Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Uncanny X-Men #254

[Jason Powell continues to look at every issue of Claremont's initial X-Men run. He requires no riches for this gift to the world. Such things are beneath him. He does it for the glory that is Greece and the grandeur that is Marvel Comics.]

“All New, All Different – Here We Go Again”

As of the previous issue, Claremont has dissolved the idea of the X-Men as a team. Yet this issue’s cover and title play games with reader expectations, teasing at the idea of a new iteration of X-Men. Obviously the main point of reference here is Giant Sized X-Men #1, but the use of the original Kirby uniforms hearkens as well to the formation of the New Mutants, the first team spin-off X-book (and the only one for years). Claremont has jokingly riffed on the idea before, in X-Men Annual #10, whose Giant-Sized-X-Men homage cover (drawn by Art Adams) suggested that the New Mutants would become the new “new X-Men.” (Or perhaps the “new” “new X-Men” …?)

Issue 254’s cover is modeled on Cockrum’s cover to Giant-Sized #1 as well – albeit fairly loosely. Jim Lee – an avowed fan of the original Kirby uniforms – makes the most of his obscure subjects (some of whom are genuinely unrecognizable until one reads the actual comic). That dynamic opening image alone almost sells us on this new team. Why not? The Australian team was a departure that worked; this one could too. The blurb completes the effect: “A New Legend Is Born!”

Without that cover, the contents of this issue would seem profoundly unfocused. The attention given to minor characters like Amanda Sefton and Alysande Stuart; the appearance of new blue-and-yellow suits from nowhere; the inclusion of Alan Davis’ “Warpies” from his Captain Britain series … but the cover provides the lens through which we are meant to view these proceedings: This is a gathering-of-forces issue – the new team comes together to face a villainous threat that the characters would not have been able to handle individually.

And yet, perversely, it is all a feint. It will become clearer in a couple months’ time, but in fact, right from the very start, Claremont is sabotaging this supposed “Legend.” Lorna Dane’s never-to-be-explained new powers are making half the cast behave wrongly; Legion – identified on the cover as a member of the “new” team – is betraying his teammates for the fun of it; Sunder – also part of the cover image – is killed; and before the issue even ends, government superheroes have been called in to bail the X-Men out.

There is more meta-commentary at work here as well, with Claremont again using the Reavers (unintentionally, perhaps) as a stand-in for the increasingly intrusive X-Men editor, Bob Harras. There are visual signifiers of past greatness: The costumes allude to Lee/Kirby; the opening splash page riffs on Byrne/Austin’s opening splash of Uncanny #125. Yet it is all being turned into something cheap and tawdry -- the lines of the blue-and-yellow costumes are more sexual, an effect increased by Amanda’s miscast spell; the splash page sees Moira dressed like a hooker, rather than in her traditional jumpsuit. And then when the Reavers arrive, they steamroll over everyone, dismantling the group before it can even truly cohere. (The following issue will depict a Reaver weapon that seems to magically liquefy the ground – literally turning the foundation of this team into quicksand.) There is a parallel here with Harras, who pulled the rug out from Claremont during this era, partly out of a nostalgic desire to see the X-Men comic book returned to the “classic” model.

(Morrison did something similar, with his “Planet X” arc. The penultimate storyline of Morrison’s run, it was used quite deliberately as a commentary on the depressingly cyclical nature of mainstream superhero comics, the X-Men in particular. No matter how wild things get, everything has to come around to how it started. Both Claremont and Morrison used the content of the series to comment on the creative wheel-spinning that they could not prevent. Uncanny #254, with its blatantly self-contradictory title, is the most explicit Claremont example, and yet another predictor of what Morrison would do.)

“All New, All Different – Here We Go Again” is also a very prescient harbinger of the 90s, particularly Image Comics, co-founded by Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri (among others). As the name suggested, Image was predicated on the notion that cool pictures – such as the cover to Uncanny #254 -- would be enough to create and sustain reader interest in new characters. So it’s utterly appropriate, in this context, that Silvestri drew this issue’s contents, and Lee its cover. The failure of the Muir Island-based X-Men to last beyond two issues is a rather brilliant predictor of Image’s early publishing history – littered with false starts and failures. (Among those false starts: Chris Claremont’s Huntsman, who appeared in four issues of Lee’s “WildCATs” and three of Silvestri’s “Cyberforce” before quietly dying.)

16 comments:

scottmcdarmont said...

I've been wanting to ask this question for some time: Has Claremont ever given any indication that, if left to his own devices without interference from Harras, that this group would have, in fact, involved into a new team? The issue would seem to indicate that he was aware of its transience, but Muir Island, as a satelite base of sorts to the original X-mansion, would have been an Ideal setting and I've always felt that Legion was a character who could have used further exploration... also, sure, he may have killed Sunder in the very first issue... but he also Killed Thunderbird on his first mission as well.

scottmcdarmont said...

I also gotta say... I love the fact the Moira's two assistants' (Sharon and whatshisname) super power is that they were white people who are now native americans.

Jason said...

I haven't read anything, but my sense was that the plan for the Muir Island team was pretty similar to what we saw, i.e., they became a group of villains controlled by the Shadow King.

Sharon and Tom also were said to have slightly-above-norm strength and endurance, which I realize is pretty generic. But it wasn't JUST that they were Native Americans! (Their power description kind of matches Thunderbird's, come to think of it ...)

scottmcdarmont said...

Yeah, but it was sort of their main one... has anyone ever legitimately had the power to change race at will? Because I would read that comic... I don't know if I would LIKE it... but I'd read it.

Whatever happenned to them anyway? (Sharon and Tom)It seems like they (as well as some other characters of note) have disapeared from Muir Island when Claremont brings us back here in a couple of years (understandable considering that, by that point, not much of what was happening was Claremont anyway)

Jason said...

Tom and Sharon are actually in issue 278, which is Claremont's last full Uncanny issue. They don't do much, but they're there in one of the crowd scenes, I think. :) Then they kind of vanish, in favor of characters like Siryn and Madrox (who, curiously, are not part of this present two-parter, despite being Muir Island regulars ....)

Once Claremont left, though, Tom and Sharon seem to have pretty much vanished. (I wonder if they'll show up in X-Men Forever. I kind of doubt it.)

Arthur said...

Tom Corsi is still hanging around the fringes, Sharon was killed in UXM 298 by the Acolytes. (Yes, I looked that up. I remember one of them died, but didn't remember who!)

Another thing I looked up, just to be pedantic because I have nothing useful to say, is that the cover to Giant Size X-Men 1 was only inked by Cockrum. Gil Kane did the pencil work/layout.

Art

Jason said...

"Another thing I looked up, just to be pedantic because I have nothing useful to say, is that the cover to Giant Size X-Men 1 was only inked by Cockrum. Gil Kane did the pencil work/layout."

Ah, cool, didn't realize that.

Didn't know that Sharon was killed either. But I will lay odds (as Claremont would say) that Tom Corsi hasn't appeared in a single X-comic during the entirety of the oughts.

scottmcdarmont said...

Well, it is pretty understandable... it's a pretty awkward origin story when you need to reintroduce the character...

"I was a white guy who was turned into a native american by a demon bear"

"What's a Demon Bear?"

I mean, if the Demon Bear had since become an integral part of the X-mythos.... That, Grant Morrison could have had some fun with... as he could have with the X-men Vs. Dracula!

Jason said...

Well, Psylocke's origin is worse, but they keep her around. I guess the cheesecake factor mitigates the convoluted origin. "Hot ninja" scores higher than "Native American guy with no real powers" on any scale, I guess.

I think Morrison's X-Men is naught but recycled Claremont ideas, so no agreement from me on what justice he'd have done the Demon Bear. But hey ... !

Peter Farago said...

"...Siryn and Madrox (who, curiously, are not part of this present two-parter, despite being Muir Island regulars ....)"

They're hanging out in New York with the Vanisher, as of the last issue of Jo Duffy's risible "Fallen Angels" mini.

Anonymous said...

I actually liked "Fallen Angels". I always wondered what happened to the new characters introduced in that series: Gomi, Chance, and Ariel.

Anonymous said...

Any theories as to why Polaris was making everyone evil or more dark? Something to do with malice? And how did she get so strong? I always wondered about that subplot...

John Voulieris

Harry said...

DANIEL Haller...? Oops!

NietzscheIsDead said...

John,

There was never a satisfactory explanation for Polaris's new powers, although one was presumably forthcoming if Claremont had stayed on. When he left, Fabian Nicieza wrote an 11-page fill-in that wrapped up the Shadow King plot and returned Polaris to normal, revealing that Farouk had been behind her transformation in the first place.

That makes no sense. Farouk wasn't there when Polaris gained the dark-emotions-converted-to-physical-strength powers; he wasn't even there when Polaris first came to Muir Island and started turning everyone there dark. In fact, Farouk isn't even the one who tied Lorna up to that power-amplifying machine: that was Legion, who was planning to turn Muir Island into, as Claremont put it, "a dark reflection of Xavier's school." Farouk came in later, ambushed Legion, and hijacked the entire plan.

Nicieza also revealed, in this same wrap up, that the Shadow King was some ancient dark deity and had only possessed the human mutant Amahl Farouk, the same way he would later possess others. This, to Claremontian scholars, is hogwash. The character was always consistently referred to as Farouk under Claremont, and only assumed the title "Shadow King" after conquering the Hellfire Club as a play on their titles, a la Black King, White King, Grey King, et al. Moreover, Farouk had no innate possession powers; he was a telepath. The first time he managed to possess someone was with Karma, and in that case, he specifically turned her possession powers against her. Though this clearly gives him ideas later, he never has the strength for a full possession until after suborning Legion's plot, which gives him access to the vast amount of negative emotional energy that Polaris can conjure up.

tl;dr: There was a weak explanation offered, but in reality, Claremont was going to have to get into it to explain his planned Shadow King saga, and it was probably going to be something along the lines of Lorna internalizing Malice after losing her magnetic powers.

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