Saturday, July 26, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #150

[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.]

Uncanny X-Men, The #150

“I, Magneto”

One of the traditions attached to Magneto (and supervillains in general) is outrageous MacGuffins. The Silver Age saw the character inventing mutant-making machines; utilizing technology with giant horseshoe magnets attached; trapping the X-Men in a steel gondola and tossing them into space. Here, that tradition is continued, as Magneto has “created a device capable of manipulating the earth’s crust.” Cleverly, however, this time Claremont is using superhero convention as metaphor. The nature of the machine – its ability to rearrange the substance of the world – lightly foreshadows how this particular Magneto vs. X-Men fight will end differently: the X-Men will rearrange the foundation of Magneto’s worldview. The catalyst turns out to be Magneto’s (seeming) murder of Kitty Pryde. When he realizes his zealotry has taken him to the point where he could so cavalierly take the life of a 13-year-old girl, he is shocked into a new state of mind. The action immediately reminds him of the death of his daughter and leads him towards an introspective self-examination, whereby the readers learn for the first time that Magneto was at Auschwitz. With a few key lines of dialogue, the character is suddenly launched into an entirely new context. (There is an added layer of irony in Claremont’s choice to make Kitty the catalyst for Magneto’s epiphany: She is the only Jewish member of the X-Men, a fact the readers know but Magneto does not.)

It would be years before Claremont would capitalize on this profoundly creative new take on Magneto – the story of his daughter’s death and the loss of his wife, alluded to with some specificity in Uncanny #150, will not be fully told until 1987’s “A Fire in the Night,” published in Classic X-Men #12. Indeed, the achingly tragic “Fire in the Night” adds significance in more ways than one to “I, Magneto.” Note, for example, that Magneto’s brutal reprisal against the U.S.S.R. – the sinking of one of its submarines (killing all aboard), followed by the violent destruction of one of its cities – takes on new significance when we recall that his daughter died in the Soviet Union, because a mob of Soviets prevented him from saving her. Is this what his brutal attack on the country is truly meant to avenge?

(A less significant – but no less striking – resonance with Magneto’s attack on the U.S.S.R. is the backup story from Classic #29, wherein the KGB’s Colonel Vazhin told Colossus he could best serve his country by remaining with the X-Men. When the team stops Magneto in Uncanny X-Men #150, thus preventing any further violence done against the Soviet Union, Vazhin is rather neatly proved correct. Online critics love to accuse Claremont of having a haphazard style that seems directionless compared to the more outwardly elegant work of, say, Neil Gaiman -- but the connections between Claremont’s X-Men stories do exist, and they are more clever and multi-textured than he is given credit for. Uncanny X-Men #150, a veritable junction box of connections between other stories in the canon, is a prime example.)

Claremont isn’t the only one who contributes sublime work to this issue. After providing fairly lightweight artistic contributions in the previous couple of months, Dave Cockum slams this story out of the park. In collaboration with Josef Rubinstein and Bob Wiacek, Cockrum demonstrates fantastic range and subtlety here. The sequence wherein the X-Men emerge from the water to invade Magneto’s island is a particular standout. Note the incredible creepiness of the panel depicting the shadowed and still partially submerged faces of Storm and Nightcrawler – surely one of the most striking images of either character that Cockrum has ever produced.

We also get another example of what will soon become a staple dramatic beat for X-Men stories: with all the team members trapped and powerless, Cyclops regains the use of his eye-beams and blasts the unsuspecting villain, thus turning the tide back in the heroes’ favor. We saw this bit already as the inaugural moment of Byrne and Austin’s fantastically choreographed fight scene in Uncanny #134. Here it is again, and the primal beauty of both the idea and the image is such that it will go on to punctuate many X-Men stories in the years to come. (In 2007, Joss Whedon made it a key feature of his Cyclops-rehabilitation project in Astonishing X-Men.)

The greatest single accomplishment of Claremont’s original 17-year X-Men run is his character arc for Magneto, transforming a previously one-dimensional villain into one of the most powerful and tragic characters in Marvel’s vast stable. “I, Magneto” is a key chapter in Magneto’s transformation, and thus a key piece of the Claremont canon. Indeed, Claremont would even reprise the title in his masterful backup story for Classic X-Men #19, which detailed Magneto’s initial transformation from a noble man to a crazed megalomaniac. That “I, Magneto” ended with the eponymous line, marking the exact moment of Magneto’s transformation. Thus Claremont stuck an eloquent symmetry with Uncanny #150, which opens with the title phrase and ends with Magneto’s first steps from crazed megalomaniac back into a noble man.

The symmetries of Uncanny #150 do not end there. Grant Morrison, probably intentionally, chose issue 150 of his New X-Men project to deliberately revert Magneto to a one-dimensional villain – a swerve that directly contravenes Claremont’s X-Men #150. He then ended the story by killing Magneto off, as mockery of the fact that X-Men writers since the ‘60s had been ending their runs by killing off Magneto, always to no permanent effect. Ironically, both Claremont and Morrison were reacting to the same phenomenon: The futility of hero/villain conflict in superhero comics. This is reflected in Claremont’s story when Xavier comments that “physically defeating Magneto ... [has happened] so often in the past and ... has resolved absolutely nothing...” The two authors’ diametrically opposed solutions to the same problem reflect their different temperaments. Claremont ends the cycle by attacking it from within, unironically adding layers of tragedy to Magneto’s character that will thus inform his future appearances and preclude another rehash of the X-Men vs. Magneto. Morrison comments from outside the story, rehashing the hero/villain conflict but from an ironic distance, and thus subtracting dimensionality from Magneto. Perhaps inevitably, both authors would see their solutions erased by corporate-minded editors to preserve the X-Men franchise, vindicating Morrison’s more cynical view.

26 comments:

scott91777 said...

In a nice bit of coincidence, I purchased the Classic X-men version of the story around roughly the same time that X-men 274 came out (I believe that's the one, the Magneto/Rogue/Nick Fury cover?)

That story actually recalled the destruction of the submarines and utilized it to some effect, if memory recalls, in portraying Magneto as a much deeper villain.
Reading those two stories at roughly the same time cemented my love for the character.

Claremont's run would also end with Magneto being 'killed off' in X-men 3 (the same series that would later become Morrison's 'New X-men')... oddly, Claremont's 17 year probably saw the longest period of time that Magneto went without being killed off and, as a result, it also saw him become one of the most well-developed characters in the franchise.

Jason said...

"In a nice bit of coincidence, I purchased the Classic X-men version of the story around roughly the same time that X-men 274 came out (I believe that's the one, the Magneto/Rogue/Nick Fury cover?)"

***That's the one! Love that issue -- five months before Claremont's last Uncanny issue ... proof that he was delivering quality comics right up to the end of that run.

"That story actually recalled the destruction of the submarines and utilized it to some effect, if memory recalls, in portraying Magneto as a much deeper villain.
Reading those two stories at roughly the same time cemented my love for the character."

***Yeah, there is some fantastic material in Unc 274. I believe Rivka Jacobs -- whose online essay exploring Magneto's judaism I've linked to in the past on the blog -- has called issue 274 her favorite of any Marvel comic book.

"Claremont's run would also end with Magneto being 'killed off' in X-men 3 (the same series that would later become Morrison's 'New X-men')... oddly, Claremont's 17 year probably saw the longest period of time that Magneto went without being killed off and, as a result, it also saw him become one of the most well-developed characters in the franchise."

***Well put!

Anonymous said...

With (gulp) 25 years of hindsight, the status of this issue is less clear. After all, Magneto has done at least two complete cycles from villain to hero and back since then, and last I heard was working on another.

That said, it was a pretty powerful issue in its time. It wasn't up there with the death of Phoenix, no -- but on the other hand, #137 came at the end of more than a year of good-to-excellent issues, while this one came in the middle of a run of pretty solid mediocrity. So, it stood out.

Why? Well, for one thing, I suspect Claremont had been working towards this moment for a long time -- at least as far back as the first appearance of Kitty Pryde. For another, as you correctly point out, Cockrum briefly rediscovered the magic. His run up until now had been very blah, and after this it wouldn't get much better. But for this issue, he suddenly lit it up again. Go figure.

Cover love: the cover is a clear shout-out to Neal Adams, but it's also effective in its own right. Notice how limp and dead Kitty looks! You could almost believe she was really in danger. (Not snark. Even in 1981, we were all very used to comics baiting and switching us.) And the violence of the fight inside made it briefly plausible that someone would get, you know, really hurt. (I mean, aside from all those poor Russians.)

We also get more face time with Magneto than we have up until now. I don't remember all the details, but I do remember thinking that Claremont had fleshed him out a lot. And the Auschwitz thing was both a complete surprise and made perfect sense. With almost any other character (and almost any other writer) retconning him into "traumatized by Auschwitz" would have been over-the-top bathetic even by the low standards of mainstream comics. But for this one character, it worked. Of course Magneto believes coexistence is impossible... and of course he's now espousing a doctrine of racial superiority that's horribly similar to the one that almost killed him.

-- Jason and I differ, BTW, on the later fleshing out of the retcon. Jason likes the whole complex history of Magneto and Xavier. I find it somewhat overkill. The guy lived through Auschwitz. That should be it, full stop. All taht stuff with crazed CIA assassins and confrontations with timeline-changing mutant children in Israel is sort of gilding the lily, you know?

Anyway. One lovely moment from this issue: Magneto's chain-mail costume flowing onto him as he wakes up in alarm. That's pure Claremont, and in a good way. Remember the detail about Nightcrawler's teleportation a few issues back? Totally unnecessary -- in 25 years, I don't think east-west vs. north-south teleportation has come up a single time. (And, really, why would it.) But it's the sort of little pseudo-realistic grace note that makes us... not exactly believe in these characters, but see them as plausible and complete within the mad context of the Marvelverse. If you had total control of magnetism, and were constantly being attacked by superheroes... /of course/ you'd have a chain-mail outfit that you could don or doff in seconds. It's just a neat detail.

A great issue. Makes you wonder why Claremont and Cockrum couldn't do this more than once in this run, but there it is.


Doug M.

scott91777 said...

I thought the chain mail materializing was in 274? Again, I actually read them both around the same time... did he revisit the concept in 274? I seem to remember Jim Lee drawing it.

Jason said...

Doug, sorry for the brevity here, but I just wanted to say -- well, first of all, once again, thank-you for a great comment.

But also, I should be clear that the only thing I like about Magneto's backstory is the stuff Claremont created between 1980 and 1991. Timeline-changing mutants? That's not part of the Magneto I love! (Unless I'm forgetting something ...)

But you don't like that Magneto and Xavier knew each other in Israel? Oh man -- I LOVE that bit! (As you'll see soon, when I wax ridiculously rhapsodic about ish 161 ..)

Later!
Jason

Anonymous said...

I was thinking of "Age of Apocalypse", which is the least bad X-storyline in the decade between Claremont's departure and Morrison's arrival.

"The whole Age of Apocalypse storyline (as it was to be called) revolved around one key event that was never meant to happen: Professor Xavier was killed twenty years in the past before he could start herding young, impressionable mutants into his lair and mind-warping them to kill his old enemies and fly his jet...

[Xavier gets killed and Magneto steps into his shoes. Wackiness ensues:]

"All of the mutants that we'd gotten to know and love (or hate) in over 300-odd issues of the original comic have completely different lives in this AoA. The Summers brothers (Scott and Alex) work for Apocalypse's number one gene-splicer, Mr. Sinister. Logan and Jean Grey are solo mercs fighting against the genetically created Infinite armies of the big A, and Magneto leads the X-Men with his wife Rogue and his right hand man, Sabretooth. Lots of bad guys are now good, and plenty of old-universe good guys are bad...

"Thus we had a 4 month period where in all the Marvel mutant books took place in the new Age of Apocalypse. The Uncanny X-Men became The Amazing X-Men, Generation X changed to Generation NeXt, X-Factor to Factor X... etc. etc. The greatest thing of all in regards to the AoA was that nothing was sacred. People who were classic heroes in the original universe became total asshole nazi bastards under Apocalypse's reign. Mutants whom we grew to love died horrible horrible deaths. People who had died in the real world were still alive and kicking in the hell world. And guys who got the girl in Xavier's time missed out humongously in the new dark time.

"It was so totally amazing to see just how detailed the writers were with everything! They pretty much covered every single mutant and how he/she now lived in this alternate reality. Most tales were sad, some had me cheering, and some were just brutal."

http://www.therossman.com/rrr/other/age_of_apocalypse.html

For some reason I thought this was Claremont, but no -- it was a year or two after he left.

If you haven't read it, it's worth a look.


Doug M.

Jason said...

I always enjoy our debates/conversations, Doug, but that doesn't mean you don't confuse me sometimes. Your first comment suggests that I am a fan of the material with Legion going back in time and causing the Age of Apocalypse whereas you are not. As soon as I clarify that I am emphatically NOT a fan of that particular bit of X-history, you tell me it's worth a look.

Sometimes I think you just enjoy contradicting me. :)

Anonymous said...

I like how the X-Men are able to sneak into Magneto's HQ and (attempt to) destroy his doomsday machine without their powers working.

Interestingly enough, this was back before it was established that every time Wolverine pops his claws, he cuts through his own hands. I think for the majority of the character's history it was assumed his skin opened up painlessly when he unleashed his claws. In a story like this, where his mutant healing factor jammed by Magneto's machines, you would think popping his claws would cause Wolverine to bleed to death. Just a thought. I never liked the whole "cuts himself whenever he lets out this claws" retcon. It seemed very unncessary. Did we really need anything else to make this character more "kewl" and hardcore?

Another good scene in this issue is Storm hesitiating to kill the helpless, sleeping Magneto with a knife. She is about to do it, but finds she can't kill a helpless opponent. Magneto, of course, wakes up, sees Storm standing there with a knife, and assumes the worst. He responds by trying to kill her, a classic misunderstanding. I always wondered if mohawked, Callisto-stabbing, Scrambler-jaw-breaking Storm would have been so merciful.

Anonymous said...

Heh. But no! Follow my reasoning:

-- you like the whole "lost years" Xavier-and-Magneto thing, while it leaves me meh.

-- AoA takes the lost years as its starting point

-- this does nothing for me, but what the hell -- I kinda like AoA anyhow. So,

-- since you like the starting premise better than I do, you might like the storyline as much or more.

Phew.

Anonymous, I'd forgotten about the whole Storm-with-a-knife thing! Yes, that was a nice touch -- and yes, I think the later Storm would have taken him out. In fact, this scene sort of sets the baseline that Storm will later diverge from.


Doug M.

Jason said...

Yeah, Anon, along those same lines -- the Genosha storyline in issues 235-238 also establish that it's Wolverine's healing power that compensates for the fact that his bones (being covered with adamantium) can't create red blood cells (am I getting that right?), so if he loses his powers, he swiftly starts to die.

Thus, Uncanny 150 is one of those issues that we have to use no-prize logic on if it starts to bother us: i.e., obviously Wolverine was starting to get very sick in issue 150 from the moment he got on the island -- he was just too much of a pro to let it show. He also must have found a moment alone to bandage his hands after his first claw-popping. And indeed, when he got captured by Magneto after the last non-powered claw-popping, he indeed must have started to bleed to death, and the only thing that saved him is that Storm destroyed the computer only minutes later, giving everyone their powers back.

Et cetera ...

Doug -- fair enough. The problem with me trying to enjoy post-1991 X-Men work (even stuff written by Claremont) is that any reference to a character trait or character info not created by Claremont bugs me. e.g., that Magneto's real name is "Erik Lenscherr" or whatever. Claremont always said his real name -- or part of it, anyway -- was Magnus. So just seeing him called "Erik" in an X-Men story makes me a little bit irritated. (Though I didn't mind it so much in the film, as that's a different beast.)

Jason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shlomo said...

2 comments:
1) I kind of feel that time-travel and alternate-world stories are incredibly fun, but only if they are one-off events. They shed light on the characters and allow readers to get plots that could never happen in real-continuity. AoA did have some really-enjoyable parts (I really liked lobdell and bachalo's tragic "generation next") but they blew it with all these characters coming and influencing the greater history. An alternate beast creating the morlocks!? X-man as a alternate dimension, cable who already has a clone, and is already himself a time-traveler !? whatever... Those kind of stories only work for me if thats what the story is all about, or if the tone of the story is zany and wild to begin with...

2) I just read the summaries for claremont's Dream's End storyline which he wrote after he came back to the title. Its essentially "Mystique trying to kill Senator Kelly" redux. But it has some very claremont-ian elements to it. Anyone ever read this? Its much better than the "x-treme" stuff that Ive skimmed through (the destiny's-diaries-plot-device belongs with my rant in the first comment).

Anonymous said...

Hi Jason,

Problem is, if you carry that to its logical conclusion, you can't enjoy any storyline that adds new elements. That seems not-so-great, no?

Shlomo, IMS AoA was a multiauthor collaboration, with some parts done much better than others; it was clearly intended to shed light on the "main" timeline, but the aftermath was somewhat bobbled. That seems to be the default for these sorts of things; some are handled better (52, DC One Million) some worse (Onslaught, Death of the New Gods).


Doug M.


Doug M.

Jason said...

Doug, yeah, that's true. The problem with X-Men is that the post-Claremont stuff was such dross. If Claremont had been followed directly by Morrison, I'd probably be much more keen to try Morrison's X-Men. (No guarantee I'd like it, but the odds would be better.) The thing is -- as someone pointed out recently, either on this forum of somewhere else? -- comic books canonize *everything*, including the shite. So that decade you mentioned, the one that separates Claremont's last issue from Morrison's first ... that's all a part of the tapestry. And it taints the whole thing for me.

Every so often something X-related comes along that manages to work around the dross and get me interested, but it's very few and far between.

Still looking forward to checking Millar's "Ultimate" stuff, though ...

Anonymous said...

I dunno. I don't remember Claremont's last couple of years with nostalgic fondness. I'd agree that his successors were overall not as good, but OTOH the 1990s saw a sharp dip in the quality of mainstream superhero comics across the board. And even so, there was some stuff that was decent, and some stuff that was fun. I'd put AoA in the "fun" category: not at all necessary, but worth picking up the issues in the quarter bin.

-- you know, as I think about it? The scene with Storm not stabbing Magneto is pretty clearly a setup for the scene ~20 issues later when she does stab Callisto.

Note that both of these require some work on Claremont's part to keep Storm's powers out of play. In fact, over the next 20 issues Claremont is going to become more interested in Storm but less and less interested in her powers.

I'm playing with a tickle of an idea about gender roles -- that cover pretty clearly puts Cyclops and Storm in "Mommy" and "Daddy" roles -- but it hasn't really gelled yet. Maybe in a bit.

Of course, IMS we're now heading into a particularly dreary stretch of less-good issues. Hum, well.


Doug M.

Anagramsci said...

I agree with, I think, everyone, that retconning Magneto into a Holocaust survivor was a stroke of a genius on Claremont's part... his finest hour in fact--when you look at the big picture, it's a much more impressive achievement than any of the Phoenix stuff (although, for whatever reason--must we admit that Byrne once really knew what he was doing?--the panel-to-panel execution during this period isn't nearly as good as it was during the first 50 issues of the series...)

it's refreshing to see that a writer renowned for his "character development" skills could still throw "psychological realistic" caution to the wind and just graft a mind-blowing jump-cut onto the ongoing narrative--and it's not like Claremont had just taken over the series, rarin' to go with his "all-new all-different Magneto"... he had written the "pure evil, shackle-you-and-cackle-at-you Magneto" a few times during the seventies, and he clearly didn't want to go back there again... there's really no way to reconcile this Magneto with the old one, except that they are both the most powerful mutant-against-the-state... I was actually cheering for the man here (and Storm's argument that mutants are being hunted and killed because of people like Magneto was perfect--it's the kind of thing you have to believe, if you're going to defend an indefensible status quo... and, presumably, she's going to rethink that one over the next few years ... you've got me thinking that I ought to re-read all of these early-to-mid-80s X-Men Jason, especially the Morlock issues...

and I'm really looking forward to issue #161 as well--I remember that being a very good one indeed! (although--and here my prejudices rear their ugly heads again--in my mind, that Acts of Vengeance issue of Captain America, written by Gruenwald natch, in which Magneto confronts the Red Skull still reigns supreme as the best actual story built upon Claremont's supreme meta-contribution!)

Dave

Geoff Klock said...

Jason -- I am a little nervous about whether you will like Millar's X-Men. I guess it is the dislike of Morrison, and your love of Pirates 3, that makes me think we are a little out of tune on what we are looking for on stories.

I will say that I have very fond memories of Age of Apocalypse, and that one of the things I liked best was how there were survivors who made it to our world. I have said this before, but the alternate universe immigrant version of the baby-sent-into-the-future-and-returned Cable, named X-Man, who unconsciously resurrects the dead evil clone of his the mother he was cloned from -- and has sex with her: priceless. I think if it had all wrapped up too neatly it would have been like the "it's all a dream" thing.

And I should not admit this, but I was young enough at the time of AoA, and very new to comics, that when I discovered Legion went back in time and killed Xavier, and saw a poster saying "The End of the Dream" I swear to god i thought they were canceling the X-Men. I actually thought to myself, "well, maybe I should start getting a Batman comic book."

This is something that I miss about comics: the feeling that bad stuff could just HAPPEN to the main characters that I care about at any moment.

Jason said...

Doug, you're right, of course. Storm almost stabbing Magneto is a direct link to the Callisto scene. I feel a bit sheepish that I missed that one.

Dave, if you haven't, you must read Neil Shyminski's essay (it's on his blog) about the X-Men, which goes into some detail about the Morlock issues of X-Men and is a brilliant indictment of the X-Men's politics as originally conceived. And as for Magneto, I absolutely agree with you -- his development of Magneto was Chris Claremont's greatest single achievement as the X-Men's writer. (I have heard tell of that Magneto-confronts-the-Red-Skull issue of Acts of Vengeance ... didn't know Gruenwald wrote it ... I may have to check that out ...)

Geoff, but there are so many things we both love: Sorkin, Chicken Run, NewsRadio Dark City ... I hope you haven't consigned me to the same pile as that guy you mentioned recently, the one you disowned for liking Johnny English ... !

Shlomo said...

Geoff: Its weird. I first came to this blog, after googling "morrison new x-men reviews". At that time, I wasn’t buying comics, and hadn’t really been reading them regularly wither. As I started reading more and more posts, I embraced the perspective of comics-as-grab-bag-of-bizarreness where editorial conflicts, writer switches, and oscillating popularity end up influencing the narrative of the comic.

But while reading Jason's reviews, and catching up with a lot of summaries on uncannyxmen.net, Ive been thinking more and more about what I really did like within his best-story arcs. I even went out and bought "god loves man kills" the other day, and spent some train-rides making a goofy chart comparing (without need for contrasting) claremonts highlights with the movies and millar’s run to isolate what they had all decided what was essential, and explore how they had seriously diverged.

Its strange the way my readerly buzz keeps evolving. In a way, Ive returned closer to my original joy of first discovering the x-men (uncanny 298) and believeing that its rich history was cohesive as it was immense. But Ive only been able to do that by focusing in on what i consider the best stories, and mentally crossing-out all the stories in between—essentially forming my own continuity. This speaks to the question you posed about criticism: personally I find my critical sensibility morphing in different directions all the time, even if in the moment it feels as if its objective and absolute.

Jason said...

Shlomo, that chart sounds like something I'd love to see!

Geoff Klock said...

Shlomo -- I second that. That chart should be on this blog somewhere. Also you know you started reading the X-Men three issue before me right? Uncanny 301 was my first comic book ever. (300 was Jason's last , bascially)

Anagramsci said...

Geoff/Shlomo

yikes!

I believe I quit buying buying comics three years before you guys started! (circa Jim Lee X-Men #1)

I am OLD...

Jason--

I will definitely check out Neil essay. Sounds interesting. And I certainly do urge you to read that Gruenwald Magneto book (it almost redeems the entire Acts of Vengeance storyline!) Of course, you can also just wait for me to get to it in my Gru/Cap series--but it's about sixty issues into the run, and it could take me years to make it there...

Dave

Anonymous said...

By a curious coincidence, this thread popped up at Comics Should Be Good today:

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2008/07/29/729-declarative-rabbit-says/#comments


Doug M.

Cove West said...

Phew! Finally caught up with all your commentaries, Jason. Between your work here and Patrick's over at Thoughts, Claremont's run is finally getting some of the Internet attention normally reserved for out-of-context Silver Age JLA panels and the brilliance of Kirby-drawn toenails. I don't know what's worse: that it's almost impossible to find anyone these days who's even a fan of comics most dominant franchise, or that such fans have little insight into said franchise beyond the hawtness of Psylocke's ninja-trained butt-flossing. You aren't only providing an insightful service, you are indeed beating back the hordes of drooling ignorance.

So...UXM #150 and the Magneto magnificence. The opening ultimatum caught my eye in particular, which despite the menace was Mags essentially telling the superpowers to stop slouching toward Strangelove and let him pre-enact "Superman IV" with their arsenals, to the eventual salvation of humanity (yeah, he did it to save mutants, but unless he was then planning on overthrowing the nuclear-free nations, it would have benifitted everyone); my pre-Byrne X-history is fuzzy, but I don't remember Magneto's schemes ever being this...humanitarian...in the past.

We'll get to it more specifically in #160, but I wish Claremont had made more of whatever Lovecraftian itch that kept creeping into his plots in this era. He seems to be making a more explicit Cthulhu reference here than usual -- Magneto raised his island from the sea floor and caused havoc across the world's oceans, which was basically the climax of Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu" (and the island itself appears to be a ringer for Cthulhu's island of R'yleh), and Scott's shirt is emblazoned with a Cthulhuan squid -- but aside for the in-joke, it doesn't go anywhere (though didn't the X-Men revisit the island in a later MARVEL FANFARE story?). Considering that Marvel Earth has a Lovecraftian origin (Earth's original inhabitants were the Great-Old-One-analogues, the Elder Gods, of whom Gaea (Thor's mother), Set (Conan's foe), Oshtur (of Dr. Strange's Vishanti), and Chthon (creator of the Necronomicon-like Darkhold and father of the N'Garai) remain), I wonder what he was trying to get at. Was he trying to work Chthon into the Celestial First Host story (the origin of mutants)? Or maybe he was going for the Chthon/Magneto connection -- Wanda and Pietro were born on Chthon's prison of Wundagore Mountain, and Chthon is ostensibly the source of Wanda's magic. Again, it didn't end up meaning anything and Claremont's macabre ouvre went more Dante than Lovecraft over the years, but I do wonder.

Though not overwhelming, this issue is somewhat of an homage to UXM #5 -- the X-Men fight Magneto on a hidden Atlantic isle, destroy part of it, and end the issue stranded on the beach.

As much as the sinking of the "Leningrad" got all the attention in the '90s, it isn't as important in the story as the eruption in Varykino. I understand why the "Leningrad" got the later focus (because they died and the citizens of Varykino specifically did not, and also because Varykino was very much a Silver-Agey mad-conqueror thing to do that didn't fit the character anymore), but it's a shame someone didn't use it in some way in the later Soviet/Russian stories (seems like a good fit for Omega Red, for instance).

That X-demons-emerge-from-the-water scene of Cockrum's is a perfect condension of the ANAD theme (they aren't just weird heroes, they're frightening heroes), and wet-Wolverine is surprisingly awesome, but I can't say that it can save the issue's art for me. Cockrum simply was out of place in the post-Byrne visualization of the team, and only really shined in "KItty's Fairy Tale" and the weirdscapes of the Brood Saga. He was pillar of '70s storytelling, but just didn't fit with the '80s sensibility that the Byrne era inaguarated, and especially not the grounded reality needed for the Ostrander-esque socio-political story of #150. Claremont isn't perfect here either: he hadn't yet learned the trick of hiding the plot within character arcs to disguise its weakness, so the whole enterprise comes off as an isolated meander that Claremont wanted to get out of the way before he moved on to Better Stuff (whether it was better or not) back at the mansion. For as important an issue as this is, too much of it slums as "drunken night ideas" for me to connect with it fully, and the good stuff doesn't "pop" quite right (weirdly enough, the even more bizarre and outlierly Brood Saga accomplishes both).

And really, the whole fight would have been better had Ororo just chucked the rest of them into the ocean and spent 20 pages trading forces of nature with Mags. The X-Men were superfluous except for Kitty, and her only importance was as an almost-corpse. In fact, in retrospect I think it WOULD have been better, as a baseline from which to gauge how the Ororo/Magnus relationship evolved after #200.

Jason said...

Cove, THANK YOU for commenting and for the complimentary words.

The Lovecraftian thing ... my only real understanding of Lovecraft is via Alan Moore's myriad homages (his "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" universe has also been revealed to be of Lovecraftian origin, in the text pieces of The Black Dossier). From what I can glean, a lot of it to do with other-dimensional creatures making their way into ours, yah?

If so, yes! Thanks for bringing up Claremont's preoccupation with this theme. I plan on talking about it way down the track (when I get to "Inferno"), but it does pop up multiple times over Claremont's run -- most notably in three places: an arc circa issues 184-188 (contemporaneous with the "Demon Bear" saga in New Mutants 18-20) about ancient beings who are apparently meant to be in check by the Cheyenne (as represented by Dani Moonstar, Forge, Naze, and Dani's parents). Then for the big "Fall of the Mutants" event in 1987, Claremont chose to make the X-Men's part a direct sequel to the 184-188 arc, again with demons attempting to invade our dimension.

Only one year later for the next X-crossover, "Inferno," Claremont went right back to the same motif -- invading demons from another dimension. (And of course, "Inferno" has its seeds in issue 160, which begins with the X-Men on Magneto's island, and that takes us right back to where we are now.) Like you, I'm quite curious as to what Claremont had in mind as an ultimate agenda for this thread, if indeed there was any at all. It might've just been a pet-favorite plot of his -- consider that Claremont's VERY FIRST X-Men plot (with Len Wein having plotted issues 94-95) was issue 96, in which Kierrok of the N'Garai breaks free of an ancient cairn to take over the earth. This was on Claremont's mind for a long time.

(Demons invading from otherwhere is also the central premise of a Claremont story as recently as 2003, which saw the publication of the author's Justice League miniseries, "Scary Monsters.")

Whatever the case, one thing I DO feel certain about is that Claremont had no desire to tap the connection between Magneto and the twins. I'm convinced Claremont *hated* the idea that Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch were Magneto's children -- he *never* referred to it explicitly in any story throughout the '80s, and it messes with the origin Claremont himself conceived (with his daughter Anya having been killed in the Soviet Union and his wife, Magda, leaving him). Certainly as far as this blog is concerned, I'm entirely ignoring that ret-con, since it seems to be what Claremont saw fit to do.

And yeah, Marvel Fanfare #33 has the final appearance in the X-mythos of the Lovecraftian island. It gets tied into that videogame crossover of the time, "Questprobe," and Claremont is quite content to ignore any other hints of menace that the island exuded in earlier issues. (But Claremont would resurrect the "X-Men are based in a creepy headquarters that they don't fully understand" trope, when he put them in the Reaver's base in the Outback in 1988. Once again, however, we wouldn't get the payoff.)

Please keep commenting, CW!

wwk5d said...

"Perhaps inevitably, both authors would see their solutions erased by corporate-minded editors to preserve the X-Men franchise, vindicating Morrison’s more cynical view."

Maybe it was vindicated...but that doesn't necessarily make it more interesting.

Don't know what else I can add to the comments. I did like Cyclops' never die attitude here. The X-men may not have their powers, but they still have special skills, and they're still going to take a shot at Magneto. And interesting that it is Storm, not Cyclops, who has the final confrontation with Magneto.