Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #177

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right.]

Uncanny X-Men, The #177


In Comics Creators on X-Men, Chris Claremont gives a few opinions on each of his artistic collaborators during his Uncanny X-Men tenure. His feelings on John Romita Jr.’s work for the series seem the least enthused, as he notes that the Romita of Uncanny was not yet the artistic powerhouse he’d become on other titles (e.g., Daredevil). Certainly the first few issues of Romita’s run seem a little clunky. The artist’s gritty, down-to-earth aesthetic (which first emerges in issue 179) is a stark change from the more fanciful, imaginative sensibilities of Smith, Byrne or Cockrum. That will turn out to be a great strength, as Claremont’s writing begins to get darker to match. But what we see here, in issue #177, is a writer and artist still getting a little accustomed to each other, never quite finding each other’s groove.

A 22-page story, “Sanction” wastes a ridiculous 12 pages on a dismally unimaginative scene depicting Mystique in training against Arcade’s X-Men robots. Romita’s choreography is stiff, and Claremont strains, but ultimately fails, to give Mystique a compelling first-person narrative voice. The one intriguing element is the reintroduction of the mysterious connection between Raven and Nightcrawler, yet Claremont doesn’t even bring it up again after this. Why spend so much time playing up that mystery only to drop it? One of the most frustrating loose ends of Claremont’s run.

Claremont will prove to be similarly sloppy with another idea introduced here: the Doug Ramsey character, introduced obliquely as Colossus’ potential rival for Kitty Pryde’s affections. Doug doesn’t even show up here – he is only mentioned. He’ll first appear on panel in forthcoming issues of New Mutants, where the romantic tension between him and Kitty is played up even more – only to be silently dropped from either series with no real payoff (other than a casual dismissal of the entire thing in New Mutants #45, years after the fact).

Ultimately the best thing to emerge from issue 177 is the scene wherein Lilandra, Corsair, et al finally depart Earth; the angst and hand wringing of various X-Men regarding the Starjammers’ eventual departure (“imminent” for 10 months now) had really gone on too long. It’s not surprising that these space-opera characters depart so quickly after Romita Jr.’s arrival, since they are somewhat at odds with his harder, more grounded artistic style. (Note that Romita Jr. also leaves Lockheed, another fantastical element, out of the series for several months – not until issue 181 does Claremont finally write the dragon back in.)

“Sanction” is inked by John Romita Sr., and while the father-son pairing is a fun idea (this is the only time it happens on an Uncanny issue), the older Romita has a very Silver Age sensibility that completely overwhelms the comic. There’s a clear sense at this point that Claremont is anxious to move forward into darker territory, while Romita Sr. is simultaneously brightening things up with a confidently old-school sheen. The cumulative result is 22 pages of material that’s stuck in neutral.


scott91777 said...

I really disliked Sr.'s inking here... mostly because the comic suddenly looked like He had drawn it. Don't get me wrong, JRSR is one of the greats, but it's like we suddenly have a comic from the late 60's here. What's interesting is that this collaboration occurs just as JRJR is about to break from his father's shadow, if you've ever looked at his work from his first Amazing Spider-man run (which, I think, chronologically, directly preceeded this X-men run) then you'll notice that he is very much his father's son. I wonder if this collaboration was maybe a way of putting that to rest? It is after this issue that JRJR's style immediately begins to shift more towards his modern style. So maybe a little bit of the whole mythological-archetypal 'son killing the father' so he can assume his place is going on here. Or maybe the two of them just thought it would be fun to work together :)

Jason said...

That is an interesting take on things. I'm not familiar with any pre-X-Men JRJr work, so I didn't feel comfortable making any statements about where this falls in his development as an artist. (Although certainly his work on the 1980 X-Men Annual three years before this is pretty depressingly bland.)

But your take certainly is attractive!

And yeah, one hates to diss Romita Sr. since he's one of the Silver Age greats (he drew the "Face it, Tiger!" panel, right?) ... but his work here feels positively archaic.

scott91777 said...

Yes, "Face It, Tiger." was him. Archaic is exaclty the right word here.

Amazing Spider-man 245 was one of the first comics I remember buying as a kid and I accumlated quite a few issues from that run during my 'collecting' phase. Basically, there is a definite sense of him living in his father's shadow. His spidey looks a lot like his dad's spidey... but maybe with more of a modern sensibility. It would be interesiting to take a side-by side examination of his art from this run and the more recent one (when was that? 2002ish?) when he has developed into his 'mature' style.

If nothing else, this is proof positives that inkers are a lot more than 'tracers' :)

Jason said...

It's an amazing comparison to look at this issue next to Uncanny 179, with inks by Dan Green (another one with a very distinctive style ...)

Jonathan Brown said...

Am I the only one who just does not like JRjr? I think his art looks silly with all the lines that clutter his pages. Look at the way he draws wrinckles and creases in people's clothing -- its more than I can take. And his outfits look silly -- what's up with those extremely baggy pants he has all the characters wear?

I'll dissent -- I like the art in this issue better because his dad smooths down his excessive tendencies.

Jason said...

Jonathan, what can I say? I like all the wrinkles in the clothing! (Reminds me of the clothes I typically wear -- I never learned to use an iron ...)

wwk5d said...

Not the best issue...but the JRjr run is not just my favorite X-men run, but easily one of my top 3 runs EVER.

The training sequence is a bit long...we didn't need 12 pages to remind us that Mystique is a bad ass, did we? ;)

Isaac P. said...

Romita Senior's influence on the pencils is so strong that when Colossus walks on in his formal wear and is referred to as Peter, I briefly thought we were getting a Peter Parker cameo. An interesting experiment, but one not well suited to the tone of the book.