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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

X-amining X-Men #106

"Dark Shroud of the Past"
August 1977

In a Nutshell
The X-Men fight a manifestations of Xavier's dark side

Plot: Chris Claremont (pp 1-2, 31) Bill Mantlo (pp 3-31)
Script: Chris Claremont
Artist: Dave Cockrum (pp 1-2, 31), Bob Brown (pp 3-31)
Inker: Tom Sutton
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Andy Yachus
Editor: Archie Goodwin

Plot
As the X-Men vanish through the stargate, Firelord returns and confronts Professor X, who collapses under the strain of losing Lilandra. In his delirium, Xavier recalls the aftermath of the first of his recurring nightmares: As Xavier receives a sedative from Moira, the X-Men are training in the Danger Room. Suddenly Angel appears and taunts the new X-Men. He is quickly joined by Beast, Iceman and Marvel Girl, all of whom attack the new team. The original X-Men managed to keep the new X-Men at bay via teamwork, but Cyclops quickly realizes they are images when his optic blast has no effect on Angel. Just then, Professor X appears and manages to make the original X-Men disappear.


Suddenly, a twisted version of Xavier, the manifestation of his evil side let loose by the weakening of his psyche by the nightmare, appears and telepathically attacks the X-Men. The real Xavier summons the images of the original X-Men and turns them on his dark side, taking control of his mind once more. Back at the stargate, Xavier awakens, and realizes that he hasn't been driven to madness these last several months, but rather, has been suffering the effects of the forced telepathic rapport between himself and Lilandra, two similar yet alien minds. Despite his worry over what the X-Men have to face, for the first time at months, he is at peace. 

Firsts and Other Notables
It's the first new X-Men fill-in issue as the title falls to what they used to call the "Dreaded Deadline Doom".  This is an inventory story by Bill Mantlo and Bob Hall created shortly after the new X-Men's debut and kept on hand for when issues ran the risk of falling behind. Mantlo was something of a journeyman for Marvel during the late 70s and 80s, filling in on numerous books while turning in significant runs on stuff like Alpha Flight, Incredible Hulk and Iron Man. He was especially adept at handling Marvel's licensed properties like Rom: Spaceknight and Micronauts. Though he never achieved the same level of acclaim and fame as his peers at the time (such as Claremont, John Byrne, Frank Miller and Roger Stern), Mantlo has become something of a darling of the modern comics internet, with much of his work now highly regarded by comic bloggers. He retired from comics in 1987 to become a public defender, but was tragically hit by a car while rollerblading in 1992. The driver of the car was never identified and Mantlo suffered irreparable brain damage and remains under full time medical care.

Meanwhile, the artist of this issue, Bob Brown, died of leukemia shortly before it was published, making it is last published work. He had a prolific career in comic art which stretched back to the 40s.

Dark Xavier or The Entity (as it will come to be known), the manifestation of Professor X's repressed power and desires, will appear again in the Claremont and Mantlo-penned X-Men and the Micronauts four issue limited series.

This issue is considered so inconsequential to the unfolding Shi'ar story that it was skipped over by the Classic X-Men reprints, as they go directly from issue #105 to reprinting #107.

Despite that relative in-consequence, this story did inspire an episode of the 90s X-Men animated series during that show's ongoing Phoenix Saga arc. Even the episode's depiction of Dark Xavier came straight from this issue. 

A Work in Progress
A footnote at the beginning establishes that Professor X's recollections (which are the bulk of the issue) occur just after issue #96, and Thunderbird's death drives much of the interaction amongst the new X-Men. 

Storm and Jean's friendship is further developed as it's revealed that Storm helped Jean move into her apartment with Misty.


Cyclops visor is drawn this issue like a helmet (the blue skullcap is removed along with visor) but later issues make it clear that the visor is a separate piece, with the blue skullcap a cowl that Cyclops pulls over his head.


That 70s Comic
Not only does Wolverine refer to himself in the third person, but he refers to himself as "Wolvie".


Nightcrawler doesn't have time to teleport...but he does have time think about not having time to teleport.


Professor X's dark side manifests itself as Professor X...in a cape.


Young Love
With Lilandra gone, Professor X feels as though he's missing a piece of his soul.


For Sale
 Nothing says 70s quite like customizing vans.


Star Trek lives!


It's in the Mail
Chris Claremont answers the letters in this issue, and eulogizes the artist Bob Brown.


Claremont on the fill-in issue
"Marvel assigned that fill-in to Mantlo and Brown the first month X-Men started being published because the presumption was we were going to need it and we did. The trouble was, by the time we used the fill-in, the characters had evolved to the such an extent that Bill's script - which was based on Len's original notes for the series - was totally off-kilter. The voices were wrong. The characters were wrong. The action was wrong. We couldn't change the art so - swine that I was - I actually re-wrote it. Bill got paid and I got paid. There were no royalties involved at that stage so it didn't matter one way or another. We massaged it to make it more in keeping with the current book."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p63-64.

Teebore's Take
The new X-Men get their first fill in issue, and it couldn't have come at a worse time, sapping the building momentum of the Shi'ar story (and I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been for readers back when these issues were first printed, having to wait four months between the bi-monthly issues #105 and #107 to find out what happened after the X-Men went through the stargate). To make matters worse, the fill-in is repetitive, considering we just saw the new X-Men face off against doppelgangers of the original X-Men six issues ago, and this story hits most of the same beats that one did: the new X-Men are surprised at the ferocity of the original X-men, the original X-Men refute any claims of friendship with the new X-Men, etc. (having this story set before issue #100 also raises some questions about the events of that issue, the least of which being why none of the new X-Men exclaimed at the time, "we're fighting the original X-Men again?!?").

However, things aren't a total wash. Claremont adds a framing sequence to the fill-in which makes clear the connection between Xavier and Lilandra and puts to bed the "Xavier's nightmares/Xavier is going crazy" subplot. And the culmination of the story, in which the X-Men tussle with the manifestation of all the dark emotions and desires Xavier has repressed through the years, foreshadows the journey Phoenix will go through in the time ahead. This issue makes a point that controlling great power is a struggle, and that the repercussions of that struggle can be dangerous. Thus, Claremont manages to at least thematically connect this random fill-in to the unfolding Phoenix arc, so that even while it lands out of place within the more immediate Shi'ar story it doesn't, in retrospect, feel entirely random in the context of Claremont's grand narrative.

11 comments:

  1. "Nightcrawler doesn't have time to teleport...but he does have time think about not having time to teleport."

    I think that's my favorite part of comics, that they think about how they can't do things instead of just doing them. Spiderman comics are notorious for that.

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  2. especially since i'm fairly certain nightcrawler's teleportation is probably just him thinking about where he wants to go.
    Also, i don't ever want to see Wolverine refer to himself as "wolvie" again.
    Slightly OT - i would totally love you to do a rewatch of the 90s x-men cartoon. That would be BADASS

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  3. "I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been for readers back when these issues were first printed, having to wait four months between the bi-monthly issues #105 and #107 to find out what happened after the X-Men went through the stargate."

    I have that thought every time I look at this issue. One month lost to a fill-in is one thing, but on a bimonthly title, it must've been torture!

    Love him or hate him, at least when Jim Shooter showed up, he got the trains running on time and these unscheduled fill-ins became mostly a thing of the past.

    Of course nowadays when they miss a deadline, they just ship the book a month or two late... I'm honestly not sure which practice I dislike more!

    "To make matters worse, the fill-in is repetitive, considering we just saw the new X-Men face off against doppelgangers of the original X-Men six issues ago..."

    But by the same token as above, since this was a bimonthly title, that would've been a whole year ago for the readers, so the repetition was probably not quite so irritating as it looks in retrospect. It's still unfortunate, though.

    Lastly, I have to admit that I haven't read a lot of Bill Mantlo outside of his work on Spider-Man, which I never really warmed up to in comparison with some of his contemporaries. But I've known about his accident for many years now, and it never ceases to sadden me when I read about it again.

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  4. @Hannah: I think that's my favorite part of comics, that they think about how they can't do things instead of just doing them.

    As silly as it can be sometimes, it's definitely something I love about comics. It's one of the few (only?) mediums where you can truly have action and introspection at the same time.

    Also, i don't ever want to see Wolverine refer to himself as "wolvie" again.

    Whereas I would love to see it MORE!

    Slightly OT - i would totally love you to do a rewatch of the 90s x-men cartoon. That would be BADASS

    If I could find a good source for screencaps, I might. Though I doubt there'd be a whole lot to say about every episode. But it would be fun...

    @Matt: Love him or hate him, at least when Jim Shooter showed up, he got the trains running on time and these unscheduled fill-ins became mostly a thing of the past.

    And I do both love and hate him, but one of the things I definitely love is that he ran a tight editorial ship. Deadlines meant something when Shooter was in charge.

    Of course nowadays when they miss a deadline, they just ship the book a month or two late... I'm honestly not sure which practice I dislike more!

    It's a tough call. I *think* I'd have to give the edge to shipping late as the preferable option, but really, I just wish editorial planned for things better. I mean, there's some creators you just KNOW are going to miss deadlines, so don't solicit the book until they have a head start.

    since this was a bimonthly title, that would've been a whole year ago for the readers, so the repetition was probably not quite so irritating as it looks in retrospect.

    Ah, that is a good point. Bi-monthly giveth, bi-monthly taketh away, I suppose.

    Lastly, I have to admit that I haven't read a lot of Bill Mantlo outside of his work on Spider-Man, which I never really warmed up to in comparison with some of his contemporaries.

    I've always liked his Hulk run, and while I haven't finished it, I've enjoyed what I've read of Rom.

    And thinking about his accident always, always bums me out.

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  5. i'm not even familiar with Bill Mantlo (you mentioning him is the first i've heard of him) and his accident bums ME out

    i agree with Sarah's rewatch idear

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  6. ...especially since i'm fairly certain nightcrawler's teleportation is probably just him thinking about where he wants to go.

    Ha!

    I'm thinking Wolverine referring to himself as "Wolvie" may very well point to some deep-seated Daddy Issues.

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  7. @Joan: I'm thinking Wolverine referring to himself as "Wolvie" may very well point to some deep-seated Daddy Issues.

    Oh, he's definitely got some daddy issues.

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  8. I think that this was the next ish I bought off the racks after #98 and #102. Maybe it was the guy at the comics shop telling me when #98 came out that X-Men was a series to watch (see previous comments), maybe it was just a growing affinity for — or curiosity over — the characters given those couple of issues, the reprint-era issue in which they got their new costumes, Marvel Team-Up #4, and a reprint story in Giant-Size Iron Man #1, but something drew me to the series despite the darker, denser quality that I felt from Marvel in general back then and from X-Men in particular. I do remember the faux Angel's taunting really wigging me out at 7 years old.

    While I'm aware that this was a fill-in issue, Marvel's PTB still chose to prominently feature Angel on the cover, and it's funny how often in those early days the original X-Men were used to, presumably, drive sales or at least prompt a flip-through given that the book had failed when starring the original team by Marvel's own metrics.

    You can see a real difference from Cockrum in Brown's layouts and renderings of the characters. Everyone's taller and leaner, especially Wolverine; one of the things I always found unique about him was how short and beefy he was.

    Mantlo's tragedy really gets me, too. I never read much of his Rom or Micronauts, but both were big hits at the time. I did get into Human Fly ("The Wildest Super-Hero Ever — Because He's Real!") and, later, Mantlo's Alpha Flight when Byrne swapped creative duties on that series with Mantlo, Mike Mignola, et al. for Hulk.

    I have love and hate for Jim Shooter as well, due not only to both admiration and disdain for his work but on more personal levels for kindness that he showed me when I was some random kid he didn't know at a convention and the way he treated other people whom I respect.

    Teebore: Oh, [Wolverine's] definitely got some daddy issues.

    Ha!

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  9. @Blam: it's funny how often in those early days the original X-Men were used to, presumably, drive sales or at least prompt a flip-through given that the book had failed when starring the original team by Marvel's own metrics.

    That is funny. It's like Marvel didn't quite trust the new X-Men yet, but had nothing better to shore them up than the old X-Men they replaced (of course, nowadays a book like that would just feature Wolverine...).

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  10. Man, whenever I go back and re-read this issue, I feel such pity for X-Men readers of the 70's... they would have had to wait two months for the next issue of X-Men, gotten this piece of filler, then had to wait another two months for the next important issue... ouch.

    And now I've just scrolled further down the article and saw that you said the exact same thing...

    Dark Xavier or The Entity (as it will come to be known), the manifestation of Professor X's repressed power and desires...

    I'm fairly sure that one of the Official Marvel Handbooks retcons it that this was technically the first appearance of Onslaught.

    Professor X's dark side manifests itself as Professor X...in a cape.

    I was going to comment exactly the same thing! Damn, your thoughts on this issue are pretty much exactly the same as mine.

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  11. @Harry: I'm fairly sure that one of the Official Marvel Handbooks retcons it that this was technically the first appearance of Onslaught.

    I think you're right - somewhere along the way, at least, Marvel definitely connected this to Onslaught.

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