Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #226

[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.]

“Go Tell the Spartans”

As Patrick has already pointed out, the middle chapter of “Fall of the Mutants” – a double-sized issue – sees Claremont tossing out ideas and allusions at a schizophrenically breakneck pace, with almost every turn of the page revealing some new wrinkle. Alan Moore and Grant Morrison are generally the considered the go-to comic book scribes for the “crazy ideas,” but Chris Claremont has his moments as well. Certainly “Go Tell the Spartans” is one of his wilder accomplishments.

Yet for all the mad deployment of imagery, set-pieces and character bits, there is a coherent plot holding it all together, and it’s one of Claremont’s most intriguing: While the Adversary rips Earth to shreds, he’s already got a replacement one set up, and he’s decided to drop Forge and Storm there to infuse it with life. This Native American man and African woman will be the new world’s Adam and Eve, if they so choose. There’s also a neat, psuedo-paradoxical idea introduced in the Forge/Ororo material, wherein Storm realizes she could become the “Goddess” or “Bright Lady” whom she herself has always worshipped -- an idea that seems almost to predict Alan Moore’s twist at the end of “From Hell,” wherein Gull becomes the “Great Architect” he revered throughout his lifetime. (Patrick singles out this detail for attention too, but as something that is “very Invisibles.”)

In a way, Uncanny X-Men #225 doubles as the conclusion to the theoretical “LifeDeath” trilogy, with Storm acknowledging her destiny as a goddess figure before ultimately rejecting it in order to remain faithful to her role as a member of the X-Men. The story also marks, for me, the first time that the Forge/Ororo relationship has made sense, either intellectually or emotionally. There is something very touching in their first scene of the issue, as Forge begs Storm, “Stay BY me.” Silvestri and Green also completely sell me on the silent smile that Ororo gives in response.

Meanwhile, there is also an unexplained time distortion at work, as years pass for Forge and Ororo in their duplicate continuum, while only apparent hours go by for the rest of the X-Men on Earth.

As for Claremont’s conceit that the X-Men are able to finally prove themselves as heroes because – for the first time – their exploits are being videotaped and broadcast worldwide, that strikes me as a little bit pat. (Trivia: Claremont is apparently friends with real-life NPR reporter Neal Conan, hence Conan becoming a character in this story. Even now, 20 years later, Conan is still a voice on National Public Radio. As I write this, I just listened to him yesterday interviewing the author of “The Ten Cent Plague,” a book about comic books.)

Note that much of this issue is also devoted to the idea of the X-Men and Freedom Force becoming allies against a common foe. Old villains become allies in the face of a new, greater threat; another Claremont motif.

If any other member of the X-Men besides Storm stands out in “Go Tell the Spartans,” it is most certainly Colossus, depicted by Claremont as a man who possesses both honor and soulful intelligence. The plot detail of Roma having slipped Peter into this story under the radar is beautifully handled as well, as is Claremont’s use of Psylocke as the woman who at last ferrets out the Roma connection. Since Psylocke and Roma were both imported from the Alan Moore/Alan Davis Captain Britain stories, this is a perfect use of prior continuity.

Along similar lines, Claremont does a fantastic little bit with Dazzler, who was taken down by Super Sabre’s “sonic boom” in the previous issue. Here, we learn that she is simply playing possum. Since her mutant power is to metabolize sound, a sonic assault not only doesn’t hurt her, it actually makes her more powerful. That’s the kind of little detail that makes superhero comics – particularly Claremont’s – so darn much fun.


Patrick said...

Not too much to add, but I'll just say that this is one of my absolute favorite Claremont issues. I like the finale next time, but nothing in the arc matches what's going on here. I particularly like how he welded all this crazy stuff into the middle of what's supposed to be the big blockbuster event for the books.

ba said...

Excellent write-up for an excellent issue, Jason. Silvestri's art is at it's best here.

It's funny how the years living together wasn't really mentioned again by storm or forge.

Also, I never knew some of the things you mentioned, such as Neal Conan being a real person, or the little bit about Dazzler and the sonic boom. Very nice.

Now, is the title a reference to Geoff's favorite movie, 300?

Geoff Klock said...

Ba, Do NOT tell people 300 is my favorite movie. :) D- is what I give that movie. You, by the way, enjoyed The Spirit (which, OK, i weirdly enjoyed as well even though I could tell it was a disaster).

ba said...

(in a husky, "talking like this" voice) Geoff Klock...I'm gonna kill you all kinds a' dead...

Gary said...

This whole arc is one of my favorite comic stories ever. As it stands, I think it is superior to the Jaspers arc that Claremont was prevented from cribbing off of. Alan Davis had not fully developed his style there, and the inks... what is wrong with the inks in British comics? Every one of them is so overly dark as to be nigh indecipherable! That's just an aside. To the matter at hand.

(1) I listen to NPR all the time, and now feel foolish. I had always wondered why the tech was the one who became the News Reporter in later issues - we'll see Manoli again in X-Tinction Agenda, and after that as well. I just couldn't jibe that big a gaffe from Claremont. But that he put his buddy in once and never used him again because he never left radio in real life? Yeah, that works. And that Manoli's career was transformed by her work here? That's one of my favorite touches in the whole mythos.

(2) Dazzler was not just playing possum - she was stunned, but not knocked out. She comes to at the front end of this issue.

(3) I don't see Destiny's coherent outline of the end of time as resembling Cobweb's foaming at the mouth collapse in the Jasper's storyline. Additionally, I find Destiny's reaction far more satisfying. She's spelling it out for the reader and driving the stakes home without resorting to Grant Morrison's curse-wording "Do you understand?" (I think I've mentioned it before, but I cannot STAND Grant Morrison's use of "Do you understand?" It makes me want to lose a boot in his lower digestive tract. Do you understand?)

(4) This issue delightfully outlines a lot of our heroes, especially Colossus (as Jason noted) and Crimson Commando. Oh, and nice heroism from the Blob - he steps in to catch the Spiral/Rogue meteor as it slams down from the top of Eagle Plaza (followed by a cute panel of Rogue helping him out of the crater they all made) AND saves Mystique's life (he thinks) from the collapsing plaza in the last pages. Also, a very nice Wolverine fight before they became really hackneyed. Good heroism for Dazzler at the end of the book, as well, volunteering to go on into the jaws of who knows what while she is blind and well-informed that doing so will mean her death.

There's also a wonderful Havok bit coming up next issue.

Feel the love.

(5) Last bit - that Redneck as the Adversary really makes the shooting of the Cheyenne chief much more potent in retrospect, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

Not much to add except....

It's been mentioned before on this blog how much Claremont loves to steal or borrow from other sources but the whole time nexus/dinosaurs/Vietnam thing was ripped off straight out of your favorite movie and mine.... "My Science Project."

The climax of the film has some kids and their high school caught in a time nexus complete with Vietnam jungle scene and dinosaurs.


Cosmicídio Atômico said...

I understand why so many people here love this story, but I think that it suffers for lacking a more interesting villain. I don't like very much a satan-like unnamed magic deity that tries to destroy the world for pleasure. In a way, the story mirrors the original Phoenix Saga, with the X-Men having to save the world (or universe) from a alien threat caused by a madman. But that story had more interesting challenges, like the Imperial Guard, and was more organically tied to a character arc than the Fall of Mutants was. Jim Jaspers would be a better choice, I think, because of his connection with the whole anti-mutant sentiment that was being build for years.