Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #237

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

“Who’s Human?”

In terms of the X-Men’s characterization, Leonardi (this time teamed with classic X-inker Terry Austin) takes things one step back after the previous issue’s tremendous leap forward. Claremont takes dialogue cues from his artist’s visuals, and when writing for Leonardi’s cartoonishly baby-faced women and massively broad-shouldered men, he loses some of the coolness that Silvestri brings out in him. So when Claremont reprises the trick of the previous issue – i.e., having the bulk of the team only appear for four pages – the effect is less discomfiting, and more cutesy. (Note Claremont’s mockery of his own narrative trick in the first caption: “Elsewhere on the island ... guess who’s (finally) arrived ...”)

Still, apart from the rote cartoon superheroics of the sequence with Storm, et al, Uncanny #237 moves the Genoshan storyline along with sturdy sureness, as Rogue (now inhabited by Carol Danvers) and Wolverine inevitably cross paths with Phillip Moreau. There’s a fun bit at the start of this particular sequence, wherein Rogue/Carlo arrives in an ostentatiously slutty outfit, much to Logan’s bemusement:

Logan: “Nothing like being inconspicuous.”
Carol: “Basic tradecraft, Wolvie. I don’t mind being remembered. The trick is making certain nobody looks at my face.”
Logan: “That outfit’ll do it, guaranteed.”

[Forgive a self-indulgent sidebar here, but: As a huge fan of “Alias,” I find myself really grateful to Claremont for providing an explanation for why Sydney Bristow always dressed so ostentatiously during her supposedly covert missions …]

When Phillip gets into a drunken brawl with a group of magistrates, another facet of Claremont’s story design comes into focus. The antagonism between David Moreau and the Chief Magistrate (a dynamic introduced two weeks earlier and continued in the opening sequence of “Who’s Human?”) turns out to be a key part of the narrative, motivating the magistrates’ vengeful prank against David’s son.

David ends up aboard the “Mutie Train,” as do Logan and Carol. Serendipitously, the concept of a train on which the disenfranchised mutant population commute to and from their “Settlement Zone” has its parallel in South Africa’s system of grand apartheid, and in the history of X-Men continuity (The 2013 version of Kitty rides the “M-Train” to the concentration camp in “Days of Future Past”). Once again, Claremont is able to ride the line separating the pillars of his own fictional universe from their real-life analogues, inviting the story to be read from either side.

As in the previous two chapters, what makes “Who’s Human?” stand out are its several instances of brutal cruelty on every level of Genoshan society. In the scene between Jennifer and David, as well as in the preparation for Madelyne’s assimilation, we are privy to more details about the Genegineer’s conditioning process. The scientists that tend to Madelyne are astoundingly, harshly cold in their pragmatic explanations (“Babies are decanted right down the hall”), and Claremont pushes all the proper buttons to make the Genegineer seem chillingly soulless – e.g., his reminding Jennifer that she would have become his daughter-in-law, then immediately having her taken away to be conditioned. The single-mindedness with which all the key players in the Genoshan hierarchy remain complacently oblivious to their own evil never stops being terrifying. Moreover, by this point in the Genosha saga, it is clear through inference (albeit never explicitly stated) that the reason for the mutants’ uniformly awkward speech is a by-product of the Genegineer’s process – it apparently not only bonds bright colors to their skin to make them easily identifiable, but it also retards their intellectual processes. Genoshan mutants are being abused and mutilated on every level. The depths of the Genegineer’s cruelty are genuinely worse than anything yet seen in an issue of Uncanny X-Men. This is heartbreaking material.

Meanwhile, no less affecting is Claremont’s portrayal of the magistrates, who display a more blue-collar hatefulness. Whether it’s forcing a mutant sanitation engineer to pick up every piece of a crumbled cigarette, or simply beating a group of them for getting too uppity, the magistrates’ casual racism is stomach-turning.

All of which feeds once again into the X-Men’s – or, in this case, Wolverine’s – righteous rage, expressed dramatically in the final line of the issue: “Before I die,” Logan declares, “I’m gonna make some changes here. By all I hold holy, I swear ... I’m gonna bring this flamin’ country down!” Like the Psylocke’s rage or Storm’s icy calm in the previous issue, Wolverine’s oath to tear down an entire nation built on racism feels utterly right for an X-Men story. As if this is the kind of thing they should have been doing from Day One.


Arthur said...

Hi Jason,

Great job, as usual. Not much to add, just one little Easter Egg -- Did you notice the red-haired TV reporter from the then-recent Dark Knight Returns is the TV reporter on Genosha?

And now that I'm looking through the issue, I note that this is the start of the later-named "Adamantium poisoning". From what I remember, the original idea for Logan's adamantium skeleton was just that: his entire skeleton was replaced with adamantium. (Notice it's referred to as an adamantium skeleton, not adamantium laced skeleton, during the first couple of years.) Then it was pointed out to Claremont that bone marrow produces blood cells. It was then that Claremont adjusted it to "adamantium laced skeleton", and not solid adamantium. The little tidbit in this issue about him dying on his feet without his healing factor is an outgrowth of that little bit of knowledge.

Also, I tend to look for these articles by the Claremont tag, which is missing from this article. Whasupwithat?

I guess I had more to say than I thought.


Geoff Klock said...

Art -- Claremont tag fixed! Thanks for the heads up. G

neilshyminsky said...

I have to say, Jason, that your series has done a lot to remind me of some things that I had forgotten when I wrote that paper a few years back - and that I continued to forget/ignore until you made them so painfully obvious to me.

I'll have to add something about this to my own blog - especially since I think that Claremont (understandably) hits a wall with Genosha. The X-Men are finally the activists (terrorists, even) that they should have been, they've become the Brotherhood, for all intents and purposes... but they can't really stay that way, can they? They can try to overthrow a fake nation, but can they be allowed to do anything more than that? No, it doesn't seem like they can.

Jason said...

Art -- crap! I think I wrote a reply to you while at work, and must've gotten distracted and closed the window before I could actually hit "post." Dang it!


I'll try to come back around to it in issue 238. It was too long and involved to try to recreate at this time of night ...

Neil -- That is an excellent point. (And may explain why I hit a wall after I blogged about issue 238 ... :))

I think this may indeed be the apex of Claremont's run, thematically. Then "Inferno" brings everything together, plot-wise (resolving a lot of really long-standing plot arcs). Patrick Meaney identifies this as the end of Claremont's run in many ways as well.

Then issues 244-279 are ... well, they are a different animal. But more on that in a few weeks ...

cease ill said...

Just read these issues for the first time in maybe 20 years and found them chilling! I actually said,"that's EVIL!" aloud while reading. As always, I love the analysis of structure; I'll be re-reading this w/ my best friend in the next couple of weeks, pondering...
Sadly, Neil points out something very dramatic that was missed when the X-Men did not get the opportunity to remain counter-establishment figures. Very difficult situations would arise when governments who were not so thoroughly going wicked adopted prejudicial policies, as the X-Men would've had to be quite judicious in how they fought the powers-that-be. Someone's got to find a parallel and bring that more difficult conflict to light; I realize clear-cut villains drive such melodramatic fare, but problems more difficult to punch or lift along the way (as Gerber once had a disgruntled Jack Noriss put it) could blend neatly alongside such encounters. Once you've epitomized a racist state like Genosha, however, it could be hard to pay-out dramatically anything resembling it...though I would like to have seen them try!