Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #225

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Uncanny X-Men. For more in this series, see the label at the bottom, or the toolbar on the right]

“False Dawn”

As noted earlier, Claremont’s begging and borrowing from other series – such as Longshot and Captain Britain – in order to assemble his new team of X-Men has led to the overall “X” canon becoming a dense field of information. Indeed, the “X” itself now seems like nothing so much as a symbol for how so many different lines – be they character arcs, plotlines or thematic threads – intersect in any given issue.

Here, the density of information becomes particularly noisome, as Claremont brings multiple threads crashing together in genuinely dramatic fashion. First, he liberally borrows both characters and imagery from Alan Moore’s “Jim Jaspers” arc in Captain Britain. In that particular piece – brilliant in its own right – the various characters were represented by pieces on a chessboard, manipulated by Merlin and Roma, the caretakers of reality. All of that is reprised (minus Merlin, whom Moore killed off) in this story, the resulting resonance being quite striking for anyone who’s read the Captain Britain material. Even Claremont’s use of Destiny here – the depiction of her going somewhat mad as she realizes that her timeline is about to reach its terminus – is pinched from a similar bit in Moore’s Captain Britain work involving a precog called Cobweb. (purportedly Claremont originally wanted to use Jim Jaspers for this bit as well, which would have made this almost a carbon copy of Moore’s work. Happily, legal issues pre-empted Claremont’s original intent, leading to the vastly superior idea of bringing the Naze/Forge material to a climax instead.)

We also get a final face-off between the X-Men and Freedom Force, the latter’s membership bolstered by the WWII trio of issues 215-216. That little conflation turns out to be more entertaining than one might expect. The Crimson Commando in particular suddenly seems much cooler in the context of the Brotherhood.

Also, since this is the first X-Men/Brotherhood confrontation since Longshot joined the team, another cross-mythos resonance is struck when Longshot faces off against Spiral. The energy of the two characters’ relationship from the Nocenti/Adams miniseries is deftly woven into Claremont’s already powerful information-field, and further sparks fly.

Still, while so much fun is generated by the various intertextual relationships going on, other bits of “False Dawn” create grins by more visceral means. Surely one of the funniest set-pieces in Claremont’s entire run is the insane visual of the Blob’s crotch zooming toward the reader as he’s dropped from on high to crush Wolverine. Silvestri draws a magnificent Blob, with that code-name seeming more apropos than ever. The dialogue that Claremont gives the Blog just after landing on Logan is hilarious as well: “Don’t fret, X-Men. Li’l fella ain’t croaked. I can feel him wrigglin’.” The ridiculous payoff pages later – Blob grinning in one panel, his eyes bugging out in the next, before he flies straight up into the air, his flight revealing Wolverine with claws extended and smirking smugly – is cartoon-crazy, and Silvestri handles the slapstick perfectly.

And in the very next panel, a prime example of what Marc Caputo calls “the ‘stand up and cheer’ factor,” a delightful component of many a classic action story: that moment when the audience is given exactly what they want, just how they wanted it. Here, it’s the fabulous sequence wherein Colossus -- absent from the series for a year but now finally healed from his “Mutant Massacre” injuries -- appears from out of nowhere (courtesy of Roma and his sister, Illyana). And of course, he’s arrived just in time to pound the Blob into oblivion – all while quoting Monty Python, no less.

Containing an extraordinarily high incidence of thrilling moments in the space of only 23 pages, Uncanny X-Men #225 is a fantastic slice of superhero fiction. At this point, it seems certain that Claremont, Silvestri and Green can do no wrong.
And, trivia: This is Tom Orzechowski’s 100th issue of Uncanny X-Men, a fact coded by Dan Green into the background rubble of the opening Colossus scene. Yet more information packed into the mix. (It’s also Orz’s 61st consecutive issue, the prodigious and talented letterer having not skipped a month since #165 – which is also Paul Smith’s first and the one Joss Whedon considers the most influential.)


Paul said...

Jason, do you think that at this point that Claremont grew bored with the Shi'ar and the Futures Past, and needed some new, otherworldly concepts to play with? I've always wondered why he dove head first into Moore's and Nocenti's realms and didn't try to develop his own trans-demensional concepts.

Jason said...

Dunno. I mean, Claremont is an avowed fan of the Alan Moore Captain Britain. When Claremont went back to dip again into DoFP, he seems partly to have been influenced by "Terminator" and partly by Moore's dystopian story in C.B. (Which seems fair enough, since both those stories seem to owe quite a bit to the original Claremont/Byrne Days of Future Past.)

Rachel Summers' whole deal, right from the start, is a variation on Moore's Captain UK, for example. And Nimrod is basically a combo of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Moore's "The Fury." Generally speaking, Claremont seems to like doing "his" version of stories that he enjoys. (See also Shogun, Star Wars, Alien, Mad Max.)

As for being bored with some of the established X-Men tropes, that is almost certainly true. Bob Harras has said that when he took over editorship from Ann Nocenti, and even more so when longtime X-Men fan Jim Lee became the artist, Harras was very keen to get the comic back to what they remembered as being what it's all about. According to Harras, when Claremont was asked to bring back some classic villains and milieus, Claremont's response was, "I've done that stuff already."

Then Harras and Jim Lee made him go back to the old-school stuff anyway, and Claremont quit.

So yeah, I think what we're seeing at this point could very well be Claremont deliberately trying to steer the X-Men into deliberately different territory.

Also, I'm not sure whether the Alan Moore Captain Britain stuff was available outside of the UK back then ... so maybe Claremont had a notion that he would do an "American" version ...?

But now I'm just thinking out loud.

Paul said...

I'm slapping myself for never making the Rachel-Nimrod/Captain UK-Fury connection before.

The Lee/Harras wanting to go classic sounds right. When Lee came on board we got Magneto, Ka-Zar, Shi'ar, and Charlie right away.

Stanley Lieber said...

I always thought Claremont had been fired from the book(s).

Jason said...

Common misconception. But no, by all accounts -- including Clareont's own, and that of Tom DeFalco, the editor-in-chief at the time -- Claremont resigned.

Stanley Lieber said...

My illusions -- shattered!

Streebo said...

Claremont quit and it was the worst thing that happened to his career. He never should have relinquished the reigns of the X-Men. He seems to live in his own shadow to this day.

Jason, this was a great review. You encapsulated all of the things that made this issue great and in addition to shedding some light on new revelations with the Captain Britain parallels. I never made that connection before. Now I need to go track down those issues of Alan Moore's Captain Britain.

Thanks for the review. Keep up the great work.

Jason said...

Thanks, Streebo! That's really great to hear.

I am kind of glad Claremont quit, personally. He went out on a high note, and proceeded to write some cool stuff for other companies, including some pretty good sci-fi novels.

I think the bad move he made was to come back to the mutants in 1998. *That* is the move that has forced him into his own shadow.

Anyway, X-Men Forever #1 comes out tomorrow ... the official continuation of his 1991 run, as if all the years in between did not happen. The official "what if Claremont had not quit" comic. I never thought I'd see the day ...

Jason said...

Stanley ... sex in space will always involve illusions being shattered.

(Hm, is it weird to continue an IMWAN meme here?)

neilshyminsky said...

Jason: I won't get to the comic store for a while but would love to know what you think of XMF #1 - care to post some thoughts here, or maybe email them to me?

Jason said...

Certainly, Neil. I'm flattered by the interest.

I'm not sure when I will get to the comic-book store myself. But it will probably be relatively soon.

(I have no plans to go to the shop this week, but it is quite possible I will start to go nuts as I think about XMF #1 sitting there, waiting for me, and I'll just run out and grab it.)

Marc D. said...

Nice article. Can't wait for you to get to the Inferno stuff. One quibble...who cares what that talentless hack Whedon thinks?

Jason said...


I know, right?

Wait a minute ... are you just telling me what I want to hear? Hmmm.

Marc D. said...

I've just started reading, so I don't really know what you wanted to hear.

I just don't like Whedon's writing.

Jason said...

Ok, fair enough. I don't like it either. But that's a minority opinion 'round these here parts.

Anyway, hope you'll keep reading and commenting, Marc. Thanks again!

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