyer adds another audacious visual touch: Wolverine lighting a cigar and smoking it while the X-Men are burrowing under the earth. This in spite of multiple references to their being a limited air supply in the tunnel. Tsk.

[Classic #20 part b is again by Jo Duffy. Won’t be covered here.]

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