Thursday, November 13, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #180

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

“Whose Life Is It Anyway?”

Uncanny X-Men, The #180

Having apparently struck upon the idea months ago to end Colossus and Kitty’s relationship, Claremont made the odd decision to lay much of the emotional groundwork for the idea in issues of New Mutants rather than X-Men. New Mutants #’s 13 and 14 see Kitty palling around with a fellow teen computer geek called Doug Ramsey, and that thread continues into Uncanny #180, which itself is a lovely example of Claremont’s flair for superhero soap opera. An early scene between Kitty and Doug focuses primarily on the former’s long-brewing frustration at Storm having gone punk, but the overt use of both physical and textual clues make it impossible to miss the sexual tension. There is a dramatic irony at play, for while she rages about Storm’s recent alienating behavior with typical teenage emotional selfishness, she is entirely unaware that her own flirtations with Doug are also alienating Peter.

Colossus’ feelings, meanwhile, are made explicit in a lovely scene between him and Logan, the latter playing cowboy-philosopher while the former wallows in a rather affecting bout of self-loathing. “I am an ignorant peasant, from a society and culture as alien to her as any we’ve encountered in space,” Colossus says. Wolverine, as he takes a pull from a cigarette, replies, “If that’s what you truly believe, Peter ... you’ve lost already, more than you know.” Thanks to Romita and Green’s down-to-earth artistic style, scenes such as these – for all their Claremontian melodrama – are surprisingly grounded and effective.

As in Claremont and Byrne’s Uncanny #122, the present issue’s only bit of superhero action is a perfunctory sequence involving Storm vs. a gang of juvenile delinquents. Issue 180 is clearly meant to invoke its Byrne-illustrated precursor, wherein a naive Ororo explored a Harlem ghetto and was shocked when a youth she encountered cut her hand “to the bone” with a knife. Now, Storm faces down a group of criminals, all armed with blades, and her reaction is a knowing smile. Uncanny 122 also showed Ororo resorting to her mutant powers to save her life, but in issue 180 she tosses one thug through a window head-first and thinks to herself, “Against foes such as these – bare hands should suffice. More fun, too.” This is a shrewd use of serialized storytelling, one which Claremont will use more and more, re-creating key moments and dramatic beats from stories that appeared far earlier in the narrative cycle, inviting readers to examine the new iteration and reflect on just how much has changed between then and now. Romita and Green shine here as well. In spite of being tame by superhero standards, the two-page action scene here feels surprisingly brutal; the aforementioned panel of a man smashing through a window has particular strength, thanks in large part to the lack of sound effects and speed- or motion-lines. (The artists were perhaps obliquely influenced here by Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s similar aesthetic choice in the contemporaneous “V for Vendetta,” which deliberately eschewed sound effects, speed lines or thought balloons as a way of setting itself apart from typical action comics of the time.)

The emotionally climactic scene in the story, featuring the Storm/Kitty confrontation that had long been coming, is quite nicely handled as well. Sweet and simple, the sequence not only resolves Kitty’s recent frustration with Ororo’s changed demeanor, but also subtly brings closure to a much older thread wherein Storm’s parental attitude toward Kitty was causing feelings of irrational jealousy at Stevie Hunter, Kitty’s other surrogate-mother figure. “I am not – must not be – your mother,” Storm tells Kitty here. “I used to believe I could play that role ... but that was a mistake.” Unapologetically sentimental as it ends the scene with both characters in tears, Claremont’s writing here is also intelligent and shrewd; note another instance of dramatic irony in Kitty’s unknowingly prescient rhetorical questions, “Will it happen to me, too, like this? If I fall in love, will it only be for a while? Or worse, will the person I love stop loving me --?”

Though the story occupies an odd place in X-Men continuity, segueing not only between contemporaneous issues of New Mutants but also into Jim Shooter’s Secret Wars via a tonally dissonant sci-fi cliffhanger, Uncanny #180 is a solid entry in Claremont’s X-Men canon thanks to a fluent combination of sentimental drama and intelligent writing (marred only slightly by an unusually high incidence of typos by letterer Tom Orzechowski).


Stephen said...

The other thing to say about that generally terrific Storm/Kitty scene is that it's a masterpiece of anti-climax -- or maybe genre-twisting is a better term. After a multi-issue build-up of the Storm situation... that Something Was Wrong With Her, some lurking menace, a telepathic whammy of some sort, a demonic possession... it was just a person going through some changes. The subverting of the genre trope, making so it was really just a character thing, was very powerful. At the time, I was sure that Something was going on with Storm. Turns out -- she was a person.


And if the bit at the end of the dialogue about Kitty's asking about the permanence of love is sentimental, then it is honest and earned sentiment.

A great moment.

Jason said...

Yes, well said. From more than one vector, this is a cleverly constructed scene. The push-and-pull of the Storm/Kitty relationship -- with Storm continually jealous of having her place in Kitty's life usurped, first by Stevie, then by Peter and Illyana -- followed by Kitty resenting Ororo's transformation, is all very true to life, I think.

It's interesting too, your point about anti-climax/genre-inversion. If Dark Phoenix is the template for all other X-Men stories to follow, how perfectly natural to see Storm's transformation as heading along the same path. Yet, as you say, the expected explosion turns out to be an implosion, instead. A gentle conversation -- rather than battles on the moon -- is what ends the thread.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'd never connected the two "Storm versus street punks" scenes before. It does strike home just how much the character changed between the two scenes.

As for the scene in issue 180 where she takes on the street punks, I've always been partial to the panel where she picks up a two-by-four and bashes two thugs in the face at the same time. Nice.

Anonymous said...

I never cared for MoStorm much -- thought it was an implausible and contrived direction for the character to take. Also, I never for a moment thought it was demonic possession or some such -- as soon as the new look appeared, my twentyish self was all "oh, here's Claremont trying to be soap-opera and edgy at the same time".

That said, I firmly agree that it was much, much better than just rerunning Dark Phoenix again. retrospect, the MoStorm years are really period pieces. Mohawks are transgressive; turning a previously gentle and naive character into someone who hits people in the face with two-by-fours (and loves it! fun!) is character development. It's all very Eighties, no?

There's a conversation to be had about Storm's awakening to, first violence, then love and sex, as compared to Jean's; there are a number of interesting comparanda, most notably that Storm's sexual awakening comes after being /de/powered. (On the other hand, she gets to live through it.) But maybe later.

Doug M.

wwk5d said...

Best Storm and Kitty scene ever.

But Jason, I read somewhere Shooter was the one who wanted to end the Kitty/Peter romance. He didn't like the idea of a 19-year old being with a minor...

Isaac P. said...

I picked up the Secret Wars trade for the first time a few years back and the love affair that Colossus goes through on Battleworld felt completely out of character. Now reading these issues leading up to the Secret Wars time jump puts Peter's state of mind in context. I still don't think I will ever have the love for Secret Wars that people who first read it as kids do.