Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #250

[Jason Powell keeps on truckin with every issue of Claremont's X-Men. People in the comments have been disagreeing with him, which is cool, as long as you remember two things: 1. that you are wrong and 2. that Jason is right.]

“The Shattered Star”

Compared to other multiple-of-fifty anniversary issues that comic-book creators love to make a big deal out of – Claremont being no exception – Uncanny X-Men #250 arrives with little fanfare. A caption reminds us that it is the 250th issue, but apart from that it feels much less like a turning point than issues 150 and 200. Though there is one subtle acknowledgement of history: The story sees Lorna Dane placed into a giant plot device that magically strips her of her magnetic powers, a moment dramatized on the cover. This makes it a bookend with the 50th issue of Uncanny X-Men, which saw Lorna placed into a similar device to activate those powers in the first place (a moment also chosen for dramatization on that issue’s cover).

Apart from that, however, “The Shattered Star” is no landmark. Indeed, it seems rather hastily thrown together. Both regular inker Dan Green and steadfast letterer Tom Orzechowski sit the issue out. The former is replaced by guest Steve Leiloha, who never fails to overpower the pencillers he embellishes, even in the best of times. Here he seems to have been called in last-minute, throwing some carelessly harsh lines over everything with little sense of balance or composition. Joe Rosen (who passed away on Oct. 12 of this year) was a fantastic and consistent letterer for decades, but the high incidence of typos and errors in this issue suggest he did the entire thing fairly quickly – it’s not his most solid work. Also, note the disconnect in the presentation of the title between this issue and the last. First, the Savage Land arc was supposed to be a two-part “prelude” to a presumably much longer sequence with the banner title “The Shattered Star.” Here, however, we are told that “The Shattered Star” is only the name of this particular story. It’s another example of sloppiness that mars issue 250. What the heck was going on behind the scenes?

Claremont’s story, meanwhile, is very much in the classic mode: Villains get the better of the heroes in Act One, but they rally in Act Two. That structure was a staple of the Claremont/Byrne run, and it almost works here. What muddles the proceedings are, first of all, the timing – the tide turns so abruptly here, one almost misses it. Also, the entire story hinges on Lorna Dane’s spontaneously acquiring new powers. Granted, this was not meant as a deus ex machina, but rather the start of an ongoing mystery. But it is so very odd, and suffers in retrospect for the fact that Claremont never did get around to explaining it. (This is a common symptom of Claremont’s final era on the series, his abrupt departure having cut several threads short.)

Finally, Claremont’s “kitchen sink” storytelling makes “The Shattered Star” feel overcrowded. The sudden appearance of Ka-Zar, Shanna, Nereel and Peter is perhaps another token attempt to give this “anniversary” issue a sense of occasion, but Silvestri and Leialoha seem to struggle under the sheer weight of major characters. As for the ending, it is too open-ended to be completely satisfying (although here, at least, there is comfort in knowing that the Zaladane arc does get a powerful conclusion – in Uncanny #275, the next “anniversary” issue, and Claremont’s last).

Individual moments work well. A prime example: The plot mechanics leading to Colossus nearly killing Peter -- the child that he doesn’t realize is his own son – are cannily worked out, making for an especially satisfying slice of Claremontian melodrama.

Claremont’s use of Gateway is growing increasingly obscure by this point as well. The character seemed so promising at the start, and was a hearteningly unique addition to the X-canon. As recently as the previous issue, Claremont even provocatively hinted at his plans to make Gateway the new mentor figure. Yet, as Michael pointed out in the comments section for earlier entries, all of Gateway’s dream appearances (Uncanny 234, 248 and now 250) have a sinister undercurrent to them. This is not a bad thing necessarily, presuming a suitable explanation was on the agenda. However, again, an adequate resolution to this thread never materialized. Meanwhile, Gateway’s presence here does little to redeem the dreadful premonitory hallucination that Claremont writes for Psylocke. The sequence intends to bring a sense of impending dread, yet it is abstracted to the point of dilution.

As one link in Claremont’s long narrative chain, Uncanny X-Men #250 is not without entertainment value. Yet it suffers in its attempt to be both a conclusion and a prologue, not really getting either job done satisfactorily. Nowhere is this sense of compromise more depressingly keen than on the final page, which ends with one of the most banal cliffhangers in the X-Men canon.

18 comments:

Gary said...

I think this is an accurate look at this issue. I just read it last night (it came upstairs with UXM #249), and it's pretty cramped and scattershot. The Colossus / Peter scene does have new resonance since I learned of Peter's genesis (from this very blog!).

Big Lorna - was it ever Claremont's intent to explain this? How do you know, Jason? I admit, I just rolled with it. Recall that Brainchild barely understood the concepts at work here and built a working machine from that. He voices his concern for his mistress (no doubt, for his own skin), but what about Lorna? Did Brainchild give half a second to what might happen to her? I'll put my money on "No," and, hello, here's an unintended side effect. I did like the continuing presence of Malice around Lorna Dane - that's what I always attributed the heightened emotions around her to, and the eventual use as a conduit for the Shadow King. I also like that, finally free of the influence of the Marauder, Lorna Dane finds herself STILL fighting the X-Men as she goes toe to toe with Colossus. Good stuff.

Gary said...

Oh, and can anyone explain to me why it's Lorna standing up at the bottom of the page where Zaladane steals her powers?

Jason said...

Let's not ignore the elephant in the room, Gary: Issue 249 ... it's awesome, right? Admit it!

ADMIT IT!!!

I had the same thought about Malice. I've been spitballing a lot about this with Nathan Adler -- He Who Can Explain Every Claremont Dangler Given Enough Time -- that the machine turned Malice from "pure thought" into a physical presence that integrated with Lorna's. So now, negative emotions, which always made Malice stronger, psychically, are making Lorna stronger, bigger and harder physically.

(Nathan's website, featuring some of his insanely brilliant theories, is here, by the way, for anyone interested:

http://fanfix.wordpress.com/

)

But I guess you're right, Gary, Claremont might never have explained the Lorna thing, even given all the time in the world. I shouldn't assume. But it is accepted truth that he had a big finale planned for the end of the Shadow King stuff, which he was not allowed to follow through on -- and I always imagined that Lorna's deal would've been explained as part of that, because she became such a key element of the Muir Island subplot.

ba said...

What exactly was the purpose of Psylocke pulling off her clothes to jump in the lake? I always thought that was a rather ham-fisted way to move the plot forward.

The issue is pretty meh, but then again, most anniversary issues are. I like to think of it as foreshadowing the wackiness to come.

Gary said...

RE: Nathan Adler and Lorna and Malice's new status quo: It's a thought. It's interesting then that Lorna holds the keys to powering her own power, then, because she makes people hostile and wild by her very presence. Which then makes her stronger. I think that Malice is still hanging on is a solid theory - I believe that in the early issues where she was possessing Dazzler, or maybe in 219, 221-222, it was explained that Malice works with what is already there, bringing the worst in a person to the fore. I know Sinister quips about it when she confronts him about being trapped in Polaris' body, "The girl has far more Malice than she ever thought." (HEAVY paraphrase). That effect becoming diffused around Lorna, with her as a carrier, is as clear as it can get without being explicitly revealed. The feeding of her strength via that is a cool theory, but shakier.

RE: Issue 249: depresse. The Havok stuff at the opening is really rough. It appears Silvestri is tiring of drawing a detailed Colossus (contour line count is way down), and Colossus has lost most of his shape. He's getting blockier and looks sloppier. When Malice is speaking with Lorna, she looks really bad. The art just isn't as tight as it was even at Inferno, much less back at Fall of the Mutants (look at Colossus in issue 225, right after he smashes that phone booth. Gorgeous.). I think you might be able to make the case that this vulnerability to fatigue showed through after Inferno - the art in 244 (Women? Girls? All the Single Ladies?) is not as well done as Inferno, which had a double-sized issue in it. Did Silvestri hold it together long enough to finish the crossover, and then have it catch up to him? The art certainly tightened up for the Nimrod/Master Mold story - maybe not Fall of the Mutants, but certainly Inferno level with some extra tics and shortcuts. The art will upswing again here in a few issues with the fantastic Freedom Force / Muir Island issues (Stonewall! Stonewall! Stonewall!) and then... Silvestri will go away.

But in this little review of these issues, I think I see I need to revise my statement that Silvestri lost it at #249. I think his fatigue shows through at distinct points and then he recovers after some sloppy art - we're going to go 249, 250, 251, which I think have poor art, and then a break for one issue with Rick Leonardi followed by a recovered Silvestri in the Muir Island issues. My current theory is fatigue, really.

Jason said...

Gary, thanks for giving specific examples. I will check those panels out and see if I can see what you see.

Now, what are your thoughts on the panels I singled out? Colossus' beat down, and Psylocke and the Frog (now a Disney movie!)? Cause I think those panels are the shizzle.

And I would say that issues 249 and 251 have very good art. 250 not so good, but I blame the inker, not Silvestri.

253, decent art (same inker as on 250, but they seem more en rapport, somehow). 254, seems like it was rushed but I still give it a high grade. 255 is crazy-rushed. That's the one where the deadline crunch is unmistakable. Definitely the weakest Silvestri/Green of the whole run. I'm surprised you rate that two-parter higher than some of the earlier issues you're talking about. 255 has them totally skimping -- much less detail than usual, lots of hastily laid lines, and pretty much NO backgrounds. It's quite a thing to behold.

259, 260 = excellent art.

261, Silvestri and Green's final issue = meh.

So for me, there really are only a few Silvestri/Green issues that are not up to snuff. And I really think it's inaccurate to chalk up issue 250 to fatigue, since Leialoha's inks are SO overpowering. (The guy always does this -- check out how he completely changes JRJr's art in Uncanny 189 to something not even recognizable as Romita...)

Anyway. That's where I'm coming from.

P.S. calling issue 244 "All the Single Ladies"? Brilliant.

(Actual title "Ladies Night," if you were wondering. And I love that issue's art as well.)

Paul said...

Since Lorna's powers were latent and had to be artificially stimulated, do you think that CC was developing an idea that magnetism may not be her natural mutant ability? Maybe she developed magnetic powers because Mesmero wanted her to believe she was Magneto's daughter. Could she really has some form of empathy, which would account for Malice's inability to severe their link? Just a thought.

scottmcdarmont said...

Uncanny 275 was Claremont's last? I thought there was one more Shi'ar arc before he left? (276-278 If I'm not mistaken) Or do you simply mean that 275 is the last one where Claremont was in total control of the story... that is, Lee became co-plotter after that.

Gary said...

UXM 275 is Claremont's last "anniversary" issue.

Jason said...

Thanks, Gary.

Yes, issues 273-277 comprise the Shi'ar storyline (with issues 274 and 275 sharing space with the Magneto/Zaladane material).

Issue 278 is the first part of the Shadow King story, which was finished by other writers. It's Claremont's last full issue of Uncanny.

279's first eleven pages are by Claremont, the latter eleven pages are by Fabian Nicieza. That's the last one of the run. (Until his late-90s return, natch.)

Jason said...

Interesting notion, Paul. Thanks!

Evan said...

There are many things I would like to see Claremont pick up with his X-men Forever run from this period of uncanny books.

I'm unfamiliar with X comics following 1996 that may deal with some of these loose plot threads. I dropped all X-titles after the Age of Apocalypse. I wonder if any of these plots were explained to the point that Claremont isn't interested in repeating the resolutions in X-forever. One of the many problems with X-forever is that it's in constant dialogue with both the original run of Claremont books, and everything that followed them. This is to the loss of what I thought was the concept of X-forever, to express what he had originally intended for the remainder of his run.

neilshyminsky said...

Evan: I think that what you wonder if exactly the case - Claremont had sufficiently laid out his plans and probably felt that he had already done them and wanted to try something new. Which is annoying, yes, insofar as it isn't exactly what was advertised.

By the way, Jason, are we going to eventually get to the Forever stuff? Or his brief return 10 years later, X-Treme, or his longer run on Uncanny some years back?

Jeff said...

I would love to hear Jason's comments on Claremont's return in the 00s. Most of it is horrendous, but I have a soft spot for the first 30 issues of X-Treme. It seems like late 80s Claremont to me (for better and worse).

Jason said...

Neil, I suppose now is as good a time as any to say this, since others have asked me. (Which is, on the whole, very flattering, that people apparently are enjoying this blog-series enough to ask about future ones.)

Most of Claremont's latter-day X-Men stuff just isn't interesting enough to me to want to review them individually. X-Men: The End is dreadful; GeNext is a mess; Exiles was bland; Forever started out being at least fun, but is
swiftly becoming a bore; as for his returns to the mainstream X-Men
universe ("Revolution," X-Treme, the brief Alan Davis-Chris Bachalo
run) ... I simply haven't read any of that. (Sorry, Jeff.)

I don't actually think Claremont has "lost it" to the same degree that the internet consensus has settled upon. Even as recently as 2003, he was putting out some entertaining material. But his work on X-Men is consistently uninteresting to me.

Obviously that still leaves a lot of stuff to look at: The New Mutants, Excalibur, the first ten issues of Wolverine ... but the other thing is simply time. This has been a very demanding longitudinal project. I am
eternally grateful to Geoff for basically forcing me to do it and see it through to the end (Not to say that he's been a stern taskmaster or anything like that, but just knowing that I had a deadline -- and was writing for someone other than myself -- has kept me on task in a way that
would not have happened if I'd been doing this on my own blog ... I would have stalled out long before now). I'm real proud of having produced so many words on a subject that I love.

But, frankly, I'm burnt out. I've given thought to other stuff -- my
favorite non-X-Men Claremont works; the Claremont X spin-offs that were
published in the golden window from 1975-1991; or another favorite
longitudinal run, the Peter David Hulk -- but ultimately, I don't want to write about comics anymore, or at least not in such a demanding, long-term way. I'd really rather devote my time -- and what can laughingly be referred to as my "talents" -- toward other subjects. In particular, I'm
keen to get away from going on at great lengths about other people's
creative ventures, and start producing more of my own.

I guess that's the long answer. The short answer is, I'll do Claremont and Lee's X-Men #3, then probably a summary blog (like Geoff did at the end of his Morrison X-Men examination), and then I'm retiring from comics-blogging.

Jeff said...

I can understand how this would be a very tiring undertaking! Thanks for all the hard work, Jason. It's been a lot of fun reading and I'm really looking forward to the last 30 issues (even if a lot of them are pretty awful)!

Jason said...

Thanks, Jeff. I appreciate the positive thoughts.

(Although I don't think I'd call the last 30 issues awful. I quite like most of them! But then, if I didn't, I probably wouldn't be doing this, would I?)

8-Tracks Fierce said...

I know I'm very, very late posting a comment on this, but I just read this issue last night and couldn't agree with you more. I had built up so many expectations simply because it was #250, though the story had been so crazy in the previous few issues with Rogue disappearing and Storm apparently dying. And I couldn't even figure out what had happened to Longshot. I at least expected Wolverine to return and set things right in #250. I never expected what should have been a landmark issue to be missing the entire first AND second classes of X-Men except Colossus (not counting the relative outsiders Havok and Polaris, of course). And most of the X-Men who did show up were all but helpless until the last few pages.

A few pages into it I started feeling like it was some kind of psycho horror story. I felt even worse after reading your post, knowing that most of what happened will never be explained. I guess I'll just pretend it was all a bad dream.