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

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

X-amining X-Men #110

"The "X" -Sanction!"
April 1978

In a Nutshell
Warhawk turns the Danger Room against the X-Men.

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Tony DeZuniga
Letterer: Annette Kawecki
Colorist: Andy Yachus
Editor: Archie Goodwin

Plot
It is Moira's last day in New York, and the X-Men are relaxing with a game of baseball. Moira leaves the game to greet the telephone repairman, but he turns out to be the villain Warhawk, who shoots Moira with a tranqulizer dart. Warhawk enters the computer center and reprograms Cerebro, removing the safety interlocks from the Danger Room. As he works, he is telepathically contacted by his master, who warns him against failing in his mission or betraying him. As the X-Men return to the mansion, Warhawk surprises Professor X and Phoenix, stunning them, and locks the X-Men in the Danger Room.


As the other X-Men fight for their lives against an unrestrained Danger Room, Nightcrawler teleports himself and Wolverine outside. The strain of it knocks both men unconscious, but Wolverine quickly recovers and cuts power to the Danger Room. Attacked by Warhawk, the two fight, with Warhawk telling Wolverine he was sent to test and evaluate the X-Men. Just then, the other X-Men break out of the Danger Room and Colossus knocks out Warhawk. The X-Men turn him over to the police, but Professor X worries that someone who knew far too much about the X-Men sent a telepathically shielded agent into their home, and that powerful forces seem to be aligning against them, while Wolverine asserts that the X-Men will be ready and waiting for whatever comes!

Firsts and Other Notables
The X-Men battle Warhawk, a fairly unremarkable villain existing on the fringes of the Marvel Universe (he's battled Iron Fist and Black Goliath previously, and will pop up again a handful of times in the future). Created by Claremont, he's a highly trained mercenary with Colossus-like organic steel skin. The later revelation that he was hired by Sebastian Shaw of the Hellfire Club, Warhawk's mysterious boss in this issue (who, not being a telepath, must presumably be using White Queen's telepathy to relay his message to Warhawk), thus tying Warhawk into the notable "Dark Phoenix Saga" story, helps him live on as a footnote in X-Men history (and also, retroactively, makes this issue Shaw's first cameo appearance).


More notably, this is the first X-Men baseball game, something which becomes a recurring event in many of their "downtime" issues in the years to come.


Also, Phoenix officially rejoins the team in this issue, concerned that she hasn't fully mastered her increased power after Warhawk gets the drop on her.


This is the first (and only) fill-in issue during the Claremont/Byrne run. According to a statement by Claremont in the letter column, this issue was commissioned months before its publication to give Dave Cockrum a breather, and was intended to occur immediately after the end of the Shi'ar arc. But after using another fill-in story for #106, and with Cockrum leaving after #107 and Byrne coming aboard for issue #108, editorial decided to hold this fill-in as long as possible so as not to have four different artists on four consecutive issues. So instead we get a pair of Byrne issues before the interruption occurs.

The art in this issue comes from Tony DeZuniga, an old school Silver Age artist who co-created Western DC hero Jonah Hex, and a stand-up gent whom I had the pleasure of meeting at SpringCon a couple years back.

The Statement of Ownership in this issue lists the average sales of the book in the preceding year to be 123,725 copies per issue, with sales of the single issue nearest the filing date to be 130,559 copies. I've heard tell that average sales of 100,000 copies per issue was the number a comic had to beat in order to stay in publication in those days, so X-Men at this time remained one of Marvel's lower selling titles (though those numbers would be HUGE today, where any issue approaching 100K is considered a massive blockbuster, and the cutoff for an ongoing series at Marvel or DC is more like 10K a month).   

A Work in Progress
This events of this issue occur on Moira's last day in New York, and she will disappear from the title for several months. Also, Warhawk recognizes her and notes the absurdity of such a highly-renowned geneticist slumming it as a housekeeper.

Phoenix once again expresses joy at using her powers, and even quotes a line that will become synonymous with the later evolution of her character.


Colosso, the Danger Room robot whose previous incarnations were seen in issues #22 and #94, appears at battles the X-Men.


During the battle in the Danger Room, Wolverine sees an opportunity to let Cyclops be killed, which would give him a clear shot at Jean, but he saves Cyclops anyway since "back-shootin'" isn't his style (more great Wolverine dialogue).


The issue ends with Warhawk being taken away by Captain Delaney, a Westchester police officer. He seems to have a history with the X-Men (Professor X says he often asks about the strange proceedings at the school and is put off when Xavier fails to give him satisfactory answers) but this is his first appearance.


That 70s Comic
Warhawk has orders not to kill the X-Men, but he still goes out of his way to stun and not kill Moira.


Colossus is apparently wearing his costume underneath his clothes while playing baseball. Also, Jean is rocking some awesome short shorts throughout the issue.


Claremontisms
Though presumably plotted months before it saw publication, Claremont clearly scripted (or re-scripted) this issue before it saw print, as it makes plenty of references to events of the past several issues, helping the issue read less like a fill-in.

Artistic Achievements
Dave Cockrum is thanked for "a welcome art assist" in this issue; he drew the opening splash page which sets up the baseball game.

Young Love
Wolverine broods over Jean (and her short shorts).


Moira alludes to her relationship with Xavier turning into a "nightmare".


For Sale
Who wants their Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew t-shirts?


The Star Wars marketing machine is in full gear by now, as two separate ads appear in this issue.


John Byrne on having a fill-in issue"...#110 was a fill-in because Marvel already had a finished issue and they wanted to use it. They said they had to use it. I've no idea why. Nobody could ever explain to me why they couldn't have waited another couple of issues."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p102.

Teebore's Take
The Claremont/Byrne run gets its first fill-in, and remarkably enough, it is the only fill-in issue of their entire run, an amazing achievement (you simply don't see something like that much anymore, an extended and acclaimed run with little interruption in the creative team; Bendis and Bagley's Ultimate Spider-Man is the only recent thing that comes to mind, and it's been several years now since their collaboration ended). Though the timing of this particular fill-in seems odd (as Byrne himself mentions), coming as it does just two issues after Byrne came aboard, in hindsight, it was probably published at the best possible time. Starting next issue, Claremont and Byrne really take off and, for the most part, never look back. Marvel had already paid for this issue and clearly intended to use it at some point; published here, between the end of one story arc and the beginning of the other, it doesn't greatly disrupt the ongoing narrative the way it would had it appeared later in their run.

Incidentally, the story itself is fairly routine, with the X-Men fighting the Danger Room (a popular setting for fill-in stories, apparently; the X-Men fought the manifestation of Xavier's dark side in the Danger Room in issue #106) before defeating the villain-of-the-month. Thankfully, Claremont's ability to weave the plot into the ongoing character development and the later reveal of Warhawk's boss (which helps tangentially connect this story to Claremont and Byrne's larger narrative) help keep the story from reading as completely pointless. 

12 comments:

Matt said...

I agree, this was really the best place to put this issue. As of next issue, the X-Men stories pretty much bleed one into the next for a few years, and this specific status quo never occurs again, with Phoenix and Banshee both on the team and living in the mansion at the same time. The only other choice would've been to stick it in the middle of the ongoing story, and we all know well that worked out with issue #106...

(By the way, I just noticed that your entry for #106 does not have the "X-aminations" tag attached to it.)

I always wondered what Cockrum's contribution to this issue was. I had long assumed it was at least the splash. Good to know that was the only thing.

Lastly, my first exposure to Warhawk was in the Maverick back-up story in Jim Lee's X-Men #10 -- the story where not even the editor seemed to know who he was! He mentions something about a previous run-in with the X-Men (I think), and there's an asterisk which leads to an editorial caption that simply says, "Hmmmmm?"

Teebore said...

@Matt: this specific status quo never occurs again, with Phoenix and Banshee both on the team and living in the mansion at the same time

Ah, good point. I was thinking maybe it could have gone after the X-Men got back from their extended road trip circa issue #123, but you're right that Phoenix wouldn't have been around then.

By the way, I just noticed that your entry for #106 does not have the "X-aminations" tag attached to it.

Thanks for catching that! I fixed it.

my first exposure to Warhawk was in the Maverick back-up story in Jim Lee's X-Men #10 -- the story where not even the editor seemed to know who he was!

Ha! That was my first encounter with him too, and I remember being infuriated by that unhelpful editorial caption at the time.

In fact, I've always assumed this issue was Warhawk's first appearance until I read up on him in anticipation of this post and discovered that he had bopped around the MU independent of the X-Men.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Yay! Xmen and baseball! That's as American as (horrible) apple pie!
I felt like i had a lot of things to say about this, but now that i'm commenting, hell if i can remember.
Is that the star wars characters wearing starwars merchandise?!
That's a quick way to open a black hole...

Teebore said...

@Sarah: Yay! Xmen and baseball! That's as American as (horrible) apple pie!

Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down a sec. What do you have against apple pie, Commie?

Is that the star wars characters wearing starwars merchandise?!
That's a quick way to open a black hole...


Indeed. It'd be like Batman dressing up for Halloween as...Batman.

I just inverted your paradigm there, didn't I?

Anne said...

i lurve me some xmen baseball! good times are had by all :-) plus they always had enough people to play pretty full teams

it seems weird to me that the scale for judgind success in regards to number of copies sold has lessened over time- why do you think that is? is it the interwebs? or just the general available-ness of other entertainment options? or is it because of the variety of books out now?

it literally took me like 30 seconds to even understand what 'back-shootin' meant

if that's what the Hardy Boys look like...then no, thanks

Teebore said...

@Anne: it seems weird to me that the scale for judging success in regards to number of copies sold has lessened over time- why do you think that is?

Bottom line, it's because the audience is smaller these days: less people read/buy comics now then they did "back then".

You can blame it on lots of things: when this issue was published, you could find comics in tons of places (newsstands, grocery stores, convenience stores, drug stores, bookstores, etc.) so there were more avenues for some random kid or adult to say, "hey, I think I'll buy a comic" and get hooked.

Nowadays, you can find comics in comic shops. And a few random bookstores. So the only way a random non-comic reader is going to stumble across comics and get hooked is if they go into a comic shop, and if they're not a fan already, then why would they be going into a comic shop?

So with every decade that goes by, the overall audience of comic books shrinks (as a result of people leaving the hobby, or dying) faster than new people come into it.

And yes, the rise of trades and graphic novels (and their relative prominence on bookstore shelves) does help promote the hobby and help hook new readers who are at least more likely to stumble upon a graphic novel while at a bookstore looking for something else then they are to stumble across a comic book while not ever being at a comic shop, but graphic novel sales don't figure into individual issue sales, so while more people might be reading comics via trades, the sales of the individual issues continue to steadily decline.

In fact, there are many series for which the individual issues are just loss leaders for the collections, and continue to be published just so there's something to put into the inevitable trade (or to keep a character around for the eventual movie/TV show/assorted merchandising, which is where comic companies really make their money these days).

But I don't mean to pin all of comics' troubles on the Direct Market. The DM can be (and is) a good thing in a lot of ways. Like most situations, it's just not an either/or situation. Comics should be sold in comic shops, but they should also be sold in a wide variety of other places like in "the old days".

Of course, like you mentioned, there are other factors contributing to the shrinking of the hobby. The internet isn't the executioner of comics some say it is (in fact, thanks to things like Wikiedia and, ahem, comics' blogs, it can make comics better), but the fact is, through both legal and not-so-legal means, pretty much every comic ever can be read online these days, and that cuts into sales of individual issues.

And, like you mentioned, kids (and adults) these days have a lot more entertainment options. I mean, back in the 40s (when individual issues sold into the millions) kids could, what? Read a comic or whitewash a fence? But nowadays there's hundreds of TV channels, and iTunes and video games and movies, most of which aren't just available for kids but capable of being carried with them everywhere.

These days, comics are just one slice of the entertainment pie, and it's a slice that, for a variety of reasons, is slowly shrinking.

Anne said...

good answer

Teebore said...

@Anne: good answer

Ha, thanks.

Anonymous said...

I've never understood why everyone assumes that Shaw is the "master" here. The later retcon is simply that Warhawk worked for the Hellfire Club, and as you noted, Frost is the telepath, not Shaw.

The gender of the "master" is never specified. Why do people assume the master is male?

I consider this the (retroactive) first appearance of the White Queen, myself.

Teebore said...

@Anonymous: The gender of the "master" is never specified. Why do people assume the master is male?


For this post I was, honestly, going off the notation in the most recent Official Marvel Index and my own vague recollections, but looking at issue #129, Shaw and Wyngarde are observing the X-Men at the mansion, and Wyngarde comments to Shaw that, "your man, Warhawk, did his bugging work well", with an editorial caption referencing issue #110 and saying something to the effect of "now you know who sent Warhawk."

That's good enough for me.

Anonymous said...

I figured there was a Handbook entry. :) But I never understood why the Handbook writers make that assumption either.

All that dialogue (with footnote) in X-Men 129 makes clear is that Warhawk worked for the Hellfire Club. Any dude who worked for the Hellfire Club could've been referred to as one of "Shaw's men." But some of Shaw's men reported to the White Queen. (In X-Men 129, for example!)

Maybe it's over the top to play this card, but it seems like just maybe there was some sexism at work, with Greunwald or whoever did the handbook entry just assuming that the "master" of Uncanny 110 was male -- even though the gender is never specified. (Warkhawk also refers to the master as "faceless" so we really have no clues at all.)

To me it's just Occam's razor. We knew one thing about "the master" -- he or she was controlling and communicating with Warhawk via telepathy.

Then we find out he worked for the Hellfire Club, whose "Inner Circle" had exactly one telepath as a member.

But that telepath was a girl, and girls can't tell guys what to do!!! So I geuss it was Shaw.

("Emma, connect me telepathically to Warhawk so I can give him some orders." "Why don't you just tell me the orders, and I'll give them to him directly." "No way, you're a dame, I can't trust you to get this right." "Just write it down, and I'll read it off a card." "That still won't work. Soldiers don't take orders from chicks. He'll take orders from me, though, 'cause I'm a man. Oh, but make me 'faceless' so he has no idea who I am."

I'm not buyin' it, Official Handbook.

(I hope you have enjoyed my 8,000 word treatise on this ultra-significant topic. It is very important and I will not rest until everyone is convinced that I am right about it.)

Teebore said...

@Anonymous: I'm not buyin' it, Official Handbook.

I'm actually citing the Official Index, not the Handbook, and the more recent one at that, so I suppose you'd have to blame >checking the credits...< Stuart Vandal and Al Sjoerdsma, who are credited as the Head Writers/Coordinators of that series.

Then again, maybe they're just taking their cues from the old Handbook.

"Emma, connect me telepathically to Warhawk so I can give him some orders." "Why don't you just tell me the orders, and I'll give them to him directly." "No way, you're a dame, I can't trust you to get this right." "Just write it down, and I'll read it off a card." "That still won't work. Soldiers don't take orders from chicks. He'll take orders from me, though, 'cause I'm a man. Oh, but make me 'faceless' so he has no idea who I am."

Okay, that was pretty hilarious.