Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Uncanny X-Men #259

[Jason Powell continues to look at every issue of Claremont's X-Men run. This one is short, and he worries this will look like his is phoning it in, but I think he is focused, smart, and can usefully rely on all the writing he has in the can -- there is no reason for him to keep making the same points. Especially when the new point he has here is such good one.]

“Dream a Little Dream”

While Claremont’s messing around with Storm’s age and Psylocke’s ethnicity seems like change just for the sake of it, his concluding narrative turns for Colossus and Dazzler are beautifully conceived. Throughout the Outback era, these were the two characters who – within in the world of the story – were never fully at ease with the path on which they found themselves. Peter was raised to be a farmer, and had a passion for art. Alison was groomed to enter law school, but pursued her passion for music. Both originally set to follow in their parents’ footsteps, both with an artistic bent, they nonetheless became “superheroes” – one out of a sense of duty; the other, desperation.

These parallels had existed all along, but only in “Dream a Little Dream” does Claremont juxtapose the two characters so deliberately. They both emerge from the Seige Perilous in Uncanny 259, in scenarios that allow them to pursue their respective passions. Peter becomes a painter; and Dazzler, a movie star. And while each of them will become involved in action-story tropes over the next couple of issues, there is a sense that the greater burdens associated with their X-affiliations have been lifted.

It’s not hard to see where Claremont’s mind was at this time. He has noted in several places that the key his writing the X-Men for so long was to think of them as real people. (In Patrick Meaney’s interview with Claremont and Ann Nocenti, she confirms that to think of the X-Men as real people was the only way to stay sane while creating the comic book.) For Claremont, Peter’s talent and Alison’s ambition were crucial, humanizing aspects of those characters. Yet the author was now regularly butting heads with an editorial sensibility concerned with the financial bottom line – which, for a superhero comic, means more emphasis on fights and tights (the stuff that sells to teenage boys), and less on characterization.

That conflict must have weighed heavily on Claremont’s mind at this time, and it’s easy to see why the two artistic X-Men receive such kind and empathetic treatment at this point (quite in contrast to what Logan and Betsy endured in the previous few months).

As the most artistic of any character in the X-canon, Peter Rasputin earns the grand prize from the Seige Perilous’ karmic wheel. Within six months, Colossus will have been given a deliberate, explicit, storybook happy-ending as a successful, much celebrated artist, romantically paired with literally the most beautiful woman in the world.

And when Claremont is forced to destroy all of that by bringing Colossus back in Uncanny 279 (as the puppet of a manipulative villain, not insignificantly), it will prove such a painful betrayal that he will quit rather than finish scripting the issue.

8 comments:

Gary said...

I remember hearing that Claremont wrote out Colossus because he didn't like the character, but the interpretation here fits better with what I got out of my later readings of the Colossus story: he's getting a happy ending. The Colossus story? Is over.

And look at what's going to happen when Colossus comes back: Professor Xavier's lament as he rips away the Peter Nicolas facade, bringing back Piotr Nikolievitch, his apology, now clearly not from the Professor, but from the writer. Both of them having their hands forced by manipulative villains into taking away Peter's happy ending. I never saw that before. And even if Fabian Nicieza finished the book, it's pretty clear he picked up on what Claremont had going on there. Wow.

See, this is why this blog is the one good thing about Tuesdays.

scottmcdarmont said...

Jason,

Happy Belated birthday!

I forgot to send you greetings yesterday.

Evan said...

Around this time, wasn't Simonson using Colossus as Peter Nicolas for the backdrop for some stories in the X-factor book?

When Wolverine and Jubilee reunited with Psylocke, while Banshee and Forge searched for x-men from their now corrupted Muir Island base, it really felt like the inevitable story would be the gradual reuniting of all the characters. As a reader, I certainly felt this pressure to get this arc done with to see where we stood at the end. In context, I understand Claremont's frustration with bringing back Colossus, but thanks to Simonson's stories that taunted the reader about Colossus getting his memory back, his final return seemed more like a relief to me than it was tragic.

I have such sympathy for Claremont during this period, where it really felt like he had lost control of his choices. It wasn't long ago that he could more or less change the X-men's roster whenever he felt the need to. Do you think this more conservative character mentality that he was forced into had anything to do with the recent success of the Marvel Trading Card line? I think the first set or two were around the time of this storyline. Those cards really idealized the stability of the marvel heroes and villains as a franchise.

Jason said...

Gary, thanks! I'm incredibly pleased that you consider this a highlight of your Tuesday!

Scott, thank ye kindly!

Evan, wow, thanks for pointing me towards X-Factor. Just did a little research, and I see that X-Factor 54 features Peter Nicholas, and is also sets up Jean Grey's upcoming appearances in issues 261-264 of Uncanny.

Also, X-Factor 54 is drawn by ... Marc Silvestri! Holy crap!

Teebore said...

Also, X-Factor 54 is drawn by ... Marc Silvestri! Holy crap!

I think he might have shown up a couple times 'round about that time (Silvestri). That was a period in which X-Factor didn't seem to have much in the way of a regular penciller, before Whilce Poratcio came abroad.

Like Evan, I remember reading these issues and feeling impatient for the inevitable "coming together" of the team, so Colossus' return felt more inevitable than tragic to me, as well.

Looking back now, and with the help of your excellent analysis, you can definitely see Claremont desperately straining against the will of an increasingly commercially-conscious editor from now until the proper reformation of the team in X-Men #1 (which, of course, was Claremont's last hurrah).

It creates an interesting juxtaposition between the text and subtext of X-Men #1. On the surface, that issue is a celebration of the X-Men reforming as a proper super hero team for the first time in years. But the subtext that this issue and others brings to it makes X-Men #1 seem, at the same time, something like a funeral for the kind of character-driven, "anything goes" storytelling in which Claremont excelled, and as such, a funeral for Claremont's run on the book (which, of course, it becomes).

But I suppose that's more X-Men #1 business than Uncanny #259 business.

I also echo Evan's curiosity over the role the burgeoning Marvel Trading Cards might have played in editorials desire to return things to a more traditional status quo (those card are actually what got me into comics: baseball cards led to comic cards led to comics proper).

Not long after this, it certainly seems like the success of the X-Men animated series locked the characters' looks into the Jim Lee designs at least until Morrison came along and blew that all away in favor of a look that played more to the movie's sensibilities.

Dave M said...

X-men 259 is certainly a great talking point concerning the uniqueness of Claremonts X-Men formula, the 'no fights and tights' ethic is a good way to label what makes (or rather made) the X-Men so different and unique and it was something you only think about in hindsight now.
I first found the book with #181 and while there were costumes present they were not uniorms and for the likes of Storm, Rogue or latterly Rachel were more something off the peg.
This wasn't a conventional superhero team and i guess while 'conventional' superheroics would become more subverted as the 80s wore on it was the X-men and Claremont that who were the precursors to all that deconstruction that was to come... I do think there's a real truth that the x-men lost something important when the 90s dawned and the bright neon tights became mandatory.

I think the arc that includes Uncanny #259 was creatively risky stuff as basically it was now a non existant team and nothing actually holding it all together, that bothered me at the time but i do remember still enjoying the narrative to it. The way Collosus is basically written out with the ultimate happy ending comes across as very final, how can he be turned back from this you think... and really I wish he wasn't. But the politics and method going on in the background to it always make you wonder as to what Claremonts motives were and why exactly editorial tolerated it, this was extrenely risky storytelling for any book!

Anonymous said...

Sadly, after this Dazzler doesn't return to the X-Men until...2009 or so? That's a lonnnnng absence. Longshot never came back to the X-Men, or any X-title for that matter, as a full-time character until recently in X-Factor. I get why Longshot didn't make it back in time for the big X-Men #1 (too similar to fan-favorite badboy character Gambit), but what about Dazz? She had her own comic at one point, guest-starred all over the place, and was in Uncanny for, what, three or four years? What did the 1990s powers-that-were have against her? Not enough guns and pouches? Past not vague and mysterious enough? No archenemy with ill-defined powers and a name like "Gordon Montague"?

neilshyminsky said...

Anon: Dazzler and Longshot reappeared at the end of Jim Lee's run on X-Men, when the team went to Mojoworld. And then they disappeared entirely for years.