Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #247

[Jason Powel, not unlike Beowulf were he doing an analysis of Claremont, forges ahead undaunted by this huge task of covering every issue of Claremont's X-Men run.]

“The Light That Failed”

The previous issue was one of Claremont’s typical “characterization”-heavy issues, with just a few pages of superheroics right at the tail end. Uncanny #247 is given over entirely to full-out action, superbly rendered by penciler Marc Silvestri and inker Dan Green. Indeed, “The Light That Failed” is extraordinary for containing some of the most exhilaratingly rendered superhero violence of the Silvestri/Green era.

The central conceit has an appealing symmetry to it: Mastermold, the very first Sentinel, merges with Nimrod – which previous stories established as the “ultimate” Sentinel. The alpha/omega concept works beautifully, especially given that this would be Claremont’s last Sentinel story before quitting in two years. His resolution to Nimrod’s arc is tidy and quite satisfying, and hearkens back to the classic “robot defeated by logic” trope that also ended Roy Thomas’ and Neal Adams’ Sentinel story 20 years earlier. (In fact, it was Claremont who – as an intern at the Marvel offices in 1969 – suggested the ending to Roy Thomas back then.) Nimrod defeats both himself and Mastermold with a syllogism: Sentinels destroy mutants. Yet Nimrod and Mastermold have evolved beyond machines, to become living organisms. Therefore they have mutated, and therefore they must destroy themselves. Even the delivery – with Nimrod’s dry logic counter-pointed against Silvestri’s visual bombast, recalls the Thomas/Adams “Sentinels fly into the sun” sequence. Both as a new story and as an homage, “The Light That Failed” succeeds admirably.

The issue also marks Claremont’s final use in the original run of longstanding villains Sebastian Shaw and Robert Kelly (both, like Nimrod, original Claremont creations). He ties up their arc with a shrewd bit of O. Henry-esque plotting, as Kelly approves Shaw’s “Nimrod” proposal mere moments after Nimrod is destroyed, thus crafting a time-loop. Nimrod’s murder of Senator Kelly’s wife is the very thing that ensures the robot’s future existence.

The delivery of that final irony is neat and perfectly timed. Closer inspection takes the teeth out of it, though. It requires us to accept that Kelly’s hatred for mutants is so one-sidedly blind that he failed to notice that the actual cause of Sharon’s death was the giant Sentinel – the very thing he believes will “end” the carnage. Granted, the actual involvement of Nimrod was masked, thanks to his having been subsumed within Mastermold. Still, the plot mechanics mottle the clean, thematic irony that Claremont was attempting.

Also, Shaw’s motivations are a bit murky when one considers that he is aware of the ramifications of the “Nimrod” program, having seen fellow members of the Hellfire Club die at Nimrod’s hand. Indeed, follow the tangled chain of continuity and one realizes that Nimrod led to the Magneto/Hellfire alliance, which – in New Mutants 75, published only a couple months before this present issue – led to Shaw being ousted from the Inner Circle entirely. Why would he engage in a course of action guaranteeing this sequence of events?

All that said, the story nonetheless contains moments of genuine emotional power. Sharon Kelly’s death is portrayed with a suitable amount of tragedy, and the X-Men’s reaction is nicely dramatized. Shaw’s manipulation of the outcome of the battle is perfectly in character.

It’s appropriate as well to see three of Claremont’s original villains take their final curtain calls in this manner. Consider this in context with Rogue being disposed of as well: The only current X-Men member created by Claremont himself. To see this happen just before the team is completely dismantled is not without its significance. The author is perhaps already seeing his creative control slipping away. Outside forces are gathering (The Reavers, as cryptically portrayed on the final page), and Claremont needs to shuffle his babies away before they can be slaughtered beneath editorial fiat. (Thus, the “Nanny” character, somehow magically aware of the Reaver threat and determined to save the X-Men from it.) Claremont will eventually toss almost all of his children through the Seige Perilous – a narrative escape pod, essentially – but Rogue, the one he created himself, she’s the most precious and she’s the one who gets out first. That it happens while she is clothed in a costume designed in the 70s by Dave Cockrum (Claremont’s first artistic partner on the X-Men, back when they could do anything they wanted, creatively) is thematic icing.

Sidebar: Thanks go to Neil Shyminsky for helping to inspire some of the above, particularly the Reavers-as-stand-in-for-Marvel Editorial. Whether intended or not, the idea of the X-Men scattering across the globe in order to escape the Reavers is quite attractively read as a metaphor for Claremont trying to keep his characters safe from TPTB. As such, it is awfully appropriate that when Claremont left in 1991, the Reavers stood as the only villains that the X-Men never got to beat in a rematch; the ones whom they consistently fled from rather than fought against.


Matt Jacobson (formerly Ultimate Matt) said...

Interesting about the Reavers - i never thought of them that way. What does it say, then, that they were unceremoniously slaughtered IMMEDIATELY after Claremont left (the opening pages of the first post-claremont issue)?

pstevenbrown said...

Another great analysis. There's plenty of subtext that I didn't pick up during the initial reading. I was in middle school, so that's my excuse.

Wouldn't Dazzler be considered a Claremont creation or does the fact that most of her development happened under someone else's watch count against that? She debuted during the beginning of the Dark Phoenix Saga.

Peter Farago said...

Dazzler was foisted on Claremont/Byrne by Jim Shooter, who used X-Men to spin her off into her own solo series penned by Tom DeFalco. As mentioned by Jason in earlier posts, Claremont doesn't seem to have warmed to the character until after Ann Nocenti took her for a spin in a four-issue miniseries.

The Reavers-As-Editorial interpretation makes their crucifixion of Wolverine into a particularly scathing critique. They literally leave him to die of exposure.

Gary said...

Shaw and the Sentinels: Why initiate the Nimrod project? Ego.

Shaw had just been ousted from the Inner Circle. Shaw has fought Nimrod, and knows that it can, given time, defeat the Inner Circle. And if Shaw Industries creates Nimrod, who will control it? Sebastian Shaw. He alone will have complete, final control over the means to eliminate whomever opposes him, especially those who just ousted him. Will Nimrod ever endanger him, as it has in the past? No, because now Shaw will control it - some internal self-destruct mechanism, some loop to render it incapable of harming him, whatever. Would such a thing work when the rubber hit the road? Dramatic convention teaches us that, no, it won't, but it also teaches us that masterminds always believe that their plans and outs are perfect, that they will succeed where all others have failed. Ego.

Senator Kelly is more difficult to explain. Essentially, his wife just died and he's not rational. He actually hit the point where he was willing to turn to a person from the group he's spent so much time fearing because of their power, begging them to exercise that power. That's indicative of a pretty high level of distress. When that request was denied, he collapsed under that pressure and is acting on emotion - he erroneously blames Psylocke for his wife's death because Psylocke did not save her. Recall that this man has the realistic fear that mutants as a whole can turn the world on its ear with their power. In this moment of stress, Psylocke for him is all of mutantkind. She can do anything. It's not the case, but Senator Kelly is not thoughtful and well-reasoned here - he's under enormous duress. For him, mutantkind has passed from enormously powerful and dangerous to enormously powerful and cruelly capricious in the exercise of that power.

Jason said...

Gary -- That's awesome. Thanks.

Peter -- Ha! That's perfect!

PSB -- As Peter noted, Claremont didn't create Dazzler. She was created by committee, then Claremont and Byrne were told to shoehorn her into the Dark Phoenix Saga. On the splash page of Dazzler #1, there's a long list of Dazzler's creators. Claremont and Byrne aren't on it.

Matt J -- Hm. I guess it means that the interp only works for Claremont-scripted Reaver appearances? Once Claremont left, a bunch of Claremont creations were unmercifully killed, as I recall. A "deck-clearing exercise" as Paul O'Brien called it. Hey, who needs obsolete 80s villains like The Reavers and the Hellions when you can have bad-ass 90s villains like TREVOR FITZROY.

neilshyminsky said...

I had some points to add... and Gary made them beautifully.

Another scene worthy of mention is yet another in a long string of good visual gags for Colossus - when he effortlessly tears off Mastermold's leg, only to get pounded into the ground. Silvestri was still really quite good at this point - it's a shame that he would get so bad.

Jason said...

Yeah, almost mentioned that ... For what it's worth, I do mention the panel in a couple issues, where the mutate with multiple arms beats on Colossus cartoonishly.

I'm trying to cover it all, guys! I'm glad y'all are here to add so many eloquent points. You've increased my appreciation of this two-parter quite a bit, and Gary has helped me see that the ending is even better than I realized.

Also, Geoff, I am enjoying your intros to the last few blogs. (I feel like you can sense when I am losing steam and need a bit of encouragement to keep on writing these things ...)

Dave Mullen said...

I don't know about the Reavers comparison being analogous to Marvels editorial but then I have not a clue what was happening behind the scenes....

I did find this a great little two parter (what happened to the #246 review?!) and again like Inferno saw Claremont apparently clearing his desk so to speak, the long running subplot of Nimrod is closed in a pretty final way and imminently the X-men themselves will be torn down and the light turned off on his way out one would think.

This was a really strange time for reading the x-men as with the next couple of issues there's such an air of finality and maybe creative fatigue evident here you really did wonder if the book was ending,
the descisions being taken don't seem to follow any other logic.

I have to say I did find it unbelievable even back then that a technology as obsolete as Master Mold could override the futuristic Nimrod, the equivalent surely of a pocket calculator competing with your PC, but the payoff was very good as it carried on Nimrods previous flirtation with integrating with humanity and went to the logical conclusion to his journey. It's a shame they completely missed the point of all this with the Bastion stuff later on as by the time of #247 Nimrod had more in common with Machine Man than any Sentinel, but Bastion was never presented as anything other than just another one-dimensional Supremacist in the Stryker mold.

Jason said...

Dave, the 246 review is just below. I can see it from here ...

I have only read of the Bastion thing, never actually read the issue. But it sounded weird to me. The name alone confuses me ...

Dave Mullen said...

How odd, it just jumps from #245 to #247 on my end... :(

I was only an occasional reder so didn't get all of Bastions appearances but read quite enough to get who he was and where he was coming from, I bought the Cable/Machine Man specials notably and like a lot of X-Villains of the 90s he's actually a fairly one-dimensional character and in line with Stryker or Cameron Hodge.

The villains of the 90s were pretty shallow on the whole and did tend to have the exact same motives and melodramatic moustache twirling manner. Yes, that Fox cartoon certainly had a lot to answer for....

scottmcdarmont said...

...Not the least of which was poor animation and dreadful voice acting.

Anonymous said...

Jason, Dave (and Geoff, I guess): The post for #246 is labeled "Jason Powell" but not "Claremont":



Geoff Klock said...

fixed. Sorry about that. G