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Friday, May 20, 2011

X-amining X-Men #109

"Home are the Heroes!"
February 1978

In a Nutshell
The X-Men fight Weapon Alpha

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Andy Yachus
Editor: Archie Goodwin

Plot
The X-Men return to the mansion and quickly separate to enjoy their downtime. Storm tends to her plants as Jean meets with her parents to discuss her transformation into Phoenix. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure watches the mansion. In his room, Nightcrawler arranges a date for the evening while Colossus writes a letter to his family. Teleporting downstairs, Nightcrawler finds Cyclops brooding and attempts to cheer him up, only to be interrupted by Banshee's invitation to join he and Moria on a picnic. Cyclops and Nightcrawler decline, but Storm, Wolverine and Colossus join the couple. At the lake, Wolverine stalks a deer, but is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Weapon Alpha, sent by the Canadian government to bring him home.


The two fight, with Weapon Alpha's battle suit holding its own against Wolverine. Their battle spills out of the woods to the lakeshore, where the other X-Men are picnicking. They quickly come to Wolverine's aid, giving Weapon Alpha pause. When one of Weapon Alpha's force blasts ricochets off of Colossus and hits Moira, Banshee flies into a rage, quickly overpowering Weapon Alpha. Unsure if his suit can hold out against the combined power of the X-Men, Weapon Alpha retreats, vowing to return. Though Moira is alright, Wolverine knows this attack was just the beginning.

Firsts and Other Notables
Weapon Alpha (James MacDonald Hudson, who will later go by the codenames Vindicator and Guardian) appears for the first time. He is wearing a high-tech suit that enables gives him force blasts, a force field, and the ability to fly. Later stories will reveal a complicated history between him and Wolverine (hinted at here, with Wolverine's assertion that they were once like brothers), with Hudson and his wife discovering a feral Wolverine shortly after he received his adamantium skeleton and nursing him back to humanity, and later recruiting him into Canada's Department H.


Weapon Alpha mentions Alpha Flight, the first reference to Canada's premiere super hero team (they will make their first appearance about a dozen issues from now).


This is the first issue to exclusively cost thirty-five cents (the last few previous issues were published in both $.30 and $.35 versions).  

A Work in Progress
Between this issue and the last, the X-Men appeared in Iron Fist #15 (in fact, that issue reads almost like an issue of X-Men (especially odd considering it is the last issue of that title), done as it is by Claremont and Byrne, with the X-Men fighting Iron Fist in one of those classic Marvel mix-ups, then attending a party at Jean's New York apartment before returning to the mansion in this issue; as a result, I'll mention some significant moments from it throughout this post). Wolverine appeared in that issue wearing his purloined Fang costume, before changing out of it in this issue. Reportedly, Dave Cockrum intended for the Fang costume to be Wolverine's permanent new look but Byrne hated it, and changed Wolverine out of it at the first logical opportunity.


Wolverine gets a wonderful bit of characterization in this issue as he expresses his desire to go hunting and Storm admonishes him for wanting to take a life out of sport rather than need. He explains that killing takes no skill and he merely intends to try and get close enough to a deer to touch it without spooking it, and Storm apologizes for misjudging him. To which Wolverine scoffs and says he doesn't mind, since everyone is always misjudging him. It's one of the early defining moments of his character and has stuck with me since I first read it, often coming to mind as an example of the complexity (and coolness) of Wolverine. 


Storm's attic bedroom, full of plants, is seen for the first time.


Phoenix recalls the events just prior to the X-Men's return to Earth, and we see Lilandra declared the eventual Empress of the Shi'ar, and Shi'ar Lord Araki appears for the first time (though he goes unnamed). We also see Corsair asks Phoenix not to tell Cyclops that he is Cyclop's father, and that Storm overhears their conversation. 


In Iron Fist #15 Nightcrawler walks undisguised down the street, telling Colossus he will no longer use his image inducer (though I believe it'll pop up again).


Later in that issue, Wolverine threatens Iron Fist with unsheathing his third (middle) claw, a technique we'll see again, though in this case, humorously, Wolverine's two extended claws actually go under Iron Fist's mask.


A testament to how action packed the last dozen issues have been, this is the first time we've seen the X-Men at their mansion (barring the hanger, in which the X-Men battled Eric the Red in issue #105) since issue #96.

That 70s Comic
Check out the threads on the X-Men as they come home.I especially like Scott's turtleneck.


Nightcrawler heads into the city to see Star Wars, and compares himself to a Wookiee.


Weapon Alpha claims his suit is the ultimate product of Canadian technology...I'll leave that one alone out of respect to our Canadian readers.


Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Colorist Bonnie Wilford and Dave & Paty Cockrum appear at Jean's party in Iron Fist #15.


Young Love
Nightcrawler heads out for a night on the town with Amanda, the stewardess he met in issue #98. Colossus turns down fellow stewardess Elisabeth's offer to double date, preferring instead to crash Sean and Moira's picnic.

Also, Nightcrawler is using an old school phone which, to any kids reading this for the first time today, probably looks positively antique ("omigod, what's that curly string hanging off the end of his cell phone?"). 


Upon returning to the mansion, Banshee plants one on Moira, the first time we've seen them kiss.


In Iron Fist #15, Wolverine is essentially stalking Jean, hanging around outside her apartment and getting angry about her feelings for Cyclops.


The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
While Jean talks to her parents about her transformation, Cyclops broods, and this actually leads into a nice exchange between him and Nightcrawler where Nightcrawler basically tells him to lighten up because his life could be worse: he could look like Nightcrawler, and Nightcrawler still manages to enjoy life.
 

For Sale
Sea Monkeys!


Heh. "Ding-a-ling Family"...


John Byrne on the Origins of Weapon Alpha
"According to Byrne, the character was originally called the Sentinel and was Byrne's youthful attempt at designing a national hero for his home country; by the time he was dusted off for publication in X-Men, a character named Captain Canuck had seen print Canada wearing a costume very close to Byrne's original Sentinel design, so, as he explained in The Art of John Byrne, 'I went totally away, forgot everything that I had ever done with it, and came up with the wraparound flag image.'"

Lamken, Brian Saner. "The Phoenix Effect: 25 Years of the All New Uncanny X-Men." Comicology Fall 2000: 30. 

"I had designed most of the members of Alpha Flight as fan characters. The idea for that story came from Dave [Cockrum]. Dave had mentioned to Chris that the Canadian government probably wasn't real happy that Wolverine - who had cost them $6 million or whatever - had gone off and joined this American superhero group. So they would probably send somebody to get him back. When Chris told me that, I said, 'Oh, we have to do that story, and here's the guy.' I wanted to call him 'Guardian' in X-Men #109 because that was his name as a fan character, taken from a line in the Canadian national anthem: 'We stand on guard for thee.' But Shooter said we couldn't use 'Guardian' because of the Guardians of the Galaxy. So Chris called him 'Weapon Alpha' in his first appearance, and later 'Vindicator', which he got from a cool airplane. Anyway, as soon as I got Alpha Flight their own book, I decided that we were not going to call him 'Vindicator' anymore Canada doesn't have anything to vindicate."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p103.

Teebore's Take
After wrapping up an ongoing storyline last issue, John Byrne's first standalone issue of X-Men casts fellow Canadian Wolverine in the spotlight for the first time, following up on a plot thread from Giant Size X-Men #1 and introducing Canadian hero Weapon Alpha (while laying the ground work for Alpha Flight). Upon being assigned X-Men, Byrne made it a point to increase Wolverine's profile in the book and shine the spotlight on one of Marvel's few Canadian characters. For really the first time, this issue shows us the duality of Wolverine's character that has since helped make him so popular: the honorable man with a bestial side, the stark loner who is loyal to his teammates, a product of science that yearns for the natural world, etc. Really, Wolverine's future popularity starts with this issue.

But its a strong issue for characterization all around. Like issue #101, the focus is mainly on the characters' interactions with one another (the Wolverine/Weapon Alpha fight reads very much like a throwaway bit to satisfy the conventions of the time, though it is very well done). After so many issues of nonstop action and plot, Claremont slows things down, and in one issue explores the core new X-Men in the greatest detail yet: Colossus misses his home and family, Storm feels uneasy in the modern world, film buff Nightcrawler remains lighthearted and romantic, heading into the city for a date, and it turns out Wolverine has unplumbed depths after all. One of the strengths of the Claremont/Byrne run (and one of the reasons it is so acclaimed) is the attention it paid to characterization, and this issue is a perfect example of that.

11 comments:

Matt said...

Wow -- so, so much to cover. I'm glad you included Iron Fist 15 as part of this. Personally, I can't buy that the X-Men came home from outer space then attended a party at Jean's house before returning to Westchester. I just keep IF 15 after UXM 109 in my reading order, Wolverine's costume discrepancy be darned.

On his website, Byrne has mentioned that Jim Shooter (or someone in editorial anyway) had Dave Cockrum redraw all of Byrne's X-Men faces in IF 15. This seems to make little sense since Byrne would become the regular artist on X-Men a month later, but if you take a good look at that issue of Iron Fist, it's pretty obvious that Cockrum did indeed do as Byrne says (just look at Nightcrawler's face in the panel you posted!).

I agree on Wolverine's "deer-stalking" character moment. It really sticks with you. And I love that he refers to the X-Men as a "turkey outfit." The Wolverine of the 70's had such great dialogue... it's one thing I think was lost as Claremont "softened" the character over the years.

I also like the conversation between Cyclops and Nightcrawler, particularly the part where Nightcrawler has to remind Cyclops that he has a real name. And I've always loved that bit where, as they talk, you see Jean outside the window manifesting her Phoenix powers for her parents. I don't know why, but I just really like it. Byrne sells the body language quite nicely.

Wolverine apparently carries that picture of Jean around at all times, even when in costume, because he has it with him when the X-Men are stranded in the Savage Land a few issues from now. That never struck me as odd until fairly recently for some reason.

Lastly, I agree about Cyclops's turtleneck -- and Colossus's happening sweater vest. In fact, one of my favorite things about Byrne's time on this book is the 1970's fashions he dressed everyone in. His Cyclops loves to wear turtlenecks, and everyone owns a pair of bell bottoms! I've also always loved the giant shades he gave to Cyclops. Byrne's uncostumed Scott Summers is pretty much the definitive version of the character as far as I'm concerned.

When Alan Davis was on the X-titles in the late 90's, I distinctly remember a scene where he drew Cyclops, out of costume, sporting the giant Byrne shades and the exact same hairstyle Byrne gave him in the 70's. It looked totally out of place in 1998 or whatever, but I loved it anyway!

Altogether, this is one of my very favorite issues from the Byrne/Claremont run, and it's only their second one! But I personally feel that the two of them together could do no wrong in the 70's, as seen here, in Iron Fist, and in Marvel Team-Up.

Matt said...

Dang, all that and I still forgot something -- I've seen Byrne mention his changing of Vindicator's name to Guardian before, with the "Canada has nothing to vindicate" statement. But I also know I read someplace that Hudson chose the name Vindicator because he felt he needed to "vindicate" himself for accidentally blasting Moira. I just don't know where I read it! It may have been a Marvel handbook or something. Wherever it was, I'm assuming it was a ret-con on someone's part to explain the odd name choice (as Byrne has often lamented, Claremont loved to randomly name things after airplanes for no apparent reason).

Dr. Bitz said...

Was there a difference between the 30 cent and 35 cent versions?

"Weapon Alpha claims his suit is the ultimate product of Canadian technology...I'll leave that one alone out of respect to our Canadian readers."

Boo respect...make with the funny.

Also, I like how Banshee and Moira totally make out in front of Professor X.

Teebore said...

@Matt: Personally, I can't buy that the X-Men came home from outer space then attended a party at Jean's house before returning to Westchester.

Yeah, me neither. I've just been going off the Marvel Index chronology, and they place it first. I suppose no matter what, it doesn't fit quite right.

if you take a good look at that issue of Iron Fist, it's pretty obvious that Cockrum did indeed do as Byrne says

Absolutely. The figures are definitely Byrne, the faces...not so much. I'd noticed it, but never knew editorial had gotten the faces redrawn. Crazy!

The Wolverine of the 70's had such great dialogue...

He really did. I think he lost it once he became "too cool" for it.

I don't know why, but I just really like it. Byrne sells the body language quite nicely.

He really does, and that's something I should have made more a point of: we usually equate action with the artist and character moments with the writer, but the success of the characterization in this run has as much to do with Byrne's skill at drawing body language as it does Claremont's dialogue.

I also really like that Nightcrawler/Cyclops scene, especially the follow-up where Cyclops corrects himself and calls Banshee "Sean" while turning down his picnic invitation.

That never struck me as odd until fairly recently for some reason.

Yeah, I suppose he doesn't seem to have too many pockets in that costume.

one of my favorite things about Byrne's time on this book is the 1970's fashions he dressed everyone in.

It's definitely nice to see the X-Men dressed more in the style of the times, as opposed to when Kirby would send them out to a beatnik coffee house dressed in full suits (though that certainly had its own charm, too).

I read someplace that Hudson chose the name Vindicator because he felt he needed to "vindicate" himself for accidentally blasting Moira.

I remember reading that too, now that you mention it. It probably was one of the handbooks, but I can't say for sure.

And Claremont does love his random airplane/aviation references...

@Dr. Bitz: Was there a difference between the 30 cent and 35 cent versions?

Not to my knowledge, just a matter of distribution, I think (so you got hosed if you just happened to live in the wrong part of the country).

I could be wrong about this (and I'm too lazy to look it up right now), but I think that, back in the day, whenever Marvel or DC knew they'd need to increase prices soon, they'll roll it out slowly and incrementally, to either gauge the reaction (make sure readers didn't notice/complain too much) or just hope to sneak it past people. So now there are random issues with two different prices.

(And of course, it wouldn't be long before they just said "screw it" and raised prices whenever/however they felt like it. But for awhile, the comic companies were really worried about pissing readers off with price hikes).


Boo respect...make with the funny.

Weapon Alpha claims his suit is the ultimate product of Canadian technology...

...so his suit runs on maple syrup?

...so his suit can't function in warm weather?

...so at least when it falls apart and Wolverine guts him, we know he's got health insurance.

Feel free to add your own Canadian stereotype jokes. :)

Also, I like how Banshee and Moira totally make out in front of Professor X.

It's awesome. The best part is that the X-Men pretty much don't know about Xavier and Moira at this point, so it's pretty much just Moira not caring about being terribly insensitive.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

man, look at creeper chuck there, watching Moira and Banshee make out. CREEPER!
Also, i totes forgot about Storm's plants in her room. Weird.
Finally, wolverine's claws through the mask is totally badass!

Teebore said...

@Sarah: man, look at creeper chuck there, watching Moira and Banshee make out. CREEPER!

Yeah, there's just something about Chuck and romance that creeps me out.

Finally, wolverine's claws through the mask is totally badass!

I've always thought the whole "pop the middle claw" thing was pretty badass, in its way, but under the mask just made me chuckle.

Blam said...


This is one of my all-time favoritest comic books ever. As often has to be done when considering serial works prepared on deadline for mass consumption, "genre" or otherwise, I know that its excellence is qualified to some extent by not just the production limitations but certain conventions of the medium and the period. But Claremont's thick prose and the disposable newsprint on which the Byrne / Austin / Yanchus artwork was delivered are both part of the artifact's charm.

I love Byrne's interior pencils and that Cockrum & Austin cover. I love Weapon Alpha's costume. I love his mostly unspoken backstory with Wolverine and how it set up so many future storylines not just in actual fact down the road but at the very moment in our heads (those of us who read it in 1977, anyway). I love the scenes of the heroes returning home, as the title says, and the various character bits noted by our guide Teebore as well as the other commenters; so much of Wolverine's character and the way he related to his teammates was established by that talk about "sneakin' up close enough to a skittish doe" – jotted down in my notes long before I read this post.

Other brief thoughts:

We get not just lots of great bits at the mansion but the the scene missing from the previous issue of the X-Men actually leaving Shi'ar space.

I did get a chuckle out of the line "My battle suit is the ultimate product of Canadian technology..."

For some reason I never thought of this as Canada invading US's sovereign territory before; really, though, that's what's happening.

About half of this issue was appropriated for a retelling in an issue of Alpha Flight that was fairly infamous at the time for juxtaposing Byrne's slightly older work (as inked by Austin) and his contemporary efforts in a light not exactly flattering to his would-be evolution as an artist. To many it sure looked like he was coasting or spreading himself thin at times by not rendering backgrounds, varying his line widths, or spotting blacks the way he once did. I grew pretty disappointed with his work on Alpha Flight myself, but there were periods post-X-Men when I thought he turned it some good stuff, not just on Fantastic Four with favorable inking but later on Namor.

I'm really sorry that I didn't get to join in on the conversation about this issue when the post went up.

Teebore said...

@Blam: the scene missing from the previous issue of the X-Men actually leaving Shi'ar space.

I remain very appreciative of the fact that Claremont found a way to work that in despite the jampacked #108; it really is a necessary transition and brings closure to the whole "space arc" that had been running for months at that point.

For some reason I never thought of this as Canada invading US's sovereign territory before; really, though, that's what's happening.

Yeah, the next Alpha Flight story in #120-121 makes that more clear (especially in the Classic X-Men version) but hear it really does come off more like a classic superhero feud, even though its made clear Weapon Alpha is working for the Canadian government.

About half of this issue was appropriated for a retelling in an issue of Alpha Flight that was fairly infamous at the time for juxtaposing Byrne's slightly older work (as inked by Austin) and his contemporary efforts in a light not exactly flattering to his would-be evolution as an artist.

Do you recall what issue that was? I (thought I) read all of Byrne's Alpha Flight, but I don't remember that issue.

there were periods post-X-Men when I thought he turned it some good stuff, not just on Fantastic Four with favorable inking but later on Namor.

I haven't read alot of it, but I've also enjoyed what I've seen of his Namor work.

And of course, there's that semi-infamous Byrne quote about how people who say they liked his art because of his attention to detail are people who really liked Terry Austin.

Matt said...

"Do you recall what issue that was?"

It was Alpha Flight #17, complete with an homage by Byrne to Cockrum's original cover.

I've never read it, but I saw it while flipping through the Alpha Flight Classic vol. 2 trade that I just picked up recently, so I'll get to it eventually.

I liked Byrne's work on X-Men: The Hidden Years, but I think maybe that means I just like Tom Palmer...

Teebore said...

@Matt: It was Alpha Flight #17, complete with an homage by Byrne to Cockrum's original cover.


Huh. I guess I'll chalk that one up to faulty memory. I remember reading Byrne's Alpha Flight run, but have no recollection of that issue.

I liked Byrne's work on X-Men: The Hidden Years, but I think maybe that means I just like Tom Palmer...

Ha! I liked the art on Hidden Years, but found Byrne's stories to be a bit too decompressed and Savage Land-obsessed.

Blam said...


Byrne has long been one of the most frustrating and polarizing figures in (mainstream US) comics — in terms of both his creative work and his persona, not unlike Shooter. On a personal level, I've experienced thoughtfulness from him more than once but also seen/heard him spout some things that are less than flattering. His art, writing, and general approach to the business have also pulled me in both directions.

When Alpha Flight #17 came out there had already been talk of Byrne's art declining. Fans said that he put in less effort, was drawing more sketchily, inking more sloppily, and so forth. Byrne countered by saying that his art style was evolving as all artists' do, and while I don't recall him specifically arguing that as he went on he found that less was more I do remember him defending his practice (on Fantastic Four particularly) of only laying out breakdowns lightly when he was going to ink the work himself (keeping things spontaneous and saving time, he said, but still turning in a professional finished product, which is why he merited full payment for pencils and inks).

It's entirely possible that you do like Byrne's art more when it's inked by others — and not just because of the style of that particular inker, although I'm partial to some over others. Byrne (who's not alone in doing so) pencils differently depending on whether he or someone else is inking, even differently depending on who in particular is doing the inking. Penciler/inker tandems also develop a kind-of shorthand over time, as Byrne or Austin (or both) memorably pointed out in an X-Men Companion interview that I recall in which, speaking a few years after their partnership's heyday, Austin no longer remembered what some little squiggle of Byrne's was supposed to mean, but he knew that he used to know how to interpret it.