Thursday, April 09, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #211

[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 first major X-Men crossover, “Mutant Massacre” was the “M-Day” of its day, having been conceived by Chris Claremont as a way of reducing the number of mutants in the underground Morlock community. (In the original Morlock storyline in Uncanny #’s 169-170, Paul Smith drew substantially more Morlocks in the crowd scenes than Claremont had intended.)

Issue 211 is an incredibly strong start for the story, depicting Claremont’s newest and most sadistically cruel group of villains, the Marauders, on a surprisingly violent spree. The X-Men’s reactions, upon entering the tunnels and witnessing the results of the carnage, are realistically handled. Most striking and powerful of all is the Marauders’ ability to deliver genuine damage to the X-Men. True, the fight scenes aren’t as creatively choreographed as that of the recent tour de force in Uncanny #209 – indeed, this issue even reveals some sloppy mistakes if one is inclined to track the action closely. But the story makes up for its deficits through sheer shock value.

The stakes here are so amped up that even familiar X-Men moments -- e.g. Kitty phasing through an attack -- demonstrate a level of directness and brutality we’ve not yet seen in a Claremont comic. The most unshakable image of the issue is that of a massive shotgun barrel pressed right against Kitty’s temple and then fired immediately.

It’s also a monumental moment to see Colossus pushed over the edge for the first time, as the sound of Kitty’s screams ignite a literally homicidal rage. Not even Wolverine manages to achieve any kills during the fight with the Marauders, but Peter does, which is amazing.

The final panel sees Claremont twisting expectations a bit. The previous issue had contained a fairly standard Clarmontian moment: Ororo lecturing Wolverine on his behavior during the Rachel Summers debacle. “The X-Men are a team, Logan” went the familiar refrain from Storm. “And if we are a team, my friend, then I must have your trust. And, when required, your obedience.” In other words, Wolverine was going to have to rein in his impulse to “take care of business” in the most expediently violent way.

But on the last page of “Massacre,” Storm’s talk of “obedience” takes on a strikingly different light, as she orders Wolverine into the alley with a tone that suggest nothing so much as taking a dog off its leash. The memorable final panel is a close-up on Ororo’s eyes as she tells Logan she wants one of the Marauders taken prisoner for interrogation. When Wolverine asks from off-panel, “What about the rest?” her reply is chilling: “One prisoner is sufficient. The remaining Marauders are yours.” In the space of one issue, Storm has reversed her moral stance – she is now all but ordering Logan to use his dubious discretion, the exact thing she’d just tried to curb.

The “Mutant Massacre” will ultimately become bloated, scattered and unfocused (thus setting a precedent for a score more “X” crossovers over the course of as many years) – but Uncanny #211, with its breathtaking ability to wreak huge and frightening changes on both the X-Men’s individual members and their overall world in the space of 22 pages, is a brilliantly effective beginning.


jon brown said...

What are the "sloppy mistakes" you spoke of?

Jason said...

I'd have to look at it again. As I recall, the X-Men seem to spontaneously know all the Marauders' code-names, before actually ever hearing them spoken aloud.

It might even go beyond names to personalities. I seem to recall Rogue reacting to an attack with, "This is Arclight's style," before Rogue has even confronted Arclight, much less learned her name and powers.

Someone can check me on this if they are so inclined.

ba said...

As mentioned in the comic, a few of them had faced some of the marauders in marvel fanfare (which I don't have, so I can't check which marauders). However, I was bothered by Kitty's uniform being torn up by riptide while she was phasing...since when does she phase, but her clothes don't?

I like the massacre, but you're absolutely right; it becomes very unfocused, with random issues of daredevil (with sabretooth), power pack, and thor thrown in there. The x-factor thread is also pretty lame. If you stick to UXM and NM, that's pretty much all the story one needs to know, except for angel getting his wings pierced.

Also, Romita's work is much sloppier here than usual, particularly for an artist who uses such clean lines.

Re: Ororo's change of heart - doesn't it seem like Claremont changes Ororo's position on murder quite often? She says that x-men don't kill, but has no problem stabbing callisto, yells at wolverine for stabbing rachel...and now sends wolverine to kill?

And what was with rogue saying "killing is wolvie or my job?" I can't remember rogue ever actually killing anyone, in x-men or ms. marvel.

Jason said...

Ba, no, the only Marauder from Marvel Fanfare is Vertigo, and the only X-Men who would know her are Storm, Wolverine, Colossus and Nightcrawler.

Rogue knowing Arclight is completely out of left field. And I believe there's one other example in there. I don't know when you last read the issue, but re-read it again if you don't believe me. It's a noticeable flaw in the narrative logic, as if there's a page missing.

It also happens with the crossover issues too, with timing getting skewed. (When Wolverine runs into Power Pack in the Power Pack issue of the crossover, he says, "Kids, you shouldn't be down there. I'm looking for someone dangerous, called Sabretooth." Then in X-Men #212, Wolverine mentions that he "just shoo'd those Power Pack kids out of here," and then, a page later, he picks up a scent that he "hasn't smelled in years," and of course, it is Sabretooth's. Ooops. And of course the conflicts with X-Annual #10 have been noted as well...)

I think Ororo's morality is meant to be a progression, not a flip-flop. First, she is against killing for any reason, even in self-defense, even killing the Brood embryo racks her with guilt (much to Geoff's annoyance, as I recall). When she stabs Callisto, it is meant to be a transformation, but that was in a fight where it was kill or be killed, so Storm was -- theoretically -- still holding to a standard, it had just slid down a notch or two. Still berates Wolverine because that was an attack on an ally, not an enemy.

Now, the Marauders' carnage have caused her to slip another notch, and she's out for blood. I think the progression works up to this point. The next bit is her attempt to pull the bloodlust back a bit, with the two-part "Dangerous Game" thing that comes up very soon.

I think we are meant to see a woman generally grappling with her own changing morals. How well that works in practice, I don't know. Having read the whole Claremont run several times, I find it easy to track. It probably seemed a lot more haphazard for people reading it as a monthly back in the 80s.

As for Rogue, you're right. That is odd. No-prize explanation: That's Carol Danvers, former CIA operative and soldier, bleeding into Rogue's brain.

Anonymous said...

Ba, I think that a coloring error accounts for that Shadowcat error. Rogue's clothes are colored blue in one panel so it looks like Kitty's outfit is getting torn by Riptide's throwing stars. Rogue, of course, was notorious for having her outfit ripped to shreds but being invulnerable, would rarely get hurt herself.

A serious error in this issue is Colossus tranforming back into his human form at the end when they all head for the subway. The next issue states he has remained "armored up" since the battle, due to fear that the wounds in his metallic form would translate into fatal wounds in his human form. Makes you wonder if Claremont thought of that on the fly between issues, or if John Romita Jr. didn't get the memo.

Anyone notice how the Marauders have something approaching a uniform? They all have an off-the-shoulder thing going on, which looks pretty weird on the guys, but makes them look like a real unit as opposed to a random grouping of mutants. And another thing that makes that tool Prism not fit in with the rest of the gang. Speaking of them being a unit, they apply some pretty good teamwork here, using their powers in concert to disorient, then kill their opponents.

Interesting retcon: Upon reading this story, I remember thinking, even as a kid, "How the heck does that Riptide guy carry 1,000,000 throwing stars on him?" When Riptide returns in some 90s X-Men comic, it's stated that Riptide produces the throwing stars from calcium in his own body. Kind of gross, but also makes you wonder how this guy came to have TWO mutant powers. Early secondary mutation? Mr. Sinister tampering with Rip's genes? The writers were over-thinking it?

Fun fact: It's never been explained how Vertigo came to be in this group and in the Savage Land Mutates. It's possible one of them is a clone, more than likely the Marauder's Vertigo due to Sinister's predisposition to cloning the hell out of everything. But how did it come about? Did he happen to be in the Savage Land, met her, and said, "I could use a vertigo-inducing mutant for my new team of mutant killers." Or, as stated by another retcon, Gambit recruited the Marauders. So, somehow a New Orleans jewel thief went down to Antarctica and signed her up? The Sinister explanation sounds more likely, but still...huh....?

Another longstanding character gets really jacked up in the issue, the hulking Morlock known as Sunder. He'd been Callisto's right-hand man in pretty much every Morlock appearance. He actually doesn't die here, despite being stabbed multiple times and shot, but Claremont offs the poor guy a few years later. Yo, Claremont, why so harsh on Sunder? Couldn't he have just died here instead of recuperatign on Muir Island only to be killed by the Reavers? Talk about your bad luck...near-crippled by one gang of mutant killers, only to be murdered by a completely different gang of mutant-killers.

This issue does have some poorly-composed action, picture-wise. The panel of Wolverine being stabbed by Harpoon while he slashes Harpoon is particularly bothersome. How did Wolvie reach him while being stabbed with a spear? The panel makes it look like the spear didn't even reach him. If not for the narration boxes, we wouldn't have even known they even hit each other. I guess it's tough to draw a picture of a guy with claws slashing a guy who is stabbing the same guy with a spear at the same time. JRJR probably read Claremont's script and went, "The heck with it."

Jason said...

Anon, I never noticed that Colossus mistake. Good call!

Scalphunter, Vertigo and Arclight have an off-the-shoulder look, but do any of the others? I know Scrambler doesn't, since his costume is basically just street-clothes (which is a striking thing on its own ...).

I know that latter-day Claremont has decided to make Sinister somehow connected to the HIgh Evolutionary (an idea that I don't like at all). In 1988, we see the High Evolutionary hangs out in the Savage Land sometimes, and that the Savage Land Mutates were lurking in H.E.'s headquarters. I don't know if there's an explanation to be found there for how Sinister and Vertigo first came together...

But actually I liked that it was never explained. After all, Claremont never explained how *any* of the Marauders came together, back then. None of them had origin stories, not even Sabretooth, really. The easiest inference at the time was that Sinister had, indeed, travelled the world -- possibly with his own version of Cerebro -- recruiting mutants.

Something weird that always struck me was that there was a Morlock called Piper. That name, and his powers, matched those of a Savage Land Mutate from the Neal Adams run. Claremont never used the mutate Piper, but then a Morlock version shows up -- first in Louise Simonson's Power Pack, then again in the Massacre, where he's killed. I don't know if it was meant to be the same one, but if so there is something particularly interestingly mirrored going on here, with there being a Mutate both among the killers and among the victims. (The Marvel Chronology Project tells me these are actually two different "Piper"'s, but ... are they sure????)

I seem to recall thinking Sunder's being bashed around was one of Claremont's upping-the-stakes tricks. It's not at all unusual for him to show a new villain's level of intensity by having said villain dispatch an earlier one with ease. (i.e., Nimrod tossing around the Juggernaut). Since Sunder was so intimidating in his first appearance ("I am Sunder. I am here to hurt you."), he was a good choice for major "jacking-up" by the Marauders (then, later, the Reavers).

ba said...

@anonymous - you might be right; it's rogue's hair in kitty's uniform.

i think it was established later on that sinister had cloned the marauders many times, with the exception of sabretooth (which begs the question...why not?), so it's possible that he cloned vertigo, such that the original is still running around the savage land, and the clone is in the marauders.

also, i think the harpoon went right through wolverine, so he could have been close enough to get...uh...harpoon.

@jason - actually, doesn't piper show up again as a mutate around #248? except i think he can control people, not just sewer animals.

also, i think it was established much later on that gambit personally recruited grey crow (scalphunter), but the others he just paid for sinister.

Jason said...

Whoops, I guess he does, yeah. So I guess it's not the same Piper. Okay then.

And I figured the reason he never cloned Sabretooth is that Sabretooth never died (yay, healing factor) and thus never needed to be cloned.

Anonymous said...

Really? I seem to recall Sabretooth dying after "Inferno" in an issue of New Mutants, at the hands of Caliban, and then in Amazing Spider-Man at the hands of Silver Sable. I assumed Sinister just kept cloning him and bringing him back.

Jason said...

Anon, I don't have either of the stories in question, so I couldn't say.

Actually, in the Claremont issues, only a few Marauders are killed and then seen resurrected in a later story. This whole idea that they are ALL clones is a post-Claremont development from what I can tell. (Although it is implied in the "Inferno" prologue that Sinister can resurrect all the Marauders except Malice, we are not told that this has happened, except with those few who were killed in the Massacre.)

Gary said...

This the comic that got me hooked on comics.

I have been waiting for this review for some time, and I never appreciated until I read Jason's reviews how loaded this book was. Not this review, but the fact that what Claremont was doing was revolutionary. It struck me as revolutionary at the time, because until X-Men #211 (which, bear in mind was my SECOND issue of a superhero comic, ANY superhero comic) the 1966 Batman TV series was comic books. I had no idea things like what happened in #211 could happen. The good guys LOST? BIG?! WHAT?! And a hero killed a villain. That page of Colossus and Riptide... "Harpoon! Make peace with your gods, little man, you are next!" Wow. It was like everything I "knew" about comics was just a misconception. This book blew my mind, and 22 years and 18 long boxes later - this is still one of my favorite comics.

As I said, in all this time of reading, it never hit me that what Claremont was doing was revolutionary, or ground breaking. I mean, I realized that the Avengers had it easier than the X-Men, and held it as a strike against their book. But I just saw X-Men #211 as very well written. Not until these reviews (several back, actually, and the comments) did it really hit me that nobody else did what Claremont was trying to do. And I also realized that this was something that X-Men readers had to deal with as long as Chris was there: this was my second issue, fourth if you count that I had picked up #208 and #209 while they were still on the racks but not current. What about people who got into X-Men back with Giant Size #1, and saw Thunderbird die on their third issue? Or people who heard about this Phoenix thing and came on then? Comics are a serial medium, and all about stability. That Claremont was so willing to throw that out the window to tell the story and up the stakes, especially when his title is the rising star on the way to becoming the company flagship? This is stuff I did not appreciate about #211 before, and it's improved one of my favorite comics.

Anonymous said...

Jason, in terms of the Marauder's off the shoulder look, I believe Riptide has it in a brief moment we see him when he's not spinning. Blockbuster over in the X-Factor portion of this story also sported the look. You're right about Scrambler wearing ordinary clothes, which was pretty unique at the time. Sabretooth, of course, wears his standard suit, and Prism is basically a naked crystal guy. So when you get down to it, only Scalpy, Vertigo, Arclight, Riptide, and Blockbuster wear the "team uniform". Not much of a uniform, then.

Dave said...

I forget where I read it, but my understanding of the Sabretooth cloning issue with the marauders is that while Sinister did indeed clone Sabretooth, those clones did not retain his healing factor for some reason and thus could be killed far more easily.

This seems to be supported by the recent X-Force arc (issues #7-10,) where the team slaughters 4 or 5 Sabretooth clones in one of Sinister's abandoned lab facilities.

Gary said...

Anonymous said:...only Scalpy, Vertigo, Arclight, Riptide, and Blockbuster wear the "team uniform".And Harpoon.

Jason said...

Gary, thanks for the comment. It's great to read stuff like that! (It makes this whole crazy project worth it!)

Dave, as noted, the post-Claremont stuff for me is kind of a "whatever" for me. I just re-looked at the "Inferno" issues a couple days ago, and it is implied there that some of the Marauders have not yet been killed/cloned (specifically, Scrambler, who makes a comment that the Marauders have "at least as many lives" as a cat, but then Blockbuster muses to himself, "Wait until it's his turn" as if to say that Scrambler is only sanguine about the situation because he hasn't yet gone through the process of being killed and then cloned). Anyhoo ...

wwk5d said...

For the most part, the issue works. The Marauders are menacing, true, but thinking about how much the deck is stacked against the X-men before the fight even begins makes them just a tiny bit less impressive. Still, the fight itself has some great moments...the Kitty/Scalphunter scene, Colossus and Riptide, Storm and Callisto tag-teaming Scrambler...the issue itself, despite certain mistakes, is still shocking and creepy.

Jason, what is the mistake you are referring to? For me, one thing stands out. It's hard to reconcile Illyana here with what happens in the following issue of New Mutants, but I'm not sure if that's you are referring to...

I don't mind the art. While I would have loved JRjr's final issue to have him fully on pencils, I feel like Blevins finishing work fits the mood of the issue itself.

Storm's mood doesn't work. I don't see it as a flip flop. She was definitely caught up in the moment, what with Kitty and Kurt's injuries, the Massacre itself, plus I'm sure the toll of the last few issues is catching up with her. It makes her semi-breakdown in the next issue all the more interesting.

This issue is probably the biggest gamechanger we have seen yet. I wonder if it inspired Stern's Masters of Evil/Siege of the Mansion storyline?

Teebore said...

In the original Morlock storyline in Uncanny #’s 169-170, Paul Smith drew substantially more Morlocks in the crowd scenes than Claremont had intended.

See, this is why Claremont is great. Who else would take a bit of artistic license and use it to spark one of the more memorable stories in the book's history?

@wwk5d: It's hard to reconcile Illyana here with what happens in the following issue of New Mutants, but I'm not sure if that's you are referring to...

Yeah, I don't recall the specific's offhand, but I do remember there being some dicey bits involving Illyana and the connections between this issue and NM #45 (or whatever the Massacre issue was), not unlike what Jason described happening in some of the other tie-ins.

Anonymous said...

Anybody else diggin the whimsey of The Mighty Marvel Mutant Massacre Map? All it's missing is a "Thrills! Chills! Genocide!" blurb.

Derek E

NietzscheIsDead said...

Re: Piper

Jason, I think you and ba are thinking of Worm. Actually, as far as I can tell, Piper the Savage Land Mutate didn't appear anywhere from 1973 (where he betrayed the Mutates to side with Magneto against the Avengers) to 2007 (ie: well after the Claremont era). Meanwhile, Piper the Morlock first appeared in 1985, only to die in 1986 during the Mutant Massacre. Entirely possible that Claremont intended these characters to be one and the same. No-Prize: perhaps Vertigo doesn't mind targeting him due to his abandoning the Mutates for Magneto, whom they had all come to hate.