Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Uncanny X-Men #255

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's initial 17 X-Men run. I was going to steal a joke from Newsradio, one of Jason's and my favorite shows, and make fun of Jason for being from Wisconsin ("Must have been quite a hubub when that cow got loose" or "he is from Wisconsin: he thinks artificial light is fascinating"). But I just can't do it. Jason Powell is the nicest guy on the internet.]

“Crash & Burn”

By 1989, it was idiomatic that when Chris Claremont disassembled the X-Men’s status quo, he did so with much fanfare. Consider issue 209, with its amazing multi-vectored fight among the title characters, the Hellfire Club, the Morlocks and Nimrod. Or issue 251, the dazzling finale to the Outback era. The present issue is no exception, as the Muir Island team makes their last stand amidst a fantastically choreographed free-for-all amongst the Reavers and Freedom Force. The joke being that the Muir Island X-Men only just formed one month previously. “Crash and Burn” indeed …

Still, not one to waste an opportunity, Claremont takes advantage of this incoherent status quo, crafting a scenario in which characters are in genuine danger. Since the Muir Island team are newly minted and not at all cohered, there is no commercial property at stake – the readers are implicitly aware of this, and so is Claremont. The situation allows for the incorporation of unusually high levels of violence. Four characters are killed during the course of this story – three of them “good guys.” Sunder and Stonewall are relatively minor, but Destiny dates back to the Byrne days. Given Claremont’s affection for even his most obscure creations, his willingness to kill four of them is downright shocking, and his decision adds a sense of crazed intensity to the proceedings. The Muir Island Team’s farcical false start is suddenly weighted with tragedy – or tragicomedy at the very least.

Presumably the bi-weekly summer schedule got the better of Marc Silvestri and Dan Green at this point: Issue 255 is far and away the most rushed-looking Silvestri/Green issue of the run. Figures are oddly distorted; facial features are perfunctorily simplified; backgrounds virtually non-existent. If the artists weren’t tearing through this issue at a breakneck pace to meet the deadline, then god knows what else could account for it. At times, these dashed-out visuals are a hindrance to the storytelling (the last couple pages, devoted to the Shadow King/Young Storm subplot, are absurdly bad). At other times, the increased cartoonishness is precisely what’s called for (note the sheer comedic perfection of the Blob’s descent from on high – Silvestri always drew a fantastic Blob). Most of the time, the general sense of manic energy is a fitting tonal counterpoint to Claremont’s kitchen-sink script, despite several small storytelling hiccups.

I quite like that Claremont still cannot resist throwing in character bits for minor characters. He has a lovely panel in issue 255 wherein Pyro and Stonewall debate the merits of James Joyce. Pyro argues that the author’s work is “gibberish,” while Stonewall – clearly espousing Claremont’s point of view – suggests that it represents the “ultimate precision of language.” (You see, Geoff, Claremont didn’t just have Banshee reading Joyce because of the Irish connection!) This is rather charming in its own right, but the bit also exists to gird the moment of Stonewall’s death, and Pyro’s reaction, with a bit of emotional resonance.

A few pages later, we learn that Pyro recently published a novel of his own – a surprising, yet characteristic, Claremontian detail. (Anyone who, unlike me, has read beyond Uncanny 280 … do you know, did we ever find out more about that? What was the book called? What was it about?)

Note that this is Claremont’s final use of Freedom Force (except Mystique), and as such it is appropriately climactic: The death of two members, and a bit of respectability for a third. The Muir Island X-Men are ingloriously put to pasture as well (apart from X-Men Annual #13, the only X-Men annual from the 1980s not written by Claremont). Only Banshee and Forge will go on to become part of the series’ now-rotating regular cast; everyone else is thrown on the slow backburner, eventually to be repurposed as the villains in Claremont’s final full issue of Uncanny.

[Editor's note: I am the only person who thinks Jason is the only person qualified to bring Pyro's novel to life?]


scottmcdarmont said...

I'll second Geoff on Jason writing the fanfic Pyro novel....

And the Muir Island Annual was not from the 80s... it was Summer of '91, pubhished about a month before the Jim Lee X-men launched.

The one from the 80s that Claremont didn't write is the Atlantis Attacks one... but didn't he come back for the next year? Which is the one with Art Adams art that features a story with Rachel Summers and Franklin Richards? I think it was an Evolutionary war tie in... maybe...

Jason said...

Thanks, Scott. Should never trust my memory for the non-Claremont stuff! (I haven't read the 89 annual or the 91 one ...)

You're right, Claremont wrote the 1990 one. It'll be covered on the blog when the time comes.

It wasn't "Evolutionary War" related, though. That was 1988, and I covered it here: http://geoffklock.blogspot.com/2009/08/x-men-annual-12a.html

But yeah, the 1990 one is the Rachel/Franklin one, and it has art by Art Adams. It's part of a crossover called "Days of Future Present." Claremont speaks of that whole crossover in less than glowing terms in a 1992 interview.

Anonymous said...

The '89 annual was the Atlantis Attacks tie-in, written,I think, by Terry Kavanaugh and pitting the Aussie X-Men against Mr. Jyp.

The '90 annual was the one with Rachel and Franklin Richards. The Evolution War annual was '88, the great showdown in the Savage Land with Terminus.

#255 was, for me, the acme of my very favorite period of the book. Anything could happen at this stage, the threats seemed truly menacing, and neglected characters like Forge and Banshee were given a chance to shine. Claremont could even make you give a damn when bottom-tier characters like Stonewall and Sunder were killed. (Compare that to the bland, pointless slaughter of the Hellions and Reavers right after CC left.)

Gary said...

This is really one of your better reviews, Jason. You are right - Marc Silvestri drew a great Blob. I know that Jason and several of our commenters love Silvestri's artistic humor, and the Blob always lets it shine - take a look at the Fall of the Mutants. The landing on Wolverine (and subsequent vertical leap off of Wolverine) are probably mentioned (and great), but also when he grabs Mystique and books out of Eagle Plaza, or when he catches Rogue and Spiral and needs to get hauled out of the resultant pit. He gets to do some of the same here, with another delightful landing from on high and a fine expression when the ground turns to quicksand beneath him. Good stuff in a very serious issue.

I liked Destiny's death - "Silly boy. Did you expect to find two of us?" (heavy paraphrase) So very noble, as Freedom Force only ever was in Claremont's hands. I've groused about other writers complete inability to grasp that nuance before. Only Peter David ever got close. I appreciate the reminder of that moment between Pyro and Stonewall. You're right - Claremont sets up that these people have been living the entire time that they've been off-screen. They haven't just been in stasis, waiting to be used again; they've grown closer while we were in Australia.

And the emotional crux of the issue (for me and no one else, I know) - Stonewall's death. Man, I need to read this issue again just to see it, to get it right. The interception of Pierce, the head bowed as they grapple, the shock, the smoking head and shoulders as the body hits the turf... "The wall hasn't been built... that technology can't knock down." Screw you, Pierce. Dead or not, Stonewall's twice the character you'll ever be, you cheap jack sorry excuse for a poor man's emergency backup Harry Leland.

Good call on the ever-present danger in the issue, Jason. There's a very real tension - after what we've just gone through with the A-listers, it's an extremely present threat that ANYTHING can happen to these second-stringers.

A Painter said...

At the time, the only time Pyro's writing career had been mentioned was in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, that said he was a journalist covering southeast Asia and also wrote (if I can recall the wording) "torrid romance novels". He had discovered his power well before becoming a villain, but couldn't think of a way to profit from it. The OHotMU also listed his name: St. John Allerdyce. One point that everyone always seems to ignore is that "St. John" (particularly in Australia) is pronounced "Sinjin". NOT "John" or "Johnny" or "Saint John", but "Sinjin". That was probably the joke: sinjin/singein'. It's kind of like Avalanche's real name: Dominic Petros - Petros being Greek for "rock".

Boy, am I glad I was able to get that off my chest after all this time.

Favorite Pyro moment:
PYRO: Trust a lawyer to love Joyce.
STONEWALL: ...the ultimate precision of language...
PYRO: It's gibberish, mate!

I thought this was a great issue. You had no idea what would happen. I was disappointed that Avalanche wasn't killed. I have an fondness for the character - great code name, plus he dunked Colossus in liquid Nitrogen - but it looked like Deathstrike performed an ersatz open heart surgery on him.


A Painter said...

Oh, and the Atlantis Attacks Annual was written by Terry Austin, not Kavanaugh. Yes, the inker wrote that story. I remember hating it.

(BTW, Tom Orzechowski got into writing a little bit too, authoring a back up story in Classic X-Men.)


Anonymous said...

I think this is also the last time we hear about Spiral in connection with Freedom Force. Spiral, Crimson Commando, and Super Sabre are all mentioned as being off on another mission during the events of this issue. In their subsequent appearances (and there are not very many more-the powers that be wanted their Brotherhood of Evil Mutants back, I guess) Spiral is nowhere to be found. Did the circumstances surrounding her leaving the team ever get mentioned or shown in any story? If so, I can't remember it. I think she pops up next in "Shattershot", another wretched crossover that went through the X-annuals.

You have to wonder if having her on Muir Island for this fight would have made a difference. I doubt that a lady who can take away Captain Marvel's powers with a spell, and defeat Iron Man and Hercules, would have all that much trouble taking care of the Reavers.

This issue ended way too ambiguously for my taste. Blob is sunk into the ground--we don't get to find out if he got back out. Avalanche is sliced open--we don't find out if he lived or died until he appears in one of the Avengers issues of Acts of Vengeance.

Wouldn't you think Freedom Force would be out for revenge against the Reavers? Every time you see these characters later it seems like they could care less. Plus they were government agents. Wouldn't Freedom Force be tasked to hunt the Reavers down for attacking government agents? Or at least ask Captain America or US Agent to go after them?

Anonymous said...

I think the Freedom Force appears twice more. A sub-team of Blob, Pyro, and Avalanche attack the Avengers during "Acts of Vengeance" for some reason. Then in a backup story in an annual, they are finally dismantled. Super Sabre dead, Crimson Commando injured (everybody really had it in for these old-timers ,huh?), and Pyro and Blob taken as POWs in Iraq. Mystique and Spiral appear to have ended their associations with the FF sometime between the Muir Island story and the "Acts of Vengeance" story.

Good-bye to an interesting concept. The villains becoming part of the establishment was an interesting idea. The strength of the concept was such that the FF got used all over the Marvel Universe. They appeared in Captain America, New Mutants, Uncanny X-Men, Avengers, West Coast Avengers, X-Factor, and probably others that I am forgetting about. It was always a kick to see these guys show up and have all the heroes be like, "THEY'RE government agents???" I liked the slow progression where they become more and more "good" as time went on. They actually began to enjoy the stability of being superheroes instead of villains. Right around "Fall of the Mutants" Claremont began to "soften" them, giving them more personality and dimensions than they'd ever been shown to have before.

Pyro would go onto his villanous ways in a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, where he would die of the Legacy Virus in the early 1990s.

Blob kept appearing as part of the new Brotherhood.

By virtue of being the two guys who escaped Iraq together, Crimson Commando and Avalanche kept appearing on an off as partners, still working for the government. I think ol' Dominic went back to being a generic supervillain after a while. I don't know what happened to the Commando, but he was never the same after the Iraq story, anyway.

For better or for worse, Destiny's legacy lives in in her diaries, of which much story fodder was made of later.

Mystique became a solo operator and keeps going back and forth from good to bad. Kind of interesting how she started out as a no-question bad guy, then became a good guy, and now switches from good to bad. It's like she tasted both and can't make up her mind.

Sprial goes on to appear in various Psylocke and Longshot-related stories, and never seems again like the powerful, dangerous badass she was in the 1980s.

Too bad, it was a waste of a good concept. It had a good run while it lasted, but it would have been cool to see it continue. Of course, if it had, we wouldn't have had Peter David's classic run on X-Factor! So every cloud has s a silver lining, I guess.

Austin Gorton said...

FWIW, I continue to follow X-Men and I can't recall every hearing anything at all about Pyro's novel, other than the tidbit the Handbook gave us of it being "torrid romance".

Another great review. I too miss Freedom Force.

Jason said...

Gary and Teebore – thanks!

Arthur – Never would’ve gotten the “sinjin” pun! I can’t decide, is that horrible or ingenious? I am voting “ingenious.”

I think I only read one of Orz’s two backup stories in “Classic X-Men” (the earlier one, about “Cracklin’ Rosa”). It was all right, nothing special. Still, he is the greatest letterer of ALL TIME, so I didn’t mind seeing him get the work.

Anon – The other thing about Spiral is that she’s actually the creator of one of the Reavers … I wonder if that’s why she was left out – a complication that Claremont didn’t feel like dealing with … ?

Two other Freedom Force appearances that I know of, after this: 1.) Blob and Pyro show up in an issue of Ann Nocenti’s Daredevil (drawn by John Romita Jr. I think, which is awesome, as he drew all the early Freedom Force appearances in Uncanny). Then 2.) Mystique, Blob, Pyro and Crimson Commando appear in an issue of Peter David’s “The Incredible Hulk” (issue 369, to be exact, which has awesome artwork by Dale Keown and Bob “New Mutants” McLeod). I believe Blob has a line in the Hulk issue about how they’ve really fallen from grace, “Considering even Daredevil was able to take us recently.”

Austin Gorton said...

I can’t decide, is that horrible or ingenious? I am voting “ingenious.”

Me too! I love a good pun, and that one is awesome.

scottmcdarmont said...

Everything you ever wanted to know about Crimson Commando


A Painter said...

Jason, I don't think I would have gotten the "singein'" pun if someone hadn't pointed it out to me.

I loved the Freedom Force appearance in Hulk, especially his confrontation with Blob.

I forgot Orz wrote another Classic strip (with that one-legged street dancer). I was thinking of the Cracklin' Rosa one. The continuity obsessed geek in me hates the Rosa story simply on the grounds that Banshee calls Wolverine "Logan" at Harry's Hideaway. The X-Men didn't learn his name until Uncanny 139, dammit!


A Painter said...

Oooh, quick thought about my last comment about Banshee knowing Logan's name: maybe the leprechaun's told him!


Jason said...


Good thought on the leprechauns ... but Nightcrawler is present when Banshee calls Wolverine "Logan." And Nightcrawler DEFINITELY didn't find out the name until Uncanny 139. So, NO GO!!!

The same flaw exists in the story two months later, in Classic #28, the Ann Nocenti costume-party one (with the clown killer). Nightcrawler calls Wolverine "Logan" in that one as well. And Jean is alive in that story so it can't be taking place post-Uncanny-139. I suppose it *could* take place way later, like in 1992 or something ... but seeing as it was published in 1988, that's kind of a stretch ...

And in the backup in Classic 27, Jean calls Wolverine "Logan." But they are alone, and that one I can buy. She's a telepath and all.

Wow, thank goodness I'm not a continuity-obsessed geek like you, Art! :)

Anonymous said...

Art's correct that Pyro's novel-writing was first mentioned in the Official Handbook. It's only been kinda-sorta mentioned once since -- in the House of M Hulk series.

Spiral did make one more appearance with Freedom Force, in a terrible Marvel Comics Presents story. But after that it was never mentioned when or why she left the team. It also didn't make any sense, because the government had been explicit from the beginning that if anyone defected, they'd all lose their deal. I guess it's possible she legitimately negotiated her way out, though.

Great review!

Jason said...

Well, Spiral had screwed Freedom Force before, hadn't she? She abandons them in X-Factor 8 to go off and mess with Rachel in the concurrent X-Men 209.

I seem to recall an issue in which Val mentions that Spider-Woman didn't work out, but that this didn't violate the deal because Spider-Woman was recruited BY Val.

Possibly the same applies to Spiral? We never were shown -- as far as I know -- how Spiral joined the team in the first place.

Wait, don't tell me -- the Official Handbook explained in vivid detail how exactly Spiral joined ... :)

Gary said...

Reading the new UXM: First Class that came out this week. There's a bit on the second page that readers of this blog will appreciate. Sean Cassidy remembers when he was young, under the instruction of a leprechaun teacher at Cassidy Keep. Young Sean protests, "But it's a good book, Master Finnan!" The leprechaun shuts him down with: "In this class, boy, we read James Joyce, not James Bond! Life is a gift, Sean Cassidy! I won't see ye wastin' yers with nonsense!"

The man who started Banshee on Joyce, finally revealed after all these years. I wonder if Louis Hamilton had the same wee person for a teacher.

Anonymous said...

No, we don't know exactly how Spiral joined. She just happened to be there when FF was making their trial run -- arresting Magneto.

I assume she was there for some much needed firepower, but it's not clear whether Mystique or Val recruited her.

Jason said...

There you go. Loophole!

Nathan Adler said...

Hi Jason,
I’ll also note how much I miss Newsradio, particularly the irrepressible Phil Hartman.
But down to this issue…
Had Claremont stayed on X-Men, a showdown between Freedom Force and the Reavers, with the X-Men caught in the middle would have been inevitable and up there with the showdown between the Hellfire Club and Nimrod. Well noted re: Spiral absence given her having a hand in the enhancement of Yuriko.
Your mention of Silvestri’s Blob recalls some of my favourite memories of Uncanny, and what we wouldn’t give to see him paired with Green on X-Men Forever, hey!
What interview did Claremont speak of the Days of Future Present in 1992?
What’s interesting about Pyro is that he was initially introduced as being English during Days of Future past, despite having the aussie-derived name, Sinjin. He was first changed to being Australian in the original Official Handbook (yes, that again:), out in 1983. Claremont noted the change in the scene where he and Longshot save a young boy from a T-Rex during UXM 226.
But the biggie this issue makes me recall is how, in New Mutants 26 through 28, which introduced Legion and revealed him to be Charles Xavier’s offspring, we learn that a much younger David Haller was attacked by Arab terrorists in Paris. Upon this vicious attack, David lashed out with his mutant powers for the first time, killing the terrorists. However, one young terrorist, Jemail Karami, was absorbed into Legion’s consciousness upon the point of his death. While the Arab terrorist Jemail Karami became trapped within Legion’s mind, he had his own separate consciousness and memory and was still a whole person.
Why bring this up?
Well, in this issue Legion appears before Destiny on Muir Island, and with Destiny’s apparent knowledge, kills her. However, we are not shown the actual moment of her death. Could it be that is that while Destiny’s body is killed by Legion via the Shadow King, at the moment of her death, Destiny’s consciousness is absorbed into Legion’s mind, just as the Arab terrorist Jemail was? This would seem to suggest that Destiny is alive, in a fashion.
Would this have been another shocking twist revealed during Chris’s planned Shadow King Epic? I don’t know for certain this is something Claremont had cooked up. But the fact we never see any of Destiny’s actual killing, makes one wonder.
Perhaps Destiny’s consciousness within David Haller’s mind would have derailed the Shadow King’s diabolical plan to cause a race war. She could have rallied the other multiple personalities within Legion’s mind, and derailed his plot. Or at least, played a part in it!
My only problem with this theory is HOW the Shadow King would not sense Destiny hiding inside David’s head if he was possessing him. But there was obviously something planned.

Jason said...

Indeed Phil Hartman was a comedy god. One of my heroes, without a doubt.

Silvestri and Green on X-Men Forever would be fantastic. Granted I don't think Silvestri's work these days is as strong as his 80s material. He seems too keen to indulge his love of T&A, to the point of ridiculousness. I mean, hey, more power to him -- I'd probably do the same if I could draw
-- but I find it rather embarrassing to see on the shelves, really. Still, for nostalgia alone, I'd love seeing him on X-Men Forever.

The 1992 interview is in an issue of The Comics Journal. It was their
"mainstream" issue, where they looked at superhero comics (which they normally avoid like the plague, of course), and had interviews with Claremont, Todd McFarlane, Evan Dorkin, Alan Moore and David Mazuchelli. (The latter three of whom are certainly not confined to mainstream stuff,
but the focus of the interviews was their experience working for one or
both of The Big Two.) The Claremont interview is very interesting, coming so close on the heels of his quitting. He's fairly sanguine about everything, but he doesn't mince words either. For example, he talks about how he was really hoping that his quitting would have hurt sales on X-Men,
but it didn't even make a dent. And he sort of acknowledges that he was naive to even hope that it would have.

I remember Blob calling Pyro a "limey" in the latter's first appearance, yeah. I don't like this whole deal where the Official Handbook changed things. I would think the point of a "handbook" is to collate and catalogue the material from the comics, not make stuff up that was never even in them.

I like the idea of Destiny living inside David's mind. There's something appealing about the notion that she was not just a random target, but that Legion actually targeted her specifically because he wanted to add precognition to his list of psi-powers.

By the way, Nathan, did you ever read Claremont's prose novels back in the day?

Austin Gorton said...

I don't like this whole deal where the Official Handbook changed things. I would think the point of a "handbook" is to collate and catalogue the material from the comics, not make stuff up that was never even in them.

In defense of the handbooks (which I adore), I think most of the added, "made up stuff" was intended to bridge minor gaps where no story yet done so...stuff like if villain X was sent to prison in Spider-Man #whatever, then how was he able to fight Iron Man next in Iron Man #whatever?

So the Handbook writers would add a line saying "after being sent to jail, villain X escaped and fought Iron Man" even if that escape was never featured in a comic.

And of course, the addition of little things like that enabled Marvel to sell the Handbooks by saying things like "never revealed info" in an attempt to woo readers who weren't interested in just rehashing what they already read.

(I actually read an article about the new handbooks that are out now and how each entry's writer, when coming up with things like that, has to petition editorial, make a case for it, etc.)

None of which, of course, explains the addition of info like Pyro's nationality, which is an entirely different matter than transitioning a character from point A to point B in order for the sequence of their narrative to make sense.

I've always assumed (whether correctly or not, or perhaps even naively) that info like Pyro's nationality or a character's heretofore unknown real name in a handbook came from the writer/creator of that character, and was info they had created but never been able to work into a comic. Which is why, I think, the revelation of such info in the handbooks has never bothered me as much as it does you.

Anonymous said...

FWIW Freedom Force makes there last appearance that I know about in the New Mutants during the Rob Liefeld run, looking for Cable. Then by the time X-Force comes out a year later, the Brotherhood reforms in the early issues.

Austin Gorton said...

in the New Mutants during the Rob Liefeld run, looking for Cable.

I believe their actual last appearance is in the backups to the "Kings of Pain" story running through the X-annuals (and New Warriors) that year.

They battle Desert Sword, with Blob and Pyro getting captured (Toad refers to freeing them when they next appear as part of the Brotherhood) and Crimson Commando and Avalanche seemingly killed.

Jon W said...

Um...I know this is BEYOND the point of anyone caring now (occurring YEARS after the original post and all), but Spiral's departure from Freedom Force was chronicled in a few issues of Marvel Comics Presents. It involved an increasingly unhinged Spiral being sent after Firestar on behalf of Emma Frost, and Mystique playing "nice" and intervening.