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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

X-amining X-Men #117

"Psi War!"
January 1979

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

Plot
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.

Artistic Achievements
Byrne depicts the real world aftermath of Xavier's astral defeat of Farouk in a neat three panel sequence.


Young Love
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.

Human/Mutant Relations
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.


For Sale
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 

Teebore's Take
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. 

15 comments:

Matt said...

In an unexpected twist, I really don't have much to say about this issue... I like it, but I also think it's the weakest of the Claremont/Byrne run because it contributes so little to the ongoing plot. It basically reads like a filler issue.

I will say that I love the full-page montage of Xavier's past. And I, too, would read a series or limited series about "Indiana" Xavier. It's kind of amazing to me that in all these years, something like that has never happened!

It would make a fun ongoing title, and in addition to covering new ground, it would be cool to weave in the stuff we already know, like Lucifer, Juggernaut, Magneto, Gabrielle Haller, and Moira. Y'know, it almost sounds like a premise for a weekly TV series.

Teebore said...

@Matt: I like it, but I also think it's the weakest of the Claremont/Byrne run because it contributes so little to the ongoing plot. It basically reads like a filler issue.

You're right, the Xavier flashback especially does read a bit like a fill-in. The stuff around it is a little more essential (moving Xavier off into space, getting Jean out of the mansion) but all of that could have been handled in interludes during other issues.

I'm pretty sure second issue of the Arcade story (with Colossus as the Proletariat) is the one I consider the weakest of the Claremont/Byrne run (and the Arcade story itself their weakest story), but I'll see if that's changed when I re-read it soon.

It would make a fun ongoing title, and in addition to covering new ground, it would be cool to weave in the stuff we already know, like Lucifer, Juggernaut, Magneto, Gabrielle Haller, and Moira.

Honestly, the more I think about it, the more fun I think it would be.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

are we talking about Xavier running around like Indy? Or are we talking about an Indy-esque character who is also telepathic? Because i'm waaaaay more interested in the latter than the former. Thre's totally a novel in there

Teebore said...

@Sarah: Because i'm waaaaay more interested in the latter than the former.

Well, I'm talking about Xavier running around like Indy, which I still think could be tons of fun.

It'd be young Xavier, so he'd be less powerful/seasoned and less moral, so there'd be lots of mindwiping and Xavier-is-a-jerk!-ness, and he'd be all bitter from the war and Moira dumping his ass, but still be a good guy deep down inside, traveling the world, bumping into mutants, slowly warming to the idea of his higher calling.

I'm going to stop now before this gets any more fan fiction-y than it already is...

(But I do like the idea of a novel about a telepathic Indiana Jones. Could I possibly do back to back NaNo books featuring a telepath?)

Anne said...

i think it's less about COULD you do back to back telepath NaNo books and now more about how you MUST do so.

I really liked the 3-panel where it shows Xavier defeat the Shadow King. well done

Also- anyone else think that Storm is a crap pickpocket if her mark noticed what she had done immediately?

Teebore said...

@Anne: I really liked the 3-panel where it shows Xavier defeat the Shadow King.

Me too. It's a nice, quiet little coda to the more bombastic battle they had on the astral plane. For all the sturm and drang of that battle, the physical aftermath is just Farouk falling over and Xavier getting up from his table.

anyone else think that Storm is a crap pickpocket if her mark noticed what she had done immediately

To be fair, her mark was a telepath. That probably made it easier for him to notice, what with the thought of "I'm gonna jack that creepy bald dudes wallet" drawing ever nearer.

Also, I'm pretty sure he doesn't get his wallet back in the end, which is kind of funny.

Dr. Bitz said...

"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."

Man...what a quitter! Isn't this the same guy who sent a team to a living island only to see them captured and then went out to form and a new team and sent that team to the living island?

And what about Jean? I thought he had super secret and very creepy love for her? And what about all the other mutants in the world struggling to fit in and needing a leader to show them the way lest they use their powers to vandalize mailboxes and cheat at board games?

Teebore said...

@Dr. Bitz: Man...what a quitter! Isn't this the same guy who sent a team to a living island only to see them captured and then went out to form and a new team and sent that team to the living island?

And, technically, after that team died, recruited another team and sent them to the living island, so yeah, calling it quits does seem kind of strange.

There's actually a specific line where Lilandra, after reminding Xavier that his X-Men are either grown and gone or dead, says that he can't start again. Which is funny, because, why not? And also, because the next time Xavier thinks the X-Men are dead, he does start again, with the New Mutants (though, to be fair, in that case, he's being influenced by an alien parasite who wants the New Mutants to serve as super-powered hosts for her eggs, but we'll get to that...).

And what about Jean? I thought he had super secret and very creepy love for her?

Shh...we don't talk about that...

Anonymous said...

The best part of that three panel scene? The burn mark on the back of Xavier's shirt. Amahl almost Farouked him up.

Xavier traveling the world like a psychic Indy is a great idea. Fighting the Shadow King, encountering Magneto and Gabrielle Haller and fighting neo-nazis, defending the earth from an alien invasion and being crippled by said alien. Good stuff. A shame they didn't use that in... I don't know... X-Men: First Class!

(grumble grumble grumble)

--mortsleam

Nathan Adler said...

Did anyone notice the insignia on the Shadow King's astral armour helmet in this issue when he is battling Xavier?

It's the shape of the phoenix on Jean's costume!

If it's not that clear to you in this issue it's much more so on the cover of Classic X-Men #23 by Art Adams reprinting this issue.

So what does it mean? It's a pretty significant clue to something.

Teebore said...

@Mortsleam: The burn mark on the back of Xavier's shirt. Amahl almost Farouked him up.

Heh. Nice. And I do like that little touch.

A shame they didn't use that in... I don't know... X-Men: First Class!

Honestly, James MacAvoy's Xavier really helped sell me on the idea of IndyXavier. I can see him really selling it.

@Nathan Adler: It's the shape of the phoenix on Jean's costume!

So what does it mean? It's a pretty significant clue to something.


Very curious. I hadn't noticed that before.

I've read in a few places (but never directly from Claremont himself) that he had intentions to connect Shadow King to the Dark Phoenix Saga (basically, Shadow King would have been compelling Mastermind to do everything that he did). Perhaps the Phoenix emblem on Shadow King's armor is an early precursor to that idea that never fully developed? Assuming that Byrne drew it at Claremont's direction, of course.

Nathan Adler said...

Yes it was intended that Mastermind was under Shadow King's influence, but why was Jason needing to seek membership if the Shadow King was already in control of the Club, as revealed by Magneto in UXM 275?

Teebore said...

@Nathan Adler: why was Jason needing to seek membership if the Shadow King was already in control of the Club, as revealed by Magneto in UXM 275

Hmm, why indeed? Does Magneto specify exactly when the Shadow King took control of the club? I seem to recall reading it as occurring fairly recently, relative to UXM 275, but its been awhile since I read it.

So maybe Jason was Shadow King's way in?

And if Jason was corrupting Jean on Shadow King's orders, why bother using him at all? I mean, Mastermind's power is pretty much just a limited, very specific form of telepathy (he even needed Emma's help to get the images into Jean's head). You'd think anything Mastermind can do, Shadow King could do better.

Nathan Adler said...

Wow, I didn't receive the update that you'd replied to my comment last year:(

Magneto didn’t exactly specify when the Shadow King took control of the Hellfire Club but I’ve always wondered if Selene’s introduction by Roehm was heralding his arrival given her likewise ancient-ness. Was the Club going to be taken over by ancient mutants?

I always suspected Jason Wyngarde was corrupting Jean under the influence of the Shadow King, and it was due to his requiring a human agent after the death of his previous physical host (and Mastermind was the perfect choice since he could create physical illusions).

Additional evidence might be the later scene from Uncanny X-Men 170 where Mystique is pursued by Mastermind in her dreams which Destiny is being blocked from reading, suggesting the Shadow King’s involvement given later revelations about his leading the pair to become terrorists and his drawing their attention away from Rogue to force her into leaving them for Xavier’s school).

Then there’s the whole Matrix/ Cavourite Crystal inadvertently freeing the Shadow King when it was initially stolen by Team America from A.I.M.s Black Mesa facility, yet when they handed it directly to Charles it likewise re-established his psionic link with the New Mutants?

With the Shadow King connection, it’s interesting that upon retrieving the Cavourite Crystal from the Super-Skrull in Marvel Team-Up 62, Ms. Marvel begins to feel “hungry” as a result of holding it in her hand.

The facets of the crystal further reveal to Carol a different aspect of her personality, kind of like what the Siege Perilous did for Dazzler in UXM 246. So was Claremont intending to suggest that after the death of his host body, Amahl Farouk, in UXM 117, the Shadow King’s essence was projected into a host in an alternate dimension (ala the Crusader X tale in Excalibur)?

It was also shown from the above Marvel Team-Up issue and Ms. Marvel 8 to be able to open up warp-space doorways, but to where was never revealed!?

Grotesk intended to use it to destroy the Earth while the Super Skrull claimed with it he could rule the stars. How and to what ends?

Was it perhaps part of the Madripoor Set?

How was it able to free the Shadow King from the astral plane to possess Karma, though?

Nathan Adler said...

The other interesting thing about the Phoenix link IIRC was the cover of this issue, and how the Shadow King's face had a very similar appearance to the effect of the Phoenix with the flames rising from his head and his whole face appearing to be on fire (even the colouring).

One wonders if he was a previous possessor of the power and became the Shadow King as a result of the Dark Phoenix - and does this suggest he is an ancestor of Jean’s?

I’ve personally thought Selene was a previous possessor and had become an energy-vampire as a result of its corruption.

Still, need an explanation for that insignia on his helmet (and don't even get me started on Byrne's depiction of the similarly insignia on Magneto's helmet)!