Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #224

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

“The Dark Before the Dawn”

The “Fall of the Mutants” trilogy beginning next month will wrap up several threads at once, decisively enough that – as Patrick has pointed out here – it will almost feel like an ending for the entire Uncanny X-Men series. But Claremont decides to ease us into the narrative tour de force of issues 225-227 with this prologue/character-study.

The prologue bit feels well-and-truly redundant, as Storm once again fights demons on her way to the long-anticipated encounter with Forge, just like in the previous two installments. It ends with a bang, granted, with Ororo realizing – only after she’s stabbed the man she loves – that she’s been manipulated by Naze all along. Still, that twist could have come earlier.
On the other hand, the character bits are lovely all around. Claremont can of course get a little histrionic with his characterizations; melodrama often seems to be the author’s natural state of being. But here, the tone of much of the story is refreshingly subdued. Rogue’s encounter with Mystique has a disarming naturalness to it, for example: an estranged mother and daughter having their first one-on-one conversation in years. (When I read the bit now with Rogue quoting the Mick Jagger lyric “You can’t always get what you want,” I can’t help but think of the series premiere of “House.” And of course, in a bit of Claremontian coincidence, Bryan Singer – director of the first two X-Men films – is the executive producer of that series.)
The dynamic in the Longshot/Havok sequence is also shrewdly handled. Just departing a movie theatre after having viewed a film titled “Raiders of the Lost Temple” (which was also the title of the Conan pastiche in Uncanny X-Men #191), Longshot points out excitedly that according to the end credits, “There was a stuntman in the movie with the same name as me!” This is a reference to the Ann Nocenti/Art Adams miniseries, wherein Longshot did indeed get a job as a stuntman. Of course, as of X-Men Annual #10, he remembers none of the events of the Nocenti mini. The idea that Longshot just happened to see the movie he worked on two years ago is a rather inspired little Easter egg for readers. (The image contained on the movie placard that Longshot leaps over in Uncanny #224 is a miniature version of the cover of Longshot #3.)

Silvestri’s use of body language is again in fine form, contributing as much to the characterization as Claremont’s words. Note how when Havok – still depressed over the way his world has come apart in the wake of the Marauders two-parter -- blasts the getaway car of some generic thugs, his other hand remains tucked lazily in the pocket of his ill-fitting suit. That visual detail, combined with his understated line, “I melted your car,” is laugh-out-loud funny. The way Claremont writes Alex Summers – as introverted and tormented as his older brother, yet handling adversity with a contrastedly deadpan nonchalance – is truly inspired.

An issue like this – with its leisurely biding of time before the story’s true kick-start a month later – probably frustrated readers following the series in real time back in 1987. Now, with the chapters available for immediate consumption one after the other, “The Dark Before the Dawn” stands as a prime example of Claremont at his subtle best, enriching the characters and their world in a few deft strokes to ensure that, when the fiery climax does at last arrive, we care about the outcome that much more.


Anonymous said...

Storm really is an idiot this issue. She tries to kill Forge ON THE WORD OF A MAN WHO SHOT LASERS AT HER IN ISSUE 220. Storm had enough experience with demons at this point to know that nothing with them is as it seems. And the last time she saw Naze before that, he was fighting SHAPESHIFTERS. Plus, she fought her way past a zillion demons, and she doesn't realize that it was too easy. I get the point- Storm's pride at being able to fight her way past so many demons and her anger at Forge for building the Neutralizer are affecting her judgement- but still, she endangered the entire world.

ba said...

Yes, Michael, but in Storm's defense, the dude is apparently a pretty decent kisser. Who to believe?!

Though seriously, I think that storm has always had a lot of not-so-repressed rage at forge (have we never learned his real name?) for taking away her powers, so this may be just an act of sublimation.

Speaking of havok, I've always liked him more than scott, precisely because of his characterization here. I'm sure I'm not the only alex>scott person here.

Loved this ish - best line: "Yo, short stuff, so like, who wants to live forever?"

Starman1976 said...

Great character moment for one of my favorite X-Men characters, Longshot, in this issue, showcasing both his powers and his personality. I've noticed that Claremont squeezed in at least one character moment for Longshot, where he gets to showcase his powers, in almost every issue from when he joins the X-Men as an active member until he leaves in X-Men #248. Makes me think that Longshot might have been one of Claremont's favorite characters too. Longshot fills the slot left empty by Nightcrawler in the team, being the new X-factor of chaos and unpredictability giving the x-team that little extra edge the element of surprise gives.

Gary said...

I read this in real time back when it came out, and it was great. I like character moments, and this book is loaded with them.

Michael, look at Storm when she finishes the ascent of the mountain. Does she look like she just had an easy fight? Those demons made her bust her butt for it. It looks to me like she was good enough, but not by much; if she had to do it again, it could easily go the other way... exactly what the demons want her to think. Blood's pounding in her ears, it's hard to think... what she does makes sense to me.

I also like Havok with the hand in the pocket, melting the car. And Rogue pointing out that the X-Men won't have to put up with her piloting now that Maddy's along. And that the encounter between Mystique and Rogue wakes up Rogue's ability to recognize her mom no matter what she looks like, which will come into play next issue.

Also note, that Rogue is doing overhead presses averaging 50 tons. Everyone who reads the OHOTMU and thinks that the "press X tons" is bench pressing, IT IS NOT. It is the overhead press. Saying it is the bench press sells these characters way short on strength (which I think the OHOTMU does anyway) as most everyone can bench press more than they overhead press (in my case, it's an additional 50%). Also note that she does it for 15 minutes. I don't know anybody who can overhead press their max for 15 minutes. I loves me the OHOTMU, but man, that wholly inaccurate strength cap and strength evaluation bugged me.

Anonymous said...

To make things worse, characters such as the Thing, She-Hulk, Captain Britain, Strong Guy, Colossus, Warparth, and Rogue are all established to be less strong than guys like Thor, Hercules, the Wrecker, Juggernaut, and Wonder Man, but find themselves slipping up the scale until they are "Class-100" bruisers, too. It's like the writers after a while said, "Screw it, just make them ALL Class 100!"

Speaking of Alex's "ill-fitting suit", how is it he came to San Francisco to fight the Marauders and had the foresight to bring a SUIT with him? You can see him packing his suitcase: "Gotta bring something kidna formal...you never know..." The other option is that he bought it in San Fran, which makes you wonder if he's the kind of guy who drowns his sorrows over his girlfriend being possessed by a supervillain by going shopping. Or did he buy it just for his outing to the movies with Longshot? If so, who wears a brown suit to the movies? Was this a 1980s fad that I missed? Or am I just thinking too hard about this?

Anonymous said...

Claremont had Rogue drown her sorrows over Rachel going missing by going shopping and Maddie drown her sorrows over Nathan going missing by going shopping,so it's possible he felt Alex might do the same thing.

Jason said...

Heh, that's true.

If there's one thing people should take away from this blog, it is this:

The X-Men LOVE to shop.