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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #154

"Reunion"
February 1982 

In a Nutshell 
Corsair returns to Earth chased by a group of alien bounty hunters.

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Dave Cockrum
Inkers: Bob Wiacek & Josef Rubinstein
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: D. Warfield
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
Cyclops and Storm are playing handball in the mansion's gymnasium, eventually calling the game a draw as they are too evenly matched. Meanwhile, Corsair races toward Earth, pursued by a Shi'ar Dreadnaught. In the Bermuda Triangle, the rest of the X-Men are moving equipment into Magneto's old island base, Professor X having decided to relocate their headquarters in light of the damage to the mansion and growing anti-mutant sentiment in the country. In space, Corsair nears Earth, but his ship is damaged by the Shi'ar. At the mansion, Storm and Cyclops are having dinner together and discussing their respective desires for leading the X-Men when they're interrupted by Corsair's ship crashing into the lake. They pull him free, and when he awakens back at the mansion, Cyclops demands to know why Corsair has a locket containing a picture of Cyclops and his brother as children. Corsair tells him the children are his sons. Cyclops doesn't believe him, but Storm tells him it's the truth. Just then, a Sidrian Hunter bursts into the room, pursuing Corsair.


Corsair blasts it, but soon the mansion is overrun by the aliens. As Storm holds them off, Cyclops and Corsair race for the Blackbird, getting airborne just as the Sidri destroy the mansion. Storm joins them on the jet, but the remaining Sidri join together and form a massive ship, chasing after the Blackbird. The battle rages into New York City until Storm and Cyclops are able to disrupt the Sidri ship while over a petroleum storage facility. As the individual Sidri tumble down, Corsair blasts one of the storage tanks, triggering a massive explosion that destroys the aliens. As Cyclops, Storm and Corsair fly away, Corsair explains why he's come to Earth: Lilandra was recently kidnapped by terrorists, with the Starjammers implicated and a trail leading back to Earth. The Shi'ar have dispatched an armada to rescue or avenge Lilandra, and are willing to destroy the planet if need be.

Firsts and Other Notables
Corsair, last seen in issue #109, returns, and Cyclops learns that Corsair is his father.


The Sidrian Hunters, a minor alien race of spider-like bounty hunters, make their first appearance. They'll pop up once or twice more. 


Following Professor X's concerns last issue that the X-Men are running low on resources for repairing the mansions, this issue finds them moving into Magneto's island base in the Bermuda Triangle from issue #150.


Which is good, since the mansion, after suffering significant damage in issues #143 and #151, is more or less destroyed by the Sidrian Hunters in this issue, making this issue the first time (of several more to come) the vast majority of the mansion is destroyed.


A Work in Progress
Carol Danvers is struggling with her memory loss post Avengers Annual #10. We also learn there is a history between her, Michael Rossi (whom we met in issue #96 alongside Stephen Lang), and Wolverine.


The X-Men receive a letter from the White Queen's Massachusetts Academy revoking Kitty's admission, ensuring she'll remain at Xaver's for the time being, tying up that loose thread from issue #152.


Storm and Cyclops reveal a friendly rivalry, and discuss their respective feelings about leading the X-Men.


The X-Men's Blackbird jet now has "Kitty's Dragon" painted on the side. 


When Cyclops learns the Sidrian Hunters are alive (and not machines), he refuses to kill them, forcing Corsair to act.


I Love the 80s
On his way to Earth, Corsair passes Voyager 2, bound for Uranus and scheduled to arrive in 1986.


Carol is rocking some great short-shorts while in the Bermuda Triangle.


Claremontisms
Claremont gets his airplane geek on.


The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
Cyclops tries out a new experimental windshield on the Blackbird which amplifies his optic blast. It's basically an excuse to give the Blackbird some offensive capabilities.


Human/Mutant Relations
Professor X (while wearing his Indiana Jones hat) cites growing anti-mutant sentiment as a motivating factor in moving to Magneto's island base, and he fears this most recent wave may have official government sanction.


Bullpen Bulletins
In this month's column, Jim Shooter goes through this whole "no more Mr. Nice Guy" routine and pretends to adopt the persona of a super-villain. In explaining his reasoning for doing, he mentions getting flak from fans for removing artists from books even though the artists "remove themselves" by failing to make deadlines. He then wonders why atists take on so many books if they can't do all the work on time. I'm not sure if he's being intentionally dense, because the answer is pretty obvious: they get paid by the page, so the more books they draw, they more money they make.

It's in the Mail
Kitty's popularity continues to rise. This issue features a letter writer declaring his desire to be Kitty's boyfriend. 


Teebore's Take
After some shuffling about, a pseudo-greatest hits tour and a little fun, Claremont and Cockrum embark on the first (and arguably only) multi-part story of their second collaboration, the Brood saga. It marks the point at which Claremont finally seems to have shaken his post-Byrne malaise and begins to chart his own path for the characters (albeit while still playing to the strengths of his collaborators), independent of whatever plans he and Byrne may have had prior to the end of their collaboration. And Cockrum, whether well-rested following his two issue break or reinvigorated by the return of science fiction (and his Starjammers) to the book is in top form once more.  

This issue is something of a slow build, only hinting at the larger plot to come (someone's kidnapped Lilandra) at the very end, and instead spends the majority of its time (even after the action breaks out) examining the relationship between Storm and Cyclops. Though not one of the hallmark relationships of the X-Men franchise (like, say, the Scott and Jean romance or the Wolverine/Kitty mentor/mentee relationship), Claremont will occasionally return to the (sometimes not so) friendly rivalry between the X-Men's two leaders, and that rivalry begins in earnest here. Most of the best stories during the Claremont/Byrne run found the right balance between strong character work and innovative action; that the centerpiece story of Claremont and Cockrum's second run together kicks off with a character-driven issue featuring some fun action sequences bodes well.

Next Issue
Tigra guest stars. Try to contain your excitement (don't worry, it's got Deathbird and the Brood, too).

15 comments:

Sarah Ahiers said...

Hah! At first i thought that fan letter to be be Kitty's BF was going to be creepy, but then it tunred out to be clever and funny. Bravo, Ryan from Deerfield. Bravo.
A letter like that makes me wonder what Ryan got up to with the rest of his life.

Otherwise, i don't have much to say. Seems a pretty straightforward issue

Dr. Bitz said...

"At the mansion, Storm and Cyclops are having dinner together and discussing their respective desires for leading the X-Men when they're interrupted by Corsair's ship crashing into the lake."

Did they explain why the ship landed close to the X-Men or was it a coincidence?

"The Shi'ar have dispatched an armada to rescue or avenge Lilandra, and are willing to destroy the planet if need be."

Kind of destroys the moral high ground the Shi'ar were standing on during the Dark Phoenix Saga, doesn't it?

Teebore said...

@Sarah: Bravo, Ryan from Deerfield. Bravo.

Yeah, that letter could have been a lot worse, even while still being publishable. And I do often wonder what happened to some of the letter writers in these old issues.

@Dr. Bitz:
Did they explain why the ship landed close to the X-Men or was it a coincidence?


Well, Corsair was trying to get to the X-Men, and when his ship is about to be fired upon, he thinks to himself that its time he proves how good a pilot he is, so the implication is that he managed to steer the damaged ship close to his target and put it down somewhere that wouldn't instantly kill him on impact.

Kind of destroys the moral high ground the Shi'ar were standing on during the Dark Phoenix Saga, doesn't it?

Yeah, though, as we'll come to see, any moral high ground the Shi'ar have pretty much comes from Lilandra. Anytime she's taken out of the picture, such as now, the Shi'ar pretty much become ruthless dicks.

Anonymous said...

I saw the Ruthless Dicks in concert in 1998.

Dr. Bitz said...

Did all the band members wear Nixon masks?

Teebore said...

@Anonymous, Dr. Bitz: Well played.

Blam said...


Corsair, last seen in issue #109, returns, and Cyclops learns that Corsair is his father.

Has it really been that long?

I know that last issue is particularly strong in my memory because I've re-read it more than many, back in the days when I would just pick up an issue to enjoy again on a whim, but, man, it's amazing how well you can remember one issue and totally forget what's in the next.

The arrival of Corsair is familiar. I'd totally forgot that the group moved to that island, though. I recall what follows better than I do this set-up — and I must admit that the Smith-drawn Brood issues are more memorable to me than this stretch.

I'm actually impressed with what a great set-up this issue is, with its calm-before-the-storm-and-then-a-little-teaser-of-the-storm feel (not to be confused with Storm herself, who makes these analogies harder). The changes in status quo with the new HQ and Cyke back on the team and anti-mutant prejudice building and Corsair's revelation to Scott amidst a tension between the two of them as tactical leaders while they also battle the external threat... Good stuff.

A few rhetorical questions, one non-rhetorical question, and some observations:

Why are Scott and Ororo back at the mansion? I'm not sure that with the rest of the team settling into a new place with unknown origins, recently occupied by Magneto, you want to leave both of your team leaders behind to — I don't know to what, even; one has to assume that they're taking care of some business amidst the superpowered handball and dinner for two, but we don't get the merest lip service to that.

Kitty really sent a postcard — from Magneto's raised Atlantean (or whatever) island? Never mind that they have better communications tech, because you could write around that; the island's isn't working yet, or Kitty just wanted to be quaint and personal. But where the frak is the mail drop?

What happened to Lee Forrester? I ask again. Really! She just vanished after #151 while Illyana popped back up and is even accompanying her brother to their new island headquarters in the middle of nowhere. Do her parents want her out of their hair so that they can divorce, too? Are the Rasputins out partner-swapping with the Prydes?

How big a retcon is the third Summers brother? This is a real question. At what point did this plot become a thing, and more importantly was Corsair's memory of him wiped or should he be in the flashback to the airplane here?

That windshield bit with the Blackbird was pretty neat; I'd completely forget about that too.

I like Storm's dilemma. "Are our lives worth endangering the city?"

The Shooter stuff was just weird. He does not pull off the wacky taskmaster-cum-huckster Grand Poobah of Marvel like Stan did, not that anyone really could. I still hold the man in high regard for an interaction that we had when I was about 8 years old and he was the newly installed editor-in-chief, but that's like a strange, isolated quirk amidst so much else that I've heard about him from other sources or experienced as a fan/reader/journalist on the other side of his printed work.

This issue features a letter writer declaring his desire to be Kitty's boyfriend. 

I was hoping that you'd mention if not actually reproduce that. With all due respect to Sarah, I'm still a little more creeped out by / embarrassed for the kid than impressed with his creativity, but then as a former 13-year-old comic-book reader myself I know there's a fine line.

Most of the best stories during the Claremont/Byrne run found the right balance between strong character work and innovative action; that the centerpiece story of Claremont and Cockrum's second run together kicks off with a character-driven issue featuring some fun action sequences bodes well.

You said it.

Blam said...


Anonymous: I saw the Ruthless Dicks in concert in 1998.

I'm partial to the Dickless Ruths.

Matt said...

I like the first portion of the Brood saga a lot more than the second part. The X-Men fighting the Brood on and near Earth is more interesting to me than their doing it in deep space.

In the first Cockrum-drawn issue since Cyclops returned to the team, the buccaneer boots are back in full force right from the awesome splash page! Also, Cockrum's Cyclops is way different from Byrne's. Where Byrne drew him at almost all times with immacuately combed hair and those awesome enormous shades, Cockrum tends to give him very mussed hair and much smaller glasses. I like the Byrne look better.

"...making this issue the first time (of several more to come) the vast majority of the mansion is destroyed."

I know Cyclops has his little thought balloon about it, but even still, the destruction of the mansion doesn't seem nearly "epic" enough here. I kind of blame Cockrum for relegating it to a fairly small panel. The place had been the X-Men's primary base of operations for over 150 issues -- its destruction deserved a full-page splash.

"We also learn there is a history between [Carol Danvers], Michael Rossi (whom we met in issue #96 alongside Stephen Lang), and Wolverine."

We'd seen hints of previously with Amanda, for example, but this, to me, is the first major instance of "Claremonting" a character's backstory. Though unless my memory of just last year fails me, Rossi was seen or at least mentioned in Ms. Marvel's own solo series as well.

"The X-Men's Blackbird jet now has "Kitty's Dragon" painted on the side."

I'm sorry if I'm coming across as overly negative, but Claremont and Cockrum are just getting way too precious at this point. Why on Earth would Xavier even let Kitty do that?

"Professor X ... cites growing anti-mutant sentiment..."

I don't mean this as a knock against Cockrum, because I really do love his work, but his art does not project the sort of bleak mood one would expect if the U.S. really is becoming more anti-mutant. The art should reflect the mood of the writing, and I think Cockrum falls down on the job here. I would've bought it from Byrne if he and Claremont had touched on the subject at all, and I do later buy it from Romita, but Cockrum, at least in this second run, is too bright, shiny, and superhero-y to get the point across.

"Tigra guest stars. Try to contain your excitement."

How can you not be a fan of a superheroine whose costume is just a bikini? Though the fact that she's a "furry" kind of negates the titillation factor, I guess.

Matt said...

Blam -- "What happened to Lee Forrester? I ask again."

She's with Banshee and Theresa at Cassidy Keep.

But seriously, Claremont basically forgets about her for the next dozen or so issues, then she returns for a quick one-nighter with Cyclops right before he meets Madelyne. And in the issue, Cyclops -- perhaps speaking on Claremont's behalf -- apologizes to Lee for forgetting about her.

Blam -- "How big a retcon is the third Summers brother? This is a real question. At what point did this plot become a thing, and more importantly was Corsair's memory of him wiped or should he be in the flashback to the airplane here?"

The third brother was mentioned by Mr. Sinister around X-Men #20 or so, in 1992-93-ish. Fabian Nicieza wrote the issue and started laying groundwork for his own character, Adam-X, to be revealed as the brother, but somehow the plot was dropped or nixed or whatever, and was forgotten about until Ed Brubaker resurrected it for no good reason around 2005 or so.

I think the deal is that Corsair didn't know Katherine was pregnant when she died, then the baby was born afterwards somehow using Shi'ar technology? It's been a while since I read Deadly Genesis, and I have no plan or desire to ever read it again.

Eric Indiana said...

You know, I always wondered about the inevitable LESSER mutants in the X-Men universe. Here are some thoughts on 3rd tier mutants: http://daisybrain.wordpress.com/2010/07/10/minor-mutants/

Teebore said...

@Blam: it's amazing how well you can remember one issue and totally forget what's in the next.

I know what you mean. I remember this issue as "the one where Storm and Cyclops pay handball, and the mansion is destroyed", totally forgetting about a lot of the smaller details that happen. The next few issues (aka "the one with Tigra", "the one after the one with Tigra" and "the one with Kitty on a Shi'ar ship)" are the same way. I think I may have read this first part of the Brood saga only once or twice, which doesn't help.

I'm actually impressed with what a great set-up this issue is

Yeah, that's one of the things about it I forget, so I was pleasantly surprised upon revisiting it to find out what a nice first chapter for the Brood story it was.

one has to assume that they're taking care of some business amidst the superpowered handball and dinner for two, but we don't get the merest lip service to that.

I wondered the same thing about them, and that was my assumption as well, though you're right: we don't even get a hand wave regarding what they're still doing at the mansion.

But where the frak is the mail drop?

I'm frankly appalled that didn't jump out at me immediately. I can maybe buy the idea of Kitty writing a postcard for some reason (instead of, you know, just calling), but it does seem odd that it was mailed from an ancient island in the Bermuda Triangle.

(Possible No Prize explanation: the X-Men have been making frequent trips to Bermuda or some other locale to stock up on supplies, and Kitty mailed it from there?)

Teebore said...

At what point did this plot become a thing, and more importantly was Corsair's memory of him wiped or should he be in the flashback to the airplane here?

As Matt mentioned, the third Summers brother was first mentioned in X-Men (vol.2) #23, when Mr. Sinister is talking with Cyclops and casually refers to Scott's "brothers", then slyly claims he simply was mistaken when called on it.

This coming more or less at the height of my X-Men zeal and at a time when I was still naive enough to think this stuff was all planned out in advance, I was endlessly fascinated by the idea of another Summers brother. A lot of speculation at the time centered around Gambit (because he had red eyes, and because he was popular, so most everything centered around Gambit) and Nicieza has indeed admitted he was setting up Adam-X the Extreme, arguably the 90s-est character ever, to be the third Summers brother, but then, again as Matt said, the whole thing more or less disappeared until Brubaker dusted it off in 2005 for Deadly Genesis.

That series ostensibly being a celebration of the 30th anniversary of Giant-Size X-Men #1, I think I read somewhere that Brubaker wanted to celebrate by tying off a long-running X-Men loose end, and went with the third Summers brother mystery for whatever reason.

I believe Matt is correct that Corsair didn't know Katherine was pregnant when they were captured by the Shi'ar. The story goes that after she was killed, the unborn child was placed in some Shi'ar device they use to grow slaves and aged to adolescence, and Corsair, obviously, was never told about it by the Shi'ar.

So to make a long story short (too late), the flashback to the airplane in this issue still fits. I will say, despite the relatively pointlessness of it and the dullness of Vulcan as a character, Brubaker did a pretty good job of making the retcon fit without contradicting too much of what we'd previously seen - we can now look at that flashback and say, "Vulcan's in her belly!", but it's not like we have to pretend little Vulcan is standing there next to Corsair or anything (though of course, in doing so, Brubaker was forced to rely on things like Shi'ar birthing machines and Professor X memory wipes, making the whole thing even more awkward and complicated in the end).

That windshield bit with the Blackbird was pretty neat

I still can't decide if it was neat, or just terribly plot-convenient, especially since I don't think it's ever used/mentioned again.

I like Storm's dilemma. "Are our lives worth endangering the city?"

Ditto. I meant to make a bigger deal out of Storm and Cyclops' various moral dilemmas in this issue, as they fit into what has clearly become Claremont's efforts to establish his views regarding morality and killing for the various characters, but it got lost in the shuffle.

I'm still a little more creeped out by / embarrassed for the kid than impressed with his creativity

I definitely feel some embarrassment for him, along with relief that it wasn't creepier, but I get a definite "tongue-in-cheek" vibe from the letter.

Matt said...

Teebore -- So to make a long story short (too late)..."

Nice Clue reference! I use that one often, myself.

Blam -- "That windshield bit with the Blackbird was pretty neat..."

Teebore -- "I still can't decide if it was neat, or just terribly plot-convenient, especially since I don't think it's ever used/mentioned again."

Because of that, I suspect it may have been an unsolicited Cockrum contribution that Claremont wrote around in the narration. The concept seems to play to Cockrum's sensibilities more than Claremont's, and as noted, Claremont never uses it again (nor does anyone else as far as I can recall).

Teebore said...

@Matt: Cockrum tends to give him very mussed hair and much smaller glasses. I like the Byrne look better.

Ditto. Nice observations about Cyclops respective looks.

The place had been the X-Men's primary base of operations for over 150 issues -- its destruction deserved a full-page splash.

Or at least a half page splash - something more than a tiny panel on the bottom of the page!

Though unless my memory of just last year fails me, Rossi was seen or at least mentioned in Ms. Marvel's own solo series as well.

He was (I checked on the Marvel Chronology Project while writing this post), but the last time we the readers of X-aminations saw him was issue X-Men #96.

Why on Earth would Xavier even let Kitty do that?

Because she's the awesomest character evar, duh! ;)

but his art does not project the sort of bleak mood one would expect if the U.S. really is becoming more anti-mutant.

Agreed, both in terms of liking Cockrum's art and it not quite fitting that particular tone. Cockrum is good for big swashbuckling superhero-y stuff and sci-fi elements, less so the more bleak, grounded elements of X-Men.

I definitely don't think it's a coincidence that Cockrum turns in the strongest work of his second run on the decidedly sci-fi Brood saga. Whether intentionally or not, Claremont is now writing to his collaborator's strengths. While Cockrum isn't the best fit for the "growing mutant menace" angle, thankfully, it really only comes up in passing here and there, and is a bit of the focus in #158. Otherwise, it's pretty much just Brood, Dracula, and the big flashback issue for the rest of Cockrum's run, and really, the strongest anti-mutant stuff doesn't begin until Romita Jr. comes aboard.

Though the fact that she's a "furry" kind of negates the titillation factor, I guess.

Exactly.

She's with Banshee and Theresa at Cassidy Keep.

Ha! From now, I think "Cassidy Keep" will be the default location of all the characters Claremont momentarily forgets about until they show up again.

@Eric: Here are some thoughts on 3rd tier mutants

Thanks for the link! I particularly like the Hand Shaker.