Feb 3, 2014

X-amining the X-Men Part 9: Canadians!

The X-Men by Claremont and Cockrum
A Multipart Study on Diversity and Melodrama
X-amining the X-Men Part 9: Canadians!
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 assumed the penciling duties. Marv Wolfman started as the editor, then Archie Goodwin, with Roger Stern manning that chair for the remainder of this legendary team. Last time out, the X-Men were finally on their way home after a whirlwind adventure around the world. Only, before they could make it home, they were detoured into an all-out battle against the most dangerous of adversaries, Canadians. Witness the full awe-inspiring debut of Alpha Flight

As I’ve said before (and I will not say it again mister) my sole purpose for covering these comics is to force the X-Men on Duy, so if you really think about it (and I have) this has all successfully taken precious time away from him and his book of math jokes, and naked drawings of Lois Lane.

I’m exhausted, so let’s skin this wild boar!

Uncanny X-Men #121. Author/Co-Plotters/Penciler: Chris Claremont & John Byrne; Inker: Terry Austin; Editor: Roger Stern

Cyclops, Storm, and Colossus have tracked the captive Wolverine and Nightcrawler to the Calgary Stampede, a large outdoor recreation complex.While they break their way in and begin their search, a mysterious figure in the shadows sprinkles some “magic dust” to seal off the grounds.

Storm returns from scouting ahead to say that she can see Wolverine and Nightcrawler tied up together up ahead. They go barreling ahead to get them and are greeted by the most fantabulous team to ever be assembled, the mighty Alpha Flight: Aurora! Shaman! Sasquatch! Northstar! Vindicator! Snowbird!

Outside the complex, Banshee, Misty, and Colleen arrive, but Banshee finds out the hard way that they are sealed out.

While Cyclops and Vindicator argue it out some more, Colossus spots Northstar suspiciously trying to move behind them. Colossus warns them all with a thundering footstomp that starts the festivities off proper.

Wolverine and Nightcrawler were playing possum, and pop up to join the fray.

Shaman regretfully throws some magic totems at them all, instead wishing he could be a healer like his grandfather had taught him.

Storm and Snowbird (the best Flighter) battle it out in the air.

With Wolverine coming at him, Shaman lets go some more of his magic blizzard dust, but unfortunately, it’s a little too much to add with what has already been done.

The blizzard grows exponentially, threatening the city, and ruining John Byrne’s dinner.

The storm swirls around them, with Colossus momentarily besting Sasquatch, and Nightcrawler sneaking a kiss on Aurora.

Wolverine and Vindicator square off, with Hudson revealing how he and his wife had taken him in once, giving him a chance “to be human instead of the feral wild-child you’d been.” (This marks the first hint of feral Wolverine living in the woods.)

First: Wolverine was feral!

At this point the storm is too out of control, and Storm breaks off from her fight with Snowbird to see if she can stop it. She struggles and strains and, using all of her power, is able to spread the storm all the way out as far as the Rockies to the Atlantic Coast. She lands, exhausted, and is immediately ambushed by Northstar, who is in turn, shot by Cyclops.

Preparing to pound in his teeth, Wolverine stops him. As the voice of reason for once, Wolverine agrees to turn himself in and end all the fighting.

Later, a truck with a special cage designed specifically to hold Wolverine comes to take him away.

The X-Men board their plane, and are escorted to the border by the Canadian Air Force. Inside, Cyclops makes plans to immediately turn around and mount a rescue mission for Wolverine. Fortunately, it is unneeded, as Wolverine is keeping Annie the pilot company in the cockpit.

There’s no cage that exists that can hold him, they’ll worry about Alpha Flight later, because now they’re finally going home.

My brain thoughts: It was nice to see the team rallying around Wolverine, him continuing to be a more central figure to the book, but not altogether the singular central figure yet. This is the team as I loved it best, where they were all still just as important. Except for Colossus.

Uncanny X-Men #122. Writer/Co-Plotters/Breakdowns: Chris Claremont & John Byrne; Finished Art: Terry Austin; Editor: Roger Stern

Wolverine and Cyclops look on as they test Colossus’ strength in a hydraulic press collapsing down on him from both sides. They suspect his recent failures in battle (and life) are inhibiting from maximizing his full capability in strength. Wolverine sabotages the controls, and jumps into the machine with him, hoping to spur him into breaking through this self-imposed barriers to save them both.

It works.

Colleen greets Cyclops outside the Danger Room, clearly still intent on dating way below her level, while Banshee and Nightcrawler are out working on fixing the Blackbird.

Cyclops thinks of his absent mentor, Professor Xavier, off with his new girlfriend Lilandra in the Shiar galaxy.

Over in Scotland, Jean Grey bumps into a handsome man named Jason Wyngarde, while nearby some men search for the missing Angus MacWhirter.

Wyngarde is not just some innocent bystander though, as he makes his intentions for Jean known to a mysterious unseen individual. An individual from... the Hellfire Club!

Back in New York, Scott and Colleen head out for some ice cream sodas.

Wolverine reluctantly drops Storm off in the slums, and then heads for Madison Square Garden to catch a rodeo, when he spots Mariko getting out of a car.

He runs after her, but is too late to catch her.

Storm strolls through the ghetto, ending her journey in an old dilapidated room inside an old dilapidated building, all full of junkies.

She tries to talk to them, but they attack her from all sides. One cuts her hand pretty deep with a knife, and she instinctively hits back with her elemental powers. She’s about to be stabbed from behind, when Luke Cage comes in and saves her. He and Misty heard the talk about a “white-haired sister” in the neighborhood and tracked her down.

They lament over the unfortunate state of the world, and the youngster junkies in the room.

The next day, Cyclops sees off Colleen at the train station. She gives him an envelope to open after she’s gone, which contains a key to her apartment (oh Colleen, such bad taste).

Elsewhere, on board a 747, Black Tom and Juggernaut discuss the man they’ve recently hired to kill the X-Men. That man? None other than the legendary, the wonderous, the greatest villain in Marvel history, Arcade.
(But that’s a story we’ve already covered.)

My brain thoughts: I just love when comic book writers try to tackle the sadness of drug addiction. I’m sure it was probably pretty heady stuff for the time, but it’s a little overdone for today.

My final brain thoughts: Colleen’s terrible life choices, furious Canadians, feral Wolverine, “hey surprise” junkies are dangerous, and the joys of being Colossus.

This is going to wrap up my X-Men coverage. Following this, Claremont and Byrne would peak with the epic story fans absolutely loved, and still talk about to this very day, that pulse-pounding classic, the Arcade Saga. Oh wait, only I love that one. No, the real all-time Marvel classic is, of course, the Dark Phoenix Saga, which absolutely doesn’t need any further analysis from the likes of me. If you haven’t read that one before, please turn in your geek badge at the front desk.

Between those two classics is, surprise, another classic, The Proteus Saga, which I’ve already covered before. Following Dark Phoenix, they’d crank out another fondly remembered story, a quaint little tale named Days of Future Past (subject of the next highly anticipated chapter in the big screen X-Men motion picture series). Claremont and Byrne’s legendary partnership would end acrimoniously after one last X-Men comic, a one-off tale of the young Kitty Pryde alone in the mansion, fighting off the monster from Alien.

As good as the Claremont and Byrne stories I’ve covered have been, it’s somewhat unbelievable to consider the succession of classics they cranked out afterwards. You can’t understate the level of quality from Proteus, to Dark Phoenix, to Days of Future Past. Proteus hasn’t been revisited that much from what I’ve read, but aspects of Dark Phoenix continue to persist until this very day, with it even being the subject of a line-wide Marvel crossover, Avengers vs X-Men. Days of Future Past has inspired so many (too many) alternate future storylines that it’s impossible to even try to list them all. The Shi'ar, the Savage Land, Magneto, and Alpha Flight. Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, Sebastian Shaw, the Hellfire Club, and Dazzler are some of the characters that made their debut in the Dark Phoenix Saga alone. Subsequent writers and artists have been mining these X-Men stories for stray nuggets of gold ever since, including Claremont himself.

I think it’s easy for a certain segment of fans to dismiss what Claremont and Byrne created here, and on other books in their long and successful careers, merely because they’re mostly known for superhero books. They never created that great creator-owned character or book that snooty “adult” fans can hold up and say “see, comics are for adults” so that they can pretend they’re not arrested development man-children (relax, I’m one myself, and I’m comfortable with that). The majority of their greatest work was done for corporate-owned characters like Marvel and DC. But boy, was that some great work, some of the most highly regarded stories in comic book history. I’ll take that over Dreadstar any day.

Unsettling tangent aside, that’s it for the X-Men, folks. Hopefully I piqued your interest if you’re an anti-mutant, disturbing shut-in like Tano, and have thus far avoided reading the high quality action-adventure brilliance that was this revolution in comic book history. If so, feel free to jump in bare ass first toward the never-ending spiral into darkness that is the X-universe. Discover the joy that is the Paul Smith or John Romita Jr runs. The Mutant Massacre, or the Australian era. Even the early Jim Lee years, before it all went off the rails. I’ve long stated that the X-Men are pretty high quality all the way up through issue #200, and thinking about it even more, you can probably extend that to the #270s or so. That’s the kind of sustained enjoyment that you can only really find in Amazing Spider-Man (which must be why it was so easy to hook me on those two books as a young lad). It’s worth the time.

End transmission.

1 comment:

Gary said...

I like the pragmatism that Black Tom brings to the table here. He is all about the fabulous wealth, not about killing the X-Men. So he outsources the latter arm of his villainous ambition in order to focus on the former. So nicely done, and so rarely seen.

Post a Comment

All comments on The Comics Cube need approval (mostly because of spam) and no anonymous comments are allowed. Please leave your name if you wish to leave a comment. Thanks!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.