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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

X-amining X-Men #128

"The Action of the TIGER!
December 1979

In a Nutshell
The X-Men defeat Proteus 

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
Proteus turns his power on the city of Edinburgh, warping reality to attack its denizens and reveling in his power. The X-Men do their best to protect the city's residents until Proteus turns his attention to Moira, transforming her into different hideous forms. Cyclops devises a plan designed to exploit Proteus chief weaknesses, his need for host bodies, and metal, and the X-Men attack. Proteus quickly traps Storm in crystallized amber, and when Wolverine stops to free her, moves in for the kill. But Banshee shoots the villain, forcing him back. Proteus responds by burying Banshee beneath the ground. Cyclops blasts an opening to Banshee and Nightcrawler teleports him out, the strain knocking both of them out of the fight. However, Cyclops first objective has been met, as Proteus has fled the city.


On the outskirts of the city, Proteus heads for nearby Castle Rock when Phoenix intercepts him, attacking with a ferocious psychic assault that knocks Proteus low until he strikes back, making Phoenix feel as though she's been dead and buried for a year. An enraged Wolverine leaps out, gutting Proteus and managing to separate Moira from her son. Just then Cyclops and Havok blast Proteus simultaneously, further degrading his host body until he manages to escape. Now little more than a walking corpse, Proteus grabs Moira and heads to the top of Castle Rock as Colossus climbs after them, taunting her with the thought that her son will soon destroy humanity. Just then an unarmored Colossus tosses Proteus against a wall, his body decaying into powder on impact. Faced with Proteus' true energy form, Colossus stands fast as Proteus taunts him with memories of his brother before moving in to possess him. As he does so, Colossus transforms and plunges his metal fists into Proteus, causing a tremendous feedback of energy that scatters Proteus' being to the four corners of the Earth. Phoenix telekinetically carries the X-Men up to the castle where they find Colossus consoling a heartbroken Moira. As Banshee and Moira embrace, the weary X-Men savor their hard fought victory.

Firsts and Other Notables
Proteus is killed this issue, the first villain to be directly killed by the team, and remarkably enough (given both the genre and the title) he is one of the few villains to stay more or less dead since this issue, (an attempt to reconstitute his energy is made by A.I.M in an early 90s annual, and a briefly-resurrected Proteus is the villain, alongside Gary Mitchell, in the strangely in continuity X-Men/Star Trek crossover).


Implied in issue #97, here's its outright stated that Cyclops and Havok are more or less immune to each others power.


A Work in Progress
In a moment that manages both to be sweet and pretty goofy at the same time, Storm is reluctant to harm a swarm of bees created by Proteus, sweeping them aside with a strong wind and then lowering the temperature to force the bees into hibernation (incidentally, this is also when I first learned that bees don't like the cold). 


We learn Proteus's cell on Muir Island was composed of "vanadium steel" and an "esoteric energy" field.


The only time we ever see Proteus' original (abeit decaying) body:


Wolverine continues to be shaken by Proteus, getting scared at the mere thought of being subjected to his reality altering power again.


Cyclops notes that Proteus views everyone else the way people view cows. 

This is another strong showcase of Cyclops' leadership abilities, as he puts together and helps execute a successful plan to defeat Proteus based on the villain's two weaknesses. First, to drive the villain out of the city, then to separate him from Moira, all the while forcing Proteus to burn through his host body so Colossus can dispatch him when he's bodiless and most vulnerable.

Phoenix acts as a "telepathic switchboard", connecting everyone's minds together so Cyclops can detail his plan to defeat Proteus.

Proteus taunts Colossus with memories of his Cosmonaut brother Mikhail, first mentioned in issue #99.

That 70s Comic
Joe MacTaggert was rocking some pretty kickin' threads before he was possessed by Proteus.


Claremontisms
Another issue that showcases Claremont's strong team dynamics, as each member of the team (including Havok, Polaris and the powerless Banshee) contributes to the ultimate defeat of Proteus in a manner that deepens their characterization (Storm's concern for the bees, Wolverine's fear of Proteus, etc.)


Artistic Achievements
Not to be outdone, Byrne and Austin get to go nuts during Proteus' attack on Edinburgh, as he warps the city around him. 


Young Love
Banshee argues with Cyclops over the later's willingness to sacrifice Moira, but Cyclops, who might soon come to regret these words, insists that Proteus is such a threat to mankind that he'd sacrifice anyone to stop him.


Wolverine flies into a rage when Proteus harms Phoenix, though he significantly uses the past tense when speaking of his feelings for Jean.


By contrast, Cyclops, who is in full on battle mode, forces himself to keep it together and focused on the fight when Jean is hurt for fear of shutting down if he allows himself to stop and think about it.


The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
In another cool scene, Cyclops uses his optic blast to slow Wolverine's descent after Proteus pitches him off a mountain.


For Sale
Spidey meets "June Jitsu".


Teebore's Take
The "Proteus" story comes to a close, and it marks the end of perhaps the darkest X-Men story to date. Though the villain is defeated, Moira has lost her son, and for the first time, the X-Men were forced to kill their foe in order to stop him. Tellingly, it is Colossus, the youngest and most innocent member of the team, who dispatches the villain. Colossus' long running subplot, in which he questioned his place on the team and his overall effectiveness, came to a somewhat pat ending during the Arcade storyline, but it could be argued that the true end comes here, as Colossus comes face to face with what he calls pure evil and doesn't hesitate to put an end to it. In the wake of Claremont and Byrne's bleakest and most intense story yet, the X-Men find themselves in a darker world, one in which there are few easy answers. In that sense, while a strong story on its own, "Proteus" also sets the tone for what is to come.

Next Issue
Just as things are getting darker, Claremont and Byrne introduce a little light in the form of a character who will go on to launch a thousand adolescent crushes.

15 comments:

  1. woooh! i am FINALLY caught up on your blog. I fell behind before vacay and then was unable to catch up DURING vacay.
    so i didn't comment on anything (since it seemed moot so late), but i did read everything and now i can keep up again.
    That June Jitsu twinkie ad is ridonculous
    I'm glad Colossus finally got to contribute in a meaningful way.

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  2. "Cyclops notes that Proteus views everyone else the way people view cows."

    Hooray!

    "...he significantly uses the past tense when speaking of his feelings for Jean."

    Significant, indeed. I mentioned a while back that the Cyclops-Jean-Wolverine triangle is a ret-con. Claremont started it, I guess in Classic X-Men, but I think it was the X-Men animated series and later the movies that really made it official, and now it's basically a fully accepted part of X-Men lore.

    "The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops"

    I always chuckle at Wolverine's "ow's" as Cyclops slows his fall. It seems so out of character for him, even in the days before he became a nigh-invulnerable ninja warrior.

    "Spidey meets 'June Jitsu'."

    Kurt Busiek brought some other character from a Hostess ad into the official Marvel Universe several years ago in Thunderbolts. I can't help but feel he chose the wrong one after seeing this ad.

    Anyway, I love that Colossus winds up the hero of this story. I agree with your assessment that he overcame his feelings of uselessness in the Arcade story, but I appreciate your mentioning my belief that this is where his subplot really ends. It's a few issues later, but in this battle, Colossus finally does what he said he was going to do before -- he earns his keep, as the only one of the X-Men able to defeat their greatest enemy yet.

    I don't really have much else to say about this issue, other than that your summary made me want to read the Proteus storyline right now! In some ways, I like it better than the "Dark Phoenix Saga".

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  3. They resurrected Proteus for the "Necrosha" storyline in 2010.

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  4. @Matt mentioned a while back that the Cyclops-Jean-Wolverine triangle is a ret-con. Claremont started it, I guess in Classic X-Men, but I think it was the X-Men animated series and later the movies that really made it official, and now it's basically a fully accepted part of X-Men lore.

    That's totally untrue. Wolverine's feelings for Jean are established very early in Claremont's run --

    In Uncanny 110, the narration explains that Wolverine went his whole life without knowing what love is and not caring -- until he met Jean.

    In Uncanny 115, Sauron hypnotizes Wolverine into attacking the X-Men. The narration again explains that Wolverine sees the X-Men attacking Jean -- the woman he loves -- and that's why he lashed out at them.

    There must be a half dozen other little mentions like this to the two of them ahead of the Dark Phoenix saga.

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  5. "That's totally untrue"

    Sorry, I should've phrased this better. In these early issues, Wolverine's feelings for Jean are one-sided. That was my point -- there is no "triangle" where Jean reciprocates. There's Cyclops and Jean in love with each other, then there's creepy Wolverine off to the side pining for her and being shut down at every turn. Claremont ret-conned Jean's feelings later on, and the cartoon and movies built on that until it became accepted as canon.

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  6. They should totally make a comic about a super hero team solely made-up of Hostess Pie characters....

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  7. @Anne: so i didn't comment on anything (since it seemed moot so late)

    Comments, no matter how late, are never moot.

    Nonetheless, glad you're caught up again.

    I'm glad Colossus finally got to contribute in a meaningful way.

    Yeah, me too. This is pretty much Colossus' shining moment from the Claremont/Byrne run.

    @Matt: I always chuckle at Wolverine's "ow's" as Cyclops slows his fall.

    Yeah, I love that Cyclops is saving his life, but at the same time, it's not exactly a comfortable method of doing so.

    Kurt Busiek brought some other character from a Hostess ad into the official Marvel Universe several years ago in Thunderbolts.

    Do you recall which character it was? I read all of Busiek's Thunderbolts, but I don't know if I ever knew that.

    In some ways, I like it better than the "Dark Phoenix Saga".

    I know what you mean. "Dark Phoenix" is epic and groundbreaking and deep and all that, but, like I mentioned for issue #126, "Proteus" is just a phenomenal straight-up superhero action story (with some twinges of horror).

    It may not reach as far as "DPS", but what it does, it does very, very well.

    @Anonymous: They resurrected Proteus for the "Necrosha" storyline in 2010.

    This actually kind of freaky. I am perpetually way, way behind in my current comics reading, so I'm about halfway through "Necrosha" right now. I literally read the issue of X-Men: Legacy that ends by revealing Proteus is back just yesterday, probably an hour after you posted this comment.

    So yeah, he's back again. But am I correct in assuming he goes back to being dead when the story is over, just like all the other characters resurrected for the story (and like his previous "returns")?

    @Michael: That's totally untrue. Wolverine's feelings for Jean are established very early in Claremont's run --

    @Matt: In these early issues, Wolverine's feelings for Jean are one-sided. That was my point -- there is no "triangle" where Jean reciprocates.

    I pointed out that panel simply because Wolverine says he "loved" Jean, suggesting he no longer does (because now he's in love with Mariko).

    The idea being that the Claremont of 1979 seems to have wanted to move Wolverine past his feelings for Jean (well established, as Michael points out, by now) once Wolverine met Mariko. He loved Jean - she didn't reciprocate - He met another woman who did, so he moved on.

    But then, years later, an older Claremont decided to play around with those early "Wolverine loves Jean" scenes and suggest there was an attraction to him on Jean's part (chiefly via the Classic X-Men backups") that she never acted on, and then, as Matt said, later writers (both for the comic and in other mediums) picked up on that and turned it into a full blown Cyclops-Jean-Wolverine love triangle that never seemed to exist, at least that definitively, to Claremont.

    Dr. Bitz: They should totally make a comic about a super hero team solely made-up of Hostess Pie characters....

    I would buy that comic in a heartbeat.

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  8. "Do you recall which character it was? I read all of Busiek's Thunderbolts, but I don't know if I ever knew that."

    I had to look it up, but it appears it was Icemaster. All I recalled was that he was on the giant-sized Masters of Evil team circa issue #25 of Thunderbolts. I forget where I read that he first appeared in a Hostess ad, though I've known pretty much since the issue was published, so maybe it was in Wizard, or on what passed for Marvel's website at the time...?

    Busiek's (and Nicieza's) Thunderbolts is another run I want to go back to at some point. so many comics to re-read, so little time...

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  9. @Matt: I had to look it up, but it appears it was Icemaster. All I recalled was that he was on the giant-sized Masters of Evil team circa issue #25 of Thunderbolts.

    Ah, that rings a bell, that one of those Masters of Evil was an old Hostess character. You're right, it was probably something that talked about in Wizard (I was a big Wizard guy back in the day).

    Busiek's (and Nicieza's) Thunderbolts is another run I want to go back to at some point. so many comics to re-read, so little time...

    Me too, and indeed.

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  10. I am now throwing "Due to injuries suffered in X-Men #119" into conversations randomly. Make it stop! (Yeah, I know, it finally does next issue.)

    Given that I take Sean and Moira to be in their 40s, by the way, I'm not sure about putting them under the heading "Young Love". 8^)

    Teebore: Cyclops uses his optic blast to slow Wolverine's descent after Proteus pitches him off a mountain.

    That is indeed, to quote the bard's gum-smacking daughter, really cool. I don't know whether the idea should be credited to Claremont or Byrne, given how they worked, but both have shown this kind of creative thinking.

    Anne: so i didn't comment on anything (since it seemed moot so late)

    Wait...

    Teebore: Comments, no matter how late, are never moot.

    ...Oh. Phew.

    Matt: Kurt Busiek brought some other character from a Hostess ad into the official Marvel Universe several years ago in Thunderbolts.

    I totally did not know that. How did I not know that? I might've just forgot it, but I don't remember ever knowing that.

    Matt: so many comics to re-read, so little time...

    You can say that again.

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  11. @Blam: I am now throwing "Due to injuries suffered in X-Men #119" into conversations randomly.

    Haha! I think I'm going to use that in my everyday life from now on.

    "Oh man, I'm really tired today..."
    "How come?"
    "It's due to injuries suffered in X-Men #119".

    Given that I take Sean and Moira to be in their 40s, by the way, I'm not sure about putting them under the heading "Young Love". 8^)

    Ha! Good point. Heck, given the age of most of the X-Men at this point, it's probably not all that accurate. They're not teenagers any more. Out little X-Men are growing up... >sniff<

    but both have shown this kind of creative thinking.


    That's one of the things I love about this run: it's not just the big ideas Claremont and Byrne came up with, but the little ones like that.

    I mean, that's just a throwaway three panel bit in the midst of a big action story, and yet it's stuck with me for years. And their run is filled with little moments like that.

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  12. Colossus' long running subplot, in which he questioned his place on the team and his overall effectiveness, came to a somewhat pat ending during the Arcade storyline, but it could be argued that the true end comes here, as Colossus comes face to face with what he calls pure evil and doesn't hesitate to put an end to it.

    On this, I remember reading somewhere that Claremont had been planning on giving Colossus a mini at some point in which he returned home to Russia. I can't remember much more than that, but this was part of the reason why he had all of this "Oh, why am I so useless with the X-Men?" angst for the past few issues.

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  13. @Harry: On this, I remember reading somewhere that Claremont had been planning on giving Colossus a mini at some point in which he returned home to Russia.

    Ah, good to know. I hadn't heard that.

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  14. @Teebore:

    http://uncannyxmen.net/showarticle.asp?fldAuto=2662

    ^There's a link to the story, if you're interested, I may have gotten one or two details wrong. (I forget how to do hyperlinks with HTML :P )

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  15. @Harry: Thanks for the link! I'd never heard about the (aborted) Colossus limited series from '86. Crazy!

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