Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #152

[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 #152

“The Hellfire Gambit”

A recurring mantra of Claremont’s during his entire tenure on X-Men is that the protagonists should not kill. They are heroes, goes the refrain, and if they kill they are no better than the villains. The philosophy is repeated twice in this issue, first by Kitty then on the final page by – of all people – Wolverine. This liberal sense of morality, which in the context of the X-Men often seems naive, is part of what comics like The Authority and The Ultimate were rebelling against (as Geoff points out in his book). In “The Hellfire Gambit” at least, Claremont offers up a practical demonstration of why, in the sci-fi universe that the X-Men inhabit, killing your enemies isn’t a great idea – your enemy might have body-switched with one of your best friends. It’s superhero cliché used as metaphor again: In the story, Kitty is right to save Emma’s life, because although she doesn’t know it, Storm is trapped in Emma’s body. In real life, the death penalty is wrong because a good person might be somewhere inside the body of that seemingly heartless murderer. (Ironically, the White Queen will actually go on to be reformed over the decades, eventually going so far as to replace Jean Grey as Scott Summers’ main love interest during Morrison’s New X-Men series.)

Or an alternative interpretation is that this is a slight variation on a Morrison philosophy that Geoff so enjoys: Simplistic right-wing solutions like the death penalty just don’t work in the X-Men’s complex world of mutants and body-switching telepaths.

Whatever the case, morality lessons aside, issue 152 offers up a tidy and well orchestrated conclusion to a fun two-parter. While this second appearance of the Hellfire Club can’t possibly match up to the first (during the Dark Phoenix Saga) in terms of the overall scope and sense of dread, it does mark several notches of improvement in terms of the Club members’ individual characterizations. While previously they seemed like fairly generic evil-doers with an affected style of dress, this new story plays up the fetishism as integral aspects of their characters. It’s still tame by modern standards, but Kitty’s comment in the previous issue that Shaw, Frost, et al are criminals “for kicks” and that “they’re sick” gives the first hints of what sets the Hellfire Club apart from other villains. As with Magneto’s increased dimensionality and the curing of Sauron, the undercurrent of kink in the Hellfire Club is another example of Claremont attempting to avoid stagnation within the superhero paradigm of the recurring villain by adding a new twist each time.

The process continues here. Shaw’s casual romantic aggression towards Emma implies a sexually permissive relationship between the two, and the fact that Shaw is undeterred despite Emma inhabiting an entirely different body is telling as well. Indeed, Emma’s desire in the first place to take over Storm’s body can be read as motivated by twisted or fetishistic desire – it certainly doesn’t play out as an integral part of the Hellfire Club’s plan to invade the mansion. Its primary purpose seems to be to spice up the sexual interplay between her and the Black King. With the Club viewed in this light, it’s hard not to wonder as well about the White Queen’s single-minded desire to acquire Kitty Pryde. Is there a kinked motivation for that as well? (A story in New Mutants will eventually reveal that, no, the White Queen is not a pedophile – she merely seeks protégés.)

Apart from the implications of deviant sexuality, “The Hellfire Gambit” is not a standout story, though it is a supremely competent one. Claremont’s use of Amanda Sefton is a clever wrinkle; having established her as a witch in the otherwise useless X-Men Annual #4, Claremont now lets her be an important part of the action, her spells saving Wolverine from murder at the hands of cyborg Hellfire mercenaries. (The cyborgs are survivors of Byrne’s intensely violent opening sequence of Uncanny #133. Byrne obviously intended Wolverine to have killed them, but Claremont – steering the ship solo now – circumvents that intent and makes them recurring villains.)

Shaw is a great villain, always forcing creative solutions to defeating him. Here, master strategist Cyclops has Colossus “fastball special” Shaw into a lake, forcing him to burn off his absorbed kinetic energy in the act of swimming to shore.

Also notable is the implied parity between the X-Men and the Hellfire Club in Storm’s dialogue of the final panel. Like Charles’ musing in issue 149 that he and Magneto are “uncomfortably alike” – which hints at Magneto’s eventual replacement of Professor X in issue 200 – the pointing out of common ground between the X-Men and the Club opens up intriguing notions about the X-Men themselves, and plants the first oblique seed for the implicit “friends with benefits” relationship that will eventually evolve between Wolverine and Storm.

[It is interesting how the comic book idea that the villains are reflections of the heroes makes it easy to may characters like the White Queen and Magneto X-Men leaders.]

[There is also a bit where Cyclops sweeps a Sentinel off the lawn that reminded me of a moment in Whedon's Astonising. This whole period is really burned in Whedon's mind, both on X-Men and in Buffy.]


Anonymous said...

I've been doing all my comments on from memories of these issues. (Read something twenty times when you're sixteen years old, then a couple of times a year for the next decade, and it wil stay with you.)

This means I'm going to fall silent for a while, because we're approaching the point where I quit buying the X-Men. I'd still read issues on the newsstand (1982, 1983, there were still comics at drugstores and newsstands then), but I wouldn't buy them and take them home and study them any more.

What's been interesting to note -- well, for me, anyway -- is that I stopped *remembering* these issues a year or so before I stopped buying them.

What I mean by that: I remember the Byrne/Claremont issues very well. I can quote, not just individual lines, but fair chunks of dialogue by heart. Covers and page layouts and individual panels are pretty well seared into my memory. But once we hit the Cockrum run, I found myself flailing to remember these kinds of details. I bought the Doom/Arcade trilogy, I read it, and I remember bits and pieces of it ("Nightcrawler's disappeared!"), but there's just not the same level of intense recollection. These issues weren't interesting enough to keep my teenage self reading them over and over, nor to keep my young adult self a few years later digging back in the stacks for re-reads. So they didn't get branded into deep memory in anything like the same way.

This has been steadily progressive since #143. So, I remember bits and pieces of the Doom trilogy, but by #151-2 the only thing I can bring to mind is the deeply silly mind-switch gun and the White Queen quoting Lear. And, um, that's it. So my ability to add value to these discussions is declining pretty sharply.

But let me toss out a couple of notions anyway.

One, the mind-switch gun... gaaah. Even by the standards of comic-book magic tech, this is a dopey idea. And then using it to swap with an enemy superhero is dopey squared (and choosing Storm, dopey cubed). This is one of those times when you feel Claremont had a cool scene in mind and just chucked in a McGuffin to make it work. (IMS the mind switch gun never does appear again.)

Two, yeah, the Hellfire Club are sort of an alternative vision of the X-Men. This will become more clear in a couple of years with the introduction of the Hellions.

What's interesting here is that Claremont never really warms to the Lee-Kirby vision of Manichean Good vs. Bad mutants. Or rather, there's one team of Good mutants... and multiple competing visions of Bad: Magneto, Mystique and her new Brotherhood, the Hellfire Club, Proteus.

A lot of discussion of Claremont centers around the competeing "Malcolm X vs. MLK" visions of Magneto and the Professor. But in fact there's only a brief period in Claremont's run where these two are so articulated and directly competing. Before #150, Magneto is still a standard "shackle and cackle" bad guy (albeit a much more charismatic and intelligent one than he had been); by #200, he's far down the road to redemption. So, it's really only a few years out of the long, long run.

I submit that for much of Claremont's run, it's the Hellfire Club, not Magneto, who are set up as the ideological rivals to the X-Men. They're not interested in conquering the world, nor in saving it for mutantkind. They're just sick selfish bastards having fun. If we buy this, then the big divide in Claremont's X-writing is not between "pro-human" and "anti-human" mutants, but between selfless and selfish ones. Note that this causes some of the X-Men's other mutant opponents -- Black Tom, Proteus, Mesmero -- to click into place: they're bad not because they want to rule, but just because they're all about themselves. Notice how Mesmero's appearance in #111 now looks like a dry run for the first Hellfire Club trilogy, right down to putting Jean in a sleazy outfit. Notice also how the one redemptive aspect of the Tom/Juggernaut relationship is their selfless friendship.

This goes to something that most commenters miss about superhero comics generally: the classic adolescent fantasy is not to be powerful. It's to be powerful and good.

Anyway. Keep up the good work!

Doug M.

Jason said...

Good call, Doug, and certainly it's an explicitly recurring motif in Claremont's X-Men work particularly: The whole repeated mantra that "The X-Men are supposed to stand for something better." Indeed, it's a key feature of this issue, with Kitty's moral dilemma about saving "Emma" from the fire -- she knows she should since she's a "hero," yet also contemplates that if positions were reversed, Emma would let Kitty burn.

Furthermore, at around 1985 and beyond, more and more of Claremont's villains will redeem themselves by becoming selfless -- Callisto saves Professor X's life; the Hellfire Club help the X-Men against Nimrod; Magneto, of course, becomes the New Mutants' new teacher.

This redemption angle will continue throughout the time Ann Nocenti is editor on the title (1984 through early 1988), only to largely fall away when the new editorial regime takes over at Marvel (DeFalco replaces Shooter as chief; Bob Harras replaces Nocenti as X-Men editor), looking to return things to their traditional status: the heroes are heroes, the villains are villains, and that's that.

Patrick said...

Much as I love the Inferno storyline, that does seem to be the turning point in trying to move things back to the old status quo, by absolving Scott of his guilt for abandoning his wife and son, and melding X-Factor Jean with Phoenix Jean, yet removing the guilt of Dark Phoenix.

What strikes me as weird about that is that virtually none of Claremont's run features the normal Jean, Marvel was trying to recreate a status quo that never really existed. Is it simply the huge acclaim for the Dark Phoenix story meant that Marvel always wanted to go back to that dynamic, or was it more the inherent conservatism of comics, the worry that it would be hard to sell the series to movies and TV without having a clear set of characters who are the X-Men? I'm guessing it's mostly the latter, X-Men #1, despite featuring some nice payoffs on what Claremont had done before, is designed to set up a traditional status quo, the X-Men at the mansion battling Magneto, that could then be sold.

More than any other comics property, I think X-Men was adversely affected by the move towards comics as a licensing/character farm for movies and TV.

Jason said...

Yeh, there's a great interview with Claremont in The Comics Journal circa 1992 (just after he quit X-Men), and he very much blames the licensing aspect. He mentions that he wanted to kill Professor X and have Gateway become the new mentor; he wanted to keep Magneto rehabilitated, but then -- as he puts it specifically -- all the X-Men cartoons (and posters and lunchboxes and whatever else) that have Professor X leading the X-Men into battle against Magneto become obsolete.

Excellent point about Marvel trying to "recreate a status quo that never existed." So true, great turn of phrase, and it seems to happen a lot. I have a recollection of there being a solicitation for an X-Men story in which Rogue loses the Ms. Marvel abilities, and it was sold as if this was returning Rogue to her original state. But she had the Ms. Marvel powers from the moment she first appeared on-panel!

j.liang said...

Was this body-switch incident ever referred to again in later issues, Claremont's or otherwise? Just curious. (I never read this issue and the image included in this post is the first I've seen of the cover.)

In light of the events summarized here, I think the Ellis-scripted reunion between Emma and Ororo in Astonishing X-Men #25 is even more bizarre and a little bit creepy.

Jason said...

Hmmm ... I definitely don't recall it ever coming up again in the original Claremont run that ended in 1991. There is an issue of X-Treme X-Men (or maybe a whole arc) that was very Storm/Emma-focused. It might've come up there, but that was after I'd stopped reading so I'm not sure ...

(By this time, Claremont was -- by all accounts -- getting a bit righteously indignant about what was happening to the franchise. Emma was part of Morrison's New X-Men at this time -- a cornerstone of it, really -- and so Claremont had Storm confront her and remind her that Emma used to be a fairly nasty villain. The subtext was, presumably, that Claremont didn't like what Morrison was doing with Emma, making her a hero. But this ignores several things, i.e., 1.) Claremont rehabilitated villains left and right -- Magneto most notably -- in his original X-Men run; 2.) he even got Emma up the first few rungs of her rehabilitation, making her more sympathetic over time via the Hellions material in New Mutants; and 3.) Emma then became the mentor for Generation X way back in 1993 or whenever, so it was hardly a huge perversion of the character on Morrison's part to make her an X-Man.)

Anonymous said...

IMS the reformation of Emma took place over a decade or so, and involved several authors -- Claremont started it, a couple of other people carried it along a ways, and Morrison just finished the process.

Morrison did add several nice Morrisonian touches, yes. You know how Emma's always appearing in lace-up bustiers? Early in his run, there's a telepathic flashback to a teen-age Emma... who is gangly, rather plain, and ostentatiously flat. Scott is also present at the flashback -- this is while Jean is still around, well befor he and Emma hook up.

Present-day Emma turns red and says something like, "Fine! I had some cosmetic surgery, okay?"

Doug M.

Cove West said...

What bugs me so much about this arc is how lightweight the Hellfire Club is compared to the powerhouse portrayals in Dark Phoenix and DoFP; the plot is something out of the Torch STRANGE TALES features and the execution struggles to overcome that deficiency. It's like the Arcade stories, except Arcade is supposed to be lightweight whereas the Club is supposed to be immense and epic. But at least Claremont tightens things in this second part, giving both Emma and Ororo an edge that stands out.

On the Ororo/Logan partnership, notice how their bloodlusts invert here: Ororo is relatively calm under the circumstances while Logan verges on berserker, but once Ororo begins going postal on Emma, Logan becomes the calm one. It's something I just picked up on this reading, so I wonder how much Claremont plays with that through the series -- does Wolverine serve as Storm's "angry side" and she as his "calm side"? Certainly Claremont uses it, most notably in the Massacre when Wolverine serves as Ororo's vengeance and there are several times when she stares him down, but how much do their respective mindsets reflect each other?

The Shaw/Emma relationship is classic sub/domme: he's this uber-rich, politically-untouchable, physically-impervious mensch, and she's this porcelain princess who can hurt anyone. It strikes me that nobody ever touched on this much, that Sebastian was exactly the kind of person to surround himself with an nasty immortal witch and a bitchy telepath and pick fights with a team that included a quasi-goddess, a power-sucker with superstrength, an intangible girl, and an unstable force of the universe. Emma, meanwhile, was desperate for someone who liked her compulsive mental tortures, and Shaw fit the bill perfectly -- of all the "core" X-villains, Shaw remains the least humanized (does he even have an origin beyond the Club?), perhaps because he is the only one who seeks humiliation (okay, Apocalypse does too, but his is for philosophical/biological reasons, not a masochistic one). Of course, Emma eventually ditched Shaw because by then she wanted herself to be punished for what happened to the Hellions, and once her spirit-quest of sorts with GenX ended, she sought out a new masochist...Scott Summers, Whipping Boy of Heroes.

I'm not as sold on the Club as a mirror to the X-Men, mainly because Claremont never used them as such. Emma mirrored Jean originally and Shaw perhaps mirrored Xavier (at least in Dark Phoenix, where Wyngarde mirrored Scott), and then they shifted to Ororo/Jean and Scott, respectively, in this ish, but they never quite measured against the rest of the team. I'd actually peg them more as a mirror to the Xavier/Moira/Banshee/Corbeau group who had the opportunities to capitalize on fortunes and used them instead to the betterment of others. I think Claremont actually intended Mystique's Brotherhood to resume their heritage as the X-Men's mirror, but he liked Mystique too much to relegate her to the flipside of an X-Man, so he eventually settled on the Marauders (and later, the Acolytes).

But I do agree with Doug about the ideological divides. The "War" splits into two rough factions -- the "Peace-seekers" like Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique (though Mags and Raven expect to have to fight their way to peace), and the "Chaotics" like the Hellfire Club, Farouk, Apocalypse, Sinister, and the various Stryker-like humans. And while I do think the MLK/Malcolm X analogy works broadly for Charles and Magnus, it only works if creative teams remember that King and X weren't enemies -- the Klan was. Ultimately, the X-Men are closer to Magneto than they are to any of their other villains, and Claremont was canny enough to pick up on this. By aligning the Phoenix-tampering Club with Farouk, then, Claremont established them as THE ideological Chaotics of his run (Sinister was a Chaotic too, but he wasn't ideological) -- though at this point in the run, I wouldn't say that they had achieved that place yet (wasn't until Selene's arrival, maybe even as late as Storm's alliance). In #151-152, the Club is just another recurring villain.

j.liang said...

Jason: Now I'm not sure what to make of Claremont's version of Emma in his brief post-Morrison stint on Uncanny, where a strangely chipper Emma Frost proves herself to be a more adept telepath -- and more charitable human being -- than Rachel Summers (now Rachel Grey). In that storyline, Courtney Ross (Sat-Yr-9, still in disguise, I think) sets herself as the new White Queen of the Hellfire Club. This was just after the reappearance of both The Fury and Jamie Braddock as reality-warping stand-in for Jaspers (as you mentioned on the "Lost Projects" thread).

Stephen said...

Wow, great analysis from everyone. ("Shackle & cackle" is a keeper of a phrase.) Not much to add, except to say that I think that selfishness/selflessness is actually a much *better* frame for opposition, since the supposed Malcolm X/MLK frame never made much sense (and made a total hash out of both those figures).

Oh, and that I always liked Wolverine's "don't kill" speech -- an interesting moral philosophy that he'd come back to, if memory serves: it's a nice role reversal.

On the other hand, I always thought one of the more risible bits in this issue was *how quickly* he explains it to everyone else, and how quickly they *get* it -- "the kid told me what happened, Emma switched minds with Storm" -- and they just grasp that right away. oh, right -- *that*.


Jason said...

Excellent points, CW. I still think you can look at the Shaw/Queen relationship as a mirror, or a predictor, of what will be established later between Storm and Wolverine. With that in mind, you could take the sub/dom paradigm you've applied (brilliant, by the way), and use it as a lens through which to view some of those moments you've brought up, like Mutant Massacre. There is a definite sense of Wolverine being Storm's pet in that issue (and later, in the two-part arc involving the old WWII heroes), as if he's the "sub" to Storm's "domme." (And Storm will certainly look the part by then, having had the leather and mohawk since issue 173.)

I like the idea that the Club is less a mirror to the team as they are to the Xavier/Moira/Banshee group -- that core of mentors. Another canny way of looking at it. (Brubaker seems to have twigged to this a bit -- his "Deadly Genesis" miniseries had a bit in which Xavier and Moira tried to recruit Emma Frost out of the Hellfire Club circa Giant Sized X-Men #1.)

I don't think the Marauders work as a flipside to the X-Men any better than a lot of the other villains you mention. As mindless soldiers working for Sinister, they fall more into the Chaotic faction, I'd say. And the Acolytes may work better, but I think they were more of a Jim Lee idea than a Claremont one.

Ultimately it becomes hard to identify a "flipside"/"mirror image" group in Claremont's X-Men, because Claremont had a tendency to take any characters with a potential to become sympathetic, and *make* them sympathetic -- or at the very least, start to align them with the X-Men rather than against them. It's a recurring motif in Claremont's 17-year run that villains who start out opposed to the X-Men (ideologically or otherwise) start to become allied with them, often against a third -- more dangerous (or more Chaotic) -- villain. See: Magneto teaming up with the X-Men against Stryker in "God Loves, Man Kills"; The Morlocks and the Hellfire Club teaming up with the X-Men against Nimrod in X-Men #207-209; The Brotherhood (Freedom Force by this point) teaming up with the X-Men against the Adversary in Fall of the Mutants and against the Reavers in Uncanny #254-255.

Stephen -- Personally, I *like* when explanations are accepted quickly in superhero comics, and other bits of serialized fantasy. Weird things happen to these characters on a daily basis, and I often find it tiresome in fantasy fiction when copious amounts of time are spent trying to convince/explain some wacky turn of events to someone who's having none of it ("You expect me to believe that?").

There is mileage to be gotten out of the Malcolm X/MLK parallel with Xavier and Magneto, but generally I tend to agree with you, Stephen, that it's pretty muddled by this point. As a way to read the characters, metaphorically, it's virtually hopeless.

J.Liang -- I have no idea what Claremont is thinking with these characters anymore. Although everyone is agreeing that the Claremont who wrote issues 151 and 152 is not quite up to par with the one who wrote Dark Phoenix, I think it's still clear that there was still a tightness of theme and consistency of characterization that marked Claremont's work during his first 17-year stint -- trackable even through rough patches like 1981. Latter-day Claremont, by contrast, is all over the map.

Anonymous said...

Man, the sub-domme stuff does pop up a lot in these threads, dunnit. Remember our discussion of the mesa scene a few weeks back?

But I think it's legit. Emma wasn't always a domme, but you might say her character grew into her costume. Also, given that aspect, it makes perfect sense that she'd pick (and pick on) Scott. It's a post-Claremont development, but it evolves organically and plausibly out of the characters he spent years developing.

(Not to flog the Morrison horse again, but I think his depiction of Emma is one of his stronger characterizations. She's a bitch on wheels, and aching from day one to get Scott under her boots, but she's also very human and vulnerable. You can see why the Beast would spend endless days trying to put her back together.)

Anyway. Jason, good point about how Claremont repeatedly turns villains into allies against worse villains -- sometimes temporary, sometimes not.

The Marauders, I think you have to look at in the context of the mid-1980s: the Code had become way relaxed, and suddenly mainstream comics could be all grim and gritty and violent and stuff. I think Claremont swung that way for a while because everyone was doing it, but I think he then swung away because it wasn't really working for him. The problem with the Marauders is that they're /too/ evil -- they're just pure violence, with no possibility of redemption. In their first few appearances, you can see Claremont struggling to flesh them out; then later he shrugs and gives up, and turns them into robotically programmed clones.

More generally, I'd say Claremont has trouble with purely evil villains. They work best when he can use them once and dispose of them (Proteus, the N'Garai demon). Belasco he tries to gussy up with a complicated backstory and a lot of snark, but after a while you can feel him laboring under the strain. The Brood, well, he gets off to a strong start, but by the end of the much-too-long Brood saga we're all going to be kind of weary of them.

One last thought on this issue: the mind-switch gun never appears again, and the mind-switching episode never gets mentioned. This IMO goes towards the whole "year in the sandbox" paradigm for these issues: from #144 to the early 160s, Claremont was canoodling. In the long run he was experimenting with new ideas and tropes, some fruitful, many not.

-- But at the time, it looked and felt like treading water. Almost all of these issues (#150 is the notable exception) could be excised from continuity, and continuity would be none the worse. And this was apparent at the time: not much of interest was /happening/ here.

It would take a while for Claremont to get his oars back in the water, and it would be sort of a gradual acceleration. But we'll get to that.

Doug M.

Jason said...

Doug, I won't argue about the first Brood saga, which was stretched too long by any standard.

But I gotta say, I like how Claremont handled his pure-evil characters. True, it only worked if he kept the appearances of such characters to a minimum ... but I think he could get away with more than once. Indeed, toward the end, he seemed to be developing a pattern of using his villains in three major arcs before either disposing of them or transforming them. The Marauders were a great example: An explosive debut in Mutant Massacre, a follow-up rematch bout in issues 221-222, and then the final battle with them during Inferno where -- in Classic Claremontian style -- they are taken down swiftly even as they are subordinated to the level of secondary threat (behind Madelyne and the Limbo-demons).

It was easy to see Claremont heading toward a similar construction with the Reavers (first appearance in UXM 229, second in the 250s, and set-ups for a third/final battle sprinkled in the 260s ... then Claremont quits and it's all forgotten).

But I liked Claremont's irredeemable bastard characters: The Marauders, Sinister, the Reavers. They were in stark contrast to those antagonists that had more dimensionality: The Magnetos, Emmas and Mystiques. I think the series, under Claremont at least, required both types. Neither would be enough on its own, but the way the series juggled both brands of antagonists gave the series a palpable tension from issue to issue that was real entertaining.

(Also, I adore the "return of the Brood" material in issues 232-234, which felt like a reprise of the original Brood saga, but with all the fat burned off.)

Cove West said...

Jason... I see what you're saying about Emma/Shaw = Ororo/Logan, but I think of the former as a perversion of the latter. Emma and Shaw use each other (or Claremont implies it, since it would be too adult otherwise) to explore their emotions in a negative way, through the threat of infliction -- Emma goads Shaw into angering her, he dares her to hurt him. But Ororo and Logan tend to use each other more cathartically -- Ororo influences Logan to control, he influences her to passion (excitment, anger, want, etc.), both struggle to maintain a healthy balance. The parallel isn't quite exact, but E&S serve as a kind of cautionary tale: be careful how far you take emotional symbiosis without self-reliance, or else the passion will win out and degenerate into sadism. But I don't see Ororo and Logan there; they aren't sub/domme, they're soldier/officer.

As for the Marauders as the X-Men's flipside, they serve BECAUSE they're mindless killers. If the divide is Chaotics vs. Peaceniks, then the only Chaotic team to rival the Peacenik X-Men team was the Marauders (with Sinister as the head master that mirrored Xavier/Magneto's role as headmaster). Pre-Marauders, the only possible rival teams Claremont used were the Imperial Guard (too alien), Mystique's Brotherhood (other than DoFP, their major appearances were all as the Peacenik Freedom Force), and the Hellfire Club (too powerful socially). The Marauders fit as "the X-Men, if they were evil." But yeah, I do see where Claremont couldn't stop turning his antagonists into protagonists (but at least he knew to draw the line at Sabretooth).

Doug... My position on Morrison is that is was the best alternate reality X-Men ever written, but it never belonged in continuity. The Emma/Scott relationship is one prime example. Morrison portrayed Emma as a "rich bitch," and while she may be that, her previous personality was never tied up in her status or her mood; Emma was bad because she was a high-level telepath who liked controlling minds and had a domme streak toward hurting those with pretentions to power. She was a control-freak AND a dominatrix. The death of the Hellions, her coma, and the GenX years relaxed her control-freakiness, but she never lost the inner dominatrix, it simply had no secretly-submissive alpha-male to work on without Shaw. And then she met Scott Summers.

The thing about Scott is, he's meek and socially-awkward and he's had some cosmically-tragic bad luck and he's an iffy husband, but he's NEVER submissive. In fact, against dominant personalities (in other words, villains) Scott will almost always rise to the challenge (it's interesting that it took a cosmic Phoenix and the legions of Hell -- er, Limbo -- to pose challenges he couldn't meet). Scott is Peter Parker's reheaded stepchild as a normal Joe, but he's Captain America as a hero. So following the Claremontian templates, yes, I can see Emma making a play for Scott as her new sub. But Scott SHOULD have surprised her -- she tries to dominate, he steps up, she tries harder, he steps up further (after all, this is a guy who stood up to Dark Phoenix; Emma Frost is an asparagus-person compared to that) -- with the twist that, unlike Emma is expecting (the tested male, undefeated, takes his vengeance on the female), Scott doesn't dominate HER. Thus she's in a relationship where equality is consensual choice instead of the balancing of opposing trauma. Or something. Anyway, Morrison didn't do that, leaving the sub/domme framework essentially intact from start to finish, with the resolution being that Emma was nicer about dominating him and that Jean approved. And while I approve Whedon's attempt to pull Scott up, he didn't eliminate the masochism that Morrison invented, so I just see it continuing. Emma can still be a bitch, but Scott doesn't have to be her's.

Anonymous said...

Hi Cove,

I have to sharply disagree here. If you go back and look at the Scott/Jean relationship in Claremont's first few years -- especially in the crucial issues from around #125 to #137 -- it's pretty clear that, yes, Scott is Jean's sub. It's subtle (of course), but it really is there. You're right to say he's Captain America in combat, but in the relationship with Jean, she is quietly but firmly dominant, and he's clearly okay with that.

Jason very much disagreed with this reading at first, BTW. Over several conversations I think we talked him around to "well, maybe..." If you have a few minutes, go back and check out the comment threads on those issues, especially the mesa scene (#132) et seq, and tell us what you think.


Doug M.

Cove West said...

Phoenix being dominant doesn't mean Scott is submissive; he doesn't WANT her to dominate him like a submissive, he's just willing to put up with it until she works it out. And when she DIDN'T work it out, he didn't stand for it. Which goes back toward what I say about Emma and Scott: she sees him with these dommes like Phoenix and the Goblin Queen, she thinks he's a sub in need of punishment, she tries to give it to him, and he SHOULD stop her cold and say "I'm not into mind games." Instead, Morrison had him say "thank you Emma, may I have another?" until she decided to care about him. I don't think Claremont or Byrne meant us to look at Scott in Dark Phoenix and see him as deficient, but rather to look at Phoenix and see her as dangerously superficient.

Patrick said...

I don't think Morrison wanted to play Scott as a sub by putting him with Emma, I think it was more a comment on the fact that both he and Jean had gotten bored with each other. They fell in love as kids, and have been through so much, it obscured the fact that at this point, they didn't have that much passion anymore. They're the prom king and queen who get married, and ten years later realize that they're very different people, hence Scott's affair with Emma.

It's not necessarily the only way to play that storyline, but I think it worked well as Morrison played it out.

wwk5d said...

"This whole period is really burned in Whedon's mind, both on X-Men"

No wonder I felt that Whedon's run was an underwhelming retread.

I agree with Patrick to an extent. Much as I liked Scott and Jean, they were really stale by that point. Emma was a nice addition to the mix. I never saw Jean, even as Phoenix, dominating him too much until the end...yeah, she kind of takes charge, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it dominating. On the one hand, I could see what Scott saw in Emma, to an extent; something new and kinky, which he wasn't getting from Jean. I'm just not sure I understood what Emma saw in Scott enough to make her fall in love with him.

Tom McLean said...

I don't think it's been mentioned in this post or the one for issue #133, but according to some interviews Claremont says he was ordered by Jim Shooter to show the Hellfire guards were not killed by Wolverine because Shooter decreed the heroes don't kill. So while Claremont and Byrne did have their rivalry, this plot point was not part of it.