Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Uncanny X-Men 278

[Jason Powell. X-Men, Chris Claremont, every issue, this blog, reviews, Unscramble, go.]

“The Battle of Muir Isle”

In looking for a truly satisfying ending for Claremont’s epic run, the most fitting candidates thematically are Uncanny 275 (with the conclusion of Magneto’s story), Uncanny 277 (the ending to the Shi’ar space opera), or X-Men 3 (the death of Magneto, and Claremont’s last issue of any mutant comic for seven years).

But in terms of the actual Uncanny X-Men series, the fact is that his last full issue is the present one, 278, and the last one to which he contributes anything at all is 279 (Claremont writes the first eleven pages out of 22). Neither one seems quite majestic enough, all things considered.

What we have here is the four-part culmination to the Shadow King subplot, which had been on a slow burn for a year and a half. Issue 278 is the opening chapter of the “Muir Island” saga, which then continues into Uncanny 279, then X-Factor 69, then finally Uncanny 280. (X-Factor 70 features a pleasantly reflective epilogue by Peter David.)

In the era before decompression became en vogue, four issues was a perfectly reasonable length for a superhero epic – yet after such a large build-up, the payoff as presented is undeniably scrappy. The concluding chapters, penned by Fabian Nicieza, contain some nice payoffs to some of Claremont’s dangling threads, but the entire affair is nonetheless a bit rough around the edges. After the satisfying conclusions to the recent Savage Land and Shi’ar arcs, one can’t help but wonder how things would have gone had Claremont and Lee stuck around to see it through. But Claremont was avowedly too frustrated at editorial’s restructuring, and Lee was presumably gearing up for the new X-Men #1.

Claremont’s planned conclusion to the Shadow King/Muir Isle story, if it was anything like his typical work, was going to be a rather complicated affair. The most striking thing about “The Battle of Muir Isle” is its utter straightforwardness (title included). Even his “X-Tinction Agenda” contributions, despite being the middle parts of a strictly contained nine-part structure, contained a reasonable share of Claremontian subtleties and complications, but no such complexity exists here.

The X-Men simply fly to Muir Isle to investigate Moira’s strange behavior, and are duly attacked by the island’s possessed mutant population (including, curiously, such characters as Siryn and Madrox, who were not seen at all during any of the Muir Island scenes in earlier Uncanny issues). Six members of the team are beaten, with only Forge left on the loose (so that he can whip up a deus ex machina or three in later chapters).

Xavier, meanwhile, returns to the X-mansion, where he’s attacked by a possessed Colossus. It’s all superhero-by-numbers, basically.

Art comes from Paul Smith, with whom Claremont collaborated on some of the best Uncanny issues in the entire run. While his work here lacks the dynamic imagination of his 80s X-material, his storytelling is still very much on point. There very little to complain about in “The Battle of Muir Isle” – it contains everything it needs to contain. Yet, after the excitement of the previous four issues, Uncanny 278 seems just a bit too placid. After so much build-up, the Muir Isle arc really ought to have quite a bit more spark.


Teebore said...

You know, I never before noticed that Madrox and Siryn show up more or less unannounced. I suppose Madrox has arguably been there since the Proteus arc (leaving his absence in the previous Muir Island scenes the question) but Siryn truly comes out of nowhere.

Editorial mandate, maybe? Did Harras know both would be used in X-Factor and X-Force at this point, and wanted them re-introduced here?

On a housekeeping note, will you be reviewing the first 11 pages of #279, and then X-Men 1-3, or just skip from here to X-Men 1 (yes, I can't wait a week to find out...).

Peter Farago said...

Madrox and Siryn were hanging out with the Vanisher in New York as of their last appearance before these issues (The weird-as-hell "Fallen Angels" mini). I also thought their sudden appearance on Muir island was weird, but it's not hard to imagine that they took a trip to see Moira and fell into the Shadow King's thrall in between issues.

Considering the behind-the-scenes dustup surrounding these issues, it's truly remarkable that the Muir Island Saga turned out as coherently as it did. It was disappointing that Farouk's bone-chilling, gut-wrenching, gluttonous, avaricious psychic-demon-rapist personality (on such horrifying display in the "Fat Karma" arc in New Mutants and the B-story scenes with Jacob Reisz, Lian Shen and Val Cooper in previous issues) is mostly gone here, but the whole story still works as a superhero slugfest, and it's a better-than-usual effort at getting the huge number of X-Men to fight each other to draw the story out for a few issues.

I have no idea how Claremont might have intended the story to end - I think I've heard that Xavier was supposed to die shortly after his return from space, and that Magneto was intended to return as leader of one of the X-Teams - which would mean that he was probably supposed to be involved in this story arc, as teased by his flashback to a battle with the Shadow King in #275.

I've also heard something about the Shadow King's ultimate goal being to ignite the human/mutant war that lead to the Days of Future Past timeline. It would've been interesting to see the present-day X-storylines gradually catch up to all the glimpses of the future universe Claremont gave us over the years. (This, too, would have fit with Magneto as leader an X-Team, the role he had in the original DoFP story).

Jason, the end looms too close. I'll miss this series!

Teebore said...

@Peter: the end looms too close. I'll miss this series!


I also agree that the whole story works surprisingly well, almost in spite of itself.

Jason said...

Wow, is it Tuesday already? Time flies in NYC! (In Milwaukee, there is nothing to do but sit and wait in desultory silence from one Tuesday to the next ...)

I never read "Fallen Angels," but of course Jamie and Siryn *had* both been on Muir Island the last time Claremont wrote either character. It's just curious that they weren't around during the "All New All Different" ballyhoo of issues 254-255. (Well after "Fallen Angels" was over, surely?)

Peter, I believe you're right about where the series was going when Claremont was still planning things. I seem to recall reading that he wanted to have issue 300 be the big final confrontation where everything went down ... ? (Or maybe I'm mixing this up with the "death of Wolverine" stuff.)

I want to say that somewhere it was suggested that issue 300 was going to leave a largely clean slate and put the series in a new status quo, with the X-Men once again using Gateway to travel to different places and have adventures. (I keep waiting for X-Men Forever to bring in Gateway; not sure it'll ever happen.)

Anyway, yeah, "Battle of Muir Island" works pretty well -- basically coasts along on the momentum Claremont had built up. Was it you, Peter, or someone else, who suggested that Claremont basically spent years building up a lot of fuel for future stories, and then right at the end of his tenure, it was Editorially mandated that they just burn through all that fuel in one gigantic burst? I think "Battle of Muir Isle" is part of that. It's entertaining, and the ending is pretty satisfying despite largely depending on a lot of hazily defined plot devices. But it's as much a credit to what Claremont put in for years before it as it is to what Fabian Nicieza et al did in the moment.

And Tee, for what it's worth, yes, next week is Uncanny X-Men 279, first eleven pages only. :)

ba said...

Yes, Madrox has been on Muir Island since his first appearance (in a FF annual?), but he and Siryn had been gone for the Fallen Angels mini, which was, as mentioned in an earlier comment...ridiculous. Mutant lobsters, the Vanisher as a Fagan/pimp character...I hadn't read it until a few years ago, so the conversation between Siryn and Madrox about having had slept together during the x-cutioner's song completely confused me.

I think the Muir Island saga was ok...I never knew claremont had checked out before the end. Of course, it's hard to see how he characterizes Strong Guy and Madrox particularly, when I view them as being Peter David characters (much like how Deadpool was created by Liefeld, but was MADE by Joe Kelly). The entire first few arcs of David's X-Factor made those characters, what with Guido secretly dating Sean Young, and Madrox using indestructible mayo jars, etc.

Also, I like the art in this ish. Totally a break from Jim Lee, but in a very refreshing way.

neilshyminsky said...

On the original resolution to the Muir Isle and Shadow King stuff, from teh intarwebs (but it jives with what I remember being posted to usenet back in the 90s, so it's probably mostly true):

Dark Wolverine: Wolverine gets his heart ripped out by Lady Deathstrike in the heat of battle. Logan dies, and stays dead until Uncanny X-Men #294, when he is resurrected as the Master Assassin for the Hand. The X-Men must count him as a deadly adversary. Wolverine does the Hand's dark deeds, unleashing the inner beast like never before.

Jean Grey secretly infilitrates the Hand to try to break the Hand's spells. To find the Logan buried within him, Jean allows herself to be seduced by Logan. This breaks off the rapport between Cyclops and Jean Grey, with long-term implications for their later relationship. Finally, a major confrontation occurs between Wolverine and the X-Men. In a major physical fight pitting Wolverine against Colossus, Peter Rasputin rips out Wolverine's claws from their roots! The Hand fit Wolverine with new claws, they work only sporadically. Plus, the adamantium within Wolverine begins to "seep" out all over his body. In the end, Logan must stand and confront the inhuman monster that he has become--Logan would battle himself over the goodness of his soul, the warrior of his soul fighting this demon he has become ,and he would win. The adamantium would flake off and he would stand reborn as a totally natural being. His bones and claws would be virtually unbreakable.

Shadow King Epic: Chris Claremont's original plans for the Shadow King epic did not stop at the Muir Island Saga. They weren't meant to lead all the way to Uncanny X-Men #300. The evil Shadow King would take possession of key members of the Hellfire Club (Selene, Emma Frost and Sebastian Shaw) and manipulate them. He had taken control of Donald Pierce (see XXM Annual #1) and therefore controlled the Reavers in Australia. He mind-controlled Moira McTaggart and through her, controlled the Muir Isle Mutants. The Shadow King had operatives within the U.S. government (including Carol Danvers) and was maneuvering them into position.

Plus, Senator Robert Kelly was going to make a Presidential bid in 1992 (the year this story would play out.) Elements of Kelly's story were later shown in Dream's End. But the most dire threat of all was the Shadow King would have captured Gateway and thru the mysterious Aboriginie, was trying to access Dreamtime. If the Shadow King gained access to Dreamtime, he would be nearly unstoppable. Claremont wanted to stack the cards so heavily in the SK's favor, it would take nearly every living X-Men to stop him. An epic three years in the making.

Claremont has said he wanted the world to come to the brink of war between humans and mutants, with the Shadow King at the heart of it. He would be stoking the flames of racism and hatred for his own ends and desires. The horrible nightmarish world dreamed of in Days of Future Past seemed to be poised to happen. This would all culminate in Uncanny X-Men #300 when Charles Xavier would make a final stand against the Shadow King. Possibly, the SK would be using Legion against Xavier. Somehow, Xavier would stop and kill the Shadow King once and for all. But Charles would face the ultimate sacrifice...his life. In his place, Gateway and a reluctant Magneto would take up the mantle.

Jason said...

Ah, thanks, Neil! God bless teh intarwebs.

Kevin said...

Regarding what was to come if Claremont had remained (without tooo much editorial edict): I've read those plans several times and every time I read them I can't help but sign and think of what could've been. Though, I have to say, Neil, you did the best job I've seen of tying it all together. As much as 13-year-old me loved the Age of Apocalypse, to have the full thematic arc of Xavier vs the Shadow King, years in the making, interrupted so very close to completion, frustrates me to no end if I think about it too much.

Jeff said...

What's funny is a lot of those ideas have seen print in various forms. We had the Mark Millar Wolverine run that basically was the "Dark Wolverine" concept. Claremont touched on a lot of them in his second run (unfortunately he also threw the Neo in there). Like Neil says, the Reavers being under his control is mentioned in that XXM annual. His original idea for Gambit was as a facet of Mr. Sinister, which got scrapped but they kept the fact that Gambit did have a connection at worked for him. So when you think about it, a lot of Claremont concepts did creep in in the 90s.

On a side note, I think the first 30 issues of X-Treme X-Men are really underrated. I thought that was easily the best work Claremont did since he originally left the books.

Anonymous said...

I was still a kid in the 90's so I enjoyed the 90's x-men and didn't know what i was missing. What bums me out is that I should be reading all that great story material Neil S laid out above right now in x-men Forever. But we're not getting it. My big regret in life is that I didn't work to get into a position that I could have been editor for X-forever. I would have liked to have seen it truly pick up form where he lost plotting control. And I would have had it printed good old fashion newsprint.

Scratch that.. My wish is that Jason Powell was editor on X-Forever!


Jason said...

Ah, me too, Wolf. Me too.

neilshyminsky said...

It does stink that X-Men Forever didn't actually pursue any of his plans. Which is strange, since that's how it was marketed.

But guys - I didn't actually write any of that. I just found it. Maybe I should have been clearer about that.

Ken Dynamo said...

the real bummer is how claremont was a victim of his own success. once the x-men became too valuable of a property to be left in the hands of one guy (even the guy responsible for the success in the first place) then came the top billing artists and the editorial mandates and claremont calls it quit.

then, the top billing artists all leave and what the x-men needed more than anything was claremont back keeping everything stable. maybe he could have stayed on as editor/plotter, though he probably wouldn't have wanted to do that. or maybe, i dunno.

the whole time what i don't get is yes, guys like Jim Lee should get their own book, cause at that time he did move the needle like no one else in the biz (well TMcF too), but why wasn't something figured out to keep Claremont around? they could have gotten creative. why was bob harras given more control over the franchise than claremont? there's probably way too much i dont even know about how things went down too even ask these questions but i cant help but wonder.

neilshyminsky said...

"but why wasn't something figured out to keep Claremont around?"

My guess is that Claremont had been in control so long, he wouldn't have been able (nor would he WANT) to take a lesser or indirect role. It would be like raising your teenager and then being asked to surrender the reins to new parents and become an uncle instead.

dschonbe said...

Ken Dynamo wrote: ...why wasn't something figured out to keep Claremont around?

In an earlier comment thread, someone mentioned sales dropping during the "no-team" period. That would explain a lot about why executives would be scarred to leave Claremont in control.

-Dan S.

Dave Mullen said...

In an earlier comment thread, someone mentioned sales dropping during the "no-team" period. That would explain a lot about why executives would be scarred to leave Claremont in control.

No I don't think it was that, it was more plausibly just a case of him being too big for his own good. By that I mean his profile as X-Men Godfather was a perceived hinderance to ambitious newcomers like Harras, Lobdell(?), Liefeld, Lee etc.
With Claremont around he was probobly directly or indirectly too much of a controlling influence and inconvenience from moving the franchise forward and making everyone a ton of money and cementing their reputations.

The franchise was deliberatly heading into being a mainstream global audience rather than a Cult success inhabiting its own little corner of Marvel, I don't know whether Claremont was happy with that or would have been content with writing the characters as full-on superheroes. It's almost 180 degrees opposite to his long established treatment of the concept after all...

Anonymous said...

I think one of Claremont's biggest contributions to the world of comics was the series Exiles as it allowed characters and concepts to be used in stories that could not normally be done.

While I am sure there are many fans out there for current "forever" line of comics. I hope that eventually Claremont can bring back Exiles