Dec 2, 2013

The X-Men by Claremont and Cockrum: A Multipart Study on Diversity and Melodrama

The X-Men by Claremont and Cockrum: A Multipart Study on Diversity and Melodrama
X-amining the X-Men Part 3: Danger Zone!
Ben Smith

Previously, we took a look at the formation of the all-new, all diverse team of X-Men. Created by Len Wein with art by Dave Cockrum, writing duties were quickly handed over to Chris Claremont, in the newly revived X-Men title (it had been relegated to reprint status before). The ocean waters of the beginning of that run were more than a little bit choppy though, marred by terrible villains, excessive melodrama (even for the X-Men), and the killing of Native Americans.

Hopefully the stories will get better as we go along, as I think they will. I’d hate for these comics to be so highly revered only because of their historic place in the history of comic books, or because of their monetary value, instead of their actual quality. Kinda like the way a lot of people think Superman is a good character because he was the first. Historic does not equal good! You hear me Roy Thomas?!

Anyway, my sole purpose for covering these comics is to force the X-Men on Duy, like an overzealous football player on prom night, that won’t take no for an answer.

Will he enjoy it, let’s find out together, shall we?!

Uncanny X-Men #97. Writer: Chris Claremont; Artist: Dave Cockrum; Inker: Sam Grainger; Editor: Marv Wolfman

Professor X has nightmares of a massive space battle. A midnight chat with his mysterious old friend Moira calms him down.

Lorna Dane and Alex Summers enjoy a quiet life in a secluded cabin on the Rio Diablo. The pair have fallen in love in their time away from the X-Men. Alex leaves for a hike, and Lorna is ambushed by a mystery foe.

When Alex returns, he finds Lorna dressing as Polaris, and she joins their mystery attacker in overcoming the man otherwise known as Havok. The unseen villain talks intends to kill Xavier.

The X-Men have gathered at the airport to see off Professor Xavier, as he has decided to take a well-deserved vacation. Banshee, off on a date with Moira, and Wolverine, being unsociable, are the only ones that didn’t come (more on this later).

Xavier boards the plane, and Cyclops and the rest of the X-Men are shocked at the sudden arrival of Havok and Polaris, especially since they seem intent on attacking the Professor’s plane. The X-Men are able to intervene enough to prevent Havok’s blast from hitting the plane, instead demolishing an empty plane undergoing maintenance (this reads to me like a cover-up by the writer, as the plane clearly appeared to be moving across the runway).

The mystery villain is revealed to be Eric The Red, even more confusing as that was a prior identity of Cyclops himself. The X-Men battle Eric and their two former comrades. Cyclops battles against his brother Havok, while Eric the Red easily handles the rest of the team. When Storm defeats Polaris, Havok freaks out, and Eric the Red leads them both in a hasty retreat.

Despite specifically being mentioned as not present, a suddenly present Wolverine verbally assaults Cyclops for refusing to blast the retreating parties out of the sky. Cyclops backhands Wolverine, and Storm comes to his aid, before Wolverine can attack back.

Meanwhile, the mysterious Dr. Lang of Project Armageddon watches the scene play out on a video monitor

From X-Men #99, this is now one of my all-time favorite published fan letters.

Some things never change.

My brain thoughts: Lots of mistakes between story and art in this issue. Wolverine’s sudden arrival can be “no-prized” easily enough, but I couldn’t help but be amused by the obvious mistake. That, and the “empty” plane that looked like it was drifting down the runway, distracted from what was an overall better story (and it sports one of my favorite covers of all time to boot). I was going to comment on how this would be the first time that Wolverine was left out of an issue since the new team was created, and how unlikely that would happen now that he’s in all fifteen monthly X books, but then he showed up at the end and ruined it. Just like he does to most of my birthday parties.

Uncanny X-Men #98. Writer: Chris Claremont; Artist: Dave Cockrum; Inker: Sam Grainger; Editor: Marv Wolfman

The X-Men are enjoying an evening out in New York City, during Christmas time. We get our first glimpse of Wolverine under the mask, with his wild hair and out of control sideburns.

First: Wolverine’s hair!

Stan and Jack are even in the city for the holidays.

Suddenly, the mutant-hunting Sentinels attack. Calibrated only for the X-Men as they were previously, the robots were unprepared for Jean’s current levels of telekinetic ability, and she is able to destroy one of their two attackers.

I like the “psychedelic” art here.

The other Sentinel gets the better of them though, and escapes with Jean Grey captive, it believing Cyclops killed. Cyclops is still alive though, and hanging on for his life off the top of the building.

Nearby, Banshee and the others see the Sentinels attacking. Banshee and Wolverine are quickly captured, while Storm saves Cyclops from falling to his death.

Elsewhere, Professor X enjoys his vacation with an old friend, Peter Corbeau of Project Starcore (for the Hulk comic according to the caption, bring back captions!)as they are fishing on the high seas. He’s been asking Corbeau if any of the spaceships he sees in his dreams exist in the known universe. Sentinels eventually attack, taking Xavier captive, and leaving Peter to drown.

Meanwhile, at Project Armaggedon, Dr Lang looks over the captive Banshee, Wolverine, and Jean Grey. The technician notes that Wolverine’s readings are nothing like the others, and that they are unsure if he is actually a mutant. Dr. Lang doesn’t care and wants to kill him anyway, along with all mutants everywhere.

Jean Grey gets into a shouting match with Dr Lang, and he smacks her across the face. That is more than enough for Wolverine, who shockingly pops his claws from his bare hands, breaks the manacles, destroys a Sentinel, and runs off the scared crew.

As the trio get dressed, Banshee comments that they were all unaware that Wolverine’s claws were a part of him. (You’d think his captors would have noticed that there were no claws inside his gloves when undressing him. Unless they didn’t know he had claws at all, which…never mind)

They argue about whether or not to free Professor X, but are interrupted by Sentinels before making a decision. They make swift work of the first wave of Sentinels, but the numbers are too large, and they bust a hole through the wall of the facility in an attempt to escape, only Banshee’s face has a look of horror on it when they see what’s on the other side.

Nightcrawler, once again, tries to verbally console a brooding Cyclops, when they detect an intruder on the mansion grounds. Nightcrawler teleports outside to meet the intruder head on. Later, the intruder is revealed as Xavier’s friend Corbeau.

Corbeau suspects that the reason Cerebro cannot locate the missing X-Men on Earth, is because they’re not on Earth, as we simultaneously see a terrified Wolverine, Banshee, and Jean drift off into the cold dark of space.

My brain thoughts: Lots of Wolverine tidbits revealed in this issue, and he’s shown to be a formidable combatant here for possibly the first time (unless you want to count Kierrok, which nobody ever should). This issue continues the upward trend of the series, which shouldn’t be a surprise when you use classic antagonists like the Sentinels, instead of Ani-Men and one eyed dragons. Like I’ve pondered before, Claremont probably was being restricted by Wein’s plots on those early issues. With Wein as a plotter and Wolfman as an editor, there’s only so much you can do with both of those guys involved. (Sorry, but those guys are the definition of standard and average comic books to me, barring Wolfman working with a guy like George Perez. I’m sure they’ve had their high points, but they both kind of melt into the same pot of indistinguishable, mediocre ‘70s comic book writers, to me.) Now with Wein gone, they only have Wolfman to contend with, which I’m sure meant nothing at the time, other than a free paycheck for Wolfman for paying zero attention to any of the books he “edited.” And yet, his name merely being printed in a book has been known to bring down the quality significantly (I’m joking people….sorta).

Uncanny X-Men #99. Writer: Chris Claremont; Artist: Dave Cockrum; Inker: Frank Chiara; Editor: Marv Wolfman

Banshee, Jean Grey, and Wolverine drift off into space. Down at the mansion, Peter Corbeau leads Cyclops into searching for the specific alloys used to create the Sentinels.

The Sentinels come out to retrieve the mutants and bring them back to the space station (which, if the goal was to kill all mutants, why not just let them die in space?) while far down below the X-Men discover the location of their captive friends, SHIELD’s orbital platform.

Peter Corbeau uses his power as the director of Starcore to get the X-Men onto a space shuttle, to fly them to the platform. As they wait for the shuttle to launch, Storm gives more internal hints to her claustrophobia, and Colossus freaks out due to a former comrade dying on a shuttle explosion back in Russia (finally giving Colossus something to say, it’s just too bad it’s that). They launch, and are on their way. Starcore warns them that they are registering massive solar flares in the area.

Meanwhile, in a small village outside of Dublin, a gentleman brings an urgent message for Sean Cassidy, the Banshee, to the post office to be delivered. The gentleman leaves, and is struck down by a laser blast by a man shrouded in the surrounding rain, a man by the name of Black Tom.

The shuttle comes upon the orbital platform. Sentinels attach the ship, piercing the hull, sucking Storm outside (in her spacesuit), and threatening the lives of the remaining passengers inside. With no time to waste, Corbeau pilots the ship right through the wall of the platform.

Outside, Storm is able to manipulate the solar winds of space, and defeats her Sentinel attacker. Inside, the rest of the team has recovered and are battling the Sentinels inside the station.

Nightcrawler and Colossus employ an early version of a fastball special.

After finishing off the rest of the attacking robots, Cyclops makes note of how much easier these Sentinels are to destroy than the earlier models built by Trask. Storm joins the team inside, much to the delight of Colossus. (Nightcrawler made note of Colossus anguish over Storm earlier in the fight. That, and his reaction here, suggest maybe they were trying to set up that Colossus had feelings for Storm.)

Jean telepathically contacts Cyclops, and reveals the location of Banshee and Wolverine, as well as Professor X and herself on a separate level of the station. Cyclops sends the team to rescue Wolverine and Banshee, while he intends to head for Xavier and Jean.

Dr Lang talks out loud, as villains do, about how his notes on the Sentinels must have been incomplete, but having gained all the data he needed from the mutants, prepares to kill Xavier and Jean (I guess that’s why he didn’t let them die in space?). Cyclops comes busting in, fighting mad. In a rage, Jean tries to pull Cyclops off of Lang, before he winds up beating him to death. Cyclops is hit from behind by a mysterious attacker, one that Jean is highly distraught to see, much to the delight of Lang.

Lang brags about this being his true plan all along. The other X-Men arrive on the scene, and are shocked when they come face to face with the mysterious attackers, the original X-Men themselves.

My brain thoughts: Another quality issue. It’s interesting to ponder if they intended to make Colossus and Storm a couple, and if that was not allowed or decided against, or if Claremont just forgot to follow-up on this, which tended to happen from what I’ve read. The new team versus the old team was bound to happen at some point, and what better time than the hundredth issue.

Uncanny X-Men #100. Author: Chris Claremont; Artist: Dave Cockrum; Editor: Marv Wolfman

X-Man battles X-Man, much to the delight of the mutant-hating Dr. Lang.

Nightcrawler, while face-to-face against the Beast, makes note of his lack of blue fur, and later notices that Cyclops is wearing his old visor.

Angel knocks Wolverine into Colossus, setting them up to execute the first appearance of the legendary, the transcendent, the dynamic, “fastball special.”

First: Fastball special!

Storm and Jean Grey are sizing each other up, and Storm notices that Jean’s powers don’t seem as formidable as they should be. She is also wearing her old costume, and does not recognize Storm at all.

Wolverine makes his way to Professor X, looking for answers. To his surprise, Xavier stands up out of his chair, and levels Wolverine with a might left cross. Jean Grey joins Xavier against Wolverine by attacking him with her telepathic powers.

Wolverine gives way to the beast inside, hinting at his animalistic heightened sense of smell (maybe I had it all wrong, they keep revealing as many new abilities for Wolverine as the perception was that they did for Nightcrawler, or maybe that’s just Byrne’s perception). Using those senses, Wolverine decides that this is not the real Jean Grey, and goes for the kill.

First: Wolverine’s animals senses!

Wolverine’s senses were correct, as the metal insides of the robot Jean Grey will attest. Dr. Lang screams in frustration as he watches from a nearby room, where the real Xavier, Jean Grey, and Cyclops are still captive. Dr. Lang monologues his secret history and plans, as villains often do, revealing how he was contacted by a mysterious hooded Council of the Chosen. They wanted to control mutantkind, and thus gave him all the resources he would need, but Lang wanted to exterminate mutantkind, and thus created his X-Sentinels based on the known X-Men team at the time.

Cyclops has had enough, and frees himself and the others using his deadly eye beams. Dr. Lang boards a hovercraft, equipped with laser, and attempts to kill his attackers, destroying several of his own X-Sentinels in the process.

Unfortunately for him, he loses control of his craft, and flies it right into the wall, dying in an explosion of flames.

A short while later, Corbeau gives the team the bad news, as the fire on the platform continues to spread. The flight control computer of their shuttle was damaged, meaning it would require manual piloting, and there still remains the giant hole in the side of the craft. Even worse, the aforementioned solar flare prevents Corbeau from piloting the shuttle, because it would kill him almost instantly.

Jean Grey volunteers to be the pilot, telepathically gleaning all the knowledge she needs from Corbeau’s brain .

Cyclops objects, saying that she will not be able to survive the solar flare either. Jean thinks she can screen the radiation using her telekinetic powers, and gives Cyclops a telepathic nap, to prevent him from stopping her.

Wolverine tries to argue her out of it, but she screams at him to go away. Storm and her tearfully say embrace. Jean telekinetically seals the hole in the shuttle using some wreckage, and begins the journey home.

As she pilots closer and closer to the solar flare, back in the life cell, a re-awakened Cyclops tries to break free of the grip of his teammates and go to Jean, which would surely kill them all. But it is already too late, in the middle of the massive solar flare, Jean struggles to survive, and continue to pilot them to safety.

With only twenty minutes to go, the front screen of the ship gives way, and Jean is engulfed in the deadly radiation.

Here is the letters page for #100.  Wolverine continues to grow in popularity, and a woman writes to let them know about her appreciation for the depiction of Storm.

My brain thoughts: Another quality issue to add to this increasingly enjoyable series. As far as the number of abilities goes, Nightcrawler has teleportation, superhuman agility, and appears to be able to stick to walls. Wolverine has heightened animal senses, crazy sideburns, and retractable claws in his hands, and we haven’t even learned what his actual mutant power is. (As a kid, I remember reading these early X-Men comics and wondering what his actual mutant power was. No, I was too young to be getting these off the racks, I just remember buying all these early issues first when I got into the characters. I don’t think his mutant healing factor was readily apparent in Secret Wars, but I was never the most perceptive child anyway.) So, Nightcrawler is up on him at the moment, but it’s not as lopsided as John Byrne would like to remember. But I’m sure there’s a lot of things Byrne is wrong about.

My final brain thoughts: Monster sideburns, monster robots, monster love crushes, and monster trucks on Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

The thought just hit me, but Marv Wolfman edited this series. I’ve long guessed that he and George Perez out-and-out lifted the entire formula for X-Men when doing their New Teen Titans book for DC (even to the point of cover layout, seriously, take a look). There’s not anything wrong with that, X-Men became a juggernaut of the comic book market, and DC was doing horribly at the time. Why not borrow some aspects and see if it works, and it did. But I’m not sure if I knew that he was this directly involved in the new X-Men right here at the beginning. (Assuming he was involved at all. From what I’ve read, the title of editor in those days was more about how long you’d been at the company, and for the extra paycheck, than anything involving actually editing books.) Not even Marv can be blamed for the regrettable sexual fascination some readers have with Kitty Pryde. Or can he?

That’s it for this week. The series continues to get more and more enjoyable. What will happen to Jean Grey? Come back next time!

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