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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

X-amining X-Men #112

"Magneto Triumphant!"
August 1978

In a Nutshell
Magneto brings the X-Men to his volcano base and defeats them.

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: Bruce Patterson
Colorist: M. Titus
Editor: Jim Shooter

Plot
Magneto stands before the X-Men and the fallen Mesmero, declaring his intent to take his revenge on them. He explains how he followed Beast to the carnival after discovering the X-Mansion deserted, then took out Mesmero as the villain attempted to hypnotize Beast. Cyclops orders everyone out of the trailer, and Nightcrawler teleports outside, only to discover the trailer is now high in the atmosphere, held aloft, and the X-Men kept alive, by Magneto's power. After being trailed by a Peruvian fighter jet and jettisoning Mesmero, Magneto and the X-Men arrive at his Antarctic base, hidden inside a volcano. They trailer explodes as Magneto gloats that the X-Men won't be leaving his home.


The X-Men attack, but fail to work as a team, striking instead one by one and getting easily dispatched. Though Phoenix manages to briefly overwhelm Magneto, she appears to reach the upper limit of her power, and Magneto strikes back, taking the final X-Man out of the fight. The team awakens to find themselves strapped into special chairs, unable to move or use their powers. Magneto introduces them to Nanny, a robot who will cater to the X-Men's needs in order to keep them alive. He explains that, in order to pay back Xavier for the humiliation Magneto suffered when reduced to infancy, the X-Men will suffer as he did: to be as helpless as infants, unable to access their powers, but fully aware of who and what they are, trapped for the rest of their lives in a living hell. 

Firsts and Other Notables
X-Men resumes monthly publication with this issue. 

Magneto's Antarctic base, located inside a live volcano, appears for the first time, as does his robotic assistant, Nanny (so called as she is designed to be the captive X-Men's nanny). Both will appear again from time to time, most notably during the "trial of Gambit" story of the mid 90s.


A Work in Progress
Magneto mentions that, after the X-Men escaped him in issue #104, his revenge on them was delayed by encounters with Captain America and Dr. Doom. An editorial caption refers us to Captain America Annual 4 and Champions 16. In the first story, Magneto recruits a new, temporary, Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (featuring the "classic" lineup of Burner, Lifter, Peepers, Shocker and Slither) while in the second Magneto teams up with the Champions and the Beast to take on Dr. Doom.

John Byrne is a big fan of the original X-Men (unlike Claremont, he'd been reading X-Men since issue #1) and reportedly endeavored to re-assemble as much of the original team as possible. This story temporarily adds Beast back into the mix alongside Cyclops and Jean Grey; the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga will bring Byrne even closer to his goal, with four of the five original X-Men featuring in that story.  

The X-Men learn via Magneto that the Magneto who fought them alongside Mesmero in issues #49-52 was a robot, something we (the readers) had known since issue #58. 

Magneto tries once again to encase Banshee in iron fibers, as in X-Men 104, but Banshee is "too old an' cagey a bird t'be caught the same way twice," and is prepared for the attack.


Similarly, Storm remembers not to use lightening against Magneto, assaulting him instead with a localized blizzard. She begins to worry about killing him, and recalling her vow to never take a life, hesitates for a moment, allowing Magneto the opportunity to strike back at her.


Unfortunately, both Colossus and Wolverine are equally inept against Magneto.


Magneto is ill-prepared for Phoenix's power (he too refers to her as Marvel Girl), and she has him on the ropes until she suddenly finds that her power has been exhausted, similar to how she was surprised by Warhawk in issue #110. 


It is established that the lava surrounding the base is being kept out by a "magnetic force bubble"; this will become important next issue...

That 70s Comic
Magneto's involvement in this story hinges on a rather massive coincidence, as he happens to come to the X-Mansion seeking his revenge after the X-Men have been captured by Mesmero, just as Beast arrives, investigating their absence, enabling him to tail Beast to the carnival. Had he arrived at the mansion an hour or two later, upcoming events could have turned out very differently.


That coincidence does allow for some hilarious flashback panels of Magneto, in full costume, trailing Beast through Mesmero's carnival.


Magneto is the epitome of the Silver Age villain in this one, not killing the X-Men outright (despite several opportunities), preferring instead humiliating revenge, placing them inside an elaborate, themed mechanism designed to torment them while still keeping them alive, gloating all the while. He even has a secret lair hidden inside a volcano.


Claremontisms
The first line of the issue is, "the gentleman's name is Magneto", which was the title of issue #104. 

Just as in Magneto's last appearance in X-Men, Claremont continues to expand Magneto's power in new and different ways. He zaps Beast with a "multi-kilovolt static charge", uses the extreme cold generated by Storm to become a living super conductor, and shapes "the magnetic forces of the Earth to create a 'bottle-effect' around Phoenix."


Granted, it's not a whole lot different from Magneto "magnetically" repelling ice, but it at least sounds more plausible, and that's really half the battle when it comes to this stuff. 

In one panel, Nightcrawler, waiting for an opening to attack Magneto, thinks to himself that Magneto is beating them again. It's a brief, relatively minor moment, but Jason Powell points out that it is indicative of Claremont's approach to X-Men as a whole (as is Storm and Banshee's similar recollections): each issue is another chapter in a larger narrative. Events that happened  in earlier stories will be recalled, referenced and contextualized not just by the readers but by the characters. It's been done before, but Claremont will take the approach to new heights (helped by the fact that he remains on the book for 15 years). While it's easy to take for granted nowadays, when lots of superhero comics are written this way (or noticeably NOT written that way), it is a relatively groundbreaking approach to writing comics for the time. 


Teebore's Take
This story, starting in earnest here and concluding next issue, marks the final appearance in X-Men of the Silver Age Magneto. When next he appears following this story, Claremont will begin the work of slowly adding depth to his character, over time re-fashioning Magneto into, if not an anti-hero, then at least a character with enough depth and dimension to blur black and white distinctions between good and evil.

Before that happens, however, Claremont and Byrne deliver a swan song for "classic" Magneto, and it's quite a song. This is arguably one of the great Magneto stories, and my personal favorite of the stories featuring Magneto as an out-and-out villain. The character may still be petty and one dimensional, but Claremont and Byrne manage to make him compelling, and more importantly, frightening, as he first taunts the X-Men then quickly takes the team apart. Cyclops makes it very clear from early on that the X-Men remain outmatched by Magneto, and the ensuing battle in which the X-Men take him on one-by-one (much to Cyclops' consternation) only to have Magneto methodically defeat each member of the team in turn is a great example of Claremont's ability to write really good superhero action (more on that next time). Even more impressively, Claremont and Byrne almost retroactively makes the previous appearances of Magneto in the book's original run more fearsome: so villainous is Magneto in this story that it is (pleasantly) difficult to go back and re-read, say, his posturing at the UN or his creation of the Savage Land Mutates and not have a bit of this Magneto's menace sub-consciously inform that Magneto.

As a true measure of Magneto's villainy in this issue, I remember while reading it as a kid being genuinely frightened by the reveal of Magneto's final revenge on the captured X-Men, and wondering in earnest for the first time how the hell the X-Men were going to get out of this one...

14 comments:

  1. Yay for Nanny and Yay for the trial of gambit.
    i have to say, this issue must be awesome because i was pretty capdtivated just reading your post about it

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  2. i do love me some trial of Gambit

    wait- are these chairs equipped as toilets? What's the plan there, Mags?

    question- can adamantium cut adamantium? Like- are wolverine's claws able to pierce his skull? (i mean- i suppose they could go through his eye sockets...)

    I always enjoyed the 'Science of the Xmen' book- it made everything seem more plausible :-)

    like sarah said- your description of this comic was great

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  3. "...featuring the "classic" lineup of Burner, Lifter, Peepers, Shocker and Slither."

    These exact characters, along with 80th tier mutant villain Mentallo (and maybe one or two others) later became The Resistants, a group of mutant rights freedom fighters opposing the Mutant Registration Act during Mark Gruenwald's long run on Captain America in around 1987 or so.

    This is totally off topic, but one thing I loved about Gruenwald's Cap was how he would frequently draw on the trappings of the larger Marvel Universe -- just off the top of my head, from the X-books: there were the Resistants as mentioned above; he had a one-issue tie-in with "Fall of the Mutants" where Cap fought a couple of Apocalypse's horsemen; he sent Cap to Madripoor in the early 90's; and he had replacement Cap John Walker train with Freedom Force (and I think Walker also once bumped into Blob and Pyro in a commissary at the Pentagon).

    But on to this issue. I think this may be a big reason why I don't like the later "reformed" Magneto -- he just makes such a great out-and-out villain here! I love how easily he dispatches the X-Men one by one, and as you point out, the "reduced to infancy" thing is a great Silver Age-y cliffhanger.

    If Magneto had arrived two hours after Beast, he probably would've found the postcard from Xavier and Lilandra and gone after them instead. Sadly, I doubt that's really prime material for an issue of What If... .

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  4. @Sarah: Yay for Nanny and Yay for the trial of gambit.

    Yeah, I figured you and Anne would appreciate that shout out.

    wait- are these chairs equipped as toilets? What's the plan there, Mags?

    While the story doesn't go into details, one could assume, if the plan is to humiliate the X-Men as much as possible by making them feel like infants, then presumably they're just shatting themselves, with Nanny on hand to clean them up afterwards. Or maybe Nanny equipped them with diapers.

    can adamantium cut adamantium? Like- are wolverine's claws able to pierce his skull? (i mean- i suppose they could go through his eye sockets...)

    I'm pretty sure it can't: Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike, for example, both have adamantium claws, and it isn't like their fights results in shards of claws laying around.

    But yeah, Magneto could have plucked Wolverine's eyes out with his claws.

    like sarah said- your description of this comic was great

    Thanks, both of you.

    @Matt: ...later became The Resistants, a group of mutant rights freedom fighters opposing the Mutant Registration Act

    And for whatever reason, Peepers, of all people, hung around on the fringes of the MU after that. I know he popped up in a Wolverine story in the late 90s, and was killed by Predator X post M-Day more recently.

    one thing I loved about Gruenwald's Cap was how he would frequently draw on the trappings of the larger Marvel Universe

    I love Gruenwald's Cap (large chunks of it, at least), and that's one of the reasons. The Marvel Universe of the 80s, especially, really felt like a shared universe, and I think Gruenwald (amongst other things), as a writer and editor, had a lot to do with that.

    I particularly liked his use of Freedom Force in the John Walker arc that you mentioned; it really helped sell the idea of Freedom Force as a government team, and not just a thorn in the X-Men's side.

    If Magneto had arrived two hours after Beast, he probably would've found the postcard from Xavier and Lilandra and gone after them instead.

    Ha! I hadn't thought of that. Professor X: done in by a postcard!

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  5. I can't say I'm impressed with this being the second straight issue where a villain simply wants to "humiliate" the X-Men.

    I can't remember, has it been established in the comic yet that Wolverine's claws are adamantium? Have they yet established that his entire skeleton is adamantium as well?

    Also, what's up with villains and volcanoes? Volcanoes must draw evil to them like Florida draws old people.

    Also, I wasn't sure how many volcanos are in Antartica, but there's actually quite a few, including Penguin Island....then I got sad thinking of all those penguins getting caught in a lava flow. Poor guys.

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  6. "But yeah, Magneto could have plucked Wolverine's eyes out with his claws."

    And in a modern day Marvel comic, this would be a minor hindrance to Wolverine, as his eyes would probably grow back five minutes later...

    Glad to hear you're a fan of Gruenwald's Captain America, Teebore -- I agree it has a few low points, but when it was good, it was really a lot of fun!

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  7. @Dr. Bitz: I can't say I'm impressed with this being the second straight issue where a villain simply wants to "humiliate" the X-Men.

    Yeah, but at least Magneto has good cause. With Mesmero, it's like, "what? They beat you once. Get in line."

    I can't remember, has it been established in the comic yet that Wolverine's claws are adamantium? Have they yet established that his entire skeleton is adamantium as well?

    Yes to the first question (that was established in his first appearance, IIRC), no to the second (as I recall). Within the next few issues we get a mention of his bones being unbreakable, but I don't think it's until issue #126 that it's explicitly stated they are adamantium (and some time later until it's made clear they are laced with adamantium).

    Also, what's up with villains and volcanoes? Volcanoes must draw evil to them like Florida draws old people.

    You know, I wonder at what point giving a villain a base inside a volcano went from just being something writers did, to it being something writers did because by then everyone associated volcanic bases with super-villains?

    Also, I wasn't sure how many volcanos are in Antartica, but there's actually quite a few, including Penguin Island....then I got sad thinking of all those penguins getting caught in a lava flow. Poor guys.

    Aw, that is sad. Poor guys have enough hardships as it is...

    @Matt: And in a modern day Marvel comic, this would be a minor hindrance to Wolverine, as his eyes would probably grow back five minutes later...

    Very true. That sound you hear is my eyes rolling because of how lame I think the modern take on Wolverine's healing factor is...

    Glad to hear you're a fan of Gruenwald's Captain America, Teebore -- I agree it has a few low points, but when it was good, it was really a lot of fun!

    Definitely. "Cap Wolf" isn't exactly a classic, and the stuff towards the end of his run gets sucked into the tropes of the 90s, but overall, I greatly enjoy it.

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  8. "...the stuff towards the end of his run gets sucked into the tropes of the 90s..."

    I assume you're talking about the "Fighting Chance" storyline, where Cap has to wear an EXTREME suit of super-armor to slow the degeneration of his Super Soldier Serum. I don't think I realized it at the time, but in more recent years, I've come to wonder if that wasn't Gruenwald's own commentary on the EXTREME-ness of the 90's and the Image generation. It just seems too over-the-top to be for real, given the generally more traditional approach he'd taken for the nine years previous!.

    "...I don't think it's until issue #126 that it's explicitly stated they are adamantium (and some time later until it's made clear they are laced with adamantium). "

    Another tidbit from John Byrne -- he claims Wolverine's bones were intended to just be adamantium, but Jim Shooter and/or Mark Gruenwald felt that wasn't "realistic" enough, so they demanded that the bones be laced with it instead and Claremont complied.

    The talk about what was and wasn't known about Wolverine around this time has me thinking... I've read and re-read this run on the X-Men many times over the years, and even before I first read it, I knew almost everything about the characters. It's fun (but not easy) to try to put yourself into the mindset of a reader in the 70's and "discover" all this new stuff as you go along. It's kind of weird, but I sort of envy the people who got to read all this stuff as it originally came out.

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  9. @Matt: I've come to wonder if that wasn't Gruenwald's own commentary on the EXTREME-ness of the 90's and the Image generation.

    You know, I could see that. It's been awhile since I read that stuff (and I was far too young/ignorant to catch it the first time around) but I could see Gruenwald slyly commenting on the excess of the 90s while seemingly contributing to it.

    Another tidbit from John Byrne -- he claims Wolverine's bones were intended to just be adamantium, but Jim Shooter and/or Mark Gruenwald felt that wasn't "realistic" enough, so they demanded that the bones be laced with it instead and Claremont complied.

    That I had not heard. Interesting. I could definitely see Gruenwald, the architect of the Handbook, playing the "realistic" card.

    It's kind of weird, but I sort of envy the people who got to read all this stuff as it originally came out.

    Definitely, me too. It must have been an exciting time to be reading.

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  10. It's kind of weird, but I sort of envy the people who got to read all this stuff as it originally came out.

    It WAS an exciting time to read comics. Comics were still 35 cents (affordable for a 15 year old with a paper route) and the Marvel Universe was a lot smaller back then.
    X-Men #113 was the first X-Men comic I ever bought (I was a Spider-Man guy) and I distinctly recall after reading the last page, that I had a FEVER for the next issue.
    Nowadays with 20+ mutant titles coming out every month (not to mention spidey titles, batman titles, etc.) it doesn't even compare to the impact individual comics had back in the day.

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  11. "Nowadays with 20+ mutant titles coming out every month ... it doesn't even compare to the impact individual comics had back in the day."

    That's a good point. I mentioned in one of the DC posts yesterday that the last time I truly enjoyed Marvel comics, line-wide, was when Bob Harras was the editor-in-chief. While I think this had a lot to do with Harras's back-to-basics approach (reverting many status quos to their more classic or better known versions, I mean), it's also due to the fact that Harras assumed the position shortly after (or possibly during) Marvel's bankruptcy period, when they scaled back a lot of their output. It was still more than in the 70's (and there were certainly a ton of mutant titles), but even so, you could pretty easily read all the main books without feeling like you were missing anything.

    Nowadays, as you note, there seem to be around 20 or more mutant or ancillary mutant titles alone (far more than when Harras, the king of the mutants, was running things), plus four Avengers books, Spider-Man twice a month (down from three times a month fairly recently), and dozens of one-shots and mini-series at any given time, especially when a new movie comes out.

    It's just way too much for anyone -- readers and editors alike -- to keep track of, and it's a big part of why my enjoyment of Marvel has waned within the past decade or so. They may not be moving as many units as they did in the early 90's, but they're putting out about as many titles, and it's just out of control.

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  12. @Anonymous: Nowadays with 20+ mutant titles coming out every month (not to mention spidey titles, batman titles, etc.) it doesn't even compare to the impact individual comics had back in the day.

    Yeah, I can imagine. Even when I first starting reading in the early 90s and there were a handful of X-titles, I felt that fevered urge to know what happened next in a way I just don't get nowadays (though it certainly helps that back then, I still labored under the delusion that everything which happened was part of someone's grand plan, before I'd pulled back the curtain on the Wizard, so to speak).

    @Matt: They may not be moving as many units as they did in the early 90's, but they're putting out about as many titles, and it's just out of control.

    Definitely. Now, despite having significantly more disposable income than I did as a kid, I'm far more selective about what I buy (I pretty much just ignore one shots and limited series, for examples).

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  13. @Matt:This is totally off topic, but one thing I loved about Gruenwald's Cap was how he would frequently draw on the trappings of the larger Marvel Universe

    There's an issue of Quasar (Gruenwald's Quasar was awesome, by the way), where Quasar gets trapped in the New Universe, and when he finds a way back, he rocks up in the Florida Everglades. I loved this little nod to the whole "it's the Nexus of Realities" thing, as 99% of writers wouldn't consider it, or just outright ignore it.

    It's fun (but not easy) to try to put yourself into the mindset of a reader in the 70's and "discover" all this new stuff as you go along.

    I completely agree. I remember the first time I was reading some of these issues, and I was like "wait, why doesn't Wolverine just heal from that?.... Oh! That hasn't been established yet!" Although I'm sure some modern readers would be put off by such things.

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  14. Poor Beast. He gets a very visually similar treatment against the Imperial guard on the Moon in 137. Poor furry bastard.

    "t'be". Heh heh.

    I have no particular use for Gambit, as he came on the scene right about when I was trading in comics for college. What is this trial you speak of?

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