[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]
“An Age Undreamed Of”
Back in the 1970s, Claremont and Byrne seem to have been all over the place. Besides Uncanny X-Men (their greatest triumph), the pair also collaborated on Iron Fist and Marvel Team-Up at around the same time. Around Christmas of 1978, they produced Marvel Team-Up #79, which saw the Marvel Universe cross over with the universe of Conan the Barbarian. Though Conan himself did not appear in Team-Up #79, his female counterpart, Red Sonja, did. The villain of the story was a wizard called Kulan Gath, who manifested in the Marvel Universe by possessing an innocent man who donned a magical amulet. The single-issue tale ended when Spider-Man managed to remove the amulet from Gath’s host, and later he threw the trinket into a river.
Uncanny X-Men #’s 190 and 191 are a sequel to that earlier adventure. Another innocent has found the amulet, thus Kulan Gath has returned and transformed all of New York into the Conan-era world he remembers. The entire premise is apropos of nothing; other than the couple of set-up pages from Uncanny #’s 188 and 189, nothing in the series up to now has prepared us for this kind of story. And the tale even ends with one of those time-travel gimmick-conclusions that go back to the beginning and prevent the whole thing from ever happening. Thus, the story is almost entirely self-contained, and seems to exist solely for its own sake. There’s not much to be gained in trying to analyze its larger place in the X-Men canon. One just has to go with the flow and judge both this issue and the next one on their own merits.
From that perspective, this is a perfectly enjoyable little two-parter. Certainly any fan of the sword-and-sorcery genre should find little to complain about. Claremont clearly has a lot of affection for this sort of thing: wizards, witches, knights, magicians, warriors, etc. If one has the patience to follow the labyrinthine mechanics of the overall arc, some of the plot turns here are fairly clever and exciting – possibly more so for New Mutants fans, given the key roles that characters such as Illyana, Magma and Warlock play. That last one is a particular curiosity. Having debuted at the same time that Bill Sienkiewicz did in the pages of New Mutants, Warlock is very much a Sienkiewiczean creation – a wild-looking entity whose dimensions seem, in a vaguely Escher-like way, to constantly contradict the laws of physics. The in-story explanation for the character’s bizarre look is that he is an alien made out of living circuitry, whose physical shape is in a constant state of flux. The real reason is just that Sienkiewicz is a mad visual genius.
That said, Romita Jr. and Dan Green handle the character’s look admirably. Though their Warlock can’t hope to match Sienkiewicz for sheer wildness, they still create a striking visual. Green in particular seems quite at home with the “living circuitry” idea, his loose line running wildly all over Warlock’s body to quite an impressive effect.
Indeed, Romita Jr. and Green have fun throughout the Kulan Gath arc. Their opening double-page spread of a transformed New York City is breathtaking, for example. Romita Jr.’s viscerally kinetic approach to action -- combined with the remarkable sense of expressionistic detail that Green creates with his gesturely inking style -- all make for some incredibly arresting pages.
[Isn't this also I kind of dark revision of Kitty's Fairy Tale -- except this is "real"?]