Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #25, part a (UXM #119)

[This post is part of a series of posts written by Jason Powell looking issue by issue at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series click Jason's name in the toolbar on the right.]

“Twas the Night Before Christmas”

This issue concludes the two-part battle between the X-Men and an entirely forgettable villain called Moses Magnum. It begins with a sequence of the X-Men invading Magnum’s secret headquarters that, while exciting, doesn’t make much sense. To wit: Cyclops, Sunfire, Wolverine and Colossus are tunneling underneath the ocean, waiting for Nightcrawler to teleport inside the complex and activate a tracer that will tell Cyclops and Sunfire where they should burrow up. Without Kurt’s signal, they might miss the mark and “punch through to the ocean instead of Magnum’s base.” But when Nightcrawler activates the homer, Cyclops and Sunfire seem to immediately start firing upward. Did they coincidentally just happen to be that close to Nightcrawler when they received the signal?

It isn’t the finest action story in the Byrne/Claremont run, unfortunately. Moses is touted as being a powerful opponent, but he doesn’t fight the X-Men for long before he turns tail and run. Granted, it’s because he wants to go activate a machine that will destroy Japan, but still – if he’s so tough, why not take care of the X-Men first, then proceed to Japan’s destruction?

Instead, we get a retread of the Savage Land arc’s climax, with a single X-Man pitting his power against the villain and his destructive machinery. Last time, this meant Cyclops pitting his eye-beams against a “god,” and was appropriately exciting. This time, it is Banshee’s scream (visually a much less impressive power) doing the work, and the force he’s battling is described as “some kind of energy beam,” which as a turn of phrase is lacking a certain apocalyptic foreboding. The only twist is in the after-effects: Like Cyclops, Banshee won the fight; unlike Cyclops, he may have burned out his power doing it. Over the next few issues, we’ll learn that Claremont is making this change stick: Banshee remains powerless for months and then eventually quits the team, which is a surprising way to go. But we don’t know yet that where Claremont is heading, so at the moment the wrinkle feels somehow less than satisfying.

With the story over after only 13 pages, Claremont and Byrne devote the entire final quarter of the comic to an epilogue, containing nice character moments that are more engaging than the ostensibly action-packed section that preceded them. During a Christmas party, we see Wolverine approach Mariko, with Storm noting to herself, “I have never seen Wolverine sound or act so ... gentle. It is a pleasant change.” Colossus, meanwhile, points out a significant difference between him and the rest of the team: “I have a family,” he says. “I think I am the only X-Man with a real home, with ... roots, and tonight of all nights ... I miss them.” Once again, Claremont is exploring different dimensions of his cast, surprising the reader (and possibly himself) with the character moments that come from what he finds.

And to cap it all off, Claremont and Byrne place Jean with other cast-off X-Men (Havok, Polaris and Madrox the Multiple Man), and prepare to ship them all off to Muir Island to live with Moira MacTaggert. The characters are thus positioned for their involvement in the resolution of the “Mutant X” subplot (introduced way back in Uncanny #104 and then completely ignored for over a year). Claremont has a habit of introducing subplots and then ignoring them for months on end. This is the first blatant example, but far from the last or the most egregious.

Finally, a quick note on the newly interpolated pages illustrated by Kieron Dwyer: In them, we learn that Moses Magnum was given superpowers by an odd-looking villain called Apocalypse. Chronologically, this is one of the earliest times that Apocalypse’s agenda comes into conflict with the X-Men’s, but actually it’s a huge ret-con. Apocalypse didn’t really first appear until the mid-80s, created by Claremont’s pal Louise Simonson to be the core villain in the spin-off title X-Factor. The character’s appearance here thus feels pretty anachronistic, and doesn’t necessarily add much. (And for the continuity obsessed, it’s a direct contradiction of an issue of Hulk, which revealed that Moses Magnum was given his powers by entities known only as “Them.” Hey, some people care about this stuff.)


Anonymous said...

Since presumabely CC added the extra pages - it was his intention to tie Moses Magnum to Apocalypse and Apocalypse to the XMen...there were also rumors (and hints in the Wolverine one shot by Mignola) that Apocalypse was behind Wolverine's origin as well (Wolvie found an adamantium skull in one of Apocalypse's bases)...also in X-factor issues by Portacio and CC - CC implies that Apocalypse may have ties to the blue area of the moon and the weapon that killed Jean in UXM 137.

CC seemed to want to incorporate Apocalypse into his Xmen mythos which is cool.

John V

Gary said...

I think that Banshee's loising his power needs to be looked at in terms of what Claremont was showing about the X-Men, and what he wanted to do with them: you never know what to expect, and there is no status quo. Banshee had been with the team for years at this point, he was a mainstay, and... bang. He's gone. The entire cast was replaced a few years before that, and I have to wonder if the death of Thunderbird didn't resonate with Claremont, even if it wasn't his idea. Here's an insane new status quo! Look at all these different characters... and BANG! one's gone. Settle in, get comfortable, and BANG! did you think you knew what to expect? If you want that, there's an Avengers somewhere on the spinner rack, Sunshine. Jean's going to die in 18 issues - even in Claremont's plan, Jean's going to be crippled and powerless in 18 issues. It's a roller coaster ride, and Banshee's fate is demonstrative of the risks that Claremont is willing to take in his storytelling/