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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #160

"Chutes and Ladders!"
August 1982 

In a Nutshell 
Colossus' sister Illyana is kidnapped by Belasco.

Script: Chris Claremont
Pencils: Brent Anderson
Inks: Bob Wiacek
Letters: Tom Orzechowski
Colors: Glynis Wein
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
The X-Men are training on their island base while being unknowingly watched via a scrying device by a sinister figure. The figure calls out to Illyana, and when she wanders off, Kitty follows her. Illyana disappears inside a dark temple, and when Kitty enters, she vanishes as a circular patch of light appears beneath her. One by one the rest of the X-Men similarly vanish. Kitty awakens inside a sinister, grotesque room and is confronted by a warped, degenerate version of Nightcrawler and the ruler of the realm, Belasco. He imprisons Kitty inside a large crystal and calls forth his servant S'ym, ordering the demon to deal with the rest of the X-Men. As S'ym departs and the X-Men arrive in Limbo, Belasco gives Illyana an amulet containing a Bloodstone, telling her he intends to make her his apprentice and craft more of the Bloodstones.


Meanwhile, the X-Men come together, aided by a mysterious hooded figure, and defeat S'ym before confronting Belasco. The sorcerer flees, and Storm orders the X-Men to follow, but the hooded figure intervenes, revealing herself as an older version of Storm. She explains that time works differently in Limbo, and in her past, she too ordered her X-Men to pursue Belasco, and it led to them all being killed or damned. Belasco returns, and the older Storm holds him off while the X-Men use her magic to teleport home. However, Belasco is able to grab Illyana just as the X-Men depart. Kitty reaches back into the portal and gets ahold of Illyana, pulling her free of Limbo. However, Illyana is now a teenaged girl, seven years having passed for her in the instant it took Kitty to reach her. Though upset, Colossus does his best to comfort his sister, unaware that she still possess Belasco's medallion, and that it is filled with more Bloodstones. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Illyana Rasputin doubles in age this issue, going from seven to fourteen as a result of spending several years in Limbo (while only a moment passed for the X-Men on Earth). Though it will be a little while before she receives the codename (or even that her mutant power is established), this is essentially the first appearance of Illyana as Magik. Her time spent in Limbo will be the subject of the Magik limited series.


Belasco makes his first appearance in X-Men, following his debut in Ka-Zar's solo series. A sorcerer from the 13the century who struck a deal to help the evil Elder Gods return to Earth in exchange for vast power, Belasco rules a realm known as Limbo and resembles the Christian Devil. He kidnaps young Illyana in this issue in order to train her as his apprentice.


Belasco's Limbo, sometimes called Otherplace, appears for the first time. It is a different Limbo than the one ruled by Immortus, though time is similarly fluid in both places. This version of Limbo will play a significant role in the X-Men franchise in the years ahead.

This is also the first appearance of Magik's amulet, given to her by Belasco, and designed to carry the bloodstones created out of pieces of her soul.


Belasco's assistant S'ym appears for the first time. Inspired by independent creator Dave Sim, S'ym will quickly surpass Belasco in terms of impact on the X-Men narrative, becoming a major player in the 1988 "Inferno" event. 


Guest pencils come once again from Brent Anderson. 

For the record, the reality in which the X-Men journeyed to Limbo and were stuck there, resulting in Sorceress Storm and Pervert Nightcrawler, has been deemed Earth-8280.

A Work in Progress
The issue opens with the X-Men training at their new headquarters, and Kitty notes it's been a long time since they were able to work out together. 

A large "X" has been added to the forehead of Kitty's costume.


It is noted that it's only been a day since the events of the previous issue, and that the X-Men are still waiting for Cyclops to return to the island in response to Moira's call last issue.

We see the "stepping discs" used when characters teleport to and from Limbo for the first time. The terms is lifted by Kitty from Larry Niven, and remains the primary descriptor for the effect.


In case you were wondering, Wolverine's claws can cut Colossus' armored skin.


Also, it's noted that Cyclops has taught Colossus some fighting techniques.


I Love the 80s
The issue opens with Belasco mystically monitoring the X-Men from afar and commenting to himself about their abilities, which serves as a perfect bit of "every issue is somebody's first" exposition for any new readers.


In Limbo, the demented alternate Nightcrawler wastes no time feeling up Kitty in a couple of panels I'm surprised made it past the Comics Code at the time.


Storm awakens in a strange place, separated from her teammates, after having been attacked by a tentacle monster while manifesting all her teammates powers, and decides it's a good time to go for a swim.


Artistic Achievements
Great use of sound effects when the two Nightcrawlers teleport at the same time.


For Sale
There is a one page ad at the back of the issue for the upcoming X-Men/Teen Titans crossover, done in the style of the Apocalypse Now poster.


And the back cover features the first ad for the GI Joe fan club to appear in X-Men.


Bullpen Bulletins
It's mentioned that the new GI Joe comic is being advertised on TV, the first time a comic was advertised that way.

Teebore's Take
One of the things this four issue breather allows Claremont and Cockrum to do is play with the X-Men in different genres. After the space opera of the Brood story, issue #158 saw a return to traditional super-heroics, while #159 dealt with horror. This issue takes on fantasy (with next issue serving as a bit of swashbuckling adventure yarn). "Fantasy/Occult" X-Men stories are almost as divisive in their own way as "X-Men in space" stories, and while Claremont has dabbled a bit in the form previously (most significantly with the twice-appearing N'Garai demons), Illyana's transformation in this issue opens the door for a series of Claremont-penned stories in the next half decade featuring various demonic invasions which create a springboard for questions regarding the nature of humanity. The levels to which you appreciate/tolerate those future stories (as well as what's to come for Illyana) likely colors your enjoyment of this issue.   

On its own merits, it is effectively creepy. Anderson's art isn't quite as macabre as it was during his fill-in on issue #144, but it does a fine job depicting Belasco's twisted realm (that said, it would have been interesting to see what Seinkiewicz's moody pencils could have done with this issue, or even how Cockrum's skills with the fantastic could have adapted to something darker than "Kitty's Fairy Tale"). Claremont, meanwhile, turns in one of his darkest scripts yet, with grotesque moments (such as Kitty's skeleton being pulled out of her), allusions to child molestation, and one overtly dirty moment I'm surprised made it into a Marvel comic in 1982. And so while this issue is essentially setup for future stories, it stands for now as a creepy oasis of the grotesque.    

Next Issue
Professor X and Magneto: Nazi hunters!

23 comments:

  1. "The levels to which you appreciate/tolerate those future stories (as well as what's to come for Illyana) likely colors your enjoyment of this issue."

    I don't know about the Limbo stuff. I don't hate it, but it's just kind of "there" for me. I really like Inferno, but I think the supernatural stuff kind of detracts from what should be a straightforward Sinister/Madelyne Pryor storyline. I didn't need mailboxes eating people as well. I guess it's better than the gypsy witches inserted into Nightcrawlers past. I actively dislike those storylines.

    I never knew that Belasco appeared before this, so the vagueness of the background on him and Limbo in this issue makes a little more sense to me now. When I first read this issue it just seemed like a weird concept that popped up out of nowhere.

    Was this issue was mainly brought about to get Illyana age-appropriate for New Mutants?

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  2. When you said a "warped, degenerate version of Nightcrawler" I thought you meant physically, not mentally. That's kinda messed up.

    So let me get this straight. You have Nightcrawler trying to feel up Kitty, Storm getting attacked by a tentacle monster and then deciding to go for a swim, and Kitty saying "Wwwwow! That feels weird. An'...kinda nice!" Whose writing this issue, me?

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  3. I like this story, particularly the moody atmosphere and artwork, and I like Belasco as a villain.

    But, I don't like what was done to Illyana here. I've never enjoyed "loss of innocence" stories, and this one in particular is downright nasty. Just when it seems the X-Men have it all in the bag and they're going home with Illyana, the rug is pulled out and "oh, by the way," she lost her entire childhood to a demonic hell! It's just a cruel thing to do to a character, and possibly the cruelest thing Claremont ever did to someone he let live. I know he gets some mileage out of the corruption of Magik as her storyline proceeds, but I don't think it was worth it. I much prefer the dynamic of Illyana as Colossus' kid sister, rather than a corrupted mutant-sorceress.

    Beyond that, the whole thing seems unnecessary, and almost lazy. He wanted a character to become Kitty's best friend? Why not create a new one (as he later does with Doug Ramsey), or use one of the New Mutants (it had to be in the planning stages by this time)? He wanted to explore the saga of a sorceress being corrupted by her own powers? Why not use the totally under-utilized sorceress he already introduced, Amanda Sefton (I've said before that I didn't like the Amanda ret-con/revelation, but now that she was there, he should've done something with her)? He just wanted to round out the New Mutants? Again -- new character, or maybe even just follow through with Professor X's jerky order that Kitty join the team.

    So those are my complaints. Unnecessary. Mean. "Defeat from the jaws of victory". But otherwise, a very solid issue!

    (By the way, I'm beginning to wonder if you might be able to utilize a category called Defeat From the Jaws of Victory, at least for the rest of Claremont's run? It could be fun...)

    "Belasco's assistant S'ym appears for the first time."

    One thing I've always wondered -- is S'ym supposed to "sound" Austrailian in my head? Because he always says "G'day"... however, he has no other phoentic accent stuff going on, nor does he use any weird colloquialisms (two things Claremont loved to do). And yet, because of his trademark greeting, I've always imagined him as sounding like Paul Hogan. And why does he speak in italics? I mean, it looks cool, but what is that supposed to represent?

    "...Sorceress Storm..."

    Another bit that Claremont chose to randomly shoehorn into a character. Suddenly Storm has sorceress heritage in her? I believe he explored this further during her trip to Africa in the 190's... I'm glad he never went "all the way" with it, so to speak, outside of this alternate version of the character.

    "A large "X" has been added to the forehead of Kitty's costume."

    I retract my statement from last issue's comments, in which I accused Paul Smith of adding the big stupid "X" to Kitty's forehead. Turns out it was Brent Anderson. Though now I assume, since two artists drew her this way, that there must have been a model sheet (remember them?) of the character with a big stupid "X" on her forehead. Which kind of makes me wonder if Dave Cockrum could've come up with it, since as the title's regular artist, he was probably in charge of designing model sheets at the time. And he was fond of adding random "X's" to things (tailfins, sweatshirts, etc.).

    "Storm awakens in a strange place, separated from her teammates, after having been attacked by a tentacle monster while manifesting all her teammates powers, and decides it's a good time to go for a swim."

    So we have a perverted Nightcrawler, tons of weird and twisted stuff going on, and some gratuitous nudity. Claremont could send this issue to HBO as a resume and probably get a job writing for one of their series!

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  4. The X-Men are training on their island base

    A day after their battle with Dracula, says Nightrcrawler, as you later point out... I'm not sure I buy that, just based on travel time alone.

    the hooded figure intervenes, revealing herself as an older version of Storm

    Of course both times we saw the lower part of her face in shadows, she looked different each time — and neither time like Storm.

    Illyana Rasputin doubles in age this issue, going from seven to fourteen as a result of spending several years in Limbo

    13, actually. I'm just quoting the text. 8^)

    S'ym was named after Dave Sim, yes, but visually was a giant, hulking version of Sim's aardvark barbarian (and later pope, etc.) Cerebus. I don't know if this was ever mentioned — odds are that it wasn't a conscious decision — but given that "Cerebus" is a garbled version of "Cerberus" and that Belasco does, as you say, resemble the traditional depiction of the Christian Devil, I always thought that it was neat to have S'ym acting as Belasco's guard / henchman in Limbo.

    A large "X" has been added to the forehead of Kitty's costume.

    There are also, at least sometimes, dark red bands above her gloves and boots, which are a better addition than the X on the mask — which always struck me as her daring people to shoot at her and see if she could phase in time.

    In case you were wondering, Wolverine's claws can cut Colossus' armored skin.

    That
    doesn't surprise me. S'ym just snapping off the claw from the skeleton of the dead Wolverine, that surprised me. And S'ym taking the claw out from his Speedo, where he apparently stashed it after picking his teeth, to chuck at Colossus, that disgusted me.

    the demented alternate Nightcrawler wastes no time feeling up Kitty in a couple of panels I'm surprised made it past the Comics Code at the time.

    You don't actually see anything. It's all in the dialogue and "off-panel" or obscured by their bodies. On the other hand, I always want to scrub my brain after reading that, so it does get its point across. And I actually just noticed for the first time, I guess because I was focused on the fact that you don't see any contact, that Nightcrawler's hand is coming out of the back of Kitty's phased body exactly where her left boob would be in the front, so, yeah, good point, Teebore, although if it took me 30 years to notice I'm not surprised that the Code folks missed it.

    Great use of sound effects when the two Nightcrawlers teleport at the same time.

    Yes! Double bamf!!!

    And so while this issue is essentially setup for future stories, it stands for now as a creepy oasis of the grotesque.

    Oasis of the Grotesque is my new band name.

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  5. Doing the Limbo:

    Hey! Let's sit Illyana down right where we're doing our combat training!

    I confess to not being a huge fan of Brent Anderson's art, which I've mentioned before (Annual #5). He's one of those artists whose rendering looks great in pencil but doesn't translate so well, for me, to inked superhero work. For that matter, though, I appreciate yet don't actually really enjoy John Buscema's stuff, either.

    The cover design is nice even if the rendering, especially most of the faces, is not my cup of tea. That could be Anderson or it could be Wiacek's inking of Anderson, I suppose. I'm noticing for the first time, I think, that Nightcrawler is casting a shadow on the logo, which is neat except doesn't quite compute since his bamf cloud is underneath the logo.

    Orz misspells Glynis Wein's last name as "Wien" in the credits box. Maybe he thought that she was a Sentinal. (He later misspells the German "liebling" as "leibling"; I blame the editors more than Orz for this stuff.)

    I must say that if Anderson draws Wolverine as about 6'5", at least he makes Colossus about 8 feet tall. Which you'd think is appropriate for a guy named Colossus, except that the name is more about his strength and solidness than his overall size.

    Kitty reads Larry Niven. I guess if you're going to use a device that might remind your audience of something else they've read, you might as well point it out.

    Belasco: "That is Nightcrawler -- reshaped body and sould in the image of his true lord -- Belasco!"
    Me: "Uh... Not so much body, really. 'Our' Nightcrawler is about to dress in his clothes and fool you."

    Pervert Nightcrawler: "Tell me, Kurt Wagner -- Does the sight of your true self fill you with pride?!"
    Me: "You mean, like, gay pride? 'Cause I gotta say, I'm not sure there's too many places you could get away with nothing but a gaudy necklace, a purple skirt, and Batman's utility belt."

    Colossus: "You know, my friends, sometimes I wish I had never heard of Charles Xavier, or the X-Men."
    Me: "Do you realize how confused you would've been for the past few years? 'Where am I? Who are you people? What am I wearing? Am I speaking English? What in Tolstoy's name is going on?!?'"

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  6. @Jeff: I don't know about the Limbo stuff. I don't hate it, but it's just kind of "there" for me.

    I'm sort-of in the same boat, except all I really know about it is this issue and the Magik limited series. While it's an odd, tangential fit — dark and not really what interests me — I also have to applaud Claremont for being so all over the map, be it scratching his own creative itches or those of his collaborators. The variety of settings is one of the things I appreciate about both this era of X-Men (not being familiar with most of what came later except in some broad strokes) and The New Teen Titans over at DC, where I didn't love spending too much time with Brother Blood or with the Gordanians but got a kick out of how far-ranging things were nonetheless.

    To a certain extent a big downside of any long-running serial fiction is that certain events will be revisited, either in sequel form or in terms of continuity implants, often enough that even at the best hands it starts to become too much. Which is a whole other subject than my previous paragraph's, but it's another thought that your comment sparked.

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  7. @Matt: Just when it seems the X-Men have it all in the bag and they're going home with Illyana, the rug is pulled out and "oh, by the way," she lost her entire childhood to a demonic hell! It's just a cruel thing to do to a character … .

    No kidding! We get a lot of instant (or seems-like-instant) aging of younger characters in superhero sagas through cloning or magic or returning from years spent in Limbo / the future / whatever because writers want later generations to age up into the action. I agree that this was mean; unnecessary, well, I'm not sure, because that goes to the whole question of the writer's prerogative.

    @Matt: I much prefer the dynamic of Illyana as Colossus' kid sister, rather than a corrupted mutant-sorceress.

    Your further points about creating new characters are well taken, especially the one about doing something with Amanda Sefton — anything, really, but as it turns out she was already a sorceress on hand that Claremont could've used to explore some of what he did with Illyana, even if Amanda wasn't the innocent that Illyana was. And yet I liked Illyana aging up to become Kitty's confidante while reading these issues as they came out, the emotional and physical torment that she suffered in Limbo notwithstanding. I won't argue that Claremont could've brought Illyana in already closer to Kitty's age — the child Peter rescues is Giant-Size X-Men #1 is referred to as his sister, but not named, so he could have more than one — nor that having Illyana just sitting around the X-Men's base of operations as a 7-year-old was dumb. At least as long as there was still a presumed romantic destiny between Kitty and Peter, however, based on "Days of Future Past", it was cute for Kitty to be buddies with the flustered Peter's little sister.

    Having Illyana both turn out to be a mutant and be a sorceress is a complaint to which I'm more sympathetic, although like in my reply to Jeff above I'm sort-of split on that. Why shouldn't characters in fantastic situations have more than one skill set? Sometimes it seems like overkill; sometimes, as with Wolverine, it's been a part of their backstory for so long you mostly just accept it.

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  8. @Matt: Claremont could send this issue to HBO as a resume and probably get a job writing for one of their series!

    I haven't read any of Claremont's prose novels, but you have to think that A Song of Ice and Fire is right up his alley. Each in their own way, Arya and Melisandre — whom I only know from the TV incarnation of Game of Thrones — strike me as his kind of character. I'm pretty sure that Claremont contributed to Wild Cards at some point, so maybe he has an in with Martin (I say jokingly; of course this isn't enough to get a gig scripting one of the limited number of high-profile HBO episodes).

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  9. "I'm pretty sure that Claremont contributed to Wild Cards at some point"

    He did. Book 8 of the series, back in 1990. He had previously made George R.R. Martin a character in X-Men, in 1988's "Inferno." (He appears in Uncanny 240 and then again in issue 244.)

    "Also, it's noted that Cyclops has taught Colossus some fighting techniques."

    That's old news, isn't it? Colossus talks about it when he flips over Sasquatch in Uncanny 121. "It's like what Cyclops said when he taught me Judo -- the bigger they are, the harder they fall!" (Or something like that.)

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  10. I also like how Colossus has to clarify, in his thoughts, that Scott is Cyclops. Just in case he was unsure of who he was thinking about.

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  11. @Jeff: I didn't need mailboxes eating people as well.

    The farce element, involving the sentient object attacking people like that, of "Inferno" is the thing I like the least about that story. But then, I've never had much patience for farce in my comics.

    Was this issue was mainly brought about to get Illyana age-appropriate for New Mutants?

    Though I have yet to come across any interviews with Claremont discussing it directly, I've always assumed as much (as well as to age her up to where she could be friends with Kitty).

    @Dr. Bitz: Whose writing this issue, me?

    Sure seems like it. You and Claremont must share a warped sense of...something.

    I also like how Colossus has to clarify, in his thoughts, that Scott is Cyclops.

    Ha! Nice catch.

    @Matt: So those are my complaints. Unnecessary. Mean.

    You know, I really can't argue that what happens to Illyana is mean, and certainly tragic. Though I wonder if it was truly unnecessary. There is something, as Blam points out, to the idea of Kitty being best friends with her crush's sister, and I like the generational aspect of a member of the X-Men having their sibling on the New Mutants, but all of that still doesn't change the fact that Claremont brought about those outcomes in arguably the meanest way possible.

    (Now, making her a sorceress as well as a mutant, and all the other baggage she gets, could certainly be deemed unnecessary, but when it comes to Claremont adding layers upon layers to characters, Illyana barely holds a candle to what comes later, like a certain Native American cybernetic Vietnam vet mutant with sorcery abilities of his own...).

    I guess, at the end of the day, I enjoy Magik's character arc, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that she's put through the ringer. She's certainly one of my favorite things about New Mutants.

    By the way, I'm beginning to wonder if you might be able to utilize a category called Defeat From the Jaws of Victory, at least for the rest of Claremont's run? It could be fun...

    Oh, I probably should have started one long before now, or at the very least, done a better job of pointing out those instances in Claremontisms, but while some of Claremont's tics always jump out at me, that's one I tend to overlook.

    Tell you what: I'll try to keep an eye out for such instances, and if I catch them, I'll add that category. And if I don't, I still leave it to you to point them out. :)

    One thing I've always wondered -- is S'ym supposed to "sound" Austrailian in my head?

    Good question. I have no idea. I've never read him as Australian, but then, I rarely read the characters with accents, even the ones written with phonetic accents.

    Suddenly Storm has sorceress heritage in her? I believe he explored this further during her trip to Africa in the 190's

    Yeah, the second "Lifedeath" issue touches on it, and I think it briefly gets mentioned at the end of the Brood story (it's part of her relationship with the Acanti, I believe). At any rate, I'm not a big fan of it either, but then, I'm not much of Storm fan at all anyway.

    And he was fond of adding random "X's" to things (tailfins, sweatshirts, etc.).

    Good point. I could totally see it being Cockrum.

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  12. @Blam: I'm not sure I buy that, just based on travel time alone.

    Yeah, it's unclear how the X-Men have been traveling to-and-fro from their island. The Blackbird, presumably, but even then I wonder if they could be coming and going this effortlessly.

    13, actually. I'm just quoting the text. 8^)

    Touche. :)

    I always thought that it was neat to have S'ym acting as Belasco's guard / henchman in Limbo.

    Ditto. Though it possibly was intentional; S'ym's relation to Sim certainly was, so I could see Claremont going even further with the look/purpose of the character.

    S'ym just snapping off the claw from the skeleton of the dead Wolverine, that surprised me.

    Good point. I probably shouldn't have reacted so nonchalantly to that...

    ...that Nightcrawler's hand is coming out of the back of Kitty's phased body exactly where her left boob would be in the front...

    That's the part that surprises me. The dialogue is suggestive without being explicit, but then when you see the hand coming out her back it becomes much more obvious what, exactly, Nightcrawler was trying to touch (though yes, all things considered, it's still certainly not explicit in the X rated/late night Cinemax sense).

    I appreciate yet don't actually really enjoy John Buscema's stuff, either.

    I may have mentioned this before, but I adore John Buscema's art, but really only when inked by Tom Palmer, which makes me think I actually really love Tom Palmer's art...

    ...which is neat except doesn't quite compute since his bamf cloud is underneath the logo

    And his shadow is green, which seems odd, even given the subject matter of the cover.

    I guess if you're going to use a device that might remind your audience of something else they've read, you might as well point it out.

    Indeed. Though I remain surprised that "stepping disc" remained the term used to describe Illyana's teleportation effect while being lifted wholesale from another source. Like, it isn't that the term Claremont uses is inspired by something else, it's that he just uses that term as is.

    "Uh... Not so much body, really. 'Our' Nightcrawler is about to dress in his clothes and fool you."

    Haha!

    Why shouldn't characters in fantastic situations have more than one skill set? Sometimes it seems like overkill; sometimes, as with Wolverine, it's been a part of their backstory for so long you mostly just accept it.

    That's a great point, and it's definitely a fine line between "overkill" and "just right". Illyana has never really felt like "too much" to me, whereas Forge, as I alluded to above, seems like the poster child for excessive Claremontian backstory complications.

    Each in their own way, Arya and Melisandre...strike me as his kind of character.

    Holy crap! I never realized it before, but Arya (again, at least as depicted on the TV show), is absolutely a Claremont character.

    @Jason: He appears in Uncanny 240 and then again in issue 244.

    Huh. For all the times I've read "Inferno", I've totally missed that. I'll have to look for it next time.

    Colossus talks about it when he flips over Sasquatch in Uncanny 121.

    Ah, good point. I remembered the judo line, but forget he attributed it to Cyclops then.

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  13. Illyana has never really felt like "too much" to me, whereas Forge, as I alluded to above, seems like the poster child for excessive Claremontian backstory complications.

    I understand the complaints about Forge, but without the Shaman stuff you wouldn't get the awesomeness of Fall of the Mutants. Uncanny's tie-in issues are some of my absolute favorite issues of Claremont's run.

    I never warmed to Longshot for similar reasons to your issues with Forge, though. He came into the book with an already complicated history that you had to read a totally unrelated miniseries to get and then Claremont made things even more complex when he brought Spiral into the book, too.

    At some point all of the X-Men's backstories get so ridiculous and convoluted you have to just pick and choose what you like. I tend to ignore most things not written by Lee/Kirby, Thomas/Adams, Claremont, and Morrison, to be honest. Jason Aaron is doing some really great work on Wolverine and the X-Men right now, but it's been a little derailed by AvX for the past few issues.

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  14. @Jeff: Uncanny's tie-in issues are some of my absolute favorite issues of Claremont's run.

    I love the Uncanny "Fall of the Mutants" issues, but it's almost in spite of the Forge stuff. I really like the X-Men/Freedom Force interactions, the collapsing timelines, the public seeing the X-Men as heroes, etc. And you could probably do the story as is without Forge - Amanda Sefton could be the sorceress battling the Adversary, or even Magik.

    And, to be clear, I have nothing against Forge having shamanic powers in and of itself; it's just kind of funny how many "things" Forge has.

    I never warmed to Longshot for similar reasons to your issues with Forge, though.

    Yeah, Longshot is one of those characters I enjoy so long as I don't think about it too hard, if that makes sense. Like, I enjoyed his time with the X-Men, so long as you could just sort of accept him as a naive mutant with luck powers; as soon as his complicated backstory came into it, my eyes started to gloss over.

    At some point all of the X-Men's backstories get so ridiculous and convoluted you have to just pick and choose what you like.

    Yeah, I'm the anal retentive nerd that has a hard time doing that (though it's gotten easier as I've gotten older). I like to try and reconcile all the disparate interpretations and backstory elements into one cohesive whole as best as I can. Though I certainly don't begrudge anyone that does pick and choose; whether it's done to a small or large degree, its pretty much the only way to stay sane reading super hero comics these days.

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  15. @DrBitz: I also like how Colossus has to clarify, in his thoughts, that Scott is Cyclops. Just in case he was unsure of who he was thinking about.

    I'm not one to throw stones when it comes to asides or whole subordinate clauses set off by em dashes (or, in comic-book lettering, a pair of double en dashes), but Claremont loooves using them to clarify or amplify his speech and thought balloons.

    "Scott -- Cyclops -- is my life, my love -- my soul -- and if -- when -- I'm asked to choose between being with him and being an X-Man, I hope -- I pray -- that it's a choice I can make."

    @Teebore: Illyana barely holds a candle to what comes later, like a certain Native American cybernetic Vietnam vet mutant with sorcery abilities of his own...

    Oy, Forge... He was emblematic of everything that drove me away from X-Men post-#175. I'll never know how I would've taken to him or Rachel or punk Storm or the emphasis on the Morlocks if Paul Smith had still been penciling, as JR Jr.'s art was also a huge turnoff to me, but everything just seemed to go in a direction that alienated me.

    @Matt: I'm beginning to wonder if you might be able to utilize a category called Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

    @Teebore: Oh, I probably should have started one long before now

    You did mention it a few times during the Claremont/Byrne era, particularly in regards to how Byrne was upset with Claremont's penchant for doing just that, but, yeah, a category would've been fun. Maybe for the collected edition? 8^)

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  16. @Teebore: I've never read him as Australian, but then, I rarely read the characters with accents, even the ones written with phonetic accents.

    I've never read S'ym as Australian, either. Funny thing, though: Kevin Conroy's voice was so perfect in Batman: The Animated Series that I started using it in my head when I read Batman, even though I'd never done anything like that before, and now at least as often as not I give all the characters voices. I suspect that it also has something to do with needing to focus harder on reading than I used to, due to illness that postdates B:TAS by about 10 years, but it's definitely become a habit. Patrick Stewart's voice gets used a lot, Hannah will be happy to know. 8^)

    @Teebore: The dialogue is suggestive without being explicit, but then when you see the hand coming out her back it becomes much more obvious what, exactly, Nightcrawler was trying to touch

    While this is, like I said, something I'd totally missed until now, even though it's more bald-faced skeevy than before it actually becomes less skeevy compared to what I'd imagined. That panel before it just shows Kitty and Pervert Nightcrawler's bodies pressed together, so I'd assumed that his hand was down below.

    @Teebore: Though I remain surprised that "stepping disc" remained the term used to describe Illyana's teleportation effect while being lifted wholesale from another source.

    Claremont has a history of doing that sort of thing, too. When the Starjammers first appeared they used "photon torpedoes" — and I'm sure that that's lifted directly from Star Trek, 'cause I ain't heard it anywhere else. The use of "stepping discs" makes more sense to me in-story, since I can imagine the characters simply adopting terminology familiar from fiction in the face of not having any other point of comparison, just like we would, whereas I don't think that the Starjammers got "photon torpedoes" from TV and so the usage is jarring.

    @Teebore: Holy crap! I never realized it before, but Arya (again, at least as depicted on the TV show), is absolutely a Claremont character.

    I think she grows up to become Marada the She-Wolf.

    @Jeff: At some point all of the X-Men's backstories get so ridiculous and convoluted you have to just pick and choose what you like.

    That holds for most long-running characters in serial fiction, I find, and even when there are no explicit continuity reboots I tend to think of different eras in their own little spheres. Frankly that's necessary due to sliding / rescaling timelines if nothing else. And like I noted in a blogpost of my own about the (original) Phoenix saga, I find that I need to impose a certain amount of closure on series for myself even when they're open-ended. The older I get the less I'm prone to think of what's printed as "gospel" even if it's really well done; stories from my childhood are the real ones, with stuff that happened before being the foundation (if sometimes a mutable foundation) on which they're built and stuff that happened after merely interpretation.

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  17. This issue is a real weak link, even before you get to the twist ending that's already been covered. Anderson's art is decent, but there's not much going on here. There's a lot of "shock value" writing where things get reduced to a parade of the grotesque. A lot of stuff that I'm sure was shocking for readers at the time, if they weren't too jaded by Colossus' inky chest from a few issues earlier.

    Storm gets another hidden talent, and is in full on "nature goddess" mode, which always results in unusual bathing habits. Cyclops' legendary fighting prowess is brought up again.

    Beyond that, Belasco's kind of a lame villain. He manages to be a poor man's Mephisto AND a poor man's Immortus. It doesn't help that his backstory's incomprehensible and he started life as a Ka-Zar villain. It's interesting that the X-Men have so little contact with other major heroes during this time, but consistently run into discarded villains like Garokk or Moses Magnum, probably a result of editorial giving Claremont characters nobody else wanted.

    As somebody too young for the New Mutants (but just right for X-Force!), I never really got into Magick, so this issue being her debut doesn't mean much to me. She wasn't even in the cartoon OR the board game! (Note: Belasco actually was in the board game, as was Dracula).

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  18. Blam -- "...now at least as often as not I give all the characters voices."

    I'm not sure when I started "casting" in my head, but I would guess it was around the time of BTAS and the X-Men cartoon. I often used the voices as heard in the shows I watched, so pretty much anytime I read a Batman comic, I'm "hearing" the voices of those actors in my head. Likewise for the X-Men and their cast from the Fox show. As I mentioned, I "hear" Spider-Man as Dan Gilvezan from Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.

    But I had to cast a lot of characters myself, for those who didn't have their own cartoons. The various Avengers, for example, are all based on the childhood voices I remembered from shows like Transformers and G.I. Joe. Though occasionally I will re-cast when I find a better match. I don't know who I originally used for Captain American, but these days it's David Kaye, who portrayed him in the Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 video game, and who I found to be a perfect fit for the character.

    Anyway, I always think it's interesting to have conversations on that topic.

    Blam -- "The older I get the less I'm prone to think of what's printed as "gospel" even if it's really well done; stories from my childhood are the real ones, with stuff that happened before being the foundation (if sometimes a mutable foundation) on which they're built and stuff that happened after merely interpretation."

    I find that I agree with this assessment, though for me it goes past childhood up to college or thereabouts. I started reading Marvel comics with regularity when I was around 12, though I had several assorted back issues from before then. I kept reading until just a few years ago, but even when I stopped at, say, age 30, I realized that I hadn't been taking any of it for real for several years. I draw the line around the time Quesada took over, when I was a junior in college, but really it was probably a year or so later that the "magic" wore off.

    I kind of think it goes back to Teebore's oft-cited belief that he used to believe the creators had everything planned out in advance. I'm not sure I ever quite felt that; I could often tell when they were improvising and ret-conning -- but I did used to think they were highly professional, infallibale adults who, even when they changed course unexpectedly, were doing so for a good reason.

    The curtain had been pulled back for some time before, but it was really in the early 00's, when Bill Jemas was constantly shooting his fool mouth off, that I finally realized these guys were just normal people like me, and weren't working in the service of some greater good beyond making money and appeasing their superiors (the Marketing department).

    But again, for practical purposes, it's just easy for me to say that the magic stopped when Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas took charge of Marvel.

    Dobson -- "...the board game! (Note: Belasco actually was in the board game, as was Dracula)."

    Was that "X-Men Alert"? I played the heck out of that game with my brother. It came in the late 80's or early 90's, but it seemed to heavily focus on the classic X-Men, with villains like Belasco and Dracula as you mentioned, plus the other villains you happened to bring up in your post -- Moses Magnum and Garokk, among others. And all the story/plot-related cards used clipart from the "Dark Phoenix Saga".

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  19. @Blam: "Scott -- Cyclops -- is my life, my love -- my soul -- and if -- when -- I'm asked to choose between being with him and being an X-Man, I hope -- I pray -- that it's a choice I can make."

    It's a good thing I wasn't drinking anything when I read that, or else it would have been all over my computer. Hilarious, in a "funny cuz it's true" way.

    I'll never know how I would've taken to him or Rachel or punk Storm or the emphasis on the Morlocks if Paul Smith had still been penciling, as JR Jr.'s art was also a huge turnoff to me, but everything just seemed to go in a direction that alienated me.

    Well, as you know, I love JR Jr.'s art, but that still isn't enough to give me much appreciation for Forge or Rachel. Punk Storm, however, I do like (Paul Smith Storm to re-powered "Fall of the Mutants" Storm is pretty much the only iteration of the character I enjoy. Everything else either falls into "no strong opinions towards" or, in the case of most of the 90s "barely notice she's there").

    Maybe for the collected edition? 8^)

    You joke, but you have no idea how much I wish I had the time to go back and clean-up some of the old posts, put in the jump breaks, update the labels, etc. Someday...

    Patrick Stewart's voice gets used a lot, Hannah will be happy to know.

    I do tend to read Professor X as either Patrick Stewart or with the voice from the 90s cartoon, depending on what he's saying.

    ...whereas I don't think that the Starjammers got "photon torpedoes" from TV and so the usage is jarring

    Good point, and definitely a distinction worth noting.

    @Dobson: Storm gets another hidden talent, and is in full on "nature goddess" mode, which always results in unusual bathing habits.

    Ha! Good point. Even before her random and ill-advised swim she does the whole "bath naked in a rain storm" bit. That could probably be a category in and of itself...

    Beyond that, Belasco's kind of a lame villain. He manages to be a poor man's Mephisto AND a poor man's Immortus.

    Yeah, it's not at all surprising that S'ym (and later, N'astirh) become the chief Limbo villains, and not Belasco, who pretty much disappears after this and the Magik limited series for quite some time.

    ...probably a result of editorial giving Claremont characters nobody else wanted.

    Or possibly of Claremont requesting characters nobody else wanted. He seemed to have a fondness for them.

    As somebody too young for the New Mutants (but just right for X-Force!), I never really got into Magick, so this issue being her debut doesn't mean much to me.

    I too came to X-Force before New Mutants, so my affection for Magik is born entirely of back issue reading, and I'll freely admit a lot of it stems from her being heavily featured in issues I fondly remember hunting down back in the day. Whereas most of the stories in the current stuff were open ended, I enjoyed the idea that once I gotten ahold of all the New Mutants back issues, I could Magik's story in its entirety.

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  20. @Matt: I kind of think it goes back to Teebore's oft-cited belief that he used to believe the creators had everything planned out in advance.

    That's pretty much the point where I start getting more choosy. everything up to "Onslaught" I'm okay with; after that, which is the point where I accepted they were just making this up as they went along, I get a lot less rigid about what is or isn't important to the overall narrative. "Zero Tolerance" (and the lead-up to it) is the first big X story for which I could clearly see the man behind the curtain, and thus, I've never really cared for it (it's other issues, such as the non-ending, aside).

    Nowawadays, there's stuff I like, stuff I don't, and it's a lot easier for me to just ignore the stuff I don't like than it used to be, and that all started after I accepted that the creators weren't working off some master, well thought-out and planned narrative blueprint.

    (Of course, the post-"Onslaught" stuff also coincides with the time when I grew out of that age during which everything you read becomes your personal Golden Age; thanks to Classic X-Men and back issues, I pretty much managed to read everything from Giant Size to the then-current stuff between the ages of 11 and 15. So that also probably accounts for my ability to be more choosy when it comes to character back stories/continuity).


    I still tend to accept most everything that's happened as "in continuity", I just usually gloss over the stuff I don't like. For example, technically, Nightcrawler is still the father of some weird demon-y mutant from another dimension, but it isn't like I ever think about that when I'm reading and enjoying a Nightcrawler story.

    @Dobson, Matt: I have never heard of this board game of which you speak before. I shall have to investigate further...

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  21. @Teebore: Paul Smith Storm to re-powered "Fall of the Mutants" Storm is pretty much the only iteration of the character I enjoy.

    Huh... I really like early Storm — I almost put "early" in quotes, because it's all I really know of Storm and I am aware that the punk thing was ultimately a phase, but I guess I do just mean early Storm, from her intro through #175.

    For me punk Storm is a little like you said Sandy-in-leather at the end of Grease is for you (and was for me too, I admit), a seeming betrayal of everything that the character was about. I did appreciate Yukio and intellectually I knew that it was as valid a turn as any given that it was written by, well, not her actual co-creator but her main developer, as well as that like any abrupt move in comic books it was likely a temporary one even if it lasted longer than I assumed it would; still, it didn't feel like Storm to me (and Forge's involvement didn't help).

    @Teebore: Someday...

    I hear you.

    And I wasn't joking about eventual collected editions. If you keep the synopses brief enough and quote judiciously from other sources, there's no reason why you couldn't assemble E-books and maybe print-on-demand versions. For now, I remain stuck in the old ways myself, but once I have more experience in that area I will be happy to pass on advice.

    @Teebore: technically, Nightcrawler is still the father of some weird demon-y mutant from another dimension

    Wait... Did you mean "son" or did you really mean "father"?

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  22. @Blam: ...still, it didn't feel like Storm...

    I'll grant you that it definitely didn't, but I think that's what I liked about it. The juxtaposition of the ethereal, serene weather goddess with a more grounded, jaded, irreverent "punk" is what I liked about the character, far more than I did just the first half of that juxtaposition (of course, I wouldn't enjoy the second half as much without the first acting as a point of comparison, and there's definitely a transitional Storm between the two, the one that exists in the pages we're discussing now that I enjoy far more than her earlier appearances).

    ...but once I have more experience in that area I will be happy to pass on advice

    I may take you up on that someday. While the whole self-publishing/eBook market is something I'm still wary of in terms of getting my fiction writing published (for a variety of personal and professional reasons, not the least of which is a lack of marketing know how on my part), for a project like this it would probably be a perfect fit, and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't given some thought to revisiting these columns and putting them into some kind of publishable form. We shall see.

    Did you mean "son" or did you really mean "father"?

    I meant son...

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  23. I had only read about Illyana's sojourn to Limbo in passing reference, and always dismissed it as another off-genre story that the X-men didn't belong in.
    After finally reading it, I must say it's the most enjoyable post-Byrne issue yet. Now I'm looking forward to reading the Magik series...

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