Wednesday, July 13, 2011
X-amining X-Men #117
In a Nutshell
Professor X recalls his first encounter with an evil mutant
Writer/Co-Plotter: Chris Claremont
Artist/Co-Plotter: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: Clem Robins
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Roger Stern
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
Caught in a massive storm in the Drake Passage, the X-Men are rescued by a passing Japanese boat. The crew welcomes them aboard, but due to the classified nature of the ship's mission, the X-Men are not allowed any outside communication until they reach Japan. Back in New York, Jean prepares to leave the mansion, telling Lilandra there are now too many painful memories in the place. Lilandra then turns her attention to Xavier, who spends his days lost in despair. He blames himself for the death of the X-Men, and his mind wanders back to the beginning of it all.
Xavier recalls being happily engaged to Moira, until he is drafted and she breaks off their relationship while he's off fighting. After the war, Xavier wandered the world, recovering from his broken heart and the mental rigors of combat, eventually arriving in Cairo, Egypt. There, a young Storm picked his pocket, and Xavier gave chase until blasted by psychic bolt from a nearby bar. Inside, he found Amahl Farouk, leader of Cairo's thieves' quarter and a powerful telepath. Recognizing the threat he posed, Xavier challenged Farouk to a duel on the psychic plane. Their astral forms battled, and though Farouk was more powerful, Xavier's perseverance and cunning defeated the villain. As a result of his encounter with the evil mutant, Xavier recognized that humans and mutants will need to work together to protect the world from all the people like Farouk out there. Back at the mansion, Lilandra breaks Xavier's reverie, and seeing his pain, invites him to live with her on her home world, as there's nothing left for him on Earth. Xavier accepts. Meanwhile, Jean is at the airport, leaving for a vacation when she bumps into Misty Knight, who is heading to Japan.
Firsts and Other Notables
Though he's referred to only as Amahl Farouk in this issue, this is the first appearance of the Shadow King, a fairly significant (if infrequently appearing) member of the X-Men's Rogues Gallery. He is credited as being the first evil mutant Professor X encountered, which I believe is still the case.
This issue is generally considered the closest thing to an out-and-out "origin" issue Professor X ever gets.
At the end of the issue, Professor X agrees to leave Earth and join Lilandra on her home world. This is the first of several occasion during his run in which Claremont will remove Xavier from the book or otherwise depower him for an extended period of time. In fact, he'll use this same device again later, as this marks the first of Xavier's two extended absences from the X-Men spent hanging out in space during Claremont's run.
A Work in Progress
Xavier's encounter with Farouk occurs after his time in the army (as detailed during Juggernaut's origin in issue #12) and before his encounter with the alien Lucifer (as seen in issue #20), which resulted in the loss of his legs.
Not only is Farouk the first evil mutant Xavier encounters, but also the first fellow telepath.
Jean Grey moves out the mansion, citing the abundance of memories there, and departs on a vacation. At the airport, she bumps into her old roommate Misty Knight, who is enroute to Japan. This encounter will later help strain the credibility of the whole "the X-Men think Phoenix is dead" plotline.
The Japanese boat which picks up the X-Men is on a secret mission, and the captain won't allow Cyclops to call the mansion, thus further extending Xavier and Jean's belief that the other X-Men are dead (and just as Professor X is leaving Earth, thinking there's nothing left for him! What terrible timing!).
It is established that the Shi'ar can eat Earth food, a nice little detail that explains how Lilandra is surviving her exile.
Xavier's time spent on the Greek Island of Kirinos nursing his broken heart as established in issue #112, is referenced in this issue's flashback.
In Cairo, a young Storm picks Xavier's pocket.
That 70s Comic
In issue #12, Professor X's military service is specifically said to have occurred during the Korean War. This is issue is more vague about it, never specifically identifying into which war he was drafted.
Byrne depicts the real world aftermath of Xavier's astral defeat of Farouk in a neat three panel sequence.
Xavier's post war wanderings, which lead him to Cairo and the encounter with Farouk, are motivated by his heartbreak over Moira breaking off their relationship.
Professor X cites his battle with Farouk as a motivating factor in the formation of his dream for peaceful co-existence between humans and mutants, as well creating the X-Men.
I'm pretty sure I need to read this...
Claremont on plotting with Byrne
"I would call him up with some ideas jotted down on a pad or I would say, 'Do you have any ideas?' and we would discuss it back and forth, and we would evolve a framework of things we wanted to do, things we wanted to see, character we wanted to use. From there I would write up a plot: a specific, incident-by-incident breakdown of what we wanted to do with the story. I would then call him back and say, 'OK, this is the plot I've worked out," and I'd go through it. If John had a question or a complaint or a comment, we'd discuss it, and I'd either incorporate it into the plot or not. So that by the time I actually gave the plot to Salicrup or Louise or Stern [the various editors during the Claremont/Byrne run], John and I would have agreed between ourselves on what we wanted to do, unless the editor had a change he or she made. After that, depending on how John felt as he pencilled the story he would rearrange or modify certain sequences to suit him in terms of storytelling."
Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion II. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p27
As I once mentioned before, Professor X has always been something of a problematic character for X-Men writers (or, at least, his sheer power is). As a result, writers are forced to come up with various scenarios to explain why Professor X doesn't just solve all the X-Men's problems telepathically. Stan Lee (who was never overly concerned with such things) had Xavier fake a power less as a graduation test and later leave the team on a personal mission to take down Lucifer, while Roy Thomas killed Professor X off before bringing him back just before the book went on hiatus. Here, Claremont offers his first solution to the "Professor X Problem" by sending the character off into space for a time.
But before doing so, Claremont gives us, if not the definitive origin of Xavier, another tale of his pre-X-Men years that also introduces a significant new villain (even if the significance is ultimately more thematic than anything else). Xavier's first encounter with the Shadow King doesn't have quite the resonance with his present day grief as the story suggests, but the story is fun nonetheless. Byrne gives Cairo a suitably exotic feel, and Claremont casts Xavier here as something of a telepathic Indiana Jones - which is a series I would totally read.