[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.]
“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.