Thursday, March 26, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #208

[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 story opens with Claremont working hard to clarify – via Wolverine – the oblique moral distinctions made at the end of the previous issue. He just about pulls it off. Recall that Claremont has finally managed to shift the X-Men paradigm from its original 1960s conception that saw them as counter-revolutionary. Now, the X-Men are theoretically on the revolutionary side – but it was John Lennon who pointed out that revolution does not necessarily entail violence. The uncharacteristic anti-murder rhetoric espoused by Logan in this and the previous issue is Claremont’s overly extemporized version of the simple Lennonian sentiment: “When you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out.” (Horses for courses: Part of Uncanny #208 is set in “the John Lennon memorial garden, Strawberry Fields.”)

Kitty, meanwhile, acts as a mouthpiece for what surely was reader reaction to the end of Uncanny #207 – sheer shock and disbelief that Wolverine would kill a teammate in order to save one of the X-Men’s nastier villains. It’s a shrewd move on Claremont’s part, allowing both the readers to air their grievances and the author – via Wolverine – to clarify his own points.

But there’s only so much room for philosophical debate in an action comic, and after a few pages of back-and-forth, the story launches into a sublime action-thriller. Though the big pay-off occurs in Uncanny #209, we see here the beginning of Claremont’s most ambitiously conceived action set-piece, incorporating four different factions: the Hellfire Club (both mutant members and mercs), Nimrod, the Morlocks, and the X-Men themselves. There’s even a brief allusion to a fifth group, X-Factor (hence Nimrod’s detection of “twelve [mutants] classified as ‘X-Men’” in Central Park, even though the comic only features seven).

Nimrod’s inclusion here contains an intriguing element, as he finds himself confused by the onset of “feelings.” It’s a development not expanded upon in the next issue, which is Nimrod’s final appearance for three years – but Claremont will eventually take this thread to its intuitively logical end-point (i.e., what does a mutant-killing robot do when he finds that he, himself, has mutated?) in Uncanny #’s 246-247.

The final few pages of “Retribution” are superb, as Claremont winds the tension of the X-Men/Hellfire Club confrontation tighter and tighter, then unloads with both barrels with Nimrod’s appearance on the final splash page. It’s one of Claremont’s finest cliffhangers, and sets us up perfectly for next issue’s wildly exciting finale.


ba said...

Ah, my favorite UXM issues begin soon (e.g...210 on). Going back to the wolverine argument, I still don't think it was pulled off well enough in this issue to justify what he did. He should have just shrugged, and said "what can I say? I'm the best there is at what I do, and what I do is stab teammates." He wouldn't be wrong.

Nimrod - such an interesting character. I get the feeling that claremont had many more plans for him, but that the whole fall of the mutants arc disrupted that, as he seemed to get tossed by the wayside, only to reappear in time to go through the Siege. It's a topic that comes up a lot in x-men; a robot starting to develop feelings. There was a marvel presents special or some such around 1988 that involved Bolivar Trask's niece stumbling upon sentient sentinels (heh), and now Whedon has the sentient danger room.

Regardless, I liked nimrod, and feel bad about what they did to him circa 1997.

neilshyminsky said...

The Bastion thing was awful. Leave it to Scott Lobdell to take a genuinely interesting and potentially complex villain and reduce him to one tedious note.

Dougie said...

Bastion! Now I'm reminded of that slew of 90s characters with underwhelming names: goodbye Aquaman and Firestorm, hello Battlestone and, er, Post.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention guys like Trevor Fitroy and Fabian Cortez. I remember even the Marvel Year in Review magazine making fun of those names. They said both of those guys sound like singers from the 1970s. Dont' they, though? How intimidating can a villain be whose name was "Fabian"? Not to mention his followers, the Acolytes, who all went by their real names for some reason. And their names were all stupid, like Katu, Mellancamp, Kleinstock. The list goes on and on...Gideon, Tigerstryke, Exodus, Omega Red, Blaquesmith, Reignfire, Empyrean, Haven, etc. Even being the high schooler I was at the time, I remember thinking: what is with the stupid code names, what happened to cool names that told what the character actually DID, like Juggernaut, Vanisher, Toad, Avalanche, Pyro, Blob, Destiny? Let's leave Unus out of this.

But we're getting off-topic. Issue 208-209 are excellent. 209 has some of my favorite action sequences ever.

Who else but me hated the fact that tool Henry Leland lived to be in this story? He gets a heck of a send-off in the next issue, but it made me mad that ANOTHER guy the deadly Wolverine sank his claws into was still up and walking around. The Hellfire Club must have had one heck of a first aid crew.

Anonymous said...

Neil, Lobdell's plans for Bastion were cut short by the editors. I think he has said that Bastion was supposed to be Master Mold but not Nimrod.
Anon,Leland showed up in UXM 152 before this. And the Hellfire Club is rich,so they probably do have one heck of a first aid crew.

Jon Brown said...

Yep, scott lobdell is pretty embarassing and crappy all around. Throughout the 90s, the X-men writers were just copying Claremont. It wasn't until Morrison that any presenting an original perspective on the series.

I'm going to have to disagree with Wolverine's actions again... He is right that Phoenix shouldn't have commited murder, but Shadowkat's argument is my own -- who appointed wolverine judge, jury, and the executioner? The fact that he did kill Rachel makes his point more or less null and void. Plus, Selene murders right after Wolverine did that, making Rachel a bit more credible in her actions.

wwk5d said...

Not all the Lobdell stuff is bad. There is some good stuff, some bad stuff, and lots of mediocre stuff. You just have to look for it.

Another awesome issue. Great fight between the HC and the X-men. And this issue has an awesome Storm moment. The X-men are on the ropes; Colossus is neutralized, Rogue is occupied saving him, Rachel's off somewhere injured, Kitty's freaking out...and Storm calmly, coolly, tells her to chill while she's calculating her next move. It's so bad ass Cyclops would be proud.

And let's some credit to JRjr. He was really hitting his stride right before he leaves. This issue just looks great from start to finish, and that final splash of Nimrod is amazing. The cover is really nice also. It reminds me of a similar one Silvestri does during FOTM, but it just doesn't compare to this.

Teebore said...

@wwk5d: Agreed on the JRjr art; this was some of his best work on the title.

NietzscheIsDead said...

Having Wolverine be the only X-Man to sympathize with Rachel in this issue isn't just dramatic irony, it's narrative genius on Claremont's part because Wolverine's sympathy means exactly nothing. In the Days of Future Past timeline, Rachel found no sympathy from Wolverine but still found some with the other X-Men. Here, however, the other X-Men have either no time or no patience for her, and the fact that Wolverine does provides her with no relief. Wolverine is the one -- the only -- X-Man that she can't turn to, because she has it from the highest authority (personal experience) that he wouldn't understand. His sympathy is false: if she confides in him, it goes away.