Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Uncanny X-Men #257

[Jason Powell takes a look at every issue of Claremont's X-Men. And now we have reached 1990. Be impressed.]

“Lady Mandarin”

Issues 256-258 comprise a self-contained trilogy representing Claremont’s contribution to Marvel’s 1989 company-wide crossover, “Acts of Vengeance.” From what I’ve read, the original concept came from John Byrne, though it quickly morphed into something apart from what he envisioned. The end result was a storyline in which the major Marvel villains teamed up, and began crafting scenarios wherein heroes were forced to fight unfamiliar bad guys.

Claremont’s participation in the game does not seem altogether comfortable. Using Iron Man’s archenemy, the Mandarin, is a clever callback to the Silver Age, back when Roy Thomas had the X-Men fighting Iron Man villains in every other issue – yet the villain doesn’t even appear in this, the middle issue of the trilogy. And at one point, Matsuo Tsurayaba actually derides the Mandarin’s participation in the “Acts of Vengeance” overplot, subtly mocking the entire affair. Claremont’s use of Logan during the proceedings is also strange, given that he could have used any number of people from his large rotating cast; but Wolverine was already fighting an unfamiliar villain in the “Acts” issues of his solo title. To use Logan in Uncanny as well creates a somewhat knotty time paradox.

A concurrent issue of Excalibur supplies a clue to Claremont’s seeming lack of team spirit: Toward the end of a story that parodies the entire Marvel Universe, Claremont presents a scene of himself and John Byrne sitting side by side at identical universe-controlling computers, each trying to outdo each other with a larger “event.” The implication is that “Acts of Vengeance,” title and all, is Byrne’s attempt to out-do the previous year’s company-wide crossover – “Inferno,’ which began with Claremont. Furthermore, Byrne used “Acts” as an opportunity to co-opt Magneto from the X-office, turning him back into a cackling Silver Age villain (a quite deliberate snub against the brilliant psychology that Claremont had developed for Magneto over the last ten years). Claremont’s using Logan in “Uncanny” to muck with the chronology of the solo title was perhaps a deliberate tit-for-tat, as Byrne was the artist on the Wolverine solo book at this point.

(As a sidenote, David Fiore assures me that Mark Greunwald’s use of Magneto in Captain America during “Acts of Vengeance” was quite brilliant.)

If there is a bit of mockery being thrown around during Claremont’s Mandarin trilogy, it must be acknowledged that he was not so proud as to leave himself out of the target range. Issue 257 also sees the first appearance in Uncanny of the “Patch” persona (Wolverine in an eye-patch), which the author created for Logan in the Wolverine ongoing. Peter David had just mocked the silliness of the eye-patch a few months earlier, and in so doing pretty much gave voice to the legion of readers who were unimpressed with Logan’s “disguise.” Knowing when he’s outnumbered, Claremont happily jumps on the bandwagon, and Jubilee duly mocks the eye-patch from virtually the moment she sees it.

Compounding the joke, Jubilee launches her barbs from inside her red shirt (with circular black button on the chest), green shorts and slippers, and giant yellow trenchcoat, looking for all the world like Robin. Scott McDarmont has suggested the outfit was Jim Lee’s idea that Claremont ran with, but I don’t think so. The Dark-Knight/Carrie-Kelly parallels had begun months earlier, before Lee’s involvement. I’d guess the Jubilee costuming was Claremont’s idea.

At any rate, the centerpiece of this issue is the clash between the new, “Dark-Knight”-esque Wolverine (it’s established immediately that Logan is still a ragged shell, his healing factor having apparently burnt itself out) and the new, “Elektra”-fied Betsy. Psylocke currently is wearing an almost exact duplicate of the Elektra costume, the main difference being that it is dark blue rather than Daredevil-red. Thus, it’s no coincidence that Claremont chooses to put Wolverine in the dark-blue Buscema costume from the solo series. This allows Logan and Betsy to match hues, just like Daredevil and Elektra. Wolverine is now elided with not one but two major Frank Miller icons. And by the end of the trilogy, he will have both an Elektra and a Robin in tow.

Claremont is fortunate that none of this comes off as too terribly contrived. This is thanks mainly to his use of The Hand, a ninja clan that fortuitously had already been imported into Wolverine’s mythology seven years earlier by Claremont and Miller in collaboration. It seems perfectly natural that they should return for a rematch with Logan, despite their stronger association with Daredevil. (Oddly, the wildly overwrought combination of mutants and thinly veiled Miller characters, not to mention a teenage party girl, has a precursor in Eastman and Laird’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” the black and white pastiche comicbook that by 1989 had become a massively successful multimedia franchise. This may have been an influence on Claremont as well; note issue 261, which ends with Logan, Jubilee and Betsy sitting around eating pizza.)

And the other bit of glue holding all of this together is Jim Lee. Inked here and next month by Josef Rubinstein, Lee is still on his “A” game, knocking out of the park every challenge Claremont throws at him. Rubinstein, associated with the X-Men since as far back as 1981 (he inked the first half of Cockrum’s sophomore run), doesn’t miss a step as he takes over from Lee’s signature inker, Scott Williams, providing lively embellishments that detract not a bit from Lee’s slickly futuristic style.
And, X-historians note, this issue marks the first appearance in Psylocke’s arsenal of the oft-ridiculed “psychic knife.” One of the more vilified “Claremontisms” is Betsy’s tendency to refer to the knife (a pink energy blade that comes out of her wrist like Wolverine’s claws) as the “focused totality of [her] psychic powers.” In point of fact, before Claremont departed in 1991, that phrase was only uttered a handful of times. Indeed, here and in the next issue, the phrase isn’t used at all; she refers to it as the “ultimate focus” of her telepathy, which feels slightly less labored. I’ll keep count as I see the more hated phrase crop up, and have a final “totality tally” at the end of the blog series.

18 comments:

scottmcdarmont said...

I didn't suggest the costume was Jim Lee's idea... I just asked if it was...

Also, it's important to note that Jubilee doesn't just look like Robin but, with the green sunglasses, she looks just like the CARRIE KELLEY ROBIN, a very Miller-specific version of the character (and the only version that he had delt with at this point in time).

Also, according to my X-men essentials, while Rubenstein did the inks for this issue, 258 is handled by Scott Williams.

Teebore said...

Fascinating ruminations about the behind-the-scenes struggle between Byrne and Claremont.

The joke, it would seem, was on Byrne. While "Acts" brought about its fair share of fun stories, it definitely felt more fractured and less like a company-wide crossover than "Inferno".

I love to mock the Claremontisms, but I definitely do it out of love. His comics wouldn't be the same without some of those chestnuts (my personal favorite? "I'm nigh invulnerable when ah'm blastin'!")

Jason said...

To Scott:

Oh yeah, good point about the shades.

Sorry about my error on issue 258. There is a website that says Rubinstein and Williams both inked on it (apparently the credits in The Official Marvel Index to the X-Men add Rubinstein's name to the credits).

Shouldn't have used that as my primary source rather than just the issue itself ... ah well. Give me a break, I've written 200 of these f*ckers now!

And I guess it depends on how you interpret this: “It's probably one of those culmination of things, Claremont introduces the character, the artists sees the Carrie Kelley sidekick angle so he decides to do the costume and then Claremont runs with it...”

That felt to me like you were suggesting the costume was the artist’s idea. Though I certainly wasn’t trying to put words in your mouth.

To Teebore:
Oh, there was no "nigh" with Cannonball, was there! He was TOTALLY invulnerable while he was blastin'!

(You're right, though; WOW, he used that one a lot.)

Anonymous said...

I have a question.
Which Iron Man villains did Roy Thomas have the X-Men fighting?
I've read the entire Thomas run, although ages ago so I might be forgetting, but I don't really remember many.
Unicorn showed up once with a bunch of other assorted Silver Age villains (like Plantman).
Cobalt Man seemed like he should have been an Iron Man villain, but Iron Man never fought him.
Other than that, I can't remember any...and I'm not even sure if the Unicorn was a Thomas issue, as I think it might have been Stan Lee.

Jason said...

Unicorn was absolutely in a Roy Thomas issue.

Cobalt Man was not part of Iron Man's rogues gallery, true, but was pretty much an Iron-Man-villain-idea shoehorned into an X-Men comic.

Also: Scarecrow and Count Nefaria.

"Every other issue" is a bit of hyperbole on my part. Issues 22 and 23 are the main offenders, with Unicorn, Scarecrow and Nefaria all going on about how "they thought I was no more, after my previous defeat at the hands of Iron Man, but now I have returned!" When you've got three villains in one story all talking about how much they hate Iron Man, it makes an impression, I guess.

Teebore said...

@Anonymous: There was a two-issue story featuring Count Nefaria and a host of Iron Man villains, like you mentioned: Unicorn, Plantman, Porcupine, etc.

Other than that, you also mentioned the Cobalt Man issue, which was so determined to be an Iron Man story it mentioned "Tony Stark" or "Iron Man" on almost every page.

That's about it in terms of straight-up Iron Man villains, but it was clear from the get-go that Thomas wanted a crack at the greater Marvel Universe so he just shoehorned the X-Men into whatever kind of story he wanted to write.

Other than the Iron Man villains, he also had Puppet Master as a villain (FF), the Super-Adaptoid (Avengers), a mystical demon (Dr. Strange) and a story that attempted to create a "unified field theory" for all of Marvel's subterranean races at the time.

If Jason will forgive me for pimping my blog again, I'm actually doing reviews of the first Thomas run at the moment (the subterranean issue, #34, is up next). You can check out my X-Men related posts at:

http://gentlemenofleisure1.blogspot.com/search/label/X-aminations

Teebore said...

Or, what Jason said.

Sorry :)

Anonymous said...

On the theme of Claremont borrowing from Miller, does anyone else get the feeling that the Reavers may have been inspired by the Miller/Sienkiewicz cyborgs in Elektra: Assassin? Claremont had written cyborgs before (Pierce, the Hellfire mercenaries), but the Reavers seemed were more than just humans with some metal parts, they were aesthetically just as much machines with human parts. Barry Windsor-Smith had made Lady Deathstrike a similarly bizarre creature (was that before or after Elektra: Assassin?) but the Reavers seemed to replicate the aesthetic even more closely.

Nicholas Yankovec said...

I've finaly caught up with these posts! Blimey, they've been a good read, thanks for all the work you've put in Jason.

Acts of Vengeance was yet another poor company crossover, although I remember at the time thinking how Magneto had come out of it quite well, as he was never presented as a villain. Mind you, the choice of main villains was strange anyway, the Wizard and the Kingpin? Seriously?

Am I wrong in thinking he was recruited by Loki as an accident, Loki believing he was still a major villain, because certainly his appearances in the crossover never had him actually engage in any acts of vengeance, except against the Red Skull in the pages of Captain America, which were very good issues.

He also appeared in Spider-Man, to learn if Parker's new powers were a latent mutation.

Byrne's handling was odd, as he seemed to be rewriting the Dark Phoenix saga with the Scarlett Witch, and brought Magneto into the story, who then tried to take Wanda away. Byrne never finished this, but he seemed to be giving Magneto the Sebastian Shaw role, whereas Immortus took the Jason Wyngarde role. Hadn't Byrne also pencilled the issue of New Mutants where Magneto beat Shaw and literally assumed his place?

Just out of interest, where else had Magneto shown up as a villain prior to Acts of Vengeance?

Hmm and didn't Bendis recently take a reformed villain and X-Man, Emma Frost, and stick her in a grouping of mastermind type evil doers, unaware she had reformed? Is this to be another X-Men riff?

Nick

scottmcdarmont said...

Jason,

Oh yeah, I did say that... but, if I remember, my main question was about the costume and whether that was Lee's or Claremont's idea... I think what I meant in the above quote when I said "sees the Carrie Kelley angle" was that he "saw that's what Claremont was going for" and, thus, came up with a costume that would visually resemble Carrie Kelley.

scottmcdarmont said...

Ok, re-reading again, I guess I was saying I could see it being more of a collborative thing like:

Jim: Hey, Chris, are you sort of doing a Dark Knight Returns thing with this Jubilee/Wolverine thing?

Chris: Yeah, sorta.

Jim: Hmmmm... maybe we should dress her up like Robin?

Chris: Yeah, sure... that works.

I also like to imagine them having this conversation with cockney accents...

Teebore said...

@Nicholas Hmm and didn't Bendis recently take a reformed villain and X-Man, Emma Frost, and stick her in a grouping of mastermind type evil doers, unaware she had reformed?

In defense of Bendis (which, I know, could get me chased off the internets by some) from what I've read of Emma's involvement in Osborne's Cabal, he seems fully aware that she's more or less reformed (if not above crossing some lines in the name of the greater good).

Basically, it seems like she's a part of the group to keep tabs on the other villains and to make sure mutants are properly represented in Osborne's new world order. One could quibble with the characterization, I suppose, but it doesn't seem like Bendis is completely ignorant of her reformation.

Then there was a Osborne's Evil Avengers/X-Men crossover that, I think, took her out of that evil group for good, but I haven't gotten around to reading that yet so I could be wrong.

Jason said...

Tee, thanks for the more complete run-down of villains. I guess Iron Man is not necessarily over-represented, what with several Captain America villains showing up as well, and a couple FF guys also.

(P.S., Roy Thomas was actually just following Stan Lee's lead as far as the whole subterranean-culture thing goes. Lee had already established the Mole Man/Tyrannus rivalry in some Hulk stories in Tales to Astonish.)

Anon, I haven't read Elektra: Assassin, but I'm going to go ahead and assume that yes, if there were cyborgs in that, Claremont was probably influenced by them. He was, of course, a huge fan of both Miller and Sienkiewicz.

Nicholas, I'm thrilled to have found another reader! (I'm glad people are still discovering this series so late in the game, and then going back and reading old ones. It does me old heart good!) Unfortunately, I don't have any answers to your questions ... but you seem to have covered Magneto's appearances outside X-Men during this time pretty thoroughly. I really do need to read those Cap issues, I guess ... (I believe I have told David Fiore that I will buy the entire Greunwald Cap run if he ever does an issue-by-issue blog series about it, which he has teased at in the past ...)

Scott, I didn't realize your theory included cockney accents. Now I'm sold! (Although, I should point out, in a Claremont discussion, you really should have typed out the cockney accents phonetically in the dialogue ...)

scottmcdarmont said...

Jim: 'ey, Chris?

Claremont: Wot's that Jimmy?

Jim: This 'ere Jubilee bird... are you sor' of doin' a bit of a tip of the 'ol 'at to The Dark Knight Returns?

Claremont: Blimey! That is exackly wot I wuz goin' for!

Jim: Well, wot if I sor' of dressed 'er up like the Robin from that then?

Claremont: Crikey, Jimmy! That's a bleedin' brilliant idea!

Satisfied?

Jason said...

You're too good to me, Scott!

deepfix said...

"(I believe I have told David Fiore that I will buy the entire Greunwald Cap run if he ever does an issue-by-issue blog series about it, which he has teased at in the past ...)"

If this ever happens let me know. After Claremont, my 70s-80s altar is devoted to Gruenwald.

dschonbe said...

Another late posts, but an amusing anecdote.

In the 90s, I remeber that for the Marvel action figures, the Psylocke and Elektra action figures were identical pieces of plastic with different coats of paint.

-Dan S.

steven kidman said...

I met Geoff Klock so many times at BMCC Parking. He always said hello steve, make a big smile on his face ,out from the Parking place. I never thought that he was that person, how design the Dress of the X-men.