Thursday, May 01, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #26, part a (UXM #120)

[This post is part of a series of posts -- now coming at you three times a week -- 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.]

“Wanted: Wolverine! Dead or Alive”

In a two-part arc whose plot probably originated with the Canadian John Byrne, the X-Men are stranded in Calgary on the way back home from Japan. It’s all part of a plot by James Hudson, aka Weapon Alpha from Uncanny X-Men #109, to get Wolverine back into Canada’s clutches. Against John Byrne’s wishes, Claremont has rechristened the character “Vindicator” (Byrne on the subject: “What does Canada have to vindicate?”). Vindicator is backed up by a whole team of Canadian government super-agents, collectively known as Alpha Flight. In a nice touch, we only see bits and pieces of the characters in costume in Part 1, with the impressive reveal saved for the next issue.

In fact, all throughout this first part of the story, Byrne and Claremont manage a strong, tension-filled tone. Most of the X-Men appear in normal clothes rather than their superhero costumes for the duration of the comic, and they are constantly on the defensive or on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of opponents that they never actually see. This is the first time the comic feels genuinely edgy and suspenseful.

Claremont even manages exposition-laden dialogue well, weaving it into the suspense of the story for added urgency, e.g. in Wolverine’s line to Cyclops, “I was operational when Hudson gathered the rest of Alpha Flight. Outside of him, I don’t know who we’re up against. Or how many.”

Claremont still finds time amidst the tightly-wound action for good character bits, though. A charming example: when Banshee – who burned out his sonic scream last issue – takes a pull on his pipe, then thinks, “I shouldn’t be smokin’.”

And in the final couple pages, some unexpected role reversal: Wolverine, while thinking about Mariko Yashida (who earlier became the first character in Uncanny to learn Wolverine’s real name), asks himself, “Love. Who needs it?” Then answers, “Me.” On the very next page, Cyclops closes the issue with the line, “The X-Men didn’t start this fight, people – but we’re sure as blazes gonna finish it. If necessary, over Alpha Flight’s bodies!”

So, Wolverine is distracted by thoughts of love, and Cyclops wants to kill people. Fantastic. Claremont loves to surprise us.

[There is also the detail, only humorous in retrospect, that Northstar is introduced surrounded by beautiful women. When was it established that he was homosexual?]


Jason Powell said...

Byrne's standard answer to the Northstar question is that "Northstar was gay from Day Two." Byrne wasn't thinking of him as gay when he created him for Uncanny -- but when it was decided to spin Alpha Flight off into their own series, Byrne decided on the closet-homosexual characterization. So, hints are introduced very early on in Alpha Flight (around issue 2 or 3, published circa 1984).

It wasn't made explicit until the early 90s or so.

neilshyminsky said...

Byrne's one huge (and I mean huge) gaffe, though, was that some of those 'clues' involved making Northstar appear inexplicably ill over a prolonged period of time - he was, obviously, going to be revealed to have AIDS. My guess is that homophobia was what motivated Marvel to quash the storyline, though i'm thankful in this instance - the only thing worse than delaying the reveal of Marvel's first gay hero would be to give Marvel's first gay hero AIDS.

Jason Powell said...

Wow, I hadn't heard that. Weird. Are you sure that was Byrne's intent? That seems so crazy!

James said...

And if there's one thing John Byrne ain't, it's crazy! Oh, wait...

neilshyminsky said...

Jason: My bad. It was Bill Mantlo, who followed Byrne, that came up with that story. It's still a totally idiotic idea... but it's not Byrne's idea.

Jason Powell said...

Okay, that makes more sense. Generally speaking, I think Mantlo's a better writer than Byrne. But the former strikes me as more likely to conceive such a painfully inappropriate story idea.

Matthew J. Brady said...

I believe it was Scott Lobdell who wrote the issue explicitly stating that Northstar is gay. I'll have to see if I can find the panel in which he "comes out" somewhere online. It's hilarious; he's shouting "I--AM GAY!" in front of a big field of Kirby dots. Gotta love the clumsy shoehorning of real-world issues into silly superhero comics. Oh wait, no you don't.

Matthew J. Brady said...

Here we go, I found it. It's a little way down on this page. And the full quote is: "Do not presume to lecture me on the hardships homosexuals must bear. No one knows them better than I. For while I am not inclined to discuss my sexuality with people for whom it is none of their business - I am gay!"

Jason said...

Lobdell is a hack, hey?

Matthew J. Brady said...

Yeah, he should take off, that hoser.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone pointed out that Northstar and Aurora are pretty horrible stereotypes?

They're Quebecois. He's gay and bitchy. She bounces back and forth between being a repressed virginal schoolteacher and a slut.

I note in passing that Anglo Canadians from the middle provinces (between Ontario and BC) are notorious for having Issues with the Quebecois. (Oddly, the reverse is not true; the Quebecois don't give a damn what Albertans think of them.)

Doug M.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hey. I'm a newbie here and just discovering your wonderful run on the very best of the X-Men. I think I own everything from like 94-150. I was a huge fan of that John Byrne run way back and the Claremont stuff. You basically make me want to go back and dig them out so I can start reading all over again.

Anyway, fantastic read. I loved Alpha Flight too issues 1-25 basically. After that it went to pot. Though I must admit I wasn't a big fan of the solo stories in issues 2-10. I loved anything on Northstar and Aurora and Sasquatch but then you'd have to contend with characters you weren't that crazy about.

But yes, the whole issue of Northstar being gay kicked off in the spin off series- Alpha Flight. It was a little weird when it was being covered because I remember loving that character and wanting him to have a hot babe for a girlfriend.

X-Men issues 120 and 121 were two of my favorites at the time. The action was just astounding. I remember redrawing scenes from those issues in my down time on summer days as a kid.

Just to add to the discussion here should anyone read them here later, I believe one reason Weapon Alpha became Vindicator had something to do with the fact he injured a woman back in Issue 109. Without having the comic in front of me I cannot remember her name. She may have been a civilian and he held onto some guilt for that. Anyway, it was while he was attempting to extract Wolverine and that's how the whole Vindicator thing came to pass or at least that's one explanation.

Keep up the splendid work. I'll be bouncing around.

wwk5d said...

The woman was Moira Mactaggart.

The link about Northstar has a hilarious panel.

Northstar: She used her powers to make me serve her -- love her! I felt violated -- as if I'd been raped!
Heather Hudson: And by a woman! No wonder you're so upset!

Er, so if he'd been violated that way by a man, it'd have been ok? :S