Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #220

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right or the labels below.]

“Unfinished Business”

People accuse Claremont of not resolving plot threads, but that’s only part of the truth. He finishes them; he merely takes a long, circuitous route (“the spiral path”) between set-up and conclusion. Issue 220 – appropriately titled “Unfinished Business” -- is a quintessentially Claremontian comic book in both respects, as Claremont ignores several developments from the previous couple issues in order to resolve a different story thread entirely – one that is now nearly three years old.

Thus, Havok’s discovery of a Brood ship in Uncanny #218 is dropped completely, and not to be picked up again until spring of 1988. Storm’s talk of faking the X-Men’s death last issue is likewise put on hold for the next seven months. On the one hand, this is perverse on Claremont’s part, messing with readers’ expectations so flagrantly. On the other, readers couldn’t seem to get enough of this torture. Uncanny X-Men was the top-selling comic book at this time, and would remain so for the rest of Claremont’s tenure. In other words, the man knew what he was doing.

“Unfinished Business” opens with a hallucinatory three-page sequence beautifully illustrated by Silvestri/Green and evocatively colored by Oliver. After that, it settles quickly into a solo Storm adventure, serving mainly to reacquaint readers with the open threads from Uncanny X-Men #’s 184-188, wherein the mutant Native American known only as Forge was positioned the only man who could prevent the fabric of the universe from unraveling. After much build-up – including Forge’s mentor and fellow Cheyenne Indian, Naze, being possessed by an evil entity – this material was all dropped abruptly midway through issue 188.

It’s at last reintroduced here in Uncanny #220, which is the start of a domino-chain of issues that will climax very satisfyingly seven months later, Claremont proving once again that no matter how much he might meander from time to time, he’s capable of snapping back into focus with razor-like precision and intensity.

[Dropping a plot thread only to return to it much later by cutting away from a current arc is exactly how much of LOST is structured. Locke and Boone find the hatch in episode 11 of the first season and we don't find out what is inside until the first episode of the second season, nearly 10 months later. It is also quite common to end an episode with some big revelation about some character, and then have them appear not at all in the following episode. This is probably something they learned from Claremont, given that the creators are big comics guys.]


Anonymous said...

But Claremont never resolved a lot of plots- what the connection between Mystique and Nightcrawler was, Mariko and Logan, who Mr.Sinister is and why he killed the Morlocks,who Gateway is, what was going on with the computers at the X-Men's outback base,etc.

ba said...

Anonymous - I'm sure those threads would have been addressed (claremont has said as much, at least in regards to mystique and nightcrawler), but I think a lot got bogged down in company expectations for regular cross-overs, and then he left the comic. By the time the computers and gateway and sinister are in the picture, it's only like 3 years until he's off the comic.

I never really liked this issue, or the lead-in to the fall of the mutants, other than the return of the new mutants, which was nice, but I see what you're saying about setting up the arc, Jason. I do disagree that he came back to the faking death plan of ororo's...after all, they didn't mean to actually die, and they said as much in the issue.

Also, regarding the call-backs to the original events with forge, I felt a little weirded out by how sexually naive storm was then, especially considering our discussion about annual #11. Do you think it was because she loved forge, vs. purely physical relationships with yukio and logan?

ba said...

and hey, geoff - sometimes the lost writers kind of take that idea to an extreme...damon lindelof neglected to finish writing ultimate wolverine vs. hulk for 2 years.

Jason said...

Ba, the faking-their-death plan *was* followed through on though. In that *they* did fake their death, just not in the way they intended. The end result was, after all, exactly the same, and this is also mentioned in the issue. (Wolverine: "If people think we're dead ..." Roma: "You DID die. Now you are reborn." Wolverine: "Whatever.")

Unless you just mean that we never found out how they originally planned to fake it, which is true. What exactly were they going to do?

But yeah, as for the other unresolved plotlines, in many cases that was to do with editorial fiat. Even the Mystique/Nightcrawler thing (one of the oldest plots) was -- I seem to recall reading -- quashed because the idea (that Mystique and Destiny were, respectively, Kurt's father and mother), was too lesbian-tastic for Marvel at the time.

I feel confident that Claremont would have resolved a lot of these plots if he'd been allowed to follow through on his own ideas. But once Harras started editing and Jim Lee started plotting, Claremont pretty much lost his footing.

As for the Forge stuff ... Her experience with Forge seems to actually be a turning-point for her. She says something in the issue about how she never had a lot of awareness of herself "as a woman," which implies that maybe her time with Forge is bringing that awareness to the fore. And eventually that leads to Annual #11. I think it's a plausible scenario that nothing happened between her and Yukio in Japan other than Storm feeling some stirrings, and it wasn't until Forge that she started exploring these feelings more fully.

Maybe ... ?

Maybe not. The other possibility is that "LifeDeath" is a bit of bunk. I never really liked that issue much, and found the Forge/Ororo "chemistry" to be largely wanting. I actually think it is much more persuasive when the two get together in a few months time (in issues 225-227).

Anonymous said...

Storm really is an idiot this issue. Naze sets lasers on her and THEN asks for her help against a demon that he says is possessing Forge. It never occurs to Storm that it could be Naze who's possessed and not Forge?

Starman1976 said...

I love how sinister the possesed Naze looks in this and following issues, almost breaking the fourth wall, and with what ease and cunning he manipulates Ororo. Makes Adversery seem like truly a trickster god/demon who could give Loki a good match when it comes to manipulative skils.

Jason said...

Excellent point! He is like a super-powered version of Iago.

With Ororo as Othello ... hmmm, I like that a lot actually. Forge as Desdemona ... Wow, some interesting parallels.