Three guys talking about comic books, sports, movies, TV shows and the numerous other pastimes that make us Gentlemen of Leisure.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #170

"Dancin' in the Dark"
June 1983

In a Nutshell
Storm duels Callisto for leadership of the Morlocks. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Paul Smith 
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: P. Secton & J. Casey
Editor: Louise Jones
Associate Editor: Danny Fingeroth
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
In Alaska, Scott and Madelyne are on their first date, when Scott decides to come clean and tell Madelyne about Jean and the shared resemblance between the women. Maddie is initially thrown by the revelation, but decides she likes Scott enough to see where things go. In the Morlock tunnels, the captured X-Men break free and attempt to rescue Angel, but Plague manages to infect Storm, forcing Nightcrawler and Colossus to stand down. Elsewhere, Kitty regains consciousness long enough to convince Caliban to help the X-Men, promising to stay with him in the tunnels if he does so. Meanwhile, Mystique has a dream in which she is hunted by Jason Wyngarde and Phoenix, and when she awakens, she realizes it was a psychic intrusion. She also learns that Rogue has run away from home.


Back in New York, Caliban brings the dying Kitty before the Morlocks. Nightcrawler insists that Kitty needs the advanced medical equipment at the mansion to survive, but Callisto refuses to let them go. Caliban remarks that so long as Callisto leads the Morlocks, her command will stand, prompting Storm to challenge Callisto to a duel for leadership of the Morlocks. Callisto explains that the duel would be to the death, but Storm refuses to back down. The two women engage in a knife fight, which ends when Storm stabs Callisto through the heart. Taking Angel, Storm offers the Morlocks a place at the mansion, but Caliban turns her down, and the X-Men leave. In Alaska, Scott reveals to Maddie that he's a mutant, and tells her he'll understand if she wants to go, but Maddie insists she doesn't want him out of her life.

Firsts and Other Notables
Storm becomes leader of the Morlocks this issue, defeating Callisto in a knife fight for the title. She will technically hold the position for some time to come. Though Callisto survives the attack thanks to the off-panel ministrations of the Morlock's Healer, the fact that Storm struck a killing blow not knowing Callisto could be saved marks a significant change in her character, and is the strongest indicator yet of the effect events in recent issues are having on her.

Following a semi-recurring role as the primary antagonist in Dazzler's solo series, Rogue runs away from her home with Mystique and Destiny this issue, setting the stage for her arrival at the mansion next issue. She's already looking much younger than in her last appearance, thanks to Paul Smith. 


Destiny mentions a force which is blocking her perception of the future; I believe this is a reference to the Beyonder, the driving force behind the upcoming "Secret Wars" crossover.


Mystique experiences a weird dream in which she's hunted like a stag by Jason Wyngarde and Lady Jean Grey, a reference to a similar vision of Jean experienced in issue #126. It'll never be made entirely clear, but it's generally considered that this vision was given to Mystique by Mastermind, and furthermore, that Mastermind is behind pushing Rogue to leave Mystique and Destiny. How those actions fit into the plan that will unfold over the next several issues remains similarly unclear.


Though unseen, the first mention is made of the Morlock Healer.

Following his appearance in this issue, Angel next appears in Defenders #125, just prior to that series' re-branding as The New Defenders, beginning what will be a lengthy stint as part of that team that will carry him through to the launch of future X-Men spinoff X-Factor

I should have mentioned this last issue (when it happened) but the "running figures" in the corner box have been replaced by the more traditional "head shots of the team members".

A Work in Progress
It's made clear in this issue that Maddie is meant to bear an uncanny resemblance to Jean Grey.


Claremont is also clearly toying with just what to call Maddie, as Scott twice refers to her as "Lynn/e" instead of "Madelyne" or "Maddie". 

Kitty promises she'll stay with Caliban in the tunnels if he helps the X-Men, though the X-Men leave without addressing this, which will inspire a future story down the road (in Kitty's defense, she's still pretty out of it when the X-Men leave, and they, of course, have no idea she made such a promise).


A narrative caption suggests that Mystique was born in 1953, and even without taking into account the vagaries of Marvel Time, later stories will suggest she's actually older than that.

Callisto explains that she used Caliban's power to sense other mutants to gather the Morlocks. 

It's established that Masque cannot use his power on himself.


Nightcrawler gives a brief "Good Negro" speech, in which he explains that he won't join the Morlocks because he's fought his whole life to be accepted for his deeds instead of his looks.


Later, Nightcrawler mentions he's had medical training; whether he's overstating some basic training he's received as part or the X-Men or actually does have some formal training is unclear. 

In a (perhaps unintentionally) humorous bit, twice Colossus easily escapes the bonds the Morlocks place him in, even after the second is suggested to be capable on containing him.

Maddie jokes that she knows Scott's favorite breakfast because she's a mindreader. OR IS SHE JOKING?!?


In addition to that bit, there's also some fire imagery dispersed throughout the scenes with Scott and Maddie that are clearly meant to get us thinking about Phoenix.


I Love the 80s
As the song they're dancing to ends, Maddie says she should change the tape. 

Artistic Achievements
Nightcrawler teleports Callisto throughout the Alley in an effort to knock her out, the depiction of which is contained within the letters spelling out the "bamf" sound effect, a neat visual trick. 


Not surprisingly, the entire knife fight between Callisto and Storm is brilliantly depicted, but the opening panels, in which Callisto tosses Storm a knife and she catches it like a badass, prompting a comical reaction from Callisto, are especially good.


Young Love
Scott and Maddie spend the issue on their first date, after weeks of flying cargo routes together. 


At one point, Scott and Maddie exchange the same "hi/hi yourself" dialogue that Scott shared with Jean.


Colossus goes nuts when Caliban arrives carrying the sickened Kitty.


The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
Cyclops straight up freaks out when Maddie reaches for his glasses.


Later, he manages to punch a hole in a quarter to illustrate his power, despite not wearing his visor. 


Human/Mutant Relations
The Morlocks have fled underground because they were all persecuted by humans for being mutants, as most of them were unable to pass as normal once their mutations kicked in.


Maddie is aware that mutants aren't very popular at the moment. 


For Sale
I can think of few things that scream early 80s more than a Tron Atari game. 


Teebore's Take
With this issue, Claremont wraps up the Morlocks' introductory story, and while the overall purpose of the story is clearly to continue his exploration and deconstruction of Storm's character (by putting her in a position where's she forced and/or willing to break her oath to never take another life), the elevation of Storm to leadership over the Morlocks puts the X-Men in an awkward position, politically and thematically, one which Claremont likely didn't realize at the time. After assuming command, Storm offers the Morlocks a place at the mansion, above ground; Caliban speaks for them all and declines the offer. The X-Men simply accept it (seemingly relieved to not have the ugmos uglying up their mansion...). They extended an offer, it was rejected, and they are off the hook.

But it ignores the fact that the Morlocks can't possibly be psychologically able to accept Storm's offer (even after we put aside the question of whether or not Caliban  is even entitled to speak for the entire community). They've been driven underground by anti-mutant sentiment, and have been so persecuted that they believe they belong underground. It will take more than an offer (not even a command, which she is now empowered to issue) from Storm to convince them to change their ways, yet the X-Men seem uninterested in putting any effort into helping them. Claremont misses an opportunity here for some interesting thematic examination, an opportunity to show the X-Men working with the Morlocks to overcome their self-loathing and change the public perception of mutants, but more importantly, he unintentionally casts his protagonists in an unfavorable light.    

Book-ending the events in the Morlock tunnels are two scenes between Scott and Maddie. Time has passed: Scott and Maddie have, off panel, spent several weeks working together, and are on their first date. In what is effectively her first full appearance (after her one panel introduction in issue #168), she learns that Scott is a mutant and that she bears an uncanny resemblance to his dead fiance. Considering that the mysteries surrounding Maddie and her role within the book will be resolved within the next five issues, this is a rare instance of Claremont not teasing out a subplot over the course of months; he clearly has a story to tell, and he's wasting little time in telling it.  

Next Issue
Tomorrow in New Mutants #5 we meet Team America (of the not-"F**K Yeah!" variety), and next week the X-Men gain a new member in Uncanny X-Men #171.

30 comments:

  1. This issue has never impressed me much. As the conclusion of the story began last issue, it gets the job done, but with none of the mood and atmosphere that permeated part one. Plus it introduces the problem of the Morlocks, as you noted in your review. If Smith had just drawn a handful, as was originally intended, Claremont might've found a different way out of the story, perhaps with the X-Men believing the Morlocks dead somehow (ruptured gas main explosion or something), and avoiding the weird issue of the X-Men merrily going home while leaving these mutant outcasts to fend for themselves underground.

    What I like in this issue is the subplots. The stuff with Mystique, Destiny, and Rogue, and of course the stuff with Cyclops and Madelyne, is what makes this one worth the read.

    "Storm becomes leader of the Morlocks this issue..."

    Something that really never went anywhere. Claremont did this more than once. I also recall Storm and Magneto becoming the co-White King of the Hellfire Club, which also went pretty much nowhere. Louise Simonson may have done something with it in New Mutants after Claremont left, but as far as Claremont himself went, he gave his characters certain alliances that didn't amount to anything. I'm not sure what the point was.

    "...I believe this is a reference to the Beyonder, the driving force behind the upcoming "Secret Wars" crossover..."

    I can't think of what else it could be. From her description, t's obviously not Mastermind... but this seems to early for signs of the Beyonder to start showing up. I can't recall when Professor X began to sense him, but I know that Spider-Man didn't feel anything for probably six more months, at least.

    "Mystique experiences a weird dream in which she's hunted like a stag by Jason Wyngarde and Lady Jean Grey..."

    Now that looks like Jean! I guess it's just the hair, but it's clear here that Smith can draw the Byrne/Cockrum version of Jean if he needs to.

    "Though unseen, the first mention is made of the Morlock Healer."

    When was he first shown? I'm curious who designed him. He had one of the more dynamic looks of all the Morlocks, with that sweet beard.

    "Following his appearance in this issue, Angel next appears in Defenders #125..."

    This is kind of an unceremonious send-off for the poor guy. As I said last week, he's here not as a supporting character, but as a Maguffin to lead the X-Men into conflict with the Morlocks. If I recall correctly, he doesn't even have any dialogue in either part of this story, and then he's promptly forgotten as soon as it ends.

    "Scott and Maddie spend the issue on their first date, after weeks of flying cargo routes together."

    Well, I guess that answers my question from last week. It's been weeks at this point since Cyclops went up to Alaska. I like when comics do that -- cram tons of story into just a few days, then have an issue or two devoted to weeks of downtime. It's somehow nice to imagine that after all that nastiness with the Brood, the X-Men have just been living normal lives for a few weeks (except for poor Wolverine, as we'll see later this month).

    "...the elevation of Storm to leadership over the Morlocks puts the X-Men in an awkward position, politically and thematically..."

    In all the years I read these stories and knew about the Morlocks, I somehow never realized how awful the X-Men come out looking until I read Jason Powell's analyses. The Morlocks were just sort of... there, and I never thought much of them. But yeah, it's pretty awful that a group dedicated to the peaceful coexistence of humans and mutants would leave this group of outcasts underground, below the rest of society. And no one ever really seemed to touch on this!

    ReplyDelete
  2. @Matt: Louise Simonson may have done something with it in New Mutants after Claremont left, but as far as Claremont himself went, he gave his characters certain alliances that didn't amount to anything.

    Yeah, Simonson did some stuff with Magneto being the White King during her New Mutants run, but Storm sharing the position never amounted to anything. And Claremont will pay lip service to the idea of Storm leading the Morlocks a few more times, but you're right that nothing really comes of it. Later writers (like Lobdell) will reference it as well, but then usually just to point out what a crappy leader of the Morlocks she is.

    Both definitely seem like ideas Claremont had on the fly and introduced without having a specific follow-up idea for them (or they sidelined by ideas he likes more, such as the Magneto/Storm White King bit getting pushed aside in favor of the "the world thinks the X-Men are dead, again" idea), so they end up not really going anywhere.

    From her description, t's obviously not Mastermind... but this seems to early for signs of the Beyonder to start showing up.

    That was exactly my line of thinking, which is why I couched it with "I believe". At this point, we're about ten months removed from Secret Wars, so it's possible the idea was already being discussed in the Marvel offices, but if it's not a reference to the Beyonder, I'm not sure what it is. Unless it's supposed to be another "return of Phoenix" tease, but I'm not sure how Mastermind could fake that level of power in such a way to block Destiny's ability.

    When was he first shown?

    Issue #179, I believe, though I don't know if his design is credited to Romita or Smith (if JRjr was working off a design of Smith's).

    If I recall correctly, he doesn't even have any dialogue in either part of this story

    He does not. Truly a MacGuffin and nothing else.

    In all the years I read these stories and knew about the Morlocks, I somehow never realized how awful the X-Men come out looking until I read Jason Powell's analyses.

    Yeah, I've always felt a little squeamish about the fact that the X-Men were content to just let the Morlocks, who they were ostensibly now responsible for, continue to hang out in the sewer while they lived it up in a posh mansion, but I always consoled myself with the whole "well, they offered" argument. It wasn't until I read Jason's analysis that I realized what a copout that argument is, and just how bad it makes the X-Men look.

    ReplyDelete
  3. @Teebore
    After assuming command, Storm offers the Morlocks a place at the mansion, above ground; Caliban speaks for them all and declines the offer. The X-Men simply accept it (seemingly relieved to not have the ugmos uglying up their mansion...). They extended an offer, it was rejected, and they are off the hook.


    I whined about this last time. How could Claremont miss something so obvious? It's a shame that nobody ever really tried to correct it, either. We just got the same old "Morlocks want to stay underground, they like it" schtick again and again. I hate to keep talking about Morrison because he's so far removed from this and I know not everyone's a fan, but he kind of nailed that one when opening up the school. Of course, I think X-Men stories since then have largely suffered from it because the cast has been ridiculously large. Same thing would have happened here, I guess. Maybe they could have cancelled New Mutants and given the Morlocks their own spinoff book, The Ugly Mutants.

    Considering that the mysteries surrounding Maddie and her role within the book will be resolved within the next five issues, this is a rare instance of Claremont not teasing out a subplot over the course of months; he clearly has a story to tell, and he's wasting little time in telling it.

    And I have no idea what that story is. Seriously, was this it? Scott meets a girl who looks like his dead girlfriend, gets a little weirded out, gets over it, falls in love, the end? And he's already teasing with the mind reader comment and the fire stuff. Was this a red herring? Was he going ANYWHERE with this, or was this a rare instance of a plot that was supposed to be taken at face value? While I think the Goblin Queen reveal was lame, at least it presented itself as a sort of payoff to all of this stuff. If Claremont really just intended Maddie as a way for Scott to accept that Jean was gone and get on with his life and meet someone else, I think the more mature story would have had him, you know, meet someone else, not a creepy doppelganger. It makes Scott look weird and as a story it's a little pointless.

    Though Callisto survives the attack thanks to the off-panel ministrations of the Morlock's Healer, the fact that Storm struck a killing blow not knowing Callisto could be saved marks a significant change in her character, and is the strongest indicator yet of the effect events in recent issues are having on her.

    So we could almost speculate that when she struck the same killing blow to Marrow in #325 (as in exactly the same killing blow), she just figured, "Eh, the last one lived, this one will be all right too." But I bet even Storm didn't count on Marrow having a second heart.

    @Matt
    Something that really never went anywhere. Claremont did this more than once. I also recall Storm and Magneto becoming the co-White King of the Hellfire Club, which also went pretty much nowhere.


    And I'm not sure where it really could have gone, either. These days, "Storm and the X-Men" and "Magneto and the Hellfire Club" would be separate books at the SAME TIME as the three or four regular monthlies, but back then, how did Claremont think this would work? I suppose he could have written Storm out for a while and have her come back later as "changed" (have to admit, you could get some good stories out of that), but I always hated her as the "leader" because she never did any leading. Did she even stop by for visits? And I wonder if the Morlocks were down there the whole time going, "You know what, the hell with this bitch, let's elect a leader that actually lives here."

    ReplyDelete
  4. @Dan: I hate to keep talking about Morrison because he's so far removed from this...

    No worries. Other than time-wise, Morrison's not as far removed from this stuff as it seems; whether writing in contrast to it or homage of it, much of his run can be read as a reaction to Claremont's.

    Scott meets a girl who looks like his dead girlfriend, gets a little weirded out, gets over it, falls in love, the end?

    For the most part, yeah, that was originally meant to be it. I have a quote from Claremont I'll post probably with issue #175, but basically, he just wanted to give Scott and Jean a happy ending, and came up with the idea of Madelyne just happening to look like her to allow Scott to ride off into the sunset with Jean without literally bringing her back.

    But the whole thing was always intended to just be a coincidence (Claremont has this whacky idea - and I have no idea how seriously he believes it but I've seen him mention it in several places - that everyone has someone who bears an uncanny resemblance to them somewhere in the world, and Scott just happened to find Jean's), with all the Phoenix/"Is Jean back?" teases meant to get the readers wondering about that (on the metatextual level) and tie in with Mastermind's in-story plot to make the X-Men think Maddie is Jean.

    But once Mastermind's story wraps up (in issue #175) we're meant to just take it at face value that Maddie looks a lot like Jean, at least until Jean actually comes back, Scott acts like a jerk, and Claremont comes up with the whole clone/Goblin Queen stuff to salvage Cyclops' character.

    I think the more mature story would have had him, you know, meet someone else, not a creepy doppelganger.

    I agree. Dr. Bitz and I mentioned that Claremont could have done this same story and just had Cyclops end up with Lee Forrester. But I guess Claremont's intent wasn't just to give Cyclops a happy ending, but Jean as well, so he creates Maddie as a sort of symbolic Jean surrogate to that end.

    she just figured, "Eh, the last one lived, this one will be all right too."

    Ha! Yeah, mutant Healer, second heart, whatever. I don't think Storm was too concerned. :)

    And I wonder if the Morlocks were down there the whole time going, "You know what, the hell with this bitch, let's elect a leader that actually lives here."

    That's pretty much what they do with Masque, post-"Inferno", but they certainly waited a while before doing it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. @Teebore
    basically, he just wanted to give Scott and Jean a happy ending, and came up with the idea of Madelyne just happening to look like her to allow Scott to ride off into the sunset with Jean without literally bringing her back.


    I'm sorry, but that's just about the dumbest thing I've ever heard. And considering how Madelyne eventually turned out, that's saying something.

    From now on, they could use that device to bring dead characters back from the dead. The X-Men could bump into a middle-aged Irishman at the corner store named Mickey O'Sullivan who looks exactly like Banshee and, get this, has sonic scream powers. After determining he's not a clone or a reincarnation, they could just suit him up and invite him to stay on the team, maybe even let him ride off into the sunset with Moira - wait, scratch that.

    But once Mastermind's story wraps up (in issue #175) we're meant to just take it at face value that Maddie looks a lot like Jean, at least until Jean actually comes back, Scott acts like a jerk, and Claremont comes up with the whole clone/Goblin Queen stuff to salvage Cyclops' character.

    I think the only thing that really salvaged his character was the passing of time and the fact that everyone forgot that awful story. Goblin Queen or not, Scott's actions were just terrible. And no one seems to make the point that the Goblin Queen reveal didn't actually fix any of his problems; as far as he knew, Maddy was real. The only difference after the retcon was that there would no longer be a real woman who would have to work through the trauma for the rest of her life while raising her son by herself.

    I'll never understand why Jean, under the possession of a brainwashed cosmic entity, had to be punished for killing a remote planet of Broccoli people while the only punishment Scott received for f**king over his wife and son was, well, having to deal with Jean again. But think of the children, people!

    ReplyDelete
  6. @Dan: I'm sorry, but that's just about the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

    I'll cop to finding the idea a little bit charming, at least on the metatextual level (as a reader looking in), and maybe if Scott and Maddie had been left alone, it might have worked (or at least been ignored). But in the context of the story, from the perspective of the characters, it does seem exceedingly dumb and/or creepy.

    After determining he's not a clone or a reincarnation, they could just suit him up and invite him to stay on the team, maybe even let him ride off into the sunset with Moira - wait, scratch that.

    He'd end up riding off into the sunset with Mary MacGarret. :)

    And no one seems to make the point that the Goblin Queen reveal didn't actually fix any of his problems; as far as he knew, Maddy was real.

    Part of the Maddie retcon involved the fact that she was subconsciously influencing Scott's behavior/actions (such as unknowingly using her latent powers to affect his duel with Storm), which seemed an obvious attempt to justify Scott's heinous actions during the early days of X-Factor by suggesting he was a pawn in Sinister's plan, but you're right that time and distance from the story was the best salve for Scott's character.

    ...while the only punishment Scott received for f**king over his wife and son was, well, having to deal with Jean again

    And more angst. Don't forget the angst. :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. @Teebore
    He'd end up riding off into the sunset with Mary MacGarret. :)


    Naturally. Hopefully his evil cousin Black Tim wouldn't interfere.

    Part of the Maddie retcon involved the fact that she was subconsciously influencing Scott's behavior/actions (such as unknowingly using her latent powers to affect his duel with Storm), which seemed an obvious attempt to justify Scott's heinous actions during the early days of X-Factor by suggesting he was a pawn in Sinister's plan, but you're right that time and distance from the story was the best salve for Scott's character.

    I didn't know that. It makes things less problematic in-universe, which is nice. It still doesn't answer the question of what the original writers were thinking. ;)

    And more angst. Don't forget the angst. :)

    Hah. It's funny, I think "the awesome and terrible power of Cyclops" is one of the few things he doesn't angst about anymore, which is odd because it was never actually fixed. Maybe after Xavier started walking again Scott just shut up.

    ReplyDelete
  8. @Dan: I think "the awesome and terrible power of Cyclops" is one of the few things he doesn't angst about anymore, which is odd because it was never actually fixed.

    I guess he just has bigger fish to fry these days. :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Mystique experiences a weird dream in which she's hunted like a stag by Jason Wyngarde and Lady Jean Grey...

    And strangely seems to know Jean's life story, despite having never interacted with her, and the X-Men having deleted all references to themselves from government computers.

    It's made clear in this issue that Maddie is meant to bear an uncanny resemblance to Jean Grey.

    Dumb.

    Maddie jokes that she knows Scott's favorite breakfast because she's a mindreader. OR IS SHE JOKING?!?

    It's time to add a "...Jean?!?" topic to these things, much like "The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops." We can track every time Claremont sloppily writes in a reference to Jean Grey / Phoenix to beat us over the head with the epic story of her death. Let's start with this issue:

    1. Lookalike "mindreader" - Oh, right, Jean was a superpowerful telepath that once battled the Professor to a standstill.

    2. Fire in the background - Oh, right, Phoenix was all fiery and stuff, like that time he fought a Shi'ar warship and blew up a bunch of Asparagus People.

    3. "Hi" / "Hi Yourself" - Oh, right, Scott was once in love with someone who had to kill herself.

    Christ, these next few issues would have hundreds of entries. And we haven't even reached the Rachel Summers era...

    Not surprisingly, the entire knife fight between Callisto and Storm is brilliantly depicted, but the opening panels, in which Callisto tosses Storm a knife and she catches it like a badass, prompting a comical reaction from Callisto, are especially good.

    I actually prefer the final scene, with her walking away. Stunning.

    All in all, this is probably my all-time favorite two-part story -- continuity / morality problems with Morlocks be damned!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I feel like the idea of Storm being named leader of the Morlocks is supposed to be the whole action-adventure trope of becoming the leader in order to further the hero's goals (another good example would be Ms. Marvel/Warbird becoming Queen of the Deviants during the Kang War), but the issue here is that despite being jerks last issue, the Morlocks are not all that different from the X-Men, and actually could use some help. I feel like the Morlock Massacre was in part an indictment of the X-Men's handling of things here, so it's not like there won't be a pay-off for the X-Men tacitly supporting a mutant class system. Fortunately they'll get another bite at the apple in the form of Genosha, where I'm sure things will turn out fine!

    I actually like Maddie Pryor and the storyline coming up. The whole point of her looking like Jean is important because there's a bunch of hints dropped that it is the Phoenix reborn somehow, which doesn't really work if Lee Forrester suddenly dyed her hair and moved to the opposite end of the globe. I'm sure there's some hand-waving explanation of how Mastermind, now without Hellfire Club backing or powerful telepaths hanging around, can still psychically invade Mystique's dream for no reason, but I forget what it is now. And while I do feel like Smith's take on the characters is well-established by this point, his Mystique is way off-model in that second close-up.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Michael: And strangely seems to know Jean's life story, despite having never interacted with her, and the X-Men having deleted all references to themselves from government computers

    Good point. Though I suppose it's possible she read the government's file on Jean before it was erased, considering she works for the Defense Department and all.

    It's time to add a "...Jean?!?" topic to these things, much like "The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops."

    The truly overt ones I usually tried to mention under "Claremontisms", but, as anyone looking at the stands these days can attest, it isn't like Claremont is the only X-writer to go back to that particular well, so I felt that was perhaps not the best place for such references. Maybe their own section is the way to go...

    All in all, this is probably my all-time favorite two-part story -- continuity / morality problems with Morlocks be damned!

    I do still really like this story, morality problems be damned as you say. As Matt says, the second part isn't as tightly constructed as the first, but all in all, it's a fun, well executed little story, and one of the best two-parters (though for me, the honor of "best" still goes to the Kulan Gath two parter; I just love the sheer ambition and scope of it).

    @Dobson: I feel like the Morlock Massacre was in part an indictment of the X-Men's handling of things here, so it's not like there won't be a pay-off for the X-Men tacitly supporting a mutant class system.

    I agree (and it's especially a damning commentary on the failure of Storm's leadership, something that doesn't go unnoticed by her), but it's only so effective as an indictment. The X-Men get saddled with some tremendous guilt, and Nightcrawler, Colossus and Kitty get taken out of action for awhile, but at the end of the day, it's still the vast majority of the Morlocks who get killed because the X-Men couldn't be bothered to try harder to help them.

    I actually like Maddie Pryor and the storyline coming up.

    Oh, I do too. The whole run collected in the "From the Ashes" trade is one of my all time favorites, with issue #175 as arguably my favorite single issue of X-Men. I also really like Maddie; Claremont's whole "everyone has a coincidental duplicate out there" idea is pretty whack-a-doo, and I don't think his original idea of Maddie serving as stand in for Jean so Scott could have a happy ending was all that bright an idea, but I love Maddie. I find her evolution, both in-story (as she goes from wife to honorary X-Man to Goblin Queen) and from the outside (from her original intent to the clone retcon and the story/editorial forces affecting that evolution) to be fascinating and terrifically fun to read.

    The whole point of her looking like Jean is important because there's a bunch of hints dropped that it is the Phoenix reborn somehow, which doesn't really work if Lee Forrester suddenly dyed her hair and moved to the opposite end of the globe.

    Right, but you could argue that Claremont could give Scott his happy ending story without also doing a "is Phoenix back?" tease, in which case Lee (or someone else) would work fine. He just wanted to give Scott a happy ending AND have him end up with someone who looks like Jean, so at that point, why not do a "is Phoenix back?" story.

    I'm sure there's some hand-waving explanation of how Mastermind, now without Hellfire Club backing or powerful telepaths hanging around, can still psychically invade Mystique's dream for no reason, but I forget what it is now.

    Honestly, if there is, I don't remember what it is either. But I have a feeling that gets glossed over. Either way, it's something I'm specifically looking for as I re-read these issues.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Teebore -- "Other than time-wise, Morrison's not as far removed from this stuff as it seems; whether writing in contrast to it or homage of it, much of his run can be read as a reaction to Claremont's."

    I searched but can't provide a source for this, so I probably read it in print -- maybe in an issue of Wizard, but I recall Morrison once saying that New X-Men was his "love letter" to Chris Claremont. Though it may have been specifically to Claremont and Byrne; I can't recall.

    In my opinion it was kind of a demented love letter from an unhinged, would-be lover who doesn't understand you the way he thinks he does, but that might just be me.

    ReplyDelete
  13. @Matt: I recall Morrison once saying that New X-Men was his "love letter" to Chris Claremont. Though it may have been specifically to Claremont and Byrne

    I've read that too. Pretty sure it was an issue of Wizard (or one of their X-Men specials). And I do think it was specifically in reference to the Claremont/Byrne run, but the idea still stands.

    In my opinion it was kind of a demented love letter from an unhinged, would-be lover who doesn't understand you the way he thinks he does, but that might just be me.

    I think I've made my position on the Morrison run pretty clear (in that I have hard time getting too worked about it either way), but that was damn hilarious no matter what you think of his run. :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. @Michael: And now that I think about it some more, I realize I completely forgot about the next two parter, with Wolverine in Japan, which I also love.

    ReplyDelete
  15. All I know is if I was reading about a character like Maddie and there were all sorts of hints that she might be Jean (like the fire, the mind reading) and all those hints amounted to nothing? I'd be pretty pissed.

    I'm not saying she needed to be Jean reincarnated or a clone or anything. But those teases needed to lead to something, in my opinion.

    Also, I still think Lee would have been a better option for Scott (provided Maddie was to be nothing more than a look alike).

    First of all, the idea that Maddie gives Jean her happy ending strikes me as plain silly. Should I be happy if some dude who looks like me wins the lottery? Or should I get praise if some look alike of mine saves a bus full of school children? (The answer to both is no. Regardless of anything else, you should feel sorry for all who look like me.)

    Secondly, it makes Scott's growth feel stunted. At worst, I picture him staring at Maddie saying "You're going to be my NEW Jean!" while trying to force her to wear a Phoenix costume.

    At best, it just portrays Scott as psychologically broken and unable to move on from his past.

    Having Scott end up with Lee would have felt more like he had moved on and accepted Jean's death.

    ReplyDelete

  16. I really like the sense of place that Smith gives us in that chalet in "Reindeer Falls". He conveys a cozy little room in small-town Alaska, sure; more to the point, though, he shows us enough in the establishing shot on Pg. 1 that we have a good idea of where the characters are overall — in a spacious room, yet still confined, all the more so given a conversation like the one they end up having — and in relation to one another, in the close-ups.

    Scott decides to come clean and tell Madelyne about Jean and the shared resemblance between the women. Maddie is initially thrown by the revelation, but decides she likes Scott enough to see where things go.

    I'm aware that you're simply writing a basic synopsis of the plot to set up your analysis, Teebore, so I don't want you to at all take this as me complaining that you're not doing the poetry of the material justice, but I have to point out that this description is exactly why summaries are no substitute for reading the stories themselves. You gave us the "what" and it's so dry compared to the "how". It's such a nice scene.

    The relationship stuff that bookends this issue's Morlocks plot (and the Mystique/Rogue interlude) is easily my favorite part of it, although Storm does get badass in that fight. It's a funny thing: While I love the domestic/romantic sequences, I'm aware that I love them exactly because they're taking place in a superhero comic. The subplots and grace notes of this sort in X-Men and New Teen Titans, other mainstream titles to a lesser extent as well, were a large part of what made those series so compelling — and yet I wouldn't have wanted all this, all the time; that always felt to me as a "waste" of an anything-goes medium, at least as far as traditional color comic books were concerned. Even the latter-day, black-&-white run of Zot!, one of my favorite things in comics ever, which was mostly relatable teen angst and social awareness, was made all the more thrilling by the fact that the flying, raygun-toting, happy-go-lucky title character came from an otherdimensional Earth where it was always a retro-future version of 1965.

    Plague manages to infect Storm, forcing Nightcrawler and Colossus to stand down.

    Colossus: "I... yield."

    "That means, sadly, that I cannot back SHIELD."

    Mystique has a dream in which she is hunted by Jason Wyngarde and Phoenix, and when she awakens, she realizes it was a psychic intrusion. She also learns that Rogue has run away from home.

    No-one
    expects a psychic... oh, wait, no, that's the Spanish Inquisition. In X-Men you should totally expect a psychic intrusion.

    I think Mystique actually believes that Rogue has been kidnapped, by the way, and that the shot of Rogue simply on a bus out of town is meant to be a revelation to readers that belies that assumption.

    Scott twice refers to her as "Lynn/e" instead of "Madelyne" or "Maddie". 

    That was weird.

    Given Claremont's penchant for nicknames, and the more "pet" sounding the better — "Lynn" seems more intimate than "Maddie" as a shortening of "Madelyne" somehow, as would, say, "Mads" — I'm not too surprised to find that Claremont went that route, although I am surprised that it wasn't spelled "'Lyne" with an apostrophe. But since he probably doesn't stick with it much longer, in favor of "Maddie", it did take me unawares.

    ReplyDelete

  17. Kitty promises she'll stay with Caliban in the tunnels if he helps the X-Men

    I haven't read this issue in a long time, and probably haven't read the follow-up that's coming in even longer, so I'm still wondering exactly what the hesitation meant in Kitty's line "Th- that's not true. I'll stay, I promise." It could just be faltering speech due to her illness, but I think that we're meant to take it as nerves over a split-second decision, the question being, Is she nervous because she's making the commitment to stay with him in the name of saving her friends or is she going against her nature and lying to Caliban in the name of saving her friends?

    ReplyDelete

  18. A narrative caption suggests that Mystique was born in 1953, and even without taking into account the vagaries of Marvel Time, later stories will suggest she's actually older than that.

    That was weird too. Her dream being set in 1783 and the caption advising us that she wouldn't be born for another 170 years, making her 30 in 1983 at the time this issue was published — man, she'd be way too young to be Nightcrawler's mom or dad, and really too young to be Rogue's adopted mother of more than, oh, 10 years at the outside too.

    In addition to that bit, there's also some fire imagery dispersed throughout the scenes with Scott and Maddie that are clearly meant to get us thinking about Phoenix.

    I was hoping that you'd use that panel. The first time I saw it, I just thought it was slightly racy for the time in terms of the backlighting showing Madelyne's figure through her gown. Only as I lingered upon it did I get that it's a Phoenix reference. I really have to hand it to the creative team for making it work.

    Nightcrawler teleports Callisto throughout the Alley in an effort to knock her out, the depiction of which is contained within the letters spelling out the "bamf" sound effect, a neat visual trick.

    I love that for both reasons you mention. Nightcrawler using his teleportation "passive-offensively" by wearing out Callisto without having to actually fight her is really neat.

    The Morlocks have fled underground because they were all persecuted by humans for being mutants, as most of them were unable to pass as normal once their mutations kicked in.

    For some reason when I read this panel I flash to the "I'm a loner, Dottie" speech from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, which is not exactly the mood the scene is setting.

    the elevation of Storm to leadership over the Morlocks puts the X-Men in an awkward position, politically and thematically, one which Claremont likely didn't realize at the time

    He's no stranger to that kind of thing. Just the existence of the Morlocks is a game-changer, though, and would be even if they were limited to the half-dozen or so members I guess Claremont intended. The good news in this situation is that Claremont tends to grow whole forests out of seeds that drop in passing, so he will come back to it, but the bad news is that he often doesn't realize the impact of the seeds he's dropping at the time, and further that he gets easy distracted by other forests he's grown. I realize that saving Kitty's life makes time of the essence; this is a huge effin' deal, however, to introduce into the X-Men mythos (and larger Marvel Universe) simply to have the team head back to he mansion after a two-issue story.

    All of what you say — in your writeup and in the comments, likewise Matt — is spot-on. Leaving, say, John Proudstar or Sunfire alone to go his own way as a ranch hand or national superhero is one thing, but leaving the Morlocks alone this way is not reflective of Charles Xavier's mission at all. Plus, as we noted last week, if there are Morlocks here there are "Morlocks" everywhere — and we can't expect that they'll all head to New York, so Claremont & Smith have really implicitly exploded the mutant population.

    Caliban speaks for them all and declines the offer.

    I really want one little Morlock to pop up in the back, saying, "Um, I wouldn't mind a hot meal now and then."

    ReplyDelete

  19. @Matt: I guess it's just the hair

    Ain't that how most comic-book characters of the standard heroic variety are told apart? If only Maddie had popped up with that kind of hairstyle, the whole lookalike thing would've made more sense from the start, but instead Smith gave her a fairly distinct hairstyle — longish bob, parted in the middle — that's a little more unusual, in comic books at least, and certainly not one that Jean ever had. Even the panel of Maddie looking at the photo of Jean in this issue has me going, "How can you tell that's 'you'?!? She has totally different hair!"

    @Matt: If I recall correctly, he doesn't even have any dialogue in either part of this story

    He doesn't. But, y'know, good-looking people don't need to open their mouths. Which actually recalls the sort-of (okay, not even sort-of) contradiction in Callisto's designs on him — she, the leader of mutants shunned because they look different due to their mutations and/or, like in her case, are just ugly, feels that she deserves what she deems to be the most handsome man in the world, and she clips the wings that are his own mutant birthright to keep him there. I'm not saying that villains don't contradict themselves all the time, just that I'd have expected some dialogue exposing the hypocrisy.

    @Dan: Was he going ANYWHERE with this, or was this a rare instance of a plot that was supposed to be taken at face value?

    I don't know if it helps the larger issue of it being hard to swallow that Madelyne was just a normal person identical to Jean with no, um, prior history to the day Jean died, and/or that she turned out to be the so-called Goblin Queen, but I believe that the idea behind Claremont setting up the Phoenix fakeout with her and resolving it so quickly was exactly so that everyone (readers and future storytellers both) could get that out of the way, establishing a future for Madelyne & Scott without the whole Phoenix thing hanging over everything.

    @Dan: I think the more mature story would have had him, you know, meet someone else, not a creepy doppelganger.

    No argument there from me... I will add, though, that if you throw in the unspoken possibility that she really could've been Jean reincarnated in some way, it makes for a less creepy approach, in terms of the machinations of the universe (and the creative team) providing a modicum of, as Teebore says, a happy ending. I guess I'll also add that having him ride off into the sunset with Lee Forrester, the first ladyfriend he made after Jean's death, would've been too neat as well as likely uncool from a fan perspective, and Maddie's uncanny resemblance to Jean allowed everyone to face the whole spectre of Jean/Phoenix head-on, kind-of like how comic-book characters often literally have to fight their fears in Very Special Issues.

    @Teebore: Claremont has this whacky idea - and I have no idea how seriously he believes it but I've seen him mention it in several places - that everyone has someone who bears an uncanny resemblance to them somewhere in the world

    Are you to young to remember that guy in Sha Na Na who looked just like Billy Crystal?

    ReplyDelete

  20. @Teebore, @Matt — I keep forgetting to share this, but I thought of you when I read it: "The Cyclops Thing", a blogpost from Scott Summers fan and Dark Horse editor Rachel Edidin. She mentioned in a follow-up post and/or on Twitter that of course the Cyclops she likes isn't always there on the page, as different writers handle him differently, but that's the case throughout comics (and shared-world serial fiction in general); we only stay sane and reasonably happy by discriminating what's in our personal canon.

    ReplyDelete
  21. @Teebore - The next two-parter is brilliant. I am not a great Wolverine fan, but even I'm going to admit the Japan story is hands-down one of the book's top five all-time two-parters.

    Honestly, these next few stories -- the Wolverine mini, the Japan two-parter, and the immediate aftermath -- get me this close to being a Wolverine fanboy. This is the best the character ever was, as far as I'm concerned.

    But, despite the excellence of the Japan two-parter, I still enjoy the Morlock story much more. It is simply an excellent self-contained story that touches nicely on existing subplots while setting up new ones...

    Yes, yes -- The Japan story does all those things as well, and does them excellently. But neither the A plot nor the B plots there measure up the Morlocks story for me. The core group of Morlocks (Callisto, Caliban, Sunder, Masque) grow into some of my all-time favorite supporting characters and recurring villains. Mutant Massacre is wickedly enjoyable. And honestly, this story is the real climax to the evolution of Storm's character from pristine goddess to hardened warrior. The introduction of Punk Storm always gets the attention, but this is the real climax of that subplot -- and, frankly, it's one Claremont's best subplots. And it doesn't hurt that I could look at those Callisto-Storm duel panels all day long.

    I'll admit that I don't actually have a list of greatest two-parters written down -- but having thought about for a couple days now, I simply can't think of anything better than this one.

    ReplyDelete
  22. @Dr. Bitz: But those teases needed to lead to something, in my opinion.

    As we'll see, they *kind of* lead to something, even in Claremont's original intended story, but even then, not every tease can be explained, so your point still stands.

    Should I be happy if some dude who looks like me wins the lottery?

    It's kind of hard to explain, but I don't think Claremont meant it to be taken that literally within the context of the story. I think he saw it on a more metatextual level, for us looking in.

    But maybe I'm just projecting, because yeah, the idea that when someone that happens to look like you does good makes you good is patently ridiculous, and I'd like to think Claremont realizes that. But maybe not...

    @Blam: I really like the sense of place that Smith gives us in that chalet in "Reindeer Falls"

    Me too. Nicely said.

    You gave us the "what" and it's so dry compared to the "how". It's such a nice scene.

    It really is. Both their scenes are. And if you think my summary was necessarily dry, you should read the one in the Marvel Index. ;)

    While I love the domestic/romantic sequences, I'm aware that I love them exactly because they're taking place in a superhero comic.

    Well said once more.

    Even the latter-day, black-&-white run of Zot!, one of my favorite things in comics ever

    I have a really nice paperback compendium of those issues which came out a few years ago that I really need to get around to reading someday...

    I think Mystique actually believes that Rogue has been kidnapped, by the way, and that the shot of Rogue simply on a bus out of town is meant to be a revelation to readers that belies that assumption.

    Huh. I don't think I've ever read it that way, but you're totally right, especially when you consider Mystique's next appearance involves her attacking the X-Men believing they are holding Rogue against her will (which I just always read as Mystique being unwilling to let her daughter go, but makes more sense now...).

    ReplyDelete
  23. @Blam: Is she nervous because she's making the commitment to stay with him in the name of saving her friends or is she going against her nature and lying to Caliban in the name of saving her friends?

    I've always read the stutter as being brought on by her sick condition, as you suggested, but that could just be because I'm so indoctrinated to the idea of Kitty being perfect that I'm unable to believe Kitty capable of doing something so duplicitous to someone as trusting and naive as Caliban. :)

    man, she'd be way too young to be Nightcrawler's mom or dad

    Good point.

    The first time I saw it, I just thought it was slightly racy for the time in terms of the backlighting showing Madelyne's figure through her gown.

    I too noted the potential raciness of it for the era, even while its also a visual Phoenix reference. A lot of it definitely comes from Smith, but there's a certain sexiness to Maddie in these early appearances that shines through some of the more reserved/dated clothes she's wearing (like the dress in this issue).

    but the bad news is that he often doesn't realize the impact of the seeds he's dropping at the time, and further that he gets easy distracted by other forests he's grown.

    That's a wonderful representation of one of Claremont's biggest flaws.

    I believe that the idea behind Claremont setting up the Phoenix fakeout with her and resolving it so quickly was exactly so that everyone ... could get that out of the way, establishing a future for Madelyne & Scott without the whole Phoenix thing hanging over everything.

    That's been my understanding as well.

    Are you to young to remember that guy in Sha Na Na who looked just like Billy Crystal?

    I'll plead the fifth on that one, though I'll grant that I'm aware of the resemblance. :)

    There certainly ARE cases of one person bearing an uncanny resemblance to the other, but I question the idea that EVERYONE has a near-doppelganger floating around in the world.

    ReplyDelete
  24. @Blam: I keep forgetting to share this, but I thought of you when I read it

    I like it! She really does cut to the core of the appeal of the character. Thanks.

    @Michael. Honestly, these next few stories ... get me this close to being a Wolverine fanboy.

    Haha! I agree with you there; I've often thought the same thing.

    The introduction of Punk Storm always gets the attention, but this is the real climax of that subplot

    Agreed there as well.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Even taking into account the "vagaries of Marvel Time", if Claremont was claiming Mystique was born in 1953 this would scrap any suggestions she was Kurt's parent.

    That is, unless later tales of her operating earlier in time were hinting she was an agent of Landau, Luckman and Lake (such as 1936 in X-Men: True Friends where Logan is likewise shown with his adamantium claws before the Weapon X experiment).

    ReplyDelete
  26. @Nathan: That is, unless later tales of her operating earlier in time were hinting she was an agent of Landau, Luckman and Lake

    Yeah, if she spent some time traveling through...time, that could definitely explain the discrepancy in her birth year.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Hi, guys! Been reading these reviews for a little while and thought I'd comment on something that puzzled you all about this issue. When Destiny speaks of an entity that is operating on fundamental levels of space and time, she is referring to the Shadow King. This is because the Shadow King was controlling Mastermind during this time, as well as during the Dark Phoenix Saga. This is why Mastermind is doing things in both stories that seem beyond both him and the "mind tap" device Emma had given him. The psychic shield that prevents Proteus from taking over Wyngarde's body during that story; Wyngarde somehow pulling Cyclops into the astral plane and nearly killing him; and now during UNCANNY X-MEN #169-175, we have other incidents.

    ReplyDelete
  28. In regards to the Phoenix Saga, the behind-the-scenes incidents involving the Shadow King remain that way, with no outright mentioning of it in any of the stories themselves. But it's different with #169-175. The Shadow King manipulated Mastermind into invading Mystique's dreams as a part of his/their revenge against her for going against the Hellfire Club during the arms deal with Peter Coelho in (the later published) MS. MARVEL #25. The Shadow King manipulated Rogue into leaving her loved ones and joining the X-Men because he wanted her to be his sleeper agent. He wanted her to absorb and "record" as many powers of as many heroes and villains as she could so he would make the perfect host body. To be his Shadow Queen. The Shadow King also subtly influenced Professor X into accepting Rogue in his school. All this was revealed in X-TREME X-MEN ANNUAL 2001, many years after Claremont's original plans, but he finally wrote the story that was meant for UNCANNY X-MEN #300 in this annual, albeit in a condensed version. This annual also revealed that the Shadow King was manipulating Pierce during his appearances towards the end of Claremont's run, as well as revealing the Shadow King's plans for Gateway and Dreamtime.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I love Jason's stuff but I don't give too much credit to the idea that the X-Men's knowledge of the existence of the Morlocks' plight makes them unethical assholes for a myriad of reasons. Suffice it to say, to me it ranks up there with the hollow hero's "kill or be killed" dilemma. If Storm didn't go for the kill here the X-Men would probably all be sexually assaulted and/or murdered or worse, including Kitty, and the Morlocks would also continue to terrorize other innocents.

    Except for Caliban, who despite his glimmers of humanity still has trouble realizing that kidnapping and forcing himself onto teenagers is a problem, none of the Morlocks fail to exhibit severely psychotic, antisocial behavior. We're not talking about averge people here, we're talking about violent psychopaths. Could the X-Men have done more? Of course. But taking them in? Suicidal and beyond stupid. Kindergarten ethics.

    "We want to be ethical so welcome your new roomies, New Mutants, hope you survive the experience!"

    The good of the many does not always outweigh the good of the few. (Sorry, Mr. Spock.) The mutants at the mansion living in domestic comfort but always thanklessly risking their lives to save the world is a better good.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Also, Andrew: yeahbutwhat?

    I don't remember that. I probably filed it away in the same non-head canon mind folder I do most later X-Men stories. I'll check out that X-Treme annual, though. (Still cringe at that title, by the way.)

    ReplyDelete

Comment. Please. Love it? Hate it? Am mildly indifferent to it? Let us know!