Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Uncanny X-Men 272

[Jason Powell keeps this blog afloat with a look at every issue of Claremont's X-Men run. You know. The 17 year one. Seriously.]

“Capital Crimes”

Avoiding foolish consistency, Claremont’s third and final contribution to “X-Tinction Agenda” eliminates the “dramatis personae” from Page 1, instead opting for a “man on the street” segment that gives a taste of how the rest of the mainstream Marvel Universe are reacting to reports of the Genoshan war. It’s a fun little bit, featuring cameos by Mr. Fantastic, She-Hulk, and – surprisingly – The Punisher. (That single panel is the only instance I can call to mind of Claremont writing Frank Castle, by the way. I love that he actually seems to be on Genosha’s side.)

Again, although this issue is mainly just advancing “X-Tinction Agenda” along, it is significant in the larger context of Claremont’s full run, in a number of ways: The X-Men are now a team again, enough members having reunited at this point to constitute a full cast of characters. This thereby marks an end to the “Dissolution” saga begun all the way back in Uncanny 251. Also, since this story makes use of the media – explicitly telling us that these events are being broadcast on American television – we are also looking at the end of an even longer arc: The “X-Men believed dead” conceit begun all the way back in issue 229. Finally, this is the point at which the (somewhat arbitrary) walls separating the three core mutant series – Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants and X-Factor – are dissolved completely. At this point, the X-universe becomes a much more amorphous place, with the X-Men essentially one large team whose story happens to be told in several different series. That’s still pretty much the case today, from what I can tell.

One would expect that such momentous moments in the narrative would have a larger sense of grandeur and glory. Instead, it’s all rather ignominious: The world learns the X-Men are alive by seeing on the news that they’ve been captured; the team is reunited because their separate attacks on the enemy failed. It would be tempting to suggest that this is Claremont subverting reader expectation for a grand finale, but it seems more likely that he is simply following an editorially mandated over-plot (albeit one which he probably had some hand in shaping).

Indeed, Claremont seems a bit annoyed at some of the creative wheel-spinning required of the plot in order to stretch it out to nine issues – hence the commentary from Rictor when he, Boom Boom and Jubilee are finally woven in: “Way to go! ‘Bout time we had something useful to do.”

Although issue 272 is only one link in the chain, Claremont does – whether by luck of the draw or by design – get to write the most exciting part of the crossover’s final act, i.e. the triumphant turnaround that puts the heroes back on top. Granted, the Storm macguffin is a bit pat – apparently the Genegineer programmed no less than THREE deus ex machinas into her “matrix” at the end of Uncanny 271, all in the space of what appears to be roughly 15 seconds or so. Still, the execution is fun, and Claremont gives several other characters some beautifully choreographed cheer-worthy moments as well: Psylocke’s rescue of Anderson and Cyclops’ return to power, for example, are both magnificently handled. (Jim Lee and Scott Williams deserve their share of the credit for the coolness of those moments, of course.)

This issue also contains a fantastically over-the-top bit in which Gambit saves the day through a series of impossible moves. It must be seen to be appreciated; to describe the sequence in cold, hard text does it no justice – which is why even Claremont lets the panels run without any text (a rarity for him at any time, and this era especially). Jim Lee’s choreography truly does speak for itself. Indeed, the Gambit sequence may have been Lee’s invention entirely, although we surely have Claremont to thank for putting the “miraculous-lock-pick” scenario in perspective, as the Beast reminds us that it is a reprise of a sequence from the John Byrne era. (This may have been protestation on Claremont’s part, as he was avowedly against the franchise looking backwards; if so, it backfired, as the nod to continuity simply felt like a reward for longtime readers.)

At this point in the run, each issue of Uncanny takes us farther away from the immensely complicated tapestry that characterized Claremont at his peak. The storytelling here is much less complicated -- more set-‘em-up/knock-‘em-down. Nonetheless, Claremont proves – in all three of his entries in the “X-Tinction” saga – that he can deliver straightforward excitement as well as anyone. What’s more, for people who had been “following the tangled skein” (as Peter David once put it) of the X-Men narrative for years, the adrenalized thrill of these big action-sequences felt hard-earned indeed, and were all the more satisfying because of it.

16 comments:

scottmcdarmont said...

Ok, so now, THIS is the issue with the "Nazi" line from Psylocke ("Ask a Nazi! Better yet, ask their victims!")-- ok, as hamfisted as it may seem reading it today-- this was a really profound moment for me as a 13 year old; I, in the two years I had been regularly reading comics, had come to understand that these weren't just 'kids stories' but that they could have real depth, the characters real substance, but, it was in this moment that something new clicked: THIS was the very first moment that I GOT what the X-men were about, in other words this was the first time I got the whole 'mutants as minority' bit (let me remind everyone that this was only my 4th issue as a regular reader of the series). Also, in a larger sense, this was the first time a realized that comics (any fantastic medium really) could be 'about' something; that they could reflect real world issues. A very small moment for most readers, but a profound one for a 13 year old me.

Gary said...

"What’s more, for people who had been “following the tangled skein” (as Peter David once put it) of the X-Men narrative for years, the adrenalized thrill of these big action-sequences felt hard-earned indeed, and were all the more satisfying because of it. "

This is what I was talking about way back when when I noted that I never knew when I was reading it that all this stuff was editorially mandated - that I thought it was all just one intentional arc. I came onto the X-Men with issue 210. The team was promptly shredded, rebuilt, killed, resurrected, and shredded again. And with X-tinction Agenda, that all starts to get its payoff - the real payoff is in Adjectiveless X-Men #1-3, but this is where the re-assembly begins. Reading this really brings back the feel of why those issues were so good to me: not because of the art, but because of the payoff to years of plotting.

Which it wasn't. But if you didn't know that, I'd challenge you to tell me what tipped you off that it was. Good stuff.

Good stuff to you as well, Jason.

scottmcdarmont said...

I would also like to add that, even though I was only a few issues in, that the 'The gang is fianlly back together' feel was definitely there for me at the time as well.

BTW: My catchpa is 'blutlint'-- sounds dirty.

Teebore said...

This is easily my favorite chapter of the X-Tinction Agenda story, and a phenomenal bit of action storytelling.

That bit with Gambit is indeed excellent (and surely over the top) but it definitely sticks with me, as does Psylocke Die Harding it through the vents and Cyclops' power coming back.

@Gary: Reading this really brings back the feel of why those issues were so good to me: not because of the art, but because of the payoff to years of plotting.

Which it wasn't. But if you didn't know that, I'd challenge you to tell me what tipped you off that it was.


I know exactly what you mean. For years, I just assumed everything that happened in the comics was part of someone's grand narrative plan (honestly, I probably thought that all the way up through Onslaught).

I don't know what, if any, single event removed the rose colored glasses and made me recognize editorial mandates and whatnot (it was probably as I got older and really encountered comics journalism for the first time).

One of the (many) things I've really enjoyed about these posts has been the times where Jason points out those moments where editorial seemingly interjects and twists the story (for good and bad) away from Claremont's intentions/desires, simply because the first time (and many subsequent times) I read through these issues, I read them as though Claremont were simply telling his story, with every beat planned out and no one to tell him what to do.

So its fascinating for me to now see those places where outside forces affect Claremont's narrative. They seem so obvious in hindsight, but I was completely ignorant of them for years, and issues like this one recall that (admittedly naive) feeling that narrative cohesion was the intention, and not just a happy accident.

Dave Mullen said...

Finally, this is the point at which the (somewhat arbitrary) walls separating the three core mutant series – Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants and X-Factor – are dissolved completely. At this point, the X-universe becomes a much more amorphous place, with the X-Men essentially one large team whose story happens to be told in several different series. That’s still pretty much the case today, from what I can tell.

Good observation, I haven't anything to say on this crossover as I just do not like it; however you summed up what in hindsight was the start of my own personal turning point with enjoying the X-Men - the gradual erosion and loss of the strong identity the book had always had.

The x-tinction Agenda for me was just a hollow empty stream of nothing and one of many many such vacuous mega-crossovers going on around this time in the Marvel Universe. Maximum Carnage, Blood & Thunder, The Infinity Gauntlet/War/Quest/whatever... all were deeply worthless wastes of paper.
Still, on the positive side the team of Claremont and Lee made the 'Uncanny' segments quite readable and worthwhile, One of Claremonts strengths has always been his ability to give supporting cast or bystanders some very credible strong characterisation. Here it's Judge Anderson and to an extent Philip Moreau who benefit and it's interesting as it gives the utterly fictional Genosha a layer of plausibility. Any work of fiction is only as strong as the people inhabiting it and it's bit players like this that helped build the x-men into the success it was/is.

Jason said...

Thanks for the comments, all. I don't have much to add; just kind of nodding in agreement at what folks are saying.

Looking forward to the discussion for the next arc, too -- 273-277, the last complete Claremont arc before he leaves "Uncanny" ... ! Should be fun. And, crazily, before we're done, I'll be in New York to produce my very own musical! Yee haw!

Jason said...

Whoops, forgot to check the "e-mail followup comments to me" box ...

neilshyminsky said...

Like everyone else, it seems, I was also under the impression that this was all one epic plan coming to fruition, and I had only been following since Inferno.

The whole 'when did you realize that most comics operate on a year-long marketing plan and are subject to all sorts of interference?' question is a good one, too, that would be fun to see people try and answer. I can't answer concretely, but I do think it was some time just after Onslaught, when a friend of mine convinced my teenage self that a) the Onslaught reveal was contrived, not awesome, b) Scott Lobdell and Bob Harras were making it up as they went long, and c) the Heroes Reborn event was a cynical gesture, not an inspired one.

Jason said...

For me it was reading Claremont's interview with the Comics Journal in 1992, while at the same time seeing Peter David's anecdotes in Comic Buyer's Guide about trying to write X-Factor.

Teebore said...

@neilshyminsky: Ha! I think I experienced the exact same realizations as you did regarding Onslaught, though I can't for the life of me remember what finally pulled the wool from my eyes...

Gary said...

I would have had the revelation around the same time - end of high school, middle of college. I remember that it was Claremont's plight that brought editorial interference to my attention - that Bob Harras had driven him off the book that he built was one of the first things that came to my attention from an editorial meddline perspective. For some reason, Dark Phoenix never registered with me as meddling. Too young when I learned about it, I suppose.

On Heroes Reborn: sure, it was a cynical gesture that no one thought would last, but, man, it made for GOOD stories in the main Marvel Universe. Daredevil v. the Absorbing Man, Joe Kelly's Deadpool, and the introduction of Thunderbolts - which never would have happened without Heroes Reborn - not to mention the fine stories that Heroes Return brought. Busiek and Perez on Avengers, and I liked Scott Lobdell's FF and Claremont's followup. The artists didn't hurt there, either - Alan Davis and Salvador Larocca. Nice stuff.

Onslught, though... Onslaught... I've got nothing to redeem that bad boy. Joe Kelly offered a reward to anyone who could make Onslaught funny in that DP run... surely that's worth something?

No, you're right. I've still got nothing.

Shlomo said...

how about phalanx covenant? that seemed totally contrived to bring in generation x. which imeediatly seemed to meander.

What I think what killed it for me,even before onsgluht was the "reboot" after age of apocolypse. the special they put out for that (was it called x-men prime?) was such a mess of artistic styles and boring plot teasers. And it was a poor comaprison with the relatively tight planning in the apocalypse storyline. I loved scott lobdell's little "generation next" miniseries. but immediatley after apocolypse the title started to meander even worse.

hmmm... I think they actually had a reference to onslaught in that special.

shlomo said...

Also... just managed to pull out my watersoaked collection of x-ticntion, and reread the claremont issues.

After ereading jason's comments, I paid particular attention to wolverine's speeches to jubilee. He seems to be explaining to her that he has accepted his inevidable demise, and she shouldnt bother him about his weakeened state. And twice he tells her that this is no-time for grandstanding.

Jason-- have you written about wolverine as claremont's fictional stand-in? Its kind of creepy, but claremont/wolverine's accepts his own demise, even while discussing "what he owed the x-men". Its kind of touching.

neilshyminsky said...

shlomo: I think that theory actually dovetails really nicely with the discussions that Jason and I have had about the long process of Wolverine's emasculation. Because, if I'm remembering correctly, Wolverine's sense begin going haywire around the time of the Mutant Massacre, he leaves to find himself after Inferno, his body begins failing him during Acts of Vengeance... all these things are tied very closely to the editorially mandated crossovers.

Jason said...

Very interesting, shlo and neil ... most interesting indeed. Nothing to add here, just wanted to say I'm enjoying the theorizing.

Matt said...

On Heroes Reborn: sure, it was a cynical gesture that no one thought would last, but, man, it made for GOOD stories in the main Marvel Universe. Daredevil v. the Absorbing Man, Joe Kelly's Deadpool, and the introduction of Thunderbolts - which never would have happened without Heroes Reborn - not to mention the fine stories that Heroes Return brought. Busiek and Perez on Avengers, and I liked Scott Lobdell's FF and Claremont's followup. The artists didn't hurt there, either - Alan Davis and Salvador Larocca. Nice stuff.

And guess who greenlit every single one of those things -- that fiendish neuterer of talent and destroyer of all that is good in comics, Marvel's then Editor-in-Chief, Bob Harras!

(Sorry; I feel like my defenses of Harras are getting more and more snipey and snarky with each comment I post... I think that's the cumulative effect of, as I mentioned in a comment yesterday, reading tons of these reviews in quick succession.)

Also, I find it very interesting to learn how many readers felt that everything was part of a grand, over-arching plot. I don't think I ever thought that. I certainly didn't know about the behind-the-scenes shenanigans and abrupt, unplanned changes in directions -- but, at least up until I finished high school, I figured they were just making it up as they went along.

To use a non-X example, in the 80's, Roger Stern created the Hobgoblin in Amazing Spider-Man. He knew who Hobby really was, but he still thought up stories on a month-to-month basis, while developing the mystery in the background. That was how I always assumed comics were produced for as long as I can remember -- you know the starting point and you know the end point, but you fill in the blanks off the top of your head from month to month.

So obviously I assumed that certain things were known, such as the identity of Onslaught, but I never thought that every beat leading up to Onslaught's reveal was pre-planned at some master writers' conference. There were clues here and there that it didn't work this way, but I think the first time I became truly aware of editorial control and writers aborting storylines was at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2000 (I was 19 at the time), when Alan Davis was on an X-Men panel for a Q&A (this was when he was the "plot-master" for the core X-books, and every question had to be pre-screened by some spikey-haired, soul patched tool from the Marketing department, who then carefully guided Davis through his answers to make sure he didn't say anything wrong.