Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Uncanny X-Men #268

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men run. Jason Powell will soon be visiting New York City -- not for anything X-Men related, but because his musical as been accepted to the Fringe Festival here, the same Fringe festival that featured our own Mitch Montgomery's Triumph of the Underdog. So the moral of the story is if you want to put on a piece of critically acclaimed New York Theatre, writing blogs for me is the first step.]

“Madripoor Knights“

And we cut back to the Wolverine/Psylocke/Jubilee faction, seven issues after their previous appearance in the series. (This was, again, presumably to hollow out a chronological gap into which the latest batch of Madripoor-based Wolverine solo adventures could be dropped.) At a surprisingly late stage in the game, Claremont suddenly shows us, via flashback, a large and heretofore unknown section of Logan’s storied past. In what amounts to a massive ret-con, we learn that not only has Wolverine been an adversary of the Hand for 50 years (even though he didn’t know who they were when he met them in the 1982 “Wolverine” miniseries), but also – during one eventful adventure in 1941 – he met Captain America, the Black Widow and Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker.

Baron Strucker had already been linked to the X-Men in the brilliant Uncanny X-Men 161, which revealed that Xavier and Magneto once teamed up against him. Three years later, Claremont created Fenris, a pair of blonde, beautiful mutant twins descended from the Baron. The World War II flashback in Uncanny 268 doesn’t have any connection with the previously established Magneto/Xavier history, though it does allow Claremont to re-establish Andrea and Andreas Strucker as major X-villains in the present day. (Claremont will quit before doing anything significant with them.)

As part of Claremont’s ongoing Frank Miller riff, he has already created a Carrie Kelly stand-in and an Elektra stand-in. Avoiding foolish consistency, Claremont doesn’t bother with an avatar for Miller’s version of the Black Widow – he just brings in the real one, establishing her as yet another in Logan’s apparently long line of young female protégés. (Again, he uses Jubilee to voice likely reader reaction before we can do so ourselves -- thus her rhetorical question, “Is it like my imagination … or is every old buddy Wolvie’s got in the whole world … some incredibly fabulously gorgeous BABE?!!”) Claremont may also have been influenced by a recent issue of “What If” by future Image founders Jim Valentino and Rob Liefeld, depicting Wolverine and Black Widow working together as SHIELD agents.

(As a side-note, it is odd that Nick Fury makes no appearance here, in any capacity, despite his presence as a phantom in issues 252, 257, 258 and 261. It’s strange that he and the Carol Danvers ghost simply disappeared – was this another thread quashed by Bob Harras in order to keep Wolverine both sane and healthy for all his many solo and guest appearances?)

Captain America’s inclusion in “Madripoor Knights” seems less intuitive than that of the other guest stars. This may have been Claremont simply getting a head start on 1991, when Marvel would celebrate the character’s 50th anniversary. Or perhaps Claremont simply had the urge to play with an iconic hero to make the story that much more like 1989’s “The Last Crusade,” a movie he’s clearly channeling here. (Wolverine even paraphrases good old “Indy” on Page 15.)

Indeed, the flashback portions of Uncanny 268 make for a rollicking good time, containing the same sense of grand, high-flying cinematic adventure associated with the Indiana Jones series. It’s fast-paced and very fun, condensing a feature film’s worth of witty dialogue, plots twists and action sequences into less than 20 pages. The issue also contains one of Claremont’s all-time funniest character bits, when Captain America suggests that he and Wolverine become permanent partners, and Logan replies, “[I] don’t need a sidekick.”

The material set in the present is less convincing, and – as part of the ongoing X-Men soap opera – far less complete, but its integration with the 1941 scenes is nonetheless superbly paced and makes for a fine counterpoint.

In contrast to the chaos of recent months -- and after a warm-up in the previous issue – “Madripoor Knights” sees a rejuvenated creative team back on top form. Orzechowski and Oliver are both present and at peak performance, while the now-regular art team of Jim Lee and Scott Williams deliver a tour de force. Claremont says in “Comics Creators on X-Men” that when he first saw the artwork for Uncanny 268, he “thought [he’d] died and gone to heaven.” High praise, entirely warranted. A magnificent issue.

20 comments:

Matthew J. Brady said...

Congratulations, Jason! I wish I was in New York to come see the play.

neilshyminsky said...

Ditto on the congratulations for Jason!

Arthur said...

Congrats Jason! Will you be directing your masterpiece? Can I pre-order the OST yet? :)

I found the ghosty Danvers and Fury more annoying than not, so I was glad to see them gone.

My favorite Jubilee scene is in this issue.

Panel 1: An annoyed Jubilee watches BW and Psylocke, with their fabulous figures in skin-tight costumes, as they're discussing things.

Panel 2: Jubilee looks down her own shirt.

Panel 3: Jubilee sits, chin in her hands, looking even more annoyed.

Art

scottmcdarmont said...

Congratulations on the play!

Maybe I should get to work on my own play: `Obi-Wan, where art thou?'

Refresh my memory as I do not have this issue sitting right in front of me as I have had the previous ones... but, as part of Claremont's channeling of Indiana Jones, doesn't 1941 Logan wear a straight up Indiana Jones outfit?

I do remember this issue being lots of fun and the art being absolutely amazing.

BTW. My Catchpa? Joyeliss... weird...

Jason said...

That is a funny moment, yeah. Of course, no gal in comics stays that slim forever ...

http://bullyscomics.blogspot.com/2010/04/extreme-makeover-jubilation-lee.html

"Skinny little Jubilation Lee. She grew up. She filled out."

Thanks for the congrats, guys!

Jason said...

Whoops, Scott, your comment came while I was writing mine. (The Jubilee link is in response to Art, of course.)

Yeah, the outfit is pretty close to Indiana Jones's. I don't know if it's an exact replica, not being an Indy expert.

Here's what Wolverine wore in that issue, though:

http://fc05.deviantart.net/fs21/f/2007/235/5/7/Uncanny_X_men_268_page_4_by_JPRart.jpg

Jeremy said...

This was an odd year or so of X-men for me. I LOVE the Outback era, but afterwards, I only cared for the Wolverine/Psylocke/Jubilee bits. They were the most fun, and I enjoy their team dynamic.

Plus, their issues have ninjas AND nazis. You can't ask for much more.

Also, hot DAMN that Jim Lee is good, eh? I was worried about artists being in Silvestri's shadow, but he more than stepped up to the task.

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite all-time Wolverine action scenes is in this issue, during one of the flashbacks.

The bad guys are attempting to run him over with a car.

"Sir, someone's in the road!"
"Run the fool over!"

Wolverine proceeds to do a flying jump kick THROUGH the windshield of the car, demolishing everybody inside. Pretty rockin' awesome for pre-Adamantium Logan!

Jeremy said...

^Yeah, Wolverine jump kicks a Nazi AND a ninja in the same issue. AMAZING.

So Jason, how are you gonna handle X-Tinction Agenda? Personally, I'd just read the Claremont issues. The drop-off in quality from Claremont/Lee to the other issues is embarrassingly bad.

Jason said...

Yep, just the Claremont issues. Same as I did with Massacre, Fall of the Mutants and Inferno.

Menshevik said...

Let me too chime in with congratulations!

As for the issue at hand, at that point they had sure established Logan's rep as a ladies' man, hadn't they? Which, I just realized, is probably an important reason why I for one remain unconvinced that the addition of Gambit filled a gaping void in the X-Men's team dynamic. BTW, the Jubester's comment about Wolverine's old buddies was mirrored a little later in Chris Claremont's Star Trek graphic novel "Debt of Honor" (1992), where on first laying eyes on a deucedly attractive Romulan captain (and old lover of Captain Kirk) Bones muses: "Ah griped once that all my old friends look like doctors, while Jim's look--well, a lot like this."

If I remember correctly, UXM #268 was an issue that I loved when it came out, I had been a bit dissappointed in the preceding ones, but now it looked as if things were getting better (and indeed they did right away, with Rogue's return).

Dave Mullen said...

The strongest memory i have apart from the art is the use of Captain America. This is the first time in Claremonts run (apart from the Kulan Gath arc) that he puts the X-Men squarely in the wider Marvel Universe, with a high profile non X-men character appearing, and it jarred somewhat because of that....
Claremont had kept the book firmly in its own niche.

Another point of interest is in the filling out of Logans earlier years, I can't remember the timing but this might be after the Alpha Flight stuff where he is shown to be old friends with Puck?
These days it is just a matter of fact (and lazy editorial) that Wolverine had a very active life before the x-men and had met just about everyone worth a mention in the MU (see Wolverine:Origins) but back here in the Claremont era it was still a novel idea. I think Wolverine's own book that Claremont had also set up before this time had a lot to answer for as well but here in #268 you get Wolverine right slap bang in the dawn of the MU with not only Captain America but the origins of the Black Widow. Everything we accept about Wolverines (mis)use today kind of starts here with the arrival of the Claremont /Lee partnership....

I confess to not noting any Indiana Jones pastiches at the time but on reflection it's embarrassingly obvious! What I do like about the issue, thanks to the art, is that it feels like the book is finally starting to go somewhere. With highly dynamic art like this it was very obvious the book was going to become ever more action orientated, in fact the style Lee has is at the polar opposite of Claremonts standard pacing in my opinion and as a result the leisurely pace of the last year could never have endured with energetic and imaginitive art like this.

As a last footnote - What struck me looking back is how vulnerable Wolverine was relatively speaking. Yes he was tough and able but whan shot and thought dead it clearly took quite a while for him to fully recover, I liked that edge of vulnerability though it does kind of contradict the idea his healing factor was always uber powerful without the adamantium slowing it.....

Menshevik said...

@ Dave -
Your first point is not strictly true, though, quite some time before UXM #268 Claremont had written the Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men mini-series, used Power Pack (sometimes part of the extended FF family) as guest stars on a couple of occasions, and tied in the X-books with Thor's world in the X-Men/Alpha-Flight two-parter, New Mutants Special #1 and UXM Annual #9. He also had used Captain America prominently in a New Mutants story during Secret War II, where Magneto and the youngsters got into a fight with the Avengers due to the machinations of the White Queen (the issue had a pretty Barry Windsor Smith cover).

Teebore said...

Indeed, congrats!

The Carol/Nick Fury ghosts do stick out as a seemingly random element that just got forgotten, don't they?

This is another issue Claremont included in his Visionaries book isn't it? He clearly holds it in high regard, with good cause.

Jason said...

Mensh,

I dunno, Wolverine's deal always seems to be that he was a mentor-figure to all these ladies, and the sexual element -- if there was one -- was secondary. More often he is a father figure.

And thanks for the Debt of Honor quote! That made me smile. There is a very brief blog-entry about that graphic novel in the queue for when I wrap up the X-Men run.

Dave,
If the Puck stuff you mention is the Ernest Hemingway material in the solo title, then yes, that was at least a good year AFTER X-Men 268. So yeah, you're right, this does seem to be the start of a new take on Wolverine that links him retroactively to just about *everybody*.

Menshevik said...

Jason -
Well, I was thinking that Wolvie had this unfulfilled thing with Jean (not much mentoring there), that "friends with benefits" relationship you mentioned to in the context of that annual, plus of course his simultaneous relationships with Mariko and Yukio all before Gambit made his first appearance.
Gambit, while Claremont wrote him, only flirted a little with women in which there was little chance of anything coming of it - Storm-regressed-to-childhood, clearly-taken Jean, and untouchable Rogue. (Kurt did that kind of thing on the side while he still was in a happy relationship with Amanda). And Claremont's successors soon stuck Gambit in a pretty much exclusive relationship with Rogue with his wife thrown in for extra angst.

Jason said...

Menshevik,

Yeah, I guess that's all true. Maybe I'm thinking more in terms of tone -- Wolverine's various "loves" are almost always very angsty, whereas Gambit seems to have the more dashing/flirty thing. Gambit seems to have more fun with his womanizing -- Logan is kinda deadly serious about it. (Notwithstanding the early bits with him tearing Jean's dress, which I think was out-of-character with what Claremont established with the character later.)

You're right that Nightcrawler did the same flirty thing, but in his case the lothario aspect was complicated by the mutated-appearance aspect of his character.

None of which is to argue that your interpretation is wrong. Just how I have come to view things.

Gary said...

Jason, congratulations! I hope your work is well-received. Perhaps you can earn a reputation as the nicest person in musical theatre to accompany your internet awards for the same.

I wanted to point out that when Wolverine tore off Jean's dress, it was well before he met Mariko. The X-men jaunt around the world really served to grow Wolverine's character - first in the Savage Land, then Japan. I really think that meeting Mariko in particular was a major agent of the change in Wolverine's character to what would be well established by the mid-80s. If there are Claremont-penned flashbacks during this initial run that do not jibe with that, I do not know of them. But Wolverine's attitude towards women and his realtionships with them could easily be attributed to character development over the course of the run.

wwk5d said...

Ah, poor Jubliee. She grew up way to fast.

Aaron Forever said...

you know, it's a real shame that the Claremont/Lee/Harras triumvirate turned into such a mess, because it was really a great synthesis. Claremont was still quite capable of telling great stories, Lee's art was a breath of fresh and remembering when it came along, it's hard to downplay just how beautiful and powerful it was. and while so much of went wrong with the X-Men in particular, and later Marvel in general can be laid at the feet of Bob Harras, he was a strong editor able to pull the best out of his talent by reigning them in. at least at that time.

considering how it all went down, I wish they'd been able to find a synthesis between the 3 of them. as it is, Lee was the upstart artist who thought he should be plotting the book, Harras was an editor increasingly exerting a vice grip on the plotting and too eager to give into Lee for the short-term success, and Claremont was the old warhorse who at this point pretty much "owned" the X-Men in his mind and didn't think they could go on without him writing the book. they were all wrong.

it all turned out so badly in the end. I can understand Claremont quitting. But I wish he'd held on. When Lee and the other guys left, he could have easily said to Harras "SEE! SEE! YOU GAVE THEM TOO MUCH POWER!" and clearly those guys aren't great shakes at coming up with engaging stories. still aren't. of course there'd have been no living with Claremont after that. and he's not really proven himself again outside of his initial 17 year run on the X-Men. (but then how many people ARE at the top of their game for 17 years in any industry). and we don't really need to recap how Harras' tendency to plot by editorial mandate fared in the decade to come.

but hey, that year or so when they were all working in tandem was a really great time to be an X-Men reader. too bad all their worst tendencies (namely ego) drove them, the X-books, and comics altogether, off a cliff in 1991/1992.