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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #164

"Binary Star!"
December 1982

In a Nutshell 
As the X-Men fight to escape the Brood, Binary makes her first appearance. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Dave Cockrum
Finisher: Bob Wiacek
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Janine Casey
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
Aboard Lilandra's spaceship, the X-Men are attacked by the Brood, under orders to disable the vessel and capture the X-Men alive. The X-Men fight back using the ship's meager weapons and their own powers, but the Brood manage to damage the ship's warp engine, preventing the X-Men from escaping. As Kitty dons a spacesuit to effect repairs, Carol is overcome by strange sensations. Though wounded by a stray blast, Kitty manages to fix the engine and the ship jumps to warp, though they lose contact with Kitty in the process. Meanwhile, Professor X and Illyana dine together in the newly rebuilt X-Mansion. Professor X worries that he can't read Illyana's mind, afraid she's hiding something, but is still too grief-stricken to press the matter. Back in space, Kitty awakens on the hull of Lilandra's ship to find Carol, transformed into the cosmically-powered Binary, outside the ship with her, and is told the X-Men managed to escape from the Brood. Bringing Kitty inside, Carol uses her newfound powers to recharge the ship's power cells.


As the X-Men work to repair the damage done by the Brood, Nightcrawler examines the wounded Kitty, and finds her miraculously healed. He and Cyclops try to discuss the matter with Wolverine, but Wolverine storms off. In the shuttle bay, Storm struggles with an apparent lack of control over her powers. Talking about it with Cyclops, she suddenly senses a life inside her. Probing deeper, she realizes the truth and horrified, flees in a shuttle. As the rest of the team gathers in response to Storm's departure, Wolverine finally comes clean and tells the X-Men what he learned on the Brood homeworld: that each of them has been implanted with a Brood Queen egg, and when it hatches, they'll all transform into Brood, dying in the process. In the meantime, the Brood embryos will fight to stay alive, which is why Kitty healed from her injuries so fast. Overcome with rage, Binary blasts out of the ship, swearing vengeance on the Brood, her departure leaving the X-Men exposed to explosive decompression. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This is Dave Cockrum's final issue on the title, marking the end of the second Claremont/Cockrum run. He leaves to work on an original series of his own creation, and while that never quite pans out, Cockrum does not return to the title he helped put on the map, though he will contribute to some spin-off X-Men projects down the road (and we'll see his work again in a few weeks when we cover Special Edition X-Men #1, a one-shot published around the time of this issue). 

Carol Danvers makes her first appearance as Binary, gaining new cosmic powers thanks to the Brood's manipulation of her genetics. Technically, she now has a connection to a white hole from which she can draw vast amounts of energy that enable her to fly, survive in space, blast things, etc. She is offered a place on the X-Men, but declines, fearing it would keep her too attached to Earth when she wants to be in space. Binary will bounce around the Marvel Universe for the next decade or so, making appearances in various titles before reverting to her old Ms. Marvel identity and getting a streamlined power set in the wake of the Busiek/Perez Avengers re-launch in 1998, eventually getting thrust into the spotlight during Brian Michael Bendis' tenure on the title and receiving her own series once again.


As of this issue, the X-Mansion is completely rebuilt, making it all ready for the arrival of the New Mutants. It's said that Shi'ar robots did most of the work, accounting, at least, for the labor costs as well as the speed of the re-build, and also preventing Xavier from having to wipe any contractors' minds of the superhero-y stuff. As a result, this is considered to be the point at which the mansion is integrated with "advanced Shi'ar technology", which will eventually allow for depictions of a more sophisticated computer system, Danger Room and Cerebro.


To a lesser extent, the Brood's star sharks, organic space ships smaller than their whale-like Acanti vessels, appear for the first time, though they go unnamed.


A Work in Progress
Colossus comes down on the side of not killing the Brood, while Cyclops makes a point to only stun the ships attacking Lilandra's yacht.


Storm, after losing control of her powers and accidentally killing a Brood ship, is unwilling to fight back, even to save Kitty's life, fearing she will kill again. 


Appropriately enough, the spacesuit Kitty dons to help repair the ship matches the one Lilandra wore when she first appeared on Earth during Cockrum's first run on the book.


Though frightened, Kitty feels she's earned her place on the team and is now determined to prove it.


Storm fears she is losing touch with her essential self.


Later, Storm is able to sense the life growing in her, and is somehow able to communicate with it enough to realize it's a Brood egg, at which point she promptly freaks out.


Xavier is still mourning the apparent loss of the X-Men.


Illyana is shown wearing the medallion containing the Bloodstones from issue #160. It's established that Xavier has telepathically taught Illyana English. Illyana also asks Professor X if she's a mutant, saying she can "do things".


Professor X says that Moira is away from the school, but this couldn't account for her appearance in Scotland in Marvel Graphic Novel #4, as she returns from Scotland with Rahne, and when she appears next issue, which takes place before MGN #4, it will be sans Rahne.

I Love the 80s
The opening splash page features the classic "floating heads" technique, depicting the main characters looking in on the action.


Wolverine compares their space battle to an arcade game, saying it'll cost more than a quarter if they lose. Remember when arcade games cost a quarter? Remember arcade games?


Conveniently enough, Lilandra's ship is able to produce a ruby quartz bubble to allow Cyclops to blast the Brood ships.


Also, Carol's new powers as Binary come complete with a new costume.

When Kitty is told she's have to go outside the ship to effect repairs, a footnote helpfully defines EVA as "extra vehicular activity" for us.

"Professor Xavier is a Jerk!"Professor X tells Illyana that a telepath should never use his powers to pry, then exactly one panel later, notes he is unable to pry into Illyana's mind.


He also wonders what he might be able to do to help the girl, then ultimately decides he doesn't care. 


For Sale
This ad for the latest round of Saturday morning cartoons features at least three I've never heard of before.


Bullpen Bulletins
Former X-Men editor and then-current Avengers and Dr. Strange writer Roger Stern's wedding is mentioned. John Byrne was his best man.

It's in the Mail
A letter in this issue confirms that S'ym, Belasco's assistant from issue #160, was meant to be a parody of Dave Sim's Cerebus title character.

A response to a letter mentions Marvel Graphic Novel #4 going on sale in the fall, which is accurate but funny, considering it was on sale at the same time as this issue.

Dave Cockrum on leaving X-Men
"I got the okay to do the Futurians graphic novel, a pet project of mine. I'd given Shooter the proposal and it sat on his desk for about a year, and then finally he says, "yeah, you can do it if you want to." I was at a plotting session with Chris and Louise and I mentioned I got the okay to do Futurians. They asked me what it was, and I started describing the project and got so excited that I was jumping up and down and waving my hands around. According to Chris, he and Louise kind of decided there and then that I was more interested in Futurians than X-Men and sort of talked me into leaving. I think Chris decided he might be able to get a more manageable artist if I was off doing something else. I know they were panicky for about a week because nobody would take the book. Nobody wanted to handle that crowd of characters. They finally got Paul Smith. He agreed to do X-Men for a while if the company agreed to let him do Dr. Strange later on. Of course, this is just before the company started paying royalties. Nobody considered the kind of money that was going to be coming in. The creators got huge amount of royalties out of X-Men later on."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p96-97

Teebore's Take
Smack dab in the middle of his Brood arc, Claremont debuts a new superhero identity and power set for his long time favorite, Carol Danvers. It was clearly something Claremont had been building towards for awhile, porting the character into X-Men's supporting cast after her book was cancelled, wiping her slate clean via the attack by Rogue, and then positioning her to get captured with the X-Men by the Brood. In a lot of ways, the transformation of Carol into Binary reads like an attempt by Claremont to undo the damage done to the character via her battle with Rogue in Avengers Annual #10, except that Claremont was the writer of that story as well. Instead, it seems like Claremont was genuinely interested in moving Carol forward as a character, and simply looked for (and found) an opportunity to give her a new direction. 

Meanwhile, Claremont continues his examination of the X-Men's morality as the rest of the team weighs in on whether or not the Brood deserve to be killed. While Wolverine and Carol feel lethal force is justified, Colossus and Cyclops remain reluctant, and Storm goes so far as to freak out when she accidentally kills some Brood. But, as Wolverine finally tells the rest of the X-Men about the Brood eggs inside them, the nature of the discussion is poised to change, as the X-Men must now confront their own impending mortality.

Next Issue
Tomorrow: New Mutants #1 kicks off the spin-off era for the X-Men.

Next week: The debut of new regular penciller Paul Smith in Uncanny X-Men #165

13 comments:

  1. How about that cover! Wolverine's popularity may have been surging right about now, but no one told Dave Cockrum!

    My main problem with the second half of the Brood saga is that it contains a lot of filler material. Not much happens in this issue to move the plot forward, other than the X-Men learning about the eggs inside them. I really feel like issues 164-167 could've been condensed quite a bit without losing anything. And #167 is double-sized! That's basically the equivalent of five issues to tell a story I think could've been done in three. Was this one of the earliest instances of "decompression" in comics?

    (That said, I'd still rather read these issues over pretty much any of Bendis's multi-issue arcs. At least even decompressed Claremont gives you money's worth in time taken to read the issue.)

    I've never liked Binary all that much. I like Ms. Marvel, especially in the Cockrum costume, which is one of my all-time favorite female superhero outfits, but turning her into the all-powerful Binary seemed an unnecessary change to the character. Why not just get her back to her Ms. Marvel power level?

    Also, it took me forever to realize that the two stars on her chest were (duh) supposed to represent a binary star. For years, I thought it was just Cockrum playing with her military background and giving her some kind of faux rank insignia. I think the placement of the stars in the left breast location as opposed to the center of her chest, not to mention their tiny size, has something to do with why I thought that.

    I never thought I would mention Ms. Marvel's breast in the same sentence as the phrase "tiny size", by the way.

    "It's said that Shi'ar robots did most of the work..."

    Wow, I don't think I ever really caught that! Of course it makes perfect sense, since the danger room is suddenly hologram-capable not long from now. Good to know Claremont tossed out a reason for the mansion being rebuilt in such a short period of time.

    "Though frightened, Kitty feels she's earned her place on the team and is now determined to prove it."

    Foreshadowing "Professor Xavier is a Jerk!"? Never caught that before, either.

    "Storm fears she is losing touch with her essential self."

    And I fear Claremont is losing touch with Storm's essential self. Sadly, my fear will be confirmed in issue #173.

    "Dave Cockrum on leaving X-Men"

    I really need to pick up Comic Creators on X-Men! As I've said before, I have the Spider-Man one, but neither of the others. I've always wondered about the circumstances of Cockrum leaving mid-storyline (again!), and now I have them. It would've been nice to have seen him finish the Brood saga before he left, though. And if it had been condensed to a smaller number of issues as I suggested above, that could've happened!

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  2. @Matt: Wolverine's popularity may have been surging right about now, but no one told Dave Cockrum!

    Ha! Well said.

    I really feel like issues 164-167 could've been condensed quite a bit without losing anything.

    I dunno, I'll stick up for the length here. To me, this is really the only extraneous issue - they probably could have condensed last issue and this one together, especially if they cut out some of the Binary material, but everything else feels necessary.

    #162 is a groundbreaking solo turn for Wolverine, and a unique way of establishing the situation.

    #163 & #164 I'll grant could be condensed into one issue for the "X-Men escape from the Brood" portion of the story.

    Then #165, probably my favorite issue of the story, shows the X-Men dealing with their situation. Most of it is technically extraneous to the plot, but I wouldn't want to lose much of it for what it adds to the characterization and themes.

    Then #166 is the wrap up to the story (this is actually the double-sized issue, not #167, and I'll grant it probably doesn't need to be double-sized), with #167 serving as the denouement (and really, only the first half of that issue is devoted to the Brood story; the second half is all subplots and setup).

    So all told, I'd say maybe an issues worth of content could be cut from the story (between issues #163 & 164, and the extra pages in #166), but that's really all that feels extraneous to me, and that's largely because I'm not as big a Binary fan as Claremont and Cockrum.

    I've never liked Binary all that much.

    Ditto. I don't hate the character or anything, but I much prefer Carol as Ms. Marvel in the classic Cockrum look, and am glad she reverted to that eventually.

    Why not just get her back to her Ms. Marvel power level?

    The only thing I can think of is that Claremont wanted to boost Rogue's powers and keep the antagonism between the two, while still giving Carol something to do, and felt just giving her back the same powers Rogue stole from her would have diluted the antagonism between them (and the angst for Rogue), so he did something different with Carol.

    I never thought I would mention Ms. Marvel's breast in the same sentence as the phrase "tiny size", by the way.

    Heh. :)

    Foreshadowing "Professor Xavier is a Jerk!"? Never caught that before, either.

    Neither did I, until this read-through. Gotta give Claremont credit: love 'em or hate 'em, between this, Storm's transformation and other stuff, he really does lay the groundwork for his plot and character turns ahead of time.

    And I fear Claremont is losing touch with Storm's essential self.

    Yeah, her maddeningly-boring self. :)

    But we'll get to that discussion soon enough...

    It would've been nice to have seen him finish the Brood saga before he left, though.

    The part of me that favors artistic consistency agrees, but the part of me that loves Paul Smith's work is just happy to know he's coming aboard next issue.

    It definitely does seem wrong that Cockrum departs in the middle of a long-running story arc, but I suppose it's fitting, considering his first departure happened the same way.

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  3. I never liked Carol's binary costume. Looks like she's wearing a saggy cosmic diaper.

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  4. @Anonymous: I never liked Carol's binary costume. Looks like she's wearing a saggy cosmic diaper.

    Ha! I never noticed that before, but now I can't un-see it.

    As far as Cockrum costumes go, it's definitely not one of his stronger ones. It somehow manages to be both too basic and too complicated at the same time.

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  5. Professor Xavier is a cook!

    I never really liked the Binary design. Aside from being rather generic, the heels are particularly stupid in this case and her flame-hair prongs are hard to take seriously even for a 1980s superhero comic.

    So Carol's powers are "the functional equivalent of a star," plus we get the caption "The light is power... And Carol uses it, without hesitation." It's almost (or maybe not even almost) like Claremont was compelled to create another female character of high-level cosmic ability, then restrict her to space so that her power levels wouldn't be the issue that they were with folks who didn't like Phoenix being so omnipotent.

    Your points about Claremont wanting to redeem Carol (not in-story, but creatively) are apt too.

    I'm glad you brought up Cockrum's callback to the bug-eyed helmets on the Shi'ar spacesuits. Really it's just simple continuity, but there's something nostalgic about it (turducken nostalgia, if you will, since this issue itself is of course from 1982 — and I'm totally weirded out that my spellcheck is not fazed by "turducken").

    Kitty manages to fix the engine and the ship jumps to warp, though they lose contact with Kitty in the process.

    How smart was it to jump to warp immediately with Kitty still out on the hull of the ship, anyway? I know that time was of the essence, but Hello! 13-year-old junior member out there! Would a warp field be expected to bring her along with the vessel totally unharmed?

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  6. Professor X worries that he can't read Illyana's mind, afraid she's hiding something, but is still too grief-stricken to press the matter. ... He also wonders what he might be able to do to help the girl, then ultimately decides he doesn't care. 

    It's less "Professer Xavier is a jerk!" than "Professor Xavier has sunk into apathetic depression!"

    Storm fears she is losing touch with her essential self.

    Essential Storm views everything in black-&-white.

    Remember when arcade games cost a quarter? Remember arcade games?

    Arcade games aren't a quarter anymore?

    Of course this is being asked by a guy who just yesterday was commiserating with his cousin that, while Wreck-It Ralph looks neat, some of the established "classic" characters who pop up in the supporting cast are after my time, ruining the selling point of nostalgia for me. Pac-Man and Q*bert? Cool! Street Fighter? Mortal Kombat? Sonic the Hedgehog? Not interested.

    This ad for the latest round of Saturday morning cartoons features at least three I've never heard of before.

    I don't think I've heard of the first two either, although Meatballs and Spaghetti is mentioned in the Bullpen Bulletins column this issue. Getting back to leaving nostalgia in the rearview mirror, I guess by late 1982, at a young 12 years old, I wasn't automatically absorbed by any old cartoon on Saturday mornings, but rather limiting my diet to what really interested me. Once upon a time my sister and I would pore over the schedule for the new season's worth of cartoons when it was spotlighted in the newspaper's TV Week pullout, often agonizing over which show to watch first at 9:30 a.m. and which to switch over to during commercials.

    I was *sniff* growing up.

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  7. Matt: Was this one of the earliest instances of "decompression" in comics?

    X-Men
    may have been an early precursor to that trend, but really here I think that it's just the nature of serial comic-book storytelling at the time — especially, perhaps, when done Marvel method, as the penciler and scripter might have different story beats in mind to hit or highlight.

    Matt: I like Ms. Marvel, especially in the Cockrum costume, which is one of my all-time favorite female superhero outfits, but turning her into the all-powerful Binary seemed an unnecessary change to the character.

    I'm with you there.

    See my earlier comments for more on why Claremont may not have been interested in "just" returning her old status quo though... He might have seen her derivative name as a second-class female knockoff, too, instead wanting to give her an identity that she could claim as her own in addition to seeing her as a perfect vessel for trumping the whole Phoenix thing. Or maybe he just doesn't like female characters with "Marvel" in their names. 8^)

    Matt: And I fear Claremont is losing touch with Storm's essential self. Sadly, my fear will be confirmed in issue #173.

    We're on the same page on this point, too, even if our ringleader is not.

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  8. I'm sure it's old news to most, but Claremont's interest in "fixing" damage done to Carol in AA#10 was more about getting around the atrocious story that was Avengers #200. He cleared the bases on that horrible incest time travel nonsense and was given the chance to start over, and ended up using one of his favorite pet concepts: beautiful woman gets unexpected limitless powers. Unfortunately, Carol becomes so ridiculously powerful that there's really nothing you can do with her. Kudos to Kurt Busiek for fixing up a happy medium, even if it involved using the name "Warbird."

    Having never read these issues until recently, this is the issue in the second Brood arc where my interest started waning. The Wolverine issue is great, and I liked 163, but the lack of resolution by this point is just starting to get irritating.

    Kind of a weird symmetry with Cockrum leaving here just before the resolution of a big cosmic arc.

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  9. @Blam: "How smart was it to jump to warp immediately with Kitty still out on the hull of the ship, anyway? I know that time was of the essence, but Hello! 13-year-old junior member out there! Would a warp field be expected to bring her along with the vessel totally unharmed?"

    I had the same thought. Since warp speed and warp fields don't actually exist (yet!) I have no idea what would really happen to Kitty...but it can't be good, right? And even if it ends up being fine how would the X-Men know that she wouldn't get disintegrated or something?

    Also, kind of a dick move my Binary to blast a hole in the ship in a fit of rage. So, she's so angry that her friends are going to die that she...nearly kills them?

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  10. @Blam: Claremont was compelled to create another female character of high-level cosmic ability, then restrict her to space so that her power levels wouldn't be the issue that they were with folks who didn't like Phoenix being so omnipotent.

    Great observation! For whatever reason, I completely missed the obvious comparison of Binary to Phoenix. It really does seem like Claremont is trying to re-do Phoenix in a way that will allow him to keep her around.

    and I'm totally weirded out that my spellcheck is not fazed by "turducken"

    Ha!

    Also, "turducken nostalgia" is my new band name. And a great term for exactly what you're describing.

    Essential Storm views everything in black-&-white.

    Nicely done.

    ...but rather limiting my diet to what really interested me.

    I too remember 12 being about the age that I started to get more discerning about what I watched as well. Probably because that was around the same time that I began sleeping later on Saturdays instead of being up at the crack of dawn to watch cartoons. I also remember poring over those old TV listings to figure which cartoons I'd watch when. Good times.

    @Dobson: He cleared the bases on that horrible incest time travel nonsense and was given the chance to start over

    That part I get, I'm just not entirely sure why he decide to de-power her as well, unless he was already planning the cosmic upgrade for which he, as you point out, had a fondness.

    Kudos to Kurt Busiek for fixing up a happy medium, even if it involved using the name "Warbird."

    Agreed on both counts.

    @Dr. Bitz: Also, kind of a dick move my Binary to blast a hole in the ship in a fit of rage.

    Indeed. I mean, it's all well and good that she can survive in space, but be considerate and use the door...

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  11. I almost went with Russian nesting dolls for the analogy, but "turducken" is just too hilarious a concept to me not to be appropriated whenever possible.

    Here, like I said, it's just proper continuity — albeit at enough of a remove that it does carry the air of homage with it (even though Cockrum's echoing his own work), not unlike Byrne using previously seen gadgets and vessels in X-Men and Fantastic Four. Another kind of "turducken nostalgia" is my own affection for the movie Grease or DC's Famous 1st Edition treasuries, because they were essential parts of my 1970s childhood, even though the eras that they evoked and reprinted, respectively, were long before my time.

    I suspect that the desire to sleep late that came with the teenage years was indeed an ingredient in Saturday-morning cartoons losing their appeal, along with critical acuity and/or an actual lessening of quality in the shows themselves.

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  12. @Blam: ...even though the eras that they evoked and reprinted, respectively, were long before my time.

    I know exactly what you mean. Heck, there's large swaths of X-Men comics, an their era, that are nostalgic to me even though the eras that they evoked and reprinted, respectively, were long before my time. But I read them as kid, so they've fallen into that "nostalgia zone".

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  13. Same here. I mentioned a while back that I was born during the Claremont/Byrne run, so obviously I didn't read it as it was coming out. But I read it when I was about 13 or so, my formative time for Marvel Comics, and because of that I consider it to be the definitive classic run.

    That may not be the best example since it's the run everyone considers classic, but it's the best I've got!

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