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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1 comment:

Gary said...

Back Issue Ben asked: Wait, why was Sauron attacking [the X-Men in issues 114 and 115], then?

In issue 114, Karl Lykos spots Storm, thinking "Haven't eaten in so long, I can barely stand. That black woman... the life-force within her is incredible... NO! I mustn't! But--I HUNGER!"

He then tries to feed off of Storm, just a touch, but she has so much power that it's like poking a teensy hole in a dam - you wind up with more water than you'd think would come out of such a small hole! The life force he gets exceeds the MST (Minimum Sauron Threshold) and he transforms into Sauron.

Unlike Lykos, Sauron is a straight up villain and behaves accordingly, attacking the X-Men.

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