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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

X-amining X-Men #116

"To Save the Savage Land"
December 1978

In a Nutshell
The X-Men fight Garokk

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

Plot
Ka-Zar leads the X-Men to a snowy peak overlooking the domed City of the Sun God, which is using all of the energy that usually keeps the Savage Land warm and verdant. As they plan their next move, the group is attacked by Garokk's Pterasaur riders who capture Cyclops, Colossus, Banshee and Ka-Zar. Wolverine, Nightcrawler and Storm head into the city after their teammates. Approaching the edge of the city, Wolverine slays a sentry. Making their way through the tunnels beneath the city and then up into the higher levels, they come across a vast arena, at the center of which are the captured X-Men, awaiting execution.


Nightcrawler teleports to Cyclops and uncovers his visor, allowing him to free Colossus and Banshee. Garokk, weakened after using his power to build the city, flees as the X-Men battle his guards. Cyclops breaks off and chases after Garokk, pursuing him to the top of the city's dome. As Garokk recharges himself via the energy coming from the geothermal heat sink over which the city is built, he and Cyclops lock eye blasts. As the energy from their battle shakes the city, the X-Men evacuate the inhabitants just as the city collapses and Cyclops and Garokk fall from the crumbling dome. Banshee swoops in and saves Cyclops, though Storm is struck by debris trying to save Garokk and is unable to stop the villain from falling down the deep thermal shaft. Two weeks later, with the Savage Land returned to normal and the water passage out thawed, the X-Men say goodbye to Karl Lykos and Ka-Zar, then depart on a small boat. Unfortunately, they emerge into one of the worst winter storms to ever hit Drake's Passage... 

Firsts and Other Notables
This is a big issue for Wolverine, as the first indication of his mutant healing ability is given (he tells Storm he "heals fast"), the first hint that his skeleton is laced with adamantium (he says "the beast ain't been born that can break my bones"), it's suggested that he has a greater-than-normal rapport with animals (he seems to communicate directly with Zabu, Ka-Zar's sabretooth tiger) and it's heavily implied that he kills one of Garokk's guards, making it clear for the first time that Wolverine is willing to kill an enemy under the right circumstances.


A Work in Progress
In Cyclops' absence, Wolverine takes charge, leading Storm and Nightcrawler into Garokk's fortress to rescue their teammates.

In a nice bit of characterization, when asked if he can teleport from his vantage point overlooking Garokk's dais to Cyclops' side, Nightcrawler worries to himself that he's never tried teleporting across that large a distance, and that the strain of doing so would likely leave him weak, before flippantly responding, "watch me".


Colossus, tied up over a magma pit, wonders, should he get hot enough, if he'll melt.


Following the defeat of Garokk, the X-Men spend an additional two weeks in the Savage Land, waiting for the passage out to thaw, meaning by the end of the issue, it's been over a month since their battle with Magneto.

Storm's strong belief in the sanctity of all life is affirmed again, as she's horrified by Wolverine's killing of a guard and ashamed that she couldn't save Garokk, despite the villain threatening the entire Savage Land.


That 70s Comic
Ka-Zar, being the badass jungle warrior that he is, continues to trudge through the snow wearing only boots and a loincloth (not that the X-Men's costumes likely provide much more in the ways of warmth in the midst of a blizzard).


The arena in which Garokk intends to sacrifice the captured X-Men and Ka-Zar is compared to the SuperDome.

It's made clear that vibranium bonds are being used to keep Colossus imprisoned, but it's not made clear how Cyclops and Banshee's powers are being held in check. You'd think their respective blindfolds/gags would pose little problem.


Storm is horrified by Wolverine's apparent killing of a guard, and later is wracked with shame over her inability to save Garokk, but no one seems too concerned when a red-hot, near-molten, super-strong Colossus starts decking Garokk's otherwise-ordinary soldiers.


Claremontisms
More examples of Claremont's ability to come up with new and clever uses of characters' powers are on display in this issue, such as Storm using headwinds to make things difficult for Garokk's "air force".


Claremont gives the X-Men another "unclean" win, as they defeat Garokk and save the Savage Land but the victory is sullied for Storm as she is unable to save Garokk. Though she only spends a page or so feeling ashamed of it in this issue, the Classic X-Men backup story further examines her shame over the failure.


Artistic Achievements
The opening splash page of the issue, in which the title of the story is integrated into the scene, is an intentional Will Eisner homage.


There's a neat depiction of Nightcrawler teleporting, in which his destination is drawn in the foreground of the panel while the puff of smoke and sound effect from his departure can be seen in the background.


Jason Powell suggests that, as much of the plot of this issue mimics X-Men 10, Byrne may be most responsible for it (as Claremont had yet to read those early Lee/Kirby issues).

The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
Humorously, Cyclops issues an order for the X-Men to watch the back of the person nearest them just moments before he's taken out from behind.


Cyclops is just about to start up some major angsting when Nightcrawler arrives in the nick of time.

 
For Sale
They're not wrong, but "soft, juicy chunks" wouldn't be my preferred ad copy...


"Hey kids! Check out the Fantastic Four cartoon that DOESN'T feature the coolest character of them all!"


Chris Claremont on Wolverine killing
"As originally constructed in the plot, it was specifically set up in such a way that it was a wartime situation. You have Storm, Wolverine and Nightcrawler on the ground. You had the guard. You had an airborne patrol of pterodactyl riders a hundred feet overhead. The slightest outcry would have brought them down and would have defeated the X-Men. The man had to be taken out swiftly, silently, and permanently. They could not afford to tie him ip. Maybe he could wake up and go "mmmm-mhmhhhmmm.:" The point was, Storm would have tried to do something. Storm would have tried to take him alive. Nightcrawler could not teleport to the attack because of the fact that teleporting involves sound, light and smell. They might have heard it, seen it, smelled it. It came down to Wolverine, and for Wolverine it's a killing situation. He has no qualms about it because he knows that the man would have no qualms about killing him if it came to that."

Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p99

Claremont on Byrne making Wolverine's actions implicit
"I'm talking about the original plot I put down on paper in which I said this is how the scene is structured. John [Byrne] chose not to do it that way. He did not establish the threat - the pterodactyl riders flying guard patrols, who would have been alerted by the man's outcries [Incidentally, added pages in the Classic X-Men reprint of this issue depict those riders as the X-Men approach the city's edge and the sentry - Teebore]. I saw the way John had done it, we had no time to change it...In many cases, when there were artistic conflicts between what I had wanted as the writer and the person who wrote the plot and what John had interpreted from that plot, the change would not, could not, have been done in the two panels that were allowed. It would involved a structural change, it would have affected the rest of the book. Or so it seemed to me. So, I would generally just not do it. In this case, I left out the "snikt". The inference was there; if you were a reader you could infer either Wolverine went up and killed the guy, or went up and just knocked him out real hard. Roger [Stern] and John talked about it and without consulting me, the sound effect was put in...Roger said as editor he overruled me, and I was furious, but there was nothing I could do about it. It was done." 

Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p99-100

Teebore's Take
As discussed in the comments to last week's post, I'm generally not a huge fan of Savage Land stories, so I'm not exactly sad to see this portion of the Thomas/Adams retrospective tour come to end. That said, Claremont and Byrne end this particular Savage Land story on a high note thanks once again to their ability to weave together dynamic actions sequences with strong characterization. This is the most action packed issue since #113, yet none of that action gets in the way of some significant character development.

Without a doubt, this is the most important issue to Wolverine' development thus far, an important step on the path towards the character's extreme popularity, as some of his most important traits are established for the first time. Additionally, both Storm and Cyclops get a moment in the spotlight, as Storm's valuing of life is highlighted while Cyclops pits his will against the power of the Savage Land. Toss in some neat moments for Nightcrawler and Colossus, and thankfully, this Savage Land story ends better than its meandering, exposition-filled middle chapter suggested it would.

20 comments:

Dr. Bitz said...

It's a good thing Garokk decided to have a nice public execution instead of just killing Cyclops, Colossus, Banshee and Ka-Zar outright.

Teebore said...

@Dr. Bitz: It's a good thing Garokk decided to have a nice public execution instead of just killing Cyclops, Colossus, Banshee and Ka-Zar outright.

Yeah, I probably should have made it more clear that Garokk intended to sacrifice them and some mumbo-jumbo like that, so there was at least a flimsy pretense for keeping them alive.

Still, things would have turned out a lot better for Garokk if he'd just given his pterodactyl air force orders to kill and not capture the X-Men. I guess that's what happens when you think you're a god.

Dr. Bitz said...

I didn't know Garokk could fly and shoot lightning out of his hands...

Teebore said...

That's what gods do, isn't it? ;)

Anonymous said...

The coolest character is in that ad. HERBIE is right there on the right. You've obviously never seen the FF issues where he is possessed by Dr. Sun.

Teebore said...

@Anonymous: The coolest character is in that ad. HERBIE is right there on the right. You've obviously never seen the FF issues where he is possessed by Dr. Sun.

Ha! You're right, I haven't read those FF issues (my reading of the FF between Lee/Kirby and Byrne's run is shoddy, at best).

All I know is that, as a kid, the replacement of Human Torch with HERBIE pissed me off to no end (though back then I bought into the old urban legend about it being because some stupid kid lit himself on fire emulating the Torch, instead of the actual, mundane reasoning of rights issues; I might have been more forgiving of ol' HERBIE if I had known he wasn't replacing Human Torch because of the actions of some dumbass kid).

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Ha!
I loved reading about this issue. It was full of Wolverine and
Nightcrawler wins for me.
Was there an episode on the classic cartoon where they superheated colossus and then dumped some liquid nitrogen on him, or what that in a comic? Or both?

Teebore said...

@Sarah: Was there an episode on the classic cartoon where they superheated colossus and then dumped some liquid nitrogen on him, or what that in a comic? Or both?

I don't recall an episode of the cartoon that did that (though it's possible there was one and I'm forgetting it, especially if it was a later episode, as I've seen those far less than the earlier episodes).

It definitely did happen in an issue of Uncanny X-Men though. Pyro superheated Colossus then Avalanche swept a tanker of liquid nitrogen onto him, essentially turning him into a statue. That was the end of issue #177, and then in #179 Kitty had to agree to honor her pledge to marry Caliban in order for the Morlock Healer to save Colossus.

Good times...

Matt said...

I was expecting an "Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops" for this issue, but I figured it would be about his faceoff with Garokk. That scene always kind of slips under the radar, because based on the pictures alone, it looks fairly standard, but as I recall, the narration really sells it as an epic battle.

I love all the Wolverine stuff in this issue, and I'm going to have disagree with Claremont on the adding of the "snikt" when Wolverine killes the sentry. I think the scene works much better with it there. Without it, as he says, you can infer what happens, but the added sound effect, combined with Storm's and Nightcrawler's reactions, really punctuates the moment.

Isn't Colossus wondering if he can melt mirrored in issue #150 when he walks underwater and wonders if he'll rust? You'd think Professor X's whole "training mutants to use their powers" thing would've included tests to figure that sort of thing out!

Regarding Ka-Zar and the x-Men wandering around through the blizzard with little to no protection -- maybe Storm was playing with the temperature in their immediate area...?

"...a red-hot, near-molten, super-strong Colossus starts decking Garokk's otherwise-ordinary soldiers."

I never noticed that before. That's really funny! More than any of the other X-Men, Colossus really left his mark on the Savage Land, what with impregnating the local girls, and most likely disfiguring these guys for life.

Joan Crawford said...

Ooh, I love being able to work the word verdant into a conversation! I am perplexed by the words they put emphasis on durign their conversations... like when Wolvie (hehehe) says "...I heal real fast, Sugartits." Why did he say it like that, is he being aggressive, sarcastic, annoyed? Shouldn't the emphasis be on the word "Sugartits"? I am not processing these people's emotions properly!
I am amazed at the weirdly thorough thoughts they have in the middle of Serious Action as well - that whole weird big cat comment from Floating Girl... you knew she had that one cooked up for awhile and was just waiting to... um, think it again.

Teebore said...

@Matt: That scene always kind of slips under the radar, because based on the pictures alone, it looks fairly standard, but as I recall, the narration really sells it as an epic battle.

I did have that slotted in to highlight, but passed it over in favor of the two more humorous moments.

The narration really does sell it, as the art is pretty basic, which is kinda surprising considering how big a Cyclops fan Byrne was; seems he would have taken any chance he could to spotlight him. He must have just been done in by the page count.

You'd think Professor X's whole "training mutants to use their powers" thing would've included tests to figure that sort of thing out!

Good point. Apparently testing their limits takes too much time away from learning how to punch bad guys better. :)

Regarding Ka-Zar and the x-Men wandering around through the blizzard with little to no protection -- maybe Storm was playing with the temperature in their immediate area...?

That sounds good enough to me for a No Prize!

Colossus really left his mark on the Savage Land, what with impregnating the local girls, and most likely disfiguring these guys for life.

Haha! He really did cut a swath through the place, didn't he?

@Joan: Ooh, I love being able to work the word verdant into a conversation!

Me too!

I am perplexed by the words they put emphasis on durign their conversations

You know, now that I think about it, I have no idea who it is that adds those to the dialogue. Presumably, it's the letterer, but I wonder if they add them at the direction of the writer, or the editor, or their own tastes? Some of them do turn out kinda goofy.

I am amazed at the weirdly thorough thoughts they have in the middle of Serious Action as well - that whole weird big cat comment from Floating Girl... you knew she had that one cooked up for awhile and was just waiting to... um, think it again.

Ha! Yeah, that's one of the nifty things about comics, the ability to depict thought and action occurring at different speeds. Though it can get pretty goofy sometimes, like when you have a character give an entire soliloquy while throwing a single punch.

Also, thanks to you, from now on I'm pretty sure I'm going to think of Storm as "Sugartits" just like I think of Cyclops as "Orbo". I love it!

Matt said...

The idea of this vintage Wolverine calling Storm "sugartits" seems completely appropriate to me. Also, it reminds me of yet another little anecdote from John Byrne: he says that once, while editing the X-Men, Roger Stern opined that when Wolverine constantly used the word "flamin'", that was probably Comics Code approved code to insinuate that he was more likely dropping F-bombs left and right. But, Stern said, when the Thing would say something like "blankity-blank" or "rassum frassum" on the page, he probably actually was using those exact words. I thought that was funny.

Regarding characters EMPHASIZING certain WORDS in their dialogue, I've seen a handful of scripts from various writers over the years, and it's usually the writer who adds that emphasis, either by capitalizing or underlining them. I agree that they sometimes seem to be emphasized incorrectly.

I also just minutes ago learned that writers usually placed word balloons in a story done "Marvel style" (plot then pencils then script), and the artist usually placed/places them for stories done full script. I had no idea! All my life, I just assumed the letterer placed the balloons!

By the way, I picked that little tidbit up from Jim Shooter's blog. If you haven't seen it yet, you should check it out. Lots of interesting stories about his time as Marvel's EiC, among other things.

Anne said...

Wolverine: badass
Nightcrawler: badass!

i had more to say but i was totally derailed by the awesomeness of sugartits!

Oh- spot on about the whole Herbie thing- you mean that WASN'T because some douchebag set himself on fire?!

i love the visual of Colossus melting guys faces as he punches them (which, like Sarah, totes reminded me of when he was turned to stone- i had TOTALLY forgotten about that...)

Teebore said...

@Matt: But, Stern said, when the Thing would say something like "blankity-blank" or "rassum frassum" on the page, he probably actually was using those exact words. I thought that was funny.

That is funny. And Stern is probably right; I can definitely see that.

I've seen a handful of scripts from various writers over the years, and it's usually the writer who adds that emphasis, either by capitalizing or underlining them.

Interesting. As random as they seem sometimes, that kinda surprises me. Or maybe I'm just naturally reading the dialogue differently than the writers intended.

I also just minutes ago learned that writers usually placed word balloons in a story done "Marvel style"

I too learned that recently via an X-Men podcast and was equally surprised. It just seems like the writer should be the last person to make those decisions, not the first.

I picked that little tidbit up from Jim Shooter's blog. If you haven't seen it yet, you should check it out.

I will check that out, thanks. I had the occasion to meet him once, when he attended my local con. He was terribly nice and fun to talk to.

@Anne: you mean that WASN'T because some douchebag set himself on fire?!

No, that's always been the assumed story, but it was actually because, when NBC wanted to make a new FF cartoon, Marvel had already licensed the rights to develop Human Torch for TV to Universal (as part of the same deal that gave us the Lou Ferringo Hulk TV show), so the cartoon couldn't use him and they came up with HERBIE instead.

You can read more about it here.

Matt said...

"I had the occasion to meet [Shooter] once, when he attended my local con. He was terribly nice and fun to talk to."

I had a similar experience with Bob Harras at the San Diego Comic-Con in 1999, which I think is part of the reason I cut him so much slack as an EiC. He was very gracious and let me -- at the time a nerdy 20-year old -- babble for a few minutes about how much I liked his lightsaber-toting version of the Black Knight, and his work on the Avengers in general.

He also contributed to what is probably my most prized piece of comic book memorabilia, so if you have a moment, I'll tell a little anecdote. This was during that brief period where Erik Larsen had returned to Marvel, and he was doing a signing in the Marvel booth. This was also before Comic-Con became totally un-navigable, and you could actually chat with the creators for a while.

So anyway, Larsen was signing, and I asked him for a quick head sketch of Doc Ock, because I've always loved the big double chin and bowl cut he gave the character. Larsen obliged, drawing it in pen on a backing board from one of the back issues I'd bought that day.

Kurt Busiek was also signing, and I asked him if he would give Ock some dialogue. He seemed to find this an unusual request, but he played along and wrote, "Curse you, Spider-Man! You've foiled my master plan!" He put the phrases in little word balloons, too, and signed below Larsen.

So I deciced to see how far I could take this. I walked across the Marvel booth to Tom Brevoort, who was hanging around, and asked him if he would edit Busiek's dialogue for me. He looked at it and said, "Hmm, 'curse' might be too strong for the Comics Code. Let's change it to 'blast'. And most villains don't use contractions, so we'll change 'you've' to 'you have'." He made the changes and signed below Larsen and Busiek, along with marking it "OK".

Then I went back to Bob Harras and asked if he would edit-in-chief the whole deal. He reviewed it, said that "foiled" is such a cliched word for a villain to use, and changed it to "ruined". Then he also "OK'd" and signed.

I've have that thing framed and and hanging on my wall ever since!

Oh, also, Busiek told me it was the first time he'd ever collaborated with Erik Larsen. When they relaunched Defenders together less than a year later, I decided to take full credit for starting their working relationship.

Joan Crawford said...

That is an awesome story, Matt. And now I will never use contractions again!

Teebore said...

@Matt: I've have that thing framed and and hanging on my wall ever since!

That is seriously awesome! And a genius idea. The closes thing I have to it is from when I went to WizardWorld for the first time (back when that was a bigger deal and they didn't a million and a half WizardWorld conventions...) and I had just about everybody I could sign the copy of Wizard that was published this month (which remains the only copy of that magazine I still have).

I also have an issue of Write Now! magazine that features cover stories by Dan Jurgens, Dwayne McDuffie and Gerry Conway, all of whom just happened to be attending the local con one year, so I had all three sign the magazine.

But your idea is brilliant. I just might have to try that sometime, if you don't mind.

how much I liked his lightsaber-toting version of the Black Knight, and his work on the Avengers in general

I'm glad he heard it from someone. I too am a big fan of Lightsaber Black Knight and Harras' Avengers in general, but lots of people like to rag on it.

Matt said...

"I just might have to try that sometime, if you don't mind."

Please do! Just be sure to tell me about it!

Joan, I think you'll find that you will be taken much more seriously as a villainess without those pesky contractions confusing people about your motives. Good luck.

branden said...

I never realized that wolverive's healing factor hadn't been a thing until this issue...what was it that made Wolverine a mutant then? His claws were originally part of his costume.

Teebore said...

@branden: what was it that made Wolverine a mutant then? His claws were originally part of his costume.

It was unclear for awhile, but I believe his mutant power, pre-healing factor, was just chalked up to his enhanced, animalistic senses. The healing factor was essentially an add-on to those.