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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

X-amining X-Men #114

"Desolation"
October 1978

In a Nutshell 
The return of Sauron and the Savage Land

Writer/Co-Plotter: Chris Claremont
Artist/Co-Plotter: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin Letterer:Jean Simek
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Roger Stern
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
Beast summons the strength to continue carrying Phoenix across Antarctica. Over the roar of the blizzard, he hears a helicopter approaching, and manages to awaken Phoenix, whose burst of power draws the attention of the copter, securing them rescue, but they leave with a heavy heart, believing the other X-Men dead. However, the X-Men have survived the destruction of Magneto's base, thanks to Storm cooling the lava flow as Cyclops and Banshee tunneled out the base, and emerged into the Savage Land. Stretching out and taking to the air, Banshee is attacked by a pterodactyl. After Wolverine fights it off, the X-Men head for a village Banshee spotted while being unknowingly followed by a shadowy figure. Meanwhile, Beast and Phoenix arrive in New York and inform Lilandra and Xavier that the X-Men are dead.


Back in the Savage Land, the X-Men rest and recuperate in the village of the Fall People, mourning the loss of Beast and Phoenix, whom they believe to have died in the destruction of Magneto's base. Cyclops realizes that his feelings for Jean may have changed, as he feels oddly numb about her death, while Storm and Wolverine are openly grieving. One afternoon, as Storm emerges from swimming in a lake, the shadowy figure, drawn to her power, attacks her. The other X-Men are alerted to the attack by a sudden bolt of lightening and discover that Storm's attacker was Karl Lykos, who drained some of her energy to once again transform into Sauron.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue marks the beginning of the first period of time in which the world at large believes the X-Men to be dead, a situation that will last for the next dozen or so issues. It also kicks off what is sometimes called "the world tour" portion of Claremont and Byrne's run, in which the X-Men slowly make their way back home following their battle with Magneto and travel to various places around the world in the process.

The X-Men also return to the Savage Land for the first time since issue #63, and the end of the issue sees the rebirth of Sauron, who was believed dead as of issue #61.


Though she goes unnamed here, later stories will reveal that one of the Savage Land natives Colossus befriends in this issue is Nereel, a minor character who will pop up occasionally when the X-Men journey to the Savage Land. As such, this issue is her first appearance. 

This is the first issue of the comic to be titled "The Uncanny X-Men" (dropping the "All New, All Different" appellation which previously appeared over "X-Men" on the cover), though the book's title won't officially change until issue #142.

A Work in Progress
It is established that Banshee has a hard time hearing while using his sonic scream, which makes sense, but it does make you wonder why the other X-Men don't wince in pain every time he uses it around them.


At one point Cyclops notices his reflection in a stream and sees a resemblance to Corsair, which makes him realize how odd it was that Corsair spoke with an Nebraskan accent using American slang and vaguely recall hearing Corsair calling him "Scott" while in the M'Kraan Crystal (in issue #108). This is the only furthering of the Corsair/Cyclops relationship/mystery we'll get for about forty issues, as John Byrne was apparently never a big fan of the idea.


Cyclop's musings regarding Corsair also trigger a repressed memory from his childhood, of falling out of a crashing plane with his brother, along with Corsair and his mother, (the details of this event will eventually be expanded on and come to encompass what is largely considered Cyclops' "origin").


After Wolverine rashly attacks the pterodactyl to save Banshee, he and Cyclops bicker over Wolverine's methods, which Banshee humorously undercuts.


The added pages in the Classic X-Men reprint show in more detail the X-Men's escape from Magneto's base and tie Scott's reaction to Jean's apparent death into the then-retconned Phoenix story. There's also a line from Phoenix that mentions Magneto having altered the Earth's magnetic field to prohibit long range telepathic contact, which retroactively smooths over some of the rough edges from the whole "how come two of the world's most powerful telepaths don't realize the X-Men are still alive?" question which hangs over the next several issues. 


That 70s Comic
Beast and Phoenix are rescued by one of those numerous US Navy helicopters that routinely patrol Antarctica. 

Lip service is paid to the X-Men sewing and repairing their costumes (damaged in the fight with Magneto and their subsequent escape) while recuperating in the Savage Land, and despite the fact they have no replacement fabric, everything looks good as new from this point forward.


Similarly, Wolverine's picture of Jean (from Iron Fist #15) apparently travels with Wolverine in his seemingly pocket-less costume AND survived the fight with Magneto.  

Storm's Savage Land attire makes for a little slice of cheesecake...


And she even strikes a blow for the environment, deriding the "progress" of Manhattan compared to the pristine wild of the Savage Land.


Claremontisms
Claremont will, in the future, return to the idea of the world believing the X-Men dead. though he himself admits he never quite gets it right. 

Artistic Achievements
Byrne draws his first fastball special and we get the cool effect of replacing Wolverine's legs with speed lines. 


For my money, nobody does stubble quite like Byrne and Austin (though Jim Lee, an avowed Byrne fan, will later come close).


Young Love
Cyclops is upset that he doesn't feel more grief over Jean's death.


Whereas Wolverine is clearly grieving, upset that for all he cared about Jean, he never even told her his real name.


Colossus goes off to an island with two scantily clad Savage Land natives, one of whom is Nereel. A later story will reveal that Colossus unknowingly fathered a son with her during this time in the Savage Land.


The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
We get some good old fashioned Scott Summers angst as Cyclops blames himself for the Beast and Jean's deaths.


For Sale
Kids! Become a locksmith!


A Daisy BB gun brought Johnny Unitas closer to his son...isn't that good enough for you?!?


John Byrne on his partnership with Claremont
"'A perfect creative team is seamless...and invisible. No part calls attention to itself at the expense of any other part. That was what I liked about Glynis and Tom: they did their jobs so well that they were practically invisible.' Asked what he felt "clicked" in his collaboration with Claremont, Byrne responded, 'almost nothing! That's kind of what made it work. I've always said we had kind of a 'Gilbert and Sullivan' relationship. We came at the whole storytelling problem from very different directions, and such sparks as there were came about largely from us banging into each other.'"

Lamken, Brian Saner. "The Phoenix Effect: 25 Years of the All New Uncanny X-Men." Comicology Fall 2000: 30-31. 

Teebore's Take
The Thomas/Adams homage tour continues, as Claremont and Byrne take us from Magneto to the Savage Land and Sauron (curiously enough, the exact opposite order used by Thomas and Adams). But after two high octane action issues, they kick off their Savage Land story with a Claremont/Byrne staple: the quiet "downtime" issue. Most of the action in this one centers around the early fight with a random dinosaur. The rest of the issue simply shows the X-Men in the Savage Land and Beast and Phoenix in New York dealing with the ramifications of their battle with Magneto and their belief that the other party is dead.

"The world believes the X-Men are dead" is a story idea with which Chris Claremont has an apparent fascination, as he returns to it again in the course of his run, never quite getting it to work. Here, the longer the world thinks the X-Men are dead, the more unbelievable the circumstances that allow that belief to perpetuate become, as we'll see. His other major attempt at it later in his run, during the X-Men's "Outback" years, never quite has the impact it should. But in the meantime, it's an interesting plot device that opens the door to some clever characterization, both from the X-Men in the Savage Land and from Phoenix and Professor X back in New York, and in that regard, the device is a great success.

10 comments:

  1. Funny that the X-Men were "All New" and "All Different" for 20 issues... which when you take the bi-monthly schedule into account (they didn't go monthly till just two issues ago, I believe), was three years! That's a long time to keep a "new" label on something...

    I've always really liked the cover to this issue -- and I love that silent panel of Xavier and Jean that you posted. It never ceases to amaze me what a master of body language John Byrne can be. And Claremont -- as wordy as he has a reputation for being -- knows when to shut up and let the art do the talking for him. I generally like Claremont's prose at this vintage, but in this case I feel like that picture gets the point across way better than anyone could've written it.

    I love the idea of the world thinking the X-Men are dead, so I'm generally willing to overlook the iconsistencies and coincidences that make it hard to swallow -- while they're on the road. In fact, I never even gave much thought to the question of Jean and Xavier not sensing the X-Men. I guess I assumed the Savage Land had something to do with it, and by the time they leave there, the telepaths have probably stopped trying to sense them.

    But after the group returns to Westchester and somehow manages never to phone Muir Island (really, Banshee?), or learn that Beast is still alive (after all, I'm fairly sure the Avengers must've made the evening news pretty much every night), that's where my willing suspension of disbelief reaches the breaking point. And yet I can even accept that imperfection because of how much I love the reunion scene between Cyclops and Beast. But that said, I do think the whole thing could've been done better if Claremont and Byrne put more thought into it.

    "...they kick off their Savage Land story with a Claremont/Byrne staple: the quiet "downtime" issue..."

    Since it wouldn't be a post from me without a "Byrnecdotes", I'll mention that this was apparently more Byrne than Claremont. I remember a while back where Byrne posted that Claremont always liked to insert these "quiet" issues to allow the audience to "catch their breath" following the big epic stories. Byrne, being very much of the "every issue is someone's first" school, thought this was a terrible idea because if the "quiet" issue happened to be the first one somebody read, they'd probably never read the comic again, being under the impression that it was "boring".

    On one hand, I see the point he's trying to make -- especially if your core target audience is young boys -- but on the other hand, I disagree. Maybe I'm mis-remembering, but I feel like there were a ton of "quiet" issues in the 90's X-Men comics, between both core titles, and I don't think that really ever affected their sales.

    Oh, lastly -- Cyclops should've kept that mustache for a while.

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  2. clearly wolverine keeps that picture of jean in Nature's Pocket...

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  3. "...I'll mention that this was apparently more Byrne than Claremont."

    This is probably obvious from the context of the rest of the paragraph, but that was supposed to read "more Claremont than Byrne."

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  4. Enjoying your X-Men posts. Followed you over here after reading Jason's posts over at Remarkable.

    I always loved the quiet issues. To me, they always added a sense of realism to the overall story arc because it would otherwise seem strange to go from one adventure to another without ever really seeing who the characters were as people.

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  5. @Matt: That's a long time to keep a "new" label on something...

    Ha! I hadn't thought of that before, but you're right, they were "All New" for an awfully long time...

    the telepaths have probably stopped trying to sense them.

    That was always my assumption, but I guess, maybe Xavier's telepathic rapport is supposed to be a constant, unconscious thing (which would be kinda creepy)?

    But after the group returns to Westchester and somehow manages never to phone Muir Island (really, Banshee?

    That's the one that always gets me, too. I'm not saying the X-Men need to call Muir Island to say, "hey, we're alive!" since the X-Men don't know people think they're dead, but I find it hard to believe after all that time away Banshee wouldn't have called Moira just to, you know, say "hi"(and some of the back and forth between Misty, Colleen, Jean and the X-Men eventually starts to stretch my ability to suspend my disbelief too).

    On one hand, I see the point he's trying to make -- especially if your core target audience is young boys -- but on the other hand, I disagree.

    I'm in the same boat: I see his point, but tend to disagree. Heck, one of the things that drew me in to the X-Men were the "quiet" issues, because it made the characters feel real: they weren't just action heroes, they were read like actual people. Sometimes they punched out bad guys, sometimes they just hung out and played baseball. Just because I happened to stumble upon an issue of the later instead of the former doesn't mean I'm never going to pick up an issue again (my very first issues of X-Men were, relatively speaking, "quiet" issues).

    It definitely seems like there's a running conflict, starting with Byrne's arrival, between what Claremont thought was best for the ongoing narrative of the X-Men (and what he wanted to write, of course) and what some of his collaborators thought was best for the comic as a comic.

    Byrne felt every comic needed a fight scene, because it might be someone's first and that's what they expect from a superhero comic, whereas Claremont was more concerned with his vision of X-Men as chapters in an ongoing narrative (which meant story beats between the fight scenes) than he was with X-Men as an ongoing collection of self-contined stories (we see this later in his run, when Lee and Harras want to bring the X-Men back to their super-heroic roots while Claremont feels like the characters have evolved beyond that).

    I really think that push and pull is what results in some of the best stories. One of the reasons the Claremont/Byrne run works so well is that, like any good partnership, it utilizes the best sensibilities of both partners. You've got Claremont trying to push the boundaries of the form while Byrne does his best to make sure the finished product is still recognizable as a superhero comic book, so that in the end, you get one of the best, most groundbreaking runs in superhero comics.

    Cyclops should've kept that mustache for a while.

    That 'stache was pretty rocking, but it would probably would have looked silly with the visor and skull cap.

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  6. @Sarah: clearly wolverine keeps that picture of jean in Nature's Pocket...

    Ewww...

    Also, heh!

    @Matt: This is probably obvious from the context of the rest of the paragraph, but that was supposed to read "more Claremont than Byrne."

    I figured as much, but rest assured, I had intended to give you some good-natured ribbing about it. :)

    @Mr. Inman: Enjoying your X-Men posts. Followed you over here after reading Jason's posts over at Remarkable.

    Thanks! And thanks for joining us.

    it would otherwise seem strange to go from one adventure to another without ever really seeing who the characters were as people.

    Definitely. And they help make the fight scenes more enjoyable too, because you feel like you know the characters, and there are stakes involved beyond "will they stop the nefarious scheme of Villain X?".

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  7. "...some of the back and forth between Misty, Colleen, Jean and the X-Men eventually starts to stretch my ability to suspend my disbelief too..."

    And the frustrating part is that it could've been entirely avoided by not having that tiny one-page scene where Jean bumps into Misty at the airport a few issues from now!

    "You've got Claremont trying to push the boundaries of the form while Byrne does his best to make sure the finished product is still recognizable as a superhero comic book, so that in the end, you get one of the best, most groundbreaking runs in superhero comics."

    I definitely agree -- the friction between the creators is what helped to make this the classic that it is today. The quote you posted from Byrne in this review pretty much says just that. I'll again make the comparison between Claremont & Byrne and Lee & Kirby -- both teams had, by most accounts, a lot of creative friction, and both resulted in some of the best comics ever made.

    Also, I think heck has frozen over, because just today I read a post on Byrne's board from a few days ago in which he gives Claremont some pretty glowing praise:

    "Shooter summed up Chris' strongest ability as a writer. He said Chris would always make you CARE about the smallest character in a story. No one ever died a cipher, for instance.

    Recall the first people killed by the demon in the N'Gari story. I just drew a young couple out looking for a Xmas tree. Chris made it their FIRST Xmas tree, as a couple! Brilliant.

    And, of course, I have often told the story of how Danny Rand walking thru his parents' old brownstone and "seeing" ghostly images of his childhood -- well, that brought a tear to my eye when I read the published book, even tho I'D DRAWN IT!!
    "

    Claremont has always had nice things to say about Byrne (at least publicly); it's nice to see Byrne finally returning the favor. Maybe he's mellowing in his old age... but probably not.

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  8. @Matt: Maybe he's mellowing in his old age... but probably not.

    Ha! No, probably not, but it is nice to see him positively acknowledging Claremont in SOME way.

    Love that quote about nobody dying a cipher, by the way. It's a great example of how Claremont's overall attention to significant details made the stories better.

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  9. Byrne draws his first fastball special and we get the cool effect of replacing Wolverine's legs with speed lines.

    Wolverine the Human Rocket!

    ...Come to think of it, that will probably become canon one day.

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  10. This was the first issue of X-Men that I ever read or purchased. (Yes, I was new to the X-Men just in time for the Dark Phoenix Saga.) It was nice revisiting the issue here. I plan to read all of your other X-Amining X-Men posts.

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