Tuesday, August 24, 2010

X-Men 1-3, part 2

[Jason Powell in his second to last post on Claremont's X-Men run, though there will be some epilogues.]

“Mutant Genesis”
(Part Two of a Three-Part Blog)

Claremont writes the first three issues of the newly minted X-Men series in a subtle dialogue with the franchise’s other new launch, X-Force, whose first issue also broke the sales record, two months earlier. X-Force, drawn and plotted by Rob Liefeld and scripted by Fabian Nicieza, was the quintessence of lowest-common-denominator crap: A borderline incoherent mish-mash of violence, scowling faces, impossible musculature, giant guns and ripped-off layouts, all held together with nonsensical text by Fabian Nicieza (“Stab his eyes, he got away again!”). That the comic spun out of Claremont’s own brainchild, The New Mutants, clearly didn’t sit well. It’s not difficult to glean the subtext, then, when in on Page 8 of X-Men #1, we see Xavier holding a portrait of The New Mutants as he says, “I look at the world, and cannot help wondering … if my dream has any validity anymore.”

Magneto, meanwhile, is manipulated into playing the villain by an unsavory new lieutenant who is eventually revealed to have his own traitorous agenda. This new villain’s name: Fabian. (Thanks, Nathan Adler, for pointing this out.) Claremont’s little swipe may also be to do with Nicieza having been the one who finished off “The Muir Island Saga” when Claremont couldn’t bring himself to write the concluding chapters.

Magneto’s scheme this time around is telling as well: To brainwash the X-Men into villains. The first time we meet the transformed X-Men, in X-Men #2, Scott justifies thusly their reason for acting so out of character: “…Times have changed. We have to change to match it. Same as Cable and his X-Force.”

Clearly, for Claremont, X-Force was emblematic of the franchise’s future, and where it was going wrong. With hindsight, it’s easy to agree with him. (Actually it wasn’t too hard at the time either, for perceptive fans and pros, both.)

The problem wasn’t just the mindless action, but the re-establishment of the conservative politics that Neil Shyminsky identified in his paper, and which has been discussed here. While the Silver Age versions of the X-Men were assimilationists, vilifying the revolutionary faction represented by Magneto, Claremont eventually “mutated” them to the other extreme. By 1985, they were aligning themselves with the mutants they had previously vilified: the revolutionary Magneto and the disenfranchised Morlocks. Those mutants who allied themselves with the “establishment” (Freedom Force) were now the enemy. As Neil and I both talked about, the Genoshan arc in Uncanny 235-238 represents the point of fullest turnaround: The X-Men are true freedom fighters, whose goal is to topple a government that oppresses their race through a relentless system of apartheid. (Note that we are explicitly told in that story that Genosha is a U.S. ally, so there can be no confusion that the X-Men might actually be acting in alignment with the establishment.)

But as Neil points out, the politics of The X-Men did not stop revolving at that point. Instead, they just kept on swinging past 180 degrees, slowly but surely turning back to the zero point thanks to increasingly more constrictive editorial mandates. Once we get to “Mutant Genesis,” the “explicitly counter-revolutionary” iteration of the X-Men are back in full force. We’re in the Silver Age again, only it’s worse because the comic can no longer hide behind the curtain of naiveté. We’ve seen now what the series is capable of, which makes the pro-establishment politics seem not only cowardly, but almost sinister. When Magneto’s acolytes launch a strike against Genosha in X-Men #1, the X-Men rush to the country’s defense! Not surprisingly, the Acolytes accuse the X-Men of being race traitors, and Gambit’s explanation is that the Genoshan government has changed, and so have its policies. Really? From what I can garner from “X-Tinction Agenda” and this issue, the country is now being headed by Anderson, the Chief Magistrate – the woman who, in the original Genoshan arc, was the most zealous defender of the government’s anti-mutant policies.

Meanwhile, the X-Men here are attacking Magneto at the behest of Nick Fury, in tandem with the U.S. government. This is the same government that – unless I missed something – is still enforcing the Mutant Registration Act. It is also implicit that it is the U.S. that are acting as the watchdogs for Genosha, to prevent them from re-instituting their system of apartheid (the one we never actually explicitly saw dissolve in any case). So the X-Men are trusting the enforcers of the Mutant Registration Act to police Genosha?

As for Magneto himself, he emerges – as always, under Claremont’s pen – as the most sympathetic (and just plain coolest) character. He establishes Asteroid M as a sovereign nation for mutants, and says that all mutants are welcome – including, Magneto says quite explicitly, the X-Men themselves. The so-called “villain” is the most magnanimous and inclusive character in the story!

Interestingly, Claremont even has Magneto himself question what has turned the X-Men into counter-revolutionaries (though he doesn’t use that term). He notes that during their fight in issue #1, Logan actually tried to kill him. “I have fought by [Wolverine’s] side,” Magneto muses. “For the brief time I worked with the X-Men, he accepted me wholeheartedly. If not as a friend, then at least as a comrade-in-arms. Why then has he turned on me? What has changed?” Indeed, we never get an answer to Magneto’s question. Claremont knows there isn’t one that will satisfy.

22 comments:

Teebore said...

Once we get to “Mutant Genesis,” the “explicitly counter-revolutionary” iteration of the X-Men are back in full force. We’re in the Silver Age again

And Harras' shortsightedness is showing; in desiring to bring the X-Men "back to basics" (colorfully-clad superheroes fighting evil mutants) he didn't just bring them back plot-wise, but thematically as well.

The former, it can be argued, is forgivable (it's not unreasonable to expect a superhero comic book to at least feature a somewhat stable roster of superheroes, and Claremont did well enough with the restored team shortly before leaving Uncanny) but the later, whether intentional or an unexpected by-product of restoring an older status quo, less so, and the one, I imagine, that really hurt Claremont.

Great analysis, as always! Nice point about Magneto being the most inclusive character in the story; I hadn't noticed that before.

Arthur said...

I have to say though, what changed Magneto's mind? In the beginning, he was a recluse, wanting nothing to do with the world. By the middle of issue 1, he's decided to form his own nuclear nation. Was it the violence he witnessed on Asteroid M? Or was Fabian Cortez that persuasive of a personality? I would almost expect that to make him more of a recluse.

What happened to those human agents who went to asteroid M? It's even more confusing when you consider the weird Delgado(s) situation that was brought up at the end of issue 1.

I wouldn't consider "Stab his eyes, he got away again!" as nonsensical. You aren't interpreting that literally, are you? "Stab his eyes" is a mild oath, like "Lenin's Ghost!" or "bloody blue blazes".

(While where on the subject of faux-swearing, what is this "white wolf" Colossus constantly invokes?)

Art

Jason said...

"Nice point about Magneto being the most inclusive character in the story; I hadn't noticed that before."

***Truth to tell, I didn't think about it too much myself until coming to the issues this most recent time!

Jason said...

"I wouldn't consider "Stab his eyes, he got away again!" as nonsensical. You aren't interpreting that literally, are you? "Stab his eyes" is a mild oath, like "Lenin's Ghost!" or "bloody blue blazes"."

***Perhaps nonsensical is the wrong word. How about "Weirdly, graphically specific"?

"I have to say though, what changed Magneto's mind?"

***I always read it as the realization that he had become a figure of inspiration for a new generation of mutant revolutionaries, and realizing that there is a responsibility in that.

Dave Mullen said...

A very thought inducing post, I'll have to digest it before I can really comment further but something I think worth asking here is whether there really was anywhere for Magneto to go by this era, thematically at least?
The school before this point was gone, the Hellfire club and his White King role was still active I think but a contentious issue for the X-Men, and given the x-men were essentially dead and latterly disbanded during and after the Outback era where was Magneto going in Claremonts mind? Who was he allying himself with between Uncanny #229 to the point they regrouped for X-Men #1?

Simply put then: If there were no X-men and no school by that point what was Magneto's agenda in that 'wilderness' period in Claremonts mind -
Politician? Civil Rights activist or freedom fighter....?

Anonymous said...

Good post, as always, but I have a few quibbles. "Stab his eyes," is no worse than many a Claremontism. Wasn't there some CC character who used to exclaim "Sable shards!"? (Then again, maybe that was N'astirh penned by Louise Simonson...)

The mutant registration act was not in force in the U.S. by this time. It had been overturned by the Supreme Court at the start of Walt Simonson's FF run, during Acts of Vengeance.

-- Dan

Jason said...

I think -- despite the destruction of the school -- Claremont wanted Magneto to remain as the mentor figure for new mutants. After all, even after the school's destruction, the New Mutants as a team still existed ... and it was either Weezie Simonson or Bob Harras who decided to sever Magneto's ties with them in New Mutnats issue 75 (a weird, ret-conny issue that attempts to undermine much of Claremont's development of the character).

ba said...

Since we're down to the end, I'm gonna get nitpicky with this one, even though it was a great review :)

1) I got the impression that the X-Men were contacted surreptitiously by Nick Fury, not by the US. He essentially said "go and put your guy on a leash before we have to go kill him." By the end of issue 2, he tells them that...the UN? SHIELD? has decided to blow up Asteroid M, so that the Gold team better get the Blue team before they get blowed up good. Nick Fury generally works for the betterment of all, rather than for the US, as evidenced by the fact that he seems to go against US gov't policy pretty much always.

2) This brings me to something I've always wondered, and I think it's largely due to poor continuity in Marvel in general - is SHIELD a US gov't agency, or is it a multinational agency, like an armed UN, largely financed by the US? Because if the latter is the case, then Genosha is being watchdogged by SHIELD, not the US, and one could argue that SHIELD has much more liberal policies regarding mutants.

And...."stab his eyes" is a decent oath, I always thought. It makes me chuckle, at least, which is certainly better than "focused totality of my psychic powers"

Methinks "Sable Shards!" was a Longshot thing, no?

Jason said...

"Focused totality of my psychic powers" is not an oath. It's rather apples and oranges, isn't it? It's like saying "Great Caesar's Ghost" is catchier than "Razor-sharp adamantium claws, three on each hand."

As for Nick Fury contacting the X-Men surreptitiously ... I may have mis-read the scene. It goes straight from President Bush asking Fury if he has a suggestion for how to handle the Magneto situation to Fury on the horn with the X-Men. That made me think that Fury's contacting the X-Men was approved by the Prez.

Anonymous said...

Great insights, once again. The X-Men siding with the Genosha government seemed off when I first read these issues, though I certainly couldn't have articulated just how much of a betrayal this was of the themes Claremont had developed. It would make sense if the Genosha of X-Men #1-3 resembled post-apartheid South Africa, but that doesn't work for a couple of reasons. First, post-apartheid South Africa was still three years away when these issues came out. Second, the Genosha of these issues wasn't led by a Mandela-like figure, but instead by Chief Magistrate Anderson. If I recall correctly, when I first I read these issues I assumed I had missed some storyline in another title laying the groundwork for why the X-Men would side with the Genoshan government. I was still buying my comics off newsstands (except for Uncanny, which I had a subscription to at this point), so it was always possible to miss something due to inconsistent newsstand distribution. It just didn't seem like Claremont would go directly from X-Tinction Agenda to this.

I actually think this opened up a possibility for Magneto's character. With the mutate population of Genosha unable to produce a Mandela from within due to the mental damage inflicted by the Genegineer, a leader would have to emerge from without. Magneto could have filled this role and it would have fit with the "Law of Return" for mutants that he articulated on the final pages of X-Men #1. I doubt Claremont would have been willing to attempt this, as Harras/Lee likely would not have permitted Claremont the nuance necessary for further developing Israel allusions and he may have been uncomfortable with the imperialist/colonialist overtones of an African population needing a European to come in and rule them. Still, it would have been interesting to see what other avenues Claremont could have taken Magneto's character down.

-- Mike

Dave Mullen said...

I never cared for the Genosha concept, it just didn't feel remotely believable to me. Still, on reflection there was a lot that could be done with it. The political aspects make it a good longterm moral & ethical issue for the X-men, you can easily imagine an X-team taking a stand and relocating there to make a point....

Something not commented on in your review Jason (or maybe you already have) is the other truly defining and historical moment this book represents, that of the X-Men as a team & Book now splitting into being two completely equal and competing teams.
X-Men #1 is a landmark as for that very reason it sets the status quo that has remained constant to this day - ever since this marketing move for an army of mutants and multiple books on the shelves the very thing that was so compelling and a part of the original books success became an impossibility... the 'x-men' would never again be a book about a single cohesive group of eight or more members that you can follow, for years, and see develop.

Nowadays a book like Uncanny X-Men is a constantly shifting roster of members and applicants who move between books that make narratively suspensful stories like the outback era concept and subsequent 'Shattered Star' arc an impossibility. You just couldn't do those sort of stories anymore... not least because there can no longer be one defining authorial voice in charge of it all, i.e Chris Claremont.

This development in #1 was One very good reason Claremonts position had become untenable.

Shlomo said...

In my own view, a defining element of the x-men was the small group of veterans and novices interacting. when the new mutants first began, these relationships began to be awkwardly spread over two lossely connected books. Evntually the relationships between the older and younger members would be split entirely. This new series brought the group back to the "all new, all different" as jason pointed out. Once again, Professor X is training a group to work together as a team. but there isnt that sense of "looking for the next new mutant" or the possibility of characters deciding to leave the group for a normal life. I think that was a really magical part of the formula (for me) that made the kitty-pryde/rogue era so great.

I think youre correct dave, that such a large group spread over two books will not have the same interactions. But, from the very beginning of the new mutants Claremont himself started tearing away at that possibility. I see a clear line connecting that point and this.

Dave Mullen said...

But, from the very beginning of the new mutants Claremont himself started tearing away at that possibility. I see a clear line connecting that point and this.

I never saw it that way, the New Mutants were a Junior concept and like X-Factor and later Excalibur they tended to operate strictly in their own niche, seperated from each other and from from the X-Men.
What X-Men #1 notably marks is the idea of *Multiple* teams of the X-Men operating as basically close divisions of the same unit.
The idea of 'the x-men' as just an eight (or more) manned team we could focus on died right here in this issue and it hasn't been seen again. In storytelling terms that has warped not only the books story options but also the original reason success and appeal. It's no secret the X-men is a very tough book these days to enter into, in a very real sense the accessability has died....

scottmcdarmont said...

In Niceza's defense, without him, Liefeld's work was COMPLETELY incoherent. Just read Youngblood... I have (I did a post about in on here somewhere...)

Shlomo said...

Scott, i have a soft spot for Lobdell (specifically uncanny 300 and 309) and Nicieza (26).

I have been thinking about what a commenter said previously, seemingly irking jason--that claremont was repititious with his themes/plot devices. Its interesting even if it is condemned as a flaw...

so here's some reflections on repetitions. My issue numbers are probly off, but notice the mirroring of first three and then second three.

200 - trial vindicating magneto because of brainwashing
212 - massacre of mutants by mercenaries with vague goals
227 - x-men are separated from other friends when thought to be dead
250 - x-men are separated from each other and many are brainwashed into having new identities
254 - massacre of mutants by mercenaries with vague goals
270 - trial unfairly convicting x-men, sentencing them to brainwashing.

I think some of this repitition comes off as cool. and other parts come off as lame. Of course brain washing was also a big part of Phoenix saga and Inferno, and then again at the edn of the run with shadow king arc and magneto arc. But there it was used more as device to evolve the characters rather than insert a blip of drama.

Jason said...

"I have been thinking about what a commenter said previously, seemingly irking jason--that claremont was repititious with his themes/plot devices."

*** Not irked. In fact, I agreed. What I argued was the idea that Claremont only had a limited number of motifs. My exact reply:

"There were repeated motifs, for sure, but I didn't see a limited range."

I've pointed out a lot of the repeated motifs as they turned up, or tried to. (The X-Men separated from friends and thought dead goes back to the Byrne run, for example.)

The Dark Phoenix/Inferno parallels are particularly fascinating because so much of it was unintentional, or out of Claremont's control, or both. It was never the original intention that Phoenix was a duplicate of Jean Grey -- that was Kurt Busiek's idea, implemented by John Byrne. And it was never his intention that Madelyne was a duplicate of Jean ... he came up with that later. So we have the same plot idea -- cloning -- used *twice* on the same character (Jean Grey) and neither time was it really what Claremont wanted to do!

Meanwhile, S'ym's corruption of Maddie, so very similar to Jason Wyngarde's corruption of Phoenix, was also not what Claremont had wanted to do. It was all part of the "Make Maddy evil to justify Scott's bastardness" agenda.

So both clones are turned evil, partly due to an outside agency. And again, it only happened because of some scrambling around backstage to patch over some bad editorial decisions.

(And finally, obviously, both clones of Jean had to die at the climax of their arcs. And Claremont hadn't wanted to kill off either character!)

Really interesting, tangled narratives at work there, both on-stage and off, and my favorite example of parallel motifs in the Claremont run.

P.S. "200 - trial vindicating magneto because of brainwashing"

***This is kind of a stretch, surely. There is no mention of "brainwashing" in that issue.

Arthur said...

P.S. "200 - trial vindicating magneto because of brainwashing"

***This is kind of a stretch, surely. There is no mention of "brainwashing" in that issue.


Perhaps he's conflating Claremont's UXM 200 with the DeFalco written X-Men vs. Avengers # 4? Some other commenter mentioned XvA # 4 recently too, and seemed to assume Claremont was responsible.

In UXM 200, the trial ended when the Fenris twins attacked. Xavier had a seizure and asked Magnus to take over the school. Magnus never went back.

XvA had a 3 issue set up by Roger Stern, then a DeFalco written conclusion. Again, there is a trial, but Magneto uses a mind-control helmet to gain a favorable outcome. Or maybe he doesn't, I don't remember.

Art

Christian O. said...

"
2) This brings me to something I've always wondered, and I think it's largely due to poor continuity in Marvel in general - is SHIELD a US gov't agency, or is it a multinational agency, like an armed UN, largely financed by the US? Because if the latter is the case, then Genosha is being watchdogged by SHIELD, not the US, and one could argue that SHIELD has much more liberal policies regarding mutants."

It's suppose to be multinational, but it's usually depicted as an American agency. That's why the President is so heavily involved, why it's filled with Americans and why it can be dismantled and rebuilt into HAMMER by Americans. Unlike the X-men, occasionally, multi-nationality isn't really something the Big Two companies care for.

The American-centric thought process is one of the more infuriating things about Superhero comics. Non-english speaking foreigners are usually reduced to boring stereotypes or flat out offensive stereotypes.

My verification word is WEEPP, if anyone is interested.

Jason said...

"XvA had a 3 issue set up by Roger Stern, then a DeFalco written conclusion. Again, there is a trial, but Magneto uses a mind-control helmet to gain a favorable outcome. Or maybe he doesn't, I don't remember."

The most annoying thing about the last-minute crappy re-write of X-Men vs. Avengers #4?

THE X-MEN DIDN'T FIGHT THE AVENGERS IN IT.

I mean, wtf? As a kid that pissed me off A LOT.

(Apparently Stern's ending had Magneto going back to being a bad guy, though. Uncool, Stern. Granted it still happened 3 years later anyway...)

...And The Geek said...

Claremont/Lee X-Men for me was the original summer blockbuster in comic book form. They were like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon; great characters, quick quips and high octane action! Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison and Mark Millar claim to have developed the "widescreen format" but Claremont/Lee were already doing it 5 or 6 years before Morrison started doing JLA.

Matt said...

One thing that has long confused me about the X-Men vs. the Avengers thing is that Roger Stern, the regular Avengers writer at the time, was apparently going to be allowed to make a very large change to Magneto, a character belonging to the X-Men family of titles.

John Byrne has mentioned in the past that the way things ran in the old days, if you wanted to borrow a character from another office/family, you needed permission from that character's native editor. I would think that if you wanted to make a sweeping change to that character, you'd definitely need approval! I can't see Ann Nocenti agreeing to such a huge change to Magneto without at least running it by Claremont, who would have certainly objected.

Are we to believe that Stern got this mini-series greenlit by editorial without anyone in the X-Office becoming aware of his plans until so late in the game that the third issue was on the way? What finally changed the outcome of the story? Nocenti or Claremont saw the first issue on the stands, suddenly realized where it was going, and complained to editorial at that time? Or maybe they were fighting it all along and only "won" between the production of issues 3 and 4?

It all just seems very odd to me!

NietzscheIsDead said...

Per the ending of issue four of XvA,

Magneto is going to play nice and let the court decide his fate until he meets a group of mutant extremists who follow his old, Silver Age dream, and swear to raise all kinds of hell if he is condemned (for what it's worth, I always assumed that the Acolytes from X-Men #1-3 were members of this same group). Hoping to head off the extremists, Magneto spies on two of the judges who are deliberating on his case and realizes that they are ignoring evidence in order to render a verdict in line with their political agenda. The way it's worded, you're meant to assume (as Magneto does) that the court is going to condemn Magneto.

Since he isn't about to receive a fair verdict anyway, Magneto uses mind control tech to force the chief judge to announce that Magneto is pardoned, though he hates himself for doing it and notes to himself that this must indicate some amount of character growth. Here's the trick: the other judges all nod and smile as if that's the verdict they all agreed on. Now, Magneto has robbed himself of the chance to find out whether he would have been pardoned without reverting to his super-villain, "rob them of their free will" tricks. Plus, the anti-mutant rioters go absolutely nuts, something Magneto had forgotten to consider. Now, he's unsure if that was the judges' plan all along, and he maybe played right into their hands. Also, it did about dick all to calm down the mutant extremists in any case.

I actually thought that this series played well with Magneto, though admittedly the DeFalco-written issue absolutely salvaged it.