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Thursday, November 10, 2011

X-amining X-Men #133

"Wolverine: Alone!
May 1980

In a Nutshell
Wolverine takes on the Hellfire Club

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

Plot
A quartet of Hellfire Club mercenaries are searching the basement to confirm Wolverine's death when he suddenly emerges from the shadows and attacks them. Quickly dispatching three of the mercenaries, Wolverine intimidates the fourth into surrending before pressing him for information about the Hellfire Club. Upstairs, with the X-Men restrained by power dampening manacles, Shaw congratulates Wyngarde for his role in the Club's victory. Storm tries to reason with Phoenix, but thanks to Wyngarde's illusions, as Lady Jean Grey she only sees the X-Men in 18th century terms. She strikes Storm, whom she sees as a slave named Beauty. Cyclops, recalling the permanent psychic rapport Jean established with him back in New Mexico, wonders if he can use it to the X-Men's advantage, while Shaw explains that the Inner Circle intends to use the X-Men in experiments to create custom designed mutants.


Meanwhile, on Muir Island, Moira MacTaggert finishes analyzing test data on Phoenix and realizes that Jean had unconsciously created a series of psychic circuit breakers to limit her massive power, but that recently something has been releasing those breakers, allowing Phoenix to once more tap into near-infinite power. In New Mexico, Professor X tells Angel that he still can't reach the X-Men telepathically, and worries that his recent mistakes will lead to innocents suffering. Back in New York, Wolverine emerges from a dumbwaiter on the main floor of the club, but is captured by a guard, while Cyclops uses his rapport with Jean to enter her mind in attempt to free her from Wyngarde's control. Appearing as a Revolutionary War soldier, Jean sees him only as an American rebel, at which point Wyngarde emerges and engages in a duel with Cyclops. In the club, Wolverine casts off his attacker, but is swarmed by more guards, while on the Astral Plane, Cyclops is defeated by Wyngarde, who runs him through with his sword. Back on the physical plane, to the shock of the X-Men, Cyclops suddenly topples over dead.

Firsts and Other Notables
This is the first appearance of Cole, Macon and Reese, the three Hellfire Club mercenaries Wolverine attacks in this issue. They will eventually join the Reavers, a group of cyborgs with grudges against the X-Men, led by Donald Pierce (a fourth mercenary, Rosen, appears with the other three, but makes no additional appearances).


Senator Robert Kelly, a significant long-term adversary/supporting character for the X-Men, is mentioned for the first time; he in attending the Hellfire Club's party as a special guest of Shaw.

A Work in Progress
We learn Storm's real name means "beauty".
 

Angel's aeries is erroneously said to be in Arizona. 

It is revealed that while on the butte last issue, Phoenix established a permanent psychic rapport with Cyclops, allowing them to share their thoughts with each other.


Cyclops notes that Mastermind only creates illusions, and shouldn't be able to take control the rapport he shares with Jean. 


Throughout his duel with Mastermind, Cyclops is shown fighting with the sword in his right hand. In a close-up panel, however, he's holding it in his left, and Mastermind compliments Cyclops on the technique of switching hands to throw him off; it's been speculated that this line of dialogue was inserted by Claremont to cover for Cyclops' being drawn holding the sword in a different hand.


I Love the 80s
Because the Hellfire Club can't simply kill the captured X-Men outright, we get some business about the Inner Circle using them in experiments to create custom-designed mutants. It's clearly designed to be little more than an offhand explanation for why the X-Men aren't killed.


Claremontisms
It's not quite "the best there is at what I do", but it's getting close...


"Professor Xavier is a Jerk!"
Professor X mentions training Cyclops to replace him from the beginning, and admits he's resented Cyclops since returning from space despite that. 


Young Love
A rather frisky Banshee puts the moves on Moira, but gets rebuffed.


John Byrne on the appeal of Wolverine
"I don't like homicidal maniacs per se, it's just that I like the concept of a super-hero who's a homicidal maniac, a super-hero who will use his powers the way we all know we would if we had them. However much we lie to ourselves about truth, justice, and the American way, we all know we'd go out and kick ass and take names if we had them. Wolverine does that. And that appeals to me tremendously, that attitude of, 'Hey, I've got these powers and I'm going to use them, sucker.'"

Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion II. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p87

John Byrne on the morality of Wolverine's actions
"Wolverine, as I've always drawn him, has never killed except in self-defense. I think a lot of people just don't like the idea of a super-hero killing. There's a lot of people who say, 'Well, this is going to function as a role model. We don't want our kids doing this.' To me that's absurd because your kids can't do that. They don't have adamantium claws...But the important element of any super-hero to me is the unreality, that you can't do what a super-hero does, so no mattter what thge super-hero does, you can't do it. So it isn't a role model except on a purely moral level, and that's why, as I say, although it's totally homicidal and he has no control over that, I was very careful that Wolverine never killed - except for that guard in the Savage Land [#116], for which you could come up with extenusating circumstances about it being self-defense - but he never killed unless the other person tried to kill him first."

Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion II. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p94

Teebore's Take
Without a doubt, this is the single most iconic Wolverine issue yet, and the one most responsible for cementing him as the fan favorite, breakout character of the book. Having received a number of cool moments since issue #109 (including his silent take down of a guard in issue #114 and his off panel escape from Alpha Flight in issue #121), this issue features the extensive of those moments, as Wolverine takes on a trio of Hellfire Club mercenaries and mounts a rescue operation all by himself. Thrusting Wolverine into the spotlight for the first time, it put the character onto the path towards becoming not only the most popular X-Men character, but arguably, the most popular character at Marvel.

Also, this issue sees the X-Men at arguable their lowest point ever, completely at the mercy of the Hellfire Club, betrayed by one of their original members with another lying dead. While it lacks the thematic and symbolic depth of last issue, that's still not too shabby for the middle chapter of a story.

Next Issue
Is Cyclops dead? Will Wolverine save the day? Is this the end of the X-Men?

24 comments:

  1. The animated cartoon recreated this issue pretty thoroughly if i remember correctly.
    And what a great quote by Byrne, cuz you'd better believe i'd probably be a monstrous super hero. It would be so awesome...

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  2. "[Cole, Macon, and Reese] will eventually join the Reavers..."

    You may have something prepared for this when they return in issues 151-152, but just in case -- John Byrne claims that these guys were supposed to be dead here, but as Wolverine became more popular, Jim Shooter demanded that he be "softened" somewhat, and part of that was to retroactively un-kill the Hellfire goons.

    Speaking of which, I love that scene. I like that each time he uses his claws, the panel becomes all red. And the "Dirty Harry" moment is classic.

    "It's been speculated that this line of dialogue was inserted by Claremont to cover for Cyclops' being drawn holding the sword in a different hand.

    I caught that one day while re-reading this story. It pretty much had to be Claremont covering for Byrne.

    "A rather frisky Banshee puts the moves on Moira..."

    I remember reading this at age 12 and thinking to myself, "Is that how that goes?" He's so matter-of-fact about it, I still find it funny.

    I like Byrne's philosophy on Wolverine as a role model. He's totally correct -- kids can't do what Wolverine does, so it should be a non-issue. I guess the argument can be made that kid could find some knives and try to emulate his hero that way, but that's the same as a kid dousing himself in lighter fluid and striking a match to emulate the Human Torch, or putting on a Superman cape and jumping out the window in an attempt to fly. That's not a problem with the character, it's a problem with the kid!

    Plus, Byrne makes the distinction that Wolverine (mostly) killed in self-defense. Maybe he wasn't opposed to killing like other heroes, but he didn't go around trying to murder anyone. In my opinion, that's what separates Wolverine from someone like the Punisher. The Punisher is a serial killer. He isn't a role model. I was always uncomfortable, even as a child (though I may not have known exactly why at the time), with the Punisher having his own comic and always "getting away" after team-ups with characters like Spider-Man and Daredevil.

    Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now.

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  3. i've never seen Wolverine as a homicidal maniac- just a berserker. I don't think he goes out there intending to kill people- but he does what is necessary, and sometimes gets wrapped up in the heat of battle

    I can't wait to read about Cyclops being dead. Can you imagine how horribly shocking that must've been to read that, and then have to wait for the next issue to see if he's really dead? Especially since Xavier was all talking about how he's his replacement and is resentful- seems like a perfect setup for something bad to happen

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  4. @Sarah: The animated cartoon recreated this issue pretty thoroughly if i remember correctly.

    It did. Generally, speaking, the animated series adapted this story surprisingly well, given the limitations of animated content on Fox at the time, the nature of the story, and the numerous differences between the two casts of characters.

    @Matt: Jim Shooter demanded that he be "softened" somewhat, and part of that was to retroactively un-kill the Hellfire goons.

    That's really interesting. I'd heard about how a desire to soften Wolverine led to the mercenaries getting "un-killed", but at the same time, Byrne has said that Shooter wanted Wolverine to be this berserker maniac, even as late as issue #143 (hence the attack on Nightcrawler in that issue), and that's just eight issues before the mercenaries came back.

    I suppose the two aren't mutually exclusive, or that Shooter changed his stance in eight months (he certainly changed his mind faster than that in other cases) but it still seems odd.

    I like that each time he uses his claws, the panel becomes all red.

    Yeah, me too. I probably should have pointed that out. It's a neat little addition by Glynis Wein that really sells that scene.

    He's so matter-of-fact about it, I still find it funny.

    And I also love Moira's equally matter-of-fact response. Their relationship must have a certain...clinical-ness to it, for all their passion.

    "Sex now?"
    "Sure."

    I like Byrne's philosophy on Wolverine as a role model. He's totally correct -- kids can't do what Wolverine does, so it should be a non-issue.

    The Punisher is a serial killer. He isn't a role model. I was always uncomfortable, even as a child (though I may not have known exactly why at the time), with the Punisher having his own comic and always "getting away" after team-ups with characters like Spider-Man and Daredevil.

    I definitely agree with Byrne in regards to the fact that kids can't do what superheroes can do so superheroes can't be literal role models (and your observation that kids that try to emulate superpowers to dangerous/harmful results represent a problem with the kid, not the character).

    On the other hand, I definitely think superheroes can/are role models in moral terms. I'm a firm believer that superheroes, at least the very traditional ones (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, etc.) shouldn't kill.

    Wolverine is a bit of a gray area; he clearly does and has killed, though the self-defense argument can be levied against some of those actions. He also (at least when competently written) seems to show a fair amount of remorse over those actions, and serves as a moral mirror for other heroes; he's already a lost soul, so he kills such that other heroes won't have to. At the very least, his somewhat dubious morals invite discussion on the matter, both within and outside the stories, and that's a good thing too.

    Which isn't to say I object to the existence of characters like the Punisher. I've read and enjoyed some of his stories (mainly the early Garth Ennis stuff) but I don't consider him a super-hero, and don't like it when, on the occasions he interacts with the greater Marvel Universe, he's treated as anything other than a criminal by other heroes.

    Not all comic book characters, even not all superhero (in terms of genre) characters, need to be moral role models, after all, but the ones read by and intended for kids, the traditional ones, really should be, as far as I'm concerned.

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  5. @Anne: Can you imagine how horribly shocking that must've been to read that, and then have to wait for the next issue to see if he's really dead?

    I wonder about that. Nowadays, readers are too old and jaded to fall for that stuff, but were they in 1980? Were the kids reading this, or the older fans who hadn't been exposed to this kind of storytelling for 60+ years, able to worry about the fate of Cyclops? Or were, by 1980, the conventions of the genre well-established enough that even a kid would suspect that Marvel wasn't about to kill off the leader of the X-Men?

    It's an interesting question, especially in light of what's just around the corner...

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  6. "...it still seems odd."

    Well, I always take anything Byrne says with a grain of salt, but I figured I'd share it for posterity.

    I agree with your thoughts on superheroes as role models, by the way. I was mainly trying to comment on Byrne's comment, which was more based on physical emulation. Then I got sidetracked onto my Punisher hang-up, which often happens when I hear someone use the words "superhero" and "role model" in the same sentence.

    But anyway... I agree with you that heroes shouldn't kill, but for some reason I'm okay with Wolverine doing it in stories like this. I think possibly it's because he's part of a team. He has the X-Men to keep him in line and hold him back and even admonish him when he kills. Wolvering killing is never glorified when handled well, while glorified murder (even of criminals) is what the Punisher is all about.

    Speaking of which, I like your assessment of Wolverine as a "moral mirror" -- but I don't really like when he's conscious of it. Wolverine killing guys and thinking little of it while Storm or Nightcrawler or Colossus are horrified, or Cyclops tells him that "X-Men don't kill" is the way I like this presented. Wolverine telling Rachel or Kitty not to kill someone for fear that they will travel down the same dark path he has is something I can live without.

    But I'm not really a fan of the humanized, "fallen samurai" Wolverine at all. When Wolverine became the X-Men's "moral compass" and started warning all the others not to be like him, and acting as their guidance counselor whenever they were traumatized, I really started to dislike the character. That should've been Storm's job, but she was too busy being an edgy butch punk badass.

    We're going to have so much fun here post issue #175...!

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  7. @Anne: Can you imagine how horribly shocking that must've been to read that, and then have to wait for the next issue to see if he's really dead?

    @Teebore I wonder about that. Nowadays, readers are too old and jaded to fall for that stuff, but were they in 1980? Were the kids reading this, or the older fans who hadn't been exposed to this kind of storytelling for 60+ years, able to worry about the fate of Cyclops? Or were, by 1980, the conventions of the genre well-established enough that even a kid would suspect that Marvel wasn't about to kill off the leader of the X-Men?

    I would think that it has less to do with the fans than it does the book. Uncanny had, at that time, killed off a character fairly recently and left him dead. (Thunderbird.) It had also very recently severely injured another character and written him out of the book. (Banshee.)

    I would guess that Uncanny fans were on the edge of their seats. Especially since Uncanny was still pioneering the permanent cliffhanger style of serialization, starting the next issue in the last panel / page of the current issue.

    Besides, this is a team book. Clearly, Marvel was never going to kill off Spider-Man or have him quit superheroing because that would be the end of his solo series forever. But a team book? Anyone's game.

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  8. @Matt: Wolverine telling Rachel or Kitty not to kill someone for fear that they will travel down the same dark path he has is something I can live without.

    I'm somewhere in the middle. I like the idea of Wolverine knowing he can do things the other X-Men shouldn't, and being willing to do the dirty work so they don't have to.

    On the other hand, it can definitely go too far. There's a difference between keeping the other X-Men from having to make difficult moral choices, and gutting Rachel so she doesn't kill Selene (that's always been the point, to me, where this particular iteration of Wolverine's character goes too far, but there's just a ton of things wrong with how that whole scenario plays out). .

    We're going to have so much fun here post issue #175...!

    We sure are! :)

    I'm really going to have to brush up my arguments in favor of some of those issues before then...

    @Michael: Especially since Uncanny was still pioneering the permanent cliffhanger style of serialization, starting the next issue in the last panel / page of the current issue.

    ...But a team book? Anyone's game.


    Both of those are excellent points. I hadn't considered either, but I definitely think you're right: the style of the stories Claremont and Byrne were writing, as well the knowledge of what they'd already done to some of the characters, coupled with the fact that it was a team book must have heightened the tension/suspense for readers in a way that was absent from most other books at the time.

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  9. "I like the idea of Wolverine knowing he can do things the other X-Men shouldn't, and being willing to do the dirty work so they don't have to."

    That, I don't mind. I just don't like when he's up front about it. But for the most part, I think we agree on how Wolverine should best be handled. He's still tolerable to me during the Romita Jr. era, though as I said, I'm not a fan of the "fallen samurai" stuff. It's really post "Mutant Massacre" that I tend to feel like his character really goes astray.

    "I'm really going to have to brush up my arguments in favor of some of those issues before then..."

    Well the bulk of my arguments will tend to be "this issue sucks because it's not how it used to be!" So you may not need to brush up too much.

    But seriously, I haven't read a great number of those issues in a long time! I've read, in its entirety, the full run of #94 - 176 at least three or four times, and I skim them often. But #177 - 209, I've barely ever read -- or even looked at -- more than once or maybe twice, tops.

    Strangely, even though I tend to prefer it less than the Romita era, I've read the majority of the Silverstri stuff at least twice, and skimmed a couple times beyond that. As much as I'm not a fan of how Claremont's writing and sensibilities had evolved by that point, I find the issues entertaining anyway. It's kind of a case of, "I don't like what they're doing, but I sure like how they're doing it!"

    But anyway, back to the topic at hand...

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  10. @Matt: Well the bulk of my arguments will tend to be "this issue sucks because it's not how it used to be!" So you may not need to brush up too much.

    That's good, because most of my arguments amount to "this is the stuff I read the most when I was a kid, so I love it, that's why!" :)

    But #177 - 209, I've barely ever read -- or even looked at -- more than once or maybe twice, tops.

    Whereas that's probably the era, going back to #167, (other than the early 90s stuff I started with and maybe the Claremont/Byrne run) that I've re-read the most, which accounts for much of my affection for it.

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  11. I took note of the sword changing hands, too.

    And I actually think we have two examples of Claremont scripting over Byrne "errors" — that one being pretty obvious, and the other perhaps up for debate: On Pg. 3, after Wolverine is shot, the Hellfire goon named Cole walks over to him, saying to Rosen "I'm positive I hit Wolverine dead center, but after what I've seen tonight, I'm not taking any chances." Wolverine, having played 'possum, springs up and slashes Cole with his claws. Byrne draws the action pretty clearly, with a long shot followed by a panel in which Cole, holding his rifle, kicks at Wolverine's head to see what condition his slumped body is in, the pose making everything quite clear and reasonable before Wolverine rears up in the next panel. Claremont must have either found it not clear enough or just felt snippy, however, because in the panel after the above-quoted dialogue, with Cole now standing over Wolverine, his thought bubble reads "Blast! I'll have to shift some of these crates to get a clear shot. That's bringing me a lot closer to Wolverine than I had in mind." Now, I do agree that it was kind-of dumb for Cole to walk over to Wolverine rather than just pump him full(er) of lead from a safe distance, but like I said Byrne's staging scans properly and we really didn't need more than a thought bubble in the next panel from Cole reading "Impossible!" or just "--Stupid!" if anything.

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  12. Teebore: the animated series adapted this story surprisingly well, given the limitations of animated content on Fox at the time

    I didn't watch the Fox animated series because — well, I just couldn't. Not that I'm knocking the rest of you who did, especially considering the decade-or-more difference in our ages. When you consider that Bruce Timm & friends' astounding Batman was airing contemporaneously, however, and that X-Men not only had seriously inferior animation but seemed to be stylistically rooted in an era of the comics (Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio) that wasn't for me... Like I said, I just couldn't. Still, I've heard that it did an impressive job of adapting lots of the published storylines and looked forward to having a reason to check it out one day.

    Teebore: Wolverine is a bit of a gray area ...

    Really nicely put, all of this... As was Matt's commentary that prompted (and followed) it. Not long ago I went off on The Punisher myself here, regarding the tendency of publishers to make certain successful characters into protagonists if not outright heroes — very different things, granted — regarding Emma Frost, whom I've never been able to accept as a member of the X-Men; yeah, I know, Hawkeye started out as a crook, but a small-time one as opposed to a homicidal megalomaniac. See also Ben Linus on Lost, Spike on Buffy, Deathstroke, and even the controversial laugh shared by Batman and The Joker in The Killing Joke, which falls not so much into the category of attempted redemption (or glossing over) of villainous acts as it does that of deconstructionist hero/villain codependence and need to rationalize the real-world continued publication of a cash cow in a fictional universe where the character would almost certainly have been killed. Just to reign myself back in from that extreme tangent, I'll add that I don't put Wolverine in the Punisher category either.

    You both make excellent points about the line Wolverine straddles between berserker and bushido. I think my own sweet spot for him falls somewhere in the middle; I'm more tolerant than Matt of the samurai stuff but agree with the fact that it only goes so far before it starts to feels like sanitization of the character. We did get that line from him about sneaking up to a doe pretty early on, remember, back in #109.

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  13. Anne: Can you imagine how horribly shocking that must've been to read that, and then have to wait for the next issue to see if he's really dead?

    Teebore: I wonder about that.

    I don't recall if I got this issue at the time or if it was a back issue filling in the gaps — because there were gaps in even my favorite titles at this time; I was only 9-10 years old — but I don't recall having a trauma about this, and I suspect that the apparent death occurring in the last panel, while a cliffhanger, clearly made it a cliffhanger that would be resolved rather than an action unto itself. Thunderbird's death had an aftermath in the same issue, if only a cursory one, whose somber tone (along with Xavier's psychic anguish) made it clear that it was "for real".

    Matt: We're going to have so much fun here post issue #175...!

    I don't know about that. Especially now that Teebore's mentioned that JR Jr. is his all-time favorite comics artist...

    Matt: It's kind of a case of, "I don't like what they're doing, but I sure like how they're doing it!"

    That is such a perfect expression — I'm sure I'm going to steal it sometime. 8^)

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  14. We did get that line from him about sneaking up to a doe pretty early on, remember, back in #109.

    Blam -- That's true, but to me at least, it's different. I don't think it made Wolverine any more noble, just more nuanced. He was a psycho berzeker who happened to be in touch with nature. Very different in my mind than (to reuse some phrases I've already turned) a fallen samurai guidance counselor!

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  15. @Blam: Now, I do agree that it was kind-of dumb for Cole to walk over to Wolverine rather than just pump him full(er) of lead from a safe distance, but like I said Byrne's staging scans properly...

    Interesting reading. I totally missed that (obviously) but now that you point it out, it does seem like Claremont is writing over the action, for whatever reason.

    X-Men not only had seriously inferior animation but seemed to be stylistically rooted in an era of the comics (Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio) that wasn't for me

    Yeah, my affection for the animated series can be placed squarely at the feet of youthful ignorance and my continued ability to enjoy it now blamed on nostalgia.

    While nowadays the animation is just atrocius, I simply didn't see it back then (despite watching it contemporaneously with the Batman animated series), and while I knew instinctively that the Batman animation was better, I lacked the vocabulary to know why. And I've never had a good eye for goofs and such (I have to work pretty hard to find them in issues for these posts).

    And as I started reading the X-Men in the 90s, their animated counterparts were the look with which I most familiar, even if, as I got older and read more, I realized it wasn't necessarily their best look.

    So basically, at the time of its debut, I was pretty much the target audience of the animated series, and they hit their target.

    I've heard that it did an impressive job of adapting lots of the published storylines

    It really did. My mind still boggles at some of the stories they were able to adapt, both in terms of the hoops they had to jump through considering the presence/absence of certain characters (and the emphasis the show had to put on crappy-but-relevant at the time characters from the comics) and the content restrictions on Fox.

    Just the fact that we got not only the Phoenix story but the Dark Phoenix saga as well, and that both were, while clearly adaptations, pretty faithful and well done in their efforts, is remarkable. For all its faults, it's clear the creators of the show were very familiar with the source material, and took the effort to respect it as much as they could.

    the tendency of publishers to make certain successful characters into protagonists if not outright heroes — very different things, granted...

    Ah, that's the terminology I was struggling to find: I don't mind Punisher being cast as a protagonist, I just don't like it when he's cast as a hero. Thanks for helping cut through the fog!

    while a cliffhanger, clearly made it a cliffhanger that would be resolved rather than an action unto itself.

    I was hoping you'd weigh in on that discussion. You make a great point about the way Thunderbird's death is presented vs. Cyclops'.

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  16. Especially now that Teebore's mentioned that JR Jr. is his all-time favorite comics artist...

    In my defense, I don't think he's the qualitatively best comic book artist (as much as one can determine such a thing), nor , as I've mentioned, do I think he has a great eye for design, simply that he's my personal favorite, in that his style falls into that area between realism and cartoony in which I generally like my superhero comic art to exist (Perez and Simonson, two other personal favorites, probably fall a bit on either side of the realism/cartoony divide, respectively, from Romita). Plus, he is the artist of one my personal favorite eras of my favorite comic (X-Men, of course).

    Oddly enough though, I don't know that I'd consider him my personal favorite X-Men artist. That honor would probably fall to Paul Smith or maybe Byrne, but the former's body of work is too limited while I'm not enough of a fan of the latter's non-X-Men/non Terry Austin-inked work to crown either my all time favorite penciller (basically, I like Romita's work on X-Men, but I like it on other books, too).

    But I suppose we'll get into that more fully in due time.

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  17. Teebore: In my defense, I don't think he's the qualitatively best ... simply that he's my personal favorite

    No worries. You'll find no greater defender of the virtue of "favorite" over "best" (as much as one can qualitatively declare such a thing, like you say) than I. On the other hand, I'm sorry to say that I would probably rate JR Jr.'s empirical abilities as an artist higher than I would my own taste for his work, with his X-Men stint a low point in his career (to my eyes) and a major factor in my decision to drop the series. I actually liked his work on Spider-Man in the late '90s and early '00s, especially as inked by Al Williamson quite a bit, more than his generic work on the title back in the '80s, but even that was better than his collaboration with Dan Green on X-Men — a particular comedown after the artistic high point of Paul Smith.

    I'll save this and paste it in next summer. 8^)

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  18. Me: We did get that line from him about sneaking up to a doe pretty early on, remember, back in #109.

    Matt: ... I don't think it made Wolverine any more noble, just more nuanced. He was a psycho berzeker who happened to be in touch with nature. Very different in my mind than (to reuse some phrases I've already turned) a fallen samurai guidance counselor!

    Your point is well-made, and taken, but I do think that the revelation of his knowledge of — and identification with — traditional Japanese culture brought an interesting dimension to the character. I suspect that we're not too far apart on this, with your perspective likely informed by the fact that you've read more latter-day X-Men than I have. Wolverine is frozen in my mind as the character I "know" —versus some version of the character that I realize other things were done with (or to) — around 1986, despite my having read a handful or so of X-Men and the first ongoing Wolverine series after that.

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  19. Teebore -- "...he's my personal favorite..."

    And yet at last report, you still hadn't read his first Spider-Man run with Roger Stern...

    JR jr. is one of my big favorites, but I never thought he meshed well with the X-Men. He always drew the pointy parts of Wolverine's mask wrong... too "fat" or something (though Alan Davis does that too, and he's one of my very favorite X-Men artists). He was also stuck drawing punk Storm for his entire run, though that wasn't exactly his fault. I liked his Xavier and Nightcrawler, though -- and especially his Colossus, though as stated earlier, I would've preferred if he'd kept him in his original costume. He also drew a great Cyclops on the rare occasions he was given to illustrate the character.

    His second time around, I felt like he fit a little better, but he still didn't feel "right" for the X-Men. I don't think he fits the Avengers, either. To me, he's best when illustrating "street level" heroes like Spider-Man, Daredevil, and -- dare I say it -- the Punisher.

    Funny you mention his late 90's/early 00's Spider-Man run, Blam -- when compared with his early 80's run, I like the vintage stuff better. He had a revolving series of inkers back then, but even so, that stuff just clicked for me better than any of his subsequent periods illustrating Spidey. Though I think the reason is partly because he was drawing his father's Spider-Man, with the smaller eyes and the wider spaced webs on the costume, which is how I prefer the character to look. Also, he drew gorgeous women in the early 80's... nowadays, not so much.

    Lastly, I will fully admit that my ability to enjoy comic book art is enhanced or diminished by the writing. I think Roger Stern's time on Spider-Man was one of the highest points of the character's history, so that adds to my enjoyment of Romita's art. I didn't loathe the Howard Mackie period as much as many others, but it's just very dull... so that probably impacts my thoughts on Romita's art during that timeframe as well. Similarly, I'm on record as saying that I'm not a big fan of Chris Claremont following issue #176 of the X-Men, so that likely affects my opinion of Romita's art there as well. Try as I might (and I have tried!), separating the art from the story and enjoying it on its own merits is something I have a very hard time doing.

    "I suspect that we're not too far apart on this..."

    Very true! I completely see where you and Teebore are coming from regarding Wolverine, and I think we're all closer together in our opinions than it seems. I can get pretty curmudgeonly about the way I think things "should be", but in the end, I'm willing to roll with almost anything as long as it's not too ridiculous (such as the ultimate terrible "What If" idea, Wolverine joining the Avengers).

    And "I didn't know you could read Japanese"/"You never asked" will always be one of the greatest Wolverine moments ever, so I can live with the "fallen samurai" stuff if it means keeping that exchange!

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  20. @Matt: you still hadn't read his first Spider-Man run with Roger Stern...

    I just haven't read all of it yet. (Though it is embarrassing that I haven't; not only is JRjr a favorite, but so is Stern).

    He also drew a great Cyclops on the rare occasions he was given to illustrate the character.

    That he did, which probably goes a long ways towards explaining my affection for his work.

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  21. @Blam: I'll save this and paste it in next summer. 8^)


    Fair enough. :)

    I think the fact that I discovered his first X-Men run out of order (that is, as back issues) might explain my enjoyment of that run. It still followed Paul Smith's (which I loved) but I had the benefit of knowing exactly when Smith's run ended, and thus, the transition wasn't so jarring.

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  22. Matt: I like [JR Jr.'s] vintage stuff better. He had a revolving series of inkers back then, but even so, that stuff just clicked for me better than any of his subsequent periods illustrating Spidey. Though I think the reason is partly because he was drawing his father's Spider-Man, with the smaller eyes and the wider spaced webs on the costume, which is how I prefer the character to look.

    While I tend to prefer the smaller eyes too, and I absolutely detest Todd McFarlane's version of the character — the head in particular — I think that JR Jr. handles the big eyes very well. For one thing, he never adopted the sharp, nearly triangular shapes that became vogue in recent decades (even used in the movies); for another, he makes it clear that the eyes are a design on the mask that take up a far greater area than Peter's actual eyes do on his head, partly by showing the indentation of the cheekbone. My favorite style of the mask's eyes is in the earliest stories, when Ditko kept the black of them big yet the white parts were roughly the actual shape of the eye, not much bigger than, say, the white slits of Batman's mask.

    One quirk of JR Jr.'s latter-day art that really bugged me, and was/is particularly prominent in his Spider-Man, is his tendency to keep gloves and boots short on the forearms and shins — something that Byrne adopted after on Fantastic Four after his first X-Men stint, in fact; I always wondered if Romita mimicked it — with Spidey's calf muscles looking like they're (I don't know how else to say this) tucked into the tops of boots that barely rise above his oddly skinny ankles. [Here's an example.]

    I haven't gone back and looked at the earlier JR Jr. Spider-Man in quite some time, but I do recall being disappointed that I would be inking his work when I got The Official Marvel Comics Try-Out Book. 8^)

    Matt: Lastly, I will fully admit that my ability to enjoy comic book art is enhanced or diminished by the writing. I think Roger Stern's time on Spider-Man was one of the highest points of the character's history, so that adds to my enjoyment of Romita's art.

    I'm with you on Roger Stern, but while I'll forgive — no, that's not the right word, I'll tolerate bad art in the name of sticking with good writing, I don't find that my appreciation of the art is enhanced or diminished (unless we're talking not so much subjectivity but the case of a great plot or script actually pushing a mediocre artist to turn in better work, and poor writing that bores or confuses the artist dragging his/her work down). On the contrary, I lament bad art all the more when it's attempting to service great writing; I can only imagine how much more I'd love Mark Waid's early issues of Flash if Mike Wieringo had replaced Greg LaRoque sooner, or cover artist Ty Templeton had drawn the interiors, and every single issue of Grant Morrison's largely brilliant Animal Man suffered inconceivably in my estimation from the pencils of Chas Truog.

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  23. Me: I'll save this and paste it in next summer. 8^)



    Teebore: Fair enough. :)

    I tried to resist the temptation to blurt all that out now, knowing that the next X-Men post was almost upon us and we were jumping way ahead of the current era under discussion. Really I did. Just like I try to resist (sometimes successfully) talking about other style or plot points from later in the run. I'm aware that we'll get there, as well as that after about a week you have the extra work of screening comments. The real problem for me is not replying to tangents like the JR Jr. Spider-Man stuff above. I think I've said this before, privately, but if you ever feel like conversations are getting inappropriately far ahead of the issue at hand or have gone too far afield of the subject of X-Men, I hope you'll let us know. I can talk comics 'til the Skrull cows come home.

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  24. @Blam: I can only imagine how much more I'd love Mark Waid's early issues of Flash if Mike Wieringo had replaced Greg LaRoque sooner, or cover artist Ty Templeton had drawn the interiors

    I know you weren't speaking to this practice specifically, but this reminded me of my pet peeve in which a different (usually/especially a "big name") artist does the cover of a comic than the interior artist (at least in terms of modern comics).

    Covers these days have all kinds of problems (notably the fact that most of them are just static pin-ups) but there's something that really bugs me about opening a book and finding different art on the inside than the outside, especially if the two are vastly different in style.

    if you ever feel like conversations are getting inappropriately far ahead of the issue at hand or have gone too far afield of the subject of X-Men, I hope you'll let us know.

    Pshaw! I can talk comics 'til the Skrull cows come home too, and it makes no nevermind to me what subjects we end up landing on in the comments.

    Heck, sometimes half the fun is seeing what kind of tangents a particularly issue will generate in the comments, and while I generally try to keep the posts themselves somewhat self-contained in terms of future events, as I've mentioned before, the comments section is fair game for whatever.

    So in short, have at it! No need to worry about staying on topic (or staying current for that matter); fun discussion is really what's it all about.

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