Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Uncanny X-Men 271

[Jason Powell continues to look at every issue of Claremont's major X-Men run. Some very good points about Havok here, I think.]


Act Two, scene 1 of “X-Tinction Agenda” begins here, as – quite excitingly -- the Wolverine/Psylocke/Jubilee triad arrive in Genosha. The first page duplicates the structure of the previous issue’s opening: The “Dramatis Personae” on the top and bottom tiers, bracketing an expository news report. In a nice bit of economy, the news report serves a double-purpose dramatically, explaining how Logan et al knew to come to Genosha in the first place.

As noted last week, “X-Tinction Agenda” feels a lot like “Secret Wars” – basically just a big fight between a score of superheroes and a bunch of villains, with the story’s length stretched mainly through clever manipulation of individual factions. There is a lot of “let’s split up into smaller teams” maneuvering. In that sense, “Flashpoint” (part 4 of a nine-part arc) is not terribly remarkable, in that it mainly serves just to add three new pieces to the chessboard.

Still, Claremont is quite shrewd in how he executes the beats, so that every maneuver feels significant beyond its place in the crossover’s logistics game. For one, the introduction of the Wolverine faction is given added weight by its position in terms of Claremont’s much larger “Dissolution” arc. I.e., Logan, Betsy and Jubilee are finally – after nearly two years – linking up with the other X-factions. That fact alone infuses this issue with a particularly explosive sense of energy.

Indeed, “Flashpoint” is as much about paying off the long-term Seige Perilous arc as it is about the main Genoshan plot – it’s a rather thrilling moment when Psylocke and Wolverine come face-to-face with the post-Seige Havok, for example. Alex seems to have gotten the worst karmic fate of any of the Seige X-Men – the willing servant of an apartheid state. Presumably this is a payoff to Claremont’s arc for Alex begun as far back as Uncanny 222, when Alex tried to kill Lorna. Starting there, the character was on a slow path of self-loathing that dovetailed with a steep change in his moral attitude. By the time he passed through the Seige portal, he was blaming himself for the fates of both Lorna and Maddie, and had no compunctions about killing his enemies. That lack of any kind of moral compass, and his increasing certainty that he bore responsibility in the death or corruption of his loved ones, all culminated with the accidental death of Storm. From that moment, Alex Summers became a character for whom nothing mattered, and life was meaningless. That’s clearly not a worldview with which Claremont sympathizes, as he rewards Alex’s nihilism by making him a villain. The point seems to be that to believe in nothing is dangerous, leaving a void which is too easily filled by immoral, if not downright evil, belief systems.

“Flashpoint” is noteworthy as well for its blatant exploitation of Wolverine’s place as the alpha male in the X-mythos. The previous three chapters of the story showed a lot of mutants being captured or killed by the villains, and surely the calculation here is that when Logan shows up, the fans will react much like Rictor does on-panel: “Now we’ll see who kicks whose butt!”
It doesn’t work out that way – Logan and Betsy are duly captured by the end of the issue, faring no better than the other characters. It would be nice to think that this is another example of Claremont undermining Logan’s hyper-masculinity (as discussed by Neil Shyminsky on his own blog and in earlier comments sections of this one) – but in this case it’s more likely that he is just bowing to the greater needs of the over-arching plot.

Still, the force of Wolverine’s personality – and those of his two female companions – is enough to fill this issue, allowing Claremont to ignore some of the more banal goings-on from Simonson’s previous chapter. Thus not a single member of X-Factor shows up here, and only a couple of the New Mutants. Claremont very cannily makes this issue all about the X-Men, despite its status as part of a crossover.

Issue 271 is also the first appearance of Psylocke’s “psychic knife” since the Mandarin trilogy. I seem to recall when I first read this issue being surprised that she retained that ability, as I thought it was a function of the rings she was wearing at the time. For some reason, it struck me as odd that it just comes out of her hand. Anyway, this is also the debut of the phrase “focused totality of my telepathic powers,” which soon became an emblem for Claremont’s idiosyncratic writing style – which is to say, his wrought language and tendency towards over-exposition. Indeed, the phrase “focused totality” is used twice in “Flashpoint,” which compounds its ridiculousness. (Although I’d argue that the phrase’s double-appearance in issue 271 falls more under the purview of the editor than the writer. It’s one of those things that should’ve been caught at the production stage, surely.)

Claremont will only use the phrase “focused totality” three other times before he quits in 1991. Yet it has become, amusingly, an easy thing for Claremont haters to “focus” on as an example of his excess. Because goodness knows, five instances of the same phrase -- in a run that spans 17 years and hundreds of thousands of words – is just unconscionable.

[Jason -- did other writers use the phrase after Claremont?]


scottmcdarmont said...

Is this the issue where Betsy says something about "It's the same excuse as the Nazis" while waving a machine gun? Or is that next issue, it's actually a very important moment for me and I want to be sure to comment on it at the appropriate time.

Jason said...

Next issue, Scott. I know the moment well. :) "Ask a Nazi! Better yet, ask their victims!"

Teebore said...

@Geoff: did other writers use the phrase after Claremont?

I can't recall a specific example, but I'm almost positive the phrase was used well after Claremont's departure, anytime Psylocke "unsheathed" the knife, at least until after all the Psylocke/Revanche stuff.

Logan, Betsy and Jubilee are finally – after nearly two years – linking up with the other X-factions. That fact alone infuses this issue with a particularly explosive sense of energy.

Great observation, and what's funny is that when I first read this story, having not read all the preceding Claremont issues yet, I had no idea just how long Wolverine, et al, had been on his own, yet their appearances here still resonated as being a BIG DEAL to me, even if I didn't fully know why.

Presumably this is a payoff to Claremont’s arc for Alex begun as far back as Uncanny 222

Thanks! I had always wondered why Alex seemed to get the short end of the stick, Siege Perilous-wise, and that makes perfect sense. It's definitely a subtle connection, but one I'd never made before.

Mitch said...

I want to start a metal band called "Focused Totality."

Jeremy said...

Say what you want about these trilogy of Claremont issues just being an exercise in juggling characters, but Jim Lee draws the hell out of it. Genosha looks awesome, with all its hovercrafts, badass Magistrates, and the futuristic cityscapes. I'm of the opinion that the first Genosha story is the best thing Claremont ever written(followed shortly by "From the Ashes"), and its great seeing it come back to life again(even if it undermines a lot of the original's power by having a cackling spider robot guy as the villain).

Evan said...

Cameron Hodge was always a child of Louise's efforts/poor writing. When she took over X-factor he was just some suit. She was the one who had him try to drive the members of X-factor insane before being eaten by a giant squid in New Mutants's Fall of the Mutants animus island... thereby turning him into a giant robot spider.

Sigh... I really dislike Louise's writing. When I saw X-factor forever land... I didn't have words.

Peter Farago said...

I thought the spider thing happened after (Arch)angel cut off Hodge's head?

Hodge worked well as Angel's unrequited homoerotic love interest and corporate foil in early X-Factor - god knows that Warren needed a few more elements to round out his character. Just look at what happened to Bobby, who never received anything like that and has been relegated to second stringer comic relief status for 50 years of comics history.

Unfortunately, the decision to turn him into an immortal demon monster (which, I think, picks up on an Inferno-era Simonson plotline) just strips his character of all interest and subtlety. But I don't think the initial premise was a bad one.

Teebore said...

@Evan: Don't forget the whole "Archangel chopping Hodge's head off" thing, which must have come AFTER the squid attack (and after the deal with N'astirh which gave him immortality) but before the spider robot body.

Jason said...

Jeremy, we are perhaps twins separated at birth. I rank the original Genosha storyline as #1 as well, and From the Ashes is high up there for me too.

I am pretty much in agreement with you about Jim Lee's contributions to these issues as well -- see my comments for Uncanny 270.

As for the evolution of Hodge ... I haven't read all of Simonson's X-Factor, only the issues that crossover directly with Claremont's X-Men. I do recall that the first issue of "Inferno X-Factor" has Archangel talking to N'astirh, and Archangel says, "Hodge is dead. I chopped off his head." And N'astirh says, "Don't be too sure" or something. Blah, whatever.

James said...

"Hodge is dead. I chopped off his head."
"Don't be too sure, he's come back before. Villains and minions: ressurrections galore!"

Peter Farago said...

What dialogue. Was Etrigan filling in that day?

James said...

(I assume Jason was paraphrasing, and mine was made up. For fun! It would've been good though, eh?)

Arthur said...

Hi Jason,

I agree with the blogfuhrer: great points about Havok. I never understood Havok's fate before. It certainly didn't seem like much of a reward. (Not that the others had an easy time, but at least they were in positions to attain their happy ending.)

Question: was the Siege Perilous a device from Captain Britain? What are it's connections to the Arthurian Siege?

Jeremy said...

Arthur: Funny you mention that, I just read that first Captain Britain and the MI-13 where the Siege Perilous gets destroyed. Its certainly connected, although I don't know the full details.

Jason said...


I am unfortunately a bit unfamiliar with the early Claremont Captain Britain stories. I've read some synopses and the first chapter -- and the Marvel Team-Up with Arcade -- but that's it.

As I understand it, the "Siege Perilous" as a phrase was in Captain Britain -- and associated with Roma -- but its dramatic function in Captain Britain was very different from what it was in X-Men.

And both of the ways Claremont used it seem different from the Arthurian definition, though obviously that association is deliberate, what with the Merlin connection.

James, I was paraphrasing but I think the actual quote might also rhyme, silly-ly enough ...

Arthur said...

Jeremy: but wasn't the Siege destroyed by Pierce during Wolvie's crucifixion?

That struck me as kind of strange, that for a mystical item, it was fragile enough to be destroyed by Pierce.


Anonymous said...

So, per Geoff's question, did any of the later X-Men writers use the "focused totality" phrase after Claremont? I don't have any back-issues to confirm or deny, although I'm pretty sure Alan Davis uses it at least once when Betsy appears in Excalibur for two issues (#55 & #56).

Also, for any of you who are also fans of Futurama, this is kind of wonderful:


Zephyr said...

I agree that the 1st Genosha storyline is probably the best due to characterization, storytelling, art, and plot (especially because they fight in Sydney, an awesome city and the downfall of Maddy is especially good: when N'Astirh shows up on the TV in the genoshan lab she is being tested on at and asks if this is a good time- classic ). From the Ashes was also very good.

But I must say, being a huge X-Men fan and having a collection from issue 104-320 (where I stopped reading due to crappy stories and bad art), the dissolution of the team and subsequent lost X-Men arc from like 251-269 and culminating with the X-tinction Agenda was purely epic. The plot turns with every issue and you never know what u r going to see next. And while most issues might not have an established character to carry the book, I think this is cool. Claremont had done some of this by changing the team or introducing a new character every 20 issues or so throughout his run, but never to this extent. Especially after reading some of Jason's thoughts on the behind the scenes workings and Claremont's usage of these in the books, it makes it even better.

Issues 261-263 were of poor quality and had no relevance to the arc, so I did not like those at all and generally disregard them as part of this time. However, 264, which was poorly reviewed (and partially justified due to the horrible art), actually set up X-Tinction agenda by showing what lengths Genosha would go to for revenge, and was a good story I thought by starting the re-emergence of the team. Next we get Storm back and Gambit too, who at the end of 267 are going to look for the x-men (Storm to Gambit, "Have u ever heard of a team called the X-Men"). Then the Future Present Annual that brings them back into the fold at the school, which to me was the most important part.

And then, BOOM! X-Tinction Agenda, which brings all the character's (currently in the big 3 books) besides Rogue and Colossus back together. Amazing story and while some have criticized the use of Cameron Hodge as a villain (his appearance was def. over the top), at least he had a reason to go after X-Factor, while the Genoshans had a reason to go after all of them (ie, X-men wrecking their slave country and "stealing" a mutate in Part 1, and X-Factor plus Banshee and Forge repelling their attack to repossess J. Ransome in 264).

One story that everybody seems to rave about is Fall of the Mutants, which to me, has one of the worst villains of all time- Naze/the Adversary- a generic demon that wants to rule the world- lame. Sure, some of the good parts include FF and Neil Conan videotaping, but other than make the X-men disappear from the general MU for some cool Australian scenes and the dissolution arc, it was crap and could have been told in like one issue.

X-Tinction Agenda led to some of the worst times for Marvel by squarely putting the crossover on the map and hyping up the superartists beyond control, but don't forget it was a cool ass story with awesome new characters (come on admit it, everybody liked Cable, Gambit and Jubilee to start) and it put the X Teams back on the map as a cohesive unit, which, as much as I like the scattered X arc, was necessary to not have Claremont run off with a Forge in love with an adolescent Storm love novel that lasted 50 issues with a dead Wolverine and the rest of the X-Men living happily ever after like Tsar Nicolas.

Al said...

To be fair, this isn't the first time Claremont had used this phrase.

He was using the same thing with Illyana and her Soulsword in New Mutants just years before.

"The focused totality of her eldritch power"

Jason said...

'To be fair, this isn't the first time Claremont had used this phrase.
He was using the same thing with Illyana and her Soulsword in New Mutants just years before.
"The focused totality of her eldritch power"'

Nobody's reading this anymore, but for the record ... no, he wasn't. Back then, the catchphrase was, "The sum and substance of her eldritch power."

Teebore said...

@Jason: Nobody's reading this anymore, but for the record ... no, he wasn't. Back then, the catchphrase was, "The sum and substance of her eldritch power."

Well, I'm still reading (thanks to the power of comment subscription!). :)

Blam said...

I’m still (well, newly) reading, when I remember at least, after the relevant issue in Teebore’s steady march. And I recall the most frequent description of Illyana’s Soulsword being “ultimate expression” rather than “sum and substance” or “focused totality”; the latter, however, is 100% the best band name.