Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #249

[Jason Powell. Chris Claremont. X-Men. Every Issue. Seriously. It's like a blog inside the blog.]

“The Dane Curse”

The Savage Land, another classic X-riff, is reprised here. Neal Adams’ Savage Land mutates are brought in as the villains, a development seeded in X-Men Annual #12. There’s something very poetic about the way the classic settings and characters start returning during this phase of Claremont’s run. There is the feeling that everything is coming full circle before Claremont’s story ends. And thanks to Harras’ tight editorial rein (a double-edged sword in many respects), the integration of subplots seems more focused than in earlier eras. It’s nice that the Zaladane subplot from the “Evolutionary War” annual is not being left to languish on the vine for years, as it might have back during the Simonson or Nocenti editorial tenures.

Uncanny X-Men #249 is an issue in two parts. The earlier half sits in a murky psychological darkness, with Alex lamenting recent deaths and the overall unraveling of the team. Both his soliloquy and the accompanying images by Marc Silvestri turn a bit meta. We see Havok slashing red “X”’s through portraits of his lost teammates, which were originally painted – we are told – onto a giant conference table by Madelyne Pryor back before “Inferno” began. This is all rather out of the blue; we were never shown the X-Men using this table, and such a garish chunk of furniture feels like something out of DC’s Silver Age. And crossing the heads off with “X”’s as the corresponding characters leave the series feels like something a fan would do, not an actual character within the story. It is all rather surreal, almost as if this were a dream sequence. It is only compounded by the illogical and/or outlandish plot turns. Some of them are deliberate on Claremont’s part: The computer’s seeming to be alive and able to heal itself is deliberately pointed up as a mystery to be solved. Others seem the result of sloppiness: How did Lorna have the phone number to the X-Men’s secret base in Australia? But the compound effect of so many bizarre twists coming one after the other is kaleidoscopic, and contributes to the issue’s overall tone of psychological turmoil and existential despair.

A particularly poignant indicator of the miasma that now hangs over Claremont’s cast is the brief sequence in which Colossus tosses away his canvas, and the subsequent segue into Deathstrike’s examination of Peter’s recent art, commenting that the imagery bespeaks a tormented soul. The scene is marvelously Claremontian: The villain happens upon artwork painted by the hero, and actually is moved to empathy by it. It’s hard to imagine such a scene written by another mainstream superhero writer. (It’s also another example of Claremont favoring his women. It is no accident that the only Reaver inclined toward sympathy and mercy is the one female member of the team.)

But the true core of the issue’s sense of dread and hopelessness is Alex Summers. Claremont’s take on this character since importing him into the cast in 1987 has been consistently engaging. I quite enjoy that Havok becomes in many ways a converse of his brother. Scott is a rat-bastard who abandons his loved ones at the drop of a hat, yet he gets away with it. Alex, on the other hand, devotes himself entirely to the women in his life, and ends up being stomped on the heart each time. The contrast is very nicely developed over the course of Havok’s two years as a cast-member, and it reaches a natural thematic climax over the course of the next couple issues.

When the action moves from the dusty and desolate Outback to the more colorful locale of Punta Arenas, the narrative tone also shifts. Claremont at the peak of his powers is usually inclined to integrate action and character bits, but “The Dane Curse” is rigidly segmented. The effect is striking and exhilarating. When the Savage Land Mutates – genuinely Silver Age in powers, look, and personality – show up, the story becomes stunningly kinetic, and frenetic. Silvestri and Green rise to the occasion, crafting action sequences that are almost slapstick in their violence. Witness Amphibius’ bouncing Psylocke around like they’re in a Warner Bros. cartoon (“WHAM THAM”), or the hilarious panel in which Barbarus beats on Colossus with his multiple arms (“BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM” …) . Existential angst is swept away by sheer physical insanity. It’s schizophrenic, yet it all rings true thanks to the synergy that the Claremont/Silvestri/Green team had evolved by this point.

If “The Dane Curse” contains a misstep, it is Zaladane’s attempt to justify her acts of generic comic-book villainy with a reference to an oil spill in “Antarctic waters.” The Exxon Valdez disaster had only just occurred when Claremont was scripting this issue, and he must have thought it a nice bit of serendipity that he was able to tie in current events with his story arc. The problem is, it makes little sense in the context of Zala’s overall scheme, and reads as just a token attempt to add real-world relevance to a story that has none – as will be confirmed next issue, which contains no follow up to the “oil spill” allusion made here.


neilshyminsky said...

Two quick notes:
-Silvestri's art is particularly awful in this two-parter and the issues to come. He never should have been allowed to pencil two issues in one month, and it seems to ruin him entirely for the next year or two - even when he's back on schedule.
-It feels like Claremont didn't know how to transition from the previous issue to the Savage Land, and I remember this story feeling particularly rushed and awkward.(The mistake stands out even moreso because the comparable, but much better executed, Nimrod two-parter was so recent.) It's as if he wanted the big dissolution for 250 but stumbled in the pacing and was left with too few issues and too much story.

Nathan Adler said...

If the Reavers’ computer was "alive" due influenced by S’ym and his transmode infection, why would it patch calls of SOS from friends of the X-Men through? Surely it would benefit from them being left to languish and later see the team panged with major guilt. Just a thought:)

Dave Mullen said...

This was definitly a strange one and it makes me wonder in hindsight if it was directly influenced by what was going on behind the scenes with Claremont, usually when a longterm writer like this is troubled or frustrated it does bleed through into their work to some extent and reviewing it now it does read as a very very unsettled writer at work.
At the time I wasn't happy with these developments as i'd enjoyed the new status-quo and location, this was still a very interesting line up. This disjointed treatment felt very uneccesary and out of place. The art took a nosedive too which didn't help the feeling of doom.
There's not much I can say about the content of this issue as this two parter doesn't have much to warrant it, Who cared about Zaladane or the Mutates... and thinking on it isn't it telling what a huge hole the loss of Wolverine and Storm in particular made to this team? It does show an unconfortable truth that What's left of the team isn't half as compelling as those two characters were which is worthy of discussion in itself... it doesn't seem likely any of those remaining x-men were capable of stepping into that void and filling it, which is likely another reason these issues are so hard to invest in.

I always got the feeling Claremont pulls out the Mutates when ideas are thin on the ground, I was never a fan of them and yet Claremont seemed to use them quite a bit despite being extremely one-dimensional and superficial creation. It would be nice really if he could ever do a story set in the savage land that didn't include these characters...

On a positive note the star of the issue is probobly Elizabeth Braddock, a favorite of mine as she was presented in this era and a solid dependable addition to the team. What happens next seems totally out of character for her but then again what happens in the entirety of this arc has never been fully explained to my knowledge. I have always wondered what the long range objective was with this, the closest answer came in Alan Davis' second Excalibur run but there have always been a lot of questions left over from this arc that haave never been addressed alas.

scott mcdarmont said...

I'm with Neil, these issues fell flat for me, a lot of this has to do with Silvestri's art being so sloppy here; it does seemed rushed and, I believe, the next issue has a guest inker which only makes it worse (maybe I'm thinking of another one a few issues later). I also have to say that this story just doesn't warrant a two-parter, it seems pointless in that its only point is to get the X-men away so that the Reavers can be in waiting for them. I do think Silvestri recovers her and there (the 'Fever Dream' issue coming up soon is one of his best) but, for the most part, he's rather inconsistent for the rest of his tenure as regular penciller... a fact made even more apparent when he begins alternating issues with Jim Lee.

ba said...

It's funny...having not read this issues in quite a while, I hadn't noticed all the weird plot quirks (e.g. the computer repairing the building, lorna being able to call the x-men, etc.). At this point, Claremont wasn't setting up new australia plots, was he?

Jason said...

Whew! Sorry about the meltdown yesterday, guys. What can I say? Bad day at the office. :)

Ba, I think he was, yeah. Prepping for a return to that locale, presumably...

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with the comments regarding the artwork during this arc - considering it was a bi-weekly schedule I think Silvestri did a great job (aided by Dan Green inking and a fill in or two by Jim Lee). The facial expressions, the kinetic action sequences...amazing stuff.

As a teen reading this i was totally absorbed..CC was really thinking outside of the box in terms of storytelling...you were just sucked in by the changes, the action, the new characters, the mysteries...amazing stuff.

I have always been curious about the Australian base (transmode virus maybe?)...I would love for CC to return to some of these locals and characters and explain a bit of what was going on.

John V

Evan said...

I really feel, more so than ever at this point in the series, that the Australian setting and more specifically Gateway were very interesting elements that were dropped before their time. I loved that the X-men could be anywhere at any point, and were psychically separated from whatever nonsense was going on elsewhere in the Marvel Universe at this time.

The Inkwell Bookstore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Inkwell Bookstore said...

John Byrne talks X-Men...here: http://ow.ly/NbUG

neilshyminsky said...

"considering it was a bi-weekly schedule I think Silvestri did a great job"

I guess that if we're handing out backhanded compliments, I can get behind that one. Considering that he had to double his pace, I suppose we should be glad it wasn't worse. But it shouldn't have been bad at all - he shouldn't have been doing two issues a month.

Jason said...

What don't people like about the art in issue 249? It is one of the best of Silvestri's run.

Post-249, sure, things got rocky.

But this issue is gold. Neil, are you going from memory or have you looked at this one recently? If it is the former, please go back and re-read it. I have to believe you are conflating later issues with this one.

Just two blog entries ago you mentioned the slapstick comedy. Did you not like Psylocke and the frog in this issue, or Colossus' beat-down by the four-armed guy?

Dave, if you want a Claremont Savage Land story that doesn't feature the mutates, go and read his very first one, with John Byrne. Not a mutate to be found. Read the Classic X-Men reprints and you'll get extra stories set in the Savage Land that also don't feature them.

Or read X-Men Annual #11 and skip their two-panel cameo.

Claremont used them as villains precisely twice in his first Uncanny run: Here is the first time, then he used them again in the sequel in 274-275. The only other time was in issues of Marvel Fanfare, and -- as noted -- the two-panel cameo in an annual.

Stop being haters, y'all.

Gary said...

Jason - if this is the issue, and I think it is, that has Colossus drowning Psylocke and her noting that "It's not his mind being controlled - it's his body!", then I'm going in with everyone else: this is where it started to get rocky for Silvestri. The details started vanishing, the lines started getting rough, he just kind of fell apart near the end of his X-Men run. I don't know why.

Jason said...

Gary, guess what. That isn't this issue. You're thinking of 250.

So BOO-yah.

Gary said...

I am SO going to the basement to get out this longbox to find this issue JUST so I can say the art sucks REGARDLESS of if it does or not, now.

Hilariously, my word verification is "spite".

Jason said...

The other day my word verification was "depresse," which is just how I felt to see everyone bashing the artwork in issue 249.

It's a great issue, groldamn it.

(My verification word now is "groldn." Just trying to get it in there somehow.)

NietzscheIsDead said...

I think I meant to post this on a previous review, but the answer to the computer repairing itself always seemed very obvious to me: when Roma resurrected the X-Men, she said that only living organisms could now detect them, except for the computer in their base. Clearly, this was not because of any special properties of Reaver tech -- when the Reavers reclaim the base in a couple issues, Bonebreaker (I think) mentions how the computer systems are now completely alien to him. The simplest answer is that Roma somehow brought the computer in the Reaver base to life, same as how Nimrod could detect the X-Men.

Tazirai said...

Even though Psylocke gets knocked around a lot in this issue. She's the standout star. Good showcase of her teamwork and leadership skills. So she wasn't the toughest or most combat capable. But she was a great teammate to have around for support actions.