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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

X-amining X-Men #97

"My Brother, My Enemy!"
February 1976

In a Nutshell 
Erik the Red debuts, and the X-Men fight an enthralled Havok and Polaris.

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Dave Cockum,
Inker: Sam Grainger
Letterer: Annette Kaye
Colorist: Don Warfield
Editor: Marv Wolfman

Plot
Xavier dreams of an alien space battle, and in the morning, confides in Moira about the vividness of these recurring nightmares. Elsewhere, Lorna Dane is ambushed and hypnotized. When Havok returns home, she attacks him. Back in New York, the X-Men, along with Jean Grey, are at the airport seeing Professor X off on his vacation. As he boards a Starcore jet, he is attacked by Polaris and a similarly-entranced Havok. The X-Men spring into action, but Jean is knocked out by Polaris, at which point Erik the Red reveals himself, having attacked and brainwashed Havok and Polaris.


As Storm battles Polaris and Colossus and Nightcrawler tangle with Erik the Red, Cyclops clashes with Havok, trying to reason with his brother. When Banshee and Wolverine arrive to reinforce the X-Men, Erik the Red flees with Havok and Polaris in tow. Afraid to harm his brother, Cyclops refuses to blast them, angering Wolverine. Meanwhile, unknownst to them, the X-Men are being monitored by Stephen Lang, who is in turn himself being monitored by someone.

Firsts and Other Notables
Erik the Red, the villain, not the costumed identity of Cyclops, appears for the first time. We will shortly learn that he is an agent of the alien Shi'ar. Though Cyclops points out his having used the identity before, no explanation is given for the connection.


Though she goes unnamed and is seen only in a space suit, this is the first appearance of Lilandra, princess of the Shi'ar and future lover of Professor X. As such, though they are also unnamed at this time, this is also the first appearance of the Shi'ar, an alien race that will become a cornerstone of the X-Men mythology.


Havok (erroneously spelled "Havoc" throughout this issue) and Lorna Dane return, and Lorna is finally given a codename: Polaris. Though she receives this name from a villain, like Havok did, she will continue to use it throughout her super hero career.


Jean Grey also pops up, seeing Professor X off at the airport along with the other X-Men. 

Nightcrawler's image inducer, created by Tony Stark, appears for the first time. It casts a holographic image around the bearer, enabling Nightcrawler to appear in public without drawing attention. Here, he casts himself in the image of Errol Flynn.


A Work in Progress
It is revealed that Professor X is being plagued by recurring dreams of an alien fleet doing battle, and that an alien figure is trying to contact him. This is the beginning of the upcoming Phoenix/Shi'ar story.

Professor X is shown to have bars above his bed to enable him to get into and out of his wheelchair.
 

Storm and Jean's friendship is mentioned for the first time, and Storm is enraged when Polaris attacks Jean. 
It is established for the first time in this issue that Cyclops and Havok are immune to each others power.

Banshee and Wolverine arrive to the airport via some kind of hovercraft.


The Wolverine/Cyclops rivalry starts here, as they violently disagree over Cyclops' failing to blast Erik the Red for fear of harming his brother.


The mysterious figure observing Steven Lang remains unknown; some sources have listed him as a member of the Council of the Chosen of the Hellfire Club, though his sleeve looks like a Shi'ar uniform.


That 70s Comic 
Dave Cockrum turns out another trippy and fun splash page, this time rendering the space battle about which Xavier is dreaming.


Storm changes from her street clothes into her uniform via lightening. Not exactly sure how that works.


Young Love
Before Erik the Red shows up, Havok and Polaris are happily co-habitating in New Mexico and working on their doctorates.


For Sale
Before GI Joe, there was Big Jim's P.A.C.K, apparently.


Well, at least the crooks didn't get any money. Way to go Spidey...


It's in the Mail
Reactions to Thunderbird's death have started to arrive. 



Teebore's Take
After dealing with the fallout from Len Wein's story last issue, Claremont is free to kick off his first original story free of any other constraints. Though what we're given here, in true Claremont fashion, are merely threads of a greater tapestry, it will become clear that Claremont is riffing on the Thomas/Adams run. In fact, according to John Byrne, that run was Claremont's only exposure to the X-Men prior to taking the assignment, and soon it will be obvious that he's a big fan, using a lot of his earliest stories to riff on their work and recapture the feel of it. To setup his story, Claremont plunders an even older bit of X-continuity from before the Thomas/Adams run (proving John Byrne at least partially wrong): Erik the Red, the costumed identity Cyclops used when infiltrating Magneto's organization back in issue #52. In that story, we had a hero pretending to be a villain. Here, that villainous identity is claimed by another and used to make villains of two heroes, Havok and Polaris. In doing so, Claremont shows that even from early on, he isn't afraid to comb the depths of the X-Men's past and use our expectations or familiarity with that past to enhance his story.  

As with last issue, Claremont also spends as many pages developing subplots and characterizations as he does on super hero fight scenes. And when those fight scenes do occur, even they are rooted in characterization. By making his new villain use existing characters as his foils, the conflict is given more emotional weight than it would against a purely new villain. Here, Storm isn't just fighting a lackey, she's enraged that former teammate Polaris has endangered her friend Jean. Cyclops isn't just blasting the villain du jour, he's fighting his brother. By rooting the conflict in the characters, Claremont manages to tell a story with more resonance than the old Silver Age villain-of-the-month yarns.

16 comments:

  1. first off, LMAO at that hovercraft.
    Second, as far as my understanding of Storm's powers go, she's not actually, like, immune to them. WOuldn't being struck by lightning be possibly fatal for her too?
    And how do you spell a character's name wrong an entire issue?

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  2. @Falen: s far as my understanding of Storm's powers go, she's not actually, like, immune to them. WOuldn't being struck by lightning be possibly fatal for her too?

    Probably, though the issue of how affected one is by one's own power has always been dicey, at best.

    And how do you spell a character's name wrong an entire issue?

    Very carefully? I mean, you've got the writer, the letterer and the editor. Ultimately, you kinda have to blame the editor, since, well, making sure junk is right is kinda his job, and regardless of whether it was the writer or the letterer who messed it up initially, the editor should have caught it.

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  3. I'm not sure i believe that Scott could've backhanded Wolverine off his feet- isn't he like super heavy? also i think some hand bones would've been bruised at least...
    did it say what Lorna and Alex were getting their doctorates in?

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  4. @Anne: I'm not sure i believe that Scott could've backhanded Wolverine off his feet- isn't he like super heavy? also i think some hand bones would've been bruised at least...

    Technically, no, he probably shouldn't have been able to knock Wolverine around.

    But at this time, they hadn't quite settled on the whole adamantium skeleton business and what, exactly, Wolverine's deal was. More on that next issue.

    did it say what Lorna and Alex were getting their doctorates in?

    This issue didn't, but later ones establish it as being in geology or geo-physics. Something like that. Geo-physics, I think.

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  5. Well hello, Teebore! My husband saw your name last night and thinks it is hilarious. I didn't know what Teebore meant but he said it was a reference to an old Simpson's episode... then I stopped listening to him because he had used up his "words I will pay attention to" amount for one day.

    But the real points are: 1) Your brother did an awesome job on your banner! 2) Did you happen to read Full Dark, No Stars yet? I am curious to hear your take on it... '1922' in particular.

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  6. LMAO at the letter page. The guys name can't possibly be Tom Runningmouth, can it?

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  7. @Joan: I didn't know what Teebore meant but he said it was a reference to an old Simpson's episode... then I stopped listening to him because he had used up his "words I will pay attention to" amount for one day.

    Your husband sounds like a smart and funny guy; you might want to think about increasing his daily quota of words you'll listen to. ;)

    "Teebore" is indeed a reference to a specific gag from an episode of The Simpsons. I'll discuss it in detail when Retro Reviews gets to that episode, but Teebore is the guy at the plant who doesn't speak English which gets blamed for everything.

    But the real points are: 1) Your brother did an awesome job on your banner! 2) Did you happen to read Full Dark, No Stars yet? I am curious to hear your take on it... '1922' in particular.

    1) Glad you like it! I think it's awesome too. 2)I haven't read it yet. :( I'm terrible about reading books in a timely manner (so many backlogged...) and I promised myself I'd read "Under the Dome" first.

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  8. @Chief: LMAO at the letter page. The guys name can't possibly be Tom Runningmouth, can it?

    Ha, yeah, it would be one hell of a coincidence, wouldn't it? I'll have to keep my eyes out for him in later issues, see if writes in again...

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  9. Per Uncanny X-Men 218 ...

    Alex: Geology
    Lorna: Archaeology

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  10. @Jason: Per Uncanny X-Men 218 ...

    Alex: Geology
    Lorna: Archaeology


    Thanks!

    I knew geology was in there somewhere. And I had a feeling 218 was the issue that established it.

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  11. It is established for the first time in this issue that Cyclops and Havok are immune to each others power.

    Where? I was reading the whole issue going, "Hmm... I guess this is before it was established that Cyclops and Havok are immune to each others power." For the most part they seem to be attacking other by blasting things around them, which made sense, but at least once Alex zaps Scott head-on. (That cover makes no sense, of course, except in the context of melodramatic grab-the-reader license — looks weird, too, with Rich Buckler swiping poses from Ross Andru, whom I don't associate with X-Men at all.)

    Great take, Teebore, as always!

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  12. @Blam: Where? I was reading the whole issue going, "Hmm... I guess this is before it was established that Cyclops and Havok are immune to each others power." For the most part they seem to be attacking other by blasting things around them, which made sense, but at least once Alex zaps Scott head-on.

    I'm not exactly sure, and to be perfectly honest, I mentioned it only because the Official Marvel Index to the X-Men lists it as such.

    If I had to guess, they might be going off the last panel on page 27, which is the only time when Havok blasts Cyclops straight on, and more importantly, the fact that Cyclops gets up after the blast with no apparent ill effects a page later.

    A bit of a stretch, granted, but it's all I've got... :)

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  13. I always thought Cyclops spelled it ERIK and Shakari spelled it ERIC. Isn't Shakari alwasy referred to as Eric the Red in his appearances? It seems too consistent to be a mistake.

    P.S.: I just now noticed, after years of posting comments on various blogs, that I can sign in with my Google account! I always just figured I needed a Blogger account but I guess they're one and the same. You learn something new (and painfully obvious) every day!

    So I'm the "Matt" that has been posting comments on some of your old posts over the past few days...

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  14. @Matt: I always thought Cyclops spelled it ERIK and Shakari spelled it ERIC. Isn't Shakari alwasy referred to as Eric the Red in his appearances? It seems too consistent to be a mistake.

    I don't know that it is consistent. I seem to recall that it was wildly inconsistent; in one issue Shakari would be EriK the Red, in another EriC.

    But honestly, I haven't paid much attention to it. I should go back and check, or at least look for it in the next couple issues.

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  15. Professor X can't get out of bed by teleportation? I guess the Silver Age really is over.

    I've been to graduate school, and very little of it involved making out with green-haired daughters of Magneto. They really are all-different.

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  16. The panels showing Storm's transformation are pure Bronze Age beauty. Cockrum's mastery of design, texture & anatomy really make him stand out as a great *comic book* artist, and that's why I prefer him to more "realistic" artists like Neal Adams or Jim Lee.

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