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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #149

"And the Dead Shall Bury the Living!"
September 1981

In a Nutshell 
The X-Men investigate Magneto's old base. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Dave Cockrum
Inker: Josef Rubinstein
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
Professor X is studying his files on Magneto, worried that the villain's relative silence of late means he's planning something big. Kitty interrupts him to show off her new costume, inadvertently phasing through his computers and damaging his research. He angrily sends her away, then calls the X-Men, who are still repairing the Danger Room, to a briefing. The X-Men are sent to investigate Magneto's antarctic volcano base, his last known location. En route, the X-Men discover a stowed away Kitty. She is scolded, but in the interest of time, the team doesn't turn back. Arriving at the base, they find it seemingly deserted but in better shape than they left it.


Spreading out, Colossus and Kitty are attacked by a misshapen Garokk, rescued by Magneto and placed in charge of the complex. Kitty phases through him, learning that doing so causes him pain for some reason, but Garokk punches through a wall, allowing lava to flow into the complex. Storm calls up a localized hurricane which freezes the lava and leaves her exhausted. Wolverine and Nightcrawler attack Garokk but he grabs Storm, intent on tossing her down a chasm, just as she failed to rescue him from a similar fate. Kitty phases through him once more, and all three tumble into the chasm, landing on a rocky outcropping. Garokk lunges for Kitty but misses, falling off the ledge. Nightcrawler teleports down and retrieves Storm while Kitty levitates out of the chasm. As they fly home, the X-Men realize that the effort Magneto took to clear and protect his old base confirms Professor X's suspicions. Meanwhile, in the Bermuda Triangle, Cyclops and Lee have received food, clothes and shelter from Magneto, but Cyclops remains worried that Magneto will learn his identity. However, Magneto reveals that he has already recognized Cyclops, and that Cyclops can remove his blindfold, for his power will not work so long as he is Magneto's guest, leaving him completely at Magneto's mercy.  

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue is notable for introducing Kitty Pryde's horrible (and thankfully short-lived) rainbow roller skate costume. It's truly terrible, but in Dave Cockrum's defense, the story suggests it's supposed to be dreadful: it's meant to represent Kitty's youthful idealism, which ties in with Kitty's role in this story, and the other characters acknowledge that it is an ugly costume. Still, considering Cockrum had Kitty written out of the Doom/Arcade story because he didn't have a handle on the character, if this costume is him coming to terms with Kitty as a character, he needs to keep working at it.


Garokk the Petrified Man, last seen falling down a seemingly bottomless chasm after attempting to takeover the Savage Land in issue #116, makes a return appearance, though he looks vastly different, suddenly a hulking monstrosity as opposed to the rather slight (albeit stony) figure he cut in his last appearance. It is revealed that Magneto saved his life and put him in charge of guarding the remains of Magneto's antarctic volcanic lair.   


A Work in Progress
The X-Men are still fixing the Danger Room, say it with me, as a result of the N'Garai demon attack in issue #143 (this really has become, as Blam suggested, the "as a result of injuries suffered in issue #119" of this run, something the caption even acknowledges).


Professor X, studying his files on Magneto, notes that he knows little of Magneto's background, which later stories will prove to be untrue.


Xavier also mentions that he and Magneto are very alike in some ways; while the actual reveal of their past together and Magneto's transition away from outright villainy are still a ways out, this idea represents a small step in that direction.


Kitty is told that an individual costume is something X-Men earn and is awarded at graduation, though she continues to wear it throughout the issue.

We are reminded that when Kitty phases through electronics, she causes them to short circuit, on a grander scale then when she shorted out the lock to Wolverine's cage in issue #131.
 
That said, when Kitty is later shown to hurt Garrok by phasing through him, it doesn't make a lot of sense, since he's, you know, made of rock. This particular trick is never really explained.


Storm mentions that Angel's experience would come in handy against Magneto, which seems like Claremont showing a way the character could have stood out despite the redundancy of his power...


In a nice bit of characterization, Nightcrawler comes across the head of the Nanny robot which held the X-Men captive in issue #113 and makes a joke, while Wolverine angrily destroys the head.


Nightcrawler teleports someone along with him for the first time, and the strain almost kills him.


I Love the 80s
Seems like Professor X needs to take more regular backups of his computer...


Just to make it clear: Kitty spends the vast majority of this issue wearing roller skates.

Lee asks Scott why Magneto scares him so much, suggesting she's not at all wary of the mysterious guy with the funny name wearing a helmet and cape who is the sole resident of an island city featuring enormous statutes of Lovecraftian creatures, which appeared from nowhere overnight (and also suggests that she's never read or heard any of the news reports pertaining to Magneto's various attacks on humanity).


"Professor Xavier is a Jerk!"
Professor X telepathically orders Kitty from his office so hard it hurts her.


Young Love
Wolverine teasingly refers to Colossus as Kitty's boyfriend.

 
It's in the Mail
The "next issue" box at the end of the letters page seems to refer to the events of this issue, suggesting the page was originally meant to run in last issue (the letters mostly refer to issues #141 and #142, suggesting the office is a bit behind...).


Teebore's Take
In this issue, Professor X decides that since it's been awhile since Magneto did something, he must be plotting some new villainous scheme, so the X-Men are sent to Magneto's last known location to check things out. This bit of plotting falls somewhere between "metatextual" and "lazy", as Claremont gears up for the villain's return in the series' 150th issue. The story that follows isn't terrible: bringing back Garokk, instead of introducing some one-off new cannon fodder villain, ties it in with the book's history, and Claremont gets some mileage out of Storm's lingering guilt over failing to save Garokk at the climax of the last Savage Land story.

But it's hard to take much of this very seriously whilst Kitty is rollerskating through Magneto's old lair wearing that hideous costume, and Garokk lumbering at the X-Men is a far cry from Magneto going toe-to-toe with the entirety of the Claremont/Byrne line-up. The law of diminishing returns is in effect: the last time the X-Men were in this place, it was during one of their most classic stories, and they were locked in a battle in which the tension was palpable (despite the subconscious safety net inherent to all characters starring in an ongoing narrative). The stakes just don't seem as high now. Again, there's nothing wrong with this issue; it's a nice bit of average super-heroics, with the now-usual moments of characterization helping things along. But it suffers by being placed in such stark comparison to such a classic story.     

Next Issue: Avengers Annual #10
It's an Avengers annual but our merry mutants take center stage in an issue that introduces them (and us) to everyone's favorite Southern belle, Rogue.

10 comments:

  1. I've never really cared much for this issue. The character stuff is fine, but the overall plot doesn't do much for me -- especially as the lead-in to the 150th issue! If Garokk was going to return, it should've been in a grander fashion than this. I think a better strategy might have been to just turn the Magneto story into a 2-parter, with this being part one -- Magneto defeats the X-Men -- and the next issue being part two -- the X-Men rally and defeat Magneto.

    Yes, it's formulaic, but I still think it would've been better than what we got.

    "This issue is notable for introducing Kitty Pryde's horrible (and thankfully short-lived) rainbow roller skate costume."

    Interesting; I never took this as anything more than an intentional one-issue gag. The fact that anyone might have considered it a serious contender for Kitty's official costume has never crossed my mind!

    "The X-Men are still fixing the Danger Room..."

    What I especially love about this is that we're now only a couple of issues away from the mansion being trashed again, which leads to a new clean-up operation in issue #143! Though that operation is quickly rendered moot by the Sidri hunters.

    "Nightcrawler teleports someone along with him for the first time, and the strain almost kills him."

    Not quite... he teleported with Lilandra in issue #107. The strain almost killed him then, too. I will forgive you forgetting that since it was over forty issues ago.

    "Lee asks Scott why Magneto scares him so much..."

    Heh, I never really thought about that. It's pretty funny. Though maybe, since Magneto hasn't visibly demonstrated his powers yet, she thinks Cyclops could take him?

    "...Professor X decides that since it's been awhile since Magneto did something, he must be plotting some new villainous scheme..."

    I took his reasoning here to be a reaction to Magneto's altering of the Earth's magnetic fields in issue #145... though if Xavier doesn't mention that here, it seems like an oversight on Claremont's part since that would've been an excellent reason to go look for the guy.

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  2. @Matt: I think a better strategy might have been to just turn the Magneto story into a 2-parter

    I've also never been a big fan of this issue, and agree that it would have been better served as part 1 of next issue's Magneto story (especially since I feel like that story is a bit rushed).

    I never took this as anything more than an intentional one-issue gag.

    Whereas I never took it as an intentional gag until I re-read the issue for this post, and realized that all of the X-Men's comments about it clearly meant Claremont and Cockrum knew it was ridiculous too. :)

    Reading this issue and the next as a kid, I just assumed this was Kitty's new costume that was quickly phased out (see what I did there?) once fans reacted poorly to it.

    But then again, I was always a pretty dumb kid when it came to that kind of stuff, always assuming that everything that happened was part of the creators' grand plan.

    Though that operation is quickly rendered moot by the Sidri hunters.

    Yeah, between the N'Garai attack, the upcoming Sentinel attack and the post-Sidri rebuild, it seems like, barring their short tenure in the Bermuda Triangle, during the course of this Cockrum run, the X-Men are either fixing the mansion, or in space (which might be a contributing factor to my overall malaise towards this run).

    I will forgive you forgetting that since it was over forty issues ago.

    Ha! I appreciate it. Even as I typed that sentence, I thought, "Is that right? I feel like he's had to have done it before. I should double check that" and then never did...

    I'm glad there's people like you out there keeping me honest. :)

    Though maybe, since Magneto hasn't visibly demonstrated his powers yet, she thinks Cyclops could take him?

    Could be, though that still presumes she's never heard of Magneto despite his numerous public attempts to take-over/destroy the world and/or enslave humanity. But I've always read as Lee looking upon Magneto as a kindly, normal rescuer and wondering what Scott's deal is, despite the fact he's clearly dressed/living like a super-villain (then again, she does eventually fall for the guy, so maybe she's just naturally accepting of such things).

    though if Xavier doesn't mention that here, it seems like an oversight on Claremont's part since that would've been an excellent reason to go look for the guy.

    Yeah, Claremont fails to draw the line from the alteration of the magnetic field in #145 to this issue, which is a disappointment, as it would have indeed offered up a better motivation for the X-Men to go looking for him beyond "because he's slated to appear in our next issue and we need to lay some groundwork for that".

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  3. "Yeah, Claremont fails to draw the line from the alteration of the magnetic field in #145 to this issue, which is a disappointment, "

    In issue 145, Xavier thinks to himself that the magnetic-field stuff is being caused by Magneto. In this issue, he thinks to himself, "Lately I've felt certain that Magneto is up to something."

    It's not spelling it out, but the connection is there.

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  4. @Jason: It's not spelling it out, but the connection is there.

    Fair enough. I didn't make the connection until Matt pointed it out, so maybe the more accurate statement is that Claremont failed to underline the connection for those of us in the back of the class room (which, of course, suggests a whole 'nother discussion of whether or not he should...)?

    Nevertheless, I still think the "I'm suspicious of Magneto" plotting in this issue does fall somewhere between being meta and being lazy, but I mean it as more of a humorous observation than any serious criticism against Claremont.

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  5. I gotta say, Chiang's lettering is terrible here.

    Kitty interrupts [Xavier] to show off her new costume, inadvertently phasing through his computers and damaging his research.

    For a genius, Kitty's pretty stupid. And I say that having a fondness for her dating back to the Paul Smith days. [I never made the connection before, but maybe that's why I've always been pro-Dawn — the Buffy character, not the dish soap, although that too.]

    "Nearby, Kitty's fellow X-Men are busy repairing the school's Danger Room, a task they are beginning to supect will never end." Hahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!

    Magneto reveals that he has already recognized Cyclops, and that Cyclops can remove his blindfold, for his power will not work so long as he is Magneto's guest 

    How? If Magneto can hold back Cyclops' beams magnetically, you'd think that he'd have done that, like, in battle, although I think he's more powerful now than before. And I realize that the answer might come next issue, but I'm not reading ahead and I haven't (re)read these issues in decades now.

    the other characters acknowledge that it is an ugly costume.

    Yeah. Like Matt said, I don't think that it was ever meant as anything other than a gag, although Kitty / the creative team / the readers do get stuck with it after she stows away.

    Storm's line is such a favorite that I actually remember quoting it somewhere before. "Hmmm -- She looks miserable. I wonder if it has anything to do with those outrageous clothes she's wearing."

    Professor X, studying his files on Magneto, notes that he knows little of Magneto's background, which later stories will prove to be untrue.

    I was really surprised by that. For some reason I thought that Xavier and Magneto's shared history was referenced early in Claremont's run, like around the Farouk story. "A Work in Progress" indeed!

    In a nice bit of characterization, Nightcrawler comes across the head of the Nanny robot which held the X-Men captive in issue #113 and makes a joke, while Wolverine angrily destroys the head.

    I had to read those panels a few times before I realized that Wolverine merely — and understandably, given how their dignity was abused — was all het up. The caption "A mental command..." and the pink energy-like effect around Logan's head said to me that he was suddenly being psychically controlled; I finally got that the pink on his head was anger while the pink on his claws was them being extended, but for way too long I wondered how Magneto had taken over his mind at the same time he forced Wolverine to snikt out his claws.

    Lee asks Scott why Magneto scares him so much

    That sentence/paragraph was awesome.

    This bit of plotting falls somewhere between "metatextual" and "lazy", as Claremont gears up for the villain's return in the series' 150th issue.

    I understand that you're not dinging Claremont too hard for this — although I do agree that it would've been nice to get a reinforcement here in #149 of the stuff about Earth's magnetic fields back in #145 — but I also want to point out that the X-Men being proactive is still a step forward from the days when superheroes would encounter menaces (a) on patrol; (b) thanks to clues, boasts, or riddles sent in to police headquarters; and/or (c) via the Bat-Signal.

    PS to your Twitter feed: Boba Fett rocked! He wore an awesome suit with all kinds of weapons on it, and even had a working jet-pack in this grungy world that didn't go overboard with the sci-fi "magic" (the Force notwithstanding).

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  6. @Blam: I never made the connection before, but maybe that's why I've always been pro-Dawn

    Could be. I've always been pro-Dawn as well, excepting her most grating moments in season six.

    How? If Magneto can hold back Cyclops' beams magnetically, you'd think that he'd have done that, like, in battle, although I think he's more powerful now than before.

    Yeah, we get the answer next issue. Spoiler (???): Magneto has a big power inhibitor dealy on the island (that he, of course, is excepted from). Since it's the last page cliffhanger reveal, I don't mind that the explanation is left hanging until next issue.

    although Kitty / the creative team / the readers do get stuck with it after she stows away.

    And next issue, which also helps undersell the big Magneto moment in that issue.

    For some reason I thought that Xavier and Magneto's shared history was referenced early in Claremont's run

    It is surprising how much of the X-Men's history with Magneto passed before the connection between Magneto and Xavier, which is so definitive now, was established.

    I also want to point out that the X-Men being proactive is still a step forward from the days when superheroes would encounter menaces (a) on patrol; (b) thanks to clues, boasts, or riddles sent in to police headquarters; and/or (c) via the Bat-Signal.

    Ha! Yeah, one of the things I had in my notes for this issue was "the X-Men being proactive", which is most definitely a big deal (especially given the inherent reactivity to heroes as opposed to villains). Unfortunately that point got lost in the shuffle, so I'm glad you brought it up here.

    He wore an awesome suit with all kinds of weapons on it, and even had a working jet-pack in this grungy world that didn't go overboard with the sci-fi "magic"

    I dunno...considering the only time he used it resulted in his unintentionally landing in the belly of the Sarlaac, I don't know if we can consider his jetpack as "working". ;)

    Seriously though, I had no problem with Boba Fett in the films (and thought he was pretty badass in a silent-but-deadly, Sergio Leone kind of way), but the cult that has sprouted up around him thanks to his continuing adventures in the Star Wars Expanded Universe has soured me on the character a bit (similar to how Wolverine was a lot more effective of a character before he became the kewlest character who could do anything and never be stopped and appears in approximately 100 comics every month).

    So the core of the character is good, and there's certainly some good Boba Fett stories out there that I've enjoyed, but his overexposure and rabid fanbase has turned me off on the character a bit.

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  7. "Fair enough. I didn't make the connection until Matt pointed it out, so maybe the more accurate statement is that Claremont failed to underline the connection for those of us in the back of the class room (which, of course, suggests a whole 'nother discussion of whether or not he should...)?"

    It is a weird thing, where you've got the over-explanation every issue of how the danger room got damaged (which you and commentators have been goofing on). Clearly more dwelling than was required occurred on that plot point, yet the Magneto thing is so subtle as to almost get lost in the shuffle.

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  8. @Jason: Clearly more dwelling than was required occurred on that plot point, yet the Magneto thing is so subtle as to almost get lost in the shuffle.

    Yeah, Claremont is certainly capable of being subtle, despite what some of his detractors might say. In general, I tend to think most of his "hit you over the head with it" repetition that his critics so deride is a result of editorial mandate. It was Matt, I believe, who mentioned the "fixing the Danger Room" business came about as a result of a Shooter edict (and speculated that Claremont drove the bit into the ground to make a point to Shooter).

    And the whole "Character explains how his/her power works every issue" thing that everyone LOVES to mock is completely a convention of the genre at the time, and one that I believe Claremont has said he tried to abandon but was forced to include in every issue by editorial because every issue could be somebody's first, a mentality that is probably completely foreign to modern readers coming into the genre in the last ten years.

    (Which isn't to say Claremont doesn't have his narrative and verbal tics, just that a lot of what people like to rag on in his writing is born of editorial/conventions of the time).

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  9. Teebore: I had no problem with Boba Fett in the films ... but his overexposure and rabid fanbase has turned me off on the character a bit.

    Well, I can't argue with you there because I'm pretty ignorant of the Expanded Universe. I got the prose novelizations of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back when the movies came out, as well as Splinter of the Mind's Eye and a couple of the Han Solo books in between the first two movies, but I didn't even stick with the comics for long and I only know anything of the further narrative after the original trilogy from what I've read about it.

    Even the prequel trilogy isn't really canon to me, frankly, in the same way that, as I mentioned on my blog almost exactly a year ago, the Jean Grey / Phoenix saga really ended for me way back when* — no matter how much it might continue, unbroken no less, from Marvel itself, even if I revisit X-Men through later stories that I enjoy. [*Twice, I admit, in #137 and again after the retcon of FF #286, but anything more recent than that is like the equivalent of the DCU post-post-Crisis (but still pre-Flashpoint).]

    I was actually sort-of sad to see Boba Fett as a little boy and see Jango Fett, unmasked, in the prequel trilogy, because what was so cool about Boba Fett in Empire was exactly his aura of mysterious badassery. And that's why I hate seeing little Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace perhaps even more than Jar-Jar Binks and the midichlorian thing, because all the poignancy we needed about Darth Vader's evolution came at the end of Return of the Jedi, itself the least of the originals; Young Ani sucked all of the awesomeness out of the character.

    There was zero overexposure of Boba Fett back in the day. On the contrary, I was glad that Lucas and Kenner recognized his appeal enough to have him be one of the few 12" figures made back then. Greedo was an open book by comparison. So, yeah, it's a matter of perspective, and I feel grateful for my willful ignorance.

    Holy crap, I sound like a cranky old fanboy. 8^)

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  10. @Blam: Young Ani sucked all of the awesomeness out of the character.

    Yeah, that really is my big problem with Episode I, even more so than Jar-Jar (whose purpose I can understand if he was a terribly executed character) or the mid-chlorians (which never, ever, bothered me as much as it did most Star Wars fans; I always just saw it as a shorthand way to "count" the Force potential in someone so they had an easy way to establish Anakin's power, and not as something that destroyed the mythos).

    I get that Lucas wanted to establish Anakin as being innocent, in order to make his fall that much more tragic, but whether it was Jake Lloyd's performance or the fact that Lucas couldn't find the line between "innocent" and "annoying cloying", that isn't what most viewers were left with.

    Whereas a slightly older, teenaged Anakin from the outset could have done the same thing storywise, while allowing a more mature actor to tackle the role, and it also would have resolved some of the narrative hiccups born of the age discrepancy between Padme and Anakin and the Obi-Wan/Anakin relationship.

    There was zero overexposure of Boba Fett back in the day.

    Yeah, I was much more of a Boba Fett fan back in the day, before the EU came onto the scene. I still enjoy some of the stories involving him (mainly because I have an affinity for the "everything is always part of my plan" characters, which is very much Fett's MO in the EU), but my instant reaction to the character is to chafe at his present day overexposure.

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