Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Uncanny X-Men #265

[Jason continues to look at every issue of Claremont's initial X-Men run. Doesn't everyone think that when Jason is done he should WRITE the X-Men?]


The question of what exactly went on with Ororo after her seeming death in Uncanny 248 had been on a slow burn for a year by the time Claremont got around to this, the first chapter in a three-parter that serves both to answer all the questions and give the character her memory back. Like the recent Mandarin trilogy, Uncanny #’s 265-267 are neatly self-contained (apart from the four-page prologue in this issue, which seeds a separate plot entirely).

Once again, the hand of Bob Harras is detectable. The new “X-Men Forever” series, which gives hints as to Claremont’s actual intentions back in the early 90s, stars a Storm who is still adolescent and amnesiac, suggesting that the author had plans to stretch out Ororo’s situation much longer. Presumably at this point, Harras had a strict timeline for Claremont getting the team reunited – or nearly so – for them to participate properly in the two (!!) upcoming summer crossovers (“Days of Future Present” and “X-Tinction Agenda”).

The upside of Harras’ hardening control is that it forced Claremont to structure his stories more formally -- something he’s always been capable of, despite his natural inclinations not to do so. Thus, the Storm arc begun here has a strong sense of care and control – the plot is focused and direct, the pacing quite solid, the dramatic beats clean and logical. Not even the shifts in artistic style from one chapter to the next (each issue being drawn by a different artist) manage to disrupt Claremont’s confident flow.

The story is built on the tension of a dual-vectored chase, with Storm on the run from both Nanny and Amahl Farouk (The latter character received a new super-villain alias in the previous issue, with relatively little fanfare: “The Shadow King.”) Duality is a motif throughout this three-parter, with characters often explored in terms of their contrast against another: Young Storm vs. Adult Storm; The Shadow King vs. Nanny; the Orphan Maker vs. Ororo; Val Cooper vs. Dr. Shen. Even the opening prologue – with its cosmic doings that exist entirely apart from the rest of the issue – dovetails tonally, its narration focused on the various similarities between humanity and the alien “P!nder” race. With next issue’s introduction of Gambit, more contrasts and parallels are opened up.

Artistic chores are handled here by Bill Jaaska, whose gently cartoonish style turns out to be a lovely complement to Ororo’s innocent exuberance. The artist’s use of body language is quite impressive, particularly in his humorous portrayals of Nanny and the Oprhan-Maker. An air of insouciant silliness hangs over those characters, making for a refreshing contrast against the melodramatic terror associated with the Shadow King.

Meanwhile, Claremont’s introduction of the King’s “hounds” is a bit mischievous, teasing the notion that the villain is a significant presence in the “Days of Future Past” timeline, possibly responsible for the “Hound” program that assimilated Rachel Summers.

After a shaky few months, Uncanny 265 gives an overall sense of Claremont seeming more comfortable in a position of less creative control, and willing (for the time being, at least) to roll with the editorial punches. As such, this issue is a perfect beginning to the writer’s final year on The Uncanny X-Men – a year characterized by much more straightforward storytelling, which nonetheless stays true to Claremont’s unique and inimitable authorial voice.


Teebore said...

Doesn't everyone think that when Jason is done he should WRITE the X-Men?

Sounds good to me!

That business with the Shadow King's hounds confused the heck out of me when I first read these issues.

I think, maybe, it was because by the time I came to this issue, I knew there was no relation between Shadow King and Days of Future Past (or, at least, any suggestions thereof on the part of Claremont were never followed up on) so any intent on Claremont's part to suggest such a thing was lost on me.

Also, the art did nothing for me at the time. It's probably worth going back and giving it another look now to see if I can appreciate it more.

Jeff said...

From the rumblings I've heard online, I believe Claremont was going to reveal Farouk to be the hidden true power behind the Hellfire Club, which makes the Shadow King name even more appropriate. Magneto hints at this in 274 or 275, but unfortunately Claremont didn't get the opportunity to properly wrap up the story.

Jason said...

"Doesn't everyone think that when Jason is done he should WRITE the X-Men?"

I don't know about that, but I wouldn't mind being the writer on X-Men Forever. :)

Jeff, yeah, I think you're right about the SK stuff. There were other clues seeded around this time: The Shadow King trying to seduce Jean in issue 273 into being his "Shadow Queen" (paralleling the Club's attempt to make her the Black Queen back during the Dark Phoenix days); and an episode of Excalibur set on a parallel earth which had Amahl Farouk as the leader of the Hellfire Club, again trying to seduce Jean Grey in a reprise/alternate-version of the Dark Phoenix Saga.

Tee, back in ... 1999, I think? ... they published an Excalibur mini that had Rachel going back in time, and meeting Amahl Farouk in the 1930s. At one point he reads her mind and learns about her history as a hound, and becomes so taken with the concept that he decides to create Hounds of his own.

Apparently, this mini was actually from a plot that Claremont came up with back in 1990, but it didn't happen for some reason. (It is set during the 1990 Excalibur status quo.) So theoretically this story could've been published concurrently with Uncanny 265 and perhaps explained the bizarre Hound/King connection shown here.

ba said...

It's pretty impressive that the character had been around for almost a decade at that point, without having a super-villain name.

Jason said...

Hm, I suppose that's true. Doesn't beat Lex Luthor's record, but still ... :)