Wednesday, November 2, 2011
X-amining X-Men #132
In a Nutshell
The X-Men infiltrate the Hellfire Club, and Jason Wyngarde's plans come to fruition.
Writer/Co-Plotter: Chris Claremont
Artist/Co-Plotter: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Jim Salicrup
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
The X-Men arrive at Angel's New Mexican home, and are greeted by their old teammate and his girlfriend, Candy Southern. Cyclops, desiring a private word with Angel, is flown to an isolated butte a few miles away, and Cyclops tells Angel about the recent attacks on the X-Men by the Hellfire Club and the fact that the club knew a lot about the X-Men's powers and plans. A surprised Angel tells Cyclops that he and Candy are members of the club, but assures him he hasn't leaked any info on the X-Men to them. Cyclops insists there must be a leak somewhere, which is why he brought the X-Men to Angel's home instead of back to the mansion. Just then, Jean arrives and shoos Angel away, laying out a picnic dinner for her and Cyclops. Determined to lighten Cyclops' mood, Jean removes his visor, telekinetically holding back his optic blast so she can see his eyes, and the pair embraces.
A week later, the X-Men are back in New York city on the night of the Hellfire's Club latest exclusive party. As a storm rages overhead, filling the storm sewers with water, Wolverine and Nightcrawler journey through the sewer tunnels beneath the club while Cyclops, Phoenix, Storm and Colossus enter the club via invitations arranged by Angel. They are spotted by members of the club's villainous Inner Circle, and Sebastian Shaw tells Jason Wyngarde it is time for him to prove his control over Phoenix by having her lead their attack on the X-Men. As Scott and Jean dance, Wyngarde cuts in, and Jean instantly believes herself to be back in the 1700s and in love with Wyngarde. He leads an enthralled Jean upstairs, revealing himself to Cyclops as the X-Men's old foe, Mastermind. Chasing them upstairs, Cyclops is struck down by Phoenix, transformed into the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club. Hearing the commotion, Storm and Colossus spring into action, but are attacked by Shaw. Downstairs, Wolverine and Nightcrawler enter the club's basement, but are confronted by Inner Circle members Harry Leland and Donald Pierce. Though Wolverine manages to damage the cyborg Pierce's arm, he is sent hurtling back into the sewer by Leland while Nightcrawler is taken captive. Upstairs, with all the X-Men captured or presumed dead, the Inner Circle toasts their victory, and their new Black Queen. However, in the sewer, Wolverine emerges, declaring that the Inner Circle took their best shot, but now it's his turn.
Firsts and Other Notables
The Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club stands fully revealed for the first time; in addition to the previously seen Sebastian Shaw and White Queen, there is Harry Leland, a mutant with the ability to alter the mass of people and objects around him) and Donald Pierce, a cyborg (who will go on to be a fairly significant villain towards the end of Claremont's run).
As detailed here, John Byrne modeled the looks of the Inner Circle after famous actors of the time: Shaw is Robert Shaw, Wyngarde is Peter Wyngarde, Pierce is Donald Sutherland and Leland is Orson Welles.
Jason Wyngarde is revealed to be Silver Age villain Mastermind, the illusion-casting founding member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
The intentions behind Mastermind's issues-long seduction of Jean comes to pass, as an enthralled Phoenix, now fully believing herself to be an 18th century noblewoman in love with Jason Wyngarde, helps defeat the X-Men and joins the Inner Circle as their Black Queen.
This is also the first appearance of Shaw's personal assistant Tessa, though she goes unnamed in this issue. Tessa will later become the subject of some fairly significant retcons when Claremont returns to the X-Men titles in the late90s/early 00s.
Angel appears in the book for the first time since issue #94, making Iceman thus far the only original X-Man to not reappear following his departure in #94. It is mentioned that he revealed his identity to the public; this occurred in Champions #1. His New Mexican home, which first appeared in Hulk Annual #7, receives a name (Angel's Aerie); it will, many years later, serve as the headquarters of the latest incarnation of X-Force.
Angel's girlfriend, Candy Southern, also shows up. She's been seen in other books with Angel, but this is her first appearance in X-Men since issue #32.
The last panel of this issue, in which Wolverine emerges from the sewer, declaring the fight isn't over, is one of the most iconic and homaged images in X-Men history.
Jim Salicrup replaces Roger Stern as the book's editor, though his tenure won't last long.
The cover of this issue declares the book to be the winner of five Eagle awards, the British Comic Book Fan Awards (up from the two it won last year).
A Work in Progress
Angel mentions that, as wealthy members of upper class society, he and Candy are members of the Hellfire Club, and seems shocked that they are attacking the X-Men.
Cyclops' rundown of recent events to Angel makes it clear the X-Men believe the White Queen died last issue, choosing suicide over capture.
Cyclops continues to be concerned over Phoenix's casual use of her power.
Professor X is once again put on the sidelines, left behind at Angel's aerie while the X-Men infiltrate the Hellfire Club, unable to establish a psychic rapport with them.
While traveling through the storm sewers, Wolverine slashes the insulation off a power conduit; he figures that should something go wrong, an impromptu blackout brought on by the rising rain reaching the exposed conduit might be helpful.
Colossus doesn't feel right wearing a suit that costs more than his father makes in a year.
Jean's black dress is a sexier version of the one she was wearing in issue #98 when captured by Stephen Lang's Sentinels and thus, also when she first became Phoenix. Claremont will return to the symbolism of that black dress later in his run.
It is revealed that Shaw's mutant power is to absorb kinetic energy and transform it into strength.
Shaw realizes that Wyngarde, as the one in control of the Inner Circle's most powerful member, is a threat to his leadership.
I Love the 80s
Grabbed by Pierce, Nightcrawler once again thinks about how he can't think hard enough to teleport.
Angel is rocking the striped tank top/short shorts/knee high socks/wristbands/headband look.
Wolverine compares cyborg Donald Pierce to the Six Million Dollar Man.
Hugh Hefner is in attendance at the Hellfire Club party.
Byrne and Austin really knock it out of the park this issue, from depicting some tremendously sexy ladies (Candy, Jean, Jean-as-Black Queen) to making Shaw, a character who is fighting in britches with a ponytail, a frilly bow, a sash and muttonchops while shirtless appear menacing (tellingly, few artists after Byrne ever quite manage to keep the silliness from creeping in to the Inner Circle's period garb).
It is strongly implied that Scott and Jean make love atop the butte in this issue, and it is generally considered to be their first time (with each other, and ever).
The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
Jean is able to telekinetically hold back Scott's optic blast, enabling her to see his eyes for the first time.
At one point, she tells him to stop brooding; he quips that it's what he does best.
The opening of the second act of "The Dark Phoenix" is ostensibly about the X-Men taking the fight to the Hellfire Club, but beyond that initial surface plot, it is one of the most thematically dense and symbolic issues of Claremont and Byrne's entire run. From opening on Angel flying through the air to ending on Wolverine in an underground sewer, to the transition from the sunny, warm New Mexican mountains to the cold, dark New York sewers, to the Hellfire Club presenting a public face of goodwill while masking insidious villains, to the potentially problematic sexual politics surrounding Jean's transformation into the Black Queen, it's a terrifically complicated issue to unpack. I strongly recommend everyone check out Jason Powell's post on the issue, especially the comments, as any attempt I make here to give this issue the attention it deserves will pale in comparison to what was covered there.
Amongst all that (and while still getting in some by-now-the-norm well choreographed fight sequences), this issue also contains two of the most iconic moments in X-Men history. Scott and Jean's rendezvous atop the New Mexican butte, in which Jean manages to hold back Scott's optic blast and it is implied that they make love for the first time, will hang over Cyclops' character for years to come, and will be referenced and homaged (to varying degrees of success) throughout the years and across multiple forms of medias. The final panel, of Wolverine emerging from the sewer after the Hellfire Club has claimed victory, is one of the most heavily-referenced images in X-Men history, and one which kicks off a sequence that will cement Wolverine's growing popularity and crown him a fan favorite once and for all. But more on that next time...
"Wolverine -- alone! 'Nuff said."