Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #154

[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 #154


The mostly-whimsical previous issue had one particularly intriguing scene, depicting Charles Xaver’s concern that the X-Mansion’s funds were running low because of all the repair work it was requiring lately. That tantalizing bit of verisimilitude takes us rather surprisingly into a new status quo in issue 154, as the X-Men have taken up residence at Magneto’s island headquarters in the Bermuda Triangle. The story notes that Xavier’s decision to relocate the team is also thanks to intimations of a new, “growing wave of anti-mutant sentiment in the States,” which “may have official sanction.” This references the esoteric “Project Wideawake” cliffhanger at the end of the “Days of Future Past” arc.

The abrupt change in the status quo, and the various intimations of mounting menace, combine to give “Reunion” an intense urgency that had been missing from the series for over a year. This is by far Claremont’s most tightly focused X-Men script since John Byrne’s departure. Claremont seems keenly aware, too, that he’s regained his focus and direction. His narration on the opening splash that Cyclops and Storm are “blissfully unaware that this is merely the calm before the tempest” is a paraphrase of one of the first lines of the Dark Phoenix Saga, implicitly promising that another powerful epic is about to begin. He’ll turn out to be right; the coming Brood story arc, while lacking in the laser-beam intensity of his best collaborations with Byrne, will over time resolve itself into one of Claremont’s most exciting and emotionally rewarding stories.

Roger McKee talks in “Story” of the importance of a great inciting incident, and Claremont deploys one shrewdly here. The reappearance of Corsair immediately re-ignites the long-ignored subplot in which Cyclops was kept in the dark about their relationship, and the shocking suddenness with which Scott learns the truth is arresting. The issue’s momentum does not let up – indeed, when the mansion is completely destroyed by the Sidri, it feels as if we are truly witnessing an epic change in the course of the series.

(As it turns out, this watershed moment will be somewhat swiftly reversed, as the mansion is rebuilt over the course of only a couple issues. My hunch is that Claremont would have liked to keep the mansion’s destruction permanent and keep the X-Men as outcasts whose new home was the Bermuda Triangle, but Jim Shooter felt the school was too integral to the X-Men concept. Very soon after Shooter steps down as Editor in Chief to replaced by Tom DeFalco, Claremont will again relocate the X-Men to a remote location – the Australian Outback this time – and keep them from returning to the mansion for over two years.)

Only two X-Men, Storm and Cyclops, take part in this issue’s extended action sequence, but that ends up working in the story’s favor, contributing to its streamlined feel. There’s also a sense of novelty to it, as these two particular characters have never interacted at so much length before now. Claremont discovers some surprising chemistry between Scott and Ororo – the way they continually hand back and forth the role of leadership over the course of the story is particularly well handled. One gets the sense that Claremont might have developed their camaraderie here into a deep and abiding friendship had the series’ plotlines not ended up taking the characters in other directions.

Artistically, this issue is a striking one as well. No doubt thrilled that the series is returning to the space opera of his and Claremont’s pre-Byrne collaborations, Dave Cockrum seems as refreshed and exuberant as his partner. After a string of conventionally superheroic exploits, the X-Men are back in an unabashedly sci-fi story, and on every level they seem the better for it.

Even in the humor department, Claremont and Cockrum both seem to be having fun. Cockrum’s touch of having “Kitty’s Dragon” painted on the side of the Blackbird can’t help but bring a grin, and Claremont seems to mock his own verbosity as a writer in a throwaway bit about how much information Kitty can fit on a postcard.

Also of note: Carol Danvers, imported into the book’s cast as of issue 150 from her quasi-redemptive misadventure in Claremont’s Avengers Annual 10, is starting to become more integrated into the proceedings. In “Reunion,” we learn for the first time that she and Wolverine have worked together in the past, an important revelation that will inform the early relationship between Logan and Rogue.


Geoff Klock said...

I am reading scans of the original issues, and I assume this was corrected, but there is this hilarious error in mine, where the phrase "totally sequential" is used when "totally inconsequential" was wanted.

Jason said...

That sounds familiar, actually ...

Matthew J. Brady said...

That's a really cool cover.

By the way, Jason, have you seen this post? I bet it would have been handy when you were talking about those issues. You and Bully have to get your timing straight.

Jason said...

Heh, fun stuff. Good ol' Bully. (I've got to love any blogger whose whole identity comes from a Dr. Katz episode.)

Yeah, Bully actually did a post about how George Perez draws great rubble, and included a bunch of images from X-Men Annual #3, and it was only about three days before or after when my blog-posting about Annual #3 went up here. I sent Bully a link and commented on the weird coincidence, but I don't know whether he followed it, or if he was much interested in what he saw if he did. Obviously he's never commented here ...

Bully said...

I may not always comment, but I have dropped in! (A month late, as Mama Bull would always say) Great stuff, you guys!

wwk5d said...

I like the Storm/Cyclops dynamic we see here. They also have a nice scene in the Xavier/Magneto flashback issue.