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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

X-amining X-Men #119

"'twas the Night Before Christmas..."
March 1979

In a Nutshell
The X-Men defeat Moses Magnum, but Banshee loses his powers in the process.

Author/Co-Plotter: Chris Claremont
Artist/Co-Plotter: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: Costanza
Colorist: G. Wein
Editor: R. Stern
Editor-in-Chief: J. Shooter

Plot
Near the Kuril Islands, Storm and Nightcrawler approach Moses Magnum's base inside a dead volcano, drawing near enough for Nightcrawler to teleport inside. With Storm and Banshee providing a distraction, Nightcrawler makes his way deeper into the base, thinking back on the X-Men's briefing from the Prime Minister's aid about Moses Magnum. Beneath the ocean floor, Cyclops, Sunfire, Wolverine and Colossus are tunneling towards Magnum's base, waiting for Nightcrawler to activate a beacon that will allow them to surface inside the base. They emerge to find Magnum waiting for them, and a battle erupts. Magnum easily defeats Wolverine and Colossus, but realizing the X-Men's assault means Japan will not capitulate to his demands, Magnum breaks off from the battle to activate his Magnum Force in order to destroy the country. With the rest of the X-Men occupied battling more Mandroids, Banshee intercepts Magnum's energy blast with a powerful sonic scream, modulating the frequency to match the Magnum Force. Banshee manages to reflect back the blast, destroying Magnum's base, and saving Japan, though the effort leaves his vocal chords severely injured.


Ten days later, Banshee returns to Sunfire's house from the hospital, having spent the last week and a half in a coma. He enters the darkened house wondering why none of his teammates met him at the hospital when the X-Men surprise him with a Christmas greeting. The X-Men celebrate Christmas together, though Wolverine leaves to find Mariko while Colossus misses his family. Meanwhile, Jean Grey arrives in Edinburgh, Scotland where she meets up with Moira MacTaggert, Jamie Madrox, Havok and Polaris; the group plans to spend the holidays together in the city before returning to Muir Island. Unbeknownst to them, at that moment on Muir Island, Angus MacWhirter has broken in, but is attacked by an unseen force.     

Firsts and Other Notables
His vocal chords damaged in the wake of his battle with Moses Magnum, Banshee loses his powers. Though he'll remain with the team for several more issues, he will be without his power for the next ten years of publication.
 
The letters page this issue announces that X-Men recently won two Eagle Awards (the British Comic Book Fan Awards): Favorite Comic Book (dramatic) and Favorite Team. Additionally, Terry Austin won the Favorite Inker award. The cover also features an emblem announcing the Eagle Award wins.


A Work in Progress
Nightcrawler knocks a guard unconscious, and notes that Wolverine would have handled it differently.


Colossus once again bemoans his recent ineffectiveness.


Just as with Cyclops and Garrok at the end of issue #116, this story ends with one X-Man pitting his power directly against the villain's. 

Storm realizes how close the X-Men have become, recognizing them as a family of sorts. She also calls Colossus "little brother" for the first time.


Colossus notes that he is the only member of the team with an actual family outside the X-Men, which is kinda sad when you think about it.


After leaving the hospital, Sean thinks about calling Moira, which begs the question of why he hasn't called her yet (perhaps after Cyclops was done trying the mansion last issue). Which further begs the question of why, when Cyclops failed to reach Xavier, he didn't try calling Moira to find out if she knew where Xavier was or why the mansion was shut down.

Jean arrives in Scotland following her vacation and meets up with Moira, Havok, Polaris and Multiple Man, and will stay with that group on Muir Island for several months.


Angus MacWhirter, last seen reluctantly renting the X-Men a hovercraft in issue #104, breaks in to Muir Island, determined to have his revenge for the destruction of the craft, but is attacked by an unseen assailant.


Extra pages in the Classic X-Men backup retcon Apocalypse into Moses Magnum's origin, establishing him as the source of Magnum's power.

That 70s Comic
Cyclops and Sunfire combine their powers to burrow under the ocean floor towards Magnum's island base, which makes less sense the more you think about it. 


Magnum boasts of his great power, yet despite having the X-Men on the ropes, he breaks off his attack to sink Japan, rather than finishing off the X-Men.

And, as was mentioned in the comments last week, the Prime Minister's aide specifically points out how susceptible Japan is to being killed by an earthquake, making Magnum's attempted feat somewhat less spectacular. And after threatening to earthquake Japan to death last issue, this issue we find out Magnum's base is inside a volcano, completing the super-villain cliche.


"Professor Xavier is a Jerk!" "The X-Men are Jerks!"
The X-Men leave Banshee to take a cab back to Sunfire's house following his release from the hospital, causing him to think they don't care about him, just to surprise him with a party when he arrives. Sure, the surprise was nice, but it was still kind of a dick move.


Claremontisms
This is one of the most Claremontian issues yet, with Colossus dropping a "by the White Wolf" oath and Nightcrawler lacing his English with random German words (here, it's "verruckt", or crazy).

Claremont also uses the phrase "moving with a speed that's belied by his massive armored form", to describe Colossus' movement, in a narrative caption for the first time; it will not be the last time we see some variation of that phrase used to describe the movement of a larger character.


The X-Men get another "unclean" win, as they defeat Magnum and save Japan, but at the cost of Banshee's power.

Finally, Claremont turns up the heat on a long simmering subplot, as Angus MacWhirterer walks past the breached Mutant X holding cell, last seen in issue #104. He doesn't turn the heat up too far, though; we won't return to that subplot until issue #125.

Young Love
During the Christmas celebration, Wolverine runs off to find Mariko, and Storm notes the uncharacteristic gentleness she sees in Wolverine as he does so.


It's in the Mail
Feedback regarding Cyclops' reaction to Jean's apparent death in issue #114.


Teebore's Take
Claremont and Byrne wrap up the Japan leg of the X-Men's world tour with an issue that is almost evenly divided between superhero action and character introspection. The former is fairly rote, and certainly not the best action we've seen so far in their run. It certainly doesn't help that Moses Magnum, with his generic power and unclear motivations, isn't exactly making anyone's "Best Villains" list. The later part of the issue is much better, as we see the X-Men celebrating Christmas together, and for the first time, are presented with the idea that the X-Men have become something more than teammates to one another. The idea of the superhero team as a family isn't new (heck, the Fantastic Four kicked off Marvel's Silver Age with that idea), but this is really the first time we see an otherwise unrelated group of teammates refer to themselves as a family. It's a strong idea, and combined with the sheer popularity of the Claremont/Byrne run, other creators will pick it up and run with it. To this day, the idea of the super-hero team as a family unit is such a staple of the genre it's hard to believe there was a time when the idea was new.

Next Issue
Things turn frosty as the X-Men arrive in Canada...

10 comments:

  1. I think it would be funny if Banshee finds out from Moira that Jean is alive but is unable to tell Cyclops because his vocal chords are damaged.

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  2. @Dr. Bitz: Hot damn, that would be hilarious. Frankly, now I feel like it was missed opportunity...

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  3. Poor Banshee! He's my second-favorite X-Men behind Cyclops, but this is the beginning of the end of him for a long, long time. He barely even registers as a supporting character once he leaves, even though Moira pops up constantly. Byrne recently mentioned on his forum that the plan was never to leave Banshee powerless for too long, but apparently after Byrne left, Claremont saw no urgent need to bring the character back. I've always liked him as sort of the "team elder" of the X-Men. This was before the almost comical number of revelations about Wolverine began to pile up, so it was Banshee, with his background in Interpol and as a criminal, who had the longest and, I would argue, most interesting past at this point.

    Also, seeing Claremont reference himself as "Author" in the credits reminds me of another thing Byrne has said -- he hated when Claremont (or any writer) gave himself that title, because he felt it really belittled the artist's contributions to the book. I kind of see his point -- "author" brings to mind the sole creator of a work, but the artist contributes a great deal to comic -- in some instances, artists may contribute more than the writer!

    Lastly, as much as I love Tom Orzechoswki, I really like John Costanza's work here. If Orz couldn't have been the "regular" letterer of Uncanny X-Men over the years, I think Costanza would've been the next best choice out of the letterers who worked on the book during this run. I just love how big and bold his words look.

    Regarding the story itself, yes -- this is a pretty pedestrian issue.

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  4. When did Banshee get his powers back ? During the non-team Jim Lee era ? In the lead-up to GenX ? My memory's hazy...

    Apocalypse ? Really ?

    The Japan mini-arc always reminds me that, however innovative Claremont's team dynamics were, we're still deep in Silver-Age, one-dimensional villainy. The utter blandness of Moses Magnum is just one of the worst examples of it. Fortunately, things will start improving, with Alpha Flight (among others) right around the corner...

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  5. why is it that Logan and Kurt are in uniform at the christmas party, but everyone else is in civilian clothes?
    I totally forgot that Banshee was sans power for such a long time. weird.
    Also- when throwing someone a suprise party (especially when he's leaving a hospital), it IS acceptible to have someone bring them to the party- so you all don't look like dbags. seriously- as soon as Banshee has the thought (even if it's proven wrong in the next 5 seconds) that the other's don't care about him, that thought can't be taken back- it's out in the universe FOREVER!

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  6. you know, this is really nerdy of me, but i actually agree with Matt regarding the Costanza lettering. It IS nicely bold an easy to read, something i really appreciate since i'm just reading the panels on your blog.

    Also...i'm having a hard time remembering if i KNEW Banshee lost his powers for a decade. I really can't figure out if that was a new fact for me or not...

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  7. "When did Banshee get his powers back ?"

    As I recall, his power was restored by the Morlock Healer, since the Morlocks happened to be living on Muir Island following the Mutant Massacre. It happened in "The Retribution Affair", a serial starring Cyclops in Marvel Comics Presents. Interestingly, the story was written by then X-Men editor Bob Harras.

    Knowing Harras's heavy editorial hand, I wonder if he did this himself and imposed it on Claremont, or if he did as a favor to set up Banshee's return for Claremont. Either way, it makes sense to finally fix him -- if you have a healer living like 50 feet away, why would you not have him fix you, just in case of emergency?

    Anyway, the next time we saw Banshee use his powers in the pages of Uncanny was (I think) issue #252.

    "why is it that Logan and Kurt are in uniform at the christmas party, but everyone else is in civilian clothes?

    Nightcrawler pretty much always wore his costume back then, for whatever reason. I'm not sure when anyone first drew him in civilian clothes without the use of his image inducer, but I feel like it was Paul Smith...? I could be forgetting something, though.

    Not sure about Wolverine, however. Although up to this point, he did wear the costume pretty routinely unless he was out in public. Recall issue #110, where he plays baseball in costume!

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  8. @Matt: Claremont saw no urgent need to bring the character back. I've always liked him as sort of the "team elder" of the X-Men.

    What's odd is that there is a quote from Claremont (which I'll feature at some point) where he basically says he wanted to use Banshee's depowerment to explore the idea of the retired hero, the one who's not on the front lines anymore (something he'll try to explore again, later, with Cyclops, before the whole Jean resurrection/X-Factor business scuttled it).

    Except that, after writing Banshee out of the book, he barely uses him (he pops up briefly during the Doom/Arcade arc, and then pretty much nothing until the 250s), so there's no actual exploration of that idea. Apparently, bigger and better things caught Claremont's attention.

    I've always been mildly annoyed when writers refer to themselves as "author", just because it always strikes me as something they do to puff themselves up, like just being a comics writer isn't good enough.

    @JD Apocalypse ? Really ?

    Yeah, it's as awkward as it sounds, and is largely ignored. But Apocalypse was new on the scene around the time of the reprint, and I think Claremont was trying to help Simonson work him into the greater X-mythology a bit.

    he Japan mini-arc always reminds me that, however innovative Claremont's team dynamics were, we're still deep in Silver-Age, one-dimensional villainy.

    Yeah, there's not a whole lot that differentiates Garokk from Moses Magnum from Arcade aside from their surface details, and even Magneto was still very much a character of the Silver Age in his last appearance.

    But Alpha Flight is indeed a little different, and soon there will be Proteus, and well, the rest. :)

    @Anne: that thought can't be taken back- it's out in the universe FOREVER!

    Agreed on all your points. They don't even send a car for Banshee; he has to take a taxi, despite not speaking Japanese (or much at all, at that time)!

    @Sarah: I really can't figure out if that was a new fact for me or not...

    Sorry, can't help you. ;)

    @Matt: the next time we saw Banshee use his powers in the pages of Uncanny was (I think) issue #252.

    It was indeed in that MCP story you mentioned (though I've never read it) that Banshee got his powers back, and my recollection of it gels pretty much with yours. I know for sure Banshee is back in action by #254 (the Reaver assault on Muir Island) but we probably see him using it briefly before then.

    Nightcrawler pretty much always wore his costume back then, for whatever reason.

    That's my recollection too. Once he chucked the image inducer, he pretty much just shows up in costume all the time. Paul Smith probably was the first artist to draw him in street clothes.

    What's funny about Wolverine is that not only is hi still in costume, but he's wearing it to go hit on Mariko.

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  9. Is it weird that I used to think that Storm kissing Nightcrawler was more than just as "You are part of our family?" I read my X-Men in Essentials*, and this was the final issue of the first volume, so I remember thinking "Oh boy, in the next volume, Storm and Nightcrawler will be in a relationship!" It wasn't until I bought the second volume that I realised that it wasn't what it seemed to be...

    That being said, I also thought that Storm and Colossus were in an unofficial relationship, based on a few early issues of the new X-Men team. In particular I'm thinking of the scene in GSXM #1 where Colossus and Storm are on Krakoa and Colossus is hitting on Storm.

    Although the idea of Storm and Nightcrawler in a relationship is an interesting one (to be explored in an alternate universe, naturally. Even if they somehow brought 616-Nightcrawler back, he and Storm have been friends for so long that it'd feel really weird). Get onto it, Greg Pak!

    On the Apocalypse/Moses retcon, I kinda like it. (It's much, much better than the explanation given in this issue for his new powers). Apocalypse is like Sinister in that he works as a nice way to give characters powers... although sometimes you do have to wonder why he chooses those exact individuals, seeing as how uninteresting they end up being.

    *I haven't bought one since I picked up the fourth volume about four or five years ago... I really should pick up the next few, shouldn't I?

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  10. @Harry: That being said, I also thought that Storm and Colossus were in an unofficial relationship, based on a few early issues of the new X-Men team.

    There's definitely some hints of that in Claremont's early issues. I think he may have been heading down that road before ultimately settling on the Big Sister/Little Brother dynamic.

    Apocalypse is like Sinister in that he works as a nice way to give characters powers

    Agreed.

    I haven't bought one since I picked up the fourth volume about four or five years ago... I really should pick up the next few, shouldn't I?

    Definitely! Gotta keep up with my posts! :)

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