Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #230

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men.]

“Twas the Night ...”

After the extraordinary impact of the new, dangerously exotic X-Men of the previous issue, Claremont – somewhat disappointingly (at least at first) – now hedges on that story’s promise in the very next issue. Uncanny X-Men #229 was brilliantly alienating; this one goes for heartwarming. Appropriately, the delicious messiness of regular inker Dan Green is missing here, replaced by the soft innocuousness of Joe Rubinstein.

Inexplicably, Claremont also gives this issue a holiday theme, despite its publication date (June of 1988, which means it was actually published in February of that year, well after Christmas).

Fortunately, Silvestri proves quite adept at accommodating Claremont’s sudden sense of whimsy. Between the two of them, they manage quite a few smile-inducing moments. The scene in which Dazzler cleans her room is rather charming, thanks to Silvestri’s visual flair: not just with Alison’s facial expression and body language but with the slapstick elements, e.g. Colossus smashing through part of the door frame as he charges into Dazzler’s room. It’s also great to see that Havok’s deadpan nonchalance is still intact, as evidenced by the return of his new signature posture: one hand lazily kept in his pocket while the other almost offhandedly tosses off an energy bolt.

Furthermore, Silvestri’s ability to draw women that are both breathtakingly sexy and also rather quaintly charming is impressive. Rogue is absolutely adorable in this issue, in her gawkily shy attempts to win Gateway’s friendship.
So, granted, issue 230 – with its “X-Men become Santa Claus” plot – is saccharine through and through; no denying that. Perhaps Claremont didn’t have faith that his new hardcore X-Men vision would enthrall a fanbase more accustomed to a high-level of emotion-based melodrama; thus, an immediate swerve toward sentimentalism, reminding us all in the most blatant terms possible that the X-Men still have hearts and souls.

An unnecessary swerve, I think, so early on in the new direction. Claremont should’ve waited a bit before softening things up again. Yet, on its own terms, this issue’s unabashed sweetness is rather powerful. The moment in which the nurse in Boston clutches her mother’s necklace to her chest is lovely, for example (Silvestri is a master of expressive body language).
And at the end, any doubts about Claremont’s intentions are erased with the last page, conveying the heart-swellingly simple moment when Gateway at last responds to Rogue’s overtures of friendship. The final two panels – silent, as Claremont again trusts in Silvestri’s expressiveness to sell the scene – are especially beautiful, and quite touching.

19 comments:

Daveym said...

I think you're a bit harsh here! I always liked the issue immensely as it's totally character based, I knew little of Longshot at the time but here i learned quite a bit from this and it helped his character enourmously, after at least a year of quite dark menacing storylines culminating in the Apocalyptic Fall of the Mutants an issue like this was badly needed, if only to remind us the x-men hadn't become totally hardened and ultracynical, ala The Watchmen....

P.S. This is also the issue Silvestri really starts to find his stride, excellent stuff and several issues more of this level to look forward to!

Jason said...

Dave, I like this issue a lot as well. I would've thought that was pretty clear. All I really object to is the timing. I'd've given it until maybe after the Brood three-parter before swerving back into this kind of territory. I'd imagine the emotional component in this material being more impactful if the new, hardcore "Down Under" X-Men had had more time and space to establish themselves.

Anonymous said...

I suppose this issue (and #231) are just palate cleansers seeing that we have three epic storylines coming up in succession, including the biweekly run... all of which probably took more time to construct and plan out then regular issues. You're dead on of course about the strange shift in tone after 229. Must have been really strange for someone buying this from month to month since 230-231 aren't breather issues as we normally think of them (the epic ended three months ago and the new status quo was just established).

ba said...

Perhaps Claremont had to do a lot of writing for the upcoming arcs, and needed to quickly knock out a script.

Also, it's a good way to introduce/remind about longshot's psychometry power, though I can't remember how often it was used afterwards, though I know it was pretty rare.

LOVE the scene with alison in her bedroom. One of the best comic scenes in a while.

Also, if they wanted to know more about gateway, assuming that he's resistant to psychics, why couldn't rogue just touch him? Is it the assumption that he wouldn't help them out again if she did?

Jason said...

Good question. Although, later, when she *does* absorb Gateway (ish 269), she says something about how she can't even comprehend what she sees because his perceptions are so complex.

Longshot's psychometry power is used in Annual #12 (which is a favorite of mine), but ... that might be it. One of those things that Claremont never explored (along with Rogue's "seventh sense," supposedly absorbed from Carol Danvers, mentioned in issue 192, then promptly dropped).

It's also worth noting that Uncanny's editorship was changing around this time, from Nocenti to Bob Harras, which might also factor into the way the tone kind of pushed and pulled from issue to issue.

But honestly, I think it's just a Clarmont quirk. People complained about X-Treme X-Men being built around the notion that the X-Men were going to search for Destiny's Diaries, and then the first arc (and maybe a few after that?) had nothing to do with looking for the diaries.

ba said...

Ahhh, annual 12 is one of my favorites as well, though I never read the rest of the serpent saga, or whatever it was.

And let us never mention xtreme xmen ever again.

Jason said...

Sorry, sir Ba. (I myself haven't actually read X-Treme, only *about* it. I spared myself that particular ... experiment.)

Annual 12 was part of the "Evolutionary War," and for years I didn't read any other part of it either. Eventually I read the conclusion, in an "Avengers" annual. It was cripplingly boring.

The X-annual rocks, though.

Gary said...

ba asks:
...why couldn't rogue just touch him?

Because Rogue doesn't like using her mutant power. Once she became a hero, she never did use her power a lot during Claremont's tenure.

Anonymous said...

Jason-
You're lucky, I'm one of those poor suckers who bought ALL the Evolutionary War annuals. Most of them were terrible. Standouts included The Punisher annual, which supplied a great shoot-'em-up action story (big surprise there) and the Avengers annual, which actually had a more interesting team of "new Avengers" than the later Inferno tie-in Avengers #300. Too bad the issue 300 lineup is the lineup they went with.

Gary-
Yeah, Rogue really only used her absorbtion power to gain some kind of advantage in battle. Usually against someone really powerful like Juggernaut or Nimrod. I can't recall this power ever being used to get information from someone. I guess when you have Professor X or Psylocke around you really don't need her to.

I was also one of the people who bought this as it came out monthly, way back in the day. I remember liking these fill-in issues (especially this Christmas issue) well enough, but being impatient, too. I wanted the X-Men to be hunting down the Marauders, but it seems like they kept getting sidetracked. And when the big fight with the Marauders and Sinister finally arrives, it was a bit disappointing.

Gary said...

RE: Rogue using her power to gain an advantage in battle.

Even then, it had to be a big battle. I'm thinking back over intentional absorptions, and I come up with - all the X-Men for the Nimrod / Juggernaut fight in the 190s, Mojo in Annual 10 (didn't get knocked out, good sign that the villain is BIG), Juggernaut in issue 218 (not out), Adversary in 227 (not out), Longshot in Annual 12 (against Terminus, BIG), and then... nothing until she absorbs Gateway to escape Ms. Marvel in 268, tries Ms. Marvel later in the issue to avoid dying, and nothing after that until Claremont leaves the book.

Chris Claremont made a subtle point that she doesn't like using her power, probably because of what happened with Carol. Fortunately, with Ms. Marvel's abilities, she didn't need them that often.

Gary said...

Oh, Rogue also tried Garrokk, who was piloting a Terminus armor in Annual 12 (Not out. Not even CLOSE.).

Jason said...

One that you forget is in issue 186 -- a time when she actually DOES specifically absorb someone not to incapacitate, but for information: Specifically, Val Cooper.

There are some others. She absorbs Angel during "Inferno" and can't handle it because there is a "subordinate consciousness" mixed in with Angel's (belonging to Apocalypse).

She-Hulk in X-Men Annual 7. Magus in 192. Spiral in 206. The Thing and Human Torch in X-Men vs. FF (and she threatens to do the same to Mr. Fantastic -- another one where she wants to do so specifically just to get knowledge out of his head).

I don't think I'd agree that she didn't use her power much during Claremont's tenure. She used it quite a bit, in my view.

Gary said...

Wow, Jason, I missed a bunch. And I own most of those issues, so there's no excuse. I must perfect my X-fu!

I think that if you compare the numbers for Rogue using her mutant power (which I keep calling "her mutant power" to differentiate it from the host of other powers she got from Ms. Marvel) to pretty much any other X-Man using theirs, it comes up pretty thin. The fact that you and I are sitting here listing them proves that. Could we list the number of times Nightcrawler teleported? Colossus turned to steel?

The Avengers, FF vs. the X-Men, and Freedom Force - FF again? - battles do put some kind of a fork in my "only when it's a huge battle" aspect of my theory. The Inferno one is a special case, as all of the X-Men (except Colossus) were under the influence of Inferno in those books.

Gary said...

Wow, Jason, I missed a bunch. And I own most of those issues, so there's no excuse. I must perfect my X-fu!

I think that if you compare the numbers for Rogue using her mutant power (which I keep calling "her mutant power" to differentiate it from the host of other powers she got from Ms. Marvel) to pretty much any other X-Man using theirs, it comes up pretty thin. The fact that you and I are sitting here listing them proves that. Could we list the number of times Nightcrawler teleported? Colossus turned to steel?

The Avengers, FF vs. the X-Men, and Freedom Force - FF again? - battles do put some kind of a fork in my "only when it's a huge battle" aspect of my theory. The Inferno one is a special case, as all of the X-Men (except Colossus) were under the influence of Inferno in those books.

Jason said...

Gary, to be fair, it probably means you are much healthier than I. Should anyone really be able to list all of Rogue's absorptions off the top of their heads? (In my defense, it is mainly because I've been reading these things over and over specifically because of this blog series.)

Oh, did we mention Rogue absorbing Northstar in the "X-Men/Alpha Flight" comic? That's another one where it was just a standard superhero fight rather than a confrontation with something big and epic.

There are also all the times she absorbed a fellow X-Man to get a job done -- Colossus when they fought Mastermold ... and -- oh, sorry, you mentioned a lot of the other ones. (Sorry.)

Anyway, I still don't think it can be put down entirely to Rogue's reluctance to use her power, because she used it with some regularity during her time with the X-Men. That we can name the individual instances and cannot do so with Kurt's teleporting is down to two things, in my opinion.

1.) She only could do it once per fight, in a lot of cases. It's not something she could just do five times in rapid succession, like an optic blast or a lightning bolt or teleporting. And

2.) In story terms, it's the kind of thing that, because it is always portrayed with such intensity, it would get old if it happened more than once per story.

But when all's said and done, I'd still argue that we saw it happen enough times that I don't think once can put it down entirely to reluctance on the part of the character.

Jason said...

(Wow, a quick re-read of that post shows that I probably needed to edit that sucker. Sorry it's so repetitive!)

Gary said...

Jason,

Good point RE: Rogue's absorption can only happen once a battle or story without removing it's dramatic impact. And there are instances that I have missed, which does weaken my stance (especially the casual nature of her absorptions in FF v. X-Men). The Colossus - Master Mold absorption does not, as it meets my big battle criterion.

I suppose I saw the lack of frequency that you point out is dramatic necessity and assigned it to reluctance on the character's part, which is in keeping with her origin story and her constant care (and persistent Claremontism) that she cannot touch someone lest she "absorb [their] psyche and powers, maybe forever."

Jason said...

Yeah, I guess it's a little of both. I was looking over something recently and found another example of her using her power on someone who wasn't a huge mondo threat -- something right around where we are in the blog series ... maybe a member of the Reavers, or a member of the neo-Brood in 232?

But right in the same issue there is a pretty explicit thought balloon from Rogue that she "hates" doing it. So I think that means we're both right, right? :)

Teebore said...

Silvestri is a master of expressive body language

If your discussions of Silvestri have done anything, they've made me appreciate that.

Being something of a dunderhead when it comes to art, it's something I never noticed before, but definitely can see it now.