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!

1 comment:

Gary said...

Back Issue Ben ranted: "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."

I, too remember and miss those days.

I never noticed before that Wolverine is a Captain. Neat!

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