Tuesday, August 18, 2009

X-Men Annual #12a

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. Sorry for getting this one out late today, but I got tied up with life off of the computer.]


By 1988, Claremont has been writing Uncanny X-Men for so long that he now is in the position of collaborating on the series with people who originally encountered his work as a fan, rather than as a pro. Indeed, ’88 is the year in which the editorial responsibilities for Uncanny passed to Bob Harras -- an avowed fan of the Claremont/Byrne run of nearly a decade earlier. Harras’ rein was, by all accounts, much tighter than that of Nocenti or Simonson, much to Claremont’s frustration. (Ironically, this quality made Harras professionally akin to Roger Stern, the man who oversaw much of the Claremont/Byrne X-Men issues.)

In “Comics Creators on X-Men,” Harras is explicit about why he and Claremont butted heads almost from the start – the latter’s desire to continually mutate the X-Men concept was firmly at odds with Harras’ traditionalism. (An early manifestation of Harras’ holding the Byrne-era X-Men sacrosanct is notable in Classic X-Men, which ceased -- practically overnight -- to break up any of the Byrne material with interstitial pages once Harras got full control.) Harras seems to have been as stuck under the shadow of Claremont/Byrne as Claremont and Byrne themselves were – during the early half of their run – under that of Neal Adams.

By the same token, Claremont may also have been getting a little nostalgic himself for the “glory days” of his collaborations with John Byrne, having revisited them himself for the sake of the Classic X-Men reprints.

All of which helps to account for the a-side story in X-Men Annual #12, which sees Claremont teaming with Art Adams for a return to the Savage Land. Inked by Bob Wiacek, Adams’ work here is clean, bright and dynamic, very much recalling Byrne and Austin during the “Sun God” story of Uncanny 115-116 (published in 1978, a full decade earlier). The story – despite the disingenuous cover trappings that claim it’s part of Marvel’s 1988 “Evolutionary War” crossover – is an explicit sequel to the Garokk/Sun God material, reprising key story beats (and even specific images) and allowing Claremont to redeem certain moments from that earlier work. Thus, Storm saves Garokk from his fatal fall this time around, and Garokk himself uses his power to save the Savage Land rather than – as was his goal the first time around – to destroy it. This must have immensely gratified whatever part of Harras was still a fanboy for Claremont/Byrne X-Men.

Claremont, meanwhile, clearly enjoys the opportunity to make “Resurrection” also a sequel to his recent John Bolton collaborations. For example, thanks to a cannily deployed sci-fi cliché involving time moving differently in other dimensions, we get to see the long-term ramifications here of Colossus’ sexual liaison with Nereel in Classic #21b – they have a son! We also see the return of M’rin from Classic #22b, with dialogue that suggests there is an as-yet-unrevealed Storm/M’rin story that takes place during Ororo’s “punk” phase. X-Men Annual #12 may revel quite a bit in its nostalgia for the franchise’s creative peak, but Claremont is also, shrewdly, using it to cement his more recent (and far less celebrated) contributions to the canon.

Note also the subtle parallelism at work involving Piotr Rasputin’s son: The boy, also called Peter, has – in a sense – aged artificially, having spent years in another dimension where time moves differently, so that he is already an adolescent even though (in Marvel Time), he should only be one or two years old. This is, of course, very similar to what happened to Illyana in Uncanny #160 and the Magik miniseries; apparently, artificial aging runs in the Rasputin family.

Meanwhile, as a superhero story, “Resurrection” bounces along excitingly from start to finish. Its opening sequence – featuring some nice Claremontian turns of phrase (e.g., “Lightning splits the sky – strobe-splashing midnight brighter than noon”) and some slipped-under-the-Comics-Code allusions to Longshot and Alison having just fucked – sets a thrilling and vigorous tone, which Adams and Wiacek carry breathlessly through to the battle with Terminus.

(The Terminus fight hearkens back to Byrne as well, its “Round 1/Round 2” construction so evocative of the “X-Men vs. Magneto” two-parter in Uncanny 112/113 or the “Proteus” arc in issues 126-128.)

Claremont even slips a bit back under Neal Adams’ shadow too, sneaking in a cameo by Adams’ “Savage Land mutates” (from X-Men #’s 62-63). Claremont will import these creatures into the main series too, a year later, in issues 249-250.
All in all, the Annual sees Claremont working at cross-purposes with the main series, which at this point is still attempting something newer, stranger and more discomfiting with Silvestri and Green. But he gets away with it, because the story itself is so charming – the work of a seasoned veteran of old-school superheroics, brimming with confidence and teamed with a young artist whose style is as sleekly futuristic as Byrne and Austin’s seemed ten years earlier.

(The successful synthesis of this old/new sensibility is given an emblem on the story’s final page: the “X” embedded in an eight-pointed star, which readers saw Madelyne designing in Uncanny #232.)


mdeals said...

I'm waiting for your comics .. X man.

Paul said...

This was one of my favorite issues as a kid. I think JP summed it up perfectly that it's a slice of nostalgia during a very "new" period of the X-Men legacy. Also, Art Adams really made the new line up in their new costumes look iconic. That opening splash with Storm flying amongst the clouds is gorgeous. Also, it was cool to see Adams draw Longshot, again.

Arthur said...

Hi Jason,

I just discovered your series a week or two ago and love it. This is a great project you have going here.

Anyway, I don't have the issue in front of me, but my favorite little moment in this issue is Peter Jr. sitting on top of Colossus' shoulders, fascinated by his metal hair. ("Ma'am, his hair's solid!") He then proceeds to bang on the hair for the next couple of panels.

(It made me wonder what his organic steel ponytail was like in his Peter Nicholas phase. Did it become solid too, so he couldn't look up? I'm probably the only person who has idle thoughts about organic steel hair...)


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I don't think Peter the Younger was an adolescent in this story. I remember him being a little kid that Colossus could carry around easily on his shoulders (OK, Colossus could carry just about anyone easily on his shoulders; you know what I mean).

This is one of the best X-Men annuals ever, in my opinion. Great story, great artwork.

No commentary on the backup story featuring the all-new X-Babies? If I remember correctly it had Adams artwork, too, and had Mojo going through one grouping of X-Men after the other. Robot X-Men, funny animal X-Men, etc. And it had the return of Ricochet Rita, another bit of Longshot continuity popping back up.

Did Marvel ever reveal the answers to the mysteries raised by this story, such as:

-How did Garokk go from the half-crystal, half-rock seen in Uncanny #149(?) to his old self as seen in this annual?
-Who stuck Garokk in the Terminus suit? Was he inside the suit all along? How did it get buried under the Arctic tundra?

Gotta love the moxie on that Zaladane. Who else puts the initial of their name (not codename) on their shirt? Later on, when the X-Men go back to the Savage Land, I believe we get the tidbit that Zaladane is the sister to Lorna Dane aka Polaris. Was this ever followed up on? Since Marvel has cemented that Polaris is Magneto's daughter, would that make Zala Magneto's daughter, too? If so, that has to be a bit awkward because Magneto kills her in #275.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I shouldn't have said "adolescent" there. I just meant he is older than he should be, in terms of Marvel Time.

The b-side of the annual is covered in next week's blog entry.

I agree, by the way, that this is the best of the Claremont Uncanny annuals. The Mojo b-side really puts it over the top. It really accurately predicted the future of the X-franchise. (Ironic timing for this entry to come up too, because Marvel is now -- somewhat UN-ironically -- releasing ANOTHER X-Men spinoff starring the X-Babies. Despite the whole point of that concept being that it's a parody of ridiculous X-Men spinoffs ...)

Anonymous said...

This is JP talkin', by the way. (Having to use the work computer.)

To the "Anon" who wasn't me: I don't know the answers to your other questions. I doubt the Garrokk thing was ever explained ...

... And the Polaris/Zaladane/Magneto thing is a riddle for the ages. Google "Peter Luzifer" and "Zaladane," and you might find some helpful ruminations.

To Paul: Yes. Iconic! Perfect word for it.

Arthur: Really glad you found the reviews. Hope you'll keep reading and responding.

-- Jason P

ba said...

I had thought that x-men 248-250 and something like 270-272 cleared up the whole zaladane/lorna/magneto thing, in as much as zaladane was lying about being lorna's sister. Of course, at that point in time, lorna wasn't related to magneto either, so who the fuck knows.

I figured the whole terminus thing was cleared up in other parts of the "evolutionary war" storyline in other annuals. Guess it wasn't? If not, that's a pretty bad dangling plot.

Wonder if Claremont will ever mention peter's son in x-men forever. Someone should, at least.

I think that peter can probably move his hair when he had the ponytail. I mean...he can open his eyes and move in general, right?

Jason said...

I don't think it was ever said that Zaladane was lying. In fact, I recall the contrary -- that Moira confirmed that Zaladane MUST be Lorna's sister, or the "power switch" thing that happened in Uncanny 250 would have been impossible.


I never read any of the rest of "Evolutionary War." Maybe that stuff was explained. I don't know. I never really cared. It's a big robot, I don't need to know its origin.

As for Garrokk, I never understood how he got big in Uncanny 149 in the first place. Never made sense to me. It's one of the reasons I didn't like that issue. At any rate, I assumed that Garrokk/Terminus stuff was explained somewhere in a non-X-Men issue ... But, I never really looked into it ...

Peter's son was a component of Claremont's "X-Men The End" and its sequel "GeNeXt." I think maybe Colossus is the grandparent and little Peter the parent of one of the main characters in GeNeXt. (Or something. It was pretty bad.)

ba said...

Ah, so then we have what must be a massive clusterfuck - Zaladane lied about being magneto's daughter (somewhere in the 270s, i think), but is Lorna's sister. Except...now it's canon that Lorna is Magnus' daughter. Making the whole thing DUMB.

Dave M. said...

Zaladane was always a very artificial creation and was odder still considering Claremont usually gave even his bit-part characters a strong personality and reason to be, even if it wasn't clear at the time where he was going with them. A good example is Mr Sinister who was so well OTT & one-dimensional a villain (for the X-men at that time) that even to me back then he seemed to have wandered in from another, more conventional, comicbook.
Zaladane was much the same but considering what we now know of Claremonts original intentions for Sinister and the twist that made it make perfect sense i would strongly suspect Zaladane was originally going to lead to something much much bigger. Claremont was brilliant at introducing seemingly throwaway character like this only to return and really build them up at a later point.

I agree this was a terrific fast paced annual, I was going to grumble about the sheer weight of continuity inside it too but consider 'Classic X-men' was at its very height in popularity at this time and the majority of Marvels readers, like me, would be well familiar with the previous material this annual revisited, we were so familair with X-men history thanks to Classic X-men (and other material admittedly) it gave the main book an incredible amount of instant accessability for ANY new reader... I do think this helped the X-mens popularity in the long run as Claremonts universe building was so much a gradual and sustained a feat of work.

Anonymous said...

Zaladane doesn't claim to be Magneto's daughter in the 270s. Unless it's in some sort of metaphorical sense. But no, I feel certain that's not in there.

But yeah, I agree that making Lorna into Magneto's actual progeny was dumb. But then, I thought the same thing about Wanda and Quicksilver. I prefer the tragic Magneto who lost his only daughter (Anya) in the backstory Claremont developed.

It just utterly neuters that tragedy if we see Magneto with surviving kids that he either treats like sh*t (Wanda and Pietro) or KILLS (Zaladane).

(This is why I'm sure Claremont didn't ever imply that Zaladane was Magneto's daughter. He barely ever acknowledged the Quicksilver/Wanda retcon during his original run ... He did so only *twice* in fact, and in very vague terms both times.)

-- JP

Anonymous said...

Well said, Dave. You're right, the "Classic X-Men" stuff, read concurrently with Uncanny, did help at this time to give a sense of depth to the X-Men franchise (which it needed, because with all the spinoffs coming out at that time, the franchise's *width* was rather out of control).

ba said...

In 274, or thereabouts, Zaladane uses the same machine to try to steal magneto's powers as she did lorna's in 249 (or thereabouts). If she had to be lorna's sister to steal lorna's powers...

Jason said...

Aaaahhh, I get it.

Well, maybe they modified the machine by that point ... ?

I guess my question is, what you describe does *imply* a blood relation ... but is it ever explicitly spoken aloud by Zaladane?

(I love how -- no matter how erudite and broad these X-blog comment-threads may begin -- we always come down to continuity minutia before too long. :) Such is the magic of Claremont!)

Troy said...

Hi Jason,

I've been reading your Claremont blogs for awhile now. They've been very helpful for me as I prepped to interview Claremont last week on my radio show in Salt Lake City.

I had a unique opportunity to spend several hours with Chris and talk freely with him about his writing, the academic work that's been done on the franchise and his current take on the industry and the series.

I mention your work during the show, and asked Chris to comment on the idea that the Silver Age X-Men were actually counter-revolutionary. His response was interesting. He doesn't really step back and think much about the meta themes in his work -- he is extremely character focused when he talks about the cannon.

It was for me, actually a very challenging interview. It was difficult for me to match his rhythm -- he is as long-winded in his answers as he is with his legendary prose. And I was having moments sitting across from him thinking, "OMG -- I'm talking to Chris Claremont!!"

Ironically we were giving away autographed copies of X-Men annual 12. And he thumbed through the issue with nostalgic delight. Asking if he could keep a copy. Chris Claremont is actually a huge fan-boy.

Have a listen and let me know what you think..


Keep up the great writing.

Troy Williams

Jason said...


That's awesome. I'm so jealous of you guys who've gotten to talk one-to-one with Claremont. (Patrick Meaney recently did the same, and was kind enough to share the footage with me. It is delightful.)

But yes, I have always gotten the sense from his interviews that he is intensely focused on the characters. A lot of the broad themes and recurring motifs that occur in his work seem like they might just be by-products of a workaholic writer who has -- like all of us -- particular obsessions and hobby horses that he likes to return to.

(Which is part of what makes it a privilege to have this blog, where we can try and un-pack some of that stuff.)

Claremont does seem fond of Annual #12. I think he hand-picked the Mojo b-story to be in his expanded hardcover "Marvel Visionaries" volume, if I'm not mistaken.

Cool that you mentioned the blog to him, by the way! I wonder if he'll check it out ... imagine having him show up to comment here! That'd be a thrill.

Anyhoo, thanks, Troy, for the comment and the link. I will listen to it at my earliest opportunity!

ba said...

Jason - having gone and read that bunch of issues, I must acquiesce - she never explicitly claims to be magneto's daughter. I feel sheepish!

Jason said...

We've all been there, Ba!

As noted, the only reason it's a point of contention for me is because it would go so very much against the grain of Claremont's Magneto -- the tragic character who lost his only daughter, Anya, because of a vengeful, prejudiced mob.

No way would Claremont then go on to show Magneto murdering another "daughter" himself. (I've even read someone online suggest the the theory that Anya survived, and grew up to become Zaladane. Oh, the pain!!!)

I also think it is significant that Claremont even did his best back then to ignore the Wanda/Pietro ret-con. He *never* brings it up explicitly during that entire 80s run. And he only brings it up implicitly twice ...!

Teebore said...

Another I'm continuing to love about these posts, as I've mentioned before, is how you point out the way behind-the-scenes events influence the stories.

It's very clear that around this time there's a definite push and pull between Claremont's "reinvent the wheel" approach and more traditional elements; for every Muir Island X-Men there's a Savage Land story, etc, but until now I never made the connection between the rise of Harras and the sudden influx of "traditional" X-Men elements.

Isaac P. said...

Annual #12 was my first X-Men comic, followed quickly by some of the Genosha issues. I was captivated not just by the stories themselves but also by the sheer range of type of stories that Claremont could put the X-Men into. Great stuff.

NietzscheIsDead said...

Regarding Zaladane being Magneto's daughter:

I have heard that Claremont once told a fan (several years after quitting) that he had intended Lorna and Zala Dane's father to be a silver-haired man who left their lives very early. This, along with the comment from Moira that Zala would pretty much have to be closely related to Lorna for the machine to work, and the fact that the machine not only worked on Magneto, but also later let Magneto absorb Lorna's power from Zaladane... it does seem like Claremont was setting Magneto up as Lorna's father (though Magneto may not even be aware of it, depending on how early in their "lives" he left). Having Magneto find out that he actually had a surviving daughter, one that hadn't rejected him because of his previously abusive relationship with her, might go a long way towards Claremont's plan to eventually and finally redeem Magneto.

(Besides, consider this: when we leave Claremont's canon, Lorna is in the hands of the Shadow King, who had some mysterious battle with Magneto that was as terrible for Magneto as losing Anya had been. If Magneto had the final chance to redeem both of those failures at the same time, saving a daughter and defeating the Shadow King, it would have made for a powerful story.)