[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series see the label below or the toolbar on the right. ]
“Charge of the Light Brigade”
Though it’s immediately followed up by more fill-in work, issue #218 marks the debut of soon-to-be-regular penciller Marc Silvestri (whose first and last name are spelled incorrectly in the opening credits). The artist’s style is direct, intense and detail-oriented, providing the series with a welcome shot in the arm. After a few months of relative meandering, Claremont’s new team of X-Men truly comes to life here, and we begin to see the potential in these new members.
The sheer energy and kineticism of Silvestri’s pencils – partly the result of heavily distorted figures, perfectly complemented by Dan Green’s gesturely inks – hit with the intensity of a laser beam ... or, in the case of the opening sequence, a “beam of focused plasma.” Silvestri’s take here on the unique visual created for Havok by Neal Adams almost two decades earlier is beautifully accomplished. Immediately on the Page 3 splash, we get a sense of Silvestri’s eye for contrast, as the crisp, clean circles emanating from Havok with sci-fi precision being are counterpointed by the prosaically messy detail of spilled grocery bags. The visual contrast struck by Silvestri subtly reinforces the tiny story being told in this opening sequence: Alex and Lorna’s normal life, beautifully described in Claremont’s narrative captions on Page 1, is being violently displaced (like their groceries) by the science-fiction universe of the X-Men, which over the course of this issue and the next will come to surround them on all sides (like the circles of Havok’s “plasma”).
Silvestri’s eye for subtle detail is so impressive throughout this debut issue, I can’t resist pointing out a couple other fantastic little visual touches. On Page 4, for example, note that one of the supports for Havok and Polaris’ makeshift tent is their jeep’s bumper. Or how on Page 16, when Rogue absorbs Juggernaut’s power with his own, his muscles shrink so that his arm bands slide down to cover his hands.
Silvestri’s style is also sleek and sexy when it needs to be. The protagonists of this particular X-Men story are mostly women, and Silvestri makes each of them supermodel-gorgeous. On the downside, with Silvestri’s style here, we’re witnessing the first seeds of what will eventually become the Image style, wherein all females are depicted as impossibly proportioned bimbos who fight their superhero battles as if they’re posing in porn mags.
This, however, is a more restrained Marc Silvestri – he’s several years from creating Witchblade, the only superheroine whose costume actually looks like someone is constantly fondling her. The Silvestri of the late 1980s makes his female superheroes seductively feminine, to be sure – long legs (Page 21, panel 4), slender bodies (Page 12, panel 1), come-hither eyes (Page 4, panel 2). But these sexy details don’t overwhelm the narrative; rather, they energize it. Silvestri’s work is, again, what I think of when I recall Geoff’s phrase “pop sexy X-Men.”
The crucial difference between this and typical comic-book “sexiness” as popularized by Image Comics, is that here Silvestri balances the hotness with a sense of whimsy and fun. Page 16, for example, sees Rogue assaulting Juggernaut, wrapping her legs around him and kissing him (as we’ve so often see her do in order to exercise her mutant power). But Silvestri’s motion lines in panel 4 show Rogue cartoonishly bouncing off the ground before leaping onto Juggernaut – reminiscent of nothing so much as Bugs Bunny bouncing into the arms of Elmer Fudd before planting a kiss on him. There is a constant push-pull in this issue’s fight-scenes between sexy and silly, which makes the whole story come vibrantly to life.
Amazingly, there is quietude in this issue as well. The two-page sequence in which a buried Ali slowly absorbs the sounds of nature over the course of checkerboard panel-layout is lovely and evocative. The visual rendering of the sound-effects by letterer Tom Orzechowski is excellent: the “fushfashFushFashFUSH” of a field mouse; the “gurglePLOPgurglegurgle” to render a stream. There is a lush sensory engagement to these pages that is quite beautiful. Even the branches covering Alison’s grave – backgrounded by Glynis Oliver’s delicate pastels – have an elegant tangibility.
The overall effect of all these wonderful visuals is to truly energize the series. Armed with a new artist whose emotional palette seems unlimited, and also with a set of relatively untested and untried team-members to play with, Claremont seems born again. His writing has a freshness and verve to it, which recalls the raw excitement of his very earliest X-Men collaborations with Cockrum. (Appropriately enough, Uncanny X-Men #218 was published contemporaneously with the Classic issue reprinting Claremont and Cockrum’s X-Men #102: the new X-Men vs. the Juggernaut.)
[Morrison is capable of such genius at times that this might be more than a coincidence, Silvestri's first X-Men issue is "Charge of the Light Brigade," named after the Tennyson poem about soldiers going into battle and being slaughtered; when he draws the X-Men with Morrison that is exactly what the arc he gets is about.]