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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

X-amining X-Men #98

"Merry Christmas, X-Men...The Sentinels Have Returned!"
April 1976

In a Nutshell
The Sentinels return.

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Dave Cockrum,
Inker: Sam Grainger
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Janice Cohen 
Editor: Marv Wolfman

Plot
The X-Men are in New York City, enjoying the Christmas season. Eventually, they split up, with Nightcrawler and Colossus meeting attractive stewardesses Amanda and Betsy, Banshee and Moira going sightseeing, and Cyclops and Jean going to dinner. Just as Cyclops and Jean arrive at their table they are attacked by a new model of Sentinel, sent by Steven Lang. Though they manage to overpower one robot, another knocks Cyclops out the window and captures Jean before departing, believing Cyclops dead. Cyclops reunites with Banshee and Wolverine, only to see them captured by Sentinels as well. Meanwhile, while on a fishing trip with his friend Peter Corbeau, a Sentinel attacks and captures Professor X.


Days later, Lang gloats over his captives, telling Jean that killing the X-Men will make exterminating all other mutants that much easier. Lang then slaps her, which sends Wolverine into a berserk rage, allowing him to break free and release Jean and Banshee. The trio is quickly overwhelmed by Sentinels and attempt to flee the base. Back at the mansion, Cyclops has spent the last four days using Cerebro to scan for the missing X-Men when Peter Corbeau arrives and together they realize why Cerebro can't locate them: because the captured X-Men aren't on Earth. Just then, Banshee, Wolverine and Jean escape from Lang's orbital space platform base into open space.

Firsts and Other Notables
The Sentinels return (this is technically the first appearance of the Mark III Sentinels), created and unleashed by Steven Lang as part of Project Armageddon in his quest to exterminate mutants.

Wolverine's claws are revealed to be part of him, and not part of his costume (before this issue, it was believed that the claws were part of his gloves). Wolverine is also seen smoking for the first time, though he appears to be smoking a cigarette and not one of this trademark cigars.


Amanda Sefton appears for the first time, briefly, as an object of Nightcrawler's affection. She eventually becomes his love interest (and will much later briefly join future X-Team Excalibur). Later stories will reveal her to be Nightcrawler's surrogate sister and an accomplished sorcerer, though Nightcrawler doesn't realize the woman he randomly bumped into in New York is the same as his quasi-sister. It's all rather...complicated. We'll get there eventually.


To a lesser extent, Amanda's stewardess friend Betsy appears for the first time. She'll serve as a slightly recurring and rather minor love interest for Colossus before fading away without amounting to much.

Dr. Peter Corbeau, head of Project Starcore, appears in X-Men for the first time, though he has made appearances in other titles prior to this. Revealed to be an old colleague of Xavier's, he'll stick around as a minor supporting character for awhile. 

A Work in Progress
Professor X, while trying to free the Sentinels, gets another mental flash of the alien being attempting to contact him.


It is established that both Cyclops and Jean Grey have experienced an increase in their powers of late.


Jean appears in a black evening dress (which gets torn by Wolverine) in this issue, which thanks to the Phoenix saga and the "Inferno" storyline becomes something of an iconic X-Men image.


Similarly, the revelation at the end of the issue that Cerebro can't locate the missing X-Men because "they're not on the Earth at all!" becomes something of a repeated X-Men trope, featured by, amongst others, Scott Lobdell during the mid-90s "X-Cutioner's Song" crossover and later by Grant Morrison as part of his penultimate story on New X-Men.
 

The first line of dialogue of the first Sentinel to appear is part of the story's title, which is the same way the Sentinels were re-introduced in issue #57.

One of Lang's techs comments on the odd readings they get from Wolverine. This is the only in-print reference to Len Wein's idea that Wolverine was actually a real wolverine mutated into human form by the High Evolutionary. The idea isn't referenced again (and was apparently nixed by Stan Lee).


The Classic X-Men backup story accompanying the reprint of this issue hints heavily that Jean intended to have sex with Scott for the first time after their date, which was of course interrupted by the Sentinel attack, giving the events to come a certain retroactive poignancy.

This issue doesn't show Banshee and Wolverine getting defeated and captured by the Sentinels (Cyclops tells Storm he saw the Sentinels leave with them); however new original pages added to the Classic X-Men reprint depict the event. 

That 70s Comic 
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby appear in this issue, commenting on how chaste things used to be when they were in charge of the book.


Famed DC Superman editor Julius Schwartz, Clark Kent and Lois Lane also make uncredited cameo appearances.


While the Sentinels would have no problem traveling from Earth to their outer space base, it is never made clear how they transport their X-Men captives through space without killing them.

Cyclops notes that Wolverine has been with the team for "almost a year", showing that the creators are still thinking of each issue as occurring in real time (this is the fifth bi-monthly issue to feature the new X-Men since Giant Size X-Men #1, so it's been just under a year since the new team's debut). Also, Jean refers to the last Sentinel attack as occurring in 1969, which is when the Thomas/Adams Sentinel story was published.

Young Love
Love is in the air as Banshee and Moira leave to see the sights of New York together, Nightcrawler and Colossus leave with Amanda and Betsy and Cyclops and Jean go to dinner together.


It's in the Mail
Jo Duffy, who would go on to be a writer and editor at Marvel in the 80s, has a letter published in this issue.


Teebore's Take
Claremont and Cockrum begin their first extended riff on the Thomas/Adams run by bringing back the Sentinels. It is telling that the first previously-established villain that Claremont turns to for the new X-Men are the Sentinels. Whereas it took Lee and Kirby fourteen issues to personify the idea of human persecution of mutants in the form of a villain, Claremont, like Thomas and Adams, recognizes that the Sentinels cut to the core of the X-Men's themes, and he wastes little time after taking the reigns to present his own spin on the story. 

It is not a coincidence that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby appear in this issue, commenting on how things have changed since their day. This is the first story featuring the new X-Men which, thanks to the presence of the Sentinels, connects the three (at the time) most significant eras of the book: Lee and Kirby's original run, Thomas and Adam's reinvention of their work, and now Claremont and Cockrum. By having Lee and Kirby comment on the changed relationship between Scott and Jean, then shortly thereafter using the Sentinels to illustrate the increase in their powers, Claremont is underscoring a point: these characters have changed through the years, and their encounters with the Sentinels in three different X-Men eras stand as touchstones of those changes. Claremont is very much a proponent of developing and evolving characters over time, and this issue begins a chain reaction of events that will carry through directly to the conclusion of "The Dark Phoenix Saga" in issue #137, and indirectly, even further. In the wake of those events, we'll see some of the most significant character development in super hero comics occur.

15 comments:

  1. first off, every time i hear the "wolverine is a real wolverine" idea i LMAO. Then i feel embarrased for them. Thank god that was nixed.
    And seriously, i think the xmen spend more time in space than any other team.

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  2. thank GOD wolverine isn't an actual wolverine

    Wait...there's some sort of crazy family history involving Nightcrawler? well that NEVER happens

    was anyone else offended to see Clark and Lois? Get back to fakeville you DC jerks!

    I'm waiting with baited breath to see how banshee, wolverine, and jean aren't already dead, cuz pretty sure as soon as you enter the vacuum of space your blood boils

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  3. @Falen: every time i hear the "wolverine is a real wolverine" idea i LMAO. Then i feel embarrased for them. Thank god that was nixed.

    Yeah, I try to remember that it seems all the crazier because of what they did instead, but I really can't envisage way that could have worked out well...

    And seriously, i think the xmen spend more time in space than any other team.

    I dunno, the FF and Avengers are out there a lot too. But the whole "X-Men in space!" trope is definitely one of those divisive things amongst X-Men fans. We'll get there shortly, when their first big space epic kicks off.

    @Anne: Wait...there's some sort of crazy family history involving Nightcrawler? well that NEVER happens

    Ha, indeed. And even considering Nightcrawler essentially schtups his sister and all the crap that comes after that (Mystique, demons), he STILL gets off relatively easy in terms of messed up family history.

    Get back to fakeville you DC jerks!

    Hey, they're just seeing the sights! :)

    I'm waiting with baited breath to see how banshee, wolverine, and jean aren't already dead, cuz pretty sure as soon as you enter the vacuum of space your blood boils

    Yeah, I haven't read the next issue again yet, but I seem to recall the physics of outer space as depicted in this story are...less than accurate.

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  4. Wait...Wolverine is not a real wolverine! I've been living a lie!!!

    On a more serious note, there were actually people who thought that??? People are dumb.

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  5. @Hannah: On a more serious note, there were actually people who thought that???

    Nah, I don't think any readers were thinking that, it was just an idea for the character that was bandied about amongst the creators. Other than the bit of dialogue in this issue (which is vague), none of those ideas ever made it into a story.

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  6. I have a real soft spot for X-Men #98. With the possible exception of a reprint-era issue — #87, which has the original team graduating to new costumes — it's the first one that I bought, when I was told by the store clerk on an early trip to an actual comics shop that this was a series to watch. For a 5-year-old kid mostly used to spinner racks in a small town, the grown-up interaction on such a subject (under my mom's watchful eye) was mind-blowing.

    The issue was... dark, which I was somewhat used to from Marvels compared to most DCs (and certainly to Archies, Harveys, and Gold Keys), with some panels downright scary, but it also had fascinating moments of levity. I wouldn't be a regular reader for another dozen or so issues, due to lack of resources if nothing else, but this issue will always be a touchstone for me.

    Wolverine's claws are revealed to be part of him

    Not having read any earlier issues at the time, I didn't get the full import of this, but it was still apparent how significant the revelation was. The whole concept of teammates not knowing everything about one another, giving each other grief (as with the ripping of Jean' skirt), and, in the case of Wolverine, being heroic without even necessarily being pleasant just fascinated me.

    Amanda Sefton appears for the first time, briefly, as an object of Nightcrawler's affection.

    I don't think I ever made the connection that the Amanda here is Kurt's surrogate/adoptive sister. Huh. Now that you mention it, I do recall the later revelation that his girlfriend was the daughter of Margali he'd grown up with as his best friend, but it's a surprise to me now that she showed up in this issue.

    VW: incide — n. Death that be not al fresco.

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  7. Ooh... A "ret-po"! 8^)

    Stan Lee and Jack Kirby appear in this issue, commenting on how chaste things used to be when they were in charge of the book.

    What a wacky thing that was to see as a kid. Marvel did it pretty frequently though; in fact, there was an issue of What If...? (one of my childhood faves) that had Stan, Jack, office assistant Flo Steinberg, and production manager Sol Brodsky actually become The Fantastic Four.

    You did a great job in "Teebore's Take" of discussing the callbacks to and contrasts with the earlier eras of the series, by the way. Those last couple of paragraphs are insightful, concise but with lots of context.

    ... showing that the creators are still thinking of each issue as occurring in real time

    And that's something else that I loved about early Marvel, the sense of not just continuity but the passage of time. I was reading DC and Marvel stuff from various eras thanks to copious reprints, but at DC a sense of connection to its past was mostly found on Earth-Two, whereas the mainstream Earth-One universe kept its characters eternally youthful and largely unchanging — at least within the then-expected span of a given reader's interest before aging out of the comics. Marvel had ties to the past through stuff like The Invaders as well as references to modern-day characters like The Avengers having been around for the actual dozen or so years they'd been in publication; of course, Spider-Man stories were already fudging that, and pretty soon real time would be thrown out the window across the board, but I always appreciate the depth that those acknowledgements provide when I revisit Claremont, Englehart, etc. stories from this era.

    I realize that it may be my nostalgia talking, but I feel like the Golden Age of the All-New X-Men, which runs through #137 or maybe #142, begins here in #98. Once I get caught up in my reading, I expect to have even more to say.

    VW: grizato — n. Italian ice cream made from brown bears.

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  8. @Anne: Get back to fakeville you DC jerks!

    I feel compelled to defend cameos like this as a fun, time-honored tradition. Lois and Clark pop up in an early issue of Walt Simonson's Thor run, and Alex Ross dropped some Marvel heroes into a climactic crowd scene in DC's Kingdom Come (as he did plenty of other references) — just to name a couple of examples off the top of my head.

    @Teebore: And even considering Nightcrawler essentially schtups his sister and all the crap that comes after that (Mystique, demons), he STILL gets off relatively easy in terms of messed up family history.

    So hysterically true...

    @Teebore: I don't think any readers were thinking that [Wolverine was a mutated wolverine], it was just an idea for the character that was bandied about amongst the creators. Other than the bit of dialogue in this issue (which is vague), none of those ideas ever made it into a story.

    As someone who started reading X-Men off the racks with this issue at age 5 and became a die-hard fan through age 15 or so, I can attest that I only came across this topic via retrospective interviews with the creators during the latter years of that decade of increasing immersion in the fan press. Nobody was pulling that scenario out of anywhere else except the grapevine once Wein or whomever first mentioned it extracanonically.

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  9. @Blam: it's the first one that I bought, when I was told by the store clerk on an early trip to an actual comics shop that this was a series to watch.

    Ah, nothing beats the nostalgia of the first issue! I only wish mine was as reputable as yours...

    Not having read any earlier issues at the time, I didn't get the full import of this, but it was still apparent how significant the revelation was.

    I first read this issue retroactively, well after I was familiar with Wolverine's schtick, but even then, it definitely felt like a BIG DEAL.

    The whole concept of teammates not knowing everything about one another, giving each other grief (as with the ripping of Jean' skirt), and, in the case of Wolverine, being heroic without even necessarily being pleasant just fascinated me. .

    You're certainly not alone. I think that unique team dynamic is something that definitely contributed to the appeal of the book.

    I do recall the later revelation that his girlfriend was the daughter of Margali he'd grown up with as his best friend, but it's a surprise to me now that she showed up in this issue.

    It's either a bit of extreme forethought on Claremont's part, or further evidence of his ability to plant seeds and cultivate them later without knowing what he's going to get until those seeds start sprouting.

    You did a great job in "Teebore's Take" of discussing the callbacks to and contrasts with the earlier eras of the series, by the way. Those last couple of paragraphs are insightful, concise but with lots of context.

    Thanks kindly. The "Teebore's Take" bits are the hardest to write, especially now that Claremont's arrived and there's a lot to say about lots of good things, while at the same time, doing my best to not just regurgitate the existing criticism on these issues. I probably spend more time, creatively, on those few closing paragraphs than anything else (and it's a good workout for my atrophying English degree ;) ).

    I realize that it may be my nostalgia talking, but I feel like the Golden Age of the All-New X-Men, which runs through #137 or maybe #142, begins here in #98.

    I don't think it's entirely your nostalgia. While I could certainly quibble that Claremont's run really seems to start in the preceding issue (the first issue in which he's free to start his own stories, free from Wein's plots or dealing with the ramifications thereof), this issue marks the first traditional comic book story of Claremont's run, and from this point forward, everything really flows from one issue to the next all the way through to Byrne's departure, more or less.

    I feel compelled to defend cameos like this as a fun, time-honored tradition.

    The first one I always think of, because it was one of the first I encountered after diving into comic books hardcore, was Scott and Jean's cameo aboard a cruise ship in WildC.A.Ts #8

    Yeah, I wish that wasn't my first point of reference, but there it is...

    Nobody was pulling that scenario out of anywhere else except the grapevine once Wein or whomever first mentioned it extracanonically.

    And we can all be grateful for that. :)

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  10. With all due respect to Chris Claremont, the retcon about Amanda being Nightcrawler's adopted sister has always struck me as one of the stupidest ideas he ever committed to paper, made even stupider by the fact that she's also a sorceress! I have no problem with him having a sorceress sister/girlfriend (aside from the general creepiness of it), but to retcon this woman that he just happened to meet one night in Manhattan into that character strains my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. This is pretty much the one major blemish on my all time favorite comic book run, Uncanny #94 - 176.

    It's also an example of a criticism I've seen leveled at Claremont fairly frequently -- no one can be "normal" in his world. Even minor supporting characters tend to have hidden abilities or dark secrets. I don't think this is as huge an issue as I've seen it made out to be, but I do see it as a trend in his work.

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  11. @Matt: With all due respect to Chris Claremont, the retcon about Amanda being Nightcrawler's adopted sister has always struck me as one of the stupidest ideas he ever committed to paper, made even stupider by the fact that she's also a sorceress!

    It's not one of his brightest ideas, that's for certain. I have no idea what this number is (it's probably different for each character) but there's a certain number of contrivances a reader can accept before a character starts to feel ridiculous.

    Somewhere along the way, the setup of "Nightcrawler's girlfriend is his adoptive sister who's also a sorceress who just happens to also be the random woman he was dating, in disguise" exceeded that number.

    It's also an example of a criticism I've seen leveled at Claremont fairly frequently -- no one can be "normal" in his world. Even minor supporting characters tend to have hidden abilities or dark secrets. I don't think this is as huge an issue as I've seen it made out to be, but I do see it as a trend in his work.

    I've seen that criticism too, and it's definitely something we'll discuss here as time goes on. I agree that while its definitely a trend in his work, I don't think its as big a deal as some people do. This is comics after all; EVERYONE gets overly complicated, eventually. And the fact that the criticism can be leveled at Claremont over other creators has as much to do, I think, with his longevity on the title as anything.

    I mean, when you write the same characters for 15 years, you become solely responsible for all their extra complications in a way that a group of a dozen writers in that same span won't.

    Offhand, the only out and out normal character of Claremont's I can think of (that started normal and stayed that way) is Stevie Hunter, the dance teacher. Heck, even the school nurse from New Mutants got turned into a super strong Native American...

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  12. Dr. Peter Corbeau, head of Project Starcore, appears in X-Men for the first time, though he has made appearances in other titles prior to this. Revealed to be an old colleague of Xavier's, he'll stick around as a minor supporting character for awhile.

    How many friggin' old colleagues does Xavier have?! He must have been pretty popular in university!

    Famed DC Superman editor Julius Schwartz, Clark Kent and Lois Lane also make uncredited cameo appearances.

    Nick Fury and Contessa Valentina de Allegro Fontaine (or whatever her name is) also have cameos in the crowd.

    Another point I don't think was mentioned - this was the first time that Wolverine was seen without his mask.

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  13. @Harry: Another point I don't think was mentioned - this was the first time that Wolverine was seen without his mask.

    You're correct: as far as I can recall, this is the first time we see Wolverine mask-less, and I did indeed fail to mention that...

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  14. Is is me or does Stan Lee look a lot like Mastermind?

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  15. Not sure if Jean is making Scott work for it, or the other way around. I mean, it's 70s and they're in their 20s and they've been dating for what, five years? Good lord, that's a lot of pent-up...angst.

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