Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #242

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. An especially good entry here, in its look at Cyclops and Havok.]

“Inferno: Part the Third — Burn”

In 1988, Marc Silvestri and Dan Green earned a place in X-Men history, drawing the first issue of Uncanny X-Men since 1969 that featured the original five members of the team as the chief protagonists. They are even the main focus of the cover, charging towards the reader heroically while Storm, Wolverine and Havok loom above them like villains. The entire first half of Uncanny #242 sees the current X-Men – the ones who had spent all of 1988 being terrifying and alien – taken to that extreme. They are being influenced (albeit not outright possessed) by a demonic invasion, and further manipulated by Madelyne Pryor, and as such end up acting more as antagonists; while the pure-hearted, Silver Age X-Men seem somehow immune to “Inferno”’s psychological effects. This is a nice twist on Claremont’s part.

The “new X-Men vs. old X-Men” story here is, oddly enough, a first. There were a couple such issues back during Claremont’s earliest days, but in both of those cases, the “old X-Men” who showed up were imposters – robots, in one case; illusions in the other. This is the first time in the franchise’s history that the “real” Silver Age X-Men fight the “real” new X-Men.

Claremont has also said in an interview that, when the X-Factor series first debuted, there was an editorial edict that forbade any of the X-Men encountering any of X-Factor for the first full year of the latter’s existence. That (somewhat arbitrary) divide lasted three years, so the clash depicted here constitutes another of the “Inferno” crossover’s many “FINALLY!” moments (i.e., “Finally, the truth about Madelyne”; “finally, revenge against the Marauders”; “finally, the X-Men meet Mr. Sinister”; “finally, the conclusion to the Illyana saga”; etc.). Finally – X-Factor meet the X-Men!!! Again, say what you want about “Inferno,” but it was a genuinely culminating event for the X-franchise at this time. For all its hype and excess, it delivered a lot of resolutions and revelations. This puts “Inferno” at a sharp contrast against latter-day crossover events, which are just as hyped and just as excessive, but ultimately deliver nothing conclusive, other than a lead-in to the next, equally “important” crossover.
Uncanny X-Men #242 allows Claremont to write the resurrected Jean Grey for the first time. Significantly, not long after X-Factor debuted, Claremont began writing new stories set in the past, for the reprint-series “Classic X-Men.” He used that opportunity to seed new wrinkles on certain relationships. One such was to suggest that Jean Grey had – from Day One – a profound, “primal” sexual attraction to Wolverine. The payoff for that ret-conned revelation comes right on Page 1 of “Inferno: Part the Third,” which gorgeously depicts a passionate kiss between Jean and Logan.

A few pages later, Wolverine says to Jean, “My senses tell me you loved that kiss … an’ you want more.” This puts me in mind of what Geoff wrote about Morrison’s New X-Men Annual:

“Sex is brought up twice more in this book, both time to great effect:

Wolverine: So ... you need some company after this gig?
Domino: Can't hide from the man with hypersenses, huh? No strings animal passion, Logan, and you're paying for the drinks.
Wolverine: The Professor hands out platinum credit cards to his teaching staff.
Domino: First things first, honey ... Ninja business.

It takes only a split second to realize why his hypersenses are telling him she wants to have sex, and right in that moment you know the X-Men should never go back again. We don't lose the ninja stuff, but it's working on a fun, sexy, and dangerous new level.”


Now, granted, I am a comic-book geek, and – as such – a virgin who knows nothing about female biology, but am I right in thinking that this is another time where Morrison’s “new level” is not really all that new? [ed. note -- Yes. Yes you are. You win again Powell.]

Indeed, “fun, sexy and dangerous” are all words I would use to describe Uncanny #242.

1.) FUN: Claremont seems more than willing to acknowledge the silliness of “Inferno”’s premise: Revealing that Madelyne is a clone of Jean, only three years after John Byrne’s ret-con that Phoenix was also a clone of Jean. Thus, we get more than a couple jokes about it in this issue. My favorite is this bit, between Longshot and Dazzler, when the latter sees Jean Grey being threatened by demons:

Dazzler: “Red’s in trouble.”
Longshot: “Theirs or ours?”
Dazzler: “Theirs. Could probably use a hand.”
Longshot: “What’d she ever do for us?”

2.) SEXY: I understand the criticisms of Madelyne’s transformation from good-hearted woman to demon goddess. Intellectually I realize that my defense of the whole transformation doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Yet every time I read “Inferno,” I become enamored of evil Madelyne. She is hell on wheels (literally at one point), and her rage is so damn righteous. Plus, Silvestri and Green’s visualization is amazingly statuesque. What can I say? I know it’s just lines on paper, but I just love this lady. So she turned Jean’s parents into demons – they were boring anyway. So she wants to kill that baby? Why not, he was an annoying little distraction. (And four years later he’s going to be transformed, via ret-con, into a Liefeld character. A LIEFELD CHARACTER. Snuffing the little brat out now would’ve been a mercy killing.)

Claremont also creates a beautiful little moment on Page 25, wherein the Goblin Queen façade cracks, and Maddie speaks as her old self. It’s disarming, charming and unexpected, and it makes me love Madelyne that much more.

Meanwhile, it’s quite nice the way Claremont writes Jean as being just as bad-ass as Madelyne (logical, given their connection). Marvel Girl gets some great tough-gal dialogue as well: “What are we waiting for, lover?! We were the original X-Men. Past time we showed these cheap copies what that means!” (She doesn’t know yet that Madelyne is a literal “copy.”)

3.) DANGEROUS. As far back as Uncanny 219, Claremont was working a rather shrewd little bit of parallelism between Havok and Cyclops. Both of them abandon their female counterparts, who in turn are targeted by the Marauders. The parallel lines then change and become intersecting (like the lines of an “X”) when Claremont positions Alex and Madelyne as lovers. It is a very soap-opera swerve, but I love that the melodrama is given such an epic tone and sweep in Uncanny 242, as Alex confronts his brother with such fury. “You forfeited every right you had when you walked out on her,” Havok says. “You swore an oath, Scott – and you LIED!” There is a nice subtext at work here – Alex is confronting his own guilt as well. The entire affair takes on a heightened quality, like something out of a Greek tragedy. Claremont has played with the “brother vs. brother” trope before with Alex and Scott (as far back as issue 96), but back then it was all pretty safe and comic-booky. Here, the conflict still owes much to classically comic-booky tropes, but the battle itself – particularly the one between Scott and Alex – is girded with a powerful emotional component that make the stakes seem exponentially higher.

(Meanwhile, I think it’s great that Havok’s clothing gets stripped down until he is dressed in a version -- only slightly different -- of Madelyne’s very revealing goblin raiment. Both the gals and the guys get sexy in this issue!)

The story ends as these things typically do, with the two hero-teams realizing it was all a “misunderstanding,” and they team up to fight the real bad guy. What I enjoy about this iteration is that the transition is so very fluid. The X-Men and X-Factor just sort of start working together instead of fighting, without any fanfare. It is almost as if they cannot help themselves from drifting into being on the same side, which is lovely.


Kevin said...

Hey Jason - this is rather random, but I was thinking about your reviews the other day and I remembered one from a while ago where you mentioned something about a bunch of "lost projects" and I remember it seeming like you had a bunch of info on said projects, though I don't remember what you were writing in reference to. Do you have a link or can you illuminate on what that was, if you even remember what I am talking about? Thanks!

Kevin said...

NM - searched for it and found it.

Dave Mullen said...

Good issue but hard to talk about as basically it's just moving the Inferno plot along, I liked the X-Men/X-Factor clash as it had been brewing ever since the X-Factor Mutant Hunters concept was introduced, but always felt a tinge of 'so what' about it ultimatly as it didn't really address the X-Mens supposed anger about what X-Factor had been doing and the sheer damage it caused to Human/Mutants relations.
That along with the Maddie fallout was swept under the carpet and never adequatly dealt with but then it's a fairly regular thing to happen in comics anyway.

I guess it doesn't help in that I was always lukewarm to X-Factor anyway both as a book and bunch of characters, they just didn't have the charisma or appeal the X-men had and I was always well aware of the fact these were the 'failed' X-men of yesteryear. It was always a book selling that same empty idea and the baggage unfortunatly...

Still, one of the most memorable incidents in X-Men 242 was the clash between Archangel and Wolverine, I found the emnity between the two near electrical it was just so powerfully put across.
Up to that point it was rare to see someone able to match Wolverine physically like that as well as provoke such a reaction from him and i wish this had been followed up and buit on.

ba said...

Let's not forget that, along the lines of sex, Longshot and Dazzler were basically on the verge of doing it in front of everyone at least once in this issue.

Worst line - "The pain...sweet mercy...the pain!" What is this, Hellraiser?

Best line - "Boss got us coming and going like sheep!" "BAAAA!"

Arthur said...


RE: Wolverine vs. Archangel -- There's some irony in what Warren has become, and I'm surprised Jason didn't mention it. Warren hated Wolverine's violent nature, and even left the team because of it (UXM 148), and now he's as violent and deadly as Logan ever was. The dialogue in the W v. A scene even quotes their first confrontation depicted in Classic X-Men # 1.

Ba: for bad quotes, well, I always hated the fact that even mildly offensive language wasn't allowed in the book at the time, so Wolvie goes charging into battle saying "The heck with you!" This seems to be self-imposed censorship, as they let a few "hells" and "damns" go in year's past. As sexy as X-Men was at times, Claremont seemed very aware of his younger audience and made sure everything was shiny on the surface. Actually, that's one of the things I started to dislike about Claremont at this point, that as subtle as he could be (re: the development and backstory of Magneto) an ordinary issue was filled with unsubtle exposition, clunky sermons delivered by unlikely people, and explanations of most motives and actions so everyone can follow along.

As for Inferno itself, I didn't like the clash of elements. Demons were running amok in NYC and there was a human infant sacrifice planned, all of which should be scary, but there are also talking mailboxes and fire hydrants and cabs. I would have preferred that the lighter stuff be confined to Excalibur.

Also, the rematch with the Marauders was a disappointment. The team that took out half of the X-Men the first time were complete jokes and disposed of with ridiculous ease this time around.


Jason said...

Kevin, since you found what you were looking for, do you mind linking *me* to it? I no longer remember where it is or what I said ... Thanks ...

Dave, I don't have too much antipathy toward the original five characters, really. Beast, Cyclops and Jean are all aces for me. Iceman and Angel, less so, and I like Angel less when he becomes Death/Archangel. I guess that explains why I didn't say much about the Logan/Warren stuff.

Though Arthur, good call on the Classic X-Men #1 connection. I always loved when the retcons in Classic got integrated into the late-80s Uncanny stuff. Annual #12 is my favorite example.

Ba, who says, "Sweet mercy, the pain!"? Is it Nastirh? Surely we can forgive a demon his melodrama ... ?

Nathan P. Mahney said...

I never minded the way that the X-Men summarily dispatch the Marauders during Inferno. It's a good signpost to show just how much harder the X-Men are now than they were during Mutant Massacre. Back then they got hammered, then they spent a while hardening up, and now they're operating in the same world that the Marauders live in.

Arthur said...

Jason: "Sweet Mercy, the pain!" is a phrase I'll have to introduce in to my life and use often, like when my kids want to watch Hannah Montana: The Movie.

In the issue, it's not spoken, but thought by Wolverine when he catches a whiff of Archangel. It's right after the CXM callback.

A: "You roughneck little lowlife creep -- I was right about you from the start! The years haven't taught you anything. Can't you get it through your thick skull? Jean's spoken for!"

W: "I know the rest flyboy -- even if she wasn't, she's still 'too good' for the likes of me."

W: (thinking) [Angel-- his scent -- something about it -- familiar -- pain -- sweet mercy, the pain!]

W: "The heck with that, bub -- an' the heck with you!"

I thought Claremont was hinting that Apocalypse was responsible for Wolverine's adamantium. He could sense the big A's handiwork on Warren. I have no real desire to read it again, but I think there was a Wolverine Special by Mignola where there were more hints along that line. It's the issue where he sires a son with a woman named Gahk.

Sweet mercy, the pain! I didn't want to think about that Wolverine Special again!!


Jason said...

Ah yes, thank you, Arthur. I guess I never minded that line.

"Wolverine: The Jungle Adventure"! I loved that at the time. The Mignola artwork is good, at least.

Nathan, yeah! 100% agreement about the Marauders. I love that they get taken out so readily.

Kevin said...

Jason -


It's been a long time since I read the original review with the discussion where it came up in the first place, but I'm pretty sure this is the the thread that was referenced. I thought I could vaguely recall that it had something to do with the lost Phoenix miniseries and co, but apparently I was mistaken.

Jason said...

Thanks so much, Kevin! I had forgotten some of that stuff.

cease ill said...

Okay, you've sold me on what works about the X-MEN parts of the story. Something just seemed to clunk along about the X-FACTOR parts...or again, maybe it's me. I just skimmed whole pages...looking for characterization bits? Of course, you can, and have to, do those on the fly.

The bit about the Marauders, Scott/Alex, Logan/ Warren---I'm with you. The point about silly mailboxes alongside baby sacrifices, I'll have to think about next time I read it---was it that, and the constant pace of explosions, that was causing me to skip? Ice Man uses his boring ass powers again...up against a boring, singular villain, one at a time except for recruiting Alex...X-Men struggling with their natures, that's okay...yeah, it's funny, NOW I want to slap Dazzler and Longshot, the Crying X-Man? It'll have to grow on me. It DOES tie up threads just as you say.

Keith said...

This blog run has been dormant for some time but doesn't anyone have problems with Claremont's penchant for ripping off popular movies?

Nimrod is The Terminator. The Brood are Aliens. The Reavers are Mad Max. Fall of The Mutants has a plot element involving the X-Men in a building caught in a time warp which lifts the climax to, of all movies, My Science Project. And here in Inferno we have Ghostbusters being ripped off, not just the idea, but many many other elements.

For such an imaginative book Uncanny had these odd lifts and "homages."

Keith said...

I always thought Mr. Sinister was supposed to intentionally be this over-the-top arch-villain type. The look certainly and all the way down to the name. Almost Claremont's way of saying - "Let's wrap up this Maddie thing the good old fashioned way and get on with business."

Keith said...

Come to think of it... Inferno does some real liberal lifting from Jim Henson's "Labyrinth" as well. The story is about a young girl who's baby sister is kidnapped by Goblin's and who eventually try to corrupt her into becomming a Goblin Queen.

Oh dear Mr. Claremont.