Three guys talking about comic books, sports, movies, TV shows and the numerous other pastimes that make us Gentlemen of Leisure.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

X-amining X-Men #108

"Armageddon Now!"
December 1977

In a Nutshell
Phoenix repairs the M'Kraan Crystal and saves all of reality

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: John Byrne
Inker: Sam Grainger
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski, Denise Wohl

Colorist: Andy Yachus
Editor: Archie Goodwin

Plot
As the M'Kraan Crystal opens, Cyclops explains to the rest of the X-Men what is happening. Meanwhile on Earth, Dr. Corbeau confers with the President, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, but no one knows how to prevent future reality blinks. Back on the planet of the M'Kraan Crystal, the first of the crystal's guardians, Jahf, emerges. After knocking Wolverine into orbit, Jahf is destroyed when Banshee, guessing the guardian to be a robot, destroys it with a tightly focused sonic scream. As Jahf is defeated, the second guardian, Modt, emerges from the crystal.


As the X-Men attack Modt, Raza hurls D'Ken onto the crystal, causing D'Ken, the X-Men and the Starjammers to be pulled inside. Within the crystal, they are all forced to face their worst fears and memories. Phoenix recovers quickly and knocks out Cyclops before his out-of-control blast can harm anyone, but he strikes the heart of the crystal, causing it to crack. Sensing that the crystal houses a neutron galaxy filled with anti-matter that, if released, will destroy the universe, Phoenix attempts to repair the energy lattice holding the galaxy in check. But as Phoenix, she is being of energy, and the neutron galaxy absorbs energy, so she must draw on the life forces of the X-Men and the Starjammers to boost her power. Manifesting herself as a fiery bird, Phoenix repairs the heart of the crystal, containing the neutron galaxy. On Earth, Firelord and Professor X stand guard at the stargate as the X-Men emerge, triumphant.  

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue marks the beginning of the acclaimed Claremont/Byrne run as penciller John Byrne (along with inker Terry Austin) join the book as the new art team. A devotee of Neal Adams, Byrne brings a more realistic look to the book following the then-more traditional superhero art of Dave Cockrum. Together, over the course of the next 35 issues (barring one fill-in) Claremont and Byrne will craft one of the most notable runs of superhero comics ever, a run that is arguably the most significant in X-Men history. 

It is revealed that Corsair, the leader of the Starjammers, is Cyclops' father, though only he, Phoenix and Storm are aware of it at this time. His real name (Major Christopher Summers) is also revealed.


To a much lesser extent, this is the first appearance of the Starjammer's titular ship (though it looks different than it will in future appearances) as well as their computer/pilot Waldo. Guardians of the M'Kraan Crystal Jahf and Modt also appear for the first time; the former will pop up again years down the road.

A Work in Progress
As has been the norm of late, Wolverine charges headlong in battle and gets taken out of the fight early as a result; here, Jahf punches him into orbit.


Shortly thereafter, Phoenix telekinetically grabs a passing meteor and drops it on Jahf, reveling in the power she feels while doing so.


We get our first glimpse of Corsair's back story and our first look at Cyclops' mother in a flashback.


D'Ken is driven insane by his encounter with the crystal, and Lilandra is poised to claim the throne once her legal entanglements are cleared up. 


The Classic X-Men reprint adds some additional pages which foreshadow the Dark Phoenix Saga and suggests that Phoenix transformation in that story is, in part, a reaction to her actions in this one. The backup details the events of Corsair's first meeting with his fellow Starjammers.

A flashback in the next issue will fill in some of the details about what happened between Phoenix repairing the crystal and the X-Men appearing on Earth. 

That 70s Comic
Jimmy Carter is the President seen conferring with Corbeau, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers.


Claremontisms
Following from the suggestion last issue that the X-Men are more than superheroes, the opening pages of this issue, in which the Fantastic Four and the Avengers (Marvel's more "superhero-est" superheroes) essentially throw up their hands in the face of Armageddon, could be read as Claremont saying that it will take something more than traditional superheroes to save the day this time. 


Artistic Achivements
The issues ends with a special thanks to departed X-Men artist Dave Cockrum, followed by Dave's rejoinder.


Young Love
Lilandra ends the issue exiled on Earth for the time being and reunited with Professor X.


The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
It is Cyclops' blast, while he is experiencing nightmares of losing control of his power, that hits the latticework of the crystal and threatens to unleash the neutron galaxy. So he's kinda responsible for putting the universe at risk too.


For Sale
It's late 70s Lumberjack Stan! 


Remember Clark bars?


It's in the Mail
John Byrne pens a welcome missive to the readers. 


Claremont on John Byrne's assignment to X-Men
"At the time, John and I had been working on Iron Fist together, and I think we were also doing Marvel Team-Up. We were just going great guns together. John's last issue of Iron Fist was essentially his audition for X-Men and after that it was a no-brainer. John was dead brilliant. He could nail his deadlines and he loved the X-men characters. We were still speaking to each other in those days and he wasn't at the point in his career where they were going to put him on Spider-Man, Fantastic Four or any of the big books. We also wanted to make X-Men monthly and we figured John would be the guy to do it."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p64.

John Byrne on getting assigned X-Men
"The way I usually phrase it is, I had threatened everybody at the office with bodily harm if Dave Cockrum ever left the book and it didn't come to me! ...With lousy distribution in Canada and weird Canadian postal service stuff - which said that first issues don't count as periodicals, so they don't allow them into the country - I very rarely got any issue #1s. But X-Men I picked up from the very first issue, and I was totally blown away by it. I just fell in love with the characters. When I finally got to do the book, it wasn't really them. It was something called X-Men, but it had Cyclops and he was the one that counted as far as I was concerned."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p100.

Byrne on Claremont's plot for issue #108
"Chris used to write fifteen page plots for seventeen page stories and that's not an exaggeration. He would literally write almost as many pages of plot as there were story pages. He would go off on tangents and fill his plots with acres of stuff that I, as the penciller, really didn't need to know. I remember our first issue because it was a giant 'hoo-hah!' story and a lot of material had to be covered. The storyline had been running for months and X-Men was only coming out bi-monthly at the time. Shooter wanted the storyline wrapped up and used my coming on to the title as an excuse for Chris to finish it."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p101.

Teebore's Take
Claremont is joined by John Byrne as the first act of his Phoenix saga comes to a close, but it's Claremont's prose that really sells this issue, as most of Phoenix's actions to repair the crystal and save reality are described via caption boxes rather than shown in the art. In the process, Claremont presents some heady material, invoking the Kabbalah Tree of Life, with Colossus as its base and Professor X as its crown, with each X-Man assigned a place and purpose greater than themselves, as Phoenix draws strength from the X-Men and Professor Xavier's dream to bind together the energy latice holding back the power of the galaxy within the crystal. Though he perhaps overreaches a bit (he has only seventeen pages, and D'Ken, along with his whole "trying to harness the power of the crystal" plot, gets lost in the narrative), Claremont's ambition can't be faulted. He prods at (without fully exploring) some fascinating ideas about love, sacrifice, and the nature of reality, all rendered in his already-trademark prose style. Ultimately, it is unlike anything we've seen in an X-Men comic thus far. 

The first time I read this issue, it blew me away: I didn't fully grasp what Claremont was going for, but there were clearly BIG IDEAS on display, something more than the usual superhero/supervillan showdowns. It drew me in, and I still recall fondly how entranced I was by it all back in the day. This issue also marks the first time in my X-Men reading that I thought, "crap, how are they going to get out of this one?", as the X-Men barely defeat the first guardian of the crystal only to be told the next is one thousand times more powerful, and should they defeat him, the next will be another thousand times stronger. Though its highs will be exceeded in the course of Claremont and Byrne's partnership, this issue is a fitting kickoff to one of the most celebrated runs in comic book history, and a personal favorite.

8 comments:

  1. Finally! We haven't seen an "Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops" in quite a while! I knew they'd become less frequent around this time anyway, but it's still good to see one now and then. Personally I can't wait for issue #175's entry... Only 67 weeks to go!

    Anyway, I've always thought, even since age 13 or whenever I first read this, that the prose description of the "Tree of Life" was a little odd in this issue. I can't help but wonder if it was described somewhere in Claremont's "15-page plot", but Byrne chose not to draw it, so Claremont just wrote it in anyway. The way these two worked seems very similar to what you hear about Lee and Kirby, where Jack would draw what he wanted to happen, and Stan would script what he wanted to happen, regardless of whether they matched up!

    In fact, I'd love to see a collected edition of nothing but Claremont plots. Having seen pages from them here and there, I get the impression that Byrne is actually (gasp) telling the truth when he describes a 15-page plot for a 17-page story. It'd be very interesting to see how much of what Claremont came up with never made it to the illustration phase. I know that Claremont and Byrne did most of their plotting over the phone, but I'm sure he probably wrote plots out for most of his other collaborators. I get the impression that after Byrne, he was a bit more controlling with that sort of thing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @Matt: Personally I can't wait for issue #175's entry... Only 67 weeks to go!

    Me too! That's one of my favorite single issues, period, if not my absolute favorite.

    Unfortunately as the book gets better, the goofy quotient goes down, and stuff like "Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops" and "That 70s Comic" suffer. But I do my best to find that stuff when I can.

    In fact, I'd love to see a collected edition of nothing but Claremont plots.

    Me too!

    I get the impression that Byrne is actually (gasp) telling the truth when he describes a 15-page plot for a 17-page story.

    Yeah, I have to think Byrne is telling the truth about that as well. I try to take most of what he says, especially after the fact, with a grain of salt (which is true of most sources, but especially Byrne) but that certainly gels with other things I've read/heard about Claremont.

    I mean, it's clear the man loves words (which I don't say as a bad thing)...

    ReplyDelete
  3. god damn blogger! i had this whole comment worked out yesterday but i couldn't post it, and now i can't remember everything i wanted to say!

    let's see

    oh, i was thinking about making a 'Hank beats his wife' joke, but it seemed too easy

    i'm trying to decide if Logan's healing factor would actually be able to keep him alive in space or not... i haven't decided

    is that lumberjack selling pizzazz?! sign me up!

    i KNOW i had one more point to make, but i think it's gone forever. you owe me one awesome comment, blogger (because i can't remember what it is, i can just assume it was going to be awesome)

    ReplyDelete
  4. @Anne: i had this whole comment worked out yesterday but i couldn't post it, and now i can't remember everything i wanted to say!

    Yeah, Blogger was massively effed up for a couple of days there.

    oh, i was thinking about making a 'Hank beats his wife' joke, but it seemed too easy

    It is like fish in a barrel...

    i'm trying to decide if Logan's healing factor would actually be able to keep him alive in space or not... i haven't decided

    It's a tough call. Nowadays, his healing factor can do just about anything. Back then, it was much more limited (he healed faster than most, but it wasn't exactly instantaneous).

    But we don't know about this planet's gravity/density relative to Earth's, etc.

    I suppose it's not the most unbelievable thing, especially if you assume Waldo got to him fast.

    ReplyDelete

  5. Byrne!!! Austin!!!

    I love "I'm not dead -- Dave Cockrum."

    And I'll leave it at that, since there's so many more of these to get to... 8^)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Guardians of the M'Kraan Crystal Jahf and Modt also appear for the first time; the former will pop up again years down the road.

    I quite liked that in AoA Jahf reappeared and referenced this arc; it really made the M'Kraan Crystal feel important to the multiverse, and it was a nice continuity nod. I love minor characters reappearing years later, it really makes them feel like they exist in the universe, as opposed to just appearing for the sake of a single story. One of the many reasons I love Busiek's work.

    On that note, I like that Claremont showed the Avengers and FF reacting to the crisis - too often in the Silver/Bronze Age would something happen which you'd think would attract a lot of attention, yet only one team/character would respond to it. These days I feel that since most teams are much closer, it happens a lot less, although that doesn't mean that it doesn't happen at all.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @Harry: These days I feel that since most teams are much closer, it happens a lot less, although that doesn't mean that it doesn't happen at all.

    I actually feel like the Golden Age of this kind of thing actually was the Bronze Age (see what I did there?), basically the late 70s and into the 80s.

    That's when you'd get stuff like this, or having snowstorms pop up in a bunch of different titles because the Casket of Ancient Winters had been opened over in Thor's book. Not full fledged crossovers, but little acknowledgements of the shared universe when something big enough to affect everyone happened.

    By the times the books swelled in the 90s and everything got fragmented into their own little line, you'd get acknowledgements of stuff like this within a line (like all the X-books, or the Midnight Sons books, etc) but rarely across into other lines.

    Nowadays, it just seems to happen on the whim of a writer. Some writers like to do it, some can't be bothered, and the power of the editor is so neutered they can't force it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. @Teebore:That's when you'd get stuff like this, or having snowstorms pop up in a bunch of different titles because the Casket of Ancient Winters had been opened over in Thor's book. Not full fledged crossovers, but little acknowledgements of the shared universe when something big enough to affect everyone happened.

    That there is exactly what more comic books should do these days - I loved the little nods like that.

    By the times the books swelled in the 90s and everything got fragmented into their own little line, you'd get acknowledgements of stuff like this within a line (like all the X-books, or the Midnight Sons books, etc) but rarely across into other lines.


    Urgh, and that's one of the things I hate about events these days - they're never referenced outside of tie-ins. But then again, if the alternative is forcing literally every book to become a tie-in...

    Sigh. Sometimes comic books really frustrate me.

    ReplyDelete

Comment. Please. Love it? Hate it? Am mildly indifferent to it? Let us know!