Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #197

[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.]

“To Save Arcade?!?”

It wasn’t long before the publication of Uncanny #197 that writer-artist John Byrne made a nastily unprofessional point of ret-conning an earlier use of Dr. Doom by Chris Claremont. Fantastic Four #258 stated categorically that the Dr. Doom who appeared in Uncanny X-Men #145-147 was a “Doombot.” That little nose-thumbing explains the bulk of “To Save Arcade?!?”, largely devoted to a giant hoax by Arcade (who also appeared in Uncanny #’s 145-147) involving another Dr. Doom who again turns out to be a fake.

It appears to be a big joke on John Byrne’s petulant possessiveness of Dr. Doom as a Fantastic Four character. (Byrne couldn’t stand seeing the villain appearing in other comics acting “out of character.”) The appearance of X-Men robots (“X-bots”) created by Arcade – and the multiple comments about how they are so much like the “real” X-Men – are presumably part of the same gag. Claremont is jokingly giving himself the same back-door to explain away other writers’ use of the X-Men. If they ever act out of character, Arcade can show up and say they were actually X-bots.

Since so much of the issue is dedicated to a not-terribly-funny inside joke, the only interesting moments to be found here occur on the fringes of the comic. The one-page Scott/Madelyne scene, for example, is very well written. Scott professing his fear at entering a new phase of his life as a “family man” feels very genuine and sympathetic – this being before it turns into something horrible thanks to the miserable early issues of X-Factor (from which we are still roughly six months away).

Colossus’ guilt-ridden dream that opens the issue is similarly affecting. Overall, Claremont is a bit too dependent on dream sequences laden with overwrought imagery. Certainly the Colossus sequence is quite wrought, but it manages not to go too far. It’s a neat bit of symbolism, for example, that the Kitty section of the dream alludes to the Brood saga, when Peter first refused Kitty’s sexual advance. And the Illyana bit that goes all the way back to Giant-Sized X-Men #1 is shrewd as well.

It’s interesting that both Colossus and Cyclops are shown dealing with psychological insecurities related to their masculinity. Colossus laments that he was unable to save “his” women (Kitty, Illyana and the female healer from Secret Wars, Zsaji). Cyclops fears permanently abandoning his role as the X-Men’s alpha male in order to devote himself full-time to being a husband and father. If there is an overarching theme to “To Save Arcade?!?”, it is the examination of male sexual psychology. Within that schema, Arcade’s ridiculous plot – as revealed at the end of the issue – has a strange kind of resonance. Every birthday, he arranges a duel to test whether he’s still as potent as ever. It is always against Miss Locke, his female counterpart – Arcade wants to test whether he is still man enough to beat the woman in his life. And their duels are always explicitly to the death; so the day in which he can’t beat a woman is the day Arcade will die.

Looked at through this lens, even Claremont’s extended joke about John Byrne has its place, demonstrating something about the psychology of the men outside the comics as well. Claremont and Byrne have egos as sensitive as those of Arcade, Cyclops and Colossus, and they treat any misuse or insult to the characters in their custody as an attack on themselves as well.


Stephen said...

Scott professing his fear at entering a new phase of his life as a “family man” feels very genuine and sympathetic – this being before it turns into something horrible thanks to the miserable early issues of X-Factor.

Yeah, but fortunately, the X-Factor Scott was only one of Arcade's X-bots.

[/Obvious but Inevitable Joke]


ba said...

can't wait for the next few reviews...200-275 is my favorite run. yes, the OZ-men is my favorite run of the x-men....ever.

Jason said...

Nice, Stephen!

Ba, the Australian X-Men? Yeah, I love 'em. Totally underrated.

Jon Brown said...

Good commentary. You made me actually appreciate this issue. I never thought much of it before. Now i'm going to have to go look it up and re-read it.

It is interesting how out of sync this issue is with the rest of what was going on in Uncanny at the time. Perhaps this issue was a fill-in that was tacked on because of missed deadlines?

Jason said...


Anything's possible, but filling in for whom? The regular Uncanny team all contribute to issue 197.

I do know that Claremont learned about the X-Factor/Jean-Grey resurrection while in the planning stages for issue 198. Presumably that would occur before, say, the dialogue-ing of issue 197, so we're looking at a Claremont who is very recently aware of Dark Phoenix's ending being rendered obsolete. So between that and Byrne slashing up Claremont's Dr. Doom story, we might be looking at a particularly powerless-feeling Claremont at work here.

jon brown said...

I see what you mean. I think I was getting this issue confused with the one in which Nightcrawler fights against Arcade to save a damsel in distress who later turns out to be a princess.

Either way, the arcade stories usually seem to be very superfical and silly, but they are all in good fun.

Speaking of Claremont feeling powerless, did you read the "comic creators on thex-men" interview? He said that he found out about Jean's resurrection on a friday after office hours had already closed. So had he found out earlier, he would have stormed up to Shooter's office and either quit or cuss him out to the point where he would have gotten fired.

So powerlessness is probably a good description of Claremont's feelings at this point.

wwk5d said...

Another good, fun issue. And we got some good character work for Colossus, and some nice scenes, esp at the end, with him and Shadowcat.

You know, Byrne wasn't the only who was overprotective of his characters, so was Peter David. I noticed he HATES it if his characters lose a fight in someone else's book. There was an example where, in one title, Dr Octopus (with adamantium tentacles) beats the Hulk in a fight. A few months later, in a story written by PAD, they have a rematch and he destroys Doc Ock. Yes, the Hulk shouldn't have lost initially, but no need to be so defensive. I also remember when PAD was writing X-factor, they never lost a fight...except when they guest starred in the Hulk's title, written by...PAD. Make what you will of that.