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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

X-amining X-Men #122

"Cry for the Children!"
June 1979

In a Nutshell
The X-Men pick up their lives back in New York.

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
Finally back at the mansion, Colossus trains in the Danger Room but is unable to stop a hydraulic press despite being nowhere near the limits of his strength. Wolverine disables the Danger Room controls and enters the room, placing himself between the presses. Chiding Colossus for letting his homesickness overwhelm him, Wolverine refuses to get to safety, forcing Colossus to overcome his worries in order to save Wolverine. Meanwhile, Cyclops leaves for town to get the phones turned back on, worried that Xavier and Lilandra may never return. In Shi'ar space, Professor X wonders how his relationship with Lilandra will change after she is crowned Empress. In Stornoway, Scotland, Jean bumps into a handsome man named Jason Wyngarde on her way to meet Moira, not knowing that Jason has plans for her involving the Hellfire Club.


Back in New York, Wolverine drops Storm off in Harlem, then spies Mariko outside the Japanese consulate; he is refused entry when he tries to see her. Storm returns to her family's old apartment to find a slum filled with heroin junkies. The junkies attack her, and though she easily fights them off, only the timely arrival of Luke Cage and Misty Knight prevent one from knifing her in the back. At the Salem Center train station, Cyclops and Colleen Wing say their goodbyes as Colleen boards a train into the city, though she gives Cyclops a key to her apartment. Meanwhile, over London, Juggernaut and Black Tom hire the assassin Arcade to kill the X-Men.  

Firsts and Other Notables
Though these days it's not such a strange occurrence (in X-Men or superhero comics in general), this is the first issue of X-Men to feature no fights with a super-villain. The closest we get to the mandated-by-the-times action scenes are Colossus in the Danger Room and Storm briefly using her powers against a group of knife-wielding drug addicts.

It is revealed that the nearest town to the X-Mansion is the (fictional) Salem Center. 

Arcade makes his debut in X-Men on the last page. A super-villain created by Claremont in the pages of Marvel Team-Up (in which he battled Spider-Man and Captain Britain), Arcade will go on to become a recurring (if somewhat one dimensional) villain for the X-Men and a mainstay of their rogue's gallery.


A Work in Progress
Cyclops references "that crazy fight with the Living Monolith", a reference to Power Man and Iron Fist #57, published the same month as this issue, which saw the title characters and the X-Men team-up against the Living Pharoah/Monolith, who no longer needs Havok's energy to transform into the Living Monolith, thus ending his abritary connection to the X-Men (the villain will not encounter the X-Men again until well after Claremont's departure). As Jason Powell points out, that issue of Power Man and Iron Fist also brings to an end Claremont and Byrne's extended riff on the Thomas/Adams run (the Living Pharoah being the villain of Adams' first issue) that compromised most of their "World Tour" arc of issues #111-121 (as well as Claremont's Sentinels story in issue #98-100). Having paid their respects to the past, from this point forward, Claremont and Byrne are breaking new ground.


The subtle subplot involving Colossus' relative ineffectiveness of late comes to the surface, as Wolverine gives him a bit of tough love and makes Colossus realize that, as the only X-Man with a family outside the time, its okay to feel homesick. This issue also marks the first time Colossus' full, non-Anglicized name is given: Piotr Nikolievitch Rasputin. It's also revealed that his power first manifested itself when he was thirteen.


Cyclops and Colleen visit the phone company to turn service to the mansion back on, explaining why the X-Men haven't yet contacted Muir Island, though Cyclops specifically says he intends to contact Moira regarding the execution of Professor X's estate, as he's currently running the mansion off his savings.


Banshee and Nightcrawler are working to get the X-Men's Blackbird jet running again.


Lilandra is crowned Empress of the Shi'ar as of this issue. 

In Scotland, Jean seemingly bumps into a handsome man named Jason Wyngarde randomly. Unknown to her, Jason has big plans for Jean and ties to the Hellfire Club. He also casts an interesting shadow.


Claremont pulls a Stan Lee and refers to Jean's telekinesis as telepathy. 


Also, we see a few people looking for Angus MacWhirter, who was attacked by Mutant X after breaking into Muir Island in issue #119.  


Black Tom and Juggernaut reappear after their defeat in issue #104 to hire Arcade to kill the X-Men for them. This doesn't sit right with Juggernaut, who believes he should be the one to kill the X-Men, but Tom points out that Juggernaut has faced the X-Men six times now and lost. I count five Juggernaut/X-Men encounters: his first appearance, issue #32, issue #46, Incredible Hulk #172 (part of the "Secret Empire" story during the Hiatus years), and his first encounter with the new X-Men. Anyone know what the sixth might be?). 


Luke Cage offers an interesting perspective on the role of the superhero in the society of the Marvel Universe which provides a handy in-universe explanation for why more superheroes don't target social ills as much as they do super-villains.


That 70s Comic
Storm returns to her early childhood home Harlem, and it's overrun by juvenile heroin addicts. It may come across as a bit dated and message-y today (especially when the blaxploitation-riffic Luke Cage and Misty Knight show up to give Ororo some lessons about life on the street) but the tone and depiction of drug use was surprisingly frank and realistic for the time.


Similarly, Luke Cage makes it clear he's frustrated by the system.


Young Love
Cyclops and Colleen go on a date, and when Colleen heads back into the city, she gives Cyclops a key to her apartment. Which means he's either told her he thinks Jean is dead and Colleen has failed to inform Misty of this, or Colleen has no problem moving in on another woman's guy.


Wolverine spies Mariko in New York, but is turned away.


The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
Wolverine gets a good jab in at the expense of Cyclops' angst.


Teebore's Take
After back-to-back-to-back-to-back action-heavy stories, the X-Men finally return home and settle in for that classic Claremontian staple: the "quiet" issue! Though Claremont and Byrne have tried this kind of thing before (notably in issues #109 and #114) this is the first true quiet issue, one devoted entirely to character moments and the setup or advancement of subplots. Nowadays, that sort of thing seems more than ordinary, but at the time, it was damn near revolutionary ("a superhero comic without a superpowered slugfest? Blasphemy!"). It's a technique other writers will pick up on, and as superhero comics move further and further away from the one-and-done, "quickie disposable entertainment for kids" mentality, it will become as much a part of the genre as the slugfests. Still, with his love for multiple simmering subplots and his view of the X-Men as characters first, superheroes second, nobody does "quiet" issue quite like Chris Claremont.

Next Issue
The X-Men must fight for their lives inside Arcade's Murderworld. 

9 comments:

  1. I forgot about Colleen giving Cyclops a key to her apartment. She certainly was forward!

    And yes, this is where things really start to fall apart re: the X-Men believing Jean and Beast dead and vice versa. I feel like it's beating a dead horse, but these are the coincidences and plot points that must be ignored to make it work:

    1. Professor X and Jean apparently never tried to sense the X-Men telepathically, (or were possibly blocked from doing so somehow).

    2. Jean and Misty saw each other in the flesh at the airport. Jean didn't mention she thought the X-Men were dead (which is fine), but Misty never mentioned the encounter to the X-Men while in Japan, or on the long flight home from Japan, or during their layover in Canada, or when she and Cage bumped into Storm here.

    3. As you note, Misty also apparently didn't tell Colleen that she had seen Jean, or Colleen comes off as kind of a tramp (although if she was trying to move in on Cyclops, I guess it makes sense she wouldn't mention Jean, so as to keep him from thinking about her).

    4. Banshee did not call the "love of his life", Moira MacTaggart, as soon as he got home (or as soon as the phones were turned back on at least). For that matter, Cyclops never called his brother, either... though it's kind of in his character not to, I suppose.

    5. The X-Men have somehow not seen a single newspaper article or TV report on the world-renowned Avengers (which would include the presumed-dead Beast) since returning to civilization.

    (By the way, I never thought about this before, but I wonder if Xavier notified Colossus's parents that their son was "dead"?)

    There are probably more, but those are the ones I could think of off the top of my head. And the unbelievability of all this is compounded by the fact that you get the impression the X-Men are back home for a while -- at least a few weeks -- before they are finally reunited with Beast and Jean.

    And as I've said before, in spite of all that, I love this storyline anyway. Somehow I can look the other way, because I like the issues of "downtime" adventures between the big world tour saga and the Proteus & Dark Phoenix stories, and because the payoff when Cyclops and Beast are reunited is so great.

    Anyway, moving past all that -- I've always really liked this issue (I feel like I'm saying that a lot lately, but it speaks to the quality of this run). The concept of a whole issue devoted to subplots is, as you note, something that was unheard of at the time, and something that Claremont would perfect over the years -- but I feel like the idea never really caught on with most other writers until some time later. I can't remember the first time I read a "non-fight" issue of a book unrelated to the mutant franchise.

    In fact, it's a style of comic book writing that, until this decade, I mainly associated with the X-Men family of titles. I know other titles did it from the 80's or so onwards, but Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza did it a lot during their tenure on the X-Men as well, to the point that I often felt like there were more soap opera issues than action issues for a lot of their run -- but I ate that stuff up at the time, so they must've been doing something right!

    I would agree that the Living Monolith story in Power Man & Iron Fist can be seen as part of the X-Men's recent Neal Adams homage, but I don't believe Claremont or Byrne had anything to do with it. Weren't they both gone from the title by that point?

    And lastly, I'm not a Juggernaut historian, but I do know that he had a brief encounter with the Beast during his solo period between the X-Men and Avengers, shortly after he went furry. Maybe that's what Black Tom is referencing?

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  2. I'm no Juggernaut historian either...but Wikipedia pretends to be! And unless the time Juggernaut got mystical powers and battled with Doctor Strange had X-Men in it, he must be referring to Juggernaut's battle with Beast in Amazing Adventures #16.

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  3. @Matt: 1. Professor X and Jean apparently never tried to sense the X-Men telepathically, (or were possibly blocked from doing so somehow).

    There are some added pages in the Classic X-Men reprint of issue #114 that show Phoenix trying to contact the X-Men telepathically, which reveals that Magneto screwed up the Earth's EM field to prevent long range telepathy. Which was apparently Claremont's retroactive workaround for that plot hole.

    2. ...Misty never mentioned the encounter to the X-Men while in Japan, or on the long flight home from Japan, or during their layover in Canada, or when she and Cage bumped into Storm here.

    Yeah, there's just a few too many opportunities there for it have come up.

    3. ...or Colleen comes off as kind of a tramp

    We do know she is rather forward. ;)

    4. Banshee did not call the "love of his life", Moira MacTaggart

    Yeah, it's Banshee never calling Moira that really skunks it. Not after they get home, not after his injury, not after they arrive in Japan...

    5. The X-Men have somehow not seen a single newspaper article or TV report on the world-renowned Avengers (which would include the presumed-dead Beast) since returning to civilization.

    And, vice-versa, Beast apparently never saw footage of or heard about the X-Men saving Japan from Moses Magnum.

    (By the way, I never thought about this before, but I wonder if Xavier notified Colossus's parents that their son was "dead"?)

    Huh. I never thought of that either. Xavier being Xavier, probably not.

    the unbelievability of all this is compounded by the fact that you get the impression the X-Men are back home for a while -- at least a few weeks --

    Yeah, I'm pretty sure next issue references "weeks" having past since the X-Men got home.

    Claremont has acknowledged that the whole "everyone thinks the X-men are dead" routine didn't work quite right (and of course, tries it again later) but Byrne apparently insists that anyone who points this stuff out is simply thinking about it too much.

    Which is definitely a crusty, curmudgeonly, Byrnean thing to say, but as you said, it's true that the various plot holes. large though they may be, don't detract too much from the enjoyment of these stories.

    I feel like the idea never really caught on with most other writers until some time later. I can't remember the first time I read a "non-fight" issue of a book unrelated to the mutant franchise.

    I'm pretty sure Harras had some during his Avengers run (or something pretty close to them) but there have to be some earlier, non-Claremont examples than that. I'll have to think about it.

    Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza did it a lot during their tenure on the X-Men as well, to the point that I often felt like there were more soap opera issues than action issues for a lot of their run -- but I ate that stuff up at the time, so they must've been doing something right!


    Ditto. And the Lobdell/Nicieza stuff was going on while I was really getting into the X-Men, so that coupled with reading the Claremont back issues left me feeling (to this day) like it wasn't the X-Men without some soap opera!

    I don't believe Claremont or Byrne had anything to do with it. Weren't they both gone from the title by that point?

    You are correct; that issue was written by Mary Jo Duffy (I don't even recall who did the art, that's how boring it was). But I think Duffy worked pretty closely with Claremont (what with Misty and Colleen moving between the two books) so I wouldn't be surprised if Claremont gave her the idea for using the Living Monolith and terminating his connection to the X-Men.

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  4. @Dr. Bitz: 'm no Juggernaut historian either...but Wikipedia pretends to be! And unless the time Juggernaut got mystical powers and battled with Doctor Strange had X-Men in it, he must be referring to Juggernaut's battle with Beast in Amazing Adventures #16.

    We all know Wikipedia is never wrong. I was thinking that battle with Beast was probably of what Claremont (via Black Tom) was thinking, but I'm tempted to call shenanigans on it: tangling with Beast solo is not the same as tangling with the entire X-Men.

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  5. "There are some added pages in the Classic X-Men reprint of issue #114..."

    I think I recall you mentioning this the last time I brought it up, but I forgot. So at least that one is explained. But honestly, it's the smallest of the holes. I would've been happier if they'd removed or replaced the airport scene for the reprint! That would've eliminated a much bigger issue.

    "Xavier being Xavier, probably not."

    I had the exact same thought!

    "Byrne apparently insists that anyone who points this stuff out is simply thinking about it too much."

    I've seen that attributed to Byrne. In fact, I feel like it was Jason Powell who said he asked about it on Byrne's forum, and got some snarky answer.

    I'm fully on board with not overthinking things in comics. Comics thrive on suspension of disbelief, and I have no problem with that; in fact I embrace it. But this isn't a case of overthinking something. It's a case of sloppy storytelling. That doesn't mean I don't like the story, though, as I said earlier -- but it also doesn't mean I'm somehow reading it wrong.

    I think you're right about some "quiet" stories from the pen of Bob Harras, which isn't surprising since he edited Claremont for a few years. I'm really stumped right now to think of any more, though obviously there must have been something.

    "...it wasn't the X-Men without some soap opera!"

    I agree, and since my earlier comment, I've been thinking about how many pure soap opera issues Lobdell and Nicieza must have written. Some might have had a small one- or two-page skirmish here and there, but for the most part, they reserved big fights for the yearly crossovers -- which I actually think was a good way to make them seem special.

    I really need to go back and re-read their stuff soon. I relived it through Not Blog X, and I've been meaning to get to it myself and see what I think after all these years, but it just hasn't happened yet.

    By the way, welcome back from your vacation!

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  6. man, i love reading all these comments. They're great and really add to the posts.
    OT - OMG! I COMPLETELY forgot about Arcade as a character. CRAZY!

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  7. Matt: I would've been happier if they'd removed or replaced the airport scene for the reprint! That would've eliminated a much bigger issue.

    Agreed!

    In fact, I feel like it was Jason Powell who said he asked about it on Byrne's forum, and got some snarky answer.

    Yeah, I think that's where I first read it.

    Comics thrive on suspension of disbelief, and I have no problem with that; in fact I embrace it. But this isn't a case of overthinking something. It's a case of sloppy storytelling.

    Agreed, again. There's definitely a difference between accepting that massive doses of radiation will give you awesome superpowers instead of painful cancer and accepting plot holes.

    By the way, welcome back from your vacation!

    Thanks! It's nice to be back (on the interwebs, at least).

    @Sarah: OT - OMG! I COMPLETELY forgot about Arcade as a character. CRAZY!

    Don't worry. From this point forward, he'll pop up enough that you won't forget about him again, whether you want to or not.

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  8. Colossus clearly needs to head home and check up on his sister. Then he can say her name in an annoying way (like he did in the original cartoon).

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  9. @Anne: Then he can say her name in an annoying way

    Times like this, I wish there was a font for "terrible Russian accent".

    And don't worry; Illyana will make her presence known soon enough.

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