Saturday, May 24, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #128

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

“The Action of the Tiger”

The previous issue was the middle act of the Mutant X arc, deliberately slackening the tension and devoting the bulk of its narrative to the X-Men licking their wounds after their disastrous first encounter with Proteus. Here, the focus tightens to laser-beam intensity, and after a brief re-cap for latecomers (“Every issue is somebody’s first,” went the philosophy of Marvel’s then-Editor in Chief Jim Shooter), readers are treated to a dozen action-packed pages of the X-Men vs. Proteus.

As is often the case with these climactic battle scenes in the Claremont/Byrne run, Claremont’s writing is the secondary attraction. It is Byrne and Terry Austin who really shine here, producing panel after panel of viscerally exciting images: Wolverine slicing right through Proteus’ stomach; Cyclops and Havok blasting Proteus simultaneously from opposite sides; the fantastic three-panel Colossus transformation; etc.

Still, Claremont sneaks in a few good character bits amid the action. Cyclops is once again the perfect strategist/tactician, his mind always on the battle, and there’s a nice contrast in the way he and Wolverine react to seeing Proteus strike down Jean. Wolverine flies into a rage; Cyclops just keeps attacking the villain. And when Wolverine gives Cyclops grief about it – “Jean’s zapped bad, Cyke, and you ain’t even battin’ an eyelash” – Havok gets angry about it (“Short-stuff, you are so off-base about my brother, it’s pathetic”), but Cyclops isn’t the least bit bothered. Both Scott’s dialogue and inner monologue continue to be only about the fight, which is great characterization.

Colossus’ comforting of Moira on the final page is also rather touching, I think. It’s a nice irony that Peter – the most peace-loving of the team, and also the one who was so recently doubting whether he was pulling his weight – is the one who delivers the killing stroke. Congratulated by Wolverine on the job well done, Colossus replies with the gentle reproach, “Hush now. Let Moira grieve in peace,” which is a lovely example of the character’s quiet courage (he just told Wolverine to shut up) and compassion.

All in all, the perfect conclusion to a great action movie in comic book form. (The Proteus arc would have been a marvelous story for X-Men 3 -- certainly incalculably better than the hackwork that Brett Ratner delivered.)

And from here, it only gets better. Claremont and Byrne are going from strength to strength now.


scott91777 said...

Maybe X4 then?

Millar also did a nice homage to Colossus striking the final blow in his version of this story... it was very Millar.

Anonymous said...

This may have been their single best fight issue.

Some other nice touches:

-- The big splash of all the X-Men heading for battle, with the ones who can fly carrying the ones who can't... and Phoenix carrying five at once!

-- the steady decay of Proteus' body from page to page, until he's finally an eyeless, animated corpse. Bonus: how he collapses into a pile of dust, after Colossus tosses him into a wall.

-- Proteus going toe-to-toe with Phoenix.

-- the dusty remnant of Proteus blowing away in the wind.

One other thing: this was one of the first issues to be firmly grounded in a real geographic location not connected to the authors. Issue #97 kicked off in New York, but in the Marvel Universe that hardly counts. The trip to Japan was to a fictional city, "the port of Agarashima" -- though IMS afterwards all X-stuff in Japan was moved to Tokyo. The Alpha Flight issues were in Calgary, but that was Byrne's home town (and he filled those issues with his friends and neighbors).

But now we're in Edinburgh, a town where -- in the Marvel Universe -- nothing had ever ever happened before. This was new and different.

It was also the first real excursion of the X-Men into globetrotting. Later issues would see them everywhere from Mississippi to Paris to Australia, but this is where it began.

IMS (and it may not), either Claremont or Byrne asked Marvel for a trip to Scotland, and didn't get it -- so they had to use visual references from books and such. But within a few more months, the X-books were big enough that Marvel sent both creators on a European tour... ostensibly to go to cons in Europe, but really as a perk, and because they wanted it. Subsequent X-trips tended to track Claremont's own travels (though not always).

Anyway, great issue. Note that this is the last straightforward everybody-versus-a-totally-evil-villain fight the X-Men would have for a long while... at least until issue 150, and maybe longer (since Magneto wasn't a complete villain by then).

Doug M.

Jason said...

I've decided I probably won't read the Millar Ultimate X-Men trades until after I've finished writing this series. (An event that is not as far off as it may seem.) It'll be a fun way to cap this off, to see how Millar has consolidated the classics.

Sorry I didn't have a chance to reply to your comments on 127. You make a strong case for the problems with the Wolverine/Cyclops resolution, but ... what can I say, it just works for me. It strikes me as a strong, decisive way to end it. And I like that it breaks up the big "versus Proteus" sequences a bit. It strikes me as a nice way to keep things from becoming too one-note.

Yeah, this is a fantastic all-out action one. I read it over and over as a kid. Just couldn't get enough of it.

Thanks for pointing out the exotic-ness of the locale, too. Interesting about the attempted trip to Scotland ... I do remember reading an interview with Shooter where he talked about how Claremont started wanting to go on trips and was kind of floored that Marvel found a way to make that happen.

Entire-team-versus-single-bad-guy: There is issue 149, where the team fights Garrokk, but that one is kind of ... eh. I think issue 150 counts, though, since the major deepening of Magneto comes *after* the big fight ...

scott91777 said...

Is issue 150 the one where Kitty Pryde is nearly killed and this causes Magneto to halt his assault?

If so, I remember that issue, it was also my basis for a major problem I always had witht the first X-men movie... when he is using Rogue to power his 'mutant making machine' (another problem I had with th plot) Wolverine ask him why he doesn't power himself. The Magneto I had to come to love in the comics would have been powering it himself and he would have NEVER sacrificed an innocent young Mutant (against their will) for his own plans.

Jason said...

True dat, Scott.

Scene -- said...

always love your breakdowns of claremont's character work. keep on.