Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Uncanny 276

[Jason Powell continues to cover every issue of Claremont's first X-Men run here. But this is a special one, because this one is being posted while Jason Powell is in New York City -- and I will be meeting him and Mitch, who I also met because of the blog, in Times Square in just a few hours.]

“Double Death”

After the previous issue’s tour de force, which ended the Magneto/Rogue arc so brilliantly, this one doesn’t have quite as much to offer in terms of emotional resonance. We are now safely entrenched in action-movie territory, Claremont’s text taking a backseat to Jim Lee’s flair for big melodrama and epic-scale action sequences. Hence a lot of big, violent panels – including the dramatic twist that also dominates Lee’s strikingly stark cover: Wolverine murdering “Professor X.”

Of course, these proceedings are rather silly in their artificiality. It’s clear early on (if it wasn’t by the end of the previous issue) that this is a plot involving doppelgangers. The good guys going evil – whether because they are imposters, evil duplicates, or the genuine characters under some kind of mind-control – is very much a Claremont staple, and has become a cliché in recent years, thanks to too many iterations of it within too small a timeframe. In 1991, this penchant wasn’t quite as over-indulged, but certainly any longtime reader could see what was going on. Thus, there is not a lot of suspense here.

What makes the story interesting beyond its basic internal mechanics are the textual reflections at work here. Uncanny issues 273-277 comprise Claremont’s final, complete multi-issue arc for Uncanny. (His next, begun in 278, would not conclude until after he’d quit the title.) As such, it yields some interesting reflections when compared against Claremont’s first multi-issue arc, the Sentinel trilogy published in issues 98-100. (I’m not counting the Nefaria material, as that was plotted entirely by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum.)

Both stories involve a new team on their first space-faring adventure; thus, in both cases we get to see brand-new character dynamics at work, as recently minted characters interact for almost the firs time: Compare the fraught, combative banter of Jubilee and Gambit in this issue’s opening fight sequence to that of, for example, Nightcrawler and Colossus during their Sentinel battles. This is Harras and Lee trying to return the X-Men to the glory days that they both remember so fondly: the Cockrum/Byrne era. And while Claremont was explicitly uninterested in going backwards, he is still a pro, and proves here and in the next issue that he is more than capable of recreating that sense of youthful excitement. Despite being a decade and a half older, at this point Claremont has lost none of the verve and vigor that characterized his 70s work.

Another shared element between the two arcs is the “evil doppelganger” conceit. In the earlier story, the robot versions of the original X-Men were used to make explicit the tension between the new X-Men and their Silver Age forebears. Here, we see similar tensions play out, as Claremont’s generation (embodied by Storm, Wolverine and Banshee) fights their futuristic replacements. Though in this latter story, the divisions are not quite so clean and neat. Both the “good” and “evil” factions have a mix of the old and the new, a tacit acknowledgement by Claremont – by continuing to script the Jim Lee-plotted adventures – he is more or less working with the enemy, and basically helping to hasten his own obsolescence.

Yet for all of that, the Claremont/Lee chemistry makes for some classic comic-book moments. I will always love Page 18, panel one, in which Lila Cheney and Deathbird re-appear, rendered with shameless sexiness by Lee, the coup de grace being Claremont’s wryly self-aware dialogue for Lila: “We’re baaaaack! Two bad, beautiful babes with REALLY BIG GUNS!”

However contrived it might have been at this point, Claremont’s sense of fun when writing Uncanny X-Men stayed with him right up to the end.


Dave Mullen said...

Both the “good” and “evil” factions have a mix of the old and the new, a tacit acknowledgement by Claremont – by continuing to script the Jim Lee-plotted adventures – he is more or less working with the enemy, and basically helping to hasten his own obsolescence.

It's interesting looking back on this era when you consider those words, Marvel were clearly grooming the hip Young Guns of Lee/Liefeld/McFarlane and latterly Scott Lobdell etc to take their main properties forward into ultra modern territory and appeal directly to a demographic, visually at least they certainly delivered on that ethos #276 is amazing to look at even today!

It makes me wonder though - did Marvel at this time really think that their existing creators were so past it a new and (as we were to find out soon enough) totally self interested and ambitious troop of young studs would solve all their problems forever more?
...Was Claremont really deemed so expendable?

I did like the very sharp Sci-Fi edge Lee gave Uncanny #276, this felt like a very plausible set-up for a society and it was good to see Xavier finally after such a long time missing. Despite it's pace and visual however the story as a whole didn't quite appeal to me, maybe that's down to the last issue being so good and this Sci-Fi stuff being inherantly hard to engage with on the same level as the earthbound territory. I'm not sure the X-Men work all that well in this sort of environment but as a precursor for what the next five years of cross-media x-men would serve up it helps serve up a good design storyboard for what was to come.

Ken Dynamo said...

hi everyone - first time long time, here.

Jason - huge fan of your analysis - i'm bummed it's over so soon.

say, anyone else pick up the Claremont/Manara collaboration, X-Women? I got it last week, 4.99 for about 48 pages of story. It had some questionable elements, perhaps, but overall I found the art and scripting to be very strong. Highly recommended - not that anyone has any reason to trust my taste yet :)

deepfix said...


As I mentioned earlier,I still believe the fatal flaw was Claremont's ego. He went too long without having anyone challenging him and he caled a bluff no one was offering. If the man had lasted six months longer than he did he would have been in complete control of the X-Men.

dschonbe said...

@Ken Dynamo - Look at the comments for issue 274. Jason just replied to the chain with comments about X-Women.

Another great review. Thanks Jason. And enjoy Manhattan. Go to Brooklyn though if you want some good bagels :)

Also, FYI, there is a minor misspelling of "first" here.
...as recently minted characters interact for almost the firs time:...

Jason said...

"If the man had lasted six months longer than he did he would have been in complete control of the X-Men."

I don't think that's true. After the Image artists left, the direction of the franchise was still being dictated by marketing concerns.

Consider Peter David. He outlasted the Image artists, but ultimately he still left X-Factor because he was tired of the fact that the shareholders had more creative control than he did.

Nothing would've changed for Claremont in six months. Six *years*, maybe ...

Jason said...

Ken, here's what I wrote about X-Women:

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"?

Ken Dynamo said...

ah - cool, thanks - I missed that. is it all right if i continue that thread here? because I thought that one line was great!

"we're mutants... you piss us off at your peril!"

to me it was great seeing Claremont actually talk like an adult instead of all the "don't MESS with the X-Men!" lines he had to write when he was writing for all ages. and i think the artist he was paired with, Milo Manara, explains most of the blatantly sexual, not-thinly-veiled-at-all lesbian undertones (overtones?) I didn't know much about him except from his work in Gaimen's "Endless Nights" Sandman capstone (the chapter on Desire, itself a graphically erotic story). So I looked him up online and according to the internet he is a very well known and respected European artists who specializes in pornographic illustrations. so there's that.

And the dialog, (Kitty: You have no shame; Pyslocke: No, I just always look good), I thought it was some of the best Claremont's written! but YMMV, for sure.

and I was thrilled that Claremont stuck to letting Kitty narrate the action. i am not a fan of Claremont's omniscient narration.

i didn't think it was perfect though. i still have no idea what was going on between storm and the cargo cultist chief, and im not sure if it was totally kosher. and it was definitely a departure from the traditional x-men. i enjoyed it though. it'll be interesting to see if Claremont continues doing these kinds of quasi-canonical one shots, especially if and when X-Men Forever is canceled.

Jason said...

Ken, yes, it does feel a bit like "Claremont uncensored," which was fun.

Quesada's afterward makes it sound like Claremont wasn't too interested in doing this until he found out Manara was the artist ... so I'm guessing this is a one-shot one-shot.

Geoff, Mitch and I talked about this earlier today, though ... It'd be great to see the line continue, and get increasingly more uncensored. (Again, a bit like All-Star Batman, which became more and more gratuitous with each issue. Or Moore's "League," which has gotten both filthier and more esoteric as its gone on ...)

It would be nice to see Claremont indulge his fetishy side full-out, as contrasted with the snuck-in, "family-friendly" deviance of X-Men.

(There's a great story in Patrick Meaney's interview with Ann Nocenti, about the bit in Uncanny 193, where Callisto and the Morlocks dress Xavier up in punk clothes -- leather pants and the spiked collar. Apparently this was the toned down version, and Claremont wanted to dress him in something much more extreme.)

So yes, certainly Manara is the main reason why this issue is so overtly erotic, but Claremont definitely has predilections in that direction anyway. This was a very good match of writer and artist, I think. And I agree, it is probably Claremont's best comic in a while. Certainly his best X-Men comic in a decade.

Evan said...

I hate to say it, but I feel like a fully uncensored fully realized fantasy claremont story will have gladiators.

Teebore said...

Once again, you point out a connection I completely missed: Claremont's run bookended by two "the new X-Men...in space!" stories. Thanks!

@Evan I hate to say it, but I feel like a fully uncensored fully realized fantasy claremont story will have gladiators.

Ha! You're probably right. :)