Thursday, April 02, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #210

[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.]

“The Morning After”

Five issues ago, in “Wounded Wolf,” Claremont attempted to heighten the drama by leaving certain crucial plot points to reader imagination. (How did Spiral come into contact with Deathstrike? How did Deathstrike and the mercs manage to mess Wolverine up so badly?) The effect was more alienating than absorbing. Here, however, the same technique is used much more effectively, as the opening sequence introduces us to a Hellfire mercenary and his lover, a young Morlock girl. How it is that two such disparate characters met, much less fell in love, and how they came to move from New York to Los Angeles – those are all stories for the reader to conceive. With readers invited to fill in the blanks left by Claremont, a certain sympathy with these two canon-fodder characters instantaneously exists, and their murder seems all the more cruel and shocking.

The murderers, meanwhile, identified collectively as “Marauders,” are imbued with a sense of menace more pervasive and persuasive than any villain created by Claremont before this issue – this despite the fact that they never appear clearly on panel. The final sound-effect, a “BOOM” rendered in forced perspective and signifying the death of the female Morlock, is melodramatic – but the context imbues it with horrible foreboding.

Meanwhile, in between the “Marauder” sequences that bookend the issue are a series of attractive character bits that consolidate the helter-skelter events of recent issues and also incorporate continuity from other series in the “X” franchise – particularly the most recent addition, X-Factor. Deservedly hated by Claremont and thus to some extent studiously ignored at first, X-Factor was at this point being written by Claremont’s friend and former X-Men editor Louise Simonson. So while Simonson was doing backflips to try and refashion Bob Layton’s brainchild into something workable as a long-term series, Claremont happily helped out, presenting here an X-Factor/Magneto scene that interlocks with the concurrent X-Factor issue. In Uncanny #210, we see the scene from Magneto’s perspective, while in the sister title, Simsonson writes the exact same scene from the POV of her titular team. In Uncanny, Magneto sees X-Factor and wonders, “How could [the original X-Men] have so betrayed their heritage, Xavier’s ideals ...” by becoming mutant-hunters? In the X-Factor version, they wonder how Xavier could have left the school in the hands of their archenemy. Seeing Magneto enter the Hellfire Club’s headquarters, Scott says, “I’m just glad Professor Xavier isn’t here to witness this betrayal!” It’s all a bit ham-fisted.

Magneto’s scene inside the Hellfire Club is lovely. Their surplus members gone, the Lords Cardinal are now down to only a Black King, Black Queen and White Queen. That leaves an opening for a White King, and the chair is offered to Magneto, to accept – if he so desires – on behalf of all the X-Men. “Something deadly is in the wind,” Shaw tells Magnus, “and we mutants can no longer afford any form of internecine warfare.” The very concept is a fascinatingly creative one on Claremont’s part, immediately flagging up questions. It’s one thing for the X-Men to become allies with underprivileged mutants like the Morlocks, or revolutionaries like Magneto. But the Lords Cardinal are somewhere else on the spectrum: they’re mutants, but they’re also rich, privileged and morally bankrupt. On the other hand, as Shaw points out, the X-Men could benefit from sharing Hellfire resources. As readers, we can’t help but consider that Charles Xavier probably would have refused the chair outright if offered. Magneto, however, is a former extremist, who is intimately familiar with the notion of moral compromise. On several levels then, Magneto becoming the White King of the Hellfire Club is a rather ingenious idea. Unfortunately, the follow-through will end up being weak, never quite living up to the dramatic potential implied by this fantastic initial scene.

Hinting slightly at the tragedy soon to befall Nightcrawler and Colossus, Claremont gives both characters a small “full circle” moment in “The Morning After.” First, Peter returns to his classic, Cockrum-designed uniform. (In one of Claremont’s funnier lines, Peter’s explanation to his sister for the bright, primary colors of his original outfit is, “I was ‘new wave’ before my time.” It’s a small joke, but the way it finds an equivalence between superhero costumes and a real-life fashion movement predicts Grant Morrison’s “Bollywood” joke in “New X-Men.”)

Then, Nightcrawler finds himself cornered by an angry mob, and notes to himself that it’s the same predicament in which Professor X first found him, back in Giant-Sized X-Men #1. Thus, Kurt and Peter have come full circle on the narrative wheel – and next issue, they both (along with Kitty) will be mortally injured. Such is the karmic cycle of the serial superhero story.


Anonymous said...

The Magneto scene caused problems later on. Did Magneto tell the other X-Men about it? Because when the X-Men rescued Maddie we should have seen a scene like this:
Rogue" Why have you and Scott been hunting down mutants? Magneto saw you with Scott just six months ago."
Maddie:"Huh?I was in a coma then."
Rogue:"Then who did Magneto see?"

Anonymous said...

The Magneto scene caused problems later on. Did Magneto tell the other X-Men about it? Because when the X-Men rescued Maddie we should have seen a scene like this:
Rogue" Why have you and Scott been hunting down mutants? Magneto saw you with Scott just six months ago."
Maddie:"Huh?I was in a coma then."
Rogue:"Then who did Magneto see?"

ba said...

It definitely bothers me that, firstly, magneto is relatively speaking, a genius. That he couldn't figure out what X-Factor's deal was is silly. Also, that he never even bothers to mention it (at all? for quite some time?). I recall wolverine smelling x-factor in the morlock tunnels during the massacre, but they never even bother to give a phone-call? Come on.

Does anyone know if Magneto still holds the white king title of the NY branch of hellfire?

I finally started reading the comics along with the review, so good for me.

I had forgotten that the x-men did do a perfunctory search for rachel; it bothered me that they kind of let that plot drop in one issue. Also, that kitty seems to have to give her racism speeches to an angry mob every so often - I know she's the logical character to do so, but the fact that it happens so often gets a little weary.

Loved Romita Jr's art, though, and the cover was fantastic.

Anonymous said...

A nice little character piece before Claremont drives the train over a cliff. I just wish he could have continued to ignore X-Factor, though. Little by little, Claremont is taking all the trapping of the X-Men away (Prof X, Scott, Storm's powers, and soon Cerebro, the X-Mansion and Blackbird) and I remember the next issues being an incredible shock when it first came out. It was torture to wait a month to see what happens next.

Jason, I appreciate your commentary and the comments by some pretty smart people to this blog. It is a joy read, and I don't care if my wife thinks I'm a dork.


Jason said...

Michael, that's true. One of many artificial barriers between X-Men and X-Factor that kept cropping up. It's also surprising, for example, that when Rogue absorbed the Thing and later the Torch in the X-Men/FF miniseries, she didn't notice in either of their memories that whole thing where months earlier the FF found a casket in Jamaica Bay and, hey, found a live Jean Grey inside.

Ba, Magneto eventually ousted Sebastian Shaw from the club, claiming both King titles for himself and thus dubbing himself "the Grey King." That was as satisfying a resolution as we ever got to the whole "Magneto joins the Hellfire Club" arc.

Later it was implied that Magneto was ousted from the club himself by the Shadow King, but this was never confirmed -- presumably it was something Claremont eventually wanted to show, but quit before getting to. At the same time, he was showing an alternate Club in an alternate timeline in Excalibur that suggested the Shadow King actually founded the Hellfire Club (so the whole "king" thing was implied to be not a coincidental similarity). This was an enticing little thread that unfortunately never came to anything.

It seems fair to assume that the X-Men would have continued to search for Rachel had the Massacre not occurred and suddenly split their focus in a dozen other directions.

Jeff, I'm glad you're liking the blog! Hope you keep commenting!

Anonymous said...

Actually, the Thing wasn't present for the Jean adventure. The Torch was, but he only stayed long enough to briefly witness Sue turning the pod invisible and a sleeping Jean inside. He didn't see Jean awaken.

Jason said...

Ah, thank you, Michael. Of course, that was the She-Hulk era. Silly me!

Still, if nothing else, you'd think Reed or Sue might've mentioned the Jean thing during that party/reception in Latveria at the end of the series.

Jason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gary said...

This is my first X-Men comic. This Colossus scene in here is the quintessential Colossus for me: unarmored, leaping down in front of a mob to confront them about their bigotry. He could have done it in armored form - everyone would run from the monster - but, more than anyone, Colossus believes in Professor Xavier's dream. This will make the atrocious things that Lobdell will do with him after Claremont leaves the title even worse.

Something I never caught before this most recent reading (thank you, Jason, for making me look at things this way) - the X-Men who confront the mob are the X-Men who will be leaving (purged from) the team next issue. There is also a significant change in tone coming, as the X-Men will shift from a team that is about protecting mutants and standing up for mutant rights to a team that is about survival and looking after their own. This tone will continue until the Fall of the Mutants, which begins with the return of Colossus. Note that until Colossus returns, the X-Men are a much more selfish team. Even the confrontation with Juggernaut in #217 & #218 only comes up because Dazzler runs into him - or could be seen as only comes up because the heart and soul of the team (Wolverine and Storm) are elsewhere and the kids play straight up superhero while they aren't under the stern, protectionist eyes of their leaders. Without the moral compass that gets it's last hurrah in this issue, the X-Men become a cell instead of a super-team.

I digress - the point is that, in keeping with your "full circle of the serial narrative" statement, the three mutants who will be leaving us make one final stand for the dream that brought them together in the first place.

Jason said...

Gary, that's great. Thanks for that observation!

The point I might dispute is your implication that the X-Men's new, "selfish" persona only lasts until Colossus returns. I would argue that in fact, Colossus gets assimilated into the new, more alienating team. The fact that he is always armored when he returns -- and cannot become human -- is a metaphor for the change in the character. He has in several ways become hardened, less innocent (his inability to turn human is the result of injuries he sustains in the same fight that ends with him taking a life).

There is a sense, to me, that of the three innocent X-Men, the ones that were culled by the Massacre, only Colossus was able to adapt to the new, hard-edged X-universe and thus allowed to return to the team. Kitty and Nightcrawler, meanwhile, are shunted to the more whimsical Excalibur, and thus allowed to stay -- to some degree -- pure.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Jean told Reed and Sue that she wasn't going to contact her friends and family and they (and Cap and Jarvis) agreed to go along with it. That was completely out of character, at least for Cap and Jarvis.

Anonymous said...

Jason, great point about Rogue not seeing the living Jean Grey in the memories of Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm. I had never thought about that before. So were Reed and Sue Richards so overzealous in respecting Jean's wishes that they didn't even tell Ben and Johnny, their closest friends?

It's interesting that not one but two major team-ups with other Marverl characters-the Avengers vs. X-Men mini-series and the Fantastic Four vs. X-Men mini-series-take place right smack in the middle of this era were the X-Men are becoming an underground cell of survivalists. The FF are willing to help the X-Men cure Kitty Pryde, why not ask them to help with the whole Marauders-hunting-us-down thing too? By not asking for help from potential allies, are they not willingly making themselves into isolated outcasts? This schism between the X-Men and other Marvel superheroes never made sense to me. I hope that both mini-series get reviewed on this blog.

Yes, this is the 100,000 time Kitty has angrily confronted a racist mob, but I do like her dialogue here:

Random adult: "You shouldn't speak that way to your elders, young lady."

Kitty: "I those I respect."

That exchange has stuck with me for years as a reminder that solely because someone is old (me included) doesn't mean they are deserving of respect.

Side note: I always wondered how the crystalline Maruader known as Prism could hide in the shadows in this issue. I know he's not in the next issue but instead makes his debut in X-Factor, but this issue is always slated as his first appearance. You'd think the slightest glint of light would light the guy up like a disco ball.

Anonymous said...

But don't you see, there never was a schism between the X-Men, the Avengers and the FF.Tony,Reed and Charles were secretly working together since the Kree-Skrull War.
Seriously, can anyone explain Reed's behavior in light of the Illuminati revelations?
To be fair, the schism at this point made sense- Xavier disappears and suddenly the X-Men are working with Magneto. I can see why the superteams would distrust the X-Men. For all they know, the X-Men betrayed and murdered Charles and joined with Magneto.

Jason said...

Anon, the FF/X-Men mini will get reviewed on the blog, but I don't talk much about the schism aspect. I'm kind of in love with that miniseries, so I don't do much but just blubber about how lovely it is. Stay tuned, it's gonna be GREAT!

And you know, I love the Marauders to an almost unhealthy degree as well, even Prism. But what is up with that guy exactly? The rest of the Marauders are usually played as bad mofo's (except when they fall apart before the awesome onslaught of Power Pack) ... but Prism? In his first appearance, he shatters like glass (literally) at the first blast. In his second, he is back again (cloned, presumably, like all the Marauders who die in the Massacre but come back in "Inferno"), and all he does is reflect Havok's blast every which way (not useful at all), then when he's attacked by demons he shatters again! But I don't care, the Marauders are still effing great.

Gary said...

Jason, those statements kind of came up on the spot as I put that post together. But a case can be made if you look at the details of the issues - until Colossus returns, the X-Men look after themselves and people who come to them. Even going to Dallas for the Fall of the Mutants was done as part of a search for Storm. They went to San Francisco to find Madelyne. Wound up in an altercation with Stonewall, Crimson Commando and Super Sabre because they were checking in on Sara Grey. FF v. the X-Men was precipitated by the X-Men looking out for Shadowcat. Avengers v. the X-Men was precipitated by the X-Men looking out for Magneto.

Issue #225 marks Colossus return. The next issue, Wolverine is telling Mystique, "No future for us, or no future for the whole world," as the X-Men go off to die. Is Peter alienated and assimilated into the mutant survivalist cell? The Adversary hates the purity of Peter's soul as Colossus tears through his Naze disguise to reveal the real adversary. The X-Men die and become superheroes again. What did the Reavers have to do with the X-Men? Nothing. They went after them because it was the right thing to do, not because they were threatened. Does a survivalist cell return stolen goods the world over on Christmas Eve? Havok told the X-Men the Brood were on Earth in issue #219. One of the most oft repeated questions I hear about this era is "Why did it take the X-Men so long to look into that?" What changed before they did? One person came back. In the issue where Colossus fights S'ym, Dazzler comments that Peter had a lot more to lose than the rest of the X-Men by becoming a legend. He's the only one of them who visits his family before the X-Men die and come back. He's the only X-Man who resisted Inferno - because he was metal? That's not what the Adversary had to say about it in #227.

Like I say, this is off the cuff stuff, but there's a body of evidence for it. Looking at the ramifications of Madelyne driven missions (Genosha, Inferno) and what they do to the overall direction of this theory needs to be done. I'd have to think it out to build it up more, but... there's a lot more Claremont between here and the end of these reviews, so we (or just me, in my own insane little world) can revisit it then. There might actually be something here.

Jason said...

Wow, that is a solid case indeed. You're right, this deserves a closer look (by me, that is -- you already seem to have it all worked out; kudos!).

Claremont always had Colossus prefigured as the heart of the team ("Petey Pureheart," as Wolverine called him back in the 70s).

I think you have definitely proved that Peter remained the heart of the team, even in the dark, "Outback" days post-issue 228. I'm just trying to figure out how the "always metal" iteration of Colossus figures into this new schema. It must mean something. Perhaps it means that the X-Men still have their heart; it is just a *hardened* heart?

Fascinating stuff! This is great to talk about. I'm especially glad to see Colossus talked about as an important part of the team. There is a contingent online (Neil can back me up on this, I think) that seems to think Colossus is useless and "retarded," which -- besides being first and foremost ridiculously offensive language -- is also a frustrating de-valuing of an important component of the X-Men.

Anonymous said...

I wonder sometimes if Prism was kind of thrown in by the Simonsons for the heck of it. You're right, he doesn't fit in with the others. Note he first appears in X-Factor, not X-Men. Seems like a tacked-on idea to me. The only other Marauder the Simonsons invented was Blockbuster, though a pretty lame generic "mean strongman", he is forever the bad dude who crushed Angel's wings. Prism doesn't compare. All of the others have offensive powers, his is purely defensive, unless you count the dazzling light he can emit. But Vertigo has a similar disorienting capability, and one you can't block by putting on a pair of sunglasses. So unless you shoot a laser beam at Prism, he can't kill you.

Paul said...

In my opinion, this is the last issue of the All New, All Different era of the X-Men. As Jason pointed out, we get some symmetry with the reintroduction of Peter's original costume and Kurt being chased by an angry mob.

This is Romita's last issue (until a brief return in five years or so) and from a visual standpoint, the series would go through a slew of fill-in artists until Silvestri comes on board (though Leonardi is almost a the book's co-penciler it seems during the Marc's run). Up to this point, Uncanny had only four artist (despite a handful of fill-ins), Cockrum, Byrne, Smith, and JRJR.

dschonbe said...

"Fascinating stuff! This is great to talk about. I'm especially glad to see Colossus talked about as an important part of the team. There is a contingent online (Neil can back me up on this, I think) that seems to think Colossus is useless and 'retarded,' which -- besides being first and foremost ridiculously offensive language -- is also a frustrating de-valuing of an important component of the X-Men."

Jason, I agree that the argument against Colossus is not well founded. However, having read through a 100+ blog posts & comments of yours, this is by far the laziest argument I've seen from you. Unless you're going to cite a specific use of the word "retarded," you're just villifying your opponents. That's hardly the way you typically prove your point.

That said, keep up the great work. This series is fantastic.

Jason said...

"Although, yes, walking away with just Colossus was a loss, especially since the metal retard just turned around and betrayed his new team immediately afterwards."

"Joyously, this cartoon has got Colossus down like nowhere else, he is portrayed as complete retard who fights a losing battle against the English language."

Better ... ?

Thanks for reading!

wwk5d said...

The final issue done solely by JRjr, and he does a great job. One of his best covers, and lots of great stuff.

How was Prism able to stay in the shadows? Easy. He borrowed Gambit's trench-coat, I assume ;)

Very interesting stuff in your analysis of this issue, Jason. A nice coda to the Cockrum era, and for the trio who get written (temporarily, in Peter's case) out.

Storm and Wolverine have a good scene as well, foreshadowing that soon, they will be the only ones left from the 'old guard' until Peter comes back. Rogue's scene I find funny. She's searching for Rachel, then decides to get a makeover at Bloomingdales? I love her reasoning..."No wonder people are scared of us, we look like crap". lol

And yeah, the Magneto and X-factor scene is a slight blemish on this issue. My fanwank? Contrivance Jones shows with an amnesia ray gun and zaps Magneto off-panel. Except...there is a scene later on, when Alex rejoins the team, that suggests Magneto does tell them, but it still makes you wonder why nobody makes sense of the Jean/Maddie issue...

dschonbe said...

"Better ... ?

Thanks for reading! "

Yes, better.
Though you're still arguing against your opponents lowest common denominator.

-Dan S.

Harry said...

In UXM #212, Wolverine picks up the scents of the members of X-Factor in the Morlock tunnels, and he refers to them in his mind as being tied up with X-Factor and wondering why. Unless Magneto told the team between #210 and #212, wouldn't Logan just have been more like 'what are the original X-Men doing here', with no mention of any X-Factor links?

NietzscheIsDead said...

wwk5d and Harry,

You are quite correct about Magneto telling the X-Men about X-Factor. It had to happen. The question, therefore, is what Maddie says when Rogue asks her, "Hey, Maddie, why are you on the outs with the rest of X-Factor? And what is y'all's deal, anyway?"