In a Nutshell
Kitty fights a N'Garai demon
Writer/Co-Plotter: Chris Claremont
Artist/Co-Plotter: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
On the mansion grounds, a N'Garai demon crawls from the wreckage of the cairn destroyed by Storm months ago, and proceeds to devour a couple looking for a Christmas tree. On Christmas Eve, Professor X finishes teaching Kitty the start-up sequence to the Blackbird. The X-Men prepare to go their separate ways for Christmas, with Wolverine going out with Mariko and Angel flying off to meet Candy Southern, while Colossus and Storm go into the city with Professor X, leaving Kitty home alone. In Florida, Cyclops calls the mansion to wish the X-Men Merry Christmas. He then meets Lee Forester, the captain of a fishing boat. At the mansion, Kitty runs through an exercise routine in the Danger Room until the intruder alert goes off. She heads up to Storm's attic to check it out and is confronted by the N'Garai demon.
She flees through the mansion, the demon in hot pursuit. She manages to escape it for a moment, and tries to call the X-Men for help, but it slashes her while phased, causing her arm to go numb. Kitty leads the creature into the Danger Room, in the hopes of using the room against it, but it enters through the control room, forcing Kitty into the room with it. Little in the Danger Room harms the demon, but it is slowed down by fire, allowing Kitty to escape and giving her an idea. She proceeds down the mile long tunnel to the Blackbird's hanger, and as the demon approaches from behind, fires the jet's afterburners, destroying the demon, the jet, and most of the hanger. Later, the X-Men return home, and though Professor X senses lingering evil, they find Kitty nodding off in front of the fire, and surprise her with a visit from her parents. As everyone celebrates, Storm asks Kitty what happened, and she says she was attacked, and sheepishly adds that she damaged Storm's attic, the Danger Room, the hanger and most of the house in the process of defending herself. Storm is proud of her: she underwent a rite of passage, and in the end, she passed.
Firsts and Other Notables
This is John Byrne's last issue of X-Men (at least until he returns to briefly script the book in the early 90s). The reasons for his leaving are varied and complicated (and discussed in part below), but it ultimately boiled down to creative differences with Claremont and frustration over not getting enough credit for his contributions.
This is the first appearance of Lee Forester, the captain of a fishing boat whom Cyclops meets in this issue. She'll become a recurring, albeit minor, supporting character.
|"You're a girl!" Smooth Scott, real smooth...|
The events of issue #96 are referenced, as Claremont and Byrne recreate the scene in which Storm destroys the N'Garai cairn from that issue. A N'Garai demon crawls out of the wreckage to attack Kitty in this issue; though destroyed, this is not the last time something emerges from it. The callback to issue #96 is interesting, as that was Claremont's first solo plotted issue on the title, and this is Byrne's last. It creates something of a bookend feeling to this issue, though that feeling is entirely false (Byrne played no part in issue #96) and is probably purely coincidental.
Kitty kisses Colossus for the first time, a mistletoe-inspired peck on the cheek (though she also calls him "Sexy", which seems a bit forward for a thirteen-year-old girl...).
The design of the N'Garai demon is heavily influenced by the alien from Ridley Scott's Alien, designed by HR Geiger, and the attack on Kitty is an intentional homage on the part of Claremont and Byrne to the last fifteen minutes of the film, inspired by the fact that Byrne initially modeled Kitty off of a young Sigourney Weaver.
A Work in Progress
Though cover dated March 1981, this issue would have appeared on the stands in December of 1980, making its Christmas Eve setting appropriate.
There are also references to the events of "Days of Future Past" occurring a month earlier, and while if you're being generous you can grant that to be technically true, this issue being set on 12/24 puts "Days of Future Past" almost two months in the past for the characters.
Cyclops has ended up in Shark Bay, Florida, looking to join the crew of a boat. I don't think I'd want to be on a boat in a place called "Shark Bay".
Kitty mentions that all the X-Men work out regularly to stay in shape. Much of this issue serves as a primer on the X-Men, as we see the mansion in great detail, learn about the Blackbird hanger and how its accessed, etc.
The demon is able to harm Kitty while she's phased, establishing that she's not completely invulnerable while intangible, that magic/the supernatural, at least, still has some effect on her.
I Love the 80s
Oh dear God, that woman's hair...
Claremont once again manages to imbue a pair of one-off characters with enough characterization in just a few panels to make us care when they get devoured by the demon.
Claremont has a reputation, especially amongst modern readers, for being overly wordy, and while I can be somewhat defensive about that (he is capable of brevity, purple prose isn't always inherently bad, and there is a time and place for his baroque narration), this issue is a particularly bad case of overly-wordy Claremont, with the most of the issue, as Kitty is chased by the demon, stuffed with both narration boxes and a never-ceasing internal monologue by Kitty, neither of which feature any particular stylistic zing to make all the words worthwhile. As a result, at times it becomes almost a chore to slog through some of these pages, even as Byrne turns in some fun visuals.
Terry Austin once again handles solo cover duties, turning in another iconic X-Men image.
Wolverine is spending Christmas Eve with Mariko while rocking his awesome cowboy suit, and introduces her to the X-Men.
Angel flies off to an innuendo-laced evening with Candy Southern.
The Best There Is At What He Does
Wolverine almost eviscerates Nightcrawler when Nightcrawler playfully kisses Mariko.
The first issue of Dazzler's solo series debuts the same month as this issue.
It's in the Mail
The letter column returns this issue, and features a rather disgruntled letter from future superstar Marvel writer Kurt Busiek (who also, as a fan, will come up with the idea that allows Jean to return).
Chris Claremont on Wolverine attacking Nightcrawler
"Jim [Shooter] came in and demanded to know why Wolverine was being turned into such a sissy. Evidently, what he wanted was for Wolverine to have the capacity to go crazy and kill but never be allowed to kill. He wanted Wolverine to be as much of a potential danger to the X-Men as to other people. So we turned right around and had Wolverine try to cut Nightcrawler's head off over Mariko, which made no sense whatsoever. As I see it, Wolverine's fundamental character is that he is trying desperately to maintain rational control over himself, but every so often, without wanting to, for no reason, he goes crazy. He goes berserk.
Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion II. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p49
John Byrne on who was responsible for what during his run with Claremont
"Well, let's see -- "Days of Future Past" was mine. (Chris's contribution was the title and Senator Kelly -- who I named, after a young lady I was pursuing at the time.) Using the Hellfire Club was Chris's idea -- where, when and how was mine. Using MasterMind was mine, along with naming him "Jason Wyngarde". That latter was a play on a British TV show that had run in Canada a while before -- "Jason King" starring Peter Wyngarde. Lots more bits and pieces. Roger Stern, editor and unindicted co-conspirator would probably remember more. He's good at that.
(Of course, I always like to point out that after I left the book, sales on X-MEN mounted from about 100,000 per month to over 400,000 -- and that was BEFORE the Speculator Madness. So I guess I was holding Chris back...)"
Byrne, John."Who was responsible for what during the Claremont/Byrne run?" Byrne Robotics. 1/31/2012 http://www.byrnerobotics.com/FAQ/listing.asp?ID=2&T1=Questions+about+Comic+Book+Projects#41
Claremont on John Byrne leaving
"I do not know what the hell happened to this day. John got royally pissed off at me, but he never told me why - directly or indirectly. We had a good synergy with Roger Stern as editor. Less so with Kim Salicrup. When Louise Jones/Simonson came in as editor, I guess he figured that she was more simpatico with me and that's when he decided he wanted to move on. You'll have to read John's autobiography to find out what pissed him off. I just know that it was so major that the last thirty years haven't smoothed thing out between us. I think he always fewlt that he was the one was actually plotting the book, but I wasn't giving credit for it. I just figured it was a collaboration. The line of division between aspects of contribution was hard to separate, especially when you're talking about a relationship that was as freewheeling as as they were in those days. Sometimes I would look at a sketch and say, 'Hey, that's a great character. Why don't we make something out of it? I got this idea where you could blah-blah-blah.' The next think you know, you've got a twelve part epic."
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p65
John Byrne on leaving X-Men
"I started to develop what I called my 'Argh ' moment - which is, how deep can I delve into this issue before I hit something makes me go, 'Argh!'? There was one particular issue [X-Men #140] where Colossus is pulling a tree trunk out of the ground with a chain on the splash page, and I went, 'Argh!' right on the splash page because of the way Chris wrote it. I said, 'Okay, this is obviously telling me that it's time to go.' There was also a little piece off to one side where Chris and I had argued a great deal about who the characters were and how the characters act, and what they would say and what they would do and I realised that the Chris version of the character was what was seeing print. The way Chris wrote it was what was seeing print, regardless of what I thought it was in my head while I was drawing pages. So if I didn't like what Chris was doing, that meant I didn't like the characters. So when I hit that 'Argh' moment, I basically picked up the phone and called Louise and said, 'I can't do this any more.' I was originally going to stay on for another couple issues, but ultimately I didn't. The characters deserved better than for me to turn in what was going to be a whole lot less than my best work. So I just left."
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p114
"[I] left the book shortly after Weezie [Jones, now Simonson] came aboard, and this was not entirely coincidentally. Unlike Roger [Stern], who understood the important part that I was playhing in the creation of the stories, Weezie came from that school which assumed that the writer did all the work and the artist just drew the pictures; at least, that was how she seemed to operate with Chris and me, so I very quickly lost such control as I had over the characters and the story directions, and I did not like where they ended up going."
Lamken, Brian Saner. "The Phoenix Effect: 25 Years of the All New Uncanny X-Men." Comicology Fall 2000: 33.
And with that, John Byrne's run on the title comes to a close on a sudden and rather indistinct note. The story in this issue isn't terrible: it gives Kitty, the book's newest character, a chance in the spotlight, making it clear both that she's here to stay and that she has the stuff to cut it as an X-Man, and her fight with the N'Garai demon is tense and as well crafted as we've come to expect from Claremont and Byrne. But it's an odd issue for Byrne to depart on, coming one month after the epic "Days of the Future Past" and featuring so little of the characters that Byrne helped make popular. If this were just the next issue in the Claremont/Byrne run, we'd see it as a "catch your breath" issue following "Days of Future Past", and an opportunity to get to know the book's newest character better. But this being Byrne's final issue gives it greater significance. We expect creator departures, especially ones as momentous as this, to come at the end of significant stories, or feature some kind of definitive statement on the characters by the departing creator. In truth, given the nature of the industry, this is rarely the case, and here, we get an entirely professional but largely unremarkable end to one of the the most critically acclaimed and well loved runs of X-Men stories, and as a result, the whole thing can't help but feel a little bittersweet, tinged with thoughts of what might have been.
The return of Cyclops, and a guest appearance by Man-Thing (insert penis joke here).