Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Jason Powell on X-Men Annual #5

[Guest blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men Run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

X-Men Annual #5

“Ou, La La – Badoon”

Another year, another annual featuring a perfunctory adventure story. The title is an accurate indicator of how seriously Claremont takes this one. The fact that the plot involves Arkon is almost a joke in and of itself – it makes the 1981 annual a sequel to the 1979 one, and achieves a continuity between them ... but Arkon never once shows up in the actual Uncanny X-Men series. It’s as if the annuals exist in their own separate universe, never to disturb the more important continuous narrative in the monthly comic book. (The first time an X-Men annual actually impacts the main series will be in 1985 with X-Men Annual #9. Slyly, Claremont will signal the transition of the annuals into a place of meaningfulness by opening with the X-Men using Arkon’s lightning bolts to transport themselves to a different dimension ... but not to his.)

With expressive pencils by Brent Anderson and lusciously textured inks from the great Bob McLeod, X-Men Annual #5 boasts some beautiful images. The female faces are particularly attractive. There is a bit of cognitive dissonance, however, in the comic’s action sequences, which the narration describes as being fairly brutal but the actual depictions of which are rendered mushy by the artists’ soft touch.

The Badoon, furthermore, are weak villains – the type of one-note B-movie clichés that were resorted to far too frequently in 1960s-era Marvel comics. Claremont certainly seems aware of it, hence his mocking them in the title.

There are some decent character bits around the edges – Nightcrawler once again clashes with Wolverine over their different attitudes towards killing, and Sprite’s crush on Colossus is rendered cutely and sweetly at various points (notwithstanding the uncomfortable sexualization of Kitty – still 13 years old at this point in the continuity, remember – in the final few pages). Claremont also has a great amount of fun with the Fantastic Four here, particularly Reed, who saves the day by devising a clever way of combining the superpowers of Cyclops and the Invisible Girl.

For all of that, however, this fairly rote storytelling on everyone’s part. Claremont’s general eloquence and sense of pace has certainly improved since last year’s dismal “Nightcrawler’s Inferno” – but he still doesn’t seem to have much time for the Annuals.


scott91777 said...

I just wanted to say I cannot wait until we get to the Paul Smith Issues. I'm just about finished with them... I've got some great stuff to talk about! I also went ahead and got essentials vol 5... so I'll have about 40 issues worth of upcoming stories to browse along with. Still wish I had the Paul Smith stuff in color though :(

Did you say you were going to be doing the Wolverine mini and his runs on New Mutants as part of this series too?

Oh, one last thing about the last post... since issues 150 and 274 sort of serve as companions for one another... if 150 signals the beginning of Magneto's eventual turn to good didn't 274 signal his return to bad guy?

Jason said...

Actually it's the next one, issue 275, that really brings Magneto around, in a scene that I *love*. Even though it was editorial that wanted Magneto to revert to his status as the X-Men's #1 villain, while Claremont always intended Magneto's redemption to be a permanent thing -- Claremont still attacked the story with gusto, and turned Magneto's story into a really powerful tragedy. Notably, both issue 150 and issue 275 are "double-sized anniversary" issues, and I do agree with you, they are great bookends for the Magneto arc.

And of course, I must again plug Classic X-Men #19 as another key piece of writing in Claremont's Magneto saga. It's published roughly at the temporal midpoint between X-Men 150 (1981) and Uncanny 275 (1991), and it's sort of like the third jewel in the narrative crown -- or maybe more a dramatic fulcrum ... I'm not sure what the best analogy is there. But Classic #19 rocks. :)

Wolverine mini, yes.

New Mutants run, no. Sometimes I regret that decision, but ultimately I feel like it's just too much -- nearly 60 more issues to talk about.

Looking forward to hearing what you have to say about the Paul Smith issues. That Wolverine-in-Japan two-parter is, to my mind, one of the all-time best Claremont stories ever. But the whole "From the Ashes" arc is masterful.

Anonymous said...

I agree, the stories during Paul Smith's run were great. His artwork really helped sell it. Just a pleasure to behold. Is he still working in the comics industry today?

True, annuals didn't really "matter" to the continuing storyline until #9. However, you have to admit, #7, with the Impossible Man's scavenger hunt, was a heck of a lot of fun. And #8, with Kitty's fairy tale told around a camp fire, is fun, too.

In my opinion, no annuals beat #10, #11, and #12. All absolutely great.

Jason said...

Oh man, I have a strong hate-on for Annual #8. My least favorite of any Claremont X-Men comic published between 1975 and 1991.

Annual #7 I like a bit better -- partly nostalgia, since it's one of the first X-Men comics I read. But overall, I don't think it's as funny as it wants to be.

We're very close on the ones we like, though, Anon. My faves are #'s 9, 10 and 12. (11 has great artwork, but I'm not so much a fan of the story in that one ...).

9, 10 and 12 are some of my favorite superhero comics ever, though. They're the ones I'd choose to use a Geoff line to describe -- everything I want from a comic and nothing I don't.

Matthew J. Brady said...

I believe Paul Smith is currently doing artwork on DC's The Spirit, which nobody seems to care about anymore now that Darwyn Cooke left the series.

wwk5d said...

"Oh man, I have a strong hate-on for Annual #8. My least favorite of any Claremont X-Men comic published between 1975 and 1991."

What? Damn, that's harsh.