Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #212

[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 Last Run”

After the intense final pages of Uncanny #211, the “Mutant Massacre” storyline wound through issues of New Mutants, X-Factor, Power Pack and Thor. The momentum created by Claremont in Uncanny #211 chafed away almost completely, hitting a nadir during sequences of the Marauders (a team nasty enough to mortally wound two X-Men and one member of X-Factor) being made fools of by the 5-to-10-year-olds comprising Power Pack.

By the time the story returns to Uncanny, a lot of the new villains’ initial intensity has been undercut. So Claremont bucks expectation a bit by leaving all the Marauders out of this chapter, except for one: Sabretooth. A Wolverine-esque villain who’d first appeared years ago in Claremont and Byrne’s Iron Fist series, Sabretooth was revealed as a Marauder by Louise Simonson in X-Factor #10, and here, finally – eight years after the character’s creation – he finally appears in a comic book with Wolverine.

Claremont establishes immediately that the two have a rivalry dating back years -- and thus, another bit of X-Men history is made. The precedent is now set for literally hundreds of derivative “Wolverine vs. Sabretooth” comics over the next 20 years. Indeed, Claremont even predicts what’s to come in a bit of prescient dialogue from Logan after he deliberately cuts this first fight short to save a Morlock’s life. “We’re too evenly matched,” Wolverine observes of him and his archenemy. “We could’ve fought till doomsday, with neither of us winning.” Exactly what happened, in the event.

Arch-enemies turn out to be a theme for “The Last Run,” as Wolverine’s battle with brand-new arch-villain Sabretooth is counterpointed by a final battle between Storm and Callisto. This rematch was teased at for years before this point, ever since their first fight back in 1983. Just as Claremont bucked expectation with the Cyclops/Wolverine explosion during the Byrne days – wherein, after years of antagonism, Scott finally took on Logan to help him, rather than hurt him – the Ororo/Callisto takes on similar dimensions. Callisto challenges Storm not out of animosity, but in order to snap the latter out of a psychological funk. Once again, the underdog – Callisto, originally cast as a villain while the privileged X-Men were heroes -- becomes the champion. More inured to tragedy and hardship than any of the X-Men (all of whom have lived for years in the comfort of a mansion), Callisto shows no signs of cracking in the face of the Morlock massacre, yet Storm – softer and weaker than she realized, despite earlier pretensions – is about to give up. Like all psychological conflicts in superhero comic books, the one between Callisto and Ororo is confronted and resolved via physical violence. This is facile, of course, but the fight rings with a certain amount of dramatic resonance thanks to the sense Claremont gives of the characters having come full circle: They fought nearly to the death when they met and now, at the final turning point of their relationship, they fight once again.

The hero/villain dichotomy is also developed in “The Last Run” through Claremont’s use of Magneto. Having been a force of destruction for so long, here he is able to use his powers to heal, when Colossus collapses as a delayed response to injuries sustained in the same fight that felled Shadowcat and Nightcrawler. Somewhat ironically, Grant Morrison also cast Magneto as a healer during his “New X-Men,” but it was a deliberate ruse – a villain pretending at heroism. Here, years earler, the same motif – destroyer becomes healer – is used by Claremont as an earnest symbol of redemption.

That the attempt fails is fittingly tragic; Magneto cannot redeem his past so easily. This will turn out to be a harbinger for the larger failure that occurs at the very end of Claremont’s Magneto arc (in 1991’s Uncanny X-Men #275 and X-Men #’s 1-3). Thus we see another case where the long-term nature of Claremont’s X-Men yields, intentionally or not, an instance of foreshadowing as shrewd and subtle as what can be found in “proper” literature.

Issue 211 of Uncanny was John Romita Jr.’s last, so the next eight months featured the work of rotating guest artists before Marc Silvestri became the new regular with issue 220. “The Last Run” is pencilled by Rick Leonardi, whose style is both grotesquely distorted and surprisingly expressive. Inked by Dan Green, Leonardi achieves some particularly lovely panels here – e.g., Storm’s grieving over Nightcrawler’s comatose body on the final panel of Page 5.


Anonymous said...

There were several interesting aspects about this book that you didn't mention. Logan almost gets killed by Sabretooth when he's distracted when he notices Jean's scent. It's a good way of showing how reckless and selfish Jean was in not telling the X-Men she was alive. Unfortunately, nobody tells Jean about this when the X-Men finally meet X-Factor and Jean never says she's sorry.
Here's another problem- when Logan smells Hank,Bobby, Scott and Warren he identifies them as X-Factor. Does that mean that Magneto told them about X-Factor? Didn't Logan bother to watch footage of X-Factor to see if Jean was there?
One cool thing about this issue- Wolverine DOESN'T fight Sabretooth that long. He collapses the tunnel between them so that he get the Healer to the injured Morlocks. Nice way of defying expectations.

Anonymous said...

Ah, here we are at last. This issue was my first issue of Uncanny X-Men. I came to the X-Men from a curious direction, by being interested in New Mutants first. I was a Spider-Man fan first, and Warlock guest-starred in Web of Spider-Man annual #2. That got me interested in the New Mutants, and by extension, X-Factor and X-Men. Another reader in the last issue's comments reiterated how astounding it was at the time to come on board a story in progress such as this. I absolutely agree, although my jumping on point was this issue, 212, not 211. Can you imagine? I had no idea who most of these people were, I was just along for the ride. How did Colossus, Kitty, and Nightcrawler get so badly hurt? Who are all these people? It was a crazy, unsettling, but fun spot to start reading this series. Around the same time as the Mutant Massacre, Classic X-Men was being published, which I eagerly picked up, wanting to fill in the blanks. It was an incredible experience, reading the "present-day" unfolding Uncanny X-Men while catching up on how everything came to be. Many, many back issues were bought, of course...I couldn't wait for Classic X-Men to completely catch up!

All that being said, much has been said here about the Massacre crossing through X-Factor, Thor, Power Pack, New Mutants, and Daredevil as diluting the story. I like to think of it as the natural effects of an event as momentous as this drawing in other characters outside the X-Men. The event is so huge, New York's other heroes can't help but be part of it. Fall of the Mutants and Inferno were much the same. These other comics being part of the crossover introduced me to so many other Marvel characters and showed off the scope and range of the Marvel Universe.

I don't think it's fair to compare this crossover to later X-crossovers. You could read each title independently. For example, you could just read Uncanny X-Men and get a whole story. You didn't need to read X-Factor or the other particpants if you didn't want to. That sets Mutant Massacre apart from stuff like X-Cutioner's Song and X-Tinction Agenda, where you had to read all the comics that took part or you were totally clueless. Sure, if you didn't pick up New Mutants (I did) you would miss the X-Men's dark homecoming to the mansion, but that issue was much more about the New Mutants, anyway.

This issue was significant for many reasons, but also for starting the "Everyone thinks the New Mutants are dead" phase where everyone thinks they are burned up in the Morlock tunnels, further darkening the storyline in X-Men, winnowing their numbers even further. In reality they were lost in time and space, but the X-Men had no way of knowing that. It makes you wonder why the kids were so quick to believe the X-Men "die" in Dallas several issues later. They, as a group, had cheated death. Why couldn't the X-Men?

Is this also the issue that retcons Sabretooth to having a healing factor? I think in his past appearances this ability was not apparent. See his thrashing at the hands of Black Cat in "Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man" not long before his appearance here.

Jason said...

To comment on the last thing first ... good question about the healing factor. Does Sabretooth not have one in his "Iron Fist" appearance? That initial appearance makes him SO Wolverine-like (right down to the use of "bub") that I think I probably read a healing factor into the character even if it wasn't explicit.

And it is not the fact that this crosses over into other titles that I think dilutes the storyline. I have not problem with the notion, in the abstract. It is just that those actual crossover issues are not as interesting. The New Mutants issues is good (it's by Claremont, so naturally I have no problem with it), and ... is the Daredevil/Sabretooth issue a part of it as well? I like that one too.

It's having Sabretooth and the other Marauders get their asses kicked by Power Pack after they devastated the X-Men that annoys me (along with the continuity errors of that appearance). Louise Simonson's writing style seems unable to avoid weakening the villains that made such a strong initial impression. Even in X-Factor they seem a little less than effective, albeit at least there they manage to deliver some nasty blows to Hank, Bobby and -- most especially, of course -- Warren.

And of course Thor beats the Marauders down pretty easily as well, but hey, that guy is a god.

So yeah, it's not the idea of the crossover that ruins it for me, it's just the way Louise Simonson writes the Marauders that gets to me. But, you make an excellent point ... that this crossover is quite a bit more modular than later ones would be.

Also, Anon, I *totally* relate to the feeling of reading the current title in the late 80s while also collecting the Classic reprints. That was how I first came to these stories as well, and by god what an imagination-stimulant. HOW did they get from Classic to now??? It was impossible not to be engaged by that question.

Michael, yes, Wolverine doesn't fight Sabretooth that long, choosing instead to rescue the Healer. Did I not mention that? Ah, yes, here we go: "He deliberately cuts this first fight short to save a Morlock's life."

Anonymous said...

Jason, X-Factor 10 was the first time Sabretooth was mentioned having a healing factor. (Although Byrne has said that it was in the plot of his first appearance that Sabretooth was older than he looked,it was never mentioned in the script.)
About the Marauders, Power Pack wasn't the only story where they came off as less than effective. In X-Men 215, Maddie manages to hold them off for 2 pages despite that she has no powers, but she gets shot anyway. The most inconsistent Marauder is Sabretooth. In Daredevil he fights Matt to a draw but in issue 213, he knocks Rogue out with three punches.

Jason said...

Thanks, Michael.

But Madelyne fighting off the Marauders was in a different category, I think it's fair to say. At least in retrospect, we know how she did it. And even at the time there was some mystery over how she managed to do it, being a lone human with no powers.

Also, that failure is singled out by Mr. Sinister as being pathetic when he chastises them in issue 221. There's a real "How could you screw this up?" vibe, with again a mystery over just how Madelyne managed to do it.

Maybe if there were a scene in which Sinister said, "How did you idiots get beaten up by four little kids," I wouldn't have minded it so much.

ba said...

I thought, much like wolverine in the hulk, sabretooth was meant to be a bit character in iron fist, but got co-opted, turned into a mutant, and I thought initially, the editors wanted him to be wolverine's father.

I didn't really like how this issue started - I thought it over-recapped the last issue. Yes, we are aware that wolverine needs to take a captive. And Psylocke has been living in the mansion for presumably at least a few days, is it necessary for her to reintroduce herself to logan?

Other than that, though, I like this issue as a two-parter with 213, as it really starts the whole logan/creed relationship, which has been messed around with so much, and yet I always find it pretty riveting.

Jason said...

John Byrne's recollections are ever a tricky thing, but as he tells it, he came up with the face of Sabretooth back during his very earliest association with Marvel, before Dave Cockrum showed us what Wolverine looks like under his mask (in X-Men 98). Byrne came up with a face that he thought would be a good look for mask-less Wolverine, and Claremont told him, "Sorry, you blew it, Dave already came up with Wolverine's face."

Then when Byrne got the plot for Iron Fist 14, he re-purposed his Wolverine face for use as Sabretooth's (or Sabre-Tooth's, as he was called in that original issue).

Claremont, possibly as an in-joke, then ended up giving Sabretooth very Wolverine-like dialogue ("Bub," "Frail," etc.). And then when Iron Fist fights Wolverine in Iron FIst #15, he thinks to himself, "This guy reminds me of that Sabre-Tooth character. I wonder if there's a connection between them?" This, again, was presumably all part of just an in-joke.

But -- and again we're back to Byrne's recollections and assessments -- Claremont apparently was one to never let go of an idea. So, having suggested in that issue of Iron Fist that there might be a connection between Sabretooth and Wolverine, he presumably kept that idea incubating in the back of his head. And finally made use of it in "Mutant Massacre."

And yeah, Psylocke introducing herself to Logan is a real weird moment. One of several continuity flubs that kind of dog this crossover -- even though it is still, as folks have pointed out, pretty awesome overall.

I don't like the name "Creed" for Sabretooth. That's another post-Claremont revelation that irritates me (irrationally, I realize).

Jon Brown said...

As sloppy as John Romita could be, I think Lionardi is far worse. His drawings of some characters look downright hideous at times. I am not sure if that was intentional.

Jason, I agree with you in regards to the stupidity of the cross-over. Did you ever consider that the creation of the "x-over" led to Marvel's current obsession with the 6 issue story arc? Nowadays all stories have to fall neatly into 6 issues so that they can be pre-packaged into TPBs. I know Claremont hates this, but I can't help but wonder if he didnt help set it in motion with Mutant Massacre.

One more question -- since you mention X-men 1-3, will you be covering the X-men Forever book in your blog? It seems like it might be worthy to deconstruct it, even if it turns out to suck, because it picks up where Claremont left off 16 years ago and would be a good way to show what has changed in that time.

Jason said...

I think Leonardi is an acquired taste. Or maybe my standards have just fallen in recent years. I don't know ... I *hated* Leonardi's work 20 years ago. He really does draw some ugly people.

But there is something incredibly expressive and dynamic about a lot of his work. It's lacking in that sharp sexiness that marks the hotter artists of both then and now, but it's visceral and intriguing somehow. (I do still find it a little frustrating to re-read his fill-ins during the Silvestri era, because it goes from sleek/sexy to rough-hewn and back again. Very much like Geoff's complaints about Morrison's X-Men flip-flopping from Quitely to Kordey.)

The x-crossovers bother me less now, because their being in the past makes them containable and easy to go over in retrospect. It's especially helpful that Marvel have put them all into these handy jumbo TPBs. (Although the order that the "Inferno" trade is arranged in is a bit wacked, chronologically.)

I could never find the patience for an "x-over" now, though.

I don't have much to say about the current "six-issue" phenomenon, really. As someone who read a lot of Marvel comics in the 80s and 90s, I can easily see how a lot of my favorite runs could be broken down into TPBs of roughly four-to-eight issue length, and they would parse just as easily as the comics nowadays seem to. Did the writing style really need to change that much? I don't know ... I don't have a hard-line opinion on the phenomenon, really.

"X-Men Forever" ... yeah, I guess we'll see. You are certainly right that it might be worth writing about even if it sucks ... the problem is that if it sucks too hard, I won't even be able to read it. (Part of me can't believe I'm even going to collect "X-Men Forever," after already having been burned first on "X-Men The End" and then "GeNeXt." But, I know myself well enough to know I won't be able to resist looking at least at the first issue when it comes out next month ...)

Jon Brown said...

The problem with X-overs nowadays is that Marvel keeps trying to outdo itself. Every crossover has to be bigger and better than the last one. So now they are all so over the top that it isn't even readable. I mean, Joss Whedon comes up with the concept of the mutant cure, but that is instantly scrapped because of M-day and now all mutants are gone. And then everyone starts breaking out into a civil war and killing Capt America. There doesn't seem to be any development taking place between these stories.

In regards to the 6 issue arcs, it seems to me that in the past writers had more freedom to allow the story dictate the length, not the other way around. Marvel didn't release a TPB of every single book literally twice a year like they do now. Look at Claremont's run -- few of his stories fit neatly into 6 issue arcs. The reason why I loved Claremont so much is that he seemed to have long-term thinking. He would throw away little bits of business into his stories that wouldn't be resolved until years down the line. Now Marvel's business desire to standardize story lengths seems to inhibit that type of storytelling.

The only thing that looks bad about X-men Forever is that it had Sabertooth on the cover. WTF? If Claremont sticks to his roots and picks up all the story arcs he left off then this series will be amazing. But if he goes off into the direction of Gen next it will be terrible.

But... just think of all the positives:

No furry beast, no Logan/James, no emma/scott, no Onslaught, no 1990s, no Grant Morrison run, no Mr. Sinister is a mad scientist, no emo Gambit/Rogue love affair...

People have such high expectations for this series. I hope he follows through.

Jason said...

I guess you're right about the lack of long-term plotting ... although part of that seems to also just be the fact that few creators stay on a series for even half the length of time that Claremont did on X-Men.

I just wonder, is the 6-issue/TPB phenomenon really to blame? My train of thought is basically that Claremont actually DID have a lot of "arcs" in his run ... it is just that he would throw those little bits into the arcs to make them open-ended. X-Men 184-188 was a single arc ... but it also functioned as the first act to a story that didn't see its second act until "Fall of the Mutants," four years later. X-Men 235-238 is a single arc (and an awesome one), but it also serves as a lead-in to "Inferno."

Still, X-Men 184-188 would make a fantastic TPB, as would X-Men 235-238.

Y'see what I'm saying? I'm not trying to be argumentative, just kind of taking your comments as a springboard to some spit-balling (or something like that).

The current slate of crossovers is truly mind-numbing ... and I say that based only on the promotion I see on the internet (I haven't read a page of Civil War, World War Hulk, Dark Reign, House of M, Secret Invasion, etc. All that stuff just turns me right off.)

That probably rolls right in as another positive about X-Men Forever. It will be its own title, presumably never crossing over with anything else (although I wouldn't put it past Claremont to do something evil like having the Exiles show up in the "Forever"-verse or something ...)

I do wonder about some of Claremont's continuity choices in "Forever" ... Did you read the preview pages that Marvel.com posted? Claremont is calling Magneto "Erik Lenscherr" right on page 1. But that name was a post-Claremont revelation, so I find that odd.

Also, I wouldn't be too sure that Claremont will avoid a Rogue/Gambit relationship. He was the writer to first tease at a flirtation between those two.

Sabretooth on the team is a troubling thing, as well. Claremont's version of Sabretooth was pretty irredeemable ... it'll be interesting to see him try to justify that.

Since you mentioned Sinister, that's another thing I wonder about. If we're re-setting to 1991, then Mr. Sinister should be dead (killed at the end of "Inferno"). I wonder if that will be stuck to, or will Sinister just show up suddenly with no explanation.

Honestly, it'll be great if this series actually does what it says it will do. But this is basically Claremont's third vanity X-project (where he gets his own continuity to do whatever he wants), the first being "The End" and the second being "GeNeXt." BOTH of them were bait-and-switch.

"The End" was promoted as the final X-Men story, but it ended up just being a big, generic "X-Men vs. aliens" adventure story that happened to have a bunch of X-characters in it (with a bunch of them dying), then in the epilogue to last chapter, we fast-fowarded to the future and got a tacked-on "ending of the X-Men."

GeNext was promoted as "What if the X-Men had happened in real time over the last 40 years?" Instead, it was actually a sequel to "The End" (a contradiction in itself that further invalidates "The End"), with Scott and Hank both (for example) still looking rather young and spry (even though being true to the concept would put them both in their 60s).

Now we get, "What if Claremont had been allowed to continue the X-Men after his last story in 1991?" And I can *guarantee* you right now there are going to be, immediately apparent, MANY cracks in the facade of that concept. No way will the first issue of "Forever" read smoothly back-to-back with X-Men #3 from 1991. NO WAY.

The only question is, will it stray so far from the concept that it becomes a complete bait-and-switch, or will Claremont at least keep the cracks and distortions only in minor areas, while staying on task for the major story points? I hope it's the latter, because I do really want to collect this series past issue 2 and enjoy it. But recent Claremont history has me *very* dubious.

jon brown said...

Good points all. I highly doubt this will smoothly follow x #3. It has sabertooth on the cover. That, to me, means he is planning on doing a fast-fowrard in time like that 6 month gap he did in 2000. I also think it would be HORRRRIBLE to put Exiles in this comic.

One thing that scares me is that if Claremont blows this, it will be his last chance to tell these stories that he left off the series with. So Istill have hope he can do it rigt. Even though you make good points, I am keeping my fingers crossed anyways.

Someone should force Claremont to stay in line with continuity -- dont let him take things so far off from the spirit of his 1991 circa mythos. Keep track of those old stories and not let him fall into X-men the end territory.

Also, he called ROgue Anne Marrie.

Jason said...

And Gambit's name is "Remy Picard"!!!


Anonymous said...

Notice how Sabretooth referes to Wolvie as "boy" - little clue that CC had planned on him being Wolverine's father...!

John V

wwk5d said...

The confrontation between Storm and Callisto was written well, but the art kind of drops the ball. Basically, lots of running, a bitch slap from Callisto, lots of grabbing each others collars, and Storm just...collapses. It's too bad, because the rest of the issue is pretty solid artwise, and I am a fan of Leonardi.

I do like the reasoning behind Callisto's trying to help Storm. It puts her saving Storm's life in # 209 in a new light.

I really doubt that was Claremont's intention during the scene with Magneto and Colossus. I mean, it works it a retroactive, accidental kind of way...but if we're going by line of thinking, then just about every single error he makes in Uncanny and New Mutants is foreshadowing then, and I'm not sure what Claremont's original endgame with Magneto was.

Teebore said...

I think Leonardi is an acquired taste. Or maybe my standards have just fallen in recent years. I don't know ... I *hated* Leonardi's work 20 years ago.

Yeah, I HATE Leonardi's work when I first read these issues years ago (largely because I hate fill-ins) but it's really grown on me as I've gotten older.

Speaking of art, as much a fan as I am of JRjr in general and his X-Men run specifically, I'm ashamed to admit I have no idea why he left X-Men. I can't even recall the next thing he worked on after leaving.