Wednesday, November 30, 2011
X-amining X-Men #136
In a Nutshell
X-Men vs. Dark Phoenix: Round 2
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
On Imperial Center, Lilandra and her Grand Council meet to determine what to do about the threat of Dark Phoenix. On Earth, Peter Corbeau tells the President that the energy matrix he detected leaving the solar system is returning, more powerful than ever. The President calls the Avengers but only reaches Jarvis, their butler, Beast having abandoned his post earlier in the night. At the X-Mansion, Beast is working on a mnemonic scrambler intended to help contain Dark Phoenix's power, while Wolverine, Colossus and Nightcrawler work out in the Danger Room. Dark Phoenix returns to Earth and visits her parents and sister, but finds herself torn between her love for them and her rage at the fear of her she senses in their minds. Distracted by a fog rolling in, Dark Phoenix leaves the house. Suddenly, Nightcrawler teleports on top of her, dropping Beast's scrambler onto her head.
With Dark Phoenix weakened, the X-Men attack, but even weakened Dark Phoenix is able to hold them off. Wolverine briefly gains the upper hand, and prepares to stop her once and for all, but hesitates when Jean's humanity surfaces and she begs him to kill her. Just then Dark Phoenix overload's Beast's scrambler. As she prepares to destroy the X-Men, Cyclops appears, insisting that she won't kill him because of the love they share. Just as Cyclops manages to talk her down, a just-arrived Professor X hits her with a mindblast. A furious psychic duel between teacher and student ensues, and in the end Xavier only barely manages to win by locking Dark Phoenix's power within an unbreachable network of psychic circuit breakers, though he sensed Jean herself helping him, and realizes he wouldn't have won without her. With Jean back to normal, Cyclops proposes, and she accepts. But just as Angel is explaining his arrival with Professor X to Storm and the rest of the X-Men prepare to celebrate their victory, they suddenly disappear, leaving Jean's shocked and confused family to wonder if they'll ever see them again.
Firsts and Other Notables
Jean Grey's sister Sarah appears for the first time. It's also mentioned that she has two children, though it will be some time before they appear for the first time. It's not made clear why Sarah, who is Jean's older sister and has two kids of her own, is still seemingly living with her parents.
This issue marks the fifth anniversary, to the month, of Claremont's first X-Men story (according to a note in the letter column).
The Classic X-Men backup story following the reprint of this issue continues the Cyclops/Mr. Sinister origin from the previous issue. Amongst its notable revelations are the idea that Cyclops has a wider-than-normal field of vision, causing him headaches as child which were alleviated by glasses with lenses made of ruby quartz, and the notion that Scott and Jean were fated to find one another, as it is a young Jean who first makes telepathic contact with Scott while training with Xavier, not the professor himself.
On a personal note, this was the first original issue of the "Dark Phoenix Saga" I acquired (my first time through, I read it via the Classic X-Men reprints). I picked it up via a trade with a kid at school, though I forget what I traded for it (whatever it was, I remember thinking I got the better end of the deal, and since I can't even remember the other comic now, that's probably still true).
A Work in Progress
According to John Byrne, he modeled the Grey home after the house from Bewitched.
Just as Dark Phoenix is about to overcome Beast's mnemonic scrambler, Wolverine tackles her and it's clear he intends to straight-up kill her, something he believes the other X-Men incapable of doing. It's only when Jean, fighting to stay in control, urges him to do it that he hesitates, allowing Dark Phoenix to blast him away.
Xavier's mental battle with Dark Phoenix recalls both the Phoenix/White Queen psychic duel of issue #131 as well as the Xavier/Farouk duel in issue #117.
Similarly, here we begin to see (it'll pop up again next issue) how Xavier's exile in space over the course of issues #117 to #129, something that was done at the time mainly to get the mega powerful Xavier off the board, had fortuitous consequences for the "Dark Phoenix Saga". Xavier's last few appearances made it clear that had he been on Earth, he would have sensed Phoenix's rising power and her growing dark side unleashed by Mastermind's seductions, and this issue makes it clear he could have done something about it. In this way, his unrelated absence earlier in the Claremont/Byrne run allowed this story to unfold as it has.
After her duel with Xavier, a Dark Phoenix-free Jean greets Cyclops with "hi", to which he responds "Hi yourself". This exchange becomes something of a recurring trope, popping up a few more times throughout Claremont's run.
I Love the 80s
Though he goes unnamed, the President is clearly Jimmy Carter.
In one of those "every issue is somebody's first" scenes, Wolverine, Colossus and Nightcrawler are shown working out in the Danger Room, giving them an opportunity to display their powers. Wolverine even makes sure to describe his claws to his teammates even though, you know, they've heard all that before.
Jean's father cries out "Good Grief!" when his daughter turns a houseplant into crystal; were it my daughter, I'd probably have said something a bit stronger.
Also, following her duel with Xavier Jean spends the rest of the issue naked, so that's pretty cool.
The sequence in which Cyclops essentially talks down Dark Phoenix by pointing out how much she loves him, the X-Men, etc. is classic Claremont, both in its assertion of love being a force powerful enough to conquer all (an idea that also goes back to that fateful issue #108) and in its verbosity (which isn't a criticism; it works quite well here).
The cover of this issue is an homage to Michelangelo's Pieta, a work of art referenced on countless other comic book covers.
Byrne and Austin do a masterful job throughout the issue of twisting and distorting Jean's face as she grows more or less evil, with her looking normal when suppressing her power but twisted and evil when at the height of her rage.
There's also a neat panel where Dark Phoenix blasts Xavier through the "A" in the "ZAM" sound effect (I love it when the sound effects interact with the action).
"Professor Xavier is a Jerk!"
It's debatable how much of a jerk move it is (depending on how much you believe Cyclops' pleas really worked), but just as Dark Phoenix stands down, Professor X telepathically sucker punches her from behind, believing only he is capable of defeating her once and for all.
With Dark Phoenix seemingly defeated, Jean picks up stray thoughts from Cyclops that sound like a marriage proposal, and she accepts.
The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
In another "for anyone who's never read this comic before" scene, Cyclops makes sure to let any new readers know just how terrible a burden his optic blast is.
This issue contains one of my all time favorite products to be advertised in a comic book: Gregory the bat.
Claremont on the timing of the "Dark Phoenix Saga""From the end of #125 to the end of "Dark Phoenix" you're talking at most three weeks. The Proteus saga takes place in something like 50 hours, if that, and then they come back to New York and within a week you've got the Hellfire Club scenario, and then there's two weeks in New Mexico, and then they're back and from the end of #132 to #137, you're talking about one night. From the moment they walk into the door of the Hellfire Club at about nine o'clock that night to the beginning of #137, you're talking four hours of real time, tops."
Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p120
Claremont on Dark Phoenix's lust for power
"Well, it was a sexual thrill. It was the ultimate. To use a somewhat gross term, it was the quest for the cosmic orgasm. Her feeding...on the star, was an act of love, of self-love, of masturbation probably. She was on an extreme emotional high, and what happened towards the end - well, what Xavier did was reassert the control of her conscious mind, of her intellectual self over her emotional self."
Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion II. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p103
The penultimate issue of the "Dark Phoenix Saga" is, essentially, an X-Men vs. Dark Phoenix rematch. Having been thoroughly trounced the last time out, the X-Men come prepared and with a fancy gizmo, some teamwork, Claremontian ideals about the power of love, a telepathic assist from Professor X and a little help from Jean herself, and they emerge triumphant. On another level, this issue is an excellent representation of Claremont and Byrne's ability to elevate the super-hero action story to its highest levels, with plot, characterization and action all working together in perfect synthesis, the events of the previous thirty-five issues building to an elegant, seeming-crescendo. From the changing depictions of Jean at various levels of villainy to the psychic duel between her and Xavier to Claremont's pointed, passionate narration, this is an issue that could be dissected and pored over again and again. It is a showcase for two master craftsmen at the top of their game, and though, in the end, the X-Men appear victorious and the stage set for a happy ending, there is one more issue left to this tale. Claremont and Byrne are about to top themselves; the final fate of Phoenix is yet to be revealed.
The "Dark Phoenix Saga" comes to its thrilling conclusion!