Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #191

[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.]

Uncanny X-Men, The #191

“Raiders of the Lost Temple”

Everything written about the previous issue applies to this one as well, so there’s not much else to say about the story or art. I would, however, like to explore the ending, wherein a time-travel gimmick prevents Kulan Gath from ever escaping his amulet in the first place, but also leads to an unexpected side-effect: The arrival in the present day of an advanced Sentinel from Rachel Summers’ alternate future. Called Nimrod, the character is a blatant trope on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character, about whom James Cameron’s original film had just come out only months before the November 1984 release of Uncanny #191. (The final line of the commemorative issue 193 published two months later is Nimrod’s: “The Uncanny X-Men,” he says, “will be terminated.”)

But this entire Kulan Gath arc was already a trope on a different Schwarzenegger film franchise. As Spider-Man puts it on Page 17 of Uncanny #190, “My hometown [has] turned into a giant-sized set from ‘Conan the Barbarian’...” It should be noted that 1984 saw the release of two Schwarzenegger films: both The Terminator and Conan the Destroyer (the latter being the second film of the Conan franchise).

So, much like issue 189 saw Claremont placing two different avatars of Dark Phoenix (Rachel and Selene) in opposition, we now have a story wherein a massive apparent homage to Conan (as embodied most famously by Schwarzenegger) is rendered literally non-existent within the story by a time paradox that also introduces into the X-Men’s world their own version of The Terminator. (I have to thank Geoff for inspiring this observation, which occurred to me not long after I heard him on Comic Geek Speak talking about how Kill Bill pits different avatars of Bruce Lee against each other.)

Claremont didn’t have to do much inventing to explain the existence of Nimrod. He had already teamed with John Byrne four years ago to create the classic X-Men story “Days of Future Past,” which – itself an unintentional rip-off of an old Dr. Who storyline – predicted quite a few elements of the plotline of The Terminator. (As more proof that the idea has seen a myriad iterations, recall that Harlan Ellison sued the makers of The Terminator on the grounds that they had stolen ideas from HIS work.)

So what we’re left with is a strange fantasy story that from the start had nothing to do with the X-Men, and at the end seems to have been all about Arnold Schwarzenegger. A possibly more relevant interpretation is to suggest that Claremont was trying to say something about which genre the X-Men are more appropriate for. To go back to the Neil Shyminski observation I’ve referenced several times already, the X-Men work best as sci-fi characters. So we have an X-Men story wherein fantasy is supplanted by sci-fi -- not just with the Nimrod twist at the end, but in the way both a wizard and a witch are ultimately defeated by Warlock, who (despite the fantasy connotations of his name) is a “techno-organic” alien made out of living circuitry, possibly the most science-fictional character of any in the X-universe at this time. (The X-Men will battle Magus, Warlock’s father, in the very next issue, affirming sci-fi’s ascendancy.)

Whatever the point – be it about genre, pop culture, or something else entirely – this is certainly a circuitous (if you will) way to make it.

7 comments:

scott91777 said...

It also looks like Claremont was about 20 years ahead of Sam Raimi with the 'crucified Spidey' motif. Speaking of which, that was a pretty brutally violent scene by 1984 standards, was it not?

It's interesting that about a year or so later that Claremont would, once again, enter the realm of fantasy by sending his mutants to Asgard. However, this time it would be confined to a New Mutants Special and an Annual. Maybe he just really wanted to play to the strenghts of Art Adams.

Jason said...

Scott,

Consider though that between the Special and the Annual that was over 100 pages of Asgardian material, versus only 50 pages of the Kulan Gath stuff ...!

Art Adams probably was a big part of it -- also, I think Claremont was good friends with the Simonsons, and Walt Simonson was tearing shit up on Thor at around that time, so Claremont maybe wanted to play in that sandbox a bit. (Note that Simonson returned the favor the following year, having Thor take part in the "Mutant Massacre" storyline ...)

Anonymous said...

I love Spider-Man in this story. Claremont is able to show how Spidey's self of responsibility makes him one tough bastard, despite all the jokes. The ending seemed unique in comics at the time, but now seems cliched. Every time a story raises the stakes to the point of mass mayhem and the death of major characters, you suspect it is not for real. This will happen a lot in the X-universe in the near future with Jean Grey returning, the "death" of Angel and the Fall of the Mutants.
-Jeff

Anonymous said...

I think that Claremont has said that Nimrod was inspired by the Fury, not the Terminator.
Am I the only person who thinks that Kulan Gath trying to render Selene and Strange helpless by preventing them from gesturing and speaking makes no sense since we've seen both of them use their powers without gesturing or speaking?
Michael

Gary said...

An inability to gesture or speak keeps Selene and Dr. Strange from getting at the big stuff, and Kulan Gath is powerful enough to stop the small stuff with a secondary thought.

Just casting about for a No-Prize.

wwk5d said...

One thing about JRjr, he draws one of the better versions of Warlock, I think, after Sienkiewicz. Especially when compared to some of the other X-artists who did some really bad versions, like Brett Blevins.

Anonymous said...

wwk56,

Everything Brett Blevins did in New Mutants was bad. Horrible costume designs, overwrought expressions, kiddifying the team until they all seemed to be about twelve. Partnered with Louise Simonson's knack for writing all of her characters as idiots just so they don't realize the plot conventions they're stuck in, this pretty much ruined the New Mutants, so badly that once Liefeld's Uber-macho action poses showed up, they seemed a viable alternative. Look where that got us.

--Mortsleam