Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Uncanny 273

[Jason Powell continues to look at every issue of Claremont's X-Men initial run. Do you SEE how close he is to the END. Crazy. This one is particularly well observed.]

“Too Many Mutants”


“Whose House Is This, Anyway?”

The stars of the three core mutant titles – Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants and X-Factor – all come together in one headquarters for this issue. Thanks to “X-Tinction Agenda,” two of Claremont’s long-running concepts – the “death of the X-Men” hoax from 1987 and the separated-team conceit begun in 1989 -- have come to a decisive end. Presumably neither of these threads has ended quite how Claremont intended, as the editorial dictates of Bob Harras and Tom DeFalco are overriding Claremont’s vision more and more. Meanwhile, the young artists of what would soon be known as the “Image generation” are exerting a greater influence on the future direction of the franchise than any artist since John Byrne. It is, in fact, this tension that informs the central conflict of Uncanny X-Men #273.

Albeit broken up by digressions featuring various other members of this issue’s giant cast, the longest and most key sequence here is the debate amongst the team leaders/elders, Storm, Cyclops, Jean Grey and Cable. It is the latter (not yet revealed to be the son of Scott and Jean) who creates the dramatic tension here, both his militant attitude in-story and his status as the representative of the new generation of X-creators. (While Jim Lee was starting to co-plot Uncanny X-Men, Cable creator Rob Liefeld was becoming the dominant creative force on New Mutants, beginning to overshadow longtime scripter Louise Simonson.)

“It is Cable – and the challenge he poses,” Storm tells Cyclops and Jean, “that we must deal with.” Claremont is once again taking his own concerns as a creative artist, and mingling them with those of his own characters. Lee and Liefeld (and new X-Factor artist Whilce Portacio) are a threat to the old guard (Claremont and Simonson)’s creative autonomy. And while Cable’s attitude as expressed in this issue is not entirely dissimilar to the X-Men’s own post-“Massacre” agenda from a few years ago (basically a first-strike philosophy) it is the changing editorial attitude that truly concerns Claremont. What he sees coming is an action-driven franchise that puts commercialism at the top of the priority list and characterization somewhere quite a bit lower. As was pointed out in a comments section to an earlier blog entry, the 90s saw Marvel becoming more and more concerned with codifying and consolidating their characters, the better to market them on trading cards and other collectibles. This was in direct contrast to Claremont’s creative vision, which was to keep the “X” concept mutable.

Claremont knows what’s coming, however, and – in an achingly reflective bit of writing – he explicitly acknowledges that this is the end of his era. “Times have changed since Charles Xavier founded this school and created the X-Men,” says Storm. “Changed even since he brought in myself and my companions to be the team’s second generation. Now there is a third, and we must answer, my friends – are we fit caretakers any longer, for Xavier’s school and his dream? Or has the time come to turn that role over to others … ?” In this brief but moving monologue, the author first casts an eye backwards to the very start of his run on the title (beginning, as it did, with the moment that the Silver Age X-Men quit the team to make way for Storm et al), and then bids that same run a reluctant but courageous farewell. It is as if we are seeing, right there on the page, the exact moment of Claremont’s decision to leave the series.

Meanwhile, the choice – whosever it was – to make this an artistic “jam” issue, with eight different pencillers each contributing only a few pages each, adds to the story’s reflective tone – particularly with the inclusion of “classic” artists like John Byrne and Michael Golden alongside the more recent artists like Rick Leonardi and Marc Silvestri. The future is represented too, by Whilce Portacio and Jim Lee. The issue becomes a view of Claremont’s run in miniature: A multitude of characters drawn by several different artists in a variety of styles, but all tied together by a crucial single authorial voice.

Both visually and textually then, Uncanny X-Men 273 stands in Claremont’s X-canon as the issue with the largest and longest narrative scope, looking back to the start of his incredible 16-year run, acknowledging how far things have come since then, and finally pointing the way toward a future that no longer includes him.


dschonbe said...

I'm finally caught up! The reason this is relevant is that the way I was able to read this issue was by virtue of the fact that my local library had a copy of X-men Visionaries: Jim Lee. I'm having a tough time seeing why Lee included this issue in his collection (http://www.amazon.com/X-Men-Visionaries-Jim-Lee-TPB/dp/0785109218). His own contribution to the issue is not that large.

I'm inclined to suspect that it is sheer laziness. Besides a brief intro, it doesn't seem like Lee had any interest in further involvment. The collection just seems to be an in order grouping of his X-men issues that aren't in other trades.

Does anyone know anything about Lee's perspective of these issues? We hear so much how Claremont struggled for control, but nothing about what Lee was doing with the newfound control he'd gained.

neilshyminsky said...

So if we've been noticing that Wolverine has been a particularly pessimistic cipher for Claremont, what can we say about Storm? Because it seems like she's also been given a significant meta-role over the years...

Jason said...

ds, I always figured they included issue 273 in the Jim Lee volume because it was the start of a storyline that ran through the next four issues, which were all by Lee and all included. I want to say I've seen this in other volumes, where an issue was included by a person OTHER than the "Visionary" in question, so as not to break up a storyline.

(Even though I know they don't always do this -- the Silvesti Wolverine visionaries volume is particularly annoying in the way it's broken up.)

As for Lee, that's true, I haven't heard much about his time on X-Men. For example, I always wondered if it was his idea to bring the blue and yellow costumes back, as he is an avowed fan of the original Kirby "school uniform" look for the X-Men. But Claremont was bringing those outfits back as early as the 250s, well before Lee was a regular penciler. Just a coincidence, I guess ... ? But I digress ...

What are your thoughts on it? At the end of the day, I think a lot of Claremont's X-Men have served as Claremont stand-ins at various times: Cyclops was a biggie, as was pointed out to me so brilliantly months back; Wolverine; Xavier; Colossus; Carol Danvers; Kitty Pryde.

I'm sure Storm is not to be left out, but at the moment I can't think of any specific examples beyond the present issue. What are you thinking of?

Josh said...

Wow! What a great analysis!

neilshyminsky said...

I think that Storm might be a subtler, perhaps more optimistic meta-character, but maybe I'm conflating her roles as the team's leader, and so being a sort of thematic representative, with her speaking for Claremont.

My thinking, when I wrote that, primarily had to do with the Storm often appearing to most clearly embody the team's politics and, in some sense, Claremont's changing relationship to the comic: from young and naive to self-possessed and defiant to being literally infantalized.

I don't know that I feel as confident about this as I do about the Wolverine hypothesis - his emasculation and meta-commentary - but it's worth thinking about.

Jeremy said...

Jim Lee brought Wolverine his old outfit back in #4. There was a funny phone call he had with John Byrne about it, talking about how he "finally gave Wolverine his good old costume back and got rid of the dirty one", and Byrne was like, "You know I was the one who gave him that 'dirty' one, right?" It was rather awkward, Lee said.

Personally, I stayed on the X-men until #11, the end of Jim Lee's tenure. There were some fun stories after Claremont left, but once Lee was gone and another big crossover started, it was a X-men future I didn't want to be a part of.

Anonymous said...

This was the first X-Men comic I bought in "real time." I had been buying Classic X-Men back issues because I liked the looks of the characters in that series so much more than the rather indistinct Forge, no-cape Storm, Psylocke, Gambit, etc. I almost started with issue 270 due to that awesome cover, but my allowance wouldn't support a 9-part crossover.

Coming in cold, knowing about maybe half of the characters in the issue ("Cable? Jubilee? Huh? Wait, there's actually a character called Boom-Boom?!?"), being passingly familiar with only 2 of the many artists featured within & Lee, if only from covers), issue 273 should have been a headache. Instead, Claremont & Co. outlined the basic plots & relationships enough for me to follow along. I was hooked, as much by the hints of past adventures and relationships as the events of the issue. Throwing 20 new characters at the reader became Image's thing in the early years, so it's interesting in hindsight to see how Claremont treated the hash Lee brought him.

Odd how being squeezed by Lee's plotting & Harras' editing seemed to bring out the best in Claremont. The meandering and character studies may have been interesting to long-time fans, but my 13 year-old self wanted action and drama that didn't drag. Issues 374 & 375 are favorites of mine, especially the Magneto story. I'm looking forward to your thoughts.

I've going through the archives of your column, Jason, and only caught up recently. I'd stopped buying Essential X-Men collections with vol. 4 because I had zero interest in the post-Paul Smith years (except for the Art Adams, BWS, & Alan Davis issues). I just bought vol. 5 (at 1/2 price) because of your posts, and I'm enjoying it way more than I thought I would. Thanks for doing the column.

- Mike Loughlin

Evan said...

What I really loved about this issue was the cast's taking of stock of the remaining villans out there. Since mutant massacre and the whole first strike attitude from the uxm team, there had actually been very little taking down of threats. The big upshot seemed to be yet another defeat, albeit unopposed, when the x-men fled australia, leaving wolverine to the mercy of the reavers.

It's interesting here to note which villans they talk about. If I remember correctly, the only non-claremont villan they mention is apocolypse, and even then, it will be claremont who resolves apocolype In the x-factor book. Despite cable's highly placed presence, there is no mention of the MLF or stryfe, who argueably should have caught the attention of all x-men teams, just as the brotherhood of evil mutants had in the past.

They even mention those blonde twins (I forget their names... Fenris?) Who I honestly don't remember anything about other than they could blow things up, and were never given their come-uppings in UXM. (Although they are dealt with in one of claremont's last excalibur stories).

This brings another point. All x-books here are united except excalibur. I'm not even certain if nightcrawler and kitty were even told that their friends were alive after that incident in texas.

Peter Farago said...

Indeed, Evan, and Excalibur continues to remain separate from the morass of X-continuity until the Phalanx Covenant period. I was thinking about this in the context of Jason's last post, in which he discussed the merging of UXM, New Mutants and X-Factor into an ongoing mega-series with characters and plots moving back and forth between each.

In fact, that more accurately describes the period spanning from the Paul Smith run to the Fall of the Mutants, in which Claremont's X-Men and New Mutants regularly crossed over, and plots initiated in one would resolve in the other - consider the Xavier/Brood story, Magneto's redemption, Kitty being captured by the White Queen, the Rachel/Amara teamup vs. Selene, and Illyana's assist against the Dire Wraiths. It wasn't until Claremont left the New Mutants that this seamless crossing-over stopped, to be replaced by Simonson tying the New Mutants ever closer to her X-Factor. Really, what's happening around now is Claremont's UXM is being roped in uncomfortably close to Simonson's expanded continuity - who, at this point, has allowed herself to be reduced to a scripter for Liefeld and Portacio.

Excalibur, on the other hand, nobody in editorial seemed to care about, and so Claremont was able to retain greater autonomy. It's sort of a wonder that he didn't use the Excalibur escape-hatch to rescue more of his favorite characters than Kitty and Kurt - it wouldn't have been hard, for instance, to have the siege perilous dump some of the Oz-Men in Scotland, where Claremont could've kept them safe from crossovers.

Jason said...

Mike -- SO COOL that you bought some more Claremont stuff because of these posts. That's really the kind of thing that makes me think this was a worthwhile venture. Thank you, most sincerely!

Evan, I also enjoyed the "taking stock of the villains" bit, although I seem to recall something about it bugging me. Either someone big was missing or someone lame was included, or both ...? I packed the issues away in storage after I finished writing so I can't look now.

Peter, I think the difference in my mind regarding the New Mutants/X-Men relationship early on seemed marked by more arbitrary divisions. They were all living at the mansion together and yet for some reason one team was always absent when the other was hanging out. This was particularly true in 82-83.

I think when Ann Nocenti took over the editorship in 1984, there was a bit more of that crossover. (Note that most of the examples you cite are from Nocenti's editorial tenure, not Simonson's.)

Perhaps I did misrepresent things a bit. There is quite a bit of crossover in 85-86, now that you've got me thinking about it. (I'm thinking now of a great -- arguably crucial -- bit of Colossus characterization that happened in New Mutants #23 rather than an issue of Uncanny ...)

Matty said...

Great job, as always. This one, in particular, made me appreciate the issue in ways I hadn't. Granted, I didn't know he was leaving the series when I first read that issue so it just seemed like his typical breather issue between arcs. Hindsight is not always 20/20 since it took your analysis this week to point out to me Claremont's metacommentary, something that now seems so obvious.

dschonbe said...

Mike -- SO COOL that you bought some more Claremont stuff because of these posts. That's really the kind of thing that makes me think this was a worthwhile venture. Thank you, most sincerely!

You can count me in here too. And not only the X-men Essentials, I've picked up (but haven't read yet) the Iron Fist, Ms. Marvel, and Spider-Woman Essentials too in order to read the Claremont stuff.

Thanks, Jason.

-Dan S.

Jason said...

That's so great!

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if you're interested at all, dschonbe, but since you're picking up all the Claremont material gathered in Essential format, Claremont had a run on Man Thing during the early-1980s that is collected in the Essential Man Thing vol. 2.
You might have some interest in picking it up, if you haven't read it before.

dschonbe said...

...Claremont had a run on Man Thing during the early-1980s that is collected in the Essential Man Thing vol. 2. ...

@anon - Is the Man-Thing stuff any good? I haven't found any Man-Thing stories I've particularly enjoyed (though I haven't tried too hard). The other three runs are tied into Claremont's X-men run a little stronger. I think for Man-Thing there is only that one issue with Cyclops and D'Spayre.

Thanks for the recommendation.

-Dan S.

Jason said...


Anon may have a different answer. Personally I found the Man-Thing stuff to be some of Claremont's least satisfying material from that era.

If you were really inclined to pick up more, I'd recommend Claremont's Marvel Team-Up stuff instead. I'm not sure if it's been Esstentialized yet, but it's pretty awesome. The stuff with John Byrne especially, but even the material he did with other artists is pretty good. It's an interesting run, because each one or two-part "team up" is more or less self-contained, but there are little threads that get continued throughout, in clever ways. Even the "Spider-Man teams up with the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time-Players" issue (which is not funny at all, unsurprisingly) gets tied in. It's pretty cool. I just discovered the issues myself relatively recently.

dschonbe said...


Excuse my omission. The bulk of the Byrne/Claremont MTU run is collected in Essential Marvel Team Up vol 3. I've read it and enjoyed it.

I omitted mention of it since I did not purchase the copy I read (https://catalog.spl.org/ipac20/ipac.jsp?session=A27749M5Q7846.10209&profile=dial&source=~!horizon&view=subscriptionsummary&uri=full=3100001~!2587310~!2&ri=1&aspect=subtab14&menu=search&ipp=20&spp=20&staffonly=&term=essential+team+up&index=.GW&uindex=&aspect=subtab14&menu=search&ri=1).

I expect Volume 4 will be released some time next year (2011) which should probably contain the rest of the Claremont MTU issues (76-77, 79-86, 88-89, 100, Annual 2, but not 135).

The SNL issue is not surprisingly omitted (considering copyright law as it is) from the Essentials. It sounds like I'll have to hunt it down.


-Dan S.

Jason said...

Cool, D. I wish some of this stuff was available in color editions.

The SNL Marvel Team-Up is pretty bad, as I recall. Claremont can occasionally be funny, but to do a full issue of all-out comedy, that was not really within his powers ...

Teebore said...

In light of the ongoing "Wolverine as Claremont's in-story proxy" discussion, it's interesting to note that in the same issue which, as Jason points out, Claremont effectively tenders his resignation from the book, his increasingly-weakened proxy is defeated ("Bang, you dead") in a Danger Room fight by Gambit (a character who, while created by Claremont, will come to represent the editorially-driven, action-first, 90s-cool direction of the book post-Claremont almost as much as Cable).

@Evan: They even mention those blonde twins (I forget their names... Fenris?) Who I honestly don't remember anything about other than they could blow things up, and were never given their come-uppings in UXM.

I wonder if Editorial didn't sneak the Fenris mention in there, as I seem to recall rumblings that they were intended to play a larger role in the book post-Claremont (they appeared in the Omega Red story in X-Men and then disappeared, more or less), but that those plans were derailed/lost in the shuffle in the wake of the Image Exodus and the subsequent scramble to keep the books going after their artists and main plot architects jumped ship.

Anonymous said...


I'd have to agree with your assessment of Claremont's run on Man-Thing. I'm a huge fan of the Steve Gerber issues, but I don't think anyone else was able to capture the character properly.
Only for Claremont completists.
Claremont's work on the title seemed to pick up right at the end, when the book got canceled.

It's true that there's very little connection to any Claremont X-Men work in that book. It did pick up on the dangling plots left from the "War Is Hell" book though.

And, yes, I forget about Claremont's Marvel Team-Up starting to be collected. I had been waiting quite a while to see those issues collected.