Jan 28, 2014

RIP Debra Jane Shelly

Duy: Yesterday, the Cube lost a good friend.

Debra Jane Shelly was not a creator, nor was she involved in any way in the production of comics. She was a researcher at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. But she really loved comics. Her partner, Kevin Boyd, runs the Comic Book Lounge and Gallery in Toronto. She occasionally helped out there.

Debra and the Cube go way back. Anyone who's ever started a website will tell you it's hard to get an audience. The first time the Cube saw a big spike was when it was plugged on Facebook by Keiren Smith, colorist, letterer, and beloved spouse of Ty Templeton. Via the magic of Facebook, Debra Jane, their friend, got on my Facebook page and, eventually, on my friends list, and we ended up talking quite a bit. She was incredibly nice, incredibly fair. She was fun to talk to. First, we talked comics, then we talked about stuff. Just general stuff. To the extent that you can be close to someone without ever having actually met them — and I believe that's not only possible but rather very easy; I've never met Ben and Travis and Kimberly and they write for the Cube — Debra was as close as it got. She knew more about me than some people in my daily life did, and I knew I could trust her. I confided in her when I had problems, and I constantly found myself using exclamation points and smiley faces when talking to her, things I rarely do. But it was genuine. And even though I didn't read the same comics she read, for the most part, and we didn't love the same things, we had enough of an overlap that we could really talk comics all day. But we knew each other well enough that if we did have to talk all day, we didn't have to stick to comics. Although now I'm feeling like I should give Love and Rockets another shot, just for Debra Jane.

One anecdote before I turn this over to the others. In March 2012, I saw that my favorite artist, George Perez, was at a convention in Toronto, and was offering quick head sketches for a price. I contacted Debra, who was working the convention (apart from just helping out, because she had a law background, she could notarize CGC comics), about getting me one, and she said okay, but when I was about to place the request, the list was already filled up. After the convention, Debra showed me this:

She went over to George, flashed that smile of hers that's in pretty much every picture of hers, and asked really nicely if she could have a sketch of Captain Marvel and Mr. Mind for her friend in the Philippines. It was very sweet. Because of the way shipping works, I only received the sketch recently. I'll always remember her when I look at it.

Two weeks ago, I deactivated my Facebook account temporarily, and only told a few people. She was one of the people I told, and it is a little surreal to think that me saying goodbye on what was our primary mode of communication was our actual, final goodbye. More, Ben's final column on the Chris Claremont/John Byrne X-Men run was supposed to go up today. It had, in it, a bunch of Wolverine and Alpha Flight. Canadians, basically. So Ben filled it up with Canada jokes, and he did it because he knew Debra read his column regularly, every Monday, every word.  She won't get to laugh at those jokes now. But we will remember her, whenever we make fun of Alpha Flight, or the Toronto Raptors.

Even more than with me, though, Debra eventually became really close to Ben. She called Ben her bro, a brother she never had (Edit: I realize this originally made it sound like Debra did not have a brother. This is not the case. Shortly before Deb passed away, her brother Greg had daughter, Sidney).  When Ben was in Afghanistan for six months, facing pressure I can't begin to imagine, she was there to listen and to prop him up every chance she got. When Ben came back from the Middle East, she told me she was holding her breath in suspense, and when he got off the plane to hug Kimberly and their kids, Debra told me she actually cried. It says a lot about her that she could feel so much empathy and love for people she only ever spoke to over the internet, and explains why we, as a group, the Comics Cube, could feel so much empathy and love for her.

Last night, I and a bunch of guys here, in the Philippines, who interacted with her a lot met up, impromptu, to drink in her honor. We miss you already, Debra. You'll always be a part of the Cube. My heart goes out to your little corner of Toronto. Rest in peace.

Ben: It isn’t fair.

About three years ago I was invited to join an online comic book group.  Ever since then I’ve been fortunate to become friends with a wide and varied group of individuals, all with a shared passion for comics.  One of the most special of those friends was Debra Jane Shelly.  Debra Jane Shelly was one of the kindest people you’d ever have the chance to meet.  (She had the kind of name I always had to say in full.)  She quickly became my adopted big sister.  I suspect she was probably a big sister to all of the people that knew her.

Debra Jane Shelly was one of the most supportive people I’ve ever known.  There wasn’t any good reason for her to be so supportive of me, that’s just how she was.  For all my sarcasm, and occasionally bad behavior online, she always stuck up for me, and was there to take my side.  It got to the point where anytime I had gotten into some super stupid internet argument, the first thing I’d do is message her and apologize.  I didn’t want her to be disappointed in me, so I had to explain myself beforehand.  She was always reassuring and confident that the other person had it coming.  She believed in me, again, for no real good reason.  Like a big sister, she wasn’t afraid to boot the troublemakers out for messing with us.  She was a great friend.

Debra Jane Shelly was always there for me to talk to when times were tough.  When I was supposed to deploy to Afghanistan and miss the birth of my son, she did what she could to make me feel better.  When that assignment got cancelled, she was as happy as anyone.  When another assignment came a few months later, she supported me before, during, and after.  Always checking in to make sure I was okay, always with words of encouragement and her boundless enthusiasm.  When I returned home safe, I could feel her joy through the screen.

Debra Jane Shelly loved our boys.  Not only am I sad that I will never get the chance to properly meet her in person, I’m even more sad she’ll never get to meet them.  Out of all the endless amounts of pictures that we posted of our boys online, she commented on most of them.  I’m sure she would have spoiled them senseless.

Debra Jane Shelly will be sorely missed.  My condolences to her family, and to Kevin.  She made the people around her, and the world, better with her positivity and kindness.  I’ll never be the kind of person that she was, but at least from having known her, I can try.    

Travis: I’m avoiding writing anything about Debra Jane Shelly, because I don’t want to draw up borders on her. Her awesome exceeds my ability to delineate or express said awesome. While I procrastinated, I saw a picture Duy Tano posted of Tom Hiddleston lifting a kid dressed as a superhero, and thought about all the nice things Debra might have said about that pic. Over half the things I have seen or heard since news of her death reached me, have reminded me of Debra. Heck, I picked up the copy of The Crow I just bought the other week, and it fell open to “The Woman Who Was Shelly.”

Months back, I started getting email notifications that Debra was liking my posts. Either she liked some twenty posts one after the other, or kept liking, unliking, liking the same one. My friend looked over my shoulder at the growing notifications and said, “That Debra really likes you.”

Debra liked me! Debra approved of something I posted! I understood just then how the nuns at Saint Catherine’s Indian School wanted us to feel when they would tell us to “remember, Jesus loves you.”

I don’t constantly lionize her, I’m not now. I accept that she was really cool, and – at least online – very level-headed. She was funny, and sharp, and witty, she cared so much, and she could be so patient that I inevitably tried to keep up and be just as patient. Talking with people, seeing the newest posts on her facebook wall, or things in my email, I understand that she was a guide for many who knew her, a gauge. Debra is cooler than than my conscience, because, if anything, she’s got the better smile (that smile!), and I will periodically reflect, “Debra wouldn’t do that” and alter my behavior accordingly, for the rest of my life.

And, I wasn’t close. I surely don’t know those closest to her, her family or immediate neighbors, her partner, Kevin, or even those who’d have recognized her just because they work the counter somewhere she frequented during the week. She had a profound effect on me; I won’t try to feel the effect she’d have on those closest, out of fairness to them, and fairness to her. But, I wish them all the best in the world, and all the comfort the world can afford.

I said it elsewhere, when blathering about how I was going to post something Loki-related for her and then wondered suddenly if everyone was pulling a “Debra is dead” joke and I was just too slow to get it, but for all that saying someone is in a better place might be trite, wherever Debra is now, is undoubtedly a better place. Any place is better, because Debra is there.

Kimberly:  In loving memory of Debra Jane Shelly

The sun sets on this day
The wheel turns
Your essence rides the light
Your body returns to star dust
We are all mere mortals but eternal in our existence
Your soul will know the meaning of life again

Jan 23, 2014

What Happened to Della Duck?

What Happened to Della Duck?
by Duy

This is the Donald Duck family tree, courtesy of Don Rosa in his Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.

Click to enlarge.

Notice anything? Here, lemme zoom in.

So over there, we've got Scrooge, with his sisters Hortense and Matilda. Hortense McDuck married Quackmore Duck, and she gave birth to twins, Donald and Della. Donald of course is the uncle of Huey, Dewey, and Louie, making them Della's kids with — who the hell is that guy that bird is in the way of?

The first time the kids were shown in 1937 in a Sunday strip by  Ted Osborne and Al Taliaferro, we're introduced to them via a letter from Donald's "cousin" Della, in which she tells Donald to take care of the kids for a while.

Of course, she wouldn't be Donald's cousin for long, and she quickly became Donald's sister in family trees by Barks, even if she was called "Thelma" in one of them.

Anyway, when Rosa did his big Scrooge McDuck timeline in Life and Times, there was a period when Scrooge roamed around the world building his empire. In that period, Hortense gave birth to the twins.

Scrooge sent his family away right after that (with little Donald giving him a literal kick in the butt), and the next time Scrooge meets Donald, Donald's already got custody of the kids. Huey, Dewey, and Louie just say something cryptic.

This is never followed up on, ever.

Now, it's been suggested by some, even Don Rosa himself, that Della ended up marrying one of Daisy Duck's brothers, which is how come she's "Aunt Daisy" to the boys, but as far this was never worked into a story. As for what happened to Della, that is a mystery and will likely remain so. It's been explained that there's no way for such an explanation to not end up as really depressing, since she's probably either dead or a negligent mother. Rosa goes into more detail on his Facebook page:

For the entire 20+ years I was creating Barks Duck stories, fans would always beg me to tackle the question of what happened to the parents of Huey, Dewey & Louie (hereafter "HD&L"). And I thought long and hard about how to go about it. What would the possible plot resolutions be? I could think of four.

1) HD&L go on an epic search for their lost parents. They never find a trace. There's no point to the story! Nix. 2) HD&L go in search of their parents, and discover they are dead. Depressing and pointless. Nix. 3) HD&L go in search of their parents, and find them! Alive and well! So... they go to live with their parents rather than staying with Unca Donald? I can't do that! That would threaten to rend the very fabric of the universe! Nix! 4) HD&L go in search of their parents, and find them! But... they stay living with Unca Donald? Rather than with their own parents? I can't do that! That would be depressing and probably result in all manner of litigation and paternity suits and I don't know what. Nix.

He continues:

Is there a #5? I had one in mind as far back as 1990 when I first went to work for Egmont and learned that (unlike America) Europe was an entire continent of Barks Duck lovers who wanted someone, anyone to tell this tale. I even put a scene into the storyboard-script for one of my first Egmont stories that would hint at this 5th possibility. But I did not include it in the finished version of the story because it would still have been very problematic as to how to deal with such the plot or its final outcome.

It feels very "wrong" for me to discuss this with a detailed explanation. I prefer to simply let people see the storyboard-script of the deleted scene and let them decide for themselves. Besides, I never thought it out beyond that scene. It appeared in the HALL OF FAME and in an even more complete version was in the DON ROSA COLLECTION. Mikkel (above) has apparently seen it.

Maybe Jano can copy it over and show it here? And that's all I will say about it.
Here's the deleted scene:

It's a strong hint, but at the end of the day, it's one of those unsolved comics mysteries, and it'd be great if we could find out what happened!

Hey, since Don Rosa was the first great Duck artist after Barks and made his reputation on piecing together the life of Scrooge McDuck, maybe the next great Duck artist will be the one who explains this one loose end!

As a side note, a few of my friends have suggested it's a certain Duck, Howard the.

So as I finished writing this, I ran into this piece by Chris Sims, where he basically said the same things. Go read it!

Update: I found this online, an unofficial Rosa-drawn family tree. As you can see, there are some changes. We actually see the boys' dad, but he's still unnamed. But most importantly, Rosa says Matilda is married to Ludwig Von Drake, who I always thought was awesome! (And he appeared all of once in Barks' stuff. Boo!)

You can read The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck here!

Jan 22, 2014

X-amining the X-Men, Part 8: Eight is Enough

The X-Men by Claremont and Cockrum
A Multipart Study on Diversity and Melodrama
X-amining the X-Men Part 8: Eight is Enough
Ben Smith

Previously, we have been taking an extended 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, while John Byrne has since taken over the penciling duties. Marv Wolfman started as the editor, then Archie Goodwin, with Roger Stern taking over last time out (which is like going from being homeless to living in the Playboy mansion). Last time out, the X-Men had some hijinks in the Savage Land after surviving a battle with Magneto. The team believes Phoenix and Beast perished in the fight against Magneto, while Phoenix and Beast believe the reverse. Oh the age before cell phones, a wonderous time.

As I’ve said before, my sole purpose for covering these comics is to force the X-Men on Duy, who would rather spend his time cataloguing every appearance of Mister Mind.

Enough foreplay, let’s trick this treat!

Uncanny X-Men #117. Script/Co-Plots/Pencils: Chris Claremont & John Byrne; Inks: Terry Austin; Editor: Roger Stern

The X-Men struggle to navigate their makeshift boat through the rampaging storm. Fortunately, they come across a Japanese ship, who agree to take them aboard. Unfortunately, they will not allow the X-Men to make any radio contact, as their ship in on a secret government mission.

Back at the mansion, Jean Grey makes another tearful farewell to the mansion and the memories within (the second such farewell since the book was restarted). Lilandra, after saying goodbye to Jean, makes coffee to take to the depressed Professor Xavier, saddened over the apparent death of his beloved X-Men.

Xavier launches into a flashback tale. He recalls the time he was working toward his doctorate, and falling in love with Moira. He was drafted into the military, and she left him while he was gone. He found his way to Cairo, where he crossed paths with a young Storm.

After chasing her down using his powers, he was struck down by a psychic bolt.

After recovering, he followed the bolt to its point of origin. Eventually meeting the malevolent force behind it, Amahl Farouk (how scary can a man in a fez really be?).

Farouk tries to recruit Xavier, but Xavier knows the crimes he commits using his psychic abilities, and refuses. The two meet in battle on the astral plane. Xavier is sporting some familiar armor (for fans of the Micronauts vs the X-Men) but it is clear that Farouk is the much more experienced telepath at that time.

But Xavier got the best of him in the end, shooting a beam of incredible psychic strength straight into Farouk’s brain. His first encounter with an evil mutant is what would inspire him to his life’s work, and to eventually form the X-Men.

Lilandra offers for him to come home with her, with nothing tying him to the Earth anymore. He agrees to go with her.

Jean Grey prepares to board a flight when she runs into her roommate Misty Knight. Jean invites her to come on vacation with her, but Misty is on her way to help Colleen out in Tokyo.

For the the first time, Jean feels truly alone.

My brain thoughts: This is probably the least collected issue of the Claremont and Byrne run.

Uncanny X-Men #118. By Chris Claremont & John Byrne; Guest Inker: Ric Villamonte; Editor: Roger Stern

Six weeks after being pulled out of a storm onto a Japanese ship, the X-Men prepare to arrive in Japan. They arrive to find the city ablaze.

The captain cannot take the ship any closer due to the wreckage in the water. Cyclops sends Nightcrawler ahead to the docks to make sure the coast is clear. It is, so the rest of the team flies or is carried over.

Being without passports or money, they intend to find Shiro Yoshida, Sunfire, to enlist his aid.

Storm does what she can to keep the fire and smoke away from them, but they are still devastated by the destruction around them.

Wolverine reads in the local paper that the citizens were evacuated due to a warning of a big earthquake. Cyclops is shocked to learn that Wolverine can read Japanese.

First: Wolverine’s ties to Japan!

Up in space, Lilandra and Xavier are on their way to the Shi’ar galaxy.

Back in Japan, the X-Men make it to the Yoshida ancestral manor, only to find it surrounded by guards. The X-Men change into costume, and attempt to sneak into the manor under cover of fog, courtesy of Storm. They are discovered soon after, and confronted by Sunfire.

Sunfire prepares to have them arrested, but Misty Knight arrives to stop him.

Inside, the Prime Minister recalls the message they received that the city would be destroyed by an Earthquake at 8 in the morning, which it did. Sunfire is arguing with him about not needing the help of the X-Men, or his niece, Colleen Wing (aka the greatest character in comics).

Cyclops, frustrated by everyone arguing in Japanese, leaves to find a phone to call the mansion, while Colleen notices how attractive she finds him (damn you, Colleen!).

Cyclops catches the tail end of a Misty Knight phone call to Iron Fist (all this crossing over had to be how I eventually decided to buy Iron Fist comics).

Cyclops is surprised to find the number at the mansion out of service.

Wolverine is out strolling the grounds when he runs into a Japanese woman.

He strikes up a conversation with the woman named Mariko, who would go on to become an important figure in the life of Wolverine.

First: Mariko!

Suddenly, they are interrupted by another earthquake. He carries Mariko to safety, while the X-Men and Sunfire do the same for the other inhabitants of the manor.

Storm senses that the ‘quake is not naturally occurring.

Three people decked out in Mandroid armor arrive and attack Sunfire. The X-Men move to respond in kind. Nightcrawler does some damage, but Colossus fails, because that’s what Colossus does (and whines about it like he’s Wonder Man).

Wolverine rips open one of the Mandroids using his claws, and Cyclops and Banshee tag team another one.

Mariko runs to the side of her cousin, Sunfire, as the last Mandroid bears down on him. Storm hits the armor with freezing rain, causing it to shatter.

Outside, the remaining accomplices run for it, so that they can “warn the boss,” but are stopped from leaving by Colossus (there you go, big guy).

As the X-Men round up everyone for interrogation, a hologram image shoots forth from one of the Mandroids. The boss is revealed to be Moses Magnum, and he demands that the Prime Minister declare him ruler of the nation, or he will sink Japan.

My brain thoughts: I don’t know if I mentioned it, or mentioned it enough, but Terry Austin doesn’t get enough credit for the artwork on this series, or in general. I may have failed to point that out before in the midst of all my man-love for Byrne. Byrne has never looked as good as he does with Austin on inks, and that is never more evident than in this issue. The quality of the artwork just isn’t on par with the previous issues. It’s still good, it’s still Byrne, but it’s not as good as it has been.

Uncanny X-Men #119. Author/Co-Plotters/Penciler: Chris Claremont & John Byrne; Inks: Terry Austin; Editor: Roger Stern

Storm flies, carrying Nightcrawler, over the mouth of an extinct volcano. Nightcrawler teleports down to a maintenance platform just inside the crater. He makes his way inside the complex, quietly taking out a guard with his tail. He thinks back to the briefing the Prime Minister gave the X-Men on Moses Magnum, self-proclaimed “arms dealer to the world.” Colleen and Misty tracked down his base of operations to a group of volcanic islets in the Kuril Chain.

Nightcrawler contacts Misty and Colleen back at their base of operations. They signal Storm and Banshee, who are flying up above the volcano. Banshee hits the base’s scanners with his sonic scream. The guards on duty don’t know what’s happening and hit the alarms. This is all according to Cyclops’ plans, as Nightcrawler uses the distraction to sneak to the basement of the complex.

Deep beneath the very floor of the ocean, Cyclops, Sunfire, Colossus, and Wolverine tunnel their way toward Magnum’s (not so) hidden base. Nightcrawler makes it to the basement and activates the homing device, telling Cyclops exactly where to bust through into the complex from below (this seems unnecessarily complicated). As soon as Colossus pokes his head up through the hole, he’s immediately worked over by Moses, punching him to hard he’s sent flying.

As he flies through the air uncontrollably, Colossus ponders once again how ineffective he’s been of late (further cementing his place as the Wonder Man of the team). Emboldened by his ability to stop himself from flying off the edge of the cliff (congrats?), Colossus is resolved to no longer be a useless punching bag.

The X-Men are attacking Magnum, until he reveals a fresh new set of Mark II Mandroids.
Colossus, determined to follow through on his goal to not be worthless, thrashes the Mandroids almost immediately. Magnum turns tail and runs, locking the X-Men in, leaving only Banshee to chase him down. Magnum runs to his massive laser drill, which has bored a shaft down into the center of the Earth, and prepares to focus his energies into creating a massive ‘quake. Outside, Banshee creates a wall of sound using his sonic scream, to cut off and block Magnum’s power and send it back on itself.

Banshee cuts loose with all his power, eventually prevailing as the volcano explodes apart.

A day later, Misty and Colleen search for the X-Men aboard a seaplane. The energy from Magnum colliding against Banshee’s scream had destroyed every tiny island in the area. They spot Sunfire and follow him back to the X-Men, surviving on one of the few remaining chunks of rock left.

Ten days after that, Banshee exits a cab, a little depressed that none of his teammates were around to greet him as he was released from the hospital. He should have known they were just waiting to surprise him with a Christmas party.

Banshee tries to talk but is unable to, his vocal chords too damaged from the strain of combating Moses Magnum. (This would mark a long period of Banshee being powerless, something I read about all the time as a kid, but never actually saw the cause of here. Most of the X-Men issues I had as a kid were from the very next issue on.)

Wolverine leaves to find Mariko, prompting Storm to think to herself just how much he has changed, how much they’ve all changed, and become a family. She finds a sullen Colossus out on the balcony, sad as he is one of the few that still has an actual family back home. As he says, “tonight of all nights” he misses them. (Do Russians celebrate Christmas? Seems like they wouldn’t, at that time especially. Unless they go to the bread line of Christmas and get extra bread that day. I don’t care enough to research.)

Over in Scotland, Jean exits a train from her vacation in the Greek Isles to find Havok, Polaris, Moira, and Multiple Man there to greet her. She was finally able to somewhat come to terms with the death of the X-Men, and her beloved Scott.

The issue ends with poor Angus MacWhirter, still ticked off that the X-Men forcefully rented his hovercraft and destroyed it (X-Men #104), breaking into Moira’s Muir Isle Mutant Research Center to do some damage. Instead he’s ambushed from behind by a mysterious attacker, an attacker that calls him a “humannn.” (Those with sharp memories can probably deduce that this attacker is Proteus, who we’ve already covered before.)

My brain thoughts: The actual battle in this issue is pretty lean, but maybe Claremont remembered that nobody has ever wanted to read a comic with Moses Magnum in it. Not on purpose anyway. The characters and the team dynamic between the characters is really beginning to coalesce at this point. This is probably mostly due to Wolverine becoming much more of the well-rounded character that I remember his as, in his prime, before Marvel turned him back into a hothead that will not hesitate to kill friend or foe alike. (Old fogey rant alert. There used to be a time when Wolverine was trying to be a better man, and trying to move beyond his days of unrepentant killing, saving all his rage for his uncontrollable berzerker rages. Also, there was also a time when he could lose a fight and his mutant healing factor didn’t make him invincible. Second rant alert. There was a time when Batman was actually nice to his allies and, also, was not invincible. Batman’s super power is unlimited omniscient “prep time,” because that would be possible in a world with superheroes.)

Uncanny X-Men #120. Author/Co-Plotters/Penciler: Chris Claremont & John Byrne; Inker: Terry Austin; Editor: Roger Stern

The Prime Minister of Canada and James Hudson watch a video of the X-Men fighting the Mandroids in Japan. They plan to make another attempt to bring Wolverine/Weapon X back to Canada. Hudson hits a button to summon Canada’s premiere super-team, Alpha Flight (making their first cameo appearances).

Over in Japan, the X-Men prepare to leave for home aboard a Jeryn Hogarth chartered plane. Sunfire thanks them for their assistance. Wolverine stops to say goodbye to Mariko, and give her a flower (aww, how sweet).

Mid-flight, the pilots run into strange weather, prompting them to wake up Cyclops and Colleen snuggled up in the back. A freak blizzard shut down every airport on the West Coast, and seems to be following them every time they change their flight path.

Storm arrives and attempts to quell the blizzard, but an outside force is controlling it. Not wanting to tear the plane apart, they let the blizzard direct them to where it intends. They land in Calgary, where they are greeted on the runway by James Hudson, aka Vindicator.

Cyclops orders them to turn the plane around and leave, but some monstrous hairy creature is holding up the rear of the craft. The creature picks up the entire plane, and then hurls it toward a derelict hanger.

Vindicator chastises Sasquatch for his reckless act, and scans the wreckage, but thankfully finds the plane empty.

The blizzard intensifies around Vindicator, and he asks Shaman to explain what is happening to the storm he created. His weather spell is being turned against him.

The X-Men use the cover of the storm to sneak their way to the terminal. Cyclops demands some answers from Wolverine, and finally gets them. James Hudson was head of a government project to develop Canadian superheroes. Hudson started by looking for mutants, and Wolverine was his first recruit. Wolverine resigned when Professor X came calling, but the Canadian government apparently wants him back.

Nightcrawler teleports deeper into the city, but is ambushed by two unseen Alpha Flight members.

Cyclops and Colossues regroup nearby. But by then, Wolverine, Banshee, and Storm have joined Nightcrawler among the missing. Banshee and Storm are at a nearby mall, trying on some clothes to blend in more smoothly.

Scanners have tracked a signal to the mall, and Vindicator comes busting in. Banshee instinctively tries to use his sonic scream, but his damaged vocal chords cause him to collapse in pain.

Hudson moves to give him aid, but Storm arrives on the scene, misreads the situation, and attacks with her full fury. Vindicator takes off, not wanting to face her on his own.

Wolverine makes his way through the bad part of town, on his way to see if Cracklin’ Rosa still runs her “social club,” lamenting how he could fall for a woman like Mariko that’s out of his class.

He’s snatched from behind a corner by Sasquatch, who proceeds to smash him into unconsciousness and take him prisoner.

Banshee and Storm find Cyclops and Colossus, and give them the update on Vindicator’s attack. Unable to find their missing teammates, Cyclops prepares to take the fight to Alpha Flight (hey, that rhymed).

My brain thoughts: The star-spanned (sorta) debut of Canada’s elite superteam, Alpha Flight. There is no good reason I should like Alpha Flight as much as I do, but I just can’t help it. Chalk it up to youthful innocence.

Letters Pages: From the letters page about #111, we get a prime example of how long fans have been nitpicking every single detail of superhero comics, and there’s also a letter from a young woman that loves Byrne’s art almost as much as I do.

Here’s a letter for issue #114, from future star of the smash comedy Dumb and Dumber (probably not) Jeff Daniels.  This one stuck out to me because it’s one of the rare negative letters they printed in the letters page for a long time, and because he made fun of Claremont’s “does Jean love me” tendencies.

Issue #115 prompted yet another letter from a female fan (seems like X-Men in particular had a lot of those) and a lapsed fan at that.  I could definitely see the X-Men being the book that drove fans back into comics.

My final brain thoughts: Canadians, Japanese, Mariko, and Colleen! Sweet, sweet, Colleen.

The world tour continues from the Savage Land to Japan, and now to Canada. By this point it’s been at least seven months in real time since the team was split up, and they’ve been stranded out in the world. I remember this seeming like an epic long trek adventure around the planet as a kid. Claremont would take this storytelling tool to the maximum in the mid-200s of the series, either during or post the Australia years. Separating and scattering the X-Men for what seemed to be twenty to thirty issues. I remember because I was definitely getting those issues off the rack, and it seemed like forever before the team was all back together again. (That period also gave us the all-time classic team of Wolverine, Psylocke, and Jubilee, so there isn’t too much to complain about. Ah, Jubilee, your lameness attracts me like a moth to the flame.)

Wolverine continues to be developed into the most versatile and interesting member of the team. Mariko makes her stunning debut. Byrne’s Canadian influence reaches its zenith with the creation of Alpha Flight. I remember the debut issues of Alpha Flight actually demanding a higher price than the rest of the non-Dark Phoenix Byrne issues. (But I also remember a time when you could get most of these comics for $5-10 each, at most. I remember I was shocked when I came back to comics around 2001, and saw a Byrne X-Men issue on the wall of a comic shop for $60. Then I slapped my head in anguished regret when a price guide told me Giant Size X-Men #1 was worth $1000. I remember trading in a stack of Spider-Man comics so I could afford the hefty price of $40 for a copy of Giant Size #1 when I was a kid. But then I went to junior high and saw my first girl wearing biker shorts, and sold my whole collection.)

Next time, more Alpha Flight!

Jan 20, 2014

X-amining the X-Men, part 7: Am I really still doing these?

The X-Men by Claremont and Byrne
A Multipart Study on Diversity and Melodrama
X-amining the X-Men Part 7: Am I Really Still Doing This
Ben Smith

Previously, we have been taking an extended 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, while John Byrne has taken over penciling duties. Last time out, the X-Men have just gotten their asses kicked by Magneto, and he has decided to shackle them to chairs for the remainder of their lives, because he’s a dick.

As I’ve said before, my sole purpose for covering these comics is to force the X-Men on Duy, who has no time for anything but mutant ducks.

Enough preamble, let’s bob this apple!

Uncanny X-Men #113. Raconteurs: Chris Claremont & John Byrne; Embellisher: Terry Austin; Editor: Roger Stern

Magneto attacks the Royal Australian Aerospace Research Facility in Woomera, as part of his recent attacks on similar research facilities. Meanwhile, Professor X, on vacation with alien princess Lilandra, is troubled over the loss of his telepathic rapport with the X-Men, who are still captive in Magneto’s Antarctic base, being cared for by his robot nanny.

After Nanny leaves, Storm makes her move, carefully controlling her movements to, by extreme luck, obtain her lockpick from her headdress.

Calling back to her criminal training in Cairo, under the tutelage of Achmed, Storm attempts to unlock her manacles. She fails, as the pick falls to the ground. Her resulting cry attracts Nanny, who then places Storm’s headdress back on her head. The tears flow down Storm’s frustrated cheeks.

Magneto is up in space repairing Asteroid M, when he gets a notice of a minor malfunction at the Antarctic base. He leaves to investigate. When he arrives, the lights are out, and Nanny is repeatedly rolling full speed in a circle. Suddenly, Magneto is struck by a force beam.

The X-Men have escaped, and this time, Cyclops is meticulously coordinating their attack. Storm attempts to remove the humidity from the air, while revealing in her thoughts that she was successful with a second lockpick attempt.

Wolverine tags Magneto pretty good.

Phoenix puts Magneto back on his heels. Magneto, sweating uncontrollably, is attacked by Colossus, without time to react or use his powers.

The focus quickly turns from the fight, to the roof of the dome starting to slowly open, and molten rock seeping through. Apparently Phoenix’s blast destroyed the main control console. With the priority on survival over victory, the X-Men try to think of a plan. Forcing Magneto to fly them out is quickly off the table, as he breaks free and escapes on his own.

As the complex crashes down around them, the Beast and Phoenix are separated from the rest of the X-Men. Magneto laments the fate of his foes, as he bursts through the surface and looks back to see a fiery explosion.

Not long after Magneto departs, a giant Phoenix made of fire heralds the arrival of Jean Grey and the Beast to the frozen surface. Jean doesn’t last long though, collapsing from the strain of their escape. Beast tries to carry her to safety, but collapses himself not long after.

As they lay there in the freezing snow, the fate of the other X-Men is in doubt.

My brain thoughts: That’s the type of X-Men story I can sink my teeth into. In modern comics, Storm’s repeated attempts to unlock her bonds would be shown over the course of a full issue, but here, in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, they show you the first failed attempt, and they fast forward to the battle, then fill you in with a thought balloon. Good stuff. Also, Roger Stern took over as editor with this issue, making it probably the greatest collection of superhero comics creative talent ever assembled at that time.

Uncanny X-Men #114. Writer-Plotters-Penciler: Chris Claremont & John Byrne; Inker: Terry Austin; Editor: Roger Stern

Beast struggles on through the icy snow. He spots some lights in the sky, helicopter lights. He rouses Jean awake, so she can send up a starburst as a flare. Her immediate thoughts are on digging out the buried X-Men, not realizing how long she’s been out. The helicopter pilots see her energy bursts from the sky.

The Beast grabs her, convincing her there’s no way the others could have survived.

Elsewhere, the other X-Men dig their way out of the rocky ground, into a surprisingly warmer locale. Storm was able to save the team by creating an ice storm that slowed the lava long enough for Cyclops and Banshee to blast an escape route.

Cyclops recognizes their location immediately as the Savage Land.

Storm, still exhausted from the climb out of the hole, is unable to help Banshee when he is snatched by a Pterasaur. Wolverine comes to the rescue, via the fastball special.

As Wolverine slaughters the poor animal to the ground, the X-Men run off to find him where he lands. A mysterious human lurks in the foliage, a human that recognizes Cyclops.

They find Wolverine atop the giant dead beast, and Cyclops takes the moment to chastise him for taking such a risk.

A week later, Beast and Phoenix arrive back at the mansion, where they’re greeted by Lilandra. Jean goes in to meet Xavier alone, so they can both grieve over the perceived deaths of their beloved teammates. (Why does Hank get squeezed out?)

Back in the Savage Land, the X-Men have found a village to hole up in and recover their strength. Banshee mourns to himself over the believed deaths of Jean and Hank, and is surprised by Cyclops' apparent lack of emotion over the death of his beloved. Even Cyclops, doing a little shaving by the water, is surprised by how well he’s taking the death of Jean (especially since he can’t go five minutes without screaming and cursing his mutant eyes).

Storm comes by for a chat, to possibly share some grief over Jean, and is surprised to hear him say he feels nothing about her death.

Colossus invites Wolverine to come join him for some sex with some local girls, but Wolvie turns him down to stitch up his costume instead, calling him “Petey Pureheart” in the process (for, I assume, the first time).

First: “Petey Pureheart”!

But that was a lie, as Wolverine pines over the lost love of Jean Grey as well (even when Poochie is not around, everyone should be wondering, “where’s Poochie?”).

Flower child Storm swims in the water nearby, but is ambushed from behind by the mysterious human that has been stalking them, stealing her life energy. A reflexive lightning bolt from Storm sends the rest of the team running to her location. When they get there, they find the evil incarnate that is Sauron (and not the one obsessed with gold rings).

My brain thoughts: Byrne got plotter credit pretty quick on this book. Could it be because he’s an overbearing prick?

Uncanny X-Men #115. Rabelaisian Raconteurs: Chris Claremont & John Byrne; Illuminatin’ Inker: Terry Austin; Edifyin’ Editor: Roger Stern

I’ve always loved this cover.

Wolverine doesn’t care much for this Sauron fellow.

But Sauron quickly turns this attack against Wolverine, hypnotizing him with his powers, and sending him after his own teammates. Cyclops puts him down for the moment, and Banshee takes to the sky to face Sauron.

Wolverine quickly recovers and tackles Cyclops, who he perceives to be a demon attacking Phoenix. He briefly remembers that Jean is dead, hesitating him long enough for Cyclops to get the best of him, again.

Cyclops blasts Sauron from below, while Banshee blasts him from above. Sauron prepares to retreat, but not before grabbing an unarmored Colossus and sucking his mutant energy from him. Colossus armors up mid-suck though, and the feedback sends Sauron flying. He lands near Wolverine and changes back to Karl Lykos.

Before Wolverine can stab him to death, Ka-Zar comes barreling in to save his “friend.”

Cyclops comes running in to defuse the situation, and they all head inside for storytime. Karl explains how after the last time he fought the X-Men, he made his way to the Savage Land, where he survived on the energy from smaller creatures.

One day, he happened upon this situation.

Zaladine sacrifices some poor dude to resurrect this God of hers, Garokk the Petrified Man. Lykos looked on while Garokk destroyed some city through a trans-dimensional warp with his eyebeams. A city Ka-Zar had been helping to attack or some such, I’m not sure, but Ka-Zar was riding a flying shark. Long story short, Garokk is trying to take over the Savage Land, and Ka-Zar has been fighting to stop him.

Wolverine and the others volunteer to join the effort, but Cyclops says no. He wants to leave to make sure Magneto didn’t escape to attack the Professor.

They’re escorted to the underground tunnel that will take them out to the open sea, and away from the Savage Land. They are shocked to find snow and ice near the end of the tunnelway, where there should not be any.

Nightcrawler takes the opportunity to peg Wolverine with a snowball, and he prepares to strike back.

First: Nightcrawler and Wolverine are buds!

Ka-Zar interrupts their fun with foreboding info. He fears that Garokk has upset the ecological balance of the land, and if they don’t stop him, it will be death for the Savage Land.

My brain thoughts: Wait, why was Sauron attacking them then?

Uncanny X-Men #116. By Chris Claremont & John Byrne, with Terry Austin: Inker, Roger Stern: Editor

Ka-Zar leads the X-Men up a perilous climb to the top of a snow-capped peak, to their “thrice-damned destination.” Down below is a massive domed futuristic city, the city of the Sun God.

They are immediately attacked by a squadron of half-bald men on flying dinosaurs. All but Nightcrawler, Wolverine, and Storm are quickly captured, embarrassingly so.

Wolverine prepares to lead them into the city to save the day, but not before bonding with Ka-Zar’s sabretooth tiger Zabu first, to send him back to the village for reinforcements (another new power; Wolverine: cat-whisperer!).

When they get to the city, Wolverine takes out the sentry, and the three head inside. They are attacked by what appears to be a velociraptor, which is about 13 years before they became popular because of Jurassic Park. Regardless, Wolverine stabs it in the throat.

Storm comments on his wounds, and we get our first hint at Wolverine’s actual mutant power, his mutant healing factor.

First: Wolverine heals real fast!

Storm flash floods away the remaining raptors, and they continue on their trek.

After awhile, they finally find the entrance to a giant arena, where in the middle the captured X-Men are about to be executed.

Nightcrawler ‘ports in, freeing Cyclops, who in turn frees Colossus. Storm flies in with Wolverine, and they free the remaining X-Men.

They’re tearing into Zaladane’s warriors while Garokk tries to beat foot out of there. Cyclops chases him up and through the winding corridors of the city.

Garokk finds a grid to feed him raw energy from the city.

I want to say “Reap the Whirlwind!” just once in my life.

Garokk fires at Cyclops with his eyebeams, and Cyclops returns the favor. As they battle above, below, the X-Men find themselves once again trapped in a crumbling city. This time they’re more prepared.

As the dome collapses beneath Cyclops and Garokk, the two of them go falling into the endless cavern below. Banshee saves Cyclops, but Storm, despite her best efforts, is not able to reach Garokk in time.

The X-Men all safely make it out of the city before it collapses upon itself.

The next day, the X-Men prepare to set sail for home on their makeshift boat. Not long after they set sail though, they’re swept into “the raging fury of one of the worst winter gales” to hit Cape Horn in over a hundred years.

My brain thoughts: Byrne’s influence on the character of Wolverine is clearly evident at this point. He took a central role in this issue, leading Storm and Nightcrawler into the city. He may be the best and worst thing Canada has ever given comics, but Wolverine fans owe Byrne a debt of gratitude.

My final brain thoughts: Flying sharks, tribal sex, rock Gods, Sauron and his precious, and lots of half-naked Storm.

I’m not going to beat a dead horse on this one. Wein and Cockrum may have created this new version of the X-Men, but Claremont and Byrne are the ones that made them great. Everything that the X-Men are about is being laid down in this stretch of comics that continues in these issues here. Wolverine is grabbing a central role and stabbing things. Colossus is having ill-advised sex. Nightcrawler likes to have a good time. Cyclops is a prick. Alpha Flight, Magneto, the Savage Land, and more to come. It’s all right here.

Join me next time, as the world tour continues!

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