Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Uncanny X-Men #252

[Jason Powell. Chris Claremont. The epic issue by issue X-Men conversation continues. At the end, only two men will be left standing. Claremont will be one. Jason Powell will be the other. And I guess we will all be standing around and occasionally saying stuff as well. There is a lot to talk about.]

“Where’s Wolverine?”

Neil Shyminsky has commented about the cleverness of Claremont’s swerve with Wolverine at this point in the series – essentially taking a character who had evolved into a kind of uber-idealistic notion of extreme masculinity and undercutting him severely, through both plot and dialogue. The process was begun with the previous issue, but “Fever Dream” served more as a final, climactic gasp of the masculine Wolverine. (It’s hard to assign any sort of weakness to Logan’s insane display of machismo as he frees himself from crucifixion through sheer grit, especially as depicted with such idealistic fervor by Marc Silvestri.) It’s not until this issue that we see the character’s hyper-masculinity being undermined. The title is the first clue, and it serves as a bookend with the story’s final bit of dialogue, spoken by Jubilee: “… You gotta do something about this macho attitude. I mean, it is like SO lame…!” Helping to reinforce the point visually is guest penciller Rick Leonardi – a delightfully expressive artist whose cartoonish style is the antithesis of Silvestr’s ultra-sexy-cool – and guest inker Kent Williams, who drew Logan as a pot-bellied slob with un-erect hair in the “Havok/Wolverine” miniseries. (A visual that Claremont seems to have enjoyed enough to jokingly reference not once but twice – see Uncanny X-Men #246 and Excalibur #14.) Even artistically, Logan is being sabotaged. The cover, conversely, features an ultra-slick image by Jim Lee – of the villains.

This was all quite wryly subversive on the part of Claremont, who clearly recognized that Logan, as developed since the 70s, had hit a disheartening creative dead-end – even as the character was peaking commercially, which probably only depressed Claremont more. As the author of what he considered Wolverine’s “parent book,” he no doubt believed that his sabotage of the character’s adolescent wish-fulfillment aspects might curb the level of exploitation that Logan was enduring at this point. If Uncanny portrayed him as weakened and weathered, the other comics would have to follow suit, right?

Unfortunately, to what was surely Claremont’s surprised chagrin, Uncanny X-Men would turn out to be anomalous. The “Wolverine” solo series and other miscellaneous spin-offs, tie-ins and guest appearances just portrayed a healthy, hardy, tough-as-nails Logan regardless. Presumably the logic was that if they ignored Claremont’s characterization long enough, it would go away. And sure enough, in two years’ time, it did – and so did he.

Apart from Claremont’s anti-corporate agenda, “Where’s Wolverine?” also serves as an epilogue to the Outback era, which was brought to a dramatic and ingenious close in Uncanny #251. Just like that previous installment, this one is billed as an adventure of “the last of the Uncanny X-Men.” The whole point is to get Wolverine and Jubilee out of the Outback, thus drawing a final line under Claremont’s most ambitious departure from the X-Men’s traditional status quo. To that end, Claremont crafts essentially a 22-page action film, with deliberate parallels to Uncanny #205 -- from which it copies both its villains and its cat-and-mouse scenario (Jubilee being the stand-in for Katie Power).

The story rollicks along amiably, thanks to Claremont getting into the Reavers’ heads and exploiting the inherent drama and comedy in their odd, multi-origin pedigree. He also makes fun of the whole, fanfiction-esque concept via Jubilee, with her line “Reavers an’ the mall, they gotta lot in common. Both products of the Chinese take-out school of design: Y’know, a bit from column ‘A’ … something else from column ‘B’ … Who cares if the elements don’t match.” Thus, as in any Hollywood blockbuster, events and dialogue unfold by-the-numbers, managing a blend of tense action and witty banter that is almost too slick.

Meanwhile, Kent Williams provides some of the most radical visuals on a Claremont X-comic since Bill Sienkiewicz (who inks this issue’s Jim Lee cover). Williams exaggerates to nigh-grotesqueness both the grittiness of the action-film trappings (see the ink splotches on the cybernetic dingos, Page 22, panel 4) and the cartoonishness of Leonardi’s style (Page 13, panel 5, the Nick Fury and Carol Danvers phantoms). It’s tonally chaotic, adding a sense of wild unpredictability to what would otherwise be a formulaic and perfunctory issue.


Anonymous said...

I always thought it was lame how Cole, Macon, and Reese kept living on even after Wolverine supposedly killed them. First during the Dark Phoenix saga, then in Uncanny #205. Logan's supposed to be a deadly killing machine; when he kills a guy that guy should stay dead. Yet these three Hellfire yo-yos keep popping back up. It really takes away from the visceral power of their original appearances where Wolverine just tears through them--really the first time we'd seen him cut loose on the bad guys.

Someone commented on the last issue how the Reavers were never really sold as a credible threat. I don't understand it, either. I don't get how Colossus and Havok alone wouldn't have wiped these guys out, let alone Freedom Force several issues later.

ScottMcDarmont said...

Until I re-read this issues, I had totally forgotten about the Nick Fury Carol Danvers hallucinations, I miss them... I wish that Wolverine STILL saw them-- it would have been a great, yet adorable, way to emphasize Logan's tenuous grasps on his sanity...

Jason said...

Yeah, and they never really addressed why the phantoms went away. Presumably Bob Harras didn't like them. (Personally I'd like to think that Wolverine never stopped seeing them ... )

Anon, as someone pointed out, the idea that Wolverine left Cole, Macon and Reese to bleed to death painfully in issue 133, almost makes it worse.

Comic Book Candy said...

Reading these reviews really makes me want to go out and join the epic Claremont quest! How are you reading these? Issue to issue? Trades? Those black and white Essentials? I'd like to know. Thanks!

ba said...

I actually like the idea of Cole, Reese, and Macon coming back all the time, because they were initially just goons that wolverine usually kills without a second thought. The fact that the henchmen actually come back and represent a threat is a funny twist.

And even the Reavers themselves seem to admit that they aren't a credible threat (with the exception of Deathstrike) in this issue. They are constantly scared of searching for Wolverine, Pierce included.

I was amused about Jubilee's line that the Reavers have "crude mouths," when they have the same Claremont-type lingo as every other character.

Also, Jubilee comments on the smell Wolverine has created in her little hideaway, and states that "he can't help it, just like you can't help what you did in the tunnel." What are they implying she did in the tunnel, peed herself?

Loved the "dreamtime" hallucination sequence, though.

Jason said...

Candy, mine is a patchwork collection comprising basically the cheapest and or most convenient stuff I could find -- though I do avoid black and white reprints because I prefer color.

So, to take the run of issues we're in now as an example:

The "Inferno" issues I have the originals of, but I also own the TPB so that I'm able to read the New Mutants and X-Factor crossover issues.

Issues 244-269, all the original issues except 248 (Jim Lee's first issue, thus very pricey, thus I bought a gold-embossed second printing that came out back in 1991 or so) and 266 (Gambit's first appearance, also very expensive, so I bought it in a little squarebound 80-page comic called "X-Men Firsts" that features reprints of the first appearances of Gambit, Rogue, Wolverine and Mr. Sinister).

Then for issues 270-272, I've got the X-Tinction Agenda TPB, but then I also own a gold-embossed second printing of 270, because the trade paperback cut out a two-page sequence involving Lila Cheney.

Then for 273-280, all original issues (except 275, another second printing).

Like I said, mainly just a matter of thrift and convenience, usually. Many of my copies of original issues are kind of iffy, condition-wise, except in a few cases where I love the issue so much I had to have it in great condition (236 is one example -- pristine!).

I believe Geoff read them all on a DVD-ROM.

My collection also includes, in some edition or other, just about every significant spin-off and cross over issue, as well as series that weren't spin-offs, but which sort of "spun in" to Claremont's X-Men, like the Longshot mini and various issues of Captain Britain.

I recently compiled a spreadsheet to count, and it turns out that, all told, my full X-Men read-list includes material from 657 different comic books (!).

Ba, I don't remember the bit about Jubilee wetting herself, but that is hilarious. Good point about Cole, Macon and Reese too.

And yeah, Claremont does have the quirk of one character commenting on another's tone, despite the actual tone not being particularly striking compared to Claremont's staple dialogue style. i.e., somebody says something incredibly melodramatic, and a second character will say, "Don't make fun." This despite the fact that everybody in Claremont's X-Men is always being melodramatic, and it's typically not a joke at all.

cease ill said...


I enjoy the insights regarding the tension between creative and commercial property, as well as those regarding the make-up of the characters and their means of playing into an established genre formula while yielding unique results.

Particularly loved the tone comment; the run-down of sources was appropriate as the column winds down.

Teebore said...

Fascinating column, as always. The way this issue calls back #205 is something I've never considered before. It's always great when you point out the more subtle ways Claremont references himself beyond the usual dialogue tics every knows.

Rick Leonardi is one of those artists whose work has grown on me. When I was first reading these issues when I was younger, I'd HATE to see a Leonardi issue, interrupting the flow of the "regular" artist.

But as I've gotten older, I've really come to appreciate his style, to the point that now there are times I prefer his work to Silvestri's, in places.

Similarly, my appreciation for this story has grown with time, too. At first, I just remember thinking an issue of Wolverine doing nothing but hallucinating while Jubilee ran around wasn't very exciting, but now I have a much greater appreciation for what Claremont's doing by essentially tearing down Wolverine and slowly putting him together again.

Jeff said...

Candy - Depending on your resources, I went out and bought the Uncanny X-Men Omnibus and Marvel Masterworks Uncanny X-Men volumes 5 & 6. That'll get you up to issue 150. From then on I've just been buying individual issues. It seems like once you get past the Byrne issues, the price on the individual issues goes WAY down. I've found most of them in great condition for around $2-$5.

Now I'm trying to go back and read the Stan Lee/Roy Thomas/Neal Adams stuff. I'm going to get the X-Men Omnibus Vol. 1, but unfortunately the Masterworks volumes that follow it seem to be mostly out of print. Anyone have any advice for that? Or are they going to release a second omnibus with the Neal Adams stuff?

Teebore said...

As far as I'm aware, the only way, now or in the near future, to read the post Kirby/Lee, pre-Claremont stuff, is in black and white in the Essential Classic X-Men series.

The last volume includes Beast's feature in Amazing Adventures (when he first turned furry) which is nice.

Jason said...

I thought the Silver Age stuff was all available in Masterworks? Are they really out of print already? Seems like the last couple only came out a year ago.

You could always try to find some used copies online.

There is also an "X-Men Visionaries: Neal Adams" volume that reprints issues 56-63, and 65. I highly recommend that one, even if you skip straight from Lee/Kirby to that. (The 40 issues in between are pretty inessential for fans of the X-mythos, albeit very entertaining if you're a Silver Age buff.)

Teebore and Cease Ill, thanks for the comments! Tee, I agree with you about Leonardi. Easy to see why he never became "hot" because he doesn't resonate with a teenager's tastes at all. But his work is very expressive.

(I do remember showing some X-Men issues to my dad, who is a great artist, and him being not too impressed, though. Actually very few comic artists I've exposed him to seem to impress him -- the only exceptions I can recall are Travis Charest and Adam Hughes.)

Teebore said...

The 40 issues in between are pretty inessential for fans of the X-mythos, albeit very entertaining if you're a Silver Age buff.

Agreed. I'm in the midst of examining Roy Thomas' first run on my blog, and it's a bit of a slog right now. Definitely some fun, Silver Age goofiness going on but not a lot of what we've come to expect from the X-Men, aside from random bits of trivia (the first appearance of Banshee, Scott and Jean finally, sort of, getting together, etc.)

Jason said...

What's the link to your blog?

The other thing about that first Thomas run is the first really long-running plotline, with the Factor Three stuff. Very much predicted Claremont's long-term plots in the comic. And the soap-opera characterizations as well.

But yeah, apart from that and what you mentioned, not many long-lasting contributions. The best thing was Thomas' characterizations. The worst was the villains he came up with -- although I do like when Thomas would make fun of how lame the villains were, like with "The Mildly Incomparable Menace of ... El Tigre!!!"

Teebore said...

It's: http://gentlemenofleisure1.blogspot.com/

(the HTML for links escapes me at the moment).

Amongst other things, I write a series called "X-amining X-men" which examines each issue of the series beginning with #1, focusing on how the mythos developed over time, laughing (in good cheer) at some of the goofy Silver Age stuff, things like that. My goal is to eventually cover every issue of the series.

I'm just about to dive in to the Factor Three story proper, which is exciting simply because it is so atypical for the time.

Thomas' original villains really are quite lame, but as you say, at least he seemed to know it.

The funny thing about Thomas' first run (and something Paul O'Brien speaks to in greater detail in his X-Men indexes on The X-axis) is how clear it is that Thomas would rather be writing just about any other title, so the X-Men end up fighting an FF villain, or an Avengers villain, or a villain that would be more at home fighting Iron Man.

Jason said...

Yeah, the Iron Man stuff is particularly noticeable. The Count Nefaria issues are loaded with old Iron Man villains, and then he does the "Cobalt Man" thing ... crazy. I realized after reading those how fitting it was that Claremont used the Mandarin as the X-Men villain in "Acts of Vengeance."

ba said...

Hey, I'm not necessarily endorsing this, but if someone wanted to get their hands on retrospective x-men comics that are out of print in TPB, they are relatively easy to find on many torrent sites.

Naw, I'm endorsing it. I spent hundreds of dollars on comics that are no longer with us :(