Jan 6, 2014

X-amining the X-Men, part 5: Lo, There Would Come a Firelord

The X-Men by Claremont and Cockrum
A Multipart Study on Diversity and Melodrama
X-amining the X-Men Part 5: Lo, There Would Come a Firelord
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. The stories progressively improved in quality, revealing more and more about their dynamic new characters. Last time, we ended on Magneto thoroughly defeating the new squad, and the mysterious Eric the Red revealed as the mastermind behind all their recent struggles.

For those that arrived a day late and a dollar short, my sole purpose for covering these comics is to force the X-Men on Duy, who refuses to read good comics like this, so that he can instead read garbage like the Fourth World. (I will take Orion fighting Kalibak for 20 pages over a regular issue of crying Cyclops. I regret nothing! -Duy)

Enough talk, let’s ride this comics donkey into submission!

Uncanny X-Men #105. Author: Chris Claremont; Artist: Dave Cockrum; Inker: Bob Layton; Editor: Archie Goodwin

The X-Men attack Eric the Red, who seems to be less than into fighting back. Suddenly, the beauty and grace that is Firelord bursts upon the scene, and begins attacking the X-Men.

Firelord makes quick work of the mutant team (proving once again that, by proxy, Spider-Man is superior to the entire X-Men). Firelord was coming to the aid of Eric the Red, who had tricked the former herald of Galactus into helping him.

Up in orbit, the buglike ship that has been trailing Princess Lilandra, prepares to follow her to the surface of the planet, before their records show that the planet Earth has repelled four visits from Galactus. They turn and flee.

Down below, Xavier is enjoying some beverages at the home of Jean Grey and Misty Knight, along with Jean’s parents. The joyous evening is abruptly interrupted when Lilandra comes teleporting in, and Xavier finally comes face to face with the being that has been tormenting his dreams and psychic thoughts. Lilandra passes out from the strain, and they make her comfortable.

Firelord comes crashing in to capture Lilandra and Xavier, but finds himself on the receiving end of the rage of the Phoenix.

Even Jean seems shocked at the extent of her new powers, as she proceeds to take Firelord on one-on-one.

Here’s what I assume is another case of Claremont and Cockrum visiting the pages of their own book.

Eric the Red and the X-Men arrive on the scene, and mayhem ensues. Eric the Red is revealed to be Agent Davan Shakari, who was exiled to Earth by Princess Lilandra. Shakari is able to escape with the captive Lilandra through a stargate the constructed on the roof, which fades immediately after they depart.

Xavier is extremely upset, as he had learned that Lilandra was there to recruit the X-Men to join her revolt against her tyrant brother, who is going to take actions that will result in the destruction of the entire universe.

Phoenix uses her new power to reopen the stargate, and the X-Men are off the save the day. Xavier, the parents Grey, and Misty Knight are left behind to deal with a still very angry Firelord.

My brain thoughts: As I’ve stated several times before, I always used to think I didn’t care much for space-based superhero comic book stories. Having since discovered that to be completely false, I do wonder if this was because of the space-based X-Men stories (since I was primarily a Spider-Man and X-Men kid). I just don’t care for them in space, in general. This story is decent enough, and thankfully it’s finally happening after issues and issues of teases, but I prefer my mutants with two feet (more or less) planted firmly on the planet Earth. This is the culmination of Claremont’s giant mad-on for Jean Grey. She represents the fiery manifestation of all his sexual hopes and desires all in one fictional female package. (Fitting, because Firelord is the fiery manifestation of everything that sucks in one fictional package. -Duy)

Uncanny X-Men #106. A Claremont, Mantlo, Brown, Cockrum, Sutton, Rosen, Yanchus, Goodwin production

Firelord confronts Xavier and Misty Knight. (The eighth word written in this particular story is “eldritch,” in the very first caption, which is a pretty quick draw on that word, even for Claremont.)

“Eldritch” counter: 1

Xavier is quick to lose focus on Firelord though, as the pain of meeting and losing Lilandra is taking a toll on him. Firelord stops long enough to show concern for the man he had promised to kill just one issue ago. He drifts back to thoughts of Moira, and how the reason he asked her to come stay with them, was to help him during these trying times of alien dreams. During one particularly painful episode, she also admits how part of her still loves him.

The tender moment between Xavier and Moira transitions over to the X-Men in the Danger Room (it is at this moment when you realize this is going to be a flashback issue).

Colossus saves Wolverine from begin crushed, Wolverine threatens to kill Colossus for it, Cyclops yells at Wolverine for being a dick, and Banshee reasons with Cyclops to not be so hard on his new teammates, just because they aren’t his old teammates.

This leads to more open exchanges of feelings.

Suddenly, the team is attacked by the original X-Men, very much in classic incarnations. Despite them not looking anything like they do currently, their harsh talk, and their violent actions, nobody seems to question if these really are the original X-Men.

After a prolonged battle in which the new team literally and metaphorically triumphs over the old team, Xavier comes crawling in (why did he not use his chair?) to end the battle, as the original team was just a manifestation of his tortured psyche.

We get a brief appearance by an “evil Xavier,” a product of his distressed telepathic mind (only this one is less rapey, am I right, Micronauts fans?!).

The real Xavier comes arrives to save the day, and this flashback served to finally put the current Xavier at peace. The pain is over (in more ways than one).

My brain thoughts: This is the first fill-in issue during this new era of X-Men comics. The last time I reread all these comics I was pretty surprised by the fill-in issues that would appear over this coming stretch of X-Men comics, because it’s always remembered as a straight Cockrum-to-Byrne run. Complain all you want about delays in the modern era of comics, but I’d rather wait for the true next chapter of the story, than get a throwaway issue of two teams fighting for fifteen pages. (I actually like fill-ins, as I think they're a way to discover new talent, but it's a bit of a killer when it comes to momentum in collected editions. -Duy)

Uncanny X-Men #107. Author: Chris Claremont; Artist: Dave Cockrum; Inker: Dan Green; Editor: Archie Goodwin

The X-Men, having traveled through space and time through a stargate, arrive face to face against the Shi'ar Imperial Guard (Claremont also uses the word “inviolate”).

The X-Men declare that they have come to rescue the princess Lilandra. Gladiator informs them they are duty bound to prevent that from happening (for those unaware, Gladiator is a Superman/Superboy/Mon-El analogue, and he is just as boring as all of them). (I hate Ben so much. So, so much. -Duy)

The teams fight. (One of the teams has a member named Hobgoblin. This is not a good thing.)

Hobgoblin uses his shape-changing powers (making him the Chameleon Boy of this Legion analog), but Nightcrawler uses his image inducer to counter his powers. (Nightcrawler uses his image inducer so much that it should almost go toward his running count of expanding powers.)

Lilandra and her captor, her brother D’Ken, look on in amazement. D’Ken proclaims that the crystal behind them contains the ultimate power in the universe, and that it will be his.

Nightcrawler teleports in to save Lilandra from “the Soul Drinker.” Surrounded by enemy creatures, Nightcrawler teleports out with Lilandra, marking the first time he’s teleported with another person in tow.

Cyclops demands Lilandra finally explain what is going on. Long story short, her brother’s crazy and power mad, she rose up to oppose him, civil war, she locks minds (and souls) with Xavier and discovers that he had helped in matters of cosmic struggle before (the caption says in issue #65, I’ll take it’s word for it).

The power D’Ken is so motivated to possess, can only be reached through the great M’Kraan crystal, which is a gateway that opens only once every million years. On the other side is “power absolute.”

Gladiator interrupts to call her a traitor.

The battle rages on. Wolverine, having gotten his costume burned off by Wildfire, oops, I mean Firestorm (Firestorm? -D), has stolen Timberwolf’s costume, or, I mean, Fang’s costume (which is probably the most terrible he’s ever looked, including pirate caveman Wolverine).

(You’d think I’d enjoy the X-Men fighting what is essentially the Legion of Superheroes a little bit more, but…Hobgoblin.)

Lilandra pleads once more for Gladiator to stop blindly obeying the orders of the emperor (her brother) and do the right thing. He moves to pummel her instead, but she is saved by the arrival of the worst team in the history of comics, oops, I mean, the Starjammers. (Never have there been that many awful characters that appeared in the pages of one single comic book, at least not since the creation of the Justice Society.) (Must... resist.... urge... to hurt... Ben... -D)

The Starjammers turn the tide, and help the X-Men to defeat the Imperial Guard.

Surprised by the American accent and slang from the Starjammers leader Corsair, Jean scans his mind to discover something shocking (he’s the long-lost Summers father, spoiler alert).

While the good guys spend time congratulating each other, D’Ken is still very much active and ready, as the crystal opens the pathway to power absolute. The crystal opens, and for that one instant, all existence ceases to exist.

Peter Corbeau, at Starcore, is a little freaked out by this. 

My brain thoughts: Have I mentioned before how much I hate the Starjammers?

Uncanny X-Men #108. Author: Chris Claremont; Artist: Dave Cockrum; Inker: Terry Austin; Editor: Archie Goodwin

(Here it is, the star-spangled debut of John Byrne on the X-Men. As much love and respect as I have for Cockrum, Byrne would take the book to another level.) (Not arguable, to me. No one was better than Byrne was at this same time period, from all the comics I've read. -Duy)

The crystal is open. The Starjammers and X-Men don’t know what to do about it, so they do what they do best, talk about it. At Starcore, Peter Corbeau is talking about it over video feed with Reed Richards, the Avengers, and the President of the United States.

Hey look, it’s Yellowjacket.

A small purple alien emerges from the crystal, declaring himself to be the guardian of this gateway. While the Starjammers try to learn more about the crystal, the tiny purple alien proceeds to beat the X-Men down.

Banshee is able to defeat the little guy with his sonic scream. Before they can even catch their breath, a second guardian emerges, this one a giant robotic creature by the name of Modt. The Starjammers determine that every time someone emerges from the crystal, reality blinks out of existence again.

One of the Starjammers attacks D’Ken, and throws him against the side of the crystal. Upon impact, reality changes, and the X-Men find themselves in a strange place.

Phoenix determines that they are now inside the M’Kraan crystal itself. The “heart” of the crystal calls to her.

When she touches the heart, it beams images into the minds of everyone present, of their worst nightmares and fears.

All except Phoenix, who assumes that when she “died,” that her fear of death died with her (and because she’s the personification of the perfection of all that is woman).

She uses her immense power as Phoenix to enter the sphere, and when she does, the nightmares cease for everyone else.

Phoenix can sense the vast power inside the sphere, it is alive, and it is dying. If it dies, their entire universe will die with it. Phoenix tries to use her incredible power to keep it from destroying the universe, but she does not have enough.

Storm offers to give her the power she needs, but it still will not be enough. She calls out for Corsair to help too, and in the process, calls him by his true name, Major Summers.

Now with the power she needs, she plunges into the heart of the sphere, and attempts to save the entire universe.

She falters, but is empowered by the spirits of the X-Men, which push her over the top. She repairs the lattice of the sphere, and everyone is saved. (Why do I feel like Claremont was touching himself while writing these scenes?)

An exhausted Phoenix and the X-Men come plunging back through the stargate on that rooftop in New York. Firelord is there to greet them, but no longer as an enemy, having learned the truth from Xavier. (Firelord is terrible. Just terrible. -D)

Lilandra follows soon after, and the gate closes behind her. She reveals that the crystal drove her brother incurably insane, catatonic even. By law she is the one that should succeed him, but she is still a traitor for having led a rebellion against the crown, and the high council will have to determine what happens next. For now, she is an exile on Earth, and professes her love for Xavier.

My brain thoughts: I can’t remember if Byrne has taken over for good, I think there are still some random Cockrum issues to come, but for the most part, he’s taken over as the regular penciler. Again, nothing against Cockrum, but Byrne was arguably the best guy in the business at the time, and his upcoming work on the book would catapult him into superstardom.

Here’s a letter from Byrne on the letters page, which is the only recorded instance in human history where John Byrne was pretending to be humble.

My final brain thoughts: The Legion of Superheroes, Firelord, the fiery perfection of Phoenix, self-abuse, horrible Wolverine costumes, and the coming of Byrne.

I know that X-Men was probably far and away the best book on the racks at the time these were coming out, but it just wasn’t all there yet, when you know what is to come. There’s not many things in comics I like less than the Starjammers, and I’m not too enamored with the Imperial Guard either. I’m sure this was a very entertaining story, and it likely even represented the best of the book so far at the time (the letters pages were overwhelming positive about this storyline, with many throwing the word “epic” out there), but I really just don’t like the X-Men in space. Thankfully, after many teases, this story is over, and we can move on to bigger and better things. Like naked Wolverine in the jungle.

Next time out, Byyyyyrne.

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