Saturday, May 03, 2008

Jason Powell on Classic X-Men #27, part a (UXM #121)

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

“Shoot-Out at the Stampede”

I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for any comic in which a team of superheroes fights another super-team, especially when they pair off, each member of the team fighting the antagonist whose powers are most like his. At this point in Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men run, he’s already done a couple such stories with Cockrum (X-Men vs. the Anti-Men in #95, vs. robot versions of the original team in #100, and vs. the Imperial Guard in #107), but this is the first time in a while – and the first time with Byrne on art. It is awesome. I must’ve read this issue 100 times when I was a kid. I still love it.

The splash page introducing the six members of Alpha Flight is great, and features the first example of Claremont introducing a group of characters by putting their names in little boxes next to them: “Shaman! Sasquatch! Aurora! Northstar! Vindicator! Snowbird!” This is a great device, one that only works in comics. Claremont will use it a lot over the next decade.

“Shoot-Out at the Stampede” is a perfect exercise in team vs. team. Colossus takes on Alpha Flight’s super-strong member, Sasquatch, and defeats him with a judo throw. Storm fights fellow flying female Snowbird, while Cyclops battles Northstar, whose power makes him too fast to hit, even for Cyclops. (Byrne’s creation of a super-speedster mutant -- whose sister is also on the team -- is an obvious nod to Lee and Kirby’s original Brotherhood of Mutants, a fixture of which was Quicksilver and his sister, the Scarlet Witch.)

Nightcrawler takes on Northstar’s beautiful twin sister, Aurora, and as usual, he’s the one who has the most fun. John Byrne has noted that it took him a while to figure out how to handle Nightcrawler, and then one day it occurred to him: “He’s Daffy Duck.” We see the first shade of that epiphany here, when Nightcrawler bamfs in above Aurora, plants a kiss on her, then bamfs out. It’s hilariously Looney Tune, and Claremont completes the effect with Nightcrawler’s parting phrase “Tally-ho!” (a phrase sung by Daffy Duck in 1943’s “Yankee Doodle Daffy”).

To end the story, Claremont makes explicit his Cyclops/Wolverine role reversal from last issue. We’re again treated to a Cyclops who’s so angry he’s ready to beat an enemy who’s already down. Wolverine stops him, and Scott says, “What gives, Wolverine? I thought I’d be the one holding you back.” It’s a nice illustration of how much Wolverine’s matured as a character, after less than 30 issues. Claremont’s characters never stay in one place for too long.

The fun continues right through to the very last page, delivering an effervescently positive ending that, in its final line, brings a decisively happy ending to the X-Men’s long journey home. It’s hard not to love this one.

I also want to comment on the three interpolated Kieron Dwyer pages in this issue, because they are the most skillfully used bonus pages in 27 issues of Classic X-Men. At two key points during the X-Men vs. Alpha Flight action extravaganza, Claremont cuts to “the Canadian federal capital, Ottawa.”

The first time depicts lawyer Jeryn Hogarth (an Iron Fist supporting character, now representing the X-Men thanks to the Misty Knight connection) demanding to see the prime minister in regards to the destruction of his plane by Sasquatch in the previous issue. Cut to: a vehicle with Japanese diplomatic tags pulling up outside the building, then to the Japanese ambassador charging into the office demanding to know where Canada gets off attacking the superheroes that just saved Japan from destruction by Moses Magnum!

The second bonus page opens with a shot of TWO cars parked outside the capital building. They are both the same make and model. One is the Japanese prime minister’s car, already seen. The second has American tags on it. The American ambassador has also shown up, demanding to know what the deal is with this huge storm Shaman has created; it may have started in Canada, but it’s slowly moving south! The foreign minister finally relents, and phones the Prime Minister. “Sorry to awaken you, sir,” he says. “But we’ve a rather serious situation here ...”

It’s all very wittily and cleverly done, both the dialogue and Dwyer’s visuals. And the pages are perfectly placed, never detracting from the superhero action, but contrasting it perfectly. The third Dwyer page is an epilogue, with the prime minister contacting Vindicator to tell him, “This incident ... has been an unmitigated disaster. Politically, diplomatically, economically. ... The ‘capture’ order on Weapon X is rescinded. If he wants to go so badly, let him.” In spite of the seriousness of the characters’ tone here, the overall effect is still lightly humorous, because of the previous scenes that inform it. It caps off the issues perfectly.

Unfortunately, having finally mastered the art of adding new pages to old comic book stories, Claremont suddenly stops doing it. From this point on, the Claremont/Byrne Uncanny issues begin appearing in “Classic” unaltered.


Josh Hechinger said...

I never noticed this before, but the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants callback made me think of it:

Roughly half of Alpha Flight are basically "successful" versions of other Marvel characters.

Northstar and Aurora are more or less Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch without the emotional damage from Magneto.

Sasquatch was a scientist who successfully duplicated a Hulk-like transformation while still keeping his intelligence.

Shaman is both a doctor and a magic-user, whereas Doctor Strange lost the ability to practice medicine as part of his origin as a magician.

Of course, when they get their own series, they'll become proper Marvel characters...Aurora will turn out to be crazy, Sasquatch will be channeling a snow demon, and Shaman will have all sorts of trouble with his magic bag.

But early on, they're almost like...wholesome versions of Marvel characters.

neilshyminsky said...

Jason: The Canadian 'capital building' is, of course, the Parliament building. :)

Matthew J. Brady said...

Didn't this one also have the awesome ending where Wolverine agreed to go with Alpha Flight, and then when the X-Men are flying away, he just nonchalantly shows up on the plane? I always liked that bit.

Jason said...

Josh, that's interesting. It also plays up even more the contrast with the X-Men, who are meant to be the quintessential Marvel Universe "outcasts" -- at least at this point, before the franchising made the X-Men into the predominant, flagship Marvel team.

Neil, thank you. I should have looked that up, I suppose. :)

Matt, YES! I agree, it is great.

scott91777 said...

I would just like to say that I also am a sucker for two superteams matched up against each other... it always meant fun. We need more of that these days.

Keith said...

Glad I found this blog. I'm making my way through the Claremont run right now.

I must have bought Classic #27 as a kid because I remember this issue, and its cover, well.

Aside from being a great issue I feel like this Classic cover is one of the few that surpasses the original in quality.

Jason said...

I may be biased; I think *a lot* of the 80s "Classic" covers surpass the originals. Particularly the Mike Mignola and Adam Hughes ones.