Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #162

[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.]

“Beyond the Farthest Star”

1982 was an important year for the X-franchise, with the release of the first spin-off series focusing on the solo adventures of a team member. (The ongoing Dazzler series had piggy-backed its launch off of Uncanny back in 1980, so was only a spin-off by technicality). Written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Frank Miller, the four-issue “Wolverine” miniseries drew heavily upon the novel “Shogun,” and re-imagined Wolverine as a failed samurai.

Claremont and Cockrum execute a sort of tonal segue into the Wolverine mini with Uncanny X-Men #162, a solo Wolverine story that utilizes the same first-person narrative captions, and also apes the miniseries’ use of Mariko Yashida as a touchstone for the deepening of Wolverine’s character. (It will be another six months before Claremont actually integrates the Frank Miller series’ plot into the parent series.) Uncanny #162 is also the first appearance in an Uncanny X-Men comic of Wolverine’s now cliché catch-phrase, “I’m the best there is at what I do. But what I do best isn’t very nice.”

This is par excellence a Claremont Wolverine story, in all its paradoxical glory, the character relating his own descent into berserker-level madness and brutality via pristine, eloquent narration. Somehow, the combination obviously clicked with readers – Claremont’s work here is the template for hundreds of Wolverine comics by dozens of authors. For all its contradictions, “Beyond the Farthest Star” – in tandem with the contemporaneous Claremont/Miller miniseries – represents the invention of the solo-Wolverine story, and as such is hugely important to the canon from a historical perspective.

From an artistic one, the issue is not nearly so satisfying. While the plotting has a kind of clockwork perfection to it, and the flashback sequences do succeed in conveying a tone of eerie paranoia, Claremont has a hard time maintaining Wolverine’s tough-poet voice convincingly over 22 pages of narrative captions. It seems likely that Claremont invented the vernacular to blend with Frank Miller’s aesthetic, itself possessing both a toughness and poetry. Indeed, in the miniseries, the narration works marvelously for four issues straight. Here, it doesn’t chime nearly as well with Cockrum’s art, which after five issues is back in the territory of space opera (a genre not at all congruous with the already self-contradictory “tough poet” narration).

Still, looking past the tonal dissonance of the narration and the plot, Cockrum turns in excellent work here, his double-page spread of the Brood ship’s massive corpse being particularly lovely. Although Claremont’s story is again shamelessly ripping off the “Alien” film, Cockrum is clearly in his element. An appropriate level of Giger homage is evident in his designs for the Brood, but they are still a creative visual design in their own right. Indeed, the best thing about “Beyond the Farthest Star” is its tour de force showcase of one of superhero comics’ all-time greatest designers, of architecture, of aliens, of characters. (Recall that Cockrum designed the mask-less Wolverine as well.)

Overall, this is more Cockrum’s issue than Claremont’s. The former seems very much on point, while Claremont – overly intoxicated by his freshly conceived new voice for Wolverine – has lost the focus he demonstrated so ably during the previous four months.


Curt said...

Jason, will you be covering Claremont and Miller's Wolverine mini, once UXM's plot acknowledges the book? (I'd be interested in your two-cents on the series)

Between the original Wolverine limited series and Claremont's work with Paul Smith on the parent book, this is definitely my favorite era of X-Men history. Claremont wouldn't reach these heights again for some time, IMO.

Jason said...

Curt, yes. Only one blog entry to cover all four issues of the Miller mini, but yeah, it's in there.

scott91777 said...

So was this story before, after, or the same time as the mini?

I'm totally in agreement with you here-- the Dark Phoenix story with Wolverine going solo (133?) may be the more iconic but it wasn't until here and the Miller series that Wolverine truly resembled the "Tough Guy Poet" he has become today.

Jason said...

The Wolverine limited series issues 1-4 were published concurrently with Uncanny X-Men issues 161-164.

Continuity-wise, it took a while for Uncanny to catch up. Wolverine was written out of Uncanny for three issues (169-171) ... which I guess you already know since you just mentioned reading the Paul Smith run only recently.

One thing that I like about Claremont was he was pretty conscientious about writing gaps into Uncanny X-Men that Wolverine solo projects could be slotted into, subtly aiding in verisimilitude. Of course, Marvel Editorial isn't really into that sort of thing now, leading to zero credibility regarding the character, as he appears in tons of stories a month with no regard to how that could even be possible.

scott91777 said...

I had assumed that the mini took place at the same time as his absences in UXM. This would explain why we don't see rogue in the last issue of that mini when the x-folks recieve the wedding invitation.

Oh yeah, I have the essentials collecting from this issue to 198 So I'll be following along closely

Jason said...

Scott, yeah! Exactly! It also explains why Cyclops is there to receive that wedding invitation, even though by the time the Uncanny continuity catches up, Scott is busy freaking out in Alaska over Madelyne Pryor.

wwk5d said...

Awesome issue. In the grand scheme of the Brood saga, yeah, it seems out of place. Taken on it's own? Amazing.