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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

X-amining X-Men #115

"Visions of Death!"
November 1978

In a Nutshell
The new X-Men fight Sauron

Rabelaisian Raconteurs: Chris Claremont & John Byrne
Illuminatin' Inker: Terry Austin
Looney Letterer: Rick Parker
Crafty Colorist: Francoise Mouly
Edifyin' Editor: Roger Stern
Earnest Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter 

Plot
As Sauron gloats over the fallen Storm, Wolverine charges him and is quickly hypnotized. Seeing the X-Men as monsters, Wolverine turns on them, but is taken out by Cyclops. Working together, the X-Men weaken Sauron, forcing him to seek out more mutant energy. He finds Colossus and begins to absorb his energy when Cyclops tells Colossus to transform into his armored form. The sudden rush of energy is too much for Sauron, who breaks the connection and runs off, transforming back into Karl Lykos. Just as a recovered Wolverine is about to attack him, Ka-Zar arrives, telling the X-Men he and Lykos were seeking out the X-Men's help.


Back at the village of the Fall People, Lykos tells the X-Men of how he survived their last encounter and made his way to the Savage Land, where he found peace subsisting on the life energy of lower animals. One day he came across Zaladane, high priestess of the Sun People, leading an arcane ceremony in which a man named Kirk Marston was transformed into the reincarnation of Garokk, the sun-god. Ka-Zar then tells the X-Men of how Garokk has been spreading his power across the land, and asks the X-Men for help in defeating him. However, worried that Professor X may be in danger from Magneto, Cyclops refuses for the time being, insisting the X-Men must return home. Understanding, Ka-Zar leads the X-Men to a tunnel out of the Savage Land, but they find the tunnel to be snowed over. Ka-Zar says this must mean that Garokk has disrupted the ecological balance, which means the end of the Savage Land.

Firsts and Other Notables
Garokk and his high priestess Zaladane make their first appearances in X-Men. Both will continue to be minor Savage Land-based villains, popping up occasionally throughout Claremont's run (future stories will suggest that Zaladane may be Polaris' sister, but that relationship remains unconfirmed).


It's a Savage Land story, so Ka-Zar makes his obligatory appearance.

A Work in Progress
Sauron hypnotizes Wolverine into viewing the X-Men as monsters, just as he did Angel in issue #61, and the panels depicting Wolverine's view of the X-Men mimic the same panels from that issue.


It is revealed that Karl Lykos survived the apparent fall to his death in issue #61 by landing on a ledge a few feet from the top, out of sight from the X-Men. He journeyed from there down into the Savage Land, where he managed to keep himself alive by feeding on the energy of animals, and found peace believing that, with no mutants around, Sauron was safely locked away inside him. 

When Cyclops, worried that Magneto may have also survived the destruction of his base, refuses to help Ka-Zar against Garokk until they know Professor X is safe, Wolverine gets pissed off that the X-Men are once again "buggin' out".


Ka-Zar's telling of the X-Men about his last confrontation with Garokk, in which the sun-god casually wiped out a force of Sheenarians with which Ka-Zar was allied, wraps up a plot that was left dangling following the cancellation of Ka-Zar's book.

The Classic X-Men back-up story recounts Colossus' adventure with Nereel and two other Savage Land women, which was setup last issue. By the end of the story, it's made pretty clear (without outright saying so) that Colossus has a threesome and loses his virginity in the process. So, you know, good for you, Colossus.


That 70s Comic
When Garokk is reborn in the body of Kirk Marston, he ends up wearing Marston's jeans.


Artistic Achievements
Byrne draws a very modern "widescreen" two page splash on pages 2-3. Also, I'm fairly certain the image of Wolverine on page 2 was lifted for use in merchandising/licensing images.


Young Love
Nereel bids Colossus a fond farewell.


For Sale
Our first Lego ad, though I was never as much a fan of these "make real stuff" kits as I was the ones with spaceships, knights, pirates and junk.


Years before their crossover with the X-Men, Micronauts!


There's an awfully wordy ad for a Milk Duds contest. I don't want to take the time to read it NOW; I can only imagine how many kids in 1978 skipped right past it, giant Dr. Doom or not...


John Byrne on the Thomas/Adams homage
"At that point, Chris had only read the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams stuff. It was quite a while later that he sat down and read all the stuff that went before it. But, yeah, we both wanted to do the Roy and Neal stuff. I think that somebody pointed out that we did the Roy and Neal stuff in reverse order. We did the Savage Land and then Sauron and then Sentinels. Yeah, talk about influences."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p106

Teebore's Take
Claremont and Byrne continue their Savage Land story, and with the action once again limited to the opening pages of the issue (the fight with Sauron, which is spectacularly staged by Byrne), we settle in for another relatively quiet issue. However, whereas last issue's downtime was devoted to characterization, here the majority of the issue is handed over to exposition: first, we learn how Karl Lykos/Sauron came to be in the Savage Land, then we're introduced to the villain of this story in Garokk, and finally Garokk's threat is spelled out at the same time that a dangling plot from Ka-Zar's canceled comic book is wrapped up. As a result, this issue is almost drowning in exposition (only a third of which really matters much to the characters or the reader). As the second part of a three part story, it does its job in setting up the finale next issue, but after the initial confrontation with Sauron, it's a bit of a slog to get through, which is something of a rarity during the Claremont/Byrne run.

23 comments:

  1. If Lykos was seeking the X-Men's help...why'd he attacked them?

    Colossus's first time was in a threesome!? It's all downhill from there...

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  2. @Dr. Bitz: If Lykos was seeking the X-Men's help...why'd he attacked them?

    Eh, something about how he was overcome by the allure of their mutant energy and tried to feed on Storm just a little, just to get a taste of that sweet, sweet mutant energy, but then Sauron saw the opening and just drank it up, allowing him to manifest. At which point he was in control and to hell with what Lykos wanted.

    Colossus's first time was in a threesome!? It's all downhill from there...

    Indeed. Talk about climaxing early. High-oh!

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  3. As this is the only issue of X-Men by Claremont and Byrne lettered by Rick Parker, and the only issue where they have those whimsical, Stan Lee style credits, I've always wondered if Parker came up with them on his own, rather than Claremont. Also, the "THE UNCANNY" on the cover is in a different style, which I don't think we ever saw again.

    Interesting that Cyclops fears that since his group survived the volcano, Magneto could have also, but he's pretty firmly convinced that Beast and Phoenix must have died.

    I recall reading this issue for the first time and being totally puzzled by the references to Ka-Zar's comic, because they were drawn like flashbacks, but there was no footnote telling me where to find the story they were showing. Marvel editorial in the 70's rarely missed a chance to toss in a footnote, so that makes the lack of one here even more confusing!

    By the way, did Claremont and/or Byrne work on that cancelled Ka-Zar series, or were they just picking up on someone else's aborted plot threads? I've wondered that for years, but never had enough interest to actually try and find out.

    That image of Wolverine has definitely been used on a ton of merchandise. I know I've seen it on T-shirts, drinking glasses, and I think playing cards. The whole spread, including the dialogue, is one of my favorite images in any X-Men comic. And in the Classic X-Men reprint, didn't they change "HELL" to "HADES"? I know Marvel had kind of a ban on even mild cursing in the 80's, but for some reason I thought the use of "hell" as a place was acceptable.

    And good for Colossus, indeed. I guess I was old enough to catch the intention there even when I was 13, and at the time I thought it was one of the most awesome things I'd ever seen in a comic book.

    Looking back nowadays, I'm kind of surprised they got away with it in a mainstream comic from the 70's. I know the Classic X-Men story was from the 80's, but even in the original version -- though I think it was last issue -- there's that little exchange where Colossus says the girls are taking him to see their "special place" or something, and Wolverine says not to do anything he wouldn't do, etc., etc. It was spelled out fairly clearly even without the Classic story (except maybe for the part about it being his first time). On top of that, the topless women of the Fall People's tribe seemed pretty extreme for the 70's, too.

    Of course, later in this run we see Wolverine leafing through an issue of Hustler in the "Dark Phoenix Saga". I really have no idea how that made it past the Comics Code!

    (Not to get all "anti-modern comics", because I feel like I do that too much, but I just have to say that in a Marvel comic these days, the business with Colossus and his lady-friends would probably be spelled out much more clearly, and I almost feel like 13-year old me would have been less interested in it as a result. There was something about the titillation of implying the situation that really made it stand out and stick with me.)

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  4. Love the cover and love that 2 page spread. Also Bitz tole my joke about about colossus so there's that. Ummm, yeah.

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  5. @Matt: I've always wondered if Parker came up with them on his own, rather than Claremont.

    Me too. Lee, of course, used to do them, but I have no idea if by this time it was a writer thing or an editor thing.

    Also, the "THE UNCANNY" on the cover is in a different style, which I don't think we ever saw again.

    Huh. Good catch. I never even noticed that.

    Interesting that Cyclops fears that since his group survived the volcano, Magneto could have also, but he's pretty firmly convinced that Beast and Phoenix must have died.

    Something else I totally missed. Good point. I suppose we could argue that ties in with his lack of grief over Jean's death: maybe part of him *wants* her to be dead? Or, conversely, maybe it's grieving mechanism: he won't allow himself to hold on to the hope she might be alive, instead finding it easier to just accept that she's dead?

    Marvel editorial in the 70's rarely missed a chance to toss in a footnote, so that makes the lack of one here even more confusing!

    Yeah, I'm surprised they didn't footnote it. I'd have never know exactly to what it referred without my trusty Marvel Index!

    By the way, did Claremont and/or Byrne work on that cancelled Ka-Zar series, or were they just picking up on someone else's aborted plot threads?

    A quick check on the GCD tells me they did not (Doug Moench wrote the last few issues of Ka-Zar's book), so apparently SOME member of the creative team just happened to remember the dangling plot and said, "if we're gonna use Ka-Zar, we should probably wrap that story up first", which (here's my anti-modern comics diatribe) is the kind of thing that just seems unlikely to happen these days.

    And in the Classic X-Men reprint, didn't they change "HELL" to "HADES"?

    I had to check, but yeah, they did change it. Interesting that 70s Marvel was okay with it but 80s Marvel wasn't. Especially since, as you said, it's referring to the place.

    I was old enough to catch the intention there even when I was 13, and at the time I thought it was one of the most awesome things I'd ever seen in a comic book.

    I, on the other hand, totally missed it. I was a dumb kid when it came to that kind of stuff, I think...

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  6. @Matthew: This blog always take me back.

    Me too!

    @Sarah: Love the cover and love that 2 page spread.

    Yeah, that spread is something that's easy to take for granted these days, but it was pretty groundbreaking for the time. And it still holds up well today, which is impressive.

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  7. "Yeah, I'm surprised they didn't footnote it."

    Maybe because they'd be footnoting a cancelled book? They don't make money off of people buying back issues of a cancelled book. (Where as, if they buy back issues of a current series it might hook the reader.)

    Just a guess.

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  8. "Something else I totally missed. Good point."

    To be honest, I never thought about it either until you summed it up in your review. Seeing it presented that concisely triggered something in my brain.

    I agree that it could certainly tie into that subplot about Cyclops feeling no grief over Jean's death. It also just now occurred to me that it could simply be that he's already seen Magneto cheat death... what, two or three times at this point?

    "Maybe because they'd be footnoting a cancelled book?"

    Excellent point. I'm not sure how often Marvel footnoted issues of titles that were no longer being published, or if they did it at all in the 70's.

    I do know that there was at least one instance that I can think of, but I don't remember what comic it was in or what comic it was referencing (and therefore I have no idea what era it was from either)! I just know there's a footnote somewhere out there in Marveldom, which I've read many times, so it's likely in one of my favorite runs, which says something to the effect of: "*As seen in issue #__ of the late, lamented (series name)."

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  9. @Dr. Bitz: Maybe because they'd be footnoting a cancelled book? They don't make money off of people buying back issues of a cancelled book.


    Ah, that could be it. I'm fairly certain that, like Matt, I've seen footnotes to canceled books at one time or another, though I can't cite one off the top of my head (something to look for moving forward, I suppose).

    That said, it's entirely possible that Marvel changed their stance on it through the years, or even that different editors felt differently about it, so that, say, Roger Stern felt it was ridiculous to footnote a defunct title while Louise Simonson had no issues with it, or something like that.

    @Matt: It also just now occurred to me that it could simply be that he's already seen Magneto cheat death... what, two or three times at this point?

    Another good point. Magneto has, already, made a habit of cheating death whereas Jean has not.

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  10. Am I the only one who was always bored by Garokk,Zaladane, Sauron, and the Savage Land in general? I just never could interested in any of it, no matter how much I tried.

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  11. @Mr. Inman: Am I the only one who was always bored by Garokk,Zaladane, Sauron, and the Savage Land in general? I just never could interested in any of it, no matter how much I tried.

    Nah, I'm generally pretty bored by the Savage Land stuff, too (something I'll probably mention in next week's post), especially when it pertains to Garokk and Zaladane.

    Offhand, the only Savage Land stories I can think of that I enjoy on their own merits are the Magneto/Rogue one near the end of Claremont's run and maybe the Evolutionary War annual (#14?), but that's largely just because of the Art Adams art.

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  12. I should add that Byrne's art in this particular story really helps elevate the material, but in an issue like this, where half of it is exposition, even that isn't much of a saving grace.

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  13. Re: Offhand, the only Savage Land stories I can think of that I enjoy on their own merits are the Magneto/Rogue one near the end of Claremont's run and maybe the Evolutionary War annual (#14?), but that's largely just because of the Art Adams art.

    You know, that's funny, because that's really the only two times I found the Savage Land to be interesting as well. And yeah, I do like the John Byrne art.

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  14. @Teebore: "Another good point. Magneto has, already, made a habit of cheating death whereas Jean has not."

    Yeah...you know...except for that time she pilotted a shuttle unshieleded by solar radiation and crashes it into a tarmac. But I suppose anyone could survive that. ;)

    But on a larger note, what comic character hasn't cheated death? As we've discussed before, in modern comics I can't suspend my disbelief enough to believe anyone would mourn at a funeral. You know in whoever is dead will be back at some point.

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  15. "But on a larger note, what comic character hasn't cheated death?"

    True. At this point Cyclops had also seen Xavier "die" and return later on. Regarding Jean, though -- I could be mistaken, but I seem to recall that only she said she had died and come back. Wasn't there some business about Cyclops explicitly not believing her when she made that claim?

    But anyway, Magneto had escaped death consistently, where Jean had only done it once so far...

    As far as the Savage Land -- I think it's fine once in a while. I like it better when it's presented as a hidden jungle world, whose existence is known to only a handful of people, as opposed to being a place that the general public knows about. It loses a lot of its mystique when your typical Marvel U. citizen can watch a story about it on the evening news, but that status quo was established a long time ago, and never really went away.

    Marvel had a great chance to make the place a secret again when they "destroyed" it then brought it back in the 1988 annuals, but for whatever reason, they didn't go with what seemed to me like a really obviously good idea.

    The other thing I don't like is that whenever anyone goes there, they're obligated to meet Ka-Zar. It's a big place. He doesn't have to show up every time.

    I'm not much of a fan of Garokk, though I like Zaladane on her own. I liked Byrne's rendition of her, and I thought Jim Lee's redesign was pretty nice too. Didn't care for the stupid costume Marc Silverstri gave her, with a big "Z" on her torso.

    One of my favorite Savage Land stories was in the first four issues of Marvel Fanfare. It brought back the Mutates after a very long absence, and we even caught up with Karl Lykos's childhood flame, Tanya Anderssen.

    I love the "Marvel Team-Up" between Spider-Man and Angel, and I've always assumed, though it was never never made explicit (or really even implied), that Angel might have learned Spidey's secret identity. Given that his costume was torn to shreds before he reverted to human in that story, it's kind of impossible that Angel wouldn't figure out who he was, since he met Peter Parker earlier in the story.

    (Any plans to review those four comics when you get to that point, Teebore? They fit quite nicely in the early 150's.)

    And since I brought up the topic of Spider-Man in the Savage Land, I will also mention the story Roy Thomas wrote in the early 100's of Amazing -- it's a "King Kong" homage where Jonah Jameson, Peter, and for some reason Gwen Stacy go to the Savage Land to find a mythical monster and wind up fighting Kraven. It's drawn by Gil Kane and Gwen's running around in a bikini the whole time. I really don't think it's a very good story -- especially not for Spider-Man -- but I like it anyway.

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  16. @Matt: "Gwen's running around in a bikini the whole time. I really don't think it's a very good story -- especially not for Spider-Man -- but I like it anyway."

    I think I can put two and two together....

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  17. @Dr. Bitz: Yeah...you know...except for that time she pilotted a shuttle unshieleded by solar radiation and crashes it into a tarmac.

    Yeah, I think the idea there is supposed to be that *we* know she technically died as a result of that and came back, but I don't think any of the X-Men consider her to have died then. More that she just miraculously survived the whole thing.

    in modern comics I can't suspend my disbelief enough to believe anyone would mourn at a funeral.

    Yeah, it's definitely gotten to the point where you'd think superheroes would just approach the whole matter of death in an entirely different way than we do (there was actually a nifty story along those lines after Banshee died, when his daughter basically said "I'm not going to grieve; he'll be back. The X-Men always come back").

    @Matt: It loses a lot of its mystique when your typical Marvel U. citizen can watch a story about it on the evening news

    Agreed.

    The other thing I don't like is that whenever anyone goes there, they're obligated to meet Ka-Zar. It's a big place. He doesn't have to show up every time.

    Also agreed. It's like Ka-Zar has the superhuman ability to zero in on outsiders, no matter where is in the Savage Land.

    Didn't care for the stupid costume Marc Silverstri gave her, with a big "Z" on her torso.

    That story is probably my least favorite X-Men/Savage Land story, period. Zaladane's stupid costume is only part of the problem.

    Any plans to review those four comics when you get to that point

    I actually haven't read them before (so it might eventually make my list of "tolerable X-Men/Savage Land stories"), but yes, I'm planning to cover them when we get there. Most likely all four issues in one post, but they'll be reviewed.

    It's drawn by Gil Kane and Gwen's running around in a bikini the whole time. I really don't think it's a very good story -- especially not for Spider-Man -- but I like it anyway.

    I've read that story. You're right that it's not terribly good, but it is fun, in a "only in comics" kind of way, and I do enjoy it (Bikini Gwen definitely helps...).

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  18. "I actually haven't read them before..."

    Oh. Well, uh... forget that thing I said about Spider-Man "reverting to human". At least it's vague enough that you probably don't know what it means.

    They're a pretty fun four issues -- the first two are drawn by the great Michael Golden, then the fourth is randomly drawn by Dave Cockrum, which has always struck me odd since by most accounts he had enough trouble meeting a monthly schedule on Uncanny as it was, but he had time to illustrate a full-length, ad-free issue at the same time as his second run on that title. But regardless, I don't complain about a "bonus" X-Men story from Cockrum. Then the fourth issue is by Paul Smith.

    I look forward to seeing your thoughts on them, in what I figure should be about... somewhere between 26 and 30 weeks from now? I'm not sure where "official" continuity places them, but I find that they fit perfectly immediately after issue #150.

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  19. Byrne’s claim that Chris had only read the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams stuff at this stage can’t be entirely correct given his major opening arc where he used Eric the Red, Polaris and Mesmero hearkening back to Drake and Steranko’s arc.

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  20. "Byrne’s claim ... can’t be entirely correct given ... Eric the Red, Polaris and Mesmero.

    I tend to agree with this assessment, but just to play devil's advocate, it's possible that Eric the Red was suggested by Cockrum and/or editorial. Polaris was around in the Adams issues, so Claremont would've known her from there. And Byrne, a huge fan of the Silver Age X-Men, might have proposed the use of Mesmero.

    But again, I agree that Claremont had probably just read more Silver Age X-Men than Byrne thought. Maybe not the whole series, but at least some of it. In fact, given how groundbreaking the Steranko issues were, I'd be surprised if he hadn't read at least those.

    Also, I just remembered another place where that image of Wolverine from the 2-page spread is used -- it's the sole artwork on the title page of the Uncanny X-Men Omnibus!

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  21. @Matt: Oh. Well, uh... forget that thing I said about Spider-Man "reverting to human"

    No worries. I have a general idea of what happens, and I'll likely forgot anything specific by the time we get there.

    I'm not sure where "official" continuity places them, but I find that they fit perfectly immediately after issue #150.

    Actually, I looked ahead, and the Index places them right around then, too: they have annual #5 after issue #150, then the Marvel Fanfare issues after the annual and before #151-152.

    @Nathan Adler Byrne’s claim that Chris had only read the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams stuff at this stage can’t be entirely correct given his major opening arc

    Absolutely. It's pretty clear Claremont was at least familiar with Eric the Red and Polaris in a way that goes beyond an editor or someone telling him, "yeah, there was this guy called Erik the Red who looked like a red viking".

    If I had to guess, I'd think Claremont probably read back as far as the Steranko stuff, as Matt suggests. I know a lot of people sometimes (intentionally or not) lump that in with the Thomas/Adams run, due to their proximity to each other in terms of issue number and quality (I had totally forgotten that Thomas returned to the title a few issues before Adams joined up until re-reading those issues for the blog).

    So Claremont probably actually read at least the Steranko books as well as Thomas/Adams, and Byrne, in his way, never bothered to get that specific when referring to Claremont's prior experience with the book.

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  22. Oddly enough, over the weekend I finally got my hands on a copy of Peter Sanderson's X-Men Companion and during his interview for the book, Claremont specifically says that he had read the Steranko issues in addition to the Thomas/Adams run before coming on the book.

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