Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Uncanny 274

[Jason Powell continues to look at every issue of Claremont's initial X-Men run. He says he went long on this one, but I am happy to hear Powell talk about the X-Men all day.]

“Crossroads”

As Bob Harras notes in his “Comics Creators on X-Men” interview, the collaboration between old-pro Chris Claremont and up-and-comer Jim Lee was fairly fraught with tension, but nonetheless yielding some fantastic superhero comic-books. Indeed, there certainly seems to be a potent synergy at work between the pair at this point in the run. It’s hard to tell which of the two creative minds is ascendant during this issue and the next, which collectively tell a pitch-perfect adventure story starring Rogue and Magneto and set in the Savage Land.

On the one hand, this is the conclusion of a story begun nearly two years earlier (in X- Men Annual 12 and Uncanny issues 249 and 250), well before Lee was involved as a co- plotter. It also stars two Claremont favorites: His best original X-creation, Rogue, and his most convincingly revamped X-character, Magneto. Pairing them up as teammates, and – possibly – lovers, seems to be a shrewd consolidation of two of the author’s greatest triumphs.

Yet we know from interviews that Claremont always intended Magneto’s redemption to be ultimately successful – not to fail, as it will in the following issue (albeit nobly). So clearly there are major elements to this arc that are plotted by Lee (possibly backed up by Harras). I’ve also seen speculation that Claremont had no intention to put Rogue and Magneto together as a couple – that this was Lee’s idea, which Claremont grudgingly went along with. This seems possible as well: Lee is a professed fan of Magneto (he apparently collects the original art for old Magneto splash pages), and clearly has an affinity for Rogue as well. And certainly there was never a trace of sexual tension between the two characters in earlier Claremont issues. (Even when they both were X- Men members, the two barely even shared any on-panel time.)

Either way, Harras is right. Whatever is Claremont here and whatever is Lee, the end result works brilliantly. (And the very difficulty in distinguishing where one creator’s input ends and the other begins just proves Harras’ point.)

Perhaps even moreso than Claremont’s final arc in X-Men (Volume 2) #’s 1-3, his Magneto story here and in the following issue are a powerful culmination of the character’s development over the past decade. His work on Magneto truly is the author’s most impressive accomplishment as scripter on the X-Men – taking a distinctly thin Silver Age villain and developing from that seed a genuinely three-dimensional psychology. Again, I’d point to the work of Rivka Jacobs for a full elucidation of the astonishing complexity Claremont brought to this character. Equally impressive is Claremont’s work in integrating actual historical elements related to the Holocaust within a superhero adventure story. This was done with remarkable subtlety, and – I think – an admirable respect for actual victims and survivors. It never seemed cheap or exploitative (this is as opposed to Claremont’s use of “the N word,” which I have complained about in the past), nor garish.

That tradition continues here, as Claremont adds more depth to Magneto’s biography, again with subtlety, so that the full significance of some of his text is perhaps not immediately apparent to those without a working knowledge of the history being discussed. Again, let me defer to Rivka Jacobs’ study “Magneto Is Jewish” FAQ, which quotes a relevant portion of Magneto’s first-person narration in Uncanny 274, and notes its revelatory significance:

‘ “I should have died myself with those I loved,’ [Magneto says.] ‘Instead, I carted the bodies by the hundreds, by the thousands ... from the death house to the crematorium ... and the ashes to the burial ground. Asking now what I could not then ... why was I spared?!" So there it is. He describes his job at Auschwitz. That is it. This is no vague job description, this is what the Sonderkommando did. This is fundamental to the history of the Holocaust, to the history of Nazi Germany. Making the Jews the ones who had to do all the dirty work in the death camps.’

Later in the issue, Claremont consolidates aspects of his long-running Magneto arc, making explicit some of the connections that – having been presented out of sequence and over the course of 16 years – might be somewhat elusive to readers: Specifically, the connection between Uncanny X-Men #150 (published in 1981), which depicted Magneto’s destruction of a Russian submarine Leningrad, and Classic X-Men #12 (published in 1987), which told a previously “untold” tale of the death of Magnus’s daughter.

Now, in “Crossroads,” Magneto faces off against a contingent of Russian soldiers, whose commanding officer lost a son aboard the Leningrad, a brilliant and beautifully conceived dramatic irony. “Again, a cry from the past,” goes Magneto’s narration, “one father to another, in anguished grief for a slain child. ... The Leningrad had fired a salvo of nuclear ballistic missiles at me, so I sank her, with all hands. Thinking of that crew not as people, but merely an object lesson: How dare they defy me, threaten me, these Russians whose countrymen let my daughter burn to death?” The drawing together of these narrative and thematic strands, particularly here, so close to the end of Claremont’s run, is phenomenally powerful. There is a tragic bleakness in Magneto’s final words in the same panel: “There is too much history and hate between us. I cannot talk to these men.”

Meanwhile, coming at the character from an entirely different direction, Jim Lee creates the most ruggedly masculine visualization of Magneto yet conceived. The choice is surprising, yet seems entirely plausible – and has a precursor in Claremont’s earlier work: Specifically 1987’s “I, Magneto” from Classic X-Men 19, which portrays Magneto as
a somewhat dashing and attractive figure (and is also, incidentally, the greatest X-Men story of all time). Earlier still were the Bill Sienkeiwicz issues of New Mutants, which detailed Magneto’s romantic affair with Lee Forrester.

Again, Magneto’s psychology is so deep and convincing, these added sexual elements don’t feel as “soap opera” as other romantic motifs developed by the author during his Uncanny run – i.e., the love triangles, affairs, and unrequited crushes. Claremont’s Magneto is too mature for all of that, even if – under Jim Lee’s pen – he looks more than ever like a romantic leading man.

As such, it is not at all difficult to accept Rogue being swept up by the force of both his looks and personality, particularly in the lush, jungle setting of this story that has them both running around in very little clothing.

There is genuine romance in this new romantic relationship, even if it gets short shrift, page-count-wise, in favor of the action scenes. (The latter are just as convincing, of course; Lee and Williams are in peak form here.) Given the jungle setting, the use of classical archetypes (Nick Fury the super-spy and Ka-Zar the jungle warrior), and the sexy artwork by Lee and Williams, Uncanny X-Men 274 has all the makings of a classic pulp adventure – and it is that, no question. Yet the inclusion of Magneto – and all his attendant historical and psychological depth – gives the story a tangible weight beneath all the surface gloss.

“Crossroads” ends with a quick scene change to pick up the cliffhanger from Uncanny #273. Since the previous issue’s final pages were drawn by Larry Stroman, this is actually our first look at the freshly minted seven-person X-Men team (Storm, Wolverine, Banshee, Psylocke, Forge, Jubilee and Gambit), as drawn by Lee and Williams. They now are all (except Storm) wearing matched versions of the original Jack Kirby-designed costumes. It turns out to be a stunningly fresh and exciting new look. (Lee was avowedly a big fan of the old matching X-Men costumes as well, having attended a school that forced him to wear a uniform himself.) Again, I wonder whose idea it was to put the newly codified team in these costumes. Lee professes to have loved them, but Claremont introduced these costumes back when Silvestri was still the regular penciller. More serendipitous synergy at work?

In any case, the costumes are incredibly striking in practice, and I always found it disappointing that they abandoned the look so quickly after establishing it here.

48 comments:

scottmcdarmont said...

In a nice bit of Kismet, the story from Uncanny 150 was being published in 'Classic X-men' at about the same time this issue came up (if someone wants to look up exactly how close, be my guest) so the story of Magneto all came togehter quite well for me at this point, this also idea of Magneto as a holocaust survivor coupled with my revelation of the X-men a couple of issues earlier made me understand what the X-men were 'about' (again, I was only a few months in as a regular reader at this point). This was also one of my first experiences with a 'complex' villain (even though he hadn't completely reverted yet). Most bad guys were just bad guys, I understood, just by reading these two issues, why Magneto became 'the bady guy'

Jeff said...

I think Jim Lee's enthusiasm for the book really shows through. These books are FUN. With the "wandering X-Men" plot and multiple fill-in artists, it sometimes felt like that element was lost between Inferno and this period. And while I know that this era is often considered that of Claremont being forced to return to the status quo, the status quo had been gone for so long that it felt fresh and new again. Also, he's not returning to the old status quo completely. The X-Men basically turn into an army at the end of the run since there are so many of them. This is really the first time all of these mutants have been together on the same team at once and I found the possibilities for new character interactions exciting. Of course the 90s writers then proceeded to screw that all up.

Jason, are you going to cover The Muir Island Saga at all? Claremont didn't write it, but it is pretty important to his run. Maybe a truncated review? What about his X-Factor story with Apocalypse? That launched about 30 plotlines after he left.

Jason said...

Scott, it might have been more than kismet. I think editorial -- including Claremont -- occasionally tried to sync up Classic issues with the contemporaneous ones. Claremont did a two-part Juggernaut story in X-Men 217-218 the same months that Classic X-Men 9 and 10 came out (which reprinted Claremont's first two Juggernaut issues).

And Classic X-Men 29 and 30 (the very first X-Men vs. Arcade) were released contemporaneously with Excalibur 4 and 5, which both featured Arcade. There are other examples as well.

Jason said...

Jeff, yes to both. Claremont wrote the Uncanny 278 and 279, the first two parts of the Muir Island Saga, so I talk about them.

And there is also a blog entry in the queue dedicated to Claremont's four X-Factor issues.

Jeff said...

Sweet! Can't wait to hear you thoughts.

Peter Farago said...

In a nice bit of continuity, Magneto's nightmare of being gunned down with his family and buried alive is a recurring dream; he has the same one in New Mutants #49. This was revisited many years later and much more explicitly in Greg Pak and Carmine Di Giandomenico's "Magneto: Testament", an almost absurdly good comic book.

I'm glad you mentioned Lee Forrester - that must be who Magneto is thinking in his cryptic aside, "I am pledged to another". The implication of a Rogue-Magneto romance - touched on in just a few panels here - was apparently a sizzling enough prospect to return prominently in the "Age of Apocalypse" and in Mike Carey's recent Rogue revamp in X-Men Legacy. You're right that it's apropos of nothing, but it's certainly a better pairing that the Rogue/Gambit nonsense we ended up with for the ten years following the Claremont/Lee era.

Since you pondered the plot points on which Lee and Claremont are pulling in opposite directions, I wanted to mention the portrayal of Wolverine in the second half of this story. The notion of Wolverine as worn down and ailing is carried entirely by Jubilee's dialogue here and in the next issue. If you ignored all the dialogue, Logan would seem as healthy and dynamic as he ever has. I can easily imagine Lee hating that particular plotline, too.

Finally, I love Jim Lee, man, that image of Ka-Zar wearing an Image-style costume which consists of nothing but belts, pouches and weapons over his loincloth is one for the ages.

Jason said...

Peter,

Yes, very much enjoyed "Magneto Testament,"including its recreation of the scene from New Mutants 49 (which is also one of Claremont's finest Magneto moments). Several of Claremont's most perfect Magneto moments actually occur in New Mutants, so it's a shame I never got to talk about them. (Two favorites: NM 35 and NM 40.)

"I'm glad you mentioned Lee Forrester - that must be who Magneto is thinking in his cryptic aside, "I am pledged to another"."

I'm not so sure. Isn't the next line from Magneto, "As much as one can pledge his heart to ghosts" ... or something similar? I think it refers to his wife and/or Isabelle.

There is something compelling about Magneto/Rogue ... I can see why writers return to it. (There is Magneto/Rogue fan-fiction online as well. Maybe I shouldn't admit to knowing that.)

I'm sure you're right: Lee probably did hate Wolverine being weak, but he did occasionally concede to portraying Logan the way Claremont was writing him. The current issue may not have anything, but I could swear that next issue does. (And issue 271 *definitely* has some supporting visuals.) But yeah, by the time of the new X-Men #1, that whole thread has vanished (as has Jubilee, oddly, though she comes back after Claremont leaves ...).

Peter Farago said...

The line is, "As much as one can pledge a heart full of ghosts", which seems to mean that he can't devote himself unreservedly to someone with the memories of Magda and Isabelle burdening him - but also that there is someone else, and someone who isn't Rogue, who he seems to wistfully wish he could "pledge himself" fully. Forrester would be the obvious candidate.

That said, it must be intentionally ambiguous - I think Claremont knew right away that the Magneto/Lee Forrester relationship was utterly lacking in gravitas next to the crackling tension with Rogue here. Overtly mentioning a non-entity like Forrester as Magneto's excuse for pushing Rogue away would have been insane.

Agreed on the art in 271 - maybe Lee felt better about it since Wolverine was being temporarily weakened by a plot device (Wipeout) and was going to "get better" by the end of the crossover? Maybe Claremont was just able to exert more control over the book during the crossover? Simonson sure was - compare the unspeakably bad Liefeld-plotted NM 94 to the three relatively bearable X-Tinction Agenda issues that followed.

But as for 275, I think the artist/writer dichotomy is even stronger there. There, we have Wolverine's visually triumphant escape from Deathbird while she muses that he is "but a shadow of his true self" - not that we'd know if she hadn't told us! A few pages later, Jubilee pulls a spear out of his back he stalks off by himself, looking muscular, gritty and determined in the John Byrne mode while Jubilee wails at him (=us) that he isn't healthy. If you're not paying close attention to his absence from the two-page battle royale that follows, you'd think he was about to charge into the next fight scene ready to roll heads. Instead, he shows up after the fighting with Deathbird, defeated after an off-panel encounter, and looking no more beat up than any of his other teammates. So Claremont successfully keeps him out of the main fight due to his injuries, but Lee draws it so that you can hardly tell he didn't lead the team into battle himself. Visually, he gets all the major action beats in full heroic form.

Menshevik said...

IIRC, Claremont has described Magneto as far too old for Rogue in an interview a few years back, but the age difference is hardly greater than e.g. that between Magneto and Lee (and would appear to be significantly smaller than that between Logan and Jean). OTOH the reason that there had been no sexual tension before would be because by the time Chris Claremont got around to having them interact (their previous encounter during the first Secret War was written by Jim Shooter), Magneto was in a firmly established "fresh" relationship with Lee Forrester and Rogue really was not yet ready for any sort of romantic entanglement (her first step in that direction came later, when she flirted a bit with Longshot, but even there you had a feeling she did it more to annoy Dazzler given Longshot's weird aura of innocence).

Re. distinguishing where one creator's input ends and the other one's begins - usually it is perhaps not that hard to mask if the writer is willing to roll with the punches handed out to him by the artist under the "Marvel method", and thus it is often impossible to tell until you read interviews about the underlying creative differences (a well-known example is for instance that for a long time it was almost universally believed that Steve Ditko left Spider-Man because he and Stan Lee disagreed about who the Green Goblin should be even though there was no indication for this in the art and words of the Lee/Ditko stories; actually, it turned out that Ditko had made a statement about the matter after all and had planned to reveal Norman Osborn as the Goblin all along).

Menshevik said...

Peter -
Great exegesis of the "heart full of ghosts" line! The way you put it makes a lot more sense than those interpretations which see it as proclaiming Magneto cannot love because he is still pledged to Magda.

Jason -
I'd also like to draw attention to the way Rogue's character was developed in the "Savage Land trilogy" (and before). One popular point of criticism against Claremont's second X-Men run is that he made Rogue team leader, but that had actually been foreshadowed quite a bit earlier on, with Rogue being put in charge of the new recruits on Muir Island after the Massacre and later comfortably settling into a kind of 2-in-c position during Wolverine's brief tenure as team leader in the lead-up to Fall of the Mutants. After the return from the Siege Perilous Claremont showcased how much Rogue had developed over the years - in #269 we see her being able to fend for herself in a dangerous environment without her powers and apparently without using the experience she had absorbed from Carol and others, and that, presumably because of her personal experience among the X-Men, she has now absorbed Xavier's ethos to such an extent that she shrinks from killing even in self-defense. In #274 she shows qualities of (political) leadership, being able to think for herself (she tries to achieve what she thinks is right, displaying greater idealism than those around her) and even charisma and oratorial skills in order to dissuade Magneto from killing the Savage Land Mutates and forging the alliance between Magneto, the Savage Landers and the SHIELD and Russian special forces. We'll see that unravel to some extent in the following issues, but it is quite interesting to see that in X-Men #1 we will once again be seeing Rogue argue for trying to understanding when most of the X-Men rush to condemn Magneto out of hand. Quite a few people who hate the Rogue/Magneto romance try to denounce it as Rogue hitherto lacking a father figure in her life and now finding it in Magneto (conveniently censoring out e.g. the way both Professor X and Logan had functioned as a kind of surrogate dads for her ever since UXM #171-173), but what the Savage Land trilogy actually shows is how much Rogue had become Charles Xavier's spiritual daughter over the years, especially in her attempts to persuade Magneto to do what in her view is right.

Menshevik said...

Peter again -
Re. Rogue/Magneto vs. Rogue/Gambit: The thing is that in a relationship with Magneto, both in the mainstream Marvel timeline and in Age of Apocalypse etc., Rogue tends to blossom as a character and her attraction to Magneto does not seem to cloud her judgment. It is a relationship of equals, she remains her own person, and if anything, she has a beneficial effect on Magneto (AoA, where Magneto experiences even greater losses than on Earth-616 yet never once is tempted to become a villain, would seem to support this). With the often borderline-abusive relationship with Gambit, she became stunted and deteriorated as a character and for far too long was primarily defined by it. She was reduced to an angst-ridden wreck in many stories to suit the master plot, which e.g. required that she would be too scared to test the hypothesis that Gambit might be impervious to her absorption power (a marked change from her previous easy-going attitude).

Jason said...

"The line is, "As much as one can pledge a heart full of ghosts", which seems to mean that he can't devote himself unreservedly to someone with the memories of Magda and Isabelle burdening him - but also that there is someone else, and someone who isn't Rogue, who he seems to wistfully wish he could "pledge himself" fully. Forrester would be the obvious candidate."

Ah, good call.

"Agreed on the art in 271 - maybe Lee felt better about it since Wolverine was being temporarily weakened by a plot device (Wipeout)"

The scene I'm thinking of is in issue 271, and Wolverine isn't wiped out by Wipeout until 272.

"Simonson sure was - compare the unspeakably bad Liefeld-plotted NM 94 to the three relatively bearable X-Tinction Agenda issues that followed."

Oh man -- talking about a writer covering up the artist's deficiencies through dialogue -- the first New Mutants issue of "X-Tinction" has some really desperate dialogue captions at the end to tell us what went down. The art gives you *nothing*!

I guess you are right about issue 275 -- I think the dialogue really has influenced my memory of the images to such a strong extent that I'm not actually seeing what was there. But your memory of these issues seems much clearer than mine (which is a bit embarrassing, because I just pored over them a month ago to write these blogs). I doff my cap to you, sir.

On a similar note, it probably sometimes is very clear how little I'm familiar with X-Men post-1991, which possibly makes for some tunnel-visioned analyses, lacking the context of what came after. That said, Mensh, your description of the Rogue/Gambit thing makes me glad I missed out on all that. I always see Rogue as one of the strongest of Claremont's characters.

And I like your description of why the Rogue/Magneto relationship works so well. It is indeed a relationship between equals, and of course it's a hallmark of Claremont's writing that the females always stand as equals to the males.

(Did I or anyone mention the connection that both Magneto and Rogue are former "evil mutants" who reformed?)

Teebore said...

@Geoff: He says he went long on this one, but I am happy to hear Powell talk about the X-Men all day

Me too! He could write a novel-length analysis of each issue and I'd be happy.

Jason, I don't know if you read the letter columns when going through these issues, but this issue has a lengthy letter from a reader about Claremont's propensity for writing strong females.

It comes off as a bit harsh and, arguably, a tad misogynistic, but it has always stuck with me since it was the first time I realized just how powerful and well developed Claremont's women are.

The letter also points out how the three most powerful male mutants (Xavier, Magneto, Franklin Richards) won't ever be true "members of the team" X-Men for various reasons and discusses the X-Men's reactions to Dazzler being threatened by the Marauders in #214 vs. their treatment of Havok in #219.

Like I said, it's a bit off the mark, but it left an impact on me and is definitely worth a read.

(If you'd like to, and no longer have the issue handy, let me know and I can email you a screen cap of the letter).

Jason said...

Tee,

Yeah, I've read that letter. It stayed with me as well. It certainly informed my thinking re: issue 219, which is a very "off" issue in many ways -- sometimes *deliberately* off, but not always (I suspect).

But yeah, that is an interesting letter. I've seen other similar complaints online about the way Claremont favors the female characters. (Another example is the contrast between 244, "Ladies Night," and 245, "Men." The former is rich in characterization and drama in addition to the comedy, while the latter is just a pure joke.)

I don't know -- I fail to see where it's problematic that one superhero writer among dozens gives more screen time and narrative care to the female members of the cast than the males. I generally find it impossible to credit any complaints about this, really.

Teebore said...

I generally find it impossible to credit any complaints about this, really.

Ditto. In fact, re-reading the letter again today, I was put off by how much this seemed to bother the writer. It's definitely worth pointing out/discussing, but I was taken aback at how miffed he seemed to be by it.

Jason said...

Well, that Havok thing is a legitimate complaint, because that was downright nonsensical.

Although thinking about it now, I'm thinking the point Claremont was going for is that the X-Men are kind of down on the Silver Age X-Men now because they've become "bounty hunters," and they associate Havok and Polaris with that group, hence their general pissiness towards Havok. I just put that together now, but it seems reasonable. Of course, this has nothing to do with Havok's gender. So never mind, that letter writer has no legs to stand on. :)

Teebore said...

Yeah, the Havok business was nonsensical, which had nothing to do with gender.

I think you're right that the point was supposed to be Silver Age X-Men=questionable/bad, and Havok=Silver Age X-Men, but both those equivocations needed to be made more clear, especially the later, considering that while Havok was technically a Silver Age X-Men, he wasn't one of the original ones everyone thinks of in that context.

dschonbe said...

Jason, would you consider doing something on the Age of Apocalypse? Besides its status as being the peak of 1990s X-men, it seems like it would be replete with oppurtunities for commentary about the way the world of Claremont is reimagined.

Having fairly recently reread some of the AoA stuff, it's worth noting that while the main titles did run with a strong Rogue/Magneto relationship, X-men Chronicles 1 & 2 (the renamed X-men Unlimited) give significant time to the Magneto/Rogue relationship. In issue 1, there is definitely a father/daughter aspect to the relationship but it is reworked by Rogue being the only X-man there at the death of Scarlet Witch. In Issue 2, Gambit/Rogue are an item but it's clear that Rogue is barely interested and Rogue & Magneto quickly give into their passion. Especially after Magneto shows Rogue how he can "touch" her.

@Peter - You've ignored the whole Joesph (a young version of Magneto without any memory of Magneto's misdeeds, I forgot how that was all resolved) mess while it was worked out how Gambit was a traitor and how he was to be punished for it (another mess, seeded in the early post-Claremont days that had no good pay off). I think Joesph was an attempt to bring all the fan favorite stuff from the Magneto/Rogue AoA relationship into the main Marvel U.

Me too! He could write a novel-length analysis of each issue and I'd be happy.

@Teebore - I think all of us here are quite taken with Jason writings and would happily read more. In the words of Homer Simpson, "I find your ideas intriguing and would like to subscribe to your newsletter"

-Dan S.

Teebore said...

@dchonebe: In the words of Homer Simpson, "I find your ideas intriguing and would like to subscribe to your newsletter"

Ha! Indeed.

Peter Farago said...

Dan - I usually try pretty hard to pretend that everything between AoA and the Morrison run was just a horrible nightmare, and history seems to be on my side - there is no patch of continuity as resolutely ignored as the late 90s.

What can I say about Joseph? He's a Magneto-shaped shell of a character, lacking any of the background and relationships that actually made Magneto interesting. His central dilemma was his confrontation with Magneto's villainy, but didn't it play better the first time, when Magneto confronted his villainy his own damn self, and had to struggle past all his wounds and self-justifications to get there?

dschonbe said...

@Peter - Agreed that the 90s stuff outside of AoA is mostly worth forgetting. You have to admire the idea behind Joseph though. Something like "how can we have the good-guy Magneto so popular from Claremont and AoA but not have to go through any of the hard work of developing him considering how we've messed with him so far (oh, and can we keep villanous Magneto available while we're at it too)?" There is something in the fact that the writers so wanted a virtuous Magneto but couldn't see how to do it with the brain dead character that they'd given themselves.

I checked out for most of the relevant time period, but from reading backwards it seems like Claremont just ignores most of all this and makes Magneto human again during his brief stint on the second volume of Excalibur.

-Dan S.

Evan said...

"Dan - I usually try pretty hard to pretend that everything between AoA and the Morrison run was just a horrible nightmare, and history seems to be on my side - there is no patch of continuity as resolutely ignored as the late 90s.
"

I disagree only slightly. The referenced stories missed by skipping the AoA to pre-Morrison period are Magneto becoming the leader of Genosha, the Search for Cyclops and the cure for the Legacy virus. My collection actually does skip this period, and those are the referenced stories I've no idea about.

Also, I think the Villain Bastion is important at some juncture, so his early appearances might be relevant. (Again, I haven't read these.)

I was disappointed in Claremont's heavy AoA referencing in his Excalibur v2 run. I really would much rather ignore it all.

Peter Farago said...

If you want a summary of AoA (or any other 90s X-Men), I heartily endorse NOT BLOG X (notblogx.blogspot.com), which has over the last four years done for 90s X-Men was Jason is about to finish doing for the 70s and 80s - an even more thankless task, and just as magnificently pulled off.

The AoA storyline is interesting for a few reasons. To start with, I assert that everything since Claremont's original run has been fanfiction — I feel like you can measure a work's fanfic-y-ness by the number of subsequent authors who reference it. In the case of actual fanfiction, that number will be 0, and for most subsequent X-authors, that's very nearly the case. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of major alterations to the X-canon that have "stuck" since 1991 (I'll further stipulate that only character work counts):

1. Emma Frost's reformation (Lobdell)
2. The Scott/Emma pairing (Morrison)
3. Scott-as-a-fearless-hardass (Whedon)
4. Xavier-as-a-total-dick (Everyone)
5. Storm's transformation to useless non-character (again, Everyone, and hardly on purpose)

Seriously, I think that's it. Today Xavier can walk, tomorrow he's in space, on Friday he'll be evil, on Saturday all three, and on Sunday he'll be a kindly old headmaster in a wheelchair again. Characters die (Moira, Banshee, Nightcrawler, Xorn-I-Mean-Magneto) and come back to life (Warlock, Phoenix-I-Mean-Jean, Colossus, Jean-I-Mean-Phoenix, Illyana, Phoenix-I-Mean-Hope, Doug, No-I-Was-Magneto-The-Whole-Time), but none of them grow or change, and new characters don't stick. The chairs just get rearranged now and then.

Post inferno, only two characters have stuck: Cable and Gambit, and both are pretty much Mary Sues - the nigh-omnipotent badass savior from the future and the dashing ladykiller with a dark past. Please.

So, what AoA did (maybe without even knowing it) was acknowledge the fact that none of the stories being told post-Claremont would matter, and went completely, balls-to-the-wall crazy, using the second-hoariest fanfic conceit of all: the Alternate Universe story.

And somehow, despite trying as hard as it possibly could to be totally irrelevant, it actually managed to lodge itself in our minds. We remember it fondly. The writing was relatively sharp. The stories were self contained, the cross-title continuity was magnificent. Characters fell in love and betrayed each other and did shocking things to their teammates and their enemies. We got to watch Scott and Alex be fascists, Cable got to look like the petulant teenager he always acted like, Wolverine and Jean got to kiss as the world burned to embers. Sure, it didn't make a lick of sense or have the slightest bit of resonance if you didn't have a decade of the Claremont version of these characters behind you; but rather than piss away all of Claremont's momentum slowly on awful mainstream continuity titles, they burned it all in a ridiculous viking funeral.

So, AoA works as a guilty-pleasure sendup to the Claremont era. Everything since has been fanfic, but AoA knew it, and ran as far as it could with it. It was fun, unlike everything else that pretends to be in continuity but actually isn't. It's a guilty pleasure, but it's still a pleasure.

Teebore said...

I just have to second the Not Blog X endorsement; it's a fantastic examination of 90s X-Men comic, and well worth a look.

Jason said...

Dan and Tee, you are far too kind. Thanks so much for the compliments (and to Geoff as well, for his incredibly complimentary intro to this one).

Dan, I've never read Age of Apocalypse -- not a single page, that I can recall -- so nothing from me on that subject. But you know what I remember being pretty cool post-Claremont, was Larry Hama's Wolverine. Not all the memory-implant, nothing-is-real origin stuff, which I hate, but the more straight-forward action stories were great (and drawn by Silvestri and Green, bonus). I'm not going to write about that either, but with all this 90s talk I was reminded of the Hama Wolverine and how it was often pretty damn cool. So just thought I'd mention it ... !

I will have to look at this Not Blog X place, though ...

Anonymous said...

Thirded: Not Blog X is great fun. G. Kendall has made reading about mostly-forgettable comics (including Spawn & Web of Spider-Man) enjoyable.

The tension between Claremont & Byrne, Claremont & Lee, and (I think) Claremont & Paul Smith made for better comics. While I've learned to appreciate the other runs a lot more, I feel like Cockrum, JR Jr., Silvestri, and other artists were more likely to draw what Claremont plotted. Byrne, Lee, & Smith were more action-oriented, less likely to draw taking heads scenes. Byrne fixed Wolverine without having him mope, and Smith & Lee picked up the pace (contrast with Cockrum's draggy 2nd run and all the introspection during JR Jr's).

In issue 274, Lee was kind enough to draw the big panel of Magneto getting dressed, giving Claremont the space necessary to put in that great monologue. Most of the rest of the issue was action-packed. I feel like maybe Claremont had to work harder to make his contribution felt and retain some control over "his" comic. Eventually, he threw his hands up and walked away, but not before bringing more to his scripts than he had prior to Lee's ascendancy.

- Mike Loughlin

Jeff said...

Most of the 90s blow, but there was a brief aborted run by Joe Kelly and Carlos Pacheco from X-Men #70-#85 that was really pretty great. X-Men #85 (with Alan Davis art) is honestly good enough that it gave me the same great feeling I got from reading Claremont's 80s issues. I highly recommend that issue.

dschonbe said...

@Peter - Well said. There's not much I can say in response, so I won't say much.

Your definition of fanfic can be a little problematic though. Does Claremont's attempt to de-power Wolverine count as fanfic? It's a storyline that Jason has demonstrated that Claremont put significant effort into the major alteration yet none of it stuck. I suppose though that the natural end of extending that thought is that any unpopular (with Harras/Lee & the rest of the X-staff) idea Claremont had at the end of his run turned out as fanfic since Claremont didn't stick around long enough to make the ideas stick.

I'm giving NotBlogX a try. I'm enjoying it so far. Jason's analysis seems more academic (in a good way, though as a one time academic I'll admit to a biased point of view) than anything I'm seeing from G. Kendall though. Thank you for the recommendations.

-Dan S.

Peter Farago said...

Dan - I'm pretty much okay with that wrinkle. Patrick (from thoughtsonstuff.blogspot.com, who did a similar read-through of the Claremont run some time ago and posts in these threads from time to time) has said that after Inferno, the characters no longer felt real to him or capable of change, and I'm inclined to agree with him. That's certainly the point at which he starts to lose control of the franchise, and besides this story (the Savage Land trilogy), none of the post-Inferno stories are really esential.

Jason said...

I recall an online John Byrne fan saying that everything Claremont did post Uncanny X-Men 143 (Byrne's last) "feels like fan-fic" to him.

This is a slippery slope. :)

BTW, I read the Not Blog X reviews of Wolverine 125-128, which were Claremont's return to the X-Universe in 1998, his first X stuff in 7 years. The reviews are painfully accurate in identifying the many flaws in those issues. Man, that was a crushing disappointment at the time ...

Peter Farago said...

Of course Byrne would feel - he was a co-author, and then had to watch "his" characters continue without his input. And his run is the most famous, the most anthologized, and sometimes the only one read by new X-Authors (hello Morrison), so it does exert an outsized influence on the property. For years the only classic X-stories I'd read were Byrne's Magneto two-parter, Dark Phoenix, God Loves Man Kills, and From the Ashes. This creates certain expectations like, Where's Banshee? What? He hasn't been an X-Man since the Carter administration? The anthology-proof "spiral path" plots of the 80s Claremont stories haven't helped cement those works in the collective consciousness either.

But I want to distinguish authors in a succession of shared universe stories from fanfic writers playing in the same sandbox. Consider "The Amazing Spider Man", which managed to maintain a coherent continuity from the 60s through the early 90s under a dozen or more different pens. It's the respect accorded by subsequent authors that canonizes a run in a shared universe.

Teebore said...

@Jason: The reviews are painfully accurate in identifying the many flaws in those issues. Man, that was a crushing disappointment at the time ...

Ain't that the sad truth?

Menshevik said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James said...

I was thinking the other day that between the hair, tattoos, piercings and missing body-parts, Age of Apocalypse is like an Elseworlds where the X-Men are all pirates.

deepfix said...

I consider the Claremont/Lee era to be the hints of what could have been a great run on the X-Men. While I appreciate your critical revisionism of the OZ+ issues, it took these first Lee issues to realize how much the previous ones were treading water. Nothing actually happened. And then Jim Lee came along and managed to bring a sense of excitement and edge to the title. And this happened because, for the first time in almost ten years, Claremont had an artist that wouldn't just go with the flow but had definitive ideas for where the story should go. I'm sorry that Claremont left (hell, I pretty much quit collecting comics at that point) but really, the fault is all his. His sense of true collaboration atrophied over the last few years and having his artist challenge his ideas set him off and Bob Harras called him on it (that said, Bob Harras should have been fired, or at least demonted, for siding so aggresively with an artist who left the company unceremoniously within a year; he never should have been rewarded with editor in chief). Chris Claremont in the early eighties would have rolled with the punches abd kept going.

J said...

I guess I'm the only one here who likes Claremont and 90s X-Men (well don't exactly like it but thing there's a lot of good stuff to be found)

Jason said...

Recommendations are welcome, J! As noted, I cut and run in 1993 so feel free to educate me.

Teebore said...

@J: I guess I'm the only one here who likes Claremont and 90s X-Men (well don't exactly like it but thing there's a lot of good stuff to be found)

Nah, you're not the only one. I'm one too. I grew into X-Men in the 90s (X-Men #8 and Uncanny 290 were my first issues) and grew to love Claremont retroactively.

There are definitely some diamonds in the rough of the 90s, and I'll always have a nostalgic fondness for even the worst stuff, as it's the stuff I knew first, the stuff that got me hooked.

dschonbe said...

I began reading and collecting X-men with Phalanx Covenant. I think the 90s cartoon drew me in. I loved all that stuff at the time, but most of it is pretty tough to read now. I've reread several trades of the 90s stuff, and find myself bored through most of it. The only things I've continued to enjoy was the Age of Apocalypse stuff.

-Dan S.

J said...

@Jason, Uncanny 309 is probably my favorite 90s X-Comic. I think it came out post 93 so you wouldn't have read it. It's a great examination of Xavier and the relationship with his students. It *almost* feels like something Claremont would write. It's got some great Romita jr art as well.

Most of the stuff that came from the main two X-Books wasn't very good though mainly due to how out of control the crossovers had gotten. The good ones were the quiet issues between crossovers. X-Men 33 comes to mind.

I'd have to look through my comics to find more specific issues. I can also say that Wolverine's solo book was shockingly good throughout most of the decade.

Teebore said...

@J: I'll second the endorsement of #309; that's a personal fave.

Lobdell's strengths were the quieter, character driven, post-crossover issue: #297, #308 & #309, 318.

The Age of Apocalypse is definitely worth a look. Kelly had a good (though abbreviated) run on X-Men post Operation: Zero Tolerance, and Alan Davis had a run on both books shortly thereafter, near the end of the decade that, if unspectacular, were some solid X-Men super-heroics that were refreshing after the crossover craziness of the mid-90s.

In terms of the spinoffs, Peter David's X-Factor that launched alongside X-Men is worth a look, though ignore it after he leaves and before it turns into a Howard Mackie mess. The Moore/Pollina "road trip" run on X-Force is worth a look, as is Warren Ellis' Excalibur run.

Generation X has fits and starts of good stuff, especially for New Mutants fans. Lobdell turns in his most consistent work for the early run of the series (though, like everything else, it's marred by the constant crossovers) and the Bachalo art, at least on his first run, is fantastic.

Not Blog X can definitely help separate the wheat from the chaff of 90s X-Men comics.

Anonymous said...

I agree Teebore's comments.
He mentions some of my absolute favourite X-titles, that rank as being actually good X-stories post-Claremont.
Lobdell and Robinson on Generation X.
John Francis Moore's X-Force is a personal favourite. A very different type of X-book for the post-Claremont period.
Warren Ellis' Excalibur is great. I consider it one of Ellis best works to this day, and I am a fan of Ellis.
Peter David's X-Factor is brilliant.
I also enjoyed the Joe Casey run on Cable from the late-90s. I'm not a big fan of the Cable character either.
And, the Gambit on-going series from the mid-90s. That was a pretty dire point in X-Men history, or so I believe, but the Gambit book stood out as one of the best X-books of the period.

Jason said...

Interesting. Thanks, Tee and Anon! I have read PAD's X-Factor, and I definitely enjoyed much of it. (Though interestingly that run has the distinction of containing a moment cited in Geoff's book as an example of lame 90s superhero soap opera.)

I am curious about Ellis' Excalibur, for sure. And I love Joe Casey's "Children of the Atom" miniseries, so I can believe he might do a good X-book.

Lobdell, man, I don't know. I go hot and cold with that guy, but the cold is REALLY cold.

P.S. I read Claremont's "X-Women" one-shot today. It is wild -- virtual soft-core lesbian porn, starring Claremont's favorite female characters. Possibly Claremont's most self-aware comic ever -- very much playing up his own excesses, and shamelessly mocking stuff that other writers have done that he hates ... plus he's abandoned any attempt at the poetic rhythms that he usually attempts (and used to succeed at), instead having lines like "Emma is such a bitch" and "You don't want to piss the X-Men off." Crazy. Could this be Claremont's "All Star Batman and Robin"?

Teebore said...

@Jason: Thanks for the comments about Claremont's X-Women. I added it to my pull list once I saw Claremont was doing it, but haven't picked it up yet.

Jason said...

If you pick it up, Tee, will you blog about it? You should!

Teebore said...

@Jason: Assuming it's interesting/intriguing/hilarious enough to stimulate some reaction from me, definitely! I can't resist a request...

Isaac P. said...

I remember this issue feelinglike a pure thrill after the nearly two years of disjointed post-Inferno stories. Maybe if the Dissolution era had a more consistent art team or at least better fill-in artists, it may be remembered better as there is a fair amount of good stuff in there. But this issue really felt like the big picture X-Men firing on all cylinders that I had encountered upon first picking up the book at the start of the Outback era. Only with hindsight do I see Claremont resolving plotlines and putting all the toys back in place at editorial behest.

I also recommend Not Blog X. It and the X-Axis are/were my two favorite places to read issue bloggers do their thing on the X books. That is, of course, before I encountered the mighty powers of Jason Powell :) I had wanted for a long time to go back and read the entirety of the Claremont run and it has been a lot of fun to read your analyses along with the issues. I'm waiting for Marvel to publish another volume of the Essential Uncanny to finish off the run, but I decided I didn't want to wait til then to read the rest of your reviews.

And since it was brought up earlier in the thread, I have to comment on Uncanny #219. This issue feels so off that I think of the whole issue as being seen from Havok's perspective as he is trying to fight his way through Betsy's brainwashing. Claremont is feeding us a bit of the old unreliable narrator, is the only way I can make that issue fit comfortably.

Morrison Was Right said...

Blah Blah Blah Menshevik and the author live up the Old Terrorist Twat's overrated ass. The only perfect pairing for Rogue is a bullet to her brainless head. Dazzler or really any other X lady should be front and center in the crap X titles not a hideous inbred hick like Rogue. Proud Hater Since 1981. The end. {Shelle}