Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #157

[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 #157


As in the previous issue, the X-Men occasionally get lost in the shuffle of this one. Instead of assimilating the genre trappings – as occurred in the awesome sci-fi of “Days of Future Past” – the X-Men here get a bit swallowed up in the space opera elements so exuberantly delineated by Dave Cockrum. Certainly the sight of a civil war among the Imperial Guard members is grand, especially when rendered by the man who designed most of them, but it’s not the most satisfying payoff to a plot thread that had originally focused on Kitty and Kurt. The two of them do get a couple of good moments – the sequence in which they escape from their room is cleverly executed, for example, and their “Dark Phoenix” hoax once again reinforces Kitty’s status as the surrogate Jean Grey – but ultimately they get shunted aside in favor of the “Imperial Guard vs. itself” bit.

To add insult to injury, in the big climactic moment wherein the Earth is about to be destroyed – the planet ends up getting saved by the Starjammers! The X-Men have become supporting cast members in their own comic.

Still, better things are coming, and they are hinted at here. The sequence wherein Xavier “senses an anomaly within himself” is suitably ominous, as is Deathbird’s promise to deliver the X-Men unto the Brood. (In a bit of overkill, Deathbird silently swears that she will eventually betray the Brood – this turns out to be an empty threat. She’ll keep her promise in issue 161 and then promptly disappear from the comic, not to return for nine years.)

So, the first act of the Brood saga – after a slam-bang start – ends here with a fizzle. Recognizing perhaps that they let their love of space opera overwhelm the finer points of their story, Cockrum and Claremont will now pull back from this entire milieu. The next four issues will each be mainly self-contained stories -- two drawn by fill-in artists and all of them much more grounded – before the series launches into the Brood Saga’s Act Two. By then, the lessons of this lopsided four-parter will have been learned, leading to a far more integrated and satisfying adventure.

In the meantime, “Hide-‘n’-Seek” can be enjoyed for its artistic achievement at least. Cockrum really seems to love drawing this kind of stuff, and his whimsical sense of humor is truly inimitable. (The visual gag of Kitty constantly changing her costume also hits its apex in this issue.) Claremont, not nearly as canny in this regard, can barely keep up – his feeble allusion to “Captain K’rk” being a particular groaner.


Anonymous said...

Two posts with no comments would be sort of sad. I think it's a reflection, not of your work -- good as always -- but of the general lack of interest in this storyline and these issues.

There's just not a lot to like here. These issues don't suck, but they don't much stand out either. They're middle ground middle brow early 80s superhero comics.

Trying hard to come up with something to say, I get the following:

-- the Starjammers kinda suck, and that ends up being a drag on this storyline. You'd think that "Swashbucklers... in Spaaaace!" would be sort of inherently cool, but as it turns out, not. They have cool Cockrum-y visuals and that's about it. As individuals, they're a collection of not-that-interesting stereotypes; as a group, they seem to have wandered in from a comic book universe next door. Even if they were done much better, they don't really fit in this comic.

IMS Claremont wised up and kept them out of the next outer space storyline. Also IMS, nobody but Claremont has ever liked them or used them much.

-- you didn't mention it, but this is another case of Claremont building false suspense by having characters not talk to each other. Once Scott knows who Corsair is, you'd expect him to grab the first quiet moment and say, "Okay, Dad... what the /fuck/?" Claremont could, and really should, have given us an issue devoted to the Summers family story. Instead he comes up with some bogus excuse (I don't remember what it was, just that it was bogus) for keeping this mysterious for another hundred issues or so.

-- this issue is not where Claremont jumps the shark WRT Jean Grey, but you can see him getting on the motorcycle and gunning the engine. At this point it's been 20 issues, and we've had a long retrospective on Jean -- okay; various characters mourning her -- fine; Scott having an extended horrific dream/fantasy sequence about her -- whatevs; Kitty telling a story woven around her -- if you must; and now the brief appearance of Jean as an illusion produced by the image inducer. (Wouldn't the Shi'ar know all about image inducers? Wouldn't defenses against them be as common as smoke alarms or antivirus software? Don't mind me, move along.) We get that Jean's still a big deal, Chris. In retrospect it looks like he was going to milk that one heroic character death for everything he could. (On the other hand, that's still better than bringing her back.)

-- anyway, this scene with Phoenix is an obvious precursor to Scott's confrontation with Mastermind 20 or so issues later, when he'll use his image induction... er, illusion power to make Madelyne Pryor look like Phoenix. Which must have just stretched him to the limit. But we'll get to that.

Doug M.

Jason said...


Thanks for the commenting. (Although I'm not too worried if we occasionally get zero comments on these things. It seems in inherent danger of the issue-by-issue project.)

Re: the Corsair thing -- I seem to recall that we *did* get the full explanation here, at least of everything Corsair knew about what happened with them. You're right of course in that there was lots of other Summers craziness still to come -- but I don't think it was the result of any artificial holding-back by Christopher in these issues. I thought it was all laid out chronologically in issue 155... what am I forgetting?

Doug, have you read the Classic X-Men series, with the stories illustrated by John Bolton? Just curious. As my early blog entries attest, I think they are VERY strong, among my favorite X-Men work by Claremont. Anyhoo, one of them has a story about how Christopher hooked up with the Starjammers. It's so well-executed and lovingly conceived, it pretty much made me a Starjammers fan. But you're right, they tend to come off as a tad generic in most stories they appear in. (Peter David put them in Incredible Hulk, circa issues 415 and 416, and didn't really seem to know what to do with them. (Though Gary Frank and Cam Smith made them look fantastic.))

I'm getting more and more nervous about our inevitable battle when it comes to Maddie Pryor. (But I am counting on Patrick to have my back!) Your "we'll get to that" is sounding more and more ominous each time ...

wwk5d said...

I still found this fun. Like much of the 2nd Cockrum run, it's not the magnificent epic of the Byrne years, but it's good, entertaining fun. Personally, I liked how just seeing Phoenix causes even people like Gladiator to crap in their pants. And the fight itself among the Imperials was dynamic and exciting, even though Kurt was the only X-man present. You gotta also give Claremont credit for giving even supporting characters like Gladiator and some of the other Imperials some character work.

Anonymous said...

Haven't read it in a long time but I remember Warren Ellis writing a pretty good Starjammers mini with Carlos Pacheco on art right around the time he was on Excalibur.

Derek E