Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #24, part a (UXM #118)

[Guest Blogger continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men; for more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“The Submergence of Japan”

Although Neal Adams didn’t draw the Silver Age X-Men issue that introduced Sunfire (#64), that issue is embedded in the Adams/Thomas run. This may account for why – as the Claremont/Byrne homage to Neal Adams continues – the X-Men stop in Japan here, and team up with Sunfire.

Claremont and Byrne add yet another dimension to Wolverine – he is growing in leaps and bounds from the loud-mouth comic relief of the Cockrum era – by here making vague allusions to time spent in Japan by the character before he joined the team. There is a significant exchange early on between Wolverine and Cyclops after the former reads from a Japanese newspaper:

Cyclops: “You read Japanese?”
Wolverine: “Yup.”
Cyclops: “I ... didn’t know.”
Wolverine: “You never asked.”
Cyclops: “My mistake. Next time I’ll know better.”

This is the third such moment in the Claremont/Byrne run – not only containing a revelation about Wolverine’s character but, perhaps more importantly, conveying Wolverine’s casualness regarding the revelation. In issue #109, Storm told Wolverine she had “misjudged” him after she learned that he doesn’t kill when he hunts. His reply: “I could care less.” In the Savage Land arc, after Wolverine claims to be able to communicate with a tiger, Storm says that there is “more to [Wolverine] than meets the eye,” and his retort is self-deprecating: “At my size, babe, that ain’t hard.”

It is not just the implied depth of Wolverine – in terms of experience, skill and history – that makes Wolverine such a distinctly cool character, but the tension created when those implications butt up against his own nonchalant, shoulder-shrugging attitude toward himself.

The seeds are also planted in this issue for a resolution of the antagonism between Scott and Wolverine, when Logan meets Mariko Yashida. She will become Wolverine’s long-distance romantic interest for the duration of Claremont’s run on X-Men (only to be perfunctorily killed off mere months after Claremont departs). With Wolverine set up to be in love with Mariko inside of six months, the Scott-Jean-Wolverine love-triangle is effectively neutralized. On the one hand, it could be viewed as facile, but on the other, it’s an early indication of Claremont’s willingness to have characters evolve. He could have milked the love triangle for a long time (writers who followed him often did), but Claremont always finds it more interesting to have character relationships mutate.

At the time of Uncanny #118’s publication, another title Claremont was writing – Iron Fist – had been cancelled and recently folded into another comic book series, “Power Man,” to become the unlikely but predictably titled hybrid “Power Man and Iron Fist.” Claremont was no longer writing the character, but that doesn’t stop him here from guest-starring two members of the series’ cast – the female co-stars, Misty Knight and Colleen Wing – in the Japan arc. The seeds are planted by Claremont here for a romance between Scott and Colleen.

This is where the “each thinks the other is dead” schism established in Uncanny #114 starts to strain suspension of disbelief: At the end of Uncanny #117, Misty saw Jean and exchanged a few words with her just before getting on a plane to Japan. Now she and Colleen are hanging out with the X-Men. We are to believe that Misty never mentions at any point that she happened to see Jean alive just before she left the United States. By the time we get to issue #122, Scott will have told Colleen about his dead girlfriend Jean, but – again – this will never get back to Misty and prompt all the pertinent parties to compare notes.

To this day, co-plotter John Byrne still defends these plot holes. (I once asked him about it on his message board, but made the mistake of being self-deprecating at the end of my message, closing with “Am I thinking too hard about this?” Byrne’s one-word reply to me: “Yes.”)

No awesome Byrne/Austin panels this time; Ric Villamonte is the fill-in inker. It’s a definite step-down in quality, although Byrne’s choreography of the four-page action sequence (the X-Men vs. the Mandroids) is once again dynamic.

There’s a creatively pseudo-scientific explanation by Claremont of a bit where Banshee and Cyclops combine their powers: “Banshee’s sonic scream counters Cyclops’s optic pulse on a fractionally different vibration frequency ... the two opposing patterns creating such titanic molecular stresses that the armor literally shakes itself to bits.” Over the next few years, until he started regularly shaking up the team membership, Claremont would continue to find new (if over-the-top) ways such as this to keep the same half-dozen or so superpowers fresh and interesting.

7 comments:

James said...

"At the end of Uncanny #117, Misty saw Jean and exchanged a few words with her just before getting on a plane to Japan. Now she and Colleen are hanging out with the X-Men. We are to believe that Misty never mentions at any point that she happened to see Jean alive just before she left the United States. By the time we get to issue #122, Scott will have told Colleen about his dead girlfriend Jean, but – again – this will never get back to Misty and prompt all the pertinent parties to compare notes."

It's like season 2 of Lost!

Jason said...

Chris Claremont invented Lost! I always suspected ...

Matthew J. Brady said...

That old "you never asked" line can be amusing, but it's been overused quite a bit, probably by Wolverine pretty often. Did he use it elsewhere in subsequent years? I'm sure it wasn't such a cliche back in the 70s, but it seems almost quaint by now. Or am I exaggerating? I dunno.

Jason said...

Matt, I see what you're saying. I agree. I think what makes that exchange work is not so much the "You never asked" itself (which is indeed a cliche, and I'm sure it already was 30 years ago), but the context -- and Scott's deadpan reply.

scott91777 said...

Jason,

"he is growing in leaps and bounds from the loud-mouth comic relief of the Cockrum era –."

I'll have to go back and check this out. I'm not that familiar with the Early Cockrun era but it ties in nicely with an observation I make regarding Guy Gardner in my next JLI posts. Be sure to check it out once Geoff puts it up and let me know what you think.

Anonymous said...

One thing you mention that resonates very well with me and my love of CC's writing - he does indeed always find inventive ways for heroes and villains to use their powers. Brilliant stuff.

Anonymous said...

I always thought Misty and Cyclops not comparing notes was ridiculous too but I love the long arcs where the X-Men are just trying to get home. One of the things I don't think CC gets enough credit for is his settings and the plausible ways the X-men got around in most of his stories. You'd almost always know how they got to any given place; if they took the blackbird, where they parked it; and where they were staying. It always seemed like you'd get a good chunk of downtime in any given place rather than have them just get a call at the mansion hop in the bird and be back in time for dinner.

Derek E