Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Uncanny X-Men #264

[Jason Powell covers every issue of Claremont's X-Men run. It's almost GAMBIT time people. Can you believe it?]

“Hot Pursuit “

This issue is – not counting the typical quota of Claremontian subplots – basically a “done in one,” its plot revolving around an incursion by Genoshan magistrates into the States, to reacquire David Moreau and Jennifer Ransom. (They both defected to America at the end of the original Genoshan arc.) This is the magistrates’ second such attempt, the first having occurred in issue 259. Repelled by an amnesiac, non-metal Colossus originally, they arrive with greater numbers and firepower this time around, requiring a team-up between the Forge/Banshee duo and a couple members of X-Factor.

All of which happens in order to set up the next mutant-title crossover: “X-Tinction Agenda,” which will begin in six months. Claremont also takes the opportunity to clean house: The Colossus/Callisto thread (which climaxed in the previous issue) gets a line drawn under it, making it explicitly clear that Peter is out of circulation, at least for a while.

Meanwhile, the Banshee/Forge thread is abruptly truncated. In Uncanny 255, Claremont set up what looked to be a long-term arc in which Banshee and Forge traveled the country in search of the missing X-Men. As it turns out, they make a complete botch of their quest, failing to follow up on any leads and logging very little travel time before ending up in the ruins of Xavier’s mansion in issue 261. The Morlock two-parter hooks them up with Jean Grey, which in turn leads them to this issue, wherein they are hanging out as guests in X-Factor’s giant ship. At the end of “Hot Pursuit,” Banshee – quite out of the blue – says that he and Forge won’t be doing any other exploring on their own, but “link[ing] up” with X-Factor instead.

This has all the makings of editorial fiat in action. Back when Jim Shooter was editor in chief, he had dictated that the X-Men and X-Factor not meet or crossover during the first year of the latter team’s existence. While some rather artificial means were employed in order to keep in line with this edict, Shooter’s logic was – in retrospect – rather shrewd, allowing the increasing number of mutant titles to each enjoy distinct identities. By 1990, Tom DeFalco was the new EiC, and the pendulum presumably swung in the other direction. Starting with this issue and continuing to the end of Claremont’s run, the various X-characters begin bleeding more and more into each other’s series. Indeed, within two years of Claremont’s departure, the X books will have become entirely amorphous, the differences between them all but dissolved.

While the impetus for this editorial shift surely started out of a desire to strengthen all the different parts of the “X” brand, there is admittedly a narrative and thematic logic as well to having the ties between Marvel’s mutant community be strong. Why shouldn’t they all be spending time with each other?

And yet … one does get the sense of artistic identities being lost in the shuffle. Issue 264 is a perfect first example: Set in X-Factor headquarters and with members of X-Factor as two of its main protagonists, this scarcely feels like an issue of Uncanny. The lack of a distinct artistic identity for the series at this point only compounds the problem (Michael Collins’ pencils here are less than satisfying). Even ever-reliant Tom Orzechowski and Glynis Oliver are absent – instead, “Hot Pursuit” boasts some decidedly sloppy lettering by Clem Robins and murkily dubious colors from Nelson Yomtov.

As for Claremont, even his undeniably unique authorial voice seems in danger here of getting lost in all the editorial deck-shuffling. He attempts to paste over all the chaos through his use of Forge, who narrates the comic in first-person for the second issue in a row – the only character besides Wolverine to do so during the Claremont years. But whereas last issue’s Forge story was redemptive, this time his running monologue is bolted to an impersonal and shapeless narrative, which it neither enhances nor particularly enlightens.

With its unceremonious truncation of plot threads, amorphous story, ugly lettering, uninspired pencils, forgettable colors – and of course its focus on characters from a different series altogether – this is the least distinctive issue of Claremont’s entire X-Men run.


The Inkwell Bookstore said...

Thanks to Marvel's uneven release schedule, this is the last review of yours that I'll be able to read until that as-yet-undecided date when Essential X-Men volume 10 is released.
(That said, as soon as I do get it, I'll be spending quite a lot of time here playing catch up!)

Jason said...

This might help, Inky ...


Dave Mullen said...

I was never much of a fan of X-Factor as a book so this issue didn't do anything for me.
To be honest i though all those original X-Men were boring at the time, I had time for Beast as he was a favorite Avenger and yet Cyclops was a shadow of the dynamic leader i was reading in Classic X-Men....
In hindsight 'uncanny' had passed its prime for me by this time as as you say it had lost it's identity and there was little left to keep a reader here, you can see the genesis of the X-Universes oversaturation taking root here as the once compact line up in Uncanny was petty much gone for good now. After the Siege Perilous rotating casts became the norm and one book was no longer deemed enough.

The Inkwell Bookstore said...

Goodbye, cruel world. I'm off to a better place -- htmlcomics.com!

Teebore said...

his is the least distinctive issue of Claremont’s entire X-Men run.

No kidding. I had the hardest time remembering this issue. I recalled the two part Forge/Morlock, then the business with Kid Storm and Gambit in the next couple issues, but not this one.

making it explicitly clear that Peter is out of circulation, at least for a while.

In hindsight, it seems odd that Colossus wasn't a part of "X-Tinction Agenda", considering he's managed to show up in all the over major x-overs, but Claremont was determined to keep him out of the book.

Another one of those little details I'd forgotten about/glossed over.

ba said...

This was indeed an incredibly forgettable issue, though it did introduce Charlotte Jones, who became Archangel's girlfriend for while a while.

Also, I believe Colossus was brought back against Claremont's will, correct? He's brought back during the shadow king issues, and I have no memory of how they ever explain how or why he was brought back, completely out of the blue.

Jason said...

Oh, is this the issue that introduces Charlotte? I actually always assumed she had already appeared in X-Factor. Whoops!

Correct about Colossus being brought back against Claremont's will. I mentioned this in an earlier blog entry, I think.

Teebore said...

I think Charlotte Jones first appeared in the first issue of X-Factor after they got back from space in the "Judgment War" storyline, #51 or #52.

This is almost certainly her first appearance in Uncanny though.

Jason said...

Ah good, so I was right about something for once. :)

Peter Farago said...

I think that Cyclops - obviously Claremont's favorite of the original five - is extraordinarily conspicuous by his absence in this issue. My pet theory is that in order for Cyclops's editorially mandated actions circa X-Men 201 / X-Factor 1 to make any sense, Claremont had to turn Cyclops into a genuinely unlikeable person - after which point, he simply no longer enjoyed writing the character. I wonder if we couldn't manage to fit in a capsule review of X-Factor 65-68, though - it would be interesting to compare Claremont's own attempt to salvage Scott Summers with Whedon's more successful effort.

The 260s see Claremont leaning pretty heavily on X-Factor. In addition to this issue, we have the Jean Grey team-up in 262-263 with a villain, Masque, who had mainly been built up in Simonson's Power Pack and X-Factor comics, and next issue we'll see Storm square off against Nanny and Orphan Maker - more X-Factor villains. Simonson has, up to this point, sort of made a career of picking up fallow Claremont characters, but this is the first time Claremont has returned the favor in earnest.

On top of this, you've already noted the Frank Miller Dark Knight/Daredevil pastiche running through the Wolverine/Psylocke/Jubilee issues, and the Dazzler mashup with Jim Shooter's material in 260. Claremont is really spinning his wheels here, trying to find traction by borrowing other people's stories. Back in the early 200s, he was great at this - he always found intriguing and bizarre ways to integrate the X-Men with the broader Marvel Universe - but this time it's just not working. At the same time, Clareont's role as the demiurge of the X-universe is in steep decline. Symptom or cause?

P.S. Can anyone tell me what's going on with Jenny Ransome? Sometimes she seems to have a normal intelligence level; other times she seems to use typical mutate speech patterns. How thoroughly did the Genoshans actually alter her?

Jason said...


A review of X-Factor 65-68 is in the queue. "We" have already written it. It's just one blog entry covering all four issues, but it is fairly lengthy.

There are no comparisons to Whedon in it, though. Didn't bother to read Whedon's Scott-Summers-salvage efforts. As far as I'm concerned, Claremont did the job as well as anyone could. (To be honest, though I name-checked Whedon a lot in earlier entries, back when his run was still fairly recent, it feels pretty irrelevant to me now.)

As for Claremont using Louise Simonson's characters, he was pals with her from the start and I'd argue his earnest use of her stuff began as early as the 240s: the resurrected Mastermold in Uncanny 246-247; Nanny and the Orphan Maker in Uncanny 248 ... I'm assuming Nastirh from "Inferno" was hers, as he first appeared in her "X-Terminators" ...

(And this is not even including earlier, with Claremont's multiple uses of Power Pack in X-Men and New Mutants ...)

As noted, I think the Dazzler material in issue 260 works great, and many of the issues featuring the Wolverine/Psylocke/Jubiee triad are favorites for me as well. The use of L. Simonson's stuff almost never works as well for me, personally, because I mostly can't stand her writing, and I think maybe it rubs off on her characters a bit.

In summary, Claremont rules; Simonson and Whedon drool.

Jason said...

Also, what makes it obvious that Cyclops is Claremont's favorite of the original five?

I would have said it was obviously Jean.

Peter Farago said...

Sorry about the "we", Jason - I know that you've put a tremendous amount of effort into curating these issues and picking out the interesting details. I sort of feel like this blog series has been a class, with you as the lecturer and the commenters as your students - it's an experience I've enjoyed greatly, and it wasn't my intention to diminish your role.

I'm not going to try to argue a case for 2000s X-Men, which I find mostly tedious, but Whedon's Scott Summers revamp seems to be among the rare pieces of continuity to have "stuck", which I think makes it worth commenting on.

I would be inclined to distinguish Claremont's use of Simonson's characters in the 240s, when he basically used them as monsters-of-the-week with more interesting character drama taking up the foreground, from the 260s, where they are more front-and-center. But maybe it's just me. In any case, agreed on Simonson's childish style "sticking" to her characters - I don't typically find them welcome additions to the canon.

Finally, regarding Cyclops: maybe "favorite" is the wrong word. What I should have said was that Cyclops is Claremont's point-of-view character in the Cockrum I and Byrne eras. When Cyclops is talking about the difficulties of bringing together a team of new superheroes, that's Claremont talking about the difficulties of writing them - Cyclops-as-leader corresponds to Claremont-as-author. Cyclops also receives Claremont's sexual submissiveness and his twin obsessions with dominant women and fixed-wing aircraft. The author put a lot of himself into that character, and losing him to an editorial dictate must have been pretty painful.

Jason said...

Thank you for the reply, Peter. I did realize after posting -- and I even sent a message to Geoff right afterward about this -- that I was coming off as a bit snippy. What can I say -- sometimes I reply to these things while I'm at my boring day job, and my annoyed-ness at my job bleeds over. :) So I did get hit wrong by your use of "we" but by the same token I hate to diminish all the commentators who have been responding over these many months, and enriching my appreciation of Claremont.

Case-in-point: Your observation of how much of himself Claremont put into Cyclops. Of course, the aircraft thing -- not just Scott's own interest in them, but that said interest came from one of Scott's parents ... Combined with the dominant-woman stuff ... Yes. Brilliant. I feel the fool for missing it.

When we get to the entry on X-Factor 65-68, I would love to hear your comparisons to the Whedon thing. There are certainly some comparisons to me ... some of the story beats are quite similar, enough to make me wonder how familiar Whedon was with those issues when he wrote his. (Granted, I base this on reading synopses and Geoff's reviews, not the issues themselves, so my view may be lopsided.) I should concede as well that in terms of structure, Whedon's version probably hangs together much better than the X-Factor story (plotted by Lee and Portacio and scripted by Claremont, which I think alone accounts for some of the incongruous bits). I was probably overly pissy about Whedon too in my previous comment, 'cause my friend is making me watch Firefly right now and it is reminding me forcefully of the stuff I personally don't like about his work (even though I know he's got a lot of good qualities too).

You're probably right about the distinction between the 240s and the 260s. Still, I do find it striking whenever I re-read the run when suddenly after "Inferno," Simonson villains are showing up every other month. Her stuff is just ... well, I shouldn't pick on her, I guess. She seems like an incredibly sweet lady in interviews, who probably deserves not an ounce of scorn.

Anyhoo, sorry again about getting testy in my previous reply, Peter, and a sincere thanks for continuing to provide insights into this material.

Anonymous said...

Say what you want about Louise Simonson, she actually wrote comics that could be read and enjoyed by children. A far cry from the horrorshow that modern mainstream comics have become under the pens of writers like Geoff Johns and Brian Bendis.

Peter Farago said...

Hey, I love Simonson's Power Pack. It's when she uses the same style and mannerisms in X-Factor that she loses me. And I have some personal issues with how she resolved the Illyana storyline in New Mutants.

But Power Pack was the perfect comic for her, and when she was on, it was great. All the angst, melodrama and power fantasies my little preadolescent mind could ever want, wrapped up in some genuinely exciting action storylines.

Jason said...

"Hey, I love Simonson's Power Pack. It's when she uses the same style and mannerisms in X-Factor that she loses me. "

Yeah, that's exactly my beef as well. It seemed to get worse toward the end of her X-Factor run ... possibly because she started working again with Jon Bogdanove (sp?), the same guy who illustrated Power Pack. When she literally had Scott and Jean acting like six-year-olds ("Cut it out! I said -- cut it OUT!") without a trace of irony, I was ready to check out.

dschonbe said...

"Thanks to Marvel's uneven release schedule, this is the last review of yours that I'll be able to read until that as-yet-undecided date when Essential X-Men volume 10 is released.
(That said, as soon as I do get it, I'll be spending quite a lot of time here playing catch up!)

I read somewhere on some collected editions blog that Marvel is using a 2 year cycle for the Essentials. Volume 8 came out in 2007, Volume 9 in 2009 (similar patterns for the Spide-Man and X-Factor books are there). We should expect Essential X-men Volume 10 sometime in early 2011, I think.

-Dan S.

Harry said...

Ah, Nel Yomtov, the man who was much-maligned for some very sloppy colouring in many issues of the US-originated Transformers series.