Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Uncanny X-Men 246

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men run in a series that has become downright EPIC.]

“The Day of Other Lights”

“The Day of Other Lights” is a modest offering – mostly a character piece, which only hints at the impending chaos of Claremont’s final, massively ambitious overplot. The opening sequence is significant in bringing back the bizarre “Seige Perilous” concept to the series (which had more or less been ignored after Claremont introduced it a year earlier, in Uncanny X-Men #229). Readers are reminded – through a hallucinogenic montage of Dazzler’s possible other lives -- that the Seige functions as a dispenser of instant karma. (Why Alison is sitting in the catacombs, in a bikini, holding the crystal in the first place, we are never quite sure … perhaps artist Marc Silvestri’s penchant for T&A is to blame?)

The scene recalls Uncanny X-Men Annual #11, in which each member of the cast was given a chance to live out their fantasy lives. The Seige Perilous concept takes this a step farther, suggesting that the characters’ actual realities can change by stepping through the portal. That seed will bear fruit in five issues’ time.

A nicely rendered scene between Ororo and Logan follows, with the latter written out of the comic for four issues. As Ba pointed out, the “Havok/Wolverine: Meltdown” miniseries by Louise and Walt Simonson (with painted art by Jon J Muth and Kent Williams) slots chronologically between the last issue and this one, thanks to the dialogue opening a space for it. We get a delightful little joke from Claremont and Silvestri here, as Logan uses hair gel that he bought while he and Havok were “on the road.” The gel makes the points of Wolverine’s unique hairstyle droop comically, thus mimicking the character’s stylized portrayal in “Meltdown.” He sees himself in the mirror, comments that the hairdo somehow looked better at the time, and proceeds to wash the gel out. This is one of Claremont’s funnier bits, and a canny use of humor to paint over the ever-growing ridiculousness of Wolverine’s multiple appearances in various different superhero titles every month. It’s nice that Claremont is able to poke fun while still retaining Logan’s basic integrity as a character in the core series. (The previous issue contains a similar bit, wherein Ororo comments on Wolverine’s “frequent absences, to which Logan replies dryly, “I’m here when you need me.”)

A possible example of Bob Harras’ editorial influence is that – starting with this issue and continuing through to the end of the run – Claremont increasingly revisits the classic X-Men “riffs” (begun with Lee/Kirby, codified by Thomas/Adams, and finally cemented by Claremont/Byrne). The most direct and simple of those riffs is The Sentinels. As a gigantic metaphor for the “prejudice” theme that always informs the series to some degree, the Sentinels make the perfect go-to when any X-writer needs to hard-focus on the comic’s basic point. As “mutant-hunting robots”, they never require much narrative justification for showing up, nor much explanation to new readers for what they are … and they immediately anchor any X-Men story, no matter how strange and unfamiliar other elements may be. (This is why they show up in so many key X-Men stories: The only Lee/Kirby X-Men three-parter; the first full Thomas/Adams arc; the first major Claremont/Cockrum epic, the first issue of Millar’s “Ultimate X-Men”; the second major arc in “X-Men Forever,” etc.)

Thus, it’s no accident that the villain of issue 246 is a Sentinel. Satisfyingly, Claremont also brings back Nimrod, one of the major plot-danglers left over from before “Mutant Massacre.” Nimrod was originally rather blatant in its derivation by Claremont from two sources: Alan Moore’s Fury and James Cameron’s “Terminator.” Fair enough, since both of those characters owed a debt to Claremont and Byrne’s “Days of Future Past.” To keep readers from forgetting the story that came first, Claremont throws in Sebastian Shaw and Senator Robert Kelly, both major players from the original “Future Past” two-parter.

Amusingly, when Nimrod first appears on panel in Uncanny #246, this time both the milieu and the character’s dialogue are clear riffs on “RoboCop.” The elision ends up working well, since Claremont had already been teasing in Nimrod’s previous appearances at the character becoming less robotic and more “human,” which is the same dichotomy explored in Paul Verhoeven’s film. For contrast, Claremont also brings in Mastermold, the original Lee/Kirby Sentinel recently resurrected by the Simonsons in X-Factor, to play the “ED-209” to Nimrod’s Murphy. (Meaningless synchronicity: 209 was the last issue of Uncanny to feature Nimrod.) Claremont’s twist on the source material is to have the two robots merge into a single entity.

The issue’s cliffhanger -- Rogue about to be killed -- is typical superhero comic-book fare, and indeed, no one would be shocked to learn that the X-Men show up to save her on the opening splash of the next issue. However, Uncanny X-Men #246 teases that one member of the team dies in the next issue, and it does turn out to be Rogue. (Not that she stays “dead” for all that long.) Thematically this seems a little off, given that Dazzler was the one having visions of death in the story’s opening. Apparently, Dazzler was the one slated to die, but Marc Silvestri – a fan of blonde bombshells, presumably – objected. Instead Dazzler ends up being Rogue’s “killer” (sort of), a clever twist on the meaning of her “death” hallucinations that arguably improves on the original idea.


Gary said...

I find it interesting from a meta standpoint that Jason took a entry off before getting back to the X-Men at this particular point in the revewing process: After Inferno, Claremont unwound with Women and "Men!" At the same time, Jason stepped back from his relentless Claremont review to look at a web series. The parallels are undeniable and compelling.

Or at least, just neat.

I'm not certain why Jason points out that Rogue was not dead for long - she's going to be gone until, what, issue 268? That's 22 issues, and even with the biweekly summers, over a year and a half before we'll see her again. That's a pretty healthy death in comics!

I do applaud Claremont for his use of the Siege on this account - he actually told us up front that the X-Men would be back from the dead. No tricks, nothing sneaky - though I thought that the Siege involved being reborn, and thereby took the X-Men completely out of circulation as they would be INFANTS when they came back out - he told us that this Heaven? Has a revolving door. Cool.

Jason said...

Yeah, that timing did work out well, didn't it?

I guess I am just thinking that if Dazzler had been the one to die as was Claremont's intent, the death would have lasted longer -- in fact we might not have seen her at all until after Claremont quit. So by that standard, Rogue's "death" was brief.

Still, good point. It is interesting that as far as the Seige went, Rogue was the first one in, and the last one out.

Paul said...

What a terrifying, yet unpredictably exciting run of issues. Thank god, there weren't any internet spoilers at the time, because for about six issues, the X-Men were dropping left and right and the future of the series was up in the air (plotwise, that is).

Rogue - sucked into the Seige Perilous with NiMold.
Storm - dies when Havok blasts Nanny's ship.
Havok, Psylocke, Colossus, Dazzler - psychically pushed by Betsy into the Siege to avoid the slaughter about to be brought down by the Reavers.
Wolverine - Crucifixtion.


Granted, even then I was sure that there was too much money in some of these characters to keep them sidelined for too long, but still, CC really knew how to ratch up the tension. Mr. Bendis, this is how you "disassemble" a major superhero team.

Nathan Adler said...

It is interesting that Claremont pilfers numerous concepts during this time from the legendary Witch World story of Andre Norton from 1963, namely the hounds and mutant encampments and in this instance the Siege Perilous, where Norton had all not worthy to possess the Siege end up transported to the world they were meant to live in.

With regard to Master Mold, despite appearances, Claremont revealed on the old racmx site that the Master Mold configuration was never intended to have been sucked through the Siege Perilous with Rogue after merging with Nimrod in UXM #247.

Rather, Master Mold anchored itself to the ground to prevent itself from going through the Siege Perilous and restrained Rogue with the intention of fulfilling its “Primary Directive”, and killing itself, since it determined it had become a mutant due to its merger with the Nimrod Memory Core.

The new Master Mold configuration therefore does everything in its power to prevent itself from going through the Siege, since it would fully realise that it may be reborn as a mutant.

In the meantime, Dazzler fires her laser at its head, which has no effect. It then self-destructs and Rogue gets blasted into the Siege by the shockwave.

The merged Master Mold/ Nimrod would therefore not attempt to reconstruct itself, since it would realise that doing so would continue its mutant existence so this must be another one. Thematically similar to the original Larry Trask story.

neilshyminsky said...

As i recall, these issues were being published around the same time that Classic X-Men was hitting the Phoenix Saga/DoFP, so it gave me a really inflated sense of just how central Shaw and Kelly were to the X-Men mythos. Funny (or not? maybe Claremont or Harras did this intentionally?) how that timing worked out.

Jason said...

Probably intentional, Neil. And maybe something I should've mentioned in one of these blogs. But it was done a few times:

New Mutants 48-49, the New Mutants end up in the "Days" timeline and end up hiding in Steven Lang's old headquarters -- published contemporaneously with Classic X-Men 6 and 7, the Steven Lang issues.

Excalibur 4 and 5, a two-parter in Murderworld -- published contemporaneously with Classic X-Men 29 and 30, featuring the original Claremont/Byrne "X-Men vs. Arcade" story.

Uncanny X-Men 217 and 218, a "vs the Juggernaut" two-parter, published contemporaneously with Classic X-Men 9 and 10, the first Claremont/Cockrum Juggernaut story.

I believe Uncanny Annual 11, where they find that crystal and Wolverine becomes all-powerful at the end ... even that one was published in the same month as the "Classic" issue that saw Phoenix repairing the M'Kraan crystal.

Too many times to be unintentional, I think. Corporate synergy, baby!

Jason said...

Nathan, I think I need to read this "Witch World" stuff ...

Thanks for the clarification on what happened with Master Mold. That does make sense.

scottmcdarmont said...

And for the 'No Prize'... Re: Dazzler's bikini... a few issues later we see lady deathstrike swimming in an underground pool, so I'm assuming Dazzler had been swimmin in the same underground pool :)

Also, I occasionally become obsessed with Robocop for some reason... "Can you fly, Bobby?" However, whenever I watch it now I keep wanting Boddicker to call people 'dumbass'

Jason said...

Scott ... ah, good call. That pool was actually introduced in the "Inferno" prologue issue (239).

It's still weird, though. She is in a room with computers when the issue starts. Why didn't she get dressed between the pool and there?

I forgot to mention, there is also some running subplot where Ali is applying fake tanning lotion. In issue 248 she is rather comically colored, as if she has massively over applied the lotion. She is almost the same hue as Storm.

It didn't seem important enough to talk about in the actual blog-reviews, yet I didn't want to ignore it completely.

Hence this comment.

Also: I am drunk.

scottmcdarmont said...

Friends don't let friends blog drunk :)

neilshyminsky said...

I remember finding Dazzler's coloring uncomfortably bizarre, but it's a nice character touch. That the character who displayed the strongest case of denial about being a mutant develops a pathology about the color of her skin when she finally appears to be more accepting of it is certainly meaningful. (And, of course, she never actually accepted it, as shown by her transformation after the Siege Perilous.)

ba said...

What's funny about the plans for dazzler and rogue is that while rogue took the death meant for dazzler in the plot, after going through the siege, wasn't dazzler out of the comic much longer? Rogue was gone for a year and a half or so, but wasn't dazzler gone past claremont's departure? I remember she's found amnesiac by strong guy and lila cheney...sometime after the adjectiveless x-men began, no?

scott91777 said...


I know this because I just reread those issues, Dazzler comes back before Rogue does, She is found amnesiac by Strong Guy (Lila Cheney was off world at the time) in issue 259 and the main plot of 260 revolves around her... however, this would be the last time she would appear until after Claremont's departure and she is not reunited with any of the other X-men in those appearances, however, given the publicity of her reapearance (seeing as she is a celebrity) she is the first of the X-men who Forge and Banshee try to track down during the 'no-team' era.

Peter Farago said...

What's going on with Shaw in this issue? The epilogue to UXM 245 very clearly takes place after Shaw's ouster from the Lords Cardinal in NM 75, but in this issue he seems to have free run of the Hellfire Club. Also, who's Kelly's wife Sharon? Are we supposed to recognize her from somewhere?

Jason said...

Neil -- Thanks. I knew there was something to be said about the artificial tanning. I am glad you said it!

Peter -- I've never seen Sharon before, I think we are just supposed to get the story from her intro here. It all gets covered pretty handily, I think.

As for Shaw, I think the idea is that he kept a lot of assets when he split from the Hellfire Club. Presumably, in addition, there were a reasonable number of "the help" who stayed loyal to Shaw, rather than the club. I think he even says at the end of New Mutants 75 words to the effect of, "You'll regret getting rid of me, I was the financial power behind everything."

Indeed, the epilogue to issue 245 suggests this as well. Pierce escapes from a Hellfire facility, but Tessa notes that it is actually Shaw Industries property.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Sharon the one that dresses up like a maid while Shaw and Senator Kelley meet in one of the 180-200 issues?

Jason said...

No, she's the one that dresses up like a maid while Shaw and Senator Kelley meet in THIS issue.

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