Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #227

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

“The Belly of the Beast”

Silvestri and Green’s X-Men look cooler with each issue. Check out Colossus on Page 2, panel 3; Wolverine on Page 14, panel 6. Geoff, tell me these aren’t “pop sexy” X-Men!

Once again, Claremont dazzles with his constantly discovering new ways not only to exploit the X-Men’s individual powers, but to combine them in crazy ways. Here’s a breakdown of what goes down during the climactic battle of issue 227: The newly re-powered Storm creating hurricane winds around Roma’s citadel in the sky (which looks uncannily similar to Dr. Manhattan’s glass fortress in Watchmen). Those winds capture the hollow-boned Longshot “like the sail of a kite,” and drag him – with the rest of the X-Men behind him – up to meet the Adversary. From there, Rogue is able to absorb the knowledge and skills of the villain’s host body, Naze, which in turn is pulverized by Colossus (described here, delightfully, as Roma’s “ringer”). Rogue then uses her newly acquired shamanistic talent to create a gateway. Storm blasts the Adversary, now in his true form, mostly through the gateway with her elemental powers, and Havok and Dazzler use their energy beams to keep him at the threshold long enough for Forge to create the spell that will send him all the way through.

The whole thing is beautifully choreographed, and Silvestri and Green’s work is so raw and direct that the entire affair feels like it has the force of nature behind it. As climaxes go, this one is truly exciting. At the peak of his powers, Claremont even finds room among the action for further enrichment of character – in this case, Madelyne Pryor’s surprising last words to Scott before sacrificing her life alongside the X-Men: “Scotty – wherever you are, I wish you all the best. Find our son. Keep him safe. Raise him well. I love you. Goodbye.” Patrick identifies this as one of the more touchingly redemptive moments in Claremont’s entire run. I’m not inclined to disagree.

Also, what a perfect illustration of proper dramatic timing when, just after the X-Men’s souls are hurled into the gateway so as to banish the Adversary, we cut to: Muir Isle, where Nightcrawler has just come out of his coma. How utterly perfect. With consummate skill, Claremont, Silvestri and Green have brought everything together.

This leaves us at last with the epilogue, containing a somewhat facile resurrection. Just like that, Roma brings the X-Men back to life. It makes a little more sense if one has read Alan Moore’s Captain Britain, which featured Roma and Merlin engaging in similar “cheats” at certain key dramatic moments. On its own terms, it certainly seems a bit easy, after all of Destiny’s ranting about the X-Men’s “death in Dallas.”

(Trivia: In Uncanny X-Men #225, in the scene set in Scotland, a young boy comments that Colossus can’t possibly be American because he “does na’ sound a bit like J.R. Ewing.” Then in the X-Men’s guest appearance in Incredible Hulk #340, published a month after Uncanny #225 but set just before, Peter David has Dazzler mock Destiny’s prediction, saying that “If we die in Dallas, maybe it’ll be a dream and we’ll come back in someone’s shower.” Coincidence?)

At any rate, it’s great when Claremont kind of makes fun of the story turn himself, via Logan’s dialogue. To wit:

Wolverine: “Strikes me, Ororo, your ‘Plan Omega’ may have worked after all. If everyone figures us dead ...”

Roma: “You did die, my friend. The instant Forge cast his spell ... your lifelines were broken. What you undergo now is a rebirth.”

Wolverine: “Whatever ...”

Logan points out the truth of the situation. In narrative terms, the X-Men didn’t really die, despite whatever contrivances Claremont attempts to dress it up in via Roma’s double-talk.

(And for anyone confused by the esoteric “Plan Omega” reference, the only other time Storm used that code-phrase for the plan to fake the X-Men’s death was in New Mutants #51. Somewhat amusingly, Claremont was so busy juggling subplots at the time, he probably didn’t even realize he’d neglected to keep the code consistent across titles.)

So, the epilogue is an acknowledged cheat. Apart from that, though, “The Belly of the Beast” is a fantastic climax, not only to a strong storyline, but a particularly strong year for the series. If I had to pick a single year of Claremont’s 16-year run during which he was at the very peak of his artistic powers, I’d go with 1987.

10 comments:

Triumph of the Underdog said...

I've always wondered what Neal Conan thinks of his involvement in this story.

Anonymous said...

Here's a question I've heard asked over the years- why didn't the X-Men ask Roma to teleport them directly to the Marauders so that they could rescue Nate and Lorna? The best answer I can come up with is that they didn't know what Sinister's powers were or what sort of defenses the Marauders' headquarters contained and they were worried that rushing in blindly would endanger Nate and Lorna.
Michael

Jason said...

Good question, Michael. I like your solution as well.

Another possibility is that there was some mental manipulation from Maddie Pryor going on (though that only works if you buy the ret-con that she was already going "evil" as early back as this).

ba said...

Anonymous, my guess is that they wanted to set up a new base before heading out to strike at the marauders, which did indeed seem to be part of their plan.

Now, my question is this - at what point did storm, forge, and roma get captured and tied up in her citadel?

Gary said...

ba,

Roma was captured as soon as the Adversary showed up. It basically appeared to be a cosmic balance thing - this was the Adversary's hour, and Roma could not hinder him.

My best No-Prize guess is that Storm and Forge were taken by the same rule - the Adversary was in control, and he decided their role was to be front row witnesses to the end of creation. ALL creation, since they had declined his offer to run the new Earth he had prepared. The rest of the X-Men are allowed to run free because that makes the game more fun, but the outcome is never in doubt for the Adversary. Look who hurts him first - Longshot, whose powers put him outside the realm of the rules for this conflict. Seconds later, the Adversary notices Colossus (the ringer) for the first time and gets trashed by him. That's when it becomes the X-Men's inning, indicated by Forge and Storm breaking free from the pillar, though Roma is still cosmic enough that the Adversary's mere presence binds her. Does that work?

And, since we're coming up on Jason's stuff that will point out that Colossus is continually armored as a sign that the X-Men are harder, I'll point out again that here, the Adversary is injured by Colossus and cries out against not only Colossus' steel but the purity of his spirit.

Anonymous said...

The idea that there was some mental manipulation from Maddie doesn't work- it requires that (a)Roma doesn't notice ,(b)that Maddie want to find Nathan before she dies,suddenly not want to find Nathan, and then want to find Nathan again in issue 230 and (c)that Maddie was doing this subconsciously,since she didn't know she had powers yet.
Michael

Anonymous said...

Right, as deadly as they know the Marauders to be--and as unskilled as this particular group of X-Men were as far as teamwork as of this point--they probably thought it was wiser to prepare and search, and then strike.

With the "rebirth" that all the characters go through you'd think that Wolverine would be back to full power, as it were. It seems like after this he continues to go somewhat downhill.

Shlomo said...

I'm not really familiar with this whole story arc, but Im curious: is there ever any mention of why this cosmic/metaphysical struggle ends up involving mutants as opposed to any other champions/pawns? just curious...

Anonymous said...

Shlomo, it was because Forge was the idiot who enabled the Adversary to get a foothold on Earth- Storm went looking for Forge and the other X-Men followed.
Michael

Anonymous said...

Something that never rang true with me with the Fall of the Mutants was the curious lack of involvement of the Avengers or the Fantastic Four. The storyline crossed into Captain America, Power Pack, and Daredevil, yet the major superhero teams besides the X-Men and X-Factor sat the major battles out. And you can't say they're in space or in another dimension. It's stated plainly that they're being "held in reserve until it can be determined which (Reality warp in Dallas of attack of the Four Horsemen and giant spaceship in New York) is the greater threat." You're telling me that the FF and the Avengers would sit it out, on the government's say-so, especially when New York (where the FF and Avengers live) is under attack? And they had manpower to cover both crisis; this was a time when there was a west coast team of Avengers. You'd think they could have gone to Dallas and helped the X-Men and Freedom Force while the FF and the other Avengers team pitched in to defend New York. Usually the explanation for "all the other superheroes" sitting out the conflict is that they're otherwise occupied, but this storyline acknowledges they're available and gives a really lame explanation as to why they're not showing up. Claremont should have gone with the tried-and-true "They're away on another mission" explanation.