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

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

X-amining X-Men #113

"Showdown!"
September 1978

In a Nutshell
The X-Men break free and defeat Magneto, but get caught in the destruction of Magneto's volcanic lair.

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: John Byrne
Plot: Claremont and Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: A. Kawecki
Colorist: G. Wein
Editor: Roger Stern
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter 

Plot
In the week since capturing the X-Men, Magneto has been carrying out a series of raids against research complexes in Australia and New Zealand, pilfering their technology. On the island of Kirinos, a vacationing Professor X worries about the X-Men as he's lost his telepathic rapport with them. Back at Magneto's Antarctic base, the X-Men are tended to by Nanny. After she leaves them for the morning, Storm, who has spent the last several days building her control and observing Nanny, manages to move her head enough to drop her headdress containing hidden lockpicks onto her lap. Though Magneto's chairs force the X-Men to function at the level of an infant, at six months Storm possessed the coordination of a young girl. Picking up a lockpick with her mouth, she attempts to pick the lock on her shackles, recalling her childhood training as thief in Cairo. Just as she's about to free herself, she loses control of the lockpick and Nanny returns, replacing a devastated Storm's headdress.


Later, Magneto is working aboard his rebuilt Asteroid M when he receives an alert of a malfunction at his Antarctic base. He returns to the base, confidant he can defeat the X-Men should they have escaped, to find the lights out and a damaged Nanny racing in circles. Just then, the X-Men attack, Storm having eventually succeeded in freeing herself and the others, hitting Magneto with a coordinated attack that gives him no respite. Ignoring Cyclops' orders, Colossus attacks Magneto directly, pummeling him with such force that bones break, giving Magneto no time to use his magnetic powers against him. However, the X-Men's attack is halted as lava begins to flow into the base, the battle having damaged the control console which kept the lava at bay. The distraction allows a heavily wounded Magneto to break free. Just as he departs, a massive eruption claims the base and, Magneto believes, the X-Men. Moments later, Phoenix emerges with Beast, and collapses from the strain. Beast attempts to carry her to safety, but they are stuck on foot in the Antarctic in the middle of a blizzard, and within minutes he too collapses. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Magneto's orbital base Asteroid M appears for the first time since issue #5, having been recently rebuilt by Magneto thanks to the increase of his power brought on by Erik the Red's restoration of his adulthood. 


Claremont and Byrne are credited as co-plotters for the first time, and they will continue to be credited as such for the duration of their run together, leading to some disputes down the road over who was responsible for coming up with what in certain stories. Byrne also pencils the cover for the first time since his run began.

Roger Stern (the writer of one of my favorite runs of Avengers) is credited as editor with Jim Shooter credited as Editor-in-Chief for the first time, Marvel having recently restructured its editorial offices so that a group of editors now oversee a handful of books apiece with the Editor-in-Chief overseeing them (and the overall quality and cohesiveness of the Marvel Universe), instead of the Editor-in-Chief being responsible for editing all of Marvel's books (as had been the practice since Stan's days).

Jim Shooter remains a controversial figure within the comic book industry. A forceful personality, he had strong beliefs about what made good comic books, and what made comic books sell, and wasn't afraid to use his position to put those beliefs into action, stepping on creators' toes along the way, sometimes forcing them to change things with which he disagreed (we'll eventually see one notable instance of this with X-Men). At the same time, under Shooter, deadlines were met, books shipped more or less on time, sales reached new highs and the sense of the Marvel Universe as a shared world, in which the events of one comic could be felt in another, was stronger than it had been since the days of Stan Lee, and possibly even stronger.   

A TV reporter references the disbandment of the Fantastic Four and the Champions, as well as the Avengers being under house arrest, referring to events in Fantastic Four #191, Peter Parker, Spectacular Spider-Man #17-18 and Avengers #181.... Though the FF will eventually get back together, the Champions will remain disbanded, their short-lived series having come to an end. The Avengers will have their security clearance and the privileges thereof restored, but in the meantime, they'll famously have to take a bus to face off against the reality-threatening villain Korvac.

A Work in Progress
Storm's background continues to expand, as we learn more details of her childhood as a thief on the streets of Cairo, expanding her skills as a lockpick (previously established in issue #103). We also learn that she keeps a set of lockpicks in her headdress, and that at six months old she had the coordination of a young girl, further suggesting that Storm may be extraordinary in some way beyond her mutant power.


That "bubble of magnetic force" mentioned as keeping the lava out of Magneto's base last issue "pops" as a result of the X-Men's battle with Magneto, leading to lava flooding the complex and facilitating Magneto's escape.

Added pages in the Classic X-Men reprint extend Magneto's Asteroid M interlude, adding references to Magneto's backstory that hadn't been around when the original issue was released. These pages are drawn by Kieron Dwyer, who is John Byrne's stepson.

The Classic X-Men backup, meanwhile, is a brilliant story which helps depict the transition of Magneto from Holocaust survivor (part of his more modern backstory) to the megalomaniac super-villain of issue #1, and features some elements that (intentionally or not) showed up in the portrayal of Magneto in the recent X-Men: First Class film.   

Claremontisms
Claremont once again skips past exposition in favor of dropping the reader right into the action; instead of showing us Storm trying a second time to free herself, then succeeding and freeing the other X-Men, then the X-Men formulating their plan for attacking Magneto, Claremont cuts from Storm's initial failure to Magneto arriving at the base and getting attacked and uses a Storm thought bubble to fill in the narrative gap.


Claremont also unveils one of his favorite narrative devices in this issue, what Jason Powell refers to as, "defeat snatched from the jaws of victory", as the X-Men are on the verge of defeating Magneto only to have that victory taken away from them at the last minute by circumstances outside of their control. It's a trick we'll see Claremont use again in the future. 


Artistic Achievements
When Magneto arrives back at his base and is first attacked by the X-Men, he is hit with four different energy blasts at once (from Cyclops, Banshee, Storm and Phoenix). Byrne draws the effect so that the four attacks form an "X" with Magneto at the center.


Young Love
Xavier is vacationing on the Greek island of Kirinos with Lilandra, a place he had previously gone in order to mend his broken heart following his break-up with Moira, which makes it an odd place to bring his current girlfriend...


While on Kirinos, Xavier and Lilandra are appropriately lovey-dovey.


For Sale
Huh. Apparently the Bad News Bears went to Japan...


It's in the Mail
A response to a letter regarding issue #109 states that according to Claremont, Xavier wiped his presence from the minds of everyone at Alpha base when he recruited Wolverine in Giant Size X-Men #1, making Wolverine's quitting and joining the X-Men look all the stranger to his former superiors, further explaining why they sent Weapon Alpha after him.

John Byrne on drawing covers
"Shooter didn't think I was good enough to do covers. Somehow, I was good enough to do the insides, but not the covers...the first cover that he let me do was the one where the X-Men are inside Magneto's volcanic lair and even then Marvel sent me a sketch to follow. Here's a little story...: Marvel had sent me a cover sketch for an issue of Marvel Two-in-One and I drew that exactly what was in the cover sketch. Shooter later decided that the cover sketch was really lame, and that I should have fixed it. He said, 'If we ever send you a lame cover sketch, you should fix it! Make it more dynamic! Make it this! Make it that!' So he got Walt Simonson to ink and re-draw my cover for Marvel Two-in-One. Then we cut to Marvel sending me a cover sketch for X-Men #113. The sketch has this giant volcano and these tiny little X-Men, and I said, this is no good, the X-Men are like ants on this cover! So I made them bigger and sent the cover in. Shooter looked over the cover and said, 'When we send you a cover sketch, you draw what we send you,' and made me re-draw the cover."

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

John Byrne on plotting the book with Claremont
"...We got to the point where we were doing what we would call 'phone plots'. I think this was while Roger Stern was editor. Chris and I would talk about the story and then he'd talk to Roger, and I'd talk to Roger, and then I'd draw whatever we'd worked out, and off it would go back to Chris to script."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p104

Teebore's Take
This issue is my go-to example of superhero team action done right. All too often, superhero teams attack their villains one by one (as the X-Men did last issue), showcasing each individual members' abilities and eventually wearing down their foe. Last issue, Claremont made a point, via Cyclops and Magneto, that those kind of tactics won't work against Magneto, and offers his alternative approach here (ably rendered by Byrne and Austin). For the first time, the X-Men truly work as a team against Magneto, combining one-on-one attacks with group attacks, each member contributing based on their skills. With Phoenix telepathically linking the team, the X-Men first hit Magneto with a combined assault to knock him off balance. Storm remains in the background, using her power to dehydrate Magneto as Banshee attacks to provide cover for Wolverine, who gets close enough to slash Magneto before giving way to a telekinetic assault by Phoenix. Nightcrawler and Beast work together to remove Magneto's helmet, leaving him open for the final blow just as base begins to fall apart. Though Magneto ultimately escapes, the battle itself remains a brilliant piece of superhero action. 

21 comments:

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

oh man, these issues are getting awesome! I'm actually excited to hear what happens next!

Teebore said...

@Sarah: I'm actually excited to hear what happens next!

Ha! Well, at least you only have to wait a week, not a month. :)

Dr. Bitz said...

I dunno...the whole "making the X-Men infants" thing still seems pretty lame to me.

Teebore said...

@Dr. Bitz: I dunno...the whole "making the X-Men infants" thing still seems pretty lame to me.

I never thought I'd say this, but maybe you're just not thinking enough like a super-villain.

Magneto was reduced to infancy; now he's taking his revenge for that by making the X-Men feel what he felt. It's poetic! Sure, he could just kill them, but where's the fun in that? ;)

Anne said...

That Shooter guy sounds lke a douche-canoe (in regards to the cover art). but i am intrigued to see the evidence of his 'interference' in an upcoming issue

i'm having troubles wrapping my head around a 6mo old being able to pick locks...

does Colussus get a stern talking to in regards to ignoring cyke and beating the absolute shit out of Mags?

Who were the Champions?

I second what Sarah said

Teebore said...

@Anne: That Shooter guy sounds lke a douche-canoe (in regards to the cover art). but i am intrigued to see the evidence of his 'interference' in an upcoming issue

It'll be a bit before that pops up, but its a biggie.

And bear in mind, that story about the cover art is coming from John Byrne, who can be a bit of a douche-canoe himself sometimes.

But I do think it's a pretty good illustration of one side of Shooter. He expected you to do things a certain way, except when he didn't.

i'm having troubles wrapping my head around a 6mo old being able to pick locks...

Yeah, it's a dicey plot point, at best. I don't think Claremont is trying to say that six-month-old Storm could pick locks, but that six-month-old storm possessed the coordination necessary to do so.

So combine that with adult Storm's lock picking skillz, and blammo! She can free the X-Men.

does Colussus get a stern talking to in regards to ignoring cyke and beating the absolute shit out of Mags?

Not really, but there is a "Colossus kinda sucks" subplot running through the next chunk of issues that is kinda awesome, and that's part of it.

Who were the Champions?

A short-lived super hero team (their book lasted about 17 issues) from the late 70s. They were based out of LA (which was something of a novelty for Marvel at the time) and were sometimes referred to as "the Champions of Los Angeles. The roster was fairly random and consisted of Black Widow, Hercules, Ghost Rider, Angel and Iceman.

It was a book that is very much of its time, but is an enjoyable enough read. The quirky lineup is actually a lot of fun. The end of the run even featured some nice John Byrne art, and if nothing else, I'm grateful to the series for giving us Swarm, the villain who is a Nazi with a body made up of killer bees; it just doesn't get much more awesome than that.

Matt said...

I agree with you on the superheroics of this issue. It's a great one -- I love the fight in the darkened base!

It amazes me that Magneto (presumably) created a magnetic bubble to hold back the lava then went about his everyday business while somehow keeping the bubble in existence even while raiding various facilities and sleeping and such.

"Roger Stern (the writer of one of my favorite runs of Avengers)..."

Have you read his Spider-Man? If you're any sort of a Spidey fan, it's must-read material. Second only to Uncanny X-Men #94-176 as one of my All-Time Favorite Comic Book Runs Ever. He did several issues of Peter Parker, which set up some of his subplots, but then he jumped over to Amazing and with John Romita Jr. on art, that's where all the really good stuff happened! He's said before that as his workload increased, he had a choice of staying with Spidey or staying with the Avengers, and he chose the Avengers. I will never stop wishing he'd chosen differently!

Also, just a few days ago on his site, Byrne mentioned a little anecdote about Stern's time editing the X-Men: one of his many Claremont-bashing followers lamented the excess of prose in a typical 80's Claremont comic, and Byrne replied that Claremont's verbosity really exploded after Stern left, because, in Stern's words, he "edited Chris's scripts by cutting out every fourth word!"

"...'defeat snatched from the jaws of victory'..."

Obviously Byrne was complicit in this here, but he has lamented many times that Claremont would never let the X-Men have a "clean win", even when he drew it otherwise. The notable example he frequently returns to is "Days of Future Past" (which to hear Byrne tell it, he plotted the bulk of), where he intended the X-Men to definitively win and erase the dark future from the timeline. But Claremont scripted the "only time will tell" ending, which apparently irked Byrne enough, but then he returned to that future for further stories, which really set Byrne off (not that it takes much to do so).

"I never thought I'd say this, but maybe you're just not thinking enough like a super-villain."

My mom gave me this book for Christmas several years ago. It may help: How to Be a Villain

Teebore said...

@Matt: It amazes me that Magneto (presumably) created a magnetic bubble to hold back the lava then went about his everyday business while somehow keeping the bubble in existence even while raiding various facilities and sleeping and such.

The narration is a little unclear on that; last issue, it seemed like Magneto was personally holding out the lava; this issue, he explicitly references a wrecked computer console as the cause of the influx of lava. I've always assumed it was some combination of both.

Have you read his Spider-Man?

Some of it (like the famous Juggernaut issues) but I haven't ever sat down and read through it all, which as a Spidey, Stern and JRjr fan I really should one of these days...

Byrne replied that Claremont's verbosity really exploded after Stern left, because, in Stern's words, he "edited Chris's scripts by cutting out every fourth word!"

Yeah, I've seen that anecdote (or some variation of it) in a few places before, and I have to believe it's hogwash, at least as explicitly stated. Even if Stern was editing Claremont's prose willy-nilly, he couldn't possibly just be cutting every fourth word, as that would easily result in some entirely nonsensical passages.

And the thing that cracks me up about a lot of the people that like to bash Claremont's purple prose is that they act like he was ignorant of writing it, as though every word he wrote wasn't intentional. Yeah, the man liked to cram as many words into a comic as possible, but he did it on purpose, not because he's some kind of sloppy, amateur-ish writer.

he has lamented many times that Claremont would never let the X-Men have a "clean win", even when he drew it otherwise. The notable example he frequently returns to is "Days of Future Past"

I've read that the whole "never have a clean win" thing really bugged Byrne, and that the end of "Days of Future Past" really set him off (and of course, with Byrne leaving, Claremont had little incentive NOT to change it to what he preferred).

It's one of those rare instances where I think I agree with Byrne; Days of Future Past is awesome, but every time Claremont went back to that well, we got diminishing returns (with the possible exception of Nimrod, who I kinda like). And it also gave us Rachel (and of course, Claremont returning to that story just made it easier for other, less-skilled writers, to go back there after Claremont left).

The "clean win" I think Byrne makes too big a deal out of. I mean, the X-Men have plenty of stories where they emerge victorious, even if that victory has some kind of lasting, possibly negative, effect on the characters. To me, that's not a "dirty win" but good writing; stories that have no effect on the characters are pretty pointless.

Matt said...

I'm back. I was just directed to part one of what's shaping up to be a very good article about/interview with Chris Claremont:

I even learned a couple of things I didn't know:

1. It was Len Wein, not Chris Claremont, who named Wolverine "Logan".

2. Claremont likes to casually swear a fair amount.

Also, he had this wonderful quote, which is a great encapsulation of one of my issues with current comics: "It may well be because I’m not a twenty year-old anymore, but I don’t see the fun as much anymore. It seems like nobody’s having fun in comics, other than perhaps Deadpool."

I have a very romanticized vision of what it must've been like to work at Marvel in the 70's, and this article really adds to it. I love the idea of Claremont, Lein Wein, Marv Wolfman, and Gerry Conway , four creators who I rarely associate with each other as a group, sharing office space in the Marvel Bullpen.

Matt said...

And naturally I forgot the link:

Chris Claremont on Evolving the X-Men, Part One

Is there any prize for most comments attached to a single post?

Matt said...

Now, since I've spent way too much time writing comments today instead of working, here are my very brief responses to your last post:

1. Read Stern's Spidey! You owe it to yourself. But I recommend starting with the Peter Parker issues, and then reading the Hobgoblin Lives! limited series to finish it off. It's hard to explain why I love that run so much. Mostly, it's just standard Spidey fare with a few standouts, but I really like Stern's writing style and his ability to juggle subplots, and he made good, frequent use of the supporting cast. And lastly, he really had a terrific handle on Peter Parker's character.

Oh, and also -- Hobgoblin! The Hobgoblin mystery is one instance where I don't have to try to imagine what it was like as it was coming out... I was there! Granted, I was only like 5 years old and I only had a handful of the issues, but even so, it really captured my imagination and Hobby is my favorite supervillain to this day.

2. I assume the thing about cutting out every fourth word is hyperbole. I figure Stern just did a lot of excising of words where it made sense. I do think Claremont got a little too purple later on, but at least it made sense, unlike some of his imitators. And if nothing else, reading a Claremont comic when he was at his densest really felt like you were getting your money's worth, time-wise.

3. And I agree with you about the "clean win" thing, and about leaving "Days of Future Past" alone. I like to report a lot of Byrne's anecodtes when they're relevant, whether I agree with them or not. A lot of the time I do find myself agreeing with his philosophies on "how comics should be", but his rigidity and inflexibility regarding that philosophy, not ot mention his general attitude and disdain for what seems like every other creators in the field really rub me the wrong way. And yet, somehow I can't not look at his site a few days out of every week...

Hmm, not so brief as I'd hoped...

Nathan Adler said...

It’s interesting how the team respond to Phoenix’s telepathic link more successfully during battle AFTER their recent Kabbalah gestalt in UXM 108, and therefore nice to see Claremont develop this theme further here.

Jeff said...

If it makes Byrne feel any better about the screwed up endings, he completely destroyed Claremont's plans for Madeline Pryor by helping to bring Jean Grey back.

Also, this issue is awesome. And I love the "world tour" story arc it sets up.

Teebore said...

@Matt: Claremont likes to casually swear a fair amount.

That's awesome.

And naturally I forgot the link

I was about to say something... :)

Is there any prize for most comments attached to a single post?

Ha, no, but we're getting close.

I really like Stern's writing style and his ability to juggle subplots, and he made good, frequent use of the supporting cast.

Good to hear. His subplot management was one of the things I loved about his Avengers run, and the key to any good Spidey run is the use of the supporting cast.

I do think Claremont got a little too purple later on, but at least it made sense, unlike some of his imitators.

Yeah, I honestly believe a lot of the flack Claremont gets online these days is a result of his imitators taking his style too far.

I like to report a lot of Byrne's anecodtes when they're relevant, whether I agree with them or not.

And I appreciate you mentioning them, so keep it up. Often times, I'll read them and think, "oh, yeah, I've heard that before" but I never think of it until after you've posted.

@Nathan Adler: It’s interesting how the team respond to Phoenix’s telepathic link more successfully during battle AFTER their recent Kabbalah gestalt in UXM 108, and therefore nice to see Claremont develop this theme further here.

Agreed. It's one of those neat little subplots that shows Claremont's knack for both character development and clever use of superpowers.

@Jeff: If it makes Byrne feel any better about the screwed up endings, he completely destroyed Claremont's plans for Madeline Pryor by helping to bring Jean Grey back.

Ha! Yeah, he really did kind of screw Claremont over on that one. I've never, ever heard it suggested, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if Byrne got involved with that story just to spite Claremont. ;)

Nathan Adler said...

Teebore: Byrne did the same to Claremont's great story from Uncanny X-Men #145-147, revealing the Dr. Doom there as a Doombot.

In his efforts to make the X-Men the Bronze Age Fantastic Four, I have a theory that Claremont planned a major story surrounding Galactus's origin which became moot due to Byrne's own origin story.

To be objective, though, Claremont was guilty of similar behaviour. Who, if anyone, was Fabian Cortez but a thinly veiled Fabian Nicieza. While this wasn't without good cause, due to Nicieza's direct involvement in the gutting of Claremont's Shadow King epic, I didn't see any Bob Harras analogues.

Matt said...

"In his efforts to make the X-Men the Bronze Age Fantastic Four, I have a theory that Claremont planned a major story surrounding Galactus's origin which became moot due to Byrne's own origin story.

Byrne does complain quite a bit about Claremont one-upping him by having Lilandra visit F.F. HQ in an issue of X-Men and chastise Mr. Fantastic for saving Galactus's life in a Byrne F.F. issue. Of course, Byrne later addressed that scene with his "Trial of Reed Richards" storyline, which contains the origin you mention.

Jim Shooter, another source to sometimes take with a grain of salt, has said in interviews that Byrne and Claremont were always trying to take pot shots at each other like that, but that Claremont comes off less petty about it because the X-editors handled Claremont better than the FF editors handled Byrne. I'd like to think that maybe Claremont was just more professional about it than Byrne, but according to Shooter (again -- grain of salt), they were both pretty bad.

Teebore said...

@Nathan Adler: While this wasn't without good cause, due to Nicieza's direct involvement in the gutting of Claremont's Shadow King epic, I didn't see any Bob Harras analogues.

I've always read it that way, too, but it is odd that he would go after Nicieza, such as he does, rather than Harras, when, by all accounts, Ncieza just stepped in to finish the story at editorial's request.

Maybe, after being handed the newly-launched adjective-less X-Men Claremont didn't want to burn any bridges that overtly? Or did he know he was already leaving when he came up with Fabian Cortez?

@Matt: Jim Shooter, another source to sometimes take with a grain of salt, has said in interviews that Byrne and Claremont were always trying to take pot shots at each other like that, but that Claremont comes off less petty about it because the X-editors handled Claremont better than the FF editors handled Byrne. I'd like to think that maybe Claremont was just more professional about it than Byrne, but according to Shooter (again -- grain of salt), they were both pretty bad.

That seems like what I've come to understand: that the pair never wasted an opportunity to swipe at the other and undercut stories, but for whatever reason (whether editorial, professionalism or personality), Claremont somehow seems to come off less petty than Byrne does.

Harry Sewalski said...

Man, I love that panel where they realise that the lava is about to start flooding the place, and Cyke is desperately trying to think of a plan. You can almost hear the cogs in his head turning as he goes through the different strategies he could try out. Magneto's taunting of him whilst doing so just adds to it brilliantly, and I love that they actually stop fighting him in that moment (and vice versa) to work out the lava problem.

Nathan Adler said...

Claremont reveals in X-Treme X-Men #4 that Irene Adler had owned a villa in Kirinos (which Rogue inherited after her death). Was the villa the one where Charles Xavier vacationed to after his breakup with Moira, with Lilandra in UXM #113, and Jean between #117 and arriving in Scotland in #119 and the New Mutants before getting shanghaied for the Asgardians Wars in New Mutants Special Edition #1?

Teebore said...

@Nathan: Was the villa the one where Charles Xavier vacationed to after his breakup with Moira, with Lilandra in UXM #113, and Jean between #117 and arriving in Scotland in #119 and the New Mutants before getting shanghaied for the Asgardians Wars in New Mutants Special Edition #1?

Knowing Clarmeont as we do, probably. :)

Though it would be interesting to go back and look at the visuals of those various locations, such as they are, to see if there's any accidental consistency/inconsistencies.

Nathan Adler said...

Well you're in a better position to perhaps do that so can you and then get back to me?