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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

X-amining X-Men Annual #4

"Nightcrawler's Inferno!"
1980

In a Nutshell 
The X-Men fight their way through a facsimile of Hell as depicted by Dante. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: John Romita, Jr.
Inker: Bob McLeod
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
The X-Men throw Nightcrawler a surprise birthday party, but when he opens a present from an unknown sender, it explodes and puts him in a coma. Unable to revive him via traditional methods, Professor X calls in Dr. Strange, who realizes that Nightcrawler's soul has been taken. Just then, a sorceress named Margali appears and summons a tentacled creature which pulls Dr. Strange and the X-Men into darkness. They awaken, along with Nightcrawler, outside a massive gate which Dr. Strange recognizes as the entrance to Hell. They enter and come before Minos, guardian of the gate of Hell. He tells the X-Men that Nightcrawler broke the rules laid out upstairs, and tosses him into a deep pit. Storm flies after him, and pulls Nightcrawler up far enough that he manages to teleport away, but Storm is attacked by Harpies and falls into the pit herself.


The X-Men proceed through the various levels of Hell in search of Storm before finding her on the level reserved for thieves. Reunited, they come before Satan, but a suspicious Dr. Strange reveals Satan to be Margali, who asks why the X-Men have come before her. Suddenly, a woman Nightcrawler recognizes as Jimaine and who calls Margali her mother appears before them and explains that she brought the X-Men to Margali. Jimaine is transformed into crystal by Margali, but Dr. Strange engages Margali in mystical combat before Nightcrawler puts a stop to it. Margali insists on taking Kurt's life in exchange for the one he took. The X-Men protest Nightcrawler's innocence, and Dr. Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto to show Margali, Nightcrawler's adopted mother, the truth: as children, Nightcrawler swore a blood oath with his adopted brother Stefan that should Stefan ever take an innocent life, Nightcrawler would kill him to prevent him committing even greater evil. Years later, Nightcrawler was forced by his oath to do just that, though it left him heartbroken. Realizing her error, Margali apologizes to Nightcrawler and transports the X-Men back to their mansion. She also restores Jimaine, Nightcrawler's adopted sister and childhood sweetheart, who reveals herself to be Nightcrawler's girlfriend Amanda Sefton. She explains that she never believed he could have killed Stefan in cold blood, and got close to him as Amanda in order to learn the truth, but remained unable to sway their mother. Intrigued by Margali's power, Dr. Strange looks on as an overjoyed Nightcrawler and the rest of the X-Men continue their celebration.

Firsts and Other Notables
This is really the closest thing yet to an origin issue for Nightcrawler, as we learn he was found abandoned as an infant (this issue says he was found alongside his dead mother; later stories will retcon that detail) by a gypsy sorceress named Margali and raised alongside her children as one of her own, as part of their traveling circus. As he grew older, he fell in love with his adopted sister and swore a blood oath with his adopted brother that he would do anything to stop his brother should his brother give in to his darker impulses. When his brother did exactly that and committed a series of murders, Nightcrawler was forced to kill him, but ended up getting blamed for the crimes his brother committed and attacked by nearby villagers, which formed the angry mob from which Nightcrawler was fleeing when Professor X found him in Giant-Size X-Men #1.


The big reveal here is that Nightcrawler's stewardess girlfriend, Amanda Sefton (who's been hanging around the edges of the story off and on since issue #98) is actually his childhood sweetheart/adopted sister Jimaine (and is also a sorceress, because sure, why not?). Though no explanation is given for why she didn't use her sorceress powers to escape or help the X-Men when she was captured by Arcade in issue #124.


This is also the first appearance of Nightcrawler's adopted mother, Margali Szardos, who will go on to be a recurring but relatively minor character throughout the years. 

This issue guest stars Dr. Strange, Marvel's master of the mystic arts, making his first appearance in the book since issue #33 back in the Silver Age. Claremont was also writing Dr. Strange's book at this time.


John Romita Jr. makes his X-Men debut, penciling this issue, though it's still early in his career and it will be some time before he's assigned to be the book's regular artist. As such, the art here is pretty unremarkable, with only a few glimmers here and there of his later style. His pencils are inked by Bob McLeod, who will go on to co-create the New Mutants with Claremont.

A Work in Progress
Nightcrawler is celebrating his 21st birthday as the issue opens, and his presents hilariously include a framed picture of Wolverine (wearing his mask).


It is revealed that Storm has been named leader of the X-Men in Cyclops' absence.


Colossus mentions that he was raised as an atheist.


Kitty mentions that Nightcrawler skeeves her out for the first time.

 
This is also the first time Wolverine refers to her as "pun'kin", and the first time its mentioned that she's a genius.

 
Nightcrawler's Christianity is revealed this issue, and though it's never overtly stated, later stories will reveal Nightcrawler to specifically be a rather devout Catholic, and Margali's choice of Dante's Inferno to torment him in this issue can, retroactively, be seen as an early indication of his faith.

I Love the 80s
Storm somehow knows exactly what a Harpy is...


Nightcrawler has to restrain himself in Kitty's presence.


Claremontisms
Throughout his long run on the book, Claremont becomes notorious for complicating the back-stories of even the most seemingly-mundane or minor characters. It's been said that no one can ever just be one thing in a Claremont comic, and we get our first real example of that here, as it's not enough that Nightcrawler's girlfriend is a stewardess, she also has to be his adopted sister/childhood sweetheart in disguise. And then it's not enough that Nightcrawler's stewardess girlfriend is also his sister and childhood sweetheart, but she also has to be a sorceress.

We also get a key Claremont phrase in this issue: we stay, we fight, we'll win. The particular three beat construction of the phrase will become something of a trademark of his X-Men writing.

 
Young Love
Kitty is still crushing on Colossus, calling him "wonderful".


It's in the Mail
The letter column in this issue (a rarity for annuals) features early reactions to issue #137, such as:


Roger Stern on Claremont's plans for Nightcrawler's parentage
"It happened when I was writer of Dr. Strange, back when writers were still occasionally listened to. Chris had come up with the latest of several crazy ideas and declared that Nightcrawler's father was [Dr. Strange archenemy] Nightmare. And I replied with something like, 'No, he's not. I'm not going to let you appropriate one of my character's major villains.' As I recall, Len Wein crossed the room and shook my hand. And not too long after that...I did become the X-Men editor and was able to make sure that didn't happen for long enough that Chris eventually changed his mind."

Callahan, Timothy. "Greatest Stories Never Told: Nightcrawler's Two Dads and the Owl That Could Have Been." Back Issue August 2008: p59.

Teebore's Take
As mentioned before, X-Men annuals not drawn by Art Adams are pretty hit or miss, and this is definitely a miss (though, sadly, still not the worst of the non-Art Adams annuals). While the effort to flesh out Nightcrawler's background is welcome, the end result is an early example of the bad kind of Claremontian excess, saddling the character with a complicated back-story for seemingly no good reason. Perhaps because his original plans for Nightcrawler were scuttled, Claremont never felt passionate about this revised origin, but for whatever the reason, beyond introducing the intriguing idea of Nightcrawler being a Christian and the whole "my girlfriend is my adopted sister is my childhood sweetheart is a sorceress" revelation, this issue largely falls flat.

Worst of all, it commits the most cardinal sin of super hero comics: neither good enough to enjoy on its own merits nor bad enough to enjoy ironically, it is boring. The notion of the X-Men fighting their way through the various levels of Hell as depicted by Dante isn't a bad one, but the execution here is lacking. Romita Jr. doesn't yet have the chops to make the action sequences sing or the magical effects mindblowing, and Claremont seems bored with the story, infusing it with little inspired narration or fun character moments. The whole thing feels very by the numbers, and aside from contributing a couple of historical footnotes to X-Men lore, is largely forgettable. 

Next Issue: X-Men #139
We get back to the main book, back to Byrne, and back to Canada, which can only mean one thing: Alpha Flight!

38 comments:

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

This whole thing just seems ridiculous to me. I was all excited because i love nightcrawler, so then i was even more let down when i read through your post.
Also, suckiest b-day ever?

Anonymous said...

Isn't Satan supposed to be Joel Grey from Cabaret or something?

Otherwise, quite an unimpressive first outing of the "new" New X-Men. Think of it in terms of a season premiere after the pervious season's "Dark Phoenix" finale. Just lame on quite a few levels. I pretend this didn't happen and skip right on to Alpha Flight.

--mortsleam

Matt said...

Urgh. I hate the Amanda Sefton retcon. I think I said before that I believe it's the worst idea Claremont ever executed during his tenure on the X-Men -- and this is coming from someone who absolutely despises Storm's mohawk!

Why did Amanda have to be Jimaine? Why not create a new character? It just comes across as sloppy, unnecessary complication for complication's sake.

I also think it's telling that Claremont did this in an annual, because there's certainly no way Byrne would've let him get away with it in the monthly series! I like Stern's anecdote, too. I kind of get the impression that back in the 70's, everyone at Marvel viewed Claremont as sort of a nut with silly ideas.

Michael said...

I reread this after crapping all over it in last week's comments -- and my opinion didn't change much.

Amanda Sefton -- sister / girlfriend, stewardess / sorceress -- is pointless and creepy. I understand that the two are not related by blood, but Nightcrawler was adopted into Margali's family as an infant, meaning that he spent his childhood life looking at this girl as a sibling and then came out of puberty with romantic feelings for her. How did that make it past the comics code in the Reagan era?

I really do love Claremont, even the stuff that others shrug off -- the "no team" era being a particular favorite of mine that others seem to greatly dislike -- but I can't stand his penchant for mucking up the backstories of characters like this.

But to put things in perspective, this isn't nearly as awful as some other backstory retcons that Marvel treated us to in the 90s -- like Peter Parker's parents being agents of SHIELD or pretty much everything done to Wolverine. It's crap, but it doesn't totally change the history or integrity of the character.

Matt said...

Michael -- "...Peter Parker's parents being agents of SHIELD..."

I agree with pretty much everything you said, but on this point, I should mention that it was Stan Lee, in a late 60's Amazing Spider-Man annual, who revealed that Peter's parents were government agents... so that particular retcon goes back to the character's co-creator. I've never really had any problem with that particular revelation either, because it didn't become a defining element of Peter Parker's character. He learned about it and moved on.

There was that pretty awful storyline in the 90's where they came "back from the dead", though. According to writer David Michelinie, he was ordered to bring back the Parkers by the title's editor. Michelinie says that the editor had no idea who or what they would turn out to be, or where the subplot would even go... he just wanted it to happen. I have previously stated my appreciation for "making it up as you go along" as a legitmate way to write a comic, but this was a particularly ill-conceived example of that practice.

Anyway, I don't know that the Parkers were ever officially SHIELD agents, though I am aware that they knew Nick Fury. In fact, there was an Untold Tales of Spider-Man issue for Marvel's "Flashback Month" that I actually really liked -- it was written by Roger Stern and featured Richard and Mary Parker rescuing Canadian agent Logan from enemy spies or something, I believe at the request of Fury.

It's a pretty awful case of "Claremonting" the characters' backstories, but it was a very fun issue nonetheless. It kind of made me wish for "Richard & Mary Parker: Super Spies" ongoing series (or at least a mini).

Michael said...

@Matt I should mention that it was Stan Lee, in a late 60's Amazing Spider-Man annual

Wow. I had no idea. I guess I need to break down and buy all the Spider-Man Masterworks now...

Well, I guess I can't complain about it too much then... at least as being part of the 90s is concerned. I still really hate the idea. I find Marvel's charm to be in its efforts to create the "world outside your door" -- the world where any teenager can get bit by a radioactive spider or be born with special gifts and become a superhero. That world loses its charm when you realize that it's NOT something everyone can do -- just the sons and daughters of secret agents and sorceresses.

Anne said...

yeah- i agree with Sarah- this sounds pretty freaking ridiculous.

In Storm's defense i learned what a harpy was from the Last Unicorn

Teebore said...

@Sarah: Also, suckiest b-day ever?

For Nightcrawler, yeah, though I suppose it worked out in the end when he found out his childhood sweetheart and his current girlfriend were one and the same.

Well, it either "worked out" or he was "creeped out", but he seemed to like it...

@mortsleam: Isn't Satan supposed to be Joel Grey from Cabaret or something?

Yeah, Minos, the guardian to the gates of Hell, resembles Joel Grey and does the whole "Wilkommen, etc." schtick from Cabaret when the X-Men enter.

That was probably worth mentioning in the post, but I was already spending way too much time on this issue...

Think of it in terms of a season premiere after the pervious season's "Dark Phoenix" finale. Just lame on quite a few levels.

That's an interesting way of looking at it, and unfortunately, does make the whole thing feel even lamer.

@Matt: I think I said before that I believe it's the worst idea Claremont ever executed during his tenure on the X-Men -- and this is coming from someone who absolutely despises Storm's mohawk!

Hmm...you've got me thinking now. I'm not sure what I'd call his worst executed idea, though this would definitely be in the running.

Why did Amanda have to be Jimaine? Why not create a new character? It just comes across as sloppy, unnecessary complication for complication's sake.

I know when we've discussed this in the past I've mentioned this as well, but I'm okay with Amanda being ONE thing more than Nightcrawler's stewardess girlfriend: either his childhood sweetheart in disguise, or a sorceress. This is comics, after all, and I'm okay with the idea of there being something more to Amanda.

But going with both, and then tossing in the icky-no-matter-how-you-sell-it "she's his adopted sister" angle just makes the entire thing ridiculous, in a "this is comics, after all, but not in a good way" kind of way.

I also think it's telling that Claremont did this in an annual, because there's certainly no way Byrne would've let him get away with it in the monthly series!

Yeah, I couldn't find a good source for it, but I've read secondhand in several places that, not surprisingly, Byrne did not like the Amanda Sefton retcon at all.

Teebore said...

@Michael: I understand that the two are not related by blood, but Nightcrawler was adopted into Margali's family as an infant, meaning that he spent his childhood life looking at this girl as a sibling and then came out of puberty with romantic feelings for her. How did that make it past the comics code in the Reagan era?

It definitely is creepy. I know this certainly isn't the first time the notion of adopted siblings becoming lovers appeared in fiction (it is, I believe, a somewhat Romantic/Gothic notion; I know that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, for example, has the title character in love with his adopted sister/cousin), but that doesn't change the fact that to modern audiences, even in 1980, the first reaction to it is likely to be "ick".

As for getting it past the Comics Code, I would guess that by 1980, the Code wasn't paying too close attention to everything. As long as Nightcrawler and Amanda didn't do anything explicit in celebration of their love, I doubt anyone at the Code even read the dialogue closely enough to realize the two people embracing at the end were adopted brother and sister.

But that's just 100% speculation on my part.

But to put things in perspective, this isn't nearly as awful as some other backstory retcons that Marvel treated us to in the 90s -- like Peter Parker's parents being agents of SHIELD or pretty much everything done to Wolverine. It's crap, but it doesn't totally change the history or integrity of the character.

Yeah, even if this is the worst idea executed by Claremont during his run, it's nothing compared to some of the bizarre and unnecessary stuff that comes out of the 90s (which isn't too say everything from the 90s is bad, of course; I greatly enjoy quite a bit of it, but it was a hotbed for crazy retcons).

Teebore said...

@Matt: I should mention that it was Stan Lee, in a late 60's Amazing Spider-Man annual, who revealed that Peter's parents were government agents... so that particular retcon goes back to the character's co-creator. I've never really had any problem with that particular revelation either, because it didn't become a defining element of Peter Parker's character. He learned about it and moved on.

I still really hate the idea. I find Marvel's charm to be in its efforts to create the "world outside your door" -- the world where any teenager can get bit by a radioactive spider or be born with special gifts and become a superhero. That world loses its charm when you realize that it's NOT something everyone can do -- just the sons and daughters of secret agents and sorceresses.

On the one hand, I definitely agree with Michael: the notion that all these heroes have parents with fantastic pasts definitely lessens the impact of the "world next door", and isn't, in general, a good thing.

On the other hand, I don't think Stan's "Spider-Man's parents are government agents" idea specifically has that effect. If memory serves (and it's been far too long since I last read Stan's Spider-Man stuff), the revelation is little more than what Matt said: they were government agents. Which means they could have been anything from CIA to FBI to IRS agents.

Obviously, it's easy enough to imagine them as super Bondian government agents, which is pretty much what happens in the 90s when it's revealed that they were SHIELD agents who fought the Red Skull, but all of that came about well after Stan's initial idea, which in and of itself, wasn't too fantastical or out there.

@Anne:
In Storm's defense i learned what a harpy was from the Last Unicorn


Yeah, it's not beyond reason that Storm picked up that knowledge somewhere along the way, she just doesn't strike me as the type that would have that kind of thing on the tip of the tongue.

There's just a very matter-of-fact way she says, "look out, harpies!" that made me laugh. Not "look out, a demon!" or "a monster" but the specific kind of monster that is attacking them.

Matt said...

Teebore -- "Obviously, it's easy enough to imagine them as super Bondian government agents, which is pretty much what happens in the 90s when it's revealed that they were SHIELD agents who fought the Red Skull, but all of that came about well after Stan's initial idea, which in and of itself, wasn't too fantastical or out there."

Welllll... not exactly. In Stan's original story, the Red Skull is the villain. Peter finds an old newspaper clipping that says his parents were traitors, and goes off to figure out the truth. He learns that his parents worked for the Red Skull in some capacity, but ultimately finds out that they were "secret double agents" working against the Skull from within his organization. So... pretty Bondian stuff right from the get-go!

Also, I think that, per the social standards of the time, the implication is that only Richard Parker worked for the govermnent, and Mary was just along for the ride. I believe it was in the 90's that they both became spies.

(Yes, I am a bigger Spider-Man nerd than I am an X-Men nerd...)

Super Lad Kid said...

I didn't think the issue was too bad. The pacing could have been done a little nicer. Nightcrawler's backstory could have been revealed slowly over the course of the issue rather being dumped at the end to quickly wrap things up. I thought the art was pretty decent. The

Questions about Amanda - Since she is a sorceress, why doesn't she just join the team? She has powers, so use them along side Kurt. Also, why hide your identity? It seems that if she truly loved him, then she should be pissed that he is dating what he thinks to be a completely other person. The reveal doesn't seem very well though out, and I am curious about any long term plans this reveal may have had.

Michael said...

@SuperLadKid

I don't think it's ever explained why she doesn't join the team straight off. You could assume that it's because she's not a mutant or because she has no interest in superheroing. Either way, she isn't invited to join the team on panel, at least not to my knowledge. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong here.) I suspect the behind-the-scenes reason for her not joining has more to do with the fact that Claremont had no real plan for her character beyond this ridiculous, convoluted character retcon or that Byrne was so dissatisfied with the character retcon in this annual that he wanted her out of the book as soon as possible.

Also, I don't think Amanda has any real grounds to be angry with Kurt. He hasn't seen her (as Jimaine) for years and she is the one who went out her way to mislead Kurt as to her true identity. If anything, I think Kurt has real ground to be upset with her -- and that really cuts to the heart of your question (why hide your identity?) and the ridiculousness of this story.

Jimaine's reason for posing as Amanda Sefton is never explained, basically boiling down to "I thought our mom might attack you someday, so instead of coming to you as Jimaine long ago, I decided to create a false identity and lie to you." It makes no sense.

Nightcrawler's response makes to this revelation makes even less sense. He discovers that the two great loves of his life -- Jimaine and Amanda -- are actually the same person and that this person has been lying to him for months. (Or maybe years, as it's unclear exactly how much time has passed in the MU between Issue 98 and this annual.) Somehow, though, he doesn't feel at all betrayed by this revelation. He doesn't come out of it with major, relationship-shattering trust issues. Instead, he gives her a great big hug and we all live happily ever after.

The whole thing is just absurd and unnecessary.

Dr. Bitz said...

First of all, this issue has Doctor Strange which automatically makes it one of the best in the X-Men series.

Seriously, though, I am curious which issues of Doctor Strange Claremont wrote. I never paid attention to the writer when reading them.

I also take exception to the idea that Nightmare is Doctor Strange's "archenemy." Speaking of which, do you think Claremont wanted Nightmare to be Nightcrawler's father simply because they both had "night" in their name? I wouldn't put it past him....

Chris said...

I consider this annual a one-off bronze age-ish X-Men tale, the kind we won't see much more of from here on, not great but I still sort of enjoy it. JR Jr. art, once he was the regular penciler never appealed to me, but in this annual I can tolerate it, not as stylized as it became. So aside from the confused she'e s my sister/she's my girlfriend angle(imagine trying to make sense of that when your a little kid!), it's a nice introduction to Dante.

Also is story takes place after Jean's funeral and Cyclops leaving, so why's Wolverine still in his old uniform and where's Angel?

I have a respectfully disagree about the Art Adams annuals; I went back read them (two of them right?) beside heroic spotlights for a depowered Storm and Wolverine, they were both New Mutants adventures guest starring the X-men. The Asgard one is still enjoyable nonetheless but the whole Longshot/Mojo thing I can't get into.

Pete Woodhouse said...

Dr Bitz said: "I am curious which issues of Doctor Strange Claremont wrote. I never paid attention to the writer when reading them."
The Doctor Strange Claremont run was approx #40-50, 1980-81-ish (Colan left on issue 47 I'm pretty sure). I don't know if Roger Stern on his acclaimed run immediately succeeded Claremont or if there was a fill-in or two.

Blam said...


I don't carry the vitriol for this issue that some fans apparently do — or so I'm learning now — but that may be because I've only tangentially recalled the cover and plot beats.

While it's certainly substandard, to a 10-year-old kid the overriding sentiment was "Cool! More X-Men — and they're with Doctor Strange!" Although I grant that 10-year-old kids were not necessarily Claremont's primary audience as he was writing, and it was beginning to become true at this time that they were losing status as the comic-book industry's primary audience on the whole.

I'm pretty sure that if I'd included this issue in the many rereads I did of this era of the title over the next couple of decades, it would stick out as more of a dud — and make no mistake, the Amanda / Jimaine thing has always been weird — but I've traditionally filed annuals at the end of my run of a title, pulling them out only when they're relevant to the ongoing story or to research.

Teebore: Nightcrawler is celebrating his 21st birthday as the issue opens, and his presents hilariously include a framed picture of Wolverine (wearing his mask).

I love that. Lots of bits in the opening sequence were funny, intentionally or otherwise.

Kurt also got a questionable shirt plus tie, binoculars, barbells (since the mansion doesn't have workout equipment or anything), and a Stetson.

Of course the picture of Wolverine just about takes the cake — no birthday-eats pun intended. The absurdity works because Logan still had a bit of the Ben Grimm personality about him at the time. I couldn't see the scene flying with Byrne drawing it, but with Cockrum it would have and with Romita's rather nondescript art here it does as well.

After Kurt is rendered "no longer... alive," however, comes my favorite panel, as Logan — who's apparently gone through a half-dozen beers while Xavier runs tests on Nightcrawler — crunches his can and sprays what's inside towards an oblivious Kitty. Check it out and try not to be mesmerized by Peter's facepalm, which gets more compellingly ugly the longer you look at it.

I won't go so far as to say that I don't buy Kurt only turning 21, but I certainly never read him as that young (especially after I got to an age where I realized how young that was). He and Peter do come across as more-or-less contemporaries, true, and I think that Peter was only supposed to be about 5 years older than the going-on-14 Kitty; I just always saw this group as older than the original X-Men were when they began, thanks to both implicit characterization/plotting and some explicit mentions in the script.

VW: explo — A dynamite convention.

Blam said...


Teebore: And then it's not enough that Nightcrawler's stewardess girlfriend is also his sister and childhood sweetheart, but she also has to be a sorceress.

I'm aware that there's been plenty of commenting upon this point, but I just want to draw attention again to those words "sister and childhood sweetheart". Don't you just want to swap out the 'm' in "Bamf!" with another consonant five letters down the alphabet?

Roger Stern (quoted): Chris had come up with the latest of several crazy ideas and declared that Nightcrawler's father was [Dr. Strange archenemy] Nightmare. And I replied with something like, 'No, he's not. I'm not going to let you appropriate one of my character's major villains.' As I recall, Len Wein crossed the room and shook my hand.

That is classic. I don't ever recall hearing about the Nightmare thing, and I certainly don't remember hearing this anecdote, which is just priceless.

Matt: Why did Amanda have to be Jimaine? Why not create a new character? It just comes across as sloppy, unnecessary complication for complication's sake.

Even more than that, it's creepy — and the part where he fell in love with his adoptive sister is arguably not the creepiest part! How on Earth is hiding your true identity from your childhood sweetheart (I'm just letting the fact that they were raised as siblings slide for a moment) a good idea? This ain't Shakespeare, which I don't mean in the usual sense of it not measuring up to the bard's standards of plotting or dialogue, but in the sense that at least when these kinds of weird masquerades pop up in Shakespeare there's a reason for it, like an identity that must remain hidden (a royal as a servant, a woman as a man, etc.). Here Jimaine is just screwing with Kurt. What I don't think anyone has mentioned yet is that if Jimaine alters her face as Amanda, then she's put Kurt — both of them, really — in the supremely awkward position of one major aspect of Kurt's current girlfriend being a fabrication that he presumably appreciated (he may not have necessarily found Amanda prettier than Jimaine, but still); if she doesn't alter her face as Amanda, then Kurt's just stupid.

Dr. Bitz: I also take exception to the idea that Nightmare is Doctor Strange's "archenemy."

Early on he was certainly in the running for the title, or at least the equivalent of say The Riddler to Batman in Doctor Strange's rogues gallery, but I'd give the nod for actual "archenemy" to Dormammu or Baron Mordo.

I never realized that this was John Romita Jr.'s first X-Men job. Not that I thought he drew them earlier, just that I'm not sure I've even read this issue since his actual run on the title from X-Men #176 to whenever, and didn't recall that he'd drawn it / drawn the team before that run.

Did you know that among the mystic arts mastered by Strange was the power to speak parenthetically? "Here," quoth the Sorcerer Supreme, "you'll find panders* and seducers, flatterers, simonists (churchmen who use their holy office for personal gain), diviners (false prophets), frauds and con-artists, hypocrites, thieves..."

[*At first I thought that this was a typo for "panderers" but I looked up "pander" and there are definitions of the word as a noun — one, dated, is "pimp"; another, noted as archaic, is "a person who assists the baser urges or evil designs of others:" In the pantheon of words learned from comic books, it's no "friction" or "invulnerable", but, y'know Hey! Impress your Sunday-school teacher!]

VW: chirk — An obnoxious little bird.

Teebore said...

@Matt: So... pretty Bondian stuff right from the get-go!

Huh. Well then, I stand corrected. Sometimes it's easy to forget that Stan is just as capable of coming up with some crazy stuff as anyone, if not moreso...

Yes, I am a bigger Spider-Man nerd than I am an X-Men nerd...

Well, it's good to know that if I ever find the time/resources to expand out and do posts similar to these for the Avengers and Spider-Man, I'd have at least one Spider-Man reader...

@Super Lad Kid: The reveal doesn't seem very well though out, and I am curious about any long term plans this reveal may have had.

Yeah, the reveal definitely begs all those questions you asked. I honestly don't know if Claremont had any long term plans for the reveal. Obviously, with Byrne not liking the idea, Amanda gets no play while he's still on the title, but even after that, Claremont does little with the character and, aside from a few turns helping out the team here and there, unfortunately offers no good explanation for her not contributing more often beyond the general idea that she's a stewardess and thus not around all the time.

Apparently, when you're the X-Men, you won't take all the help you can get. :)

@Michael:Either way, she isn't invited to join the team on panel, at least not to my knowledge. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong here.)

Nor to my knowledge, either.

"I thought our mom might attack you someday, so instead of coming to you as Jimaine long ago, I decided to create a false identity and lie to you."

"And also, I brought you and your friends into my mom's recreation of Hell in order to force a confrontation of the issue."

No sense indeed...

Dr. Bitz: Seriously, though, I am curious which issues of Doctor Strange Claremont wrote. I never paid attention to the writer when reading them.

@Pete Wodehouse: The Doctor Strange Claremont run was approx #40-50, 1980-81-ish (Colan left on issue 47 I'm pretty sure).

A (very) quick internet search tells me it was just issues #38-45 (of his second series).

@Dr. Bitz: I also take exception to the idea that Nightmare is Doctor Strange's "archenemy."

I've always put him third on the list, behind Dormammu and Baron Mordo. Whether that constitutes "archenemy" status...I don't know. But I'll certainly defer to you on the matter.

Speaking of which, do you think Claremont wanted Nightmare to be Nightcrawler's father simply because they both had "night" in their name? I wouldn't put it past him....

I'm 98% sure that's at least where the idea originated...

@Chris: Also is story takes place after Jean's funeral and Cyclops leaving, so why's Wolverine still in his old uniform and where's Angel?

Those are pretty much the two things that make this slot in before #139, time-wise, even though it was published after it.

I went back read them (two of them right?) beside heroic spotlights for a depowered Storm and Wolverine, they were both New Mutants adventures guest starring the X-men. The Asgard one is still enjoyable nonetheless but the whole Longshot/Mojo thing I can't get into.

There were four, total (the two you mentioned, as well as #12 (an "Evolutionary War" tie-in) and #14 (part of "Days of Future Present", the first outright sequel to "Days of Future Past)).

I'll grant that the stories of all four are nothing spectacular (though Annual #9, the Asgard one, is one of my favorites, but I also like the New Mutants), but I'm a big enough fan of Art Adams that his presence alone elevates them above all other annuals.

Teebore said...

@Blam: I'm pretty sure that if I'd included this issue in the many rereads I did of this era of the title over the next couple of decades, it would stick out as more of a dud

That what really sinks it for me (putting aside the whole Amanda retcon): the unfortunate timing of falling right after "Dark Phoenix" and before "Days of Future Past". It's certainly not awful, as Super Lad Kid asserted, and is, as Chris said, a one-off Bronze Age kinda story, but it really suffers in comparison to the stuff going on in the main book at the time, such that whenever I read it as part of the run, it just takes the whole thing down a notch.

Logan — who's apparently gone through a half-dozen beers while Xavier runs tests on Nightcrawler — crunches his can and sprays what's inside towards an oblivious Kitty.

I LOVE that Romita (or possibly McLeod) took the time to draw in the beer spray. Wolverine's so upset he's even WASTING BEER!

...but I certainly never read him as that young (especially after I got to an age where I realized how young that was)...I just always saw this group as older than the original X-Men were when they began, thanks to both implicit characterization/plotting and some explicit mentions in the script.

Ditto. I'm always taken aback by that when I read this issue too. I've always viewed the new X-Men (other than Banshee) at this time as being mid-to-late 20s contemporaries with the original X-Men, with Peter, on the young end, and Logan, on the older end, being the exceptions (and even then, while still contemporaries, I could easily see a case being made that Nightcrawler and Storm, especially, are perhaps even a bit older than the original X-Men).

Don't you just want to swap out the 'm' in "Bamf!" with another consonant five letters down the alphabet?

Ha! Indeed. Though I won't lie: I intentionally wrote that sentence to come across as barf-inducing as possible.

What I don't think anyone has mentioned yet is that if Jimaine alters her face as Amanda, then she's put Kurt — both of them, really — in the supremely awkward position of one major aspect of Kurt's current girlfriend being a fabrication that he presumably appreciated (he may not have necessarily found Amanda prettier than Jimaine, but still); if she doesn't alter her face as Amanda, then Kurt's just stupid.

Well said. I've never considered that before (comic book facial art being fairly generic), but you're right: either Amanda wears a different face (which makes the whole thing even more unnecessarily complicated/poorly thought out) or Nightcrawler is especially dumb.

Did you know that among the mystic arts mastered by Strange was the power to speak parenthetically?

Ha! I was so taken aback by the quaintness of the comic book's desire to educate its readers that I totally missed Dr. Strange speaking in parentheticals.

I looked up "pander" and there are definitions of the word as a noun — one, dated, is "pimp"; another, noted as archaic, is "a person who assists the baser urges or evil designs of others:"

Huh. I'll definitely add that to the list of words comic books have taught me.

And that's one to grow on!

Blam said...


Teebore: I LOVE that Romita (or possibly McLeod) took the time to draw in the beer spray. Wolverine's so upset he's even WASTING BEER!

Hadn't even thought of that... I just envisioned the "next" panel, a split-second later, with Kitty doused and going all (justifiably) what-her-sequined-shirt-in-#138-said. "Ugh! The gross little hairy man got beer in my hair!" And that said this still isn't my favorite sequence in an X-Men annual involving Logan drinking beer; that honor falls to what's probably the only annual I bought after dropping the series in 1985, either 'cause someone recommended it or I simply took a chance on the Alan Davis loveliness.

You have this post labeled "Claremont/Byrne", by the way. That could well be intentional so that it shows up along with the issues that surround it if folks click on said label, but just in case it was a habit or carryover or something I thought I'd let you know. -- Bookkeepin' Blam

Teebore said...

@Blam: That could well be intentional so that it shows up along with the issues that surround it if folks click on said label, but just in case it was a habit or carryover or something I thought I'd let you know.

Yeah, it was intentional, my thought being that way it would show up in the appropriate place during the run even though Byrne didn't draw it (and I went back and checked that I'd done the same thing for annual #3).

But I go back and forth on the practice. Specifically, I haven't decided if #144 will get tagged with Claremont/Cockrum II, or if I'll wait to apply that to #145, Cockrum's actual return.

I feel like fill-in issues/annuals during runs deserve the tag, just to keep things flowing, but fill-ins that precede/follow runs I'm not too sure about.

Either way, I should probably be consistent: either the tag strictly refers to the writer/artist combo, or is more concerned with grouping chunks of the X-Men story together, regardless of occasional fill-ins or other deviations from the label.

And, of course, I'm worrying far too much about something that will probably never be used, but hey, I'm an anal retentive geek like that. :)

Matt said...

I've always read the X-Men characters as older than they're actually intended to be. The exception is Colossus, who, for whatever reason, I can buy as 18 years old at this time. Byrne drew him with a bit of a baby face (square jawed though he was), so that helped. But in general, I would think most of the "new" team ranged from their early to mid-20's, with the obvious exceptions of Banshee and Wolverine.

I think part of the reason they skew older in my interpretation is that Claremont tended to write everyone like an adult, regardless of their age. I don't mean in terms of maturity, but in terms of using expressions and language that kids or teens just wouldn't use (this is for the best, though, since when he did try his hand at "typical" teenage dialogue, it tended to be pretty darn awful...).

The art doesn't always sell it, either. Rogue was apparently supposed to be like 18 for most of Claremont's run, but she always looked and acted like a woman in her 20's -- except in her first appearance where she looked to be about 60!

The same goes for a lot of other characters in the X-Men too, both during and after the Claremont run. Mark Waid once had Cyclops declare that he was only 25 years old in an issue around the time of "Onslaught". I was 16 or 17 at the time, so 25 seemed like a lifetime away at that point, but I still couldn't buy it. In my mind, the Cyclops of the post-Claremont era was in his late 20's, if not 30 years old. This would be corroborated by Fabian Nicieza's subplot where Beast, the oldest of the original X-Men, turned 30 years old.

Teebore said...

@Matt: Claremont tended to write everyone like an adult, regardless of their age. I don't mean in terms of maturity, but in terms of using expressions and language that kids or teens just wouldn't use

That's a good point. And, let's be honest, very few comic book writers can do authentic teen dialogue well.

Rogue was apparently supposed to be like 18 for most of Claremont's run, but she always looked and acted like a woman in her 20's -- except in her first appearance where she looked to be about 60!

That's one of the things that's always bugged me about her first appearance: she comes across as so old there that as a result, she seems to de-age throughout her history, going from a middle age woman to a 20-something to a late teen/early 20s when Jim Lee takes over.

This would be corroborated by Fabian Nicieza's subplot where Beast, the oldest of the original X-Men, turned 30 years old.

Maybe it was because that seemed SO OLD to me then, or because the X-Men's 30th anniversary was just around the corner, but that always felt right to me. Circa the mid 90s, I always figured the X-Men were generally in their late 20s/early 30s, with the New Mutants-turned-X-Force characters in their late teens/early 20s, and the Generation X kids in their teens.

And you can add 5-10 years to those break downs and slot in the New X-Men kids beneath the Gen Xers nowadays and it still works. I totally picture the Cyclops running Utopia as being in his late 30s.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to really get into it, because it's long and involved and uses Excel spreadsheets, but according to my "TV Seasons" type breakdown alluded to above, approximately 17 years have passed since the first issue of X-Men, making Cyclops 32 or 33. Maybe slightly older, I haven't had the nerve to try and figure out where exactly the last few years of X-Men stories fit in the Nu Marvel Continuity-Lite.

21 year olds were a bit more mature in the early 80s than they are nowadays I think. If that helps.

Jimaine just cast a spell that prevented Nightcrawler from recognizing her even though she didn't change her physical appearance because magic that's why.

--mortsleam

Teebore said...

@mortsleam: I don't want to really get into it, because it's long and involved and uses Excel spreadsheets, but according to my "TV Seasons" type breakdown alluded to above, approximately 17 years have passed since the first issue of X-Men, making Cyclops 32 or 33.

Needless to say, I love that you have spreadsheets mapping all that out.

Jimaine just cast a spell that prevented Nightcrawler from recognizing her even though she didn't change her physical appearance because magic that's why.

Haha! Fair enough. I like it.

Blam said...


mortsleam: Jimaine just cast a spell that prevented Nightcrawler from recognizing her even though she didn't change her physical appearance

I hadn't thought about it that way, but it works for me.

mortsleam: because magic that's why.

Well, yeah, duh on that. 8^)

VW: Dropo — Joan's mutant supervillain who makes it impossible for you to hold on to things.

Blam said...


Matt: Rogue was apparently supposed to be like 18 for most of Claremont's run, but she always looked and acted like a woman in her 20's -- except in her first appearance where she looked to be about 60!

She definitely looked at least middle-aged when she debuted and quite adult thereafter. It made no sense to me when she started getting drawn as less matronly and progressively younger and hotter in the comics (insofar as drawings are "hot" and with the understanding that juxtaposing "matronly" with "younger and hotter" is not intended to cast aspersions on the attractiveness of women of childbearing age per se). When she basically became Kitty Pryde with Rogue's powers in the first X-Men movie, it just weirded me out.

VW: MaterShi — The Pixar / Billy Tucci Amalgam I don't want to see.

Blam said...


I don't want to get into a long treatise on the phenomenon here, but I think that all references to a character's age after their debut are a bad idea, given the serialized / sliding-scale nature of most superhero universes, as are even references to a particular date; they just poke holes at the bubble of illusion at best and create actual narrative problems at worst.

VW: TopoLido — Pool attraction featuring Aquaman's octopus buddy at the Super Friends amusement park.

Teebore said...

@Blam: When she basically became Kitty Pryde with Rogue's powers in the first X-Men movie, it just weirded me out.


You know, I've never thought of it this way before, that pretty much is the zenith of the "de-aging" of Rogue, isn't it?

I think that all references to a character's age after their debut are a bad idea, given the serialized / sliding-scale nature of most superhero universes, as are even references to a particular date; they just poke holes at the bubble of illusion at best and create actual narrative problems at worst.

Agreed. At best, we should only ever get vague references to characters age/the amount of time that's passed since event "X" (no pun intended).

Nathan Adler said...

I never got the double fake-out: Margali built the fake Hell, but Amanda sent them all there, posing as Margali, in order to show Margali that Nightcrawler wasn’t a bad guy. It seemed like an incredibly roundabout and risky approach.

I love how, in the Marvel Universe, Dante Alighieri ACTUALLY went to Hell. I feel like that should be an issue of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The real disappointment is, if you told me today that JRJr was going to do a giant-size story comic of the X-Men in Hell, I would expect something really awesome. This was really tame and basically looked nothing like him except for the faces on Minos and Margali. I can understand why Claremont was never enamoured of JRJr on the title. How much better a job would he have done if it was after his run on Daredevil, what with the Dire-Wraith-looking Mephisto!

I was also disappointed how this story thoroughly undermined the mutant panic thing in his original appearance. Originally, he’s just misunderstood, and everyone hates him because he’s different! Now they were after him because he snapped his brother’s neck.

A lot of Claremont’s little reveals in this Annual were rather contrived too, such as when Nightcrawler falls unconscious, Storm is like, “hey, when I was a kid, I learned how to disable burglar alarms! That means I can totally figure out this bleeding-edge medical scanning technology (that probably has alien components) without a sweat!”

Given revelations over recent years (that Mein Gott they used in First Class), my favourite part of this story though is when Doctor Strange determines that Nightcrawler is not even part-demon. If the Eye of Agamotto has spken, that’s that. And Claremont was writing Dr. Strange at the time, so it’s totally legit!

The greatest thing in this comic though is the letters column and all the Dark Phoenix overflow.

Teebore said...

@Nathan: Margali built the fake Hell, but Amanda sent them all there, posing as Margali, in order to show Margali that Nightcrawler wasn’t a bad guy. It seemed like an incredibly roundabout and risky approach.

Yeah, there has to be a hundred different ways to prove Nightrawler's innocence that commandeering your mother's fake Hell and posing as her to prove your point. Heck, the courts manage to do it all the time without any elaborate Hell constructs. :)

I love how, in the Marvel Universe, Dante Alighieri ACTUALLY went to Hell.

I love all that fictional stuff that actually happened in the Marvel Universe, like Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster and whatnot.

How much better a job would he have done if it was after his run on Daredevil, what with the Dire-Wraith-looking Mephisto!

Agreed, this early JRjr art is worse than bad, it's boring, whereas latter day JRjr could have knocked it out of the park.

Originally, he’s just misunderstood, and everyone hates him because he’s different! Now they were after him because he snapped his brother’s neck.

Good point!

Storm is like, “hey, when I was a kid, I learned how to disable burglar alarms! That means I can totally figure out this bleeding-edge medical scanning technology (that probably has alien components) without a sweat!”

Another good point, and a contrivance that while overshadowed by the whole "my girlfriend/my sister" reveal, is just about as ridiculous.

The greatest thing in this comic though is the letters column and all the Dark Phoenix overflow.


And how odd to see a letters page in an annual? That doesn't happen too often.

Blam said...


The other thing that bothers me about Storm's whole street-urchin burglar thing is that it puts her backstory so at odds with itself. When Xavier recruited her, she'd bought into being worshipped as a nature goddess. How does that jibe with her recalling her childhood in Egypt so well? I don't know of any story that specifically deals with her leaving Cairo and ending up in the Serengeti beyond the one-page montage in X-Men #102 — which doesn't mean one doesn't exist, but if it does it has to walk a real tightrope given that she doesn't have the memory blocks and implants that Wolverine did. Also, Storm being revealed as the daughter of an African princess and an American diplomat, born in Harlem, is sort-of a "have your cake and eat it too" thing in terms of the new team being so international, not that I'm ascribing any kind of jingoism to Claremont making her American by birth.

Teebore said...

@Blam: ...but if it does it has to walk a real tightrope given that she doesn't have the memory blocks and implants that Wolverine did.

I *think* it was established at some point that during her transition from street urchin to African weather goddess, her mind blocked out her childhood memories (or something like that).

I obviously don't remember the details, nor if that was a Claremont reveal or something that came along later, but if that is the case, at least someone recognized some of the incongruities in Storm's various pre-X-Men roles, however lame the explanation is (and "she just forget" is pretty lame...).

Whatever the case, I agree that Storm's surprisingly-complicated back story tries a bit too hard at having its cake and eating it too, in that it tries to reconcile way too many disparate things.

Nathan Adler said...

Roger Stern commented in Back Issue #29 that he wouldn’t let Chris Claremont reveal Nightmare as Nightcrawler's father because he didn’t like characters being revealed as secretly related to one another, preferring mutants to be revealed as having normal parents, yet he let John Byrne do it for Scarlet Witch & Quicksilver by planting the seeds that would lead to the Magneto-as-their-Dad retcon.

Nathan Adler said...

Roger Stern commented in Back Issue #29 that he wouldn’t let Chris Claremont reveal Nightmare as Nightcrawler's father because he didn’t like characters being revealed as secretly related to one another, preferring mutants to be revealed as having normal parents, yet he let John Byrne do it for Scarlet Witch & Quicksilver by planting the seeds that would lead to the Magneto-as-their-Dad retcon.

Teebore said...

@Nathan: ...yet he let John Byrne do it for Scarlet Witch & Quicksilver by planting the seeds that would lead to the Magneto-as-their-Dad retcon.

Yeah, it definitely seems like Stern favored Byrne over Claremont, and that's just another example.

Nathan Adler said...

We never did discover a back story for Margali Szardos but I think I've finally determined Claremont's real intent (which thankfully wipes out my previous theory of Magda becoming Mystique which I was never comfortable with:).

Her names are telling to what Claremont may have intended though.

Claremont undoubtedly took the name Margali from Marion Zimmer Bradley's books The Shattered Chain & Thendara House, where one of the main characters is named Margali, just like he had taken the name "Sharra".

I'll get back to the significance of this further down, but first...

As for Szardos, the only etymological connection to this name comes from the 1974 science fantasy film, Zardoz, named after the eponymous god head that is revealed to mean "Wizard of Oz" due to it being a skillful manipulator rather than an actual deity.

I'd therefore suggest Claremont used this as a surname for Margali to imply she was masking her true identity.

Now back to the significance of the name Margali.

In the abovementioned The Shattered Chain, Margali is a derivative of Magdalen, with the book's character Magda Lorne also being referred to as Margali n'ha Ysabet (the Darkovan name from her mother).

So does this suggest Margali was the name Magda, Magneto's wife, took to ensure he never found her?

Did she go back to Germany… but the main thing is to have her somewhere where Magnus would not find her. He searched very intently for a few years at least, before eventually giving up and assuming she was dead. Did she keep a low profile by joining a travelling circus, since she wouldn't stay in one place for long?