Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #245

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


Another complaint about Claremont (there are so very many) is that his brand of superhero feminism was less than it should have been, because he “cheated” by making his female characters into powerhouses. A letter was published in Uncanny late in the run, opining that Claremont had only three males -- Xavier, Magneto and Wolverine – who could stand alongside the females in terms of raw power.

I honestly have a hard time not seeing a bit of sexism in this complaint as well. Are males so threatened by powerful females that they can’t even stomach having a bunch of them in a comic book? If X-Men is filled with powerhouse women, we must surely view this in relation to the rest of the superhero landscape, which is dominated by scores of powerful males.

In any case, grist for the sexists’ complaints on this front can be found in “Men.” The masculine counterpart to the previous issue’s “Ladies’ Night,” Uncanny #245 gives a bit of short shrift to the males. While “Ladies Night” was light in tone, it boasted strong characterization and slick artwork. And while the villains were a joke, they at least were given some weight via their connection to the series’ “persecution” theme. Indeed, the entire “M Squad” premise even served as an epilogue to the original premise of Bob Layton’s X-Factor.

The dudes don’t fare so well. The guys’ night out becomes a complete joke – the story is not just light, but an out and out parody (of a DC story, no less!). Havok gets to angst a bit about Lorna and Madelyne (and it is charmingly done), but other than that there is very little psychological insight into the characters here. And while the ladies never looked sexier thanks to Silvestri, the men …. well, they are drawn by guest-penciller Rob Liefeld. Not a name that really needs any explication these days.

So, complain away, men’s rights activists. “Ladies Night” was a tour de force, and “Men” is a joke. Claremont’s priorities are plain.

Despite all that, this issue is genuinely funny. Claremont clearly enjoys making fun of himself. The “Jean Bomb” is a rather brilliant bit – even people from other planets are making clones of Jean Grey!!! (A letter writer would actually complain about this element, criticizing Claremont for doing another Jean-clone story!) And the thread about the one member of the invasion force who researches Earth and learns that it’s filled with superheroes – and is, thus, a terrible choice for invasion – is rather inspired. (It’s also a call-back to a scene from one of Claremont’s earliest X-Men issues, back during the Cockrum days. Read Pages 2 and 3 of this issue, then re-read Uncanny #105 and you’ll see the one I mean.)

And there is probably no more laugh-out-loud funny line in the entire Claremontian catalogue than the lead alien’s comment on the Sydney Opera House: “Its shape offends me.”

Meanwhile, Liefeld turns out to be a perfect choice for this material. Inked by Dan Green – who keeps a sheen of professionalism over everything, as always – Liefeld’s wacky proportions and insane anatomy highlight the comedy perfectly.
I don’t know what Australians would have thought of this issue – Claremont goes for some pretty broad stereotypical humor here. That said, it is not without its shrewd touches. Their lackadaisical reaction to the invasion is interesting; by most accounts Australia is a generally laid back country, and that’s at least partly the result of its unique geographical circumstances. They really aren’t used to being invaded.

And while it’s an obvious touch, I do laugh at Havok’s Crocodile Dundee paraphrase, “Those aren’t blasters. THIS is a blaster.”

(Meanwhile, apropos of nothing, Page 24 is obliquely prescient, juxtaposing Dan Quayle’s name and Murphy Brown’s in the same panel, only two word-balloons apart. This was February of 1989; Quayle’s famous “Murphy Brown” speech was still over three years away!)

Issues 244 and 245 occupy a strange little niche in the history of Claremont’s run – a pair of light, fun, mostly self-contained stories, cleansing the palette after the gigantic “Inferno” and letting readers catch their collective breath before Claremont would begin his final, doomed overplot. Few comics in Claremont’s run function this way. (“Kitty’s Fairy Tale” being the most noteworthy up to now.) It’s also the only time that a pair of Claremont issues act as genderized counterparts of each other, explicitly splitting the team right in half along the gender divide. Not many other superhero comics could do this if they wanted to, because the males almost always outnumber the females. Not in a Claremont series, though – bless him!


Matt Jacobson (formerly Ultimate Matt) said...

I don't plan on bothering with any issue-by-issue analyses of any books at my blog, because the bar has been set so high by this series. Keep up the good work.

Jason said...

Well, shucks. Thanks, Matt!

You should still do an issue-by-issue analysis of something on your blog, though. I don't know what, but something!

ScottMcDarmont said...

I'm just going to say it... Liefeld's art isn't terrible here...of course, we DO still have Dan Green and I'm reminded of a story where an inker (Karl Kesel perhaps?) mentioned basically just drawing OVER Liefeld's art in something like Hawk and Dove (where it also wasn't considered too bad). Actually, I didn't read this issue until I bought the recent reprint edition and part of that was due to Liefeld... he was pretty 'hot' in 1990 or so when I would have been looking for this issue and, thus, it was hard to come by and often overpriced when you did (this was the era when even recent issues had vastly inflated prices).

You hit the nail on the head about his style fitting this particular story though Jason. Perhaps if he had kept himself confined to comedy work he wouldn't be as loathed as he is today; in fact, his style of distorted anatomy and exagerated poses is PERFECT for parodying the superhero genre (I think I've mentioned before that there is a clear Kirby influence in Liefeld's work... unfortunately, he only took the most superficial lessons to heart).

I recently read the 'Doom Force' parody that Morrison did over in his Doom Patrol run, where other artists, several in fact, draw in Liefeld's style and, you know what, none of them quite nail it. That story would have been as hilarious as this one (as is, its the low point of Morrison's Doom Patrol run)if it had been drawn by Liefeld himself (they would could have just told him it was intended as an 'homage' rather than a 'parody'... I'm sure he never would have gotten it himself).

All in all though, and I'm not sure how much credit Liefeld deserves for this, but, silly anatomy aside, I found the layouts and spash pages here pretty dynamic and not necessarily displeasing to the eye. It always seemed to me that, as Liefeld got bigger, his art got progressively worse and sloppier. Given that this was before he was 'hot' maybe he was just trying harder here.

As for the story, I would have enjoyed this a LOT more had I read it at the time rather than 20 years after the fact, I was a recent covert from DC and remember the Invasion crossover quite well... not many people do I'm afraid... and a lot of the jokes are lost on me so, I'm sure, they're even more lost to those who have no idea what Invasion was (Jean Bomb = Gene Bomb from Invasion, a weapon that robbed key heroes of their powers while activating laten ones in others... one of whom was Crazy Mary from the afformentioned Morrison Doom Patrol). Still, a funny story and not one that was really intended to stand the test of time. and, you're absolutely right, this is one of the few out and out silly issues of Claremont's run... and an enjoyable one at that!

ba said...

Let's also not forget that havok and wolverine's back and forth about finding another outing in which to get drunk is a set up for the little read mini: "Havok/Wolverine: Meltdown," which was quite gorgeously drawn in watercolors.

ScottMcDarmont said...


I remember that series, who did the art/story for that?

Dave Mullen said...

Liefeld did some really quite good stuff early on, Hawk & Dove is probobly his single best but I think his chief problem was that he didn't evolve past his own limited style unlike other artists of the same generation. Also if he'd been shepherded by an Editor and a consistent inker he would have acquired some much needed discipline in his work, that's possibly why his Hwk & Dove was/is so good but instead he indulged in his own ego and wanted control over everything he did.... it's a shame as he did have a pretty interesting sense of design.

X-Men #245 was and still is a true anomaly in Claremonts run, I find it hard to reconcile as Uncanny never indulged in this sort of head on Parody in the core book, it just was not the books house style at all, so i'm afraid while it has it's moments of genuine amusement it remains a failure to me.
I'm not sure if it wasn't tapping into the enourmous success of Giffens Justice League and the like, the humor is very similar, but as a presentation it felt like an issue of one of Marvels 'silly season' comics....

This was regrettably very much the point where it became evident to me Claremont had all but run out of ideas for the x-men. The next few issues are fine but there's a fatigue evident at this time regarding the direction and future of the book that I never had before this point and is wholly reminiscent of Alan Moore on Swamp Thing after the big #50 blowout, a writer who'd said all he had to say but hung around a little too long after the fact.


Gary said...

I love Men!

Gary said...

Perhaps I should preview my comments before posting. :)

Gary said...

Perhaps I should preview my comments before posting. :)

ba said...

The two artists in that mini were John J Muth and Kent Williams.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful artwork indeed, Ba.

I agree totally with Dave Mullen's comments. The comparison with Moore's Swamp Thing I find to be very apt.
Although, I might place the issue more with Claremont's own parody work in Exalibur than with the DeMatteis/Giffen Justice League. But, Dave may well have a very valid point, considering the time frame.
With it's poking fun at "Big Two" comic events, it's firmly in the vein of Sim's earlier Cerebus work, much like the parody found in Claremont's Excalibur.

Most of this issue went right over my head at the time because I was completely unfamiliar with DC Comics at the time. "The Jean bomb" is kind of cute. I should maybe re-read this story now, but I have bad memories of this period of Uncanny in my mind, so I'm hesitant.

Arthur said...

"Better living through Revlon, guys. Am I a Marvel or what?"

This comment was a topical reference. Soon before this issue came out, Revlon CEO Ron Perelman bought Marvel Entertainment.

I never got into DC's Invasion, but isn't Jean Bomb a reference to a weapon called the Gene Bomb?


Anonymous said...

I couldn't stand this issue. At this point in the series, I was never more excited for the X-men. We had spent so long up until this point resolving old plot points and conflicts with Inferno. Finally the x-men were settled into their new home. Finally we could take a look at the team that had been so alien to us, and get to know them all over again. Instead, we get a face full of Liefeld, and a story that parodies books I've never seen or cared about before. The lack of Jubilee in the book makes the story seem to me like one of those filler stories they throw in when someone misses a deadline. It's very rare that I dislike a classic Claremont story. This was definitely one of them.

Jason said...

Scott, Walt and Louise Simonson wrote "Meltdown" (since you asked about the story as well as the art). I haven't read "Invasion" but found this issue very entertaining even without it. The fact that the original "Gene bomb" has a connection to Doom Patrol is interesting, as is the chain linking this story to the "Doom Force" parody issue (which I have not read, but have read about).

Dave, disagree. I really like Claremont's final two years on the comic. This issue may indeed have been a sign of fatigue, but if so I'd say he got over it over the next couple months.

Arthur, I NEVER got that the Revlon joke was a Perelman reference. Of course! Thanks for that.

Anon 2, I have a vague recollection that I maybe was buying X-Men two or three at a time at this point, so I was able to move directly onto 246 after reading 245. That may have mitigated the "filler" feel for me. But comedic pallette-cleanser issues like this are fairly common. Anon 1's comparison to Cerebus is apt -- consider Cerebus #51, which was an all-comedy done-in-one issue just marking time between HIGH SOCIETY and CHURCH & STATE.

ScottMcDarmont said...

Also, the 'Gene-Bomb' introduced the concept of metahumans over at DC, the idea that most superheroes were born with the potential to their powers and the various accidents that created them simply 'activated' their 'meta-gene'... so, it wasn't the lightning bolt and chemicals that gave the Flash his powers... it just activated his 'meta-gene' (or something like that)... i.e. it pretty much made all of DC's superpowered heroes mutants.