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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

X-amining X-Men #96

"Night of the Demon!"
December 1975

In a Nutshell
The X-Men fight the demonic Kierrok.

Author: Chris Claremont
Artist: Dave Cockum
Inker: Sam Grainger 
Letterer: Dave Hunt
Colorist: Phil Rachelson
Editor: Marv Wolfman
Plotting Assist: Bill Mantlo

Plot
As Cyclops grieves over Thunderbird's death, he unleashes his power in a blind rage, unknowingly blasting through an ancient cairn. Back at the mansion, the X-Men are training in the Danger Room when Wolverine almost kills Nightcrawler. As Xavier discusses Cyclops' mood with Banshee, Moira MacTaggert arrives at the mansion, having been asked by Xavier to look after the house while he is away on vacation. Meanwhile, Dr. Steven Lang of Project Armageddon is visited by an old friend, Colonel Michael Rossi, who has been tasked with reporting on Lang's progress. Realizing that Lang intends to launch a mutant witch hunt, Rossi decides to recommend that the project be shut down, much to Lang's displeasure. Back at the school, Cyclops suddenly bursts through the wall in battle with the demonic Kierrok of the N'Garai, who escaped from the cairn Cyclops destroyed.


The X-Men manage to defeat Keirrok, but he then reforms, stronger than ever. Cyclops says he's destroyed the creature several times already, only to have it come back to life stronger than ever. As the X-Men battle it once more, Xavier reads its mind, then sends Storm off towards the cairn. There, she is attacked by more demons, but manages to fend them off with a lightening bolt which reseals the cairn and causes Kierrok to vanish. Elsewhere, Colonel Rossi's plane crashes, seemingly killing him.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue marks Moira MacTaggert's first appearance, who, we will eventually learn, is a renowned geneticist and research colleague of Xavier's, as well as his former fiancee, and who will go on to become arguably the book's most important supporting character. Here, she's introduced merely as a Scottish woman Xavier has hired to look after the mansion, but hints of her role in things to come are present (see below).


Steven Lang appears for the first time, as the head of Project Armageddon. He is following in the footsteps of the Sentinel-creating Trask family in desiring to wage war on mutants. Lang mentions being beholden to a council; this will later be revealed as as the Council of the Chosen, the precursor to the Hellfire Club's Inner Circle, retroactively making this issue, in a manner of speaking, the first mention of that organization.


This is also the first appearance of Michael Rossi, an Air Force colonel, who will go on to become a relatively minor supporting character in X-Men and Ms. Marvel.  

Kierrok, a member of the demonic N'Garai, appears for the first time. The N'Garai are not exactly a staple of the X-Men's Rogues Gallery, but Wolverine will fit them again in a mid-90s annual and they will pop up again around X-Men (vol. 2) #75.


More notably, Chris Claremont takes over full writing responsibilities with this issue, marking the beginning of his sixteen year solo run as writer of X-Men.

A Work in Progress
Seeds of the future Nightcrawler/Wolverine friendship are planted, as Wolverine gets enraged when Kierrok attacks Nightcrawler.

Wolverine exhibits a weird dialogue tic, peppering his dialogue with the word "baby" a lot. Thankfully, it never caught on.


We also see what will later come to be known as Wolverine's "berserker rage" for the first time.


Storm's past as a child in Cairo, the death of her parents and her resultant claustrophobia are hinted at for the first time.


That 70s Comic 
Why comics are awesome: Moira MacTaggert pulling a machine gun out of Professor X's armory.


Storm doesn't have time to dodge this bolt of energy, but she does have time to explain that she doesn't have time to dodge it.


Dave Cockrum turns in a nifty psychedelic half page depicting Xavier's telepathic reading of Kierrok's mind.


Claremontisms
This issue marks the first appearance of one of Claremont's favorite story tropes, the invasion of our world by demonic forces. Though relatively self-contained here, he'll craft variations on the theme several times in the years to come.

Young Love
Banshee is immediately smitten with Moira, kicking off one of the book's longer-lasting romances.


The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
Overwhelmed by angst grief, Cyclops lashes out with his power, inadvertently smashing the N'Garai cairn and releasing Kierrok.


For Sale
Hulk smash Hostess Fruit Pie!


Who will YOU be for Halloween?


Chris Claremont on the core idea of the X-Men
"Hated and feared by a world that they're sworn to protect. Basically, it was everything that Stan set up right off the get-go. What with me being an immigrant-when you're a kid walking around Elmhurst in British schoolboy shorts, knee socks, a Peter Parker sleeveless sweater, a tie, a school blazer, T-strapped sandals and an English accent, you often got your head handed to you-and always moving around-my dad was in the Army at that point-I alwaus felt like the proverbial fish out of water. Being an outsider sort of came naturally to me so I understood where the X-Men were coming from."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p63

Dave Cockrum on Storm's character design
"What wound up being Storm was originally a character called the Black Cat, and I had a character named Typhoon  that had Thor's powers and cape. I kind of combined my Black Cat character with Typhoon and ended up with Storm. Marvel liked her, though Len [Wein] was worried that the white hair would make everybody think Storm was somebody's grandmother. I said, 'Trust me, they're not going to think she's anybody's grandmother."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p85

Dave Cockrum on working with Chris Claremont
"His first solo issue was pretty much presented to me as a full script. Chris was going off to England and so he did a full script for that one. After that we worked together much more as co-plotters."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p89

Teebore's Take
Chris Claremont takes over the book in full, and his presence is immediately felt as he crafts a slow moving (for the time) tale examining the X-Men's grief in the wake of Thunderbird's death (as one of the commenters on Jason Powell's post about this issue remarked, the N'Garai invasion can be seen as a metaphor for grief, in that the demons threatens to overwhelm the X-Men until they attack it at its source). As Cyclops unknowingly unleashes a monster that will threaten the team (leading to the standard-for-its-time fight scene by issue's end), the rest of the team is depicted training and interacting with one another, allowing Claremont an opportunity to try his hand at what he'll be remembered for best: characterization. With Len Wein out of the way, Claremont has free reign, and already we can see some of the characters' personalities edging towards what they'll become : Wolverine as reckless but loyal, a more flamboyant, cheerful Nightcrawler, and Storm's perseverance.

21 comments:

  1. Exciting! Going forward is just gonna get better and better.
    Also, thank god they exchanged "baby" for "bub".
    And that ad with the kids in the costumes is hilarious!
    Also, i love Moira. The end.

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  2. I kinda like the "baby" it makes him sound all pervy.

    I almost spit out my water at Storm's dialogue about dodging.

    I don't know what's better: Scott's angst rage or when Charles Xavier...SCREAMS!!!

    LOL.

    Now i must run and get a hostess cherry pie.

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  3. wait- where was this cairn- was it on the property? why are there demonic cairns jsut sitting around?

    i don't think i've ever heard of Rossi or Lange before. veird.

    yay for Moira's appearance! always a fan of hers

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  4. @Falen: And that ad with the kids in the costumes is hilarious!

    I especially love that the Hulk costume features a picture of the Hulk on it.

    @Hannah: I don't know what's better: Scott's angst rage or when Charles Xavier...SCREAMS!!!

    Totally the scream. Scott's angst rage is old hat by now.

    Now i must run and get a hostess cherry pie.

    No, apple all the way!

    @Anne: wait- where was this cairn- was it on the property? why are there demonic cairns jsut sitting around?

    This story seems to suggest it's a bit off the property (Cyclops' angst has just led him off grounds) but later stories, I seem to recall, establish it as being more firmly on the grounds of the mansion (which, to be fair, are fairly large; it's not like the X-Men can see this cairn from out their windows).

    Why are there demonic cairns just sitting around on the property of super-hero headquarters?

    Because comics. ;)

    i don't think i've ever heard of Rossi or Lange before.

    Lang doesn't do much beyond his upcoming story and a minor appearance during the 90s "Phalanx Covenant" crossover; he's another in the long line of "normal humans who hate mutants" type villains.

    Rossi you wouldn't remember unless you read Claremont's run (including some of the Classic X-Men backups) very closely.

    He's basically a spy within the Hellfire Club (not that much is ever made of it) and a love interest for Ms. Marvel. The most we'll ever see him in these X-aminations is when we get to issue #182, in which Rogue goes crazy and Ms. Marvel's personalty takes over, causing her to track him down.

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  5. Is it just me or can you not throw a stone in the Marvel Universe without hitting a cavern, cairn, tomb, etc. that houses some destructive force that threatens the world?

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  6. @Dr. Bitz: Is it just me or can you not throw a stone in the Marvel Universe without hitting a cavern, cairn, tomb, etc. that houses some destructive force that threatens the world?

    You know, you really can't. Heck, this is the second time that Cyclops' angst alone is single-handedly responsible for unleashing a foe on the X-Men.

    Still, I'd rather live in the Marvel Universe, demonic cairns and all, than the DC Universe. At least in the Marvel Universe you don't have to worry about being mass murdered by a clown.

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  7. Well, in the DC Universe you have Batman who can throw the clown in Arkham Asylum for a good 2 or 3 hours....man...those must be some sweet happy hours.

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  8. @Dr. Bitz those must be some sweet happy hours.

    Do you think that's what Happy Hour is in Gotham? Like, instead of it being from 3-6 everyday, it's just whenever the Joker's locked up, pints are $1 off and appetizers are half price at all Gotham bars? Enjoy it while you can?

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  9. Huh . . . Two-Face Two-for-One's.

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  10. omg- this whole DC discussion is hilarious

    marvel ftw

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  11. Huh . . . Two-Face Two-for-One's.

    Penguin Pints.

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  12. I only recently learned that Larry Hama explored "the cairn" in a couple of single issues in the mid-90s. I went ahead and bought 'em up about a week ago. To Hama's credit, he does bring up the oddness of the fact that there is a cairn on Xavier's property. (In fact, the oddity is further played up, as we are told that the X-Men disposed of the cairn off-panel at the end of this issue, but for some reason it came back. And then the second Hama story, a duplicate cairn showed up on the Magneto-island. And Beast says, "One day I must investigate this multiplicity of cairns!" Which is a pretty great line.)

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  13. @Jason: And Beast says, "One day I must investigate this multiplicity of cairns!" Which is a pretty great line.

    Ha! That is pretty good.

    I know Joe Kelly does some stuff with the N'Garai and an offshoot of their race during his brief run circa X-Men vol. 2 #75 and it's been awhile since I read those issues, but I don't think he gets into the issue of the "multiplicity of the cairns" either.

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  14. When Scott cut loose, a little voice inside my head actually said, "The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops!"

    Fun fact: I have an X-Men pop-up book that uses that panel on the middle of Pg. 3 and makes the figure even uglier.

    Cockrum's pencils are still wildly uneven here. Unless he's just doing rough breakdowns, I can't blame it (all) on Grainger's inking, and in fact it seems like Cockrum's putting extra rendering into certain panels in comparison to most — like that bug-eyed Gil Kane impression on the Lang close-up at the end of Pg. 11 or the Xavier close-up in the half-page psychedelia on Pg. 23.

    "The Incredible Hulk and the Twins of Evil!" is actually one of my favorite Hostess ads. John Romita has always been able to make ol' green-genes look cuddly, often inappropriately so, but here it works.

    As to "Hulk It for Halloween!", I always hated-hated-hated that Hulk costumes (including Underoos) showed a picture of the character. One also has to wonder why all three of the costumes skimp on the sleeves; the kid dressed as Captain America just looks like an ironically masked thug.

    I didn't know that the N'Garai ever recurred, probably because those stories were after my first go-'round as an X-Men reader and not during any of my three brief dips back in the water.

    VW: extoc — 1. How to leave Orange County. 2. A former table of contents. 3. A divorced clockmaker.

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  15. @Teebore: At least in the Marvel Universe you don't have to worry about being mass murdered by a clown.

    You wouldn't be mass-murdered, strictly speaking (unless you were, like, Madrox), but point taken. 8^)

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  16. @Blam: When Scott cut loose, a little voice inside my head actually said, "The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops!"

    Mission accomplished!

    Unless he's just doing rough breakdowns, I can't blame it (all) on Grainger's inking, and in fact it seems like Cockrum's putting extra rendering into certain panels in comparison to most

    Yeah, the Cockrum art in these early issues is especially rough, and I've never been able to pinpoint exactly why...

    As to "Hulk It for Halloween!", I always hated-hated-hated that Hulk costumes (including Underoos) showed a picture of the character.

    I've always shared your hatred for Halloween costumes which feature pictures of the characters instead of replicating the character's appearance. It's bugged since I was a wee lad.

    But it does remind me of this exchange from one of The Simpsons Halloween episodes:

    Milhouse:Check it out Lisa, I'm Radioactive Man.
    Lisa:I don't think the real Radioactive Man wears a plastic smock with a picture of himself on it.
    Milhouse: He would on Halloween.

    I didn't know that the N'Garai ever recurred, probably because those stories were after my first go-'round as an X-Men reader and not during any of my three brief dips back in the water.

    Their return wasn't terribly notable. Larry Hama did some stuff with them in Wolverine and then Joe Kelly featured them during his very, very short arc. You're certainly not missing much.

    You wouldn't be mass-murdered, strictly speaking (unless you were, like, Madrox), but point taken.

    Haha, touche! :)

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  17. Lisa:I don't think the real Radioactive Man wears a plastic smock with a picture of himself on it.

    Milhouse: He would on Halloween.


    That's awesome.

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  18. Not only does Wolverine toss out the occasional "baby", he also somewhat regularly refers to himself in the third person as "th' Wolverine". I kind of wish they'd kept that tendency.

    Also, when Cyclops and Kierokk smash into the house, aren't the X-Men relaxing in the living room? And the whole fight basically takes place there, right? So that would mean that Xavier has a big metal door labeled "ARMORY" in his living room??

    (I could be wrong about that last point, but I don't have access to the issue right now.)

    Double also -- doesn't Lang have Rossi killed at the end of this issue (or maybe the next)? Is it ever revealed how he survives?

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  19. @Matt: he also somewhat regularly refers to himself in the third person as "th' Wolverine". I kind of wish they'd kept that tendency.

    Ditto. I also chuckle when Wolverine does that.

    So that would mean that Xavier has a big metal door labeled "ARMORY" in his living room??

    I'm pretty sure you're right about that. Which means his armory is living room adjacent, which is kinda awesome.

    doesn't Lang have Rossi killed at the end of this issue (or maybe the next)? Is it ever revealed how he survives?

    Yeah, Rossi is killed in an explosion at the end of this one. I'm not sure how he survives; it's probably dealt with in Ms. Marvel's book, which I've never read.

    I poked around online a bit to try and find out, but needless to say, there's not a lot of Michael Rossi internet scholarship out there...

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  20. The N'Garai recur during Claremont's run a number of times, including Kitty's Christmas Tale and are later revealed during Fall of the Mutants as the demons Forge summoned forth in Vietnam (interestingly the Adversary broke into our dimension through the same portal suggestion a connection).

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  21. The panel with Xavier screaming looks familiar. Are we sure Lilandra is Shi'Ar and not N'Gari? I mean, apostrophes are confusing.

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