Saturday, March 08, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #110

[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 ‘X’-Sanction”

Uncanny X-Men #110 was not deemed worthy by Claremont and editor Ann Nocenti of being reprinted in the Classic X-Men series. Like Uncanny #106, it is an inventory story, for use when Dave Cockrum missed a deadline. When John Byrne (an artist who’s never missed a deadline in his life) came aboard, the editors presumably thought they had better use this inventory story quick before it gets out of date.

But whereas #106 is a bit of a generic job, issue 110 makes some significant contributions. Sure, the artwork (by Tony DeZuniga) is not as good as if it had been by Cockrum or Byrne, but it’s not terrible either. And it begins with the X-Men playing baseball, an image that’s become synonymous with “Chris Claremont” for X-Men fans. (Back in 1991 when Claremont left the series, the first issue of X-Men to not feature his name in the credits symbolically began with the X-Men playing basketball, an implicit message to readers that with Claremont gone, this was a whole new ballgame. When Claremont returned to Uncanny in 2004, he opened the comic with a baseball game, a signal that everything old would be new again.)

When you look at it empirically, Claremont didn’t really use the baseball thing that often during his 17 years on the title. (I will flag it up in this series whenever it happens, and as you’ll see it’s only a handful of times.) But for whatever reason, X-Men-playing-baseball has become a quintessential Claremontian image to fans, perhaps because it is emblematic of his penchant for showing the heroes at play, having key character moments occur during down time. Uncanny X-Men #110 gives us an example right off the (ahem) bat: Wolverine takes the game too seriously, and the claws come out to intimidate Colossus as he approaches the plate. This is still early, “psycho” Wolverine.

We never see Jean in her Phoenix costume here, because – as noted above – it was drawn before Jean became Phoenix, for use as an inventory story. Claremont’s dialogue attempts to cover for this, with Jean having an unexplained power-failure. This will later be woven into the ongoing Phoenix plot, the idea being that Jean’s own mind deliberately sealed off the power inside her mind with “psychic circuit breakers,” for her own safety. This will become important as time goes on.

The central plot here is vague: Warhawk (a villain who originally appeared in Claremont’s first Iron Fist story) has been assigned by an unknown “master” (who speaks to him telepathically) to bug Xavier’s mansion. He is beaten down by the X-Men, but not before he succeeds in that mission. Like Jean’s psychic circuit breakers, the bugging of the Mansion will be an important story point in the Dark Phoenix Saga. Why did Claremont leave this out of the Classic reprints?

Best moment in the issue: Wolverine sees shrapnel about to impale Cyclops during the fight. Wolverine realizes that it’s a perfect chance to eliminate Scott as Jean’s lover and leave Wolverine a clear path. “Trouble is,” he thinks to himself, “back-shootin’ ain’t my style. When Summers an’ me finally have it out, i’ts gonna be face t’face.” He knocks Cyclops out of the way, much to Scott’s surprise.

The other moment of subtle significance in “The ‘X’-Sanction” also involves Wolverine. When he fights Warhawk, he thinks, “His style’s a lot like that Iron Fist character I fought a few weeks back.” Warhawk is an Iron Fist villain, as noted above.

The significance is this: The story being referenced by Wolverine saw print in Iron Fist #15, by Claremont and Byrne. In that issue, Iron Fist has this thought about Wolverine: “His sheer animal ferocity reminds me of Sabre-Tooth ... Could there be a connection?” Sabre-Tooth had just made his first appearance in Iron Fist #14. The line is an inside joke. John Byrne had designed a possible face for Wolverine months earlier, back before Uncanny #98 had revealed for the first time what Wolverine looks like under his mask. He didn’t know that Cockrum had already come up with the distinctive Wolverine look that has since become iconic. Byrne now had a face with no character, so when Claremont’s plot for Iron Fist #14 required a Canadian villain called Sabre-Tooth, Byrne used the face on that character instead. So the line about a “connection” between Wolverine and Sabre-Tooth was probably just Claremont being cute.

Not until Uncanny X-Men #212 – over 100 issues from where we are now – would Iron Fist’s idle speculation actually be woven into the canon. Reading the line now, it creates the illusion that Claremont plotted things very very far in advance.


Matthew J. Brady said...

I love that Wolverine thinks two or three sentences while he's watching shrapnel fly to take out Cyclops. That's something that used to happen in comics a lot: characters spitting out entire monologues while throwing a single punch. It's one of those things you just have to accept; like a lot of Claremont's tics, it can bug you if you try to take it literally, but if you look at it as his kind of charming style, it's pretty enjoyable. Plus, Claremont does it well, rather than making it clunky.

Jason Powell said...

Yeah, Claremont's thought-balloons really became -- to all intents and purposes -- first-person narration. Which has its charms and its drawbacks, I will admit.

wwk5d said...

You do have to wonder why this issue was ignored, considering how important it is to future readers, especially the Warhawk stuff.

And you have to give credit to Claremont to salvaging an inventory story by adding stuff which also enhances the story later on (Jean wasn't Phoenix back then? No problem, her lack of powers is her own mind placing pyschic circuit breakers) :D