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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #157

"Hide-‘n’-Seek"
May 1982 

In a Nutshell 
The X-Men and Starjammers defeat the Shi'ar and save the planet.

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

Plot
Near Pluto, the X-Men and Starjammers are working frantically to repair their ship when Colossus suddenly collapses, succumbing to the still-healing injuries he suffered at Deathbird's hands. As he's looked after by Sikorsky, Lilandra reveals that she tried to contact Chancellor Araki via the imperial commlink in order to get him to call off the attack on Earth, but while a connection was established, he never answered. Desperate, Professor X establishes a mindlink with Nightcrawler and Kitty, still aboard the Shi'ar flagship, and tells them Lilandra is safe. While doing so, he senses an anomaly within himself, but when he attempts to probe it, his mind shuts down, putting him into a vegetative state. Meanwhile, aboard the Brood's ship, the Brood attack Deathbird for allowing Lilandra and the X-Men to escape, but Deathbird holds them off, promising to deliver the super-powered X-Men to them to be used as breeders for the Brood. Aboard the Shi'ar flagship, Nightcrawler and Kitty escape from their quarters just as Admiral Lord Samedar orders them killed.


They discover Araki dead, murdered by Samedar, and realize they need the Imperial Guard's help. On the bridge, Samedar orders the ship to fire on Earth, but Nightcrawler and Kitty create a distraction, with Kitty posing as a resurrected Dark Phoenix while Nightcrawler teleports away with Imperial Guard member Oracle. She reads Nightcrawler's mind and learns that Lilandra is alive, and alerts her fellow Guard members. However, a contingent of the Imperial Guard remain loyal to Samedar. As a fight erupts amongst the Imperial Guard, Kitty tries to disable the ship's computers, but is knocked out by its automated defenses. With Samedar's contingent of the Guard triumphant, the ship fires on Earth, but the repaired Starjammer drops out of warp just in time to deflect the blast. Lilandra orders an end to the hostilities and the arrest of Samedar. However, though Colossus is back on his feet and the Earth is saved, Sikorsky worries that Professor X may never come out of his coma. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Chancellor Araki dies this issue, though he'll pop up again in Avengers #363 and then in New X-Men #133, in which he calls himself Araki 6, suggesting his consciousness may be getting transferred into cloned bodies. 

This issue marks the first appearances of lesser Imperial Guard members Webwing and Blackthorn.


Deathbird promises to help the Brood acquire the X-Men to use as hosts, then swears to herself that she'll eventually betray the Brood. Though she'll make good on the first promise in issue #162, she never follows up on the second, and won't appear in the book again until after Jim Lee comes aboard.


When Professor X telepathically contacts Nightcrawler and Kitty, he senses an alien anomaly within himself which, when probed, shuts down his mind; this is another reference to the heretofore unknown Brood queen growing inside him.


This issue posts the results of Britain's Eagle Awards, which X-Men swept.


Though not yet credited on the title page, the letters page lists Danny Fingeroth as the assistant editor of the book.

A Work in Progress
Colossus is once again told he speaks well, only for him to deny it, which is becoming something of a character trait for him. 


Later, Colossus succumbs to the injury he received at Deathbird's hands in issue #155.  .


For some reason, Sikorsky selects Storm to assist him with Colossus' surgery.


Wolverine really, really wants to sit in on that surgery...


The Brood refer to their queen as "Mother-of-Us-All" once more.

It still takes a lot out of Nightcrawler to teleport with someone.


I Love the 80s
The captain of the Shi'ar Dreadnought is named K'rk, and he is considered to be the same captain who was pursuing Lilandra in issue #105.

Those speech bubbles on the cover look positively quaint these days...

Claremontisms
Twenty months removed from the ending of "The Dark Phoenix Saga", Claremont once again references that story by having Kitty use the Shi'ar costume machine and some theatrics from Nightcrawler to appear before the Shi'ar as Dark Phoenix. It's perhaps a less egregious recall of the story here, considering the Shi'ar's involvement in both.


Bullpen Bulletins
Future G.I. Joe and Wolverine writer (and current Marvel editor) Larry Hama pays tribute to the recently-deceased comic book legend Wally Wood.


Teebore's Take
The first act of Claremont and Cockrum's Brood story comes to a close with this issue. It's still a bit padded (the ship repair scenes which open the issue are fine, but a bit with Wolverine almost spinning off into space seems unnecessary, and Colossus re-injuries himself for no discernible story reason) and the X-Men are reduced even further to supporting characters in their own book. But while I still think this maybe could have been done in three issues instead of four, I'm picking nits at this point. Claremont manages to address some of my concerns from last issue, moving Nightcrawler and Kitty to center stage and making it clear why Lilandra can't just call off the attack herself, and we have a return to Claremont's long form plotting, as several plot threads are left hanging for future stories (though the Earth is saved and Deathbird's rebellion quelled, Professor X remains in a mysterious coma and Deathbird has promised the X-Men to the Brood). In the end, the final issue of this part of the story falls in line with what's been said about it all along: not groundbreaking stuff, but a welcome return to solid, fun, well-constructed super-heroics, and a fantastic showcase for Dave Cockrum. 

Next Issue
A certain skunk-haired southern belle makes her X-Men debut!

13 comments:

  1. I would agree with your assessment that this story could've been an issue shorter. As much as I like this first segment of the Brood saga more than the second, it is a little padded in places.

    "Chancellor Araki dies this issue, though he'll pop up again in Avengers #363 and then in New X-Men #133, in which he calls himself Araki 6, suggesting his consciousness may be getting transferred into cloned bodies."

    I remember reading that New X-Men issue and thinking it was just another instance of the Jemas/Quesada loose (some might say careless) approach to continuity, with the Araki 6 reference added to cover up the blunder after someone noticed he was supposed to be dead. It was only later, when reading "Operation Galactic Storm" for the first time in trade format that I learned Araki had appeared there as well! I think post-Morrison, he also showed up in Brubaker's "Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire", didn't he?

    "Deathbird ... won't appear in the book again until after Jim Lee comes aboard."

    Wow, seriously? I knew she was absent for some time, but I had no idea it was that long!

    "Though not yet credited on the title page, the letters page lists Danny Fingeroth as the assistant editor of the book."

    I doubt he was ever credited on the title page... I don't think Marvel initiated the policy of crediting assistant editors until the Bob Harras regime. Though it may have been even later than that, under Quesada.

    This brings me to a tangent: I miss when comic book credits were simply Writer, Penciler, Inker, Letterer, Colorist, Editor. Adding Assistant Editor was fine, too. But Bill Jemas decided the President should have a credit, which was ludicrous since his name was in the indicia. Dan Buckley kept the practice alive by giving himself a Publisher credit (also in the indicia). Nowadays we have weird things like Producer and Executive Producer, plus Associate Editors and Managing Editors and so many names stuffed in the credit box that it just looks silly.

    I'm all for everyone getting their due, but why not limit all the extraneous credits to the title/recap page, which most comics have now, and leave the actual in-story credits for just the creative people? It would look a lot cleaner.

    "For some reason, Sikorsky selects Storm to assist him with Colossus' surgery."

    Maybe he's heard stories of her nimble hands?

    "Those speech bubbles on the cover look positively quaint these days..."

    Sadly, those disappeared long ago, even before Quesada came into the picture. I remember a cover with some speech balloons from the Scott Lobdell/Joe Madureira era (when the X-Men were in space fighting the Phalanx), and when I first saw it, it seemed unexpectedly old-fashioned to me even then.

    It kind of miffs me that you only see balloons on covers now if a title is explicitly trying to be retro, and then only in a cheesy sort of "Can you believe comics used to look like this?" way.

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  2. Maybe by this time everyone new covers were BS...but how pissed would be if you actually believe what was on the cover of this issue?

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  3. It was only later, when reading "Operation Galactic Storm" for the first time in trade format that I learned Araki had appeared there as well!

    Yeah, if Morrison was covering up a continuity error with the "6" appellation, it was definitely someone else's error. I'm also pretty sure Araki showed up in Brubaker's Shi'ar story - it'd be surprising if he didn't, considering that whole story was like Shi'ar old home week.

    Wow, seriously? I knew she was absent for some time, but I had no idea it was that long!

    Yeah, me neither. After the beginning of the second part of the Brood saga, she gets mentioned a few times and pops up in the Spotlight on the Starjammers issues (as well as a Rom annual), but otherwise, we won't see her again until #274. Crazy, I know.

    I don't think Marvel initiated the policy of crediting assistant editors until the Bob Harras regime.

    Didn't they start getting credited around the time Marvel was making a thing out of "Assistant Editor's Month", when all the editors were at the San Diego con, so ostensibly whacky things could happen in the books while the bosses were away? Or did they do that and still not credit the assistant editors?

    I'm all for everyone getting their due, but why not limit all the extraneous credits to the title/recap page, which most comics have now, and leave the actual in-story credits for just the creative people?

    I'm not opposed to the business side of things getting credit where due, but if it's in the indicia, that counts as a credit, and I feel like the creator credits should stand out from the business side of things. It's not to say that that business side of things didn't do anything, but it feels like the creative team's involvement in any given issue is more...personal? Individualized? Something like that.

    Sadly, those disappeared long ago, even before Quesada came into the picture.

    Yeah, I don't even think we're that far removed from that time with this issue. Looking ahead, the next issue to feature text on the cover is #171, and the next one to feature dialogue is #190.

    At least we've still got a decent amount of time in which the covers represent (for the most part) the story inside instead of just being a non-specific pin-up or team shot every month...

    It kind of miffs me that you only see balloons on covers now if a title is explicitly trying to be retro, and then only in a cheesy sort of "Can you believe comics used to look like this?" way.

    Me too, though I've always had the impression whatever disdain there is towards dialogue on covers comes from the publishing/business end and not the creators themselves.

    Maybe by this time everyone new covers were BS...but how pissed would be if you actually believe what was on the cover of this issue?

    "Oh man, Dark Phoenix is back! Awesome...wait, that's it?!?"

    I'm not sure how saavy readers were back then, in terms of falling for that kind of stuff. Probably depends on their age. I mean, I was a pretty stupid/trusting kid when it came to stuff like this and I remember being disappointed when the insides of a comic failed to live up to the cover.

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  4. "Or did they do that and still not credit the assistant editors?"

    They probably did it for Assistant Editor's Month, but I'm fairly positive it didn't become a regular thing until the Harras years. I even remember reading a little item about it, maybe on the Bullpen page or in Wizard or something, where they announced that they would start crediting Assitant Editors as of that month's issues. Perhaps some editors may have credited their assistants before then, but it wasn't a line-wide standard until around the mid- to late-90's.

    "Yeah, I don't even think we're that far removed from that time with this issue. Looking ahead, the next issue to feature text on the cover is #171, and the next one to feature dialogue is #190."

    I just went ahead and scanned a bunch of covers, and I see kind of a trend. For the rest of the Jim Shooter era, text, either in captions or word balloons, is mostly absent from all covers. There are occasional exceptions, but not all that many. Around the time Tom DeFalco becomes EiC (during "Fall of the Mutants"), basic blurbs begin to become more common. When Bob Harras takes over as editor (roughly around #250), the blurbs become more melodramatic than before. By the time Claremont is gone, the Scott Lobdell period features blurbs on practically every cover. This isn't exactly surprising to me, as I associate Bob Harras's tenure as Editor in Chief (in a good way) with huge, melodramatic captions in the chaotic Comicraft custom on all covers, line-wide.

    However, just for comparison's sake, I went and looked at a ton of Amazing Spider-Man covers, too... all throughout the Shooter, DeFalco, and Harras eras, cover blurbs are a regular feature. So here's my take on the situation:

    Knowing how much control Chris Claremont had when he was at the helm of the X-Men franchise, he probably had a lot of say in cover design. Jim Shooter has talked on his blog about how involved Roy Thomas and Len Wein were with their books' covers, so it's easy to assume Claremont could have that power also, if he wanted. And -- despite his reputation for being overly wordy -- Claremont probably just liked strong, visually striking covers with as little copy as possible on them, unless he felt it was absolutely necessary.

    Enter Bob Harras, around issue #250... an editor with (for better or worse) as strong a creative vision as Claremont. And Harras obviously liked cover captions. While editing Claremont, I can imagine some fighting between the two of them over cover blurbs. Sometimes Claremont won, sometimes Harras did. Hence the sporadic, but still more than before, cover copy in the latter part of Claremont's run.

    By the time Scott Lobdell comes on, Harras is firmly entrenched as the editor and creative force behind the X-Men. And he's not going to fight some kid who he hired over cover copy, so he adds it on his own. Thus, the increase in cover copy under Lobdell. And when Harras takes over the big chair as EiC a few years later, he applies his cover design philosophy to the entire Marvel line.

    Then Joe Quesada, an artist, takes over as EiC. Naturally, coming from an artistic background, he hates when his drawings are covered up with unnecessary copy, so under his regime, it disappears pretty much entirely, except for story arc titles.

    Anyway, that's my (completely speculative) guess on the rise and fall and rise and fall of cover copy at Marvel Comics. It may surprise no one to hear this, but I like the Bob Harras approach (as informed by Stan Lee and the EiC's of the 70's) best -- lots of big, bold, overly melodramatic blurbs on every cover!

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  5. @Matt: Anyway, that's my (completely speculative) guess on the rise and fall and rise and fall of cover copy at Marvel Comics.

    Wow, that's a pretty impressive survey. Thanks for looking into that. I think your reasoning throughout is pretty sound, too.

    ...I like the Bob Harras approach (as informed by Stan Lee and the EiC's of the 70's) best -- lots of big, bold, overly melodramatic blurbs on every cover!

    I obviously like the cover blurbs and dialogue bubbles as well, but the thing I feel most strongly about is the generic art covers. With text or no, I want my covers to be a glimpse, whether accurate or misleading, to the events inside the comic.

    I should be able to look at a cover of a comic I've already read and go, "oh, that's the one where...". The occasional pin-up or team-up shot is fine, you can look at just about any title's run during the 00s and have no way to tell apart issues aside from their numbers, which is just sad.

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  6. Two best uses of text on comic book covers, courtesy Mssrs. Claremont and Davis:

    http://images.wikia.com/marveldatabase/images/0/0c/Excalibur_Vol_1_4.jpg

    http://gothamcitycomicsstore.com/index.php/excaliber/excalibur-55-nm-2.html

    --mortsleam

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  7. I'm feeling a little dumb now that I pointed out last week that Kitty was futzing around with the costume computer on purpose while admitting that I wasn't sure if anything ultimately came of it.

    Had I only looked at, or just remembered, the cover of this issue at the time I would've recalled that, well, yeah, it's going somewhere. And it's actually a pretty memorable cover, with Cockrum doing a nice job rendering a scary parlor-trick Phoenix who's obviously, in retrospect when you know what's up, the young (read: um, much less embosomed) Kitty Pryde and not Jean Grey.

    It's perhaps a less egregious recall of the story here, considering the Shi'ar's involvement in both.

    I actually think it's a nifty idea both in-story, for Kitty and Kurt to plan, and for Claremont to use.

    This issue posts the results of Britain's Eagle Awards, which X-Men swept.

    How dominating is the series? Wolverine takes both Favorite Lead Character and Favorite Supporting Character.

    For some reason, Sikorsky selects Storm to assist him with Colossus' surgery.

    'Cuz she's a skirt an' he needs him a nurse. I'm surprised the untold story of that surgery wasn't told in a Classic X-Men backup or something. "Days of Sutures Past"?

    I Love the 80s

    You didn't even mention that Kitty exclaimed "Eat your heart out, Doug Henning!" — possibly because you don't remember Doug Henning, but he was a thing once upon a time. 8^)

    The captain of the Shi'ar Dreadnought is named K'rk,

    I proclaim this a bridge (no Enterprise pun intended) too far. Homages are cool unless and until they really take you out of the story.

    In the end, the final issue of this part of the story falls in line with what's been said about it all along: not groundbreaking stuff, but a welcome return to solid, fun, well-constructed super-heroics, and a fantastic showcase for Dave Cockrum. 

    Well said. I must admit that I'm enjoying the Cockrum art less this go-'round than I remembered — not that I dislike it, just that it's mostly serviceable, more uneven than I recall (albeit in a different way than the early issues of his first run were uneven), and not as crisp as I recall (which may be due to me choosing to remember the parts inked by Josef Rubenstein than those inked by Bob Wiacek, a perfectly fine artist in his own right, and others). These last few issues have been fun and satisfying in terms of good ol' comic-book adventure storytelling, though.

    Other thoughts...

    I love that Hepzibah's spacesuit has a big armored covering for her tail.

    Am I forgetting something (that happened or that is to come) or have they kinda glossed over the fact that the other X-Men are probably now aware both that Corsair is Cyclops' dad and Cyclops knows it. Xavier in particular, I'd think, would have at least some attempted words of care for Scott, who's been in some ways like a son to him, and perhaps some conflicted emotions that you'd think Claremont would want to play up.

    I call cosmic bandersnatch Starjammers' shields can withstand a beam that has "the force of a gigaton H-bomb"?

    That was a pretty neat letter on Nightcrawler's teleportation ability.

    Of course Claremont is attending a conference called Goddess Rising with Marion Zimmer Bradley and Erica Jong (per a box on the letters page).

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  8. I call cosmic bandersnatch Starjammers' shields can withstand a beam that has "the force of a gigaton H-bomb"?

    Okay, I'd like to explain that this started out as a rhetorical question, I decided to turn it into a declarative statement and couldn't think of the word "shenanigans" but didn't want to resort to the scatological counterpart often used, opted in a moment of poetry for "cosmic bandersnatch", yet totally forgot to add the word "on" or to change the question mark to a period.

    'Twas brillig
    And Mam'selle Hepzibah
    Did gyre and gimble towards Ch'od...

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  9. Great blog, just discovered this while looking for reviews on Kitty's Fairy Tale theater. I doubt most people felt too cheated over this issue's cover, since it seems clear in hindsight that it's meant to be Kitty and not a really ana looking Jean Grey.

    As for how the Starjammers intercepted it? Maybe it's like an actual bomb in that it needed to hit earth's core or something like that before it reached critical mass, so by intercepting it early, it wasn't nearly at full power.

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  10. @Mortsleam: Two best uses of text on comic book covers, courtesy Mssrs. Claremont and Davis

    Ha! I've always loved that cover from #55. Excalibur definitely had a sense of whimsy about it that turned me off as a kid but I've grown to appreciate as I've gotten older.

    @Blam: ...the young (read: um, much less embosomed) Kitty Pryde and not Jean Grey.

    And give the fact that all superhero women are usually rendered exceptionally...endowed and the title's own history of putting Kitty in a bikini whenever possible around this time, it's nice that Cockrum made the effort to draw it that way.

    How dominating is the series? Wolverine takes both Favorite Lead Character and Favorite Supporting Character.

    Indeed. You'd think that wouldn't be possible, but I suppose it could be for separate issues, one in which Wolverine is more in the lead and another where he's just part of the ensemble.

    I'm surprised the untold story of that surgery wasn't told in a Classic X-Men backup or something. "Days of Sutures Past"?

    Ha! You're clearly joking, but it's worth pointing out the Classic X-Men backups had stopped at this point (I think the "Dark Phoenix" finale was the last one). In fact, at this point in the reprint schedule, I think the title had been officially changed to X-Men Classic, a change which gave my anal-retentive younger self fits when trying to alphabetize his collection.

    You didn't even mention that Kitty exclaimed "Eat your heart out, Doug Henning!" — possibly because you don't remember Doug Henning, but he was a thing once upon a time. 8^)

    I wouldn't say I remember him, but I am familiar with him. Though not enough for the reference to catch my attention, clearly.

    These last few issues have been fun and satisfying in terms of good ol' comic-book adventure storytelling, though.

    I too enjoyed these issues more than I recall I did when first reading them.

    Am I forgetting something (that happened or that is to come) or have they kinda glossed over the fact that the other X-Men are probably now aware both that Corsair is Cyclops' dad and Cyclops knows it.

    If you are, I'm forgetting it too. Now that you mention it, Claremont does seem to miss a huge opportunity to develop Professor X and Cyclops' relationship in the wake of Corsair returning to Cyclops life. I want to say that maybe Xavier has a thought or line of dialogue about it during the Paul Smith run, but I could be totally wrong.

    Of course Claremont is attending a conference called Goddess Rising with Marion Zimmer Bradley and Erica Jong

    My thought exactly.

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  11. @Dobson: Great blog, just discovered this while looking for reviews on Kitty's Fairy Tale theater.

    Thanks!

    Maybe it's like an actual bomb in that it needed to hit earth's core or something like that before it reached critical mass, so by intercepting it early, it wasn't nearly at full power.

    That's a pretty decent No Prize explanation!

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  12. Me: How dominating is the series? Wolverine takes both Favorite Lead Character and Favorite Supporting Character.

    Teebore: Indeed. You'd think that wouldn't be possible, but I suppose it could be for separate issues, one in which Wolverine is more in the lead and another where he's just part of the ensemble.

    Really, I figured that it was due to write-in voting, but you'd think that there would be rules preventing such a dual win.

    Teebore: at this point in the reprint schedule, I think the title had been officially changed to X-Men Classic, a change which gave my anal-retentive younger self fits when trying to alphabetize his collection.

    Although I stopped getting the title a couple of years in, probably because as nice as the covers and backups were I no longer needed the series to fill in gaps in my run of the original issues, I do recall the title change and being frustrated with it on general principle. Not only did it not make as much sense to me — there was already an X-Men Classic (or maybe Classics) miniseries reprinting the Thomas/Adams issues. That said, I began filing my collection by character/feature name some time after college, so that Adventures of Superman follows Superman, West Coast Avengers more-or-less immediately follows Avengers rather than being an alphabet away (but precedes the issues of Avengers West Coast that follow from it due to title change, for the sake of sanity) and so forth, meaning that Classic X-Men is happily nestled behind X-Men and before Uncanny X-Men.

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  13. @Blam: ...meaning that Classic X-Men is happily nestled behind X-Men and before Uncanny X-Men.

    Ultimately, I have my stuff organized way you describe it, with West Coast Avengers following Avengers, etc.

    There's just still that anal-retentive part of me that feels like that's wrong, though... :)

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