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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #156

"Pursuit!"
April 1982 

In a Nutshell 
The X-Men and the Starjammers pursue Deatbird into space.

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Dave Cockrum
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Colorist: Don Warfield
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
As Tigra deals with the police, doing her best to use her status as an Avenger to keep them at bay, the Starjammer arrives above the city and teleports the X-Men aboard before racing for deep space in pursuit of Deathbird's ship. As the X-Men reunite with the Starjammers, their medic begins working to save the life of the gravely injured Colossus. Meanwhile, aboard the Shi'ar flagship, Nightcrawler and Kitty are shown a recording of Deathbird's attack on the X-Men by Admiral Lord Samedar, which ends with Colossus' apparent death, devastating and enraging Kitty. Samedar then contacts Deathbird, revealing a secret alliance between the two. Aboard Deathbird's ship, a captive Professor X awakens from a nightmare beside Lilandra, and learns that Deathbird is her sister. On the Starjammer, Corsair tells Cyclops about the Shi'ar attack that separated their family, and how Corsair witnessed the death of his wife at the hands of Emperor D'Ken before escaping and forming the Starjammers.


Just then, the X-Men and Starjammers catch up to Deathbird's ship, but both vehicles are swallowed by the Brood's massive, whale-like vessel. The Brood attack, but the Starjammers and the X-Men, including a restored Colossus, hold them off while Cyclops and Corsair sneak aboard Deathbird's ship and rescue Professor X and Lilandra. Storm engages Deathbird, but is distracted enough by the realization that the Brood's ship is alive for Deathbird to push her into space. However, the Starjammer breaks free and is able to teleport Storm aboard before she dies. With Lilandra rescued, the Starjammer hurries back to Earth. However, the damage it has sustained means it won't reach the planet before the Shi'ar deadline expires, and without knowing that Lilandra is alive and well, the Shi'ar will destroy the Earth.

Firsts and Other Notables
It is revealed that Deathbird is Lilandra's older sister, exiled and denied the throne for heinous crimes (presumably killing their mother). 


Though he's experienced flashes of the memory before and readers have more or less been told the whole story already, Cyclops finally learns the specific details regarding the Shi'ar attack on his family that led to his parents getting captured and he and his brother being orphaned, and what happened to his parents after they were separated from him. 


The Starjammers robotic, bug-like doctor, Sikorsky, makes his first appearance (though he was mentioned by name in issue #108).


This is also the first appearance of the whale-like Acanti race, which the Brood have enslaved and use as living starships, though they go unnamed in this issue.


Issue #166 will reveal that Professor X has been implanted with the egg of a Brood Queen; that implantation is considered to have occurred between last issue and this one, during his imprisonment by Deathbird and the Brood. As he awakens aboard Deathbird's ship in this issue, he suffers a terrible nightmare, the first hint that there is a Brood egg growing inside him.


It's Statement of Ownership time! The average number of copies of each issue sold per month in the previous year is reported as being 259,607, with the single issue nearest to the filing date selling 289,525 copies, continuing the book's steady rise up the sales charts (last year's numbers were roughly 192K per month, with around 205K copies of the most recent issue sold)

A Work in Progress
More sexualization of Kitty, as she has eschewed her bikini in order to model more costumes, one of which is designed to catch the attention of Colossus. 


The Brood Queen is now referred to as "Mother Queen". 

I Love the 80s
We get two chunks of exposition this issue, first as Tigra thinks back over the events of the previous issue, and later when Admiral Lord Samedar replays those same events for Nightcrawler and Kitty.


As mentioned by Blam in the comments to last week's post, in accordance with the standards of the time, Colossus' life-threatening injury is depicted in such a way that you'd think he has a severe allergy to black ink, and not a gaping chest wound.


While I get that the X-Men and Starjammers are concerned because their ship won't be able to reach the Shi'ar fleet before Samedar's deadline expires, I'm not entirely sure why they can't just call the fleet using some high tech communication device.

Claremontisms
Claremont changes up his "nigh-invulnerable" adjective with "nigh-irresistible" in this issue.


Artistic Achievements
Dave Cocrkum does a great job showing the relative size of the various ships in this issue, starting by having the Starjammer dwarf Deathbird's craft followed by both getting swallowed by the enormous Acanti in a gorgeous double page spread.


Young Love
Thanks to the lack of gravity on the Brood ship, Professor X is able to punch out a Brood that threatened Lilandra; when Cyclops admonishes him for such a dangerous gesture, Xavier tells him he felt compelled to protect the woman he loves. 


It's in the Mail
The response to a letter in this issue regarding Kitty's horrendous costume from issue #149 makes it clear the costume was intended to look horrible, and the letter writer's own costume design for Kitty gets printed.


Teebore's Take
Claremont and Cockrum continue to expand the Brood story, taking the action away from Earth and out into space, a move which fits Cockrum's style quite well. That said, the story is beginning to show its seams as it grows a bit long (especially considering this is just the first act). The cliffhanger involving Colossus is resolved in perfunctory fashion (He has a pulse! The advanced technology on the Starjammer can help! Look, he's back in action!"), suggesting we were never supposed to read it as anything more than a standard genre device. Nightcrawler and Kitty continue to do nothing of note aboard the Shi'ar ship (Kitty's still just making random costumes), and with the arrival of the Starjammers and the move to out-and-out space opera, the X-Men are in danger of getting overshadowed in their own book. There's still plenty to like here though, as Cockrum gets to cut loose with alien and space ship designs, turning in some of the best art of his second run, and even if this chapter comes close to falling into wheel-spinning territory, there's still enough momentum to the story to keep it from dragging too much. 

Next Issue
The X-Men race to save the planet as the first act of the Brood story comes to a close.

8 comments:

  1. Yes, this is inarguably the weakest portion of the first half of the Brood saga. I still like this half overall better than the second, though.

    "...continuing the book's steady rise up the sales charts..."

    I'm sure it's been quoted here before -- probably by me, if no one else -- but one of my favorite oft-repeated lines from Byrne is when he says that he must've been holding Claremont back, because sales really took off after he left. I think he sells himself short (probably intentionally to prove some weird point), because his influence surely helped poise the title to explode... but it's a fun observation nonetheless.

    "The Brood Queen is now referred to as "Mother Queen"."

    I would love to encounter a British Brood so he could refer to her as the "Queen Mum".

    "While I get that the X-Men and Starjammers are concerned because their ship won't be able to reach the Shi'ar fleet before Samedar's deadline expires, I'm not entirely sure why they can't just call the fleet using some high tech communication device."

    Maybe Samedar and/or Deathbird and/or the Brood are blocking their transmissions somehow? That's my No-Prize solution, anyway.

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  2. @Matt: I still like this half overall better than the second, though.

    I still recall liking the second half better, but I've been enjoying this half more than I remembered enjoying it before, so I wonder if I'll end up liking the second half less now.

    If that makes any sense...

    I think he sells himself short (probably intentionally to prove some weird point), because his influence surely helped poise the title to explode... but it's a fun observation nonetheless.

    It is a fun observation, but I definitely think he's selling himself short - I definitely think is success on the book is carrying over even after his departure. People read and loved X-Men during his run, and now they're telling their friends to read it, even though Byrne is gone; that kind of thing.

    Maybe Samedar and/or Deathbird and/or the Brood are blocking their transmissions somehow?

    Yeah, it's a pretty easy situation to explain away, which is why I'm confused by the lack of one. I mean, how hard would it have been for the closing bit of dialogue to be, "with the damage we've sustained, we won't reach Earth for 24 hours - and our communication equipment has been damaged too!" or something like that?

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  3. It is revealed that Deathbird is Lilandra's older sister, exiled and denied the throne for heinous crimes (presumably killing their mother). 

    While there's a strange lack of attention called to it, Lilandra does scream out "Matricide!" when she jumps Deathbird — and it's kind-of a non sequitur in its lexicology. "Killer!" would have been too vague and "Matricidist!" is awkward, I grant, but struck me as ood.

    The Starjammers robotic, bug-like doctor, Sikorsky, makes his first appearance

    ... hovering thoughtfully over Peter's naughty bits to block our view. I'm glad you reprinted that panel.

    The average number of copies of each issue sold per month in the previous year is reported as being 259,607, with the single issue nearest to the filing date selling 289,525 copies

    289,525 sold out of 450,926 printed. I remain amazed by the sell-through margins — the vast majority of the difference between those numbers is returns, with spoilage and comps minimal — with which comic-book publishers used to work in the newsstand market.

    Nightcrawler and Kitty continue to do nothing of note aboard the Shi'ar ship (Kitty's still just making random costumes)

    I had the same thought when it was mentioned that she'd literally been doing that for hours, when suddenly it hit me that she'd mentioned last issue that she was surreptitiously hacking the Shi'ar vessel's computer systems through the fashion device's interface. Since I haven't read ahead, I don't know if anything comes of that, but there it is for what it's worth.

    with the arrival of the Starjammers and the move to out-and-out space opera, the X-Men are in danger of getting overshadowed in their own book

    They were certainly outnumbered on the cover, with only Cyclops and Storm appearing alongside the Starjammers, and then not even center-stage. I would expect Colossus to be AWOL there in the name of suspense, which I hope was an editorial move, but the lack of Wolverine just goes to show that he wasn't the ubiquitous fan-favorite that he became. All of that being said, while I take your point and in fact I think you're making more of a journalistic observation than a criticism, I think that the storyline's usage of the Shi'ar, the Starjammers, and a new alien (let's face it: Alien) race only served to expand the X-Men's subsection of the Marvel Universe. Fans could and would let the creative team know if they didn't like where things were going, but be it the Starjammers or Alpha Flight or the Hellfire Club I think that additions to the mythos who could really share the spotlight were generally a good thing — all the better if it fed Claremont's and his artists' own energy as well as reader interest.

    VW: Cincin — Tintin's sister?

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  4. Other musings, of which I had quite a few this time...

    Caption Pg. 1: "He is a mutant -- one of six who comprise the uncanny X-Men"

    Let's just let that sink in for a moment.

    Six X-Men!

    Now, I must admit, I'm old enough to remember when that was the norm and I'm "retro" (or whatever) enough in my Marvel reading, my X-Men reading most especially, to have my head stuck in this era. To me the X-Men are in fact a core group of about seven, plus original members and reservists who cycle through as events warrant, and then the "New Mutants" bunch. I'm sure as hell aware that the group has become more malleable and expansive than that, however, and reading that caption just kind-of took me aback.

    Six X-Men!

    I definitely haven't read Pg. 3 since September 11th, 2001. I'm not sure what the events herein have transformed into, given that Marvel's rolling continuity means that pretty much everything since the Fantastic Four's origin takes place since that day, but it's a lot easier to rewrite the last half of it in your head (citizens of NYC were just frightened and captivated on principle by the approach of a mysterious flying object; now they'd explicitly be fearing another terrorist attack — or, I guess, another alien invasion) than it is the first half (air-traffic controllers were talking about a lack of excitement and ribbing the guy who saw a strange blip the day before; now there wouldn't be a soul who'd dare to say "pretty dull tonight").

    Tigra wishes that she'd been beamed up too. So do I, just so that we could see her meet Hepzibah.

    I suspect that Cockrum swiped the heads/faces of Lilandra and Xavier in this panel to help with the angles. Xavier's face looks rather Kirby and Lilandra looks off from both Cockrum's and Wiacek's usual styles — indeed different just from the surrounding pages (frankly, I think she looks a bit like David Bowie circa Aladdin Sane).

    Xavier: "So Deathbird is Shi'ar?"

    His takeaway isn't that Deathbird is Lilandra's sister, but that Deathbird is Shi'ar? Isn't that kind-of implied in the even more explosive revelation that Deathbird is Lilandra's sister?

    That panel of D'Ken stabbing Scott's mom (Anne or Katherine Ann, take your pick; both are used in the space of just two pages) has all the drama taken out of it thanks to her goofy crossed eyes and the jaunty way that D'Ken somehow buries a dagger up to its hilt in her chest in one quick motion.

    Shouldn't Xavier still have a harder time maneuvering in zero G than the others? If he can't move his legs then he's still dependent on using his arms or rolling his body around to "swim" through the air, which remains quite a disadvantage.

    And it doesn't seem like the rest of the gang should be at a viewscreen all of a sudden when Storm is sucked out into space. I realize that the timing of their separate scenes could allow for it, but the narrative doesn't scan that way.

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  5. I like both halves of the story but I like the second half just a little better. I don't think you can say this one is a classic, but honestly, it's a lot more fun than it has any right to be and the artwork is gorgeous. I'm not a huge Dave Cockrum fan, but I think this story arc has his best work on the title by far.

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  6. @Blam: "Killer!" would have been too vague and "Matricidist!" is awkward, I grant, but struck me as ood.

    Indeed. Though there's no good word for it, it's the equivalent of calling a thief "robbery".

    I remain amazed by the sell-through margins ... with which comic-book publishers used to work in the newsstand market.

    It is mind-boggling to think how much of their printed material went to waste...

    Since I haven't read ahead, I don't know if anything comes of that, but there it is for what it's worth.

    I'm pretty sure something comes of it, but at the same time, their role in this issue does nothing - it was setup last issue, pays off in the next, but this issue doesn't add to it or even remind us of it.

    ...and in fact I think you're making more of a journalistic observation than a criticism...

    You're right, it's less a criticism and more an observation. Frankly, I'm just trying to come up with something to say other than "solid stuff", "back to basics", "good art", etc.

    and a new alien (let's face it: Alien) race

    While the similarity between the two is more than obvious, it is worth noting that while Claremont's usage of the Brood, was obviously inspired by the alien in Alien (laying eggs inside a host body, the teeth, etc), his notion of the Brood as a species of such creatures, one governed by a bee-esque queen, pre-dates James Cameron's Aliens and the notion of presenting not one but countless aliens subservient to a queen.

    think that additions to the mythos who could really share the spotlight were generally a good thing — all the better if it fed Claremont's and his artists' own energy as well as reader interest.

    Agreed. And, in response to your later comment about their being only six X-Men at this time, is, I think, one of the explanations for that: Claremont has given the team a vast supporting cast (Moira, Stevie, now Carol Danvers, etc.), as well as allies like the Starjammers and Alpha Flight such that he can add characters and new interaction to the book without needing to swell the actual ranks of the team itself.

    So do I, just so that we could see her meet Hepzibah

    Ha!

    That panel of D'Ken stabbing Scott's mom ... has all the drama taken out

    Agreed. That panel has always bugged me, ever since I first read it as kid, for failing to convey the gravity of the moment.

    Shouldn't Xavier still have a harder time maneuvering in zero G than the others?

    Yeah, probably. I mean, at the very least, it'd be harder for him to "push off" then everyone else.

    I realize that the timing of their separate scenes could allow for it, but the narrative doesn't scan that way.

    It really doesn't. I didn't notice that until I was writing out the plot (usually the last thing I do for these posts) so I didn't go back and comment on it, but there's a definite disconnect between Storm's "I'll handle Deathbird" and everyone being aboard the Starjammer and ready to save her moments later (unless Storm and Deathbird are meant to have been fighting a looooong time, but again, the panels don't read that way).

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  7. @Jeff: I don't think you can say this one is a classic, but honestly, it's a lot more fun than it has any right to be and the artwork is gorgeous.

    That's a pretty great summation of this story. Couldn't agree more.

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  8. Deathbird had her name stripped of her after it was prophesied that she was destined to commit great evil, and was later exiled from the Shi'ar Empire after brutally murdering her mother and an unnamed sister.

    But what if D'Ken exploited this prophecy and set her up to ensure he would be next in line for the throne? Outlook likely!

    And why during her exile did Deathbird end up on Earth of all places, a planet her brother had previously visited?

    How long had Deathbird been on Earth? How long ago had her mother and unnamed sister been murdered? And how long ago had she been exiled?

    Did she take the opportunity to visit Earth during her exile in an effort to discover just what her brother had been up to there, and find any possible clues that might implicate him in her mother and sister's deaths?

    She couldn't come out and accuse the Emperor, her brother, so it seems likely she would need to gather hard evidence first.

    Or were her mother and sister really killed? Had D'Ken perhaps imprisoned them on Earth?

    Or if they were genuinely dead, what specific proof was she expecting to find on Earth to prove her innocence?

    If D'Ken was behind the murder of his mother and unnamed sister, it brings into question his motivations for sending one of his starships to Earth on an exploratory mission to collect zoological specimens.

    So what was he really up to on Earth too and how might the truth be connected to the royal murder?

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