Wednesday, October 12, 2011
X-amining X-Men #129
In a Nutshell
As the X-Men return to the mansion, Kitty Pryde, White Queen and the Hellfire Club debut.
Writer/Co-Plotter: Chris Claremont
Artist/Co-Plotter: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Bob Sharen
Editor: Roger Stern
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
Several days after their battle with Proteus, the rested X-Men prepare to depart Muir Island, though Banshee has decided to stay behind with Moira. En route to New York, the X-Men's jet passes an Hellfire Club jet carrying Jason Wyngarde. As they pass, Jason reaches out to Phoenix's mind and Jean suddenly finds herself back in the 18th century, aboard a sailing ship and married Jason. Scared, she runs out on deck and is approached by a sailor, who transforms into Cyclops as Jean shifts back into the present. With a quiet moment to themselves, the pair finally reconcile and declare their love for one another. Receiving an intruder alert when they land at the mansion, the X-Men storm inside only to discover Professor X, returned from space. Days later, Scott and Jean witness Wolverine storming out of a training session in the Danger Room, and Cyclops tries to explain to Professor X that his style of teaching won't work on the new X-Men, but is interrupted by Cerebro, who suddenly detects the presence of two new mutants, one in Chicago and one in New York. Xavier splits the team, sending Scott and Jean to New York while he takes Storm, Wolverine and Colossus to Chicago. But unknownst to the X-Men, the Hellfire Club have tapped Cerebro, and dispatch the White Queen to Chicago as well.
In Chicago, a young teenage girl named Kitty Pryde arrives home from dance class and meets Ms. Frost, representing a school in Massachusetts. As Frost discusses the school with her parents, Kitty, suffering from a headache goes to her room, and collapses on her bed. The pain passes, but when she awakens, Kitty finds herself in the living room. Just then the X-Men arrive, passing Ms. Frost on her way out, and Xavier sends the X-Men to the malt shoppe with Kitty. There, Storm tells Kitty they are the X-Men just as three armored men burst in and attack the X-Men. While the X-Men spring into action, Kitty unknowingly phases herself through the wall of the malt shoppe, collapsing outside from the strain. The X-Men quickly quickly take out the armored Hellfire Club goons, only to be felled in turn by a telepathic blast from the White Queen. The X-Men are loaded onto the Hellfire Club's hovercraft, which departs for their Chicago base, unknowingly carrying Kitty with them, who snuck onto the craft and is determined the help the X-Men.
Firsts and Other Notables
In terms of characters introduced, this is probably the most notable issue yet of Claremont and Byrne's run. Katherine "Kitty" Pryde, who will go on to join the X-Men as Sprite (and later Ariel and Shadowcat) and become a fan favorite, makes her first appearance in this issue. She possess the ability to "phase", allowing her to essentially become transparent and pass through solid objects. Kitty is notable for being the first Jewish character to be featured in the book, as well as the first X-Man to be co-created by Chris Claremont.
After being mentioned in previous issues, the Hellfire Club also debuts this issue, though the majority of its members remain in shadows (we do get to see their distinctive masked goons for the first time). This is technically the first appearance of Sebastian Shaw, Black King of the Hellfire club and a powerful industrialist, though he goes unseen this issue and won't receive a full name for a few issues yet.
Similarly, Harry Leland and Donald Pierce, fellow members of the Hellfire Club, technically first appear in this issue, though they remain shadowed and unnamed.
The one member of the Hellfire Club we do see is the White Queen, Emma Frost, and she is the third significant first appearance in this issue. A telepath of significant skill, Emma will remain a mainstay of the X-Men's rogue's gallery throughout Claremont's run, and will eventually transition away from outright villainy and become the acerbic headmistress of Xavier's students alongside Banshee in Generation X and later a member of the X-Men in her own right.
Emma also mentions a school she runs in Massachusetts while trying to recruit Kitty Pryde; this is the first mention of what will become known as the Massachusetts Academy, future home of the New Mutants' rivals the Hellions and later Generation X.
Banshee officially leaves the team this issue, his sonic scream still out of commission, opting to stay behind on Muir Island to be with Moira. Similarly, both Phoenix and Professor X, who has returned from Shi'ar space, are considered to have officially rejoined the team with this issue.
Of somewhat less significance, this issue also marks the first appearance of Kitty's parents, Carmen and Terri Pryde. Later stories (as they are prone to do) will reveal a shared history between Carmen, Professor X and Wolverine, though none give any indication of that history here (which, in the comic book world, can be attributed to some combination of amnesia, mindwipes and/or willing ignorance on the part of all three).
An early 90s issue of Wizard magazine ran a contest for a complete set of the then-latest wave of X-Men action figures in which entrants had to correctly identify the issues from which three panels were lifted. One of the panels was from this issue (despite eventually figuring out all the answers, I did not win...).
A Work in Progress
Cyclops offers membership in the X-Men to Madrox, Havok and Polaris, but all three turn him down.
It is revealed that Warhawk, who attacked the X-Men and bugged the mansion in issue #110, was working for the Hellfire Club, giving them eyes inside the mansion. Though, as mentioned before, as Sebastian Shaw is not a telepath, the "boss" with which Warhawk was communicating in that issue was either Emma Frost, or a Frost-assisted Shaw.
Wyngarde continues his psychic seduction of Jean.
En route back to New York, Jean experiences another time shift, finding herself aboard an 18th century sailing ship. Having previously believed the time shifts were being caused by Proteus, she wonders if the power of Phoenix could be allowing her to psychically experience the life of ancestor, a level of power which scares her, as does the fact that the time shifts are happening more frequently and the question of what would happen to her if she got stuck in the past.
Jean notes that Xavier is running a series of tests on her, a reference to his concerns about Phoenix's power, mentioned in issue #125, which motivated his return to Earth.
Wolverine storms out of the Danger Room, earning him ten demerits from Professor X.
This prompts another of my favorite scenes, in which Cyclops discusses with Professor X the difference between the original X-Men and the new, and how the new X-Men are grown adults who operate differently than the teen aged original X-Men.
We haven't seen Cerebro in ages, let alone have it detect any new mutants, but here it picks up two new mutants.
Kitty Pryde is specifically stated to be 13-and-a-half years old in this issue, is already taking dance classes, and says that she's smart. Like Cyclops, she is experiencing tremendous headaches which are alleviated by using her mutant power (as someone who suffers from a lot of headaches, when I read this as a kid I always hoped all my headaches meant I was a mutant...). She also mentions that her parents are on the verge of getting divorced.
Kitty and Storm also develop an instant rapport with one another, the beginning of what will become a very close, familial relationship between them.
In a particularly vicious moment, White Queen executes the Hellfire Club goons who failed to capture the X-Men.
Later, she orders the captured X-Men strip searched, a tactically sound though slightly creepy move.
That 70s Comic*
*This comic is dated January 1980 but due to the comic industry's practice of cover dating issues up to three months in advance, this issue was actually on the shelves in October of 1979 (read more about it here); thus, we'll keep the 70s category going for a few more issues.
The X-Men take Kitty Pryde to a malt shoppe, where Wolverine gets into an argument with the owner for reading Penthouse.
Kitty makes some slightly awkward comments about Storm.
Claremont and Byrne playfully homage the scene from X-Men #60 in which Cyclops somehow manages to forget which door leads to the Danger Room.
Colossus gets in on the catch phrases, letting loose a "By the White Wolf!" and a "tovarisch" in the course of the story.
Claremont continues to reveal his villains slowly, as the previously mentioned Hellfire Club is finally seen, but its members, aside from White Queen, and ultimate goals, remain shrouded in mystery.
"Professor Xavier is a Jerk!"
Professor X makes his presence known again, handing out demerits and snapping at Cyclops after the later tries to make Xavier realize that the new X-Men can't be treated the same way as the the original X-Men.
Scott and Jean finally get a proper reunion, and Cyclops puts a pin in his relationship with Colleen, explains why he felt so little grief over Jean's apparent death, and once again declares his love for Jean.
At first glance, Kitty finds the X-Men weird, but notes that Colossus is "kinda neat-looking".
As mentioned in the comments section of last issue's post, writer Kurt Busiek featured one of the Hostess Ad villains, Icemaster, in the pages of his Thunderbolts comic. The ad featuring Icemaster appears in this issue, featuring art from future superstar and controversial writer/artist Frank Miller (he of The Dark Knight Returns, 300, and "I'm the Goddamned Batman!" fame).
John Byrne on introducing Kitty Pryde
"Originally she was created to be part of a whole new secondary team. Shooter used to get these bees in his bonnet. The books used to have this top copy that was above the story. The X-Men blurb said something like, 'Cyclops, Storm, Nighcrawler, students of Charles Xavier, mutants - feared and hated by the world they have sworn to protect.' Chris and I thought the defining part of the top copy with the X-Men was, 'feared and hated by the world they have sworn to protect.' Shooter said, 'No, the important thing about the X-Men is it's a school.' I said, 'Well, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would disagree with you because they got rid of that with X-Men #9. They had them graduate and get their own costumes. They got rid of the school motif.' 'No, no, no,' he said. 'It's a school. It's got to be a school. I want to see these people getting demerits. I want to see these people getting homework assignments.' I didn't think Wolverine was going [to] react real well to demerits. I mean, come on! So, I came up with the idea of having a secondary team who would wear the original school uniforms. The current team, the new X-Men, would be like teachers. Kitty was going to be the first of the new students. We set it all up and then Shooter said, 'No, this is the Legion of Substitute X-Men. We're not going to do this. You've got to make these guys the students.' Mmm-hmm, okay. But Kitty was in place by then, so we went ahead with her. It never really went any further until Chris did New Mutants."
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p109-110
Byrne on Kitty's inspiration
"She started about 18, and as I drew her she got younger and younger. At one point Chris said we should call her Thunderbird, and I didn't like that at all but it put the bird name into my head and I started writing down bird names, trying to think of a name for her, and one of the ones I wrote for her was Kitty Hawk. And then I remembered a girl I knew in college whose name was Kitty Pryde, and I always felt that was a neat name, so as soon as I wrote "Kitty Hawk" I thought, 'No - Kitty Pryde; that will be her real name.'"
Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion II. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p73
Claremont on Banshee leaving the team
"What I wanted to show was the transition out of being a super-hero, what happens when a super-hero hits 40, what happens when the physical instrument happens to be not quite as effective as it once was. What happens when you start thinking about, 'What if I had a wife and a family, and a home?' In a sense, Banshee is the person Xavier would like to be to the X-Men - a friend, as opposed to the mentor, the father figure. He's mature, he knows who he is, he knows what he is, he's a very straightforward person because he's gone through the valley, he's been down to the pit and up again in his life, and in a sense he's found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: he's found Moira."
Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion II. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p41-42
Byrne on Banshee's departure
"Banshee I always thought didn't really belong, which is why I did what I could to get rid of him and finally succeeded in getting rid of him. He was the older, wiser head who was unnecessary because there was Xavier. His was power was a long-distance zap which is unnecessary because of Cyclops. His costume lost any outstanding points it had as soon as we had Phoenix, because he was the redhead with the green-and-yellow costume. So I liked Banshee a lot in terms of his personality but I could never really think of him as belonging in the group and I remember after we wrote him out with #129...some five or six issues later I realized he hadn't been in the book for five or six issues and that I hadn't missed him."
Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion II. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p100
And here we go...
This issue kicks off "The Dark Phoenix Saga", Claremont and Byrne's seminal work, and a story that is largely considered one of the best superhero comic book stories of all time. Much of their collaboration, starting all the way back in issue #108, has been building towards this story. But for the first few issues, Claremont and Byrne are still largely in setup mode, moving pieces into their final place and ramping up the tension (even moreso than in the previous issues). To that end, we get the introduction of three new characters this issue (Kitty Pryde, White Queen, and the Hellfire Club). That the creation of these characters comes in the first chapter of the story is a testament to both the skill of the creators and the high level on which they were operating at this point: introducing three characters who will go on to have a significant impact on the book is just the beginning of the story.
This issue also finds the X-Men returned to their classic status quo, living in the mansion, training in the Danger Room, and seeking out new mutants, all under the supervision of Professor X, for the first time since issue #110. As discussed above, this is done in service to Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter's edict that X-Men needs to be about a school for mutants (Claremont and Byrne make their feelings on the matter apparent through Wolverine's reaction to receiving "demerits" and Cyclops' discussion with Xavier comparing the new X-Men to the old). But putting the focus of the book back on the X-Men as students means bringing back Professor X, and while his absence, on the surface, seems little more than a plot convenient way to make the whole "everyone thinks the X-Men are dead" plot work (and to let the new X-Men stand on their own without a super powerful telepath looking over them) and his return little more than a result of editorial fiat, his time spent in Shi'ar space will pay dividends by the end of "The Dark Phoenix Saga", both in terms of the effect his absence has had on the evolution of Phoenix as well as in the ultimate resolution of the story.
Claremont and Byrne aren't done introducing new characters, as we follow Cyclops and Phoenix to New York and meet a dazzling new mutant.