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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #172

"Scarlet in Glory"
August 1983

In a Nutshell 
The X-Men go to Japan for Wolverine's wedding. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Paul Smith 
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter


Plot
The X-Men, including their newest member, Rogue, arrive in Japan to celebrate Wolverine's upcoming wedding. Wolverine is reluctant to welcome Rogue, but Mariko insists she is a guest and offers her the same hospitality as the rest of the X-Men. Outside, Silver Samurai is watching the X-Men, hoping to strike while the X-Men are off guard, when he is attacked by Yukio. Sensing the fight, Wolverine has Nightcrawler teleport him into the fray. Wolverine fights off Silver Samurai while Storm saves Yukio from a fall. As the X-Men discuss Silver Samurai's recent attack on the New Mutants and his possible connection to Shingen Yashida's criminal empire, Viper sneaks into the apartment and poisons the X-Men's tea just as Mariko leaves for a secret meeting. Wolverine senses the poison in time to warn Storm, but not before the rest of the X-Men succumb to it.


In Alaska, a worried Scott goes through Madelyne's personnel file at his grandparents airline. His brother Alex insists he needs to let it go, but Scott is too obsessed with the possibility of a connection between Madelyne and Phoenix. In a warehouse in Japan, Mariko meets with Silver Samurai and Nabatone Yokuse, leader of the Yakuza. But when Silver Samurai attacks Mariko, she reveals herself as Yukio in disguise. Outside, Viper attempts to slay Mariko in her car, but Storm knocks out the villain first. Attempting to help Yukio in her fight, Storm summons lightening, but quickly loses control of it, igniting explosives within the warehouse. Yukio manages to throw Storm clear of the blast. The two women watch as a Phoenix firebird appears over the warehouse, as a pleased Nabatone Yokuse watches from the shadows. At a nearby hospital, Wolverine leaves Mariko with the X-Men as he heads out in search of Silver Samurai, reluctantly allowing a recovered Rogue to come along.

Firsts and Other Notables
Viper and Silver Samurai, fresh off their appearances in New Mutants #5 and #6, follow the X-Men to Japan. New Mutants #6 established that Silver Samurai was Shingen's son and promised heir; here we learn he is Mariko's half-brother, and intends to fight her claim to Shingen's inheritance.

A footnote this issue points the readers to New Mutants #5-7, and reveals that, in the wake of the explosion at the end of New Mutants #6, the X-Men believe Karma is dead.


Yukio, Wolverine's would-be lover from his limited series, pops up, and introduces Storm to her devil-may-care, live-life-in-the-moment philosophy, an outlook which Storm finds appealing, marking the beginning of the final step in the recent transformation of Storm's character. 


Nabatone Yakuse, the Yakuza leader attempting to officiate the dispute between Mariko and Silver Samurai, will eventually be revealed as Mastermind in disguise, and the Phoenix firebird which Storm observes over the exploded warehouse is caused by him as well, another part of his unfolding (and as of yet still unknown to the readers) plan to convince the X-Men Phoenix has returned.


A Work in Progress
Wolverine, absent from the last several issues, meets Lockheed for the first time in this issue, and also learns about Rogue joining the team. Wolverine uses a similar rationale for Rogue's joining the team to the one Professor X used last issue; he shouldn't be surprised that any outfit that would have him would take in someone like Rogue.


The de-aging of Rogue continues, as Wolverine refers to her as a "kid".  

Mariko continues to worry about the disgrace her father has brought to their family, and is determined to set things right on her own, without Wolverine's help.


There's a nice moment that underscores the differences between Wolverine and Kitty, in which Kitty suggests the X-Men question Shingen now that Wolverine has "handled" him.


Wolverine and Storm also share a great scene together, discussing their respective recent changes.


Storm is worried about the recent difficulties she's been having controlling her power.


We learn that not only did Madelyne Pryor survive a plane crash on the same day Jean Grey died, but that the crash occurred at the same moment of Jean's death. 


Rogue says that the poison which Viper used on the X-Men didn't have the same effect on her because she's half alien; while quasi-true (Ms. Marvel's original powers derived from her genetics being infused with alien Kree DNA), a more accurate explanation would simply be that the invulnerability she stole from Ms. Marvel protected her. 


I Love the 80s
I'm not entirely sure how Yukio knows that particular piece of exposition. 


Claremontisms
Wolverine has apparently taken to calling Mariko "M'iko". 

The Best There is at What He Does 
Wolverine's healing factor is able to counteract the poison enough so that even though he's sick, he's still on his feet.

Bullpen Bulletins
Jim Shooter unveils new corner cover box designs for Marvel's newsstand, direct market and Epic comics. 


It's in the Mail
The letters page returns, with the conceit that all the letters are being answered by Kitty Pryde, a gimmick the book will use occasionally, featuring other characters, in the months ahead.


One of the letters includes this one from Jim Shooter, giving the team a hard time about the lack of a letters page in recent issues, while also somewhat creepily calling himself a pervert...


Teebore's Take
Though published several months after its conclusion, this issue picks up right where the Wolverine limited series left off, an astonishing bit of continuity management that simply does not appear very often in today's comics. It also follows up on threads from the last few issue (the induction of Rogue to the team, the still-unrevealed Mastermind plot), and previous issues of New Mutants (where Silver Samurai and Viper decided to launch their attack on Wolverine and the X-Men). Yet if you were to hand this issue to someone cold turkey, it would still be an engaging, enjoyable read. In that regard, this is something of the quintessential Claremont comic, seemingly-effortlessly drawing on past continuity to add depth to the story while still presenting the material in such a way that knowledge of that continuity only deepens appreciation for the story rather than hindering it.

At the same time, it also features strong characterization (such as the exchange between Wolverine and Kitty, or Storm and Wolverine's discussion of their recent changes) and dynamic art (it goes without saying that Smith knocks it out of the park once again, both in terms of his action choreography and the quieter, character driven moments, but there's tons of great artistic touches throughout, such as the subtle hints of the truth when Yukio is disguised as Mariko, or the glee expressed by Mastermind-as-Nabatone when he recognizes the ruse). There are other stories which are more significant to the ongoing narrative of X-Men and more groundbreaking in what they bring to superhero comics, but this issue and the next represent one of my all time favorite X-Men stories, featuring work from two creators at the top of their game. This two- parter is simply, to steal a phrase, really, really, really...good.

Next Issue
In New Mutants #7, it gets even more 80s as we trade in Team America for a Mr. T pastiche, and then Uncanny X-Men #173 concludes the X-Men's adventure in Japan by getting Wolverine to the altar.

25 comments:

  1. This issue up through 175 are all really great.

    Claremont always claims he meant for Madelyne Prior to be the story device by which Scott could retire from the X-Men and live out a normal life. Isn't he kind of sabotaging all of that off the bat with all the Phoenix tie-ins already? I don't think comics readers would have been really satisfied if he introduced the plane crash mystery and then just left it as an odd coincidence, which I think was his original intent.

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  2. I feel like I'm gushing too much, but there's barely anything bad to be said about the Claremont-Smith run (except for the stuff about Madelyne). It's almost all highs, with very few lows (except for Storm's mohawk). And of course, this two-parter is another high (except for the stuff about Madelyne and Storm's mohawk).

    "A footnote this issue points the readers to New Mutants #5-7, and reveals that, in the wake of the explosion at the end of New Mutants #6, the X-Men believe Karma is dead."

    Huh, I guess I haven't read this issue in some time, because I forgot that the recent altercation with the New Mutants was even mentioned here.

    "...he shouldn't be surprised that any outfit that would have him would take in someone like Rogue."

    But sadly, he doesn't use the term, "turkey outfit". I miss 70's Wolverine!

    "We learn that not only did Madelyne Pryor survive a plane crash on the same day Jean Grey died, but that the crash occurred at the same moment of Jean's death."

    And again, for anyone who may have forgotten, this is meant to be a complete coincidence with no payoff whatsoever upcoming!!!

    There is such a thing as a red herring, and then there's jerking your readers around by setting up false expectations that no rational person would ever expect to see unfulfilled.

    That said, all of this ridiculous set-up did make the ret-con during "Inferno" a little easier to swallow. But still.

    "Rogue says that the poison which Viper used on the X-Men didn't have the same effect on her because she's half alien..."

    The thing that gets me about this is that there's no footnote or anything explaining what she's talking about. A brand new reader would take the statement at face value!

    "Wolverine's healing factor is able to counteract the poison enough so that even though he's sick, he's still on his feet."

    Another glaring difference between the Wolverine of today and the Wolverine of yesteryear... I assume that normal poisons now would have little to no effect on Wolverine whatsoever, while in this story, he's still clearly affected by the stuff; I think the next issue makes clear (if this one doesn't) that he's way out of it as he and Rogue struggle to find an antidote for the rest of the team.

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  3. @Matt
    The thing that gets me about this is that there's no footnote or anything explaining what she's talking about. A brand new reader would take the statement at face value!


    Could it be that Rogue was actually intended to be half alien at this time? There really isn't anything else to suggest it, but she was more or less a blank slate at this point. Her odd features (which, as mentioned, were already being toned down) could suggest it. She almost looked like a pixie or something in her early appearances. Or maybe just an old broad.

    BTW, next issue is one of my favorites. Can't wait for the review!

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  4. @Jeff: Isn't he kind of sabotaging all of that off the bat with all the Phoenix tie-ins already?

    The Phoenix tie-ins are, for the most part, resolved by issue #175, when it's revealed that Mastermind is behind them all.

    The problem is the stuff like Madelyne being in a plane crash the same day Jean dies, for which it's not possible for Mastermind to have faked and which goes unexplained (aside from "coincidence!") until the "Inferno" retcons.

    So in the end, Claremont is basically juggling two mysteries ("what's with Madelyne" and "is Phoenix back") that are loosely connected, but when one gets resolved, the resolution can't quite extend to the other.

    @Matt: I feel like I'm gushing too much, but there's barely anything bad to be said about the Claremont-Smith run

    I know how you feel. I'm seriously struggling to come up with clever ways to say "this is really good. I love it".

    That said, all of this ridiculous set-up did make the ret-con during "Inferno" a little easier to swallow. But still.

    For as much as "Inferno" is a retcon, and wasn't what Claremont intended, it's almost uncanny (pun intended) how well the retcon fits. If you didn't know any better, you could easily assume it was Claremont's plan all along.

    I think the next issue makes clear (if this one doesn't) that he's way out of it as he and Rogue struggle to find an antidote for the rest of the team.

    It does, and even Rogue gets taken out by pretty conventional means (Viper's ray gun IMS) and needs a couple issues to recover, which is an indication how much her powers have changed.

    @Dan: Could it be that Rogue was actually intended to be half alien at this time?

    Huh. I'd never really considered that before, but you're right; Claremont could very well have intended for Rogue to be half-alien at this point, either intentionally (in which case he dropped that idea), or because he hadn't really given her background much thought yet and came up with the alien thing on the fly (which would be very Claremontian).

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  5. The very concept of having Cyclops - or any other popular hero character - retiring and having a normal life - is that it is inevitable that the character will come back. So why try to write out any character that way?

    Having the character "find happiness" or "take a well deserved break" is perfectly find. But "retire"? It's no wonder it all horribly backfired.

    The "exact duplicate" angle is such a bad soap opera, but Claremont at worse indulges in that. He needs a strong collaborator to stop those tendencies.

    If Claremont had simply introduced another character and avoided such a trite story, Cyclops would have done quite well even if Jean Grey had been brought back. But falling in love with someone just because she looks like your dead girlfriend has so many problems with it, that he can't come out of it looking good.
    - CD

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  6. @Anonymous
    The very concept of having Cyclops - or any other popular hero character - retiring and having a normal life - is that it is inevitable that the character will come back. So why try to write out any character that way?


    I've ranted about the Madelyne Pryor story too much already; I agree that it was just a dumb idea.

    That said, I think we have to remember what things were like when these stories were written. Now, sure, there's no way a character like Cyclops wouldn't be expected to return. If death is guaranteed to be temporary in today's comics, retirement probably wouldn't fare much better. But this was during a time when the canvas a relatively blank, or at least far emptier than today. These kinds of things weren't cliches, and new ground was being broken in this series all the time. Iceman and Angel were written out more or less successfully; they made guest appearances and eventually did some other team stuff, but for the most part didn't do squat before X-Factor. The best part? Claremont didn't even have to kill them! I think this sort of thing was what he probably had in mind for Cyclops. Something like a reserve member, someone who would come back if shit really hit the fan, not necessarily someone who would never be seen again. Wolverine and other characters were well into their own by this point, so I think it could have worked.

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  7. I know it's Claremont's story that Madelyne was always just a look-a-like, but I can't help but wonder if some of these coincidences weren't meant to be emergency exits in case the status quo was changed down the road.

    I'm admittedly not nearly the Paul Smith fan you and Matt seem to be, but this is a great arc. Strange that this is the X-Men's first visit as a team to Japan since 118-119 (4 years ago for fans at the time), considering how important it is for Wolverine's development. I guess they've been busy.

    "The very concept of having Cyclops - or any other popular hero character - retiring and having a normal life - is that it is inevitable that the character will come back. So why try to write out any character that way?"

    Because 1) Cyclops wasn't really a "popular character" at the time, and 2) it was supposed to be real character growth that made room for newer, (better) characters. We're not talking about Spider-Man retiring and upsetting Marvel's entire publishing schedule. Cyclops was completely replaceable, to the point that he gets replaced; he's not an active member of the X-Men again until the 90's! Storm steals all his "conflicted leader" thought bubbles while Havok has all the "awesome power..." monologues without being such a stick in the mud. Banshee had somewhat similarly "retired" into being a supporting character, and he "stays retired" until the Silvestri/Jim Lee days.

    I can't stand the attitude that a writer shouldn't even try to make real change because inevitably someone else will change it back. That's how you get stuff like DC's incredibly milquetoast relaunch.

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  8. Is that how you spell milquetoast? Huh...you learn something every day!

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  9. I can see both sides of the Cyclops retirement angle. Granted, he's my favorite X-Man, so I would've preferred that he not retire -- but Claremont was beginning to stray pretty far from my preferred X-Men format at this time anyway, so it was probably for the best that he was written out.

    Claremont's number one reason for doing a lot of the stuff he did (or didn't do) as his run progressed was frequently, "been there, done that." He retired Cyclops because the character had been around since the 60's, and he felt he'd had a good run and it was time to turn the spotlight on newer characters. Later on, he objected to a lot of the stuff Jim Lee and Bob Harras wanted to do because he had done those things already himself.

    The thing is, speaking strictly in the case of serialized fiction, I can't help feeling that when a writer doesn't want to go back to the old, "evergreen" tropes because he's already done them -- in some cases multiple times -- that is a sign that maybe the writer should move on. As a reader, I want to see the X-Men go to the Savage Land every few years. I want to see them fight Sentinels every few years. I want Magneto to stay a bad guy so they can fight him every few years, too! There's room for new things in between all that, but there are certain "bits", certain conflicts and locales and status quos that are a part of the mythos and should be regularly revisited.

    And yes, I realize that this is a little hypocritcal, since the iteration of the X-Men I love the most, the "All-New, All-Different" group, would not have existed in the first place if the status quo had been maintained.

    All that said, and aside from the fact that, as I said, he is my favorite X-Man, I have no real problem with Cyclops retiring under the assumption that this is a comic book and what we're seeing is -- to use a phrase John Byrne frequently employs -- the "illusion of change". The problem is, Claremont seemed to honestly believe that in the increasaingly corporate-controlled world of comics, he had sole custody of the characters and he could do something as bold as permenantly write out the team leader, to only return whenever he felt like using him. As we see a couple of years later, he was wrong. That sort of thing might have worked in the 70's, when Claremont came up among a close-knit group of writer-editors who all controlled their titles quite securely, but by the time Shooter was in charge, that sort of behavior just wouldn't fly anymore.

    So marry Cyclops off and retire him. Send Reed and Sue Richards to live as civilians in Connecticut and try to raise their son in peace. Cure the Thing. Give Spider-Man a black costume. Have Jim Rhodes take over as Iron Man. Give Bruce Banner's intelligence to the Hulk. These are all perfectly valid storylines for exploring new directions, but they all should be done with the assumption -- and hopefully the intention -- that everything will be restored to normal in a few months, or a year, or even two years.

    I should add that I actually like some of the above-mentioned changes, too. Peter David's "Smart" Hulk is the only version of the character that I enjoy reading solo. Heck, married Spider-Man, which I didn't mention, is practically the status quo I grew up with (he was single when I was a kid, but married by the time I started reading regularly), and even though I had no problem with married Spidey, and I enjoyed the stories in their own way just as much as I did the ones where he was single, I wouldn't have wanted him to stay that way. Every generation deserves to read new stories featuring the classic characters, costumes, and status quos.

    Anyway, that's my admittedly conflicted stance on the subject.

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  10. Dobson -- "Because 1) Cyclops wasn't really a "popular character" at the time, and 2) it was supposed to be real character growth that made room for newer, (better) characters. ... Cyclops was completely replaceable..."

    For the record, and I'm sure this will come as no surprise, I cannot stress how much I disagree with these words!

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  11. "Jim Shooter unveils new corner cover box designs for Marvel's newsstand, direct market and Epic comics."

    I totally forgot to comment on this previously. This was one of the lamest trade dress designs Marvel ever had. I love corner boxes, but the actual Marvel logo just looks so plain and boring. Someone must've realized this, because a few years later they italicized it. But even that couldn't do much for this awful logo.

    Even though I barely read any comics with it directly off the rack, the "Marvel Comics Group" banner across the top is probably my favorite Marvel trade dress. I understand the logic behind getting rid of it as detailed by Shooter in this column, since it does provide a bit more room for cover art, but that doesn't change the fact that I love the design.

    I have a great fondness, mostly born from nostalgia, of the "Marvel Comics" logo from the 90's, but I particularly like the variant from the late 90's, where it was used as the corner box.

    The little red and white one they use these days is pretty nice too, though a little too simple. I think it would look better attached to a corner box (as it did for Claremont's X-Men Forever series).

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  12. Finally, I can delurk!

    Teebore, I found this blog after a comment you left on Colin Smith's blog. (Anyone who hasn't visited toobusythinkingboutcomics.blogspot.com is advised to do so, incidentally) I'm glad I caught up with X-Aminations before the end of the Paul Smith run. It's one of the best eras of Uncanny X-Men, and I wish Smith had stayed on longer.

    I wonder if Smith had any input on the plot, or of he had a bit of latitude with the layouts. His issues zip along while leaving plenty of space for character work and downtime. I've read most of his run in Essentials, and there's a noticeable difference in pacing when the art switches from Cockrum to Smith. The slickness of Smith's figures may have something to do with it, but the issues that would later be collected in From the Ashes feel more kinetic.

    Claremont got mired down in the Brood stories (although there was plenty of good stuff there), and I think he spent way too much time on certain themes and characters in later runs (as we'll see in the coming months; again, plenty of good stuff in later issues, despite the rough patches). The Smith issues, however, don't linger too long on any one character or element, look fantastic, and feature some of Claremont's best work. Plus, who doesn't love Storm with a mohawk?

    - Mike Loughlin

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  13. I'm a big opponent of that whole "illusion of change" nonsense, as both a reader and a writer, I hate it. Beyond that, as you point out, without real, actual change, the X-Men are a curiosity and a failure: a third-rate Kirby creation (behind Daredevil and Thor, maybe tied with Dr. Strange) that get the occasional shot at an on-going but never catch on, occasionally showing up to fight other teams. Real change is what re-vitalized the franchise, creating a whole niche out of the Marvel Universe out of spare parts from Ka-Zar and other detritus while creating dozens of new and lasting ideas that still resonate 35 years later. Granted, the particular change we're talking about is a bit later, where editorial is suddenly a bit more protective than when Thunderbird, Jean Grey, or Banshee were killed/written out, but the only difference is that Cyclops doesn't get killed/de-powered, he just grows up.

    I get the grim economic realities that make Marvel and DC talk about the "illusion" of change; it's what sells pajamas. But it doesn't tend to produce comics I particularly want to read. I just don't understand actually wanting books where the reader gets that things don't change. Even if Byrne talks about it, back when he was actually relevant, he was changing the status quo, by marrying off Johnny Storm or turning Scarlet Witch evil.

    "Every generation deserves to read new stories featuring the classic characters, costumes, and status quos."

    I don't understand this, either. If you're just talking about kids books, fine, but what generation wants to read something that feels dated? Spider-Man's the exception because of his every-teen status and steady stream of media re-boots, but I don't see why that's a priority.

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  15. Since it's relevant and I read it this week, here's a young Alan Moore talking about Stan Lee's influence. It's an... interesting read, although Moore gets a bit too precious and some of his logic isn't strong. But he does make some good points:

    http://geektyrant.com/news/2012/9/25/alan-moores-lost-stan-lee-essay.html

    Talking about change in the early Marvel Universe:

    "No comic book was allowed to remain static for long. Iron Man traded in his gunmetal-grey juggernaut of a costume for the sleek red and gold affair that was gradually turned into the costume we know today. The Hulk left the Avengers, never to return. ... You can say what you like about the early Marvel universe, but it sure as hell wasn’t boring."

    The mind-expanding 60's creates the Marvel Universe as we know it:

    "The Fantastic Four encountered, in swift succession, the stunning planet-eater known as Galactus, the soulful and simonized Silver Surfer, the Black Panther’s technological utopia set in the heart of the African jungles, the Inhumans, the Watcher and a vast plethora of equally brain-numbing individuals."

    Pointing out how stagnation set in by the 70's:

    "The worst thing was that everything had ground to a halt. The books had stopped developing. If you take a look at a current Spider-Man comic, you’ll find that he’s maybe twenty years old, he worries a lot about whats right and what’s wrong, and he has a lot of trouble with his girlfriends.

    Do you know what Spider-Man was doing fifteen years ago? Well, he was about nineteen years old, he worried a lot about what was right and what was wrong and he had a lot of trouble with his girlfriends."

    Pointing out the hypocrisy of the "illusion of change" argument:

    "If readers are that averse to change then how come Marvel ever got to be so popular in the first place, back when constant change and innovation was the order of the day? Frankly, it beats it beats the hell out of me."

    Again, Moore is talking about the Marvel of the 60's here, but it holds equally true for the X-Men of the 70's, especially since it was only through drastic change that they found any success in the first place.

    I don't agree with all the points Moore makes about change=sales, it is true for the X-Men that even as they surpass a book like Spider-Man in sales. And while Spider-Man was a home run idea almost from the start, a book like the X-Men needed Claremont to come in and basically up-end everything that wasn't nailed down to find what it was that made the X-Men special.

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  16. @CD: If Claremont had simply introduced another character and avoided such a trite story, Cyclops would have done quite well even if Jean Grey had been brought back.

    Yeah, as I've said before, I think the idea of giving Cyclops the chance to ride off into the sunset (however briefly) would have worked better (and, as you say, survived the Jean return) if Claremont had avoided all the exact duplicate/Phoenix tease stuff.

    @Dan: Something like a reserve member, someone who would come back if shit really hit the fan, not necessarily someone who would never be seen again.

    That's always been my take on how Claremont planned to use Cyclops. He pops up occasionally throughout Romita Jr.'s run, but he never really becomes a featured player again until after Claremont leaves the book.

    @Matt: For the record, and I'm sure this will come as no surprise, I cannot stress how much I disagree with these words!

    Ditto. Though my love of Cyclops should come as no surprise to anyone at this point. :)

    I have a great fondness, mostly born from nostalgia, of the "Marvel Comics" logo from the 90's

    I do as well, though I do have a certain nostalgic fondness for the one Shooter is unveiling here as well.

    @Mike: Finally, I can delurk!

    Welcome to the party! I won't say "hope you survive the experience" because that would be a little too twee. ;)

    Anyone who hasn't visited toobusythinkingboutcomics.blogspot.com is advised to do so, incidentally

    Agreed. It's fun blog. I need to spend some time there seriously digging into it.

    I wonder if Smith had any input on the plot, or of he had a bit of latitude with the layouts.

    I know Claremont continues to speak fondly of Smith as a collaborator, so I wouldn't be surprised if he did work with him on the plots. Smith certainly seems to have had a pretty big say on the layouts, even beyond the increased input all artists had thanks to the Marvel Method.

    Plus, who doesn't love Storm with a mohawk?

    Our very own Matt, for one. But Mohawk Storm remains *my* favorite iteration of the character. :)

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  17. @Matt, Dobson re: "illusion of change"

    Like Matt, I'm conflicted. On the one hand, as both a writer and a reader, I understand and appreciate the importance of change and honest character growth.

    On the other hand, ongoing superhero comics are such a unique genre that they almost need to play by different rules, because the goal isn't to develop characters and tell a finite story, but to keep telling stories featuring the same characters indefinitely.

    And as a fan, I want to always be able to read Spider-Man or Batman or X-Men stories. If Batman is allowed to get old, experience significant personal growth, and become a different person, while dramatically satisfying, then he's not Batman anymore. And while I could just say "I'm fine if he changes at a rate consistent with my life", that's not really fair to some current twelve year old who won't get to experience "classic" face-bashing Batman taking on the Joker because the writer has been allowed to develop Batman past that point.

    So that's where for me (and, I think, Matt), the "illusion of change" comes in. It allows longtime readers to experience existing characters in a new way, but it ensures nothing changes too dramatically (or for too long) so that new readers just encountering the characters for the first time will still be able to enjoy them for what makes them great.

    Or, to use the example of Marvel in the 60s, the reason Marvel, after becoming an explosive house of ideas in the 60s, suddenly started reigning things in and grew more stagnant in the 70s, is because they realized that if they kept burning through ideas at the rate they were going, they'd have to stop publishing stories featuring those characters at some point in their lifetimes.

    If Spider-Man had graduated college as quickly as he did high school, in the foreseeable future, Marvel would have a Peter Parker who was too old to believably be Spider-Man, so they had to slow things down.

    Now of course, Marvel's primary concern in doing so was to make sure they could keep their business running and churning out profit, but even as a reader, it's a course of action I can accept because it means there will be Spider-Man stories (or Batman, or whatever) for as long as I live, and for generations to come.

    The tradeoff for that longevity is a lack of real dramatic change, but I reconcile myself with the fact that I can get that in other places, with other characters in other media, and even in some non DC & Marvel comics thanks to characters in self-contained, intentionally-limited series.

    Now, if you wanted to argue that Marvel and DC should publish a range of titles, some featuring an "evergreen" version of the character for young and/or new readers, and a version of the character that is allowed to age/change/grow as a character, eventually reaching a point where the character is retired in favor of another or the growth is started over for a new generation, I would wholeheartedly endorse that approach. One of my biggest beefs with "One More Day" and the retcon of the Spider-Man marriage was why, in a publishing world in which Spider-Man appears in countless titles aimed at different demographics, they ALL had to feature a single Spider-Man, and why we couldn't have at least one where Spider-Man was allowed some level of personal growth.

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  18. On the other hand, ongoing superhero comics are such a unique genre that they almost need to play by different rules, because the goal isn't to develop characters and tell a finite story, but to keep telling stories featuring the same characters indefinitely.


    That's the grim economic realities part, but it doesn't really have to be that way. In fact, by choosing to be this way, it almost can't help but make the stories worse, because there's no narrative tension. Lee and co. were great at creating narrative tension through character development and interaction rather than wins and losses, but once that's gone, what's left? (Stagnation has also never had a positive effect on sales, ever.)

    I mean I don't ever read Batman comics, but I don't see any reason Batman isn't allowed to get old or die (the only two times I ever cared about the core Batman books centered around his 'retirement' and then his death, and based on sales spikes, I certainly wasn't the only one). The idea of preserving a popular character in amber might've made sense in 1955, when DC was doing it with diminishing returns already, but at this point the media landscape is so different there's no reason for it. If I want to watch Batman, there's several cartoons, animated films, feature films, etc., all dedicated to the character of Batman. So it's not as if he's going away. And if he does, there's another version coming in the next few years, it's just unlikely to appear as a comic.

    And that's the best case for a character that's been a near constant success for years. Worst case, your "universe" becomes filled with lackluster clutter that's never been commercially successful or dramatically compelling. Which is why DC feels the need to hit "reset" on everything every generation even without "real change" in the interim.

    It just doesn't make any sense to me how something that hurts the form and the industry is seen by some as an integral component of the medium. It's conservative cashing in on stuff that's already worked to avoid the arduous process of having new ideas or telling new stories.

    But more then that, why would one medium just get a pass on following narrative structure when it comes to telling stories? I mean I guess I don't expect the same requirements from Garfield every week, but I don't think it's too much to ask from the form for it to be better than Garfield, especially since it's already proved itself capable of more. I mean, the big two have already scared off most of their audience. Is it really so crazy that a way to bring them back would be to tell the best stories they could?

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  19. Wow, I was all set to type up my rebuttal to Dobson, but Teebore beat me to it, and articulated pretty much exactly how I feel better than I could have. Thanks!

    I learned a long time ago that I'm not going to change anyone's mind on this subject, nor will someone else change mine, so I'm happy to just agree to disagree.

    I'll just try to sum up my opinion by saying that I believe there are certain perenially iconic versions of these characters, which should always be accessible for anyone to discover them -- even if that means that it costs me some bit of character development or a status quo that I actually liked when I was younger!

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  20. I appreciate that I'm not going to change your mind, but these iconic characters are accessible. If I want to introduce someone to the X-Men, there's Wolverine and the X-Men, or X-Men: Evolution, or X-Men, the animated series, or X-Men, 1, 2, and First Class, or X-Men Legends, etc. The idea of preserving something "iconic" for accessibility assumes that people are going to actually want to read it, and when there's no story, just 30 years of re-shuffling, that becomes a pretty hard sell.

    I mean Watchmen is absolutely the product of late Cold War tension, absolutely a cultural artifact that is as just as dated as its technical style. But it still matters because it's a good story.

    I will take the good story over the underoos 100% of the time.

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  21. I'll add my comments on the other comments soon. For now here are some belated (which is becoming too much a pattern) thoughts on the issue at hand.

    At the risk of repeating myself, since I've said it a couple of times in recent weeks, #172 — on the heels of the awesome Wolverine mini and God Loves, Man Kills — got me back into X-Men definitively after increasingly sporadic sampling post-#137. I picked up the most recent back issues first, loving the Paul Smith / Bob Wiacek art, then not-so-slowly filled in the whole 2nd Cockrum run. It's funny in retrospect that I really got my X-Men geek on with such intensity, somewhat belatedly despite enjoying what I read of the John Byrne run at the time, only to have it flame out a couple of years later — partly because, I guess, it was a case of seeing how the mighty had fallen so hard, so quickly in my estimation come the disappointing art of JR Jr. and what I recall as the increasingly unappealing direction Claremont took at the same time.

    But I digress. 8^)

    I just realized that I haven't read this issue since I studied Japanese. Lots of little things are jumping out at me — Yukio wouldn't tell Ororo "Sayonara" in this context, for instance, as it's a more permanent goodbye.

    "Gotcha!" becomes Yukio's thing, doesn't it?

    I wonder if Smith carried over the horizontal panels and white space intentionally from Miller's art on Wolverine.

    For some reason this only struck me now, but reading these issues so relatively close together it feels like I should be at least suspecting that these changes to Storm's powers and personality are due to her rebirth in space, even though I recall her feeling unease prior to that.

    Kitty says in the lettercolumn, "Officially I'm Aerial..." No, Kitty, Lockheed is aerial; you're Ariel. You almost wonder who put that together; Claremont pretty obviously wrote the replies to the letters, although it could easily be a Bullpen typesetting mistake in that intro balloon.

    All of "Teebore's Take" was once again nicely put. The contrasts between these issues and most issues of today's comic-book series, mainstream ones especially, are so glaring in terms of bang for the buck and just plain being what Heidi MacDonald famously called a satisfying chunk.

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  22. @Matt: except for the stuff about Madelyne and Storm's mohawk

    Ha! Yeah, I hear you, although I have to say that in retrospect I could even accept Storm's mohawk (with its accoutrements, in costume and personality) as a point on her character continuum — if I didn't hate all the power-loss and Forge stuff, and if I had stuck around and enjoyed the stories where she gets back on a more even keel, integrating her extremes. The Madelyne stuff never sat right with me, but it might have been acceptable if all of the Phoenix hints were clearly and only Mastermind's doing; Maddie's plane crash being at the exact moment Jean died is a Bifröst too far.

    @Teebore: Claremont is basically juggling two mysteries ("what's with Madelyne" and "is Phoenix back") that are loosely connected, but when one gets resolved, the resolution can't quite extend to the other.

    Exactly! What he said!

    @Teebore: For as much as "Inferno" is a retcon, and wasn't what Claremont intended, it's almost uncanny (pun intended) how well the retcon fits. If you didn't know any better, you could easily assume it was Claremont's plan all along.

    I wasn't up on the X-Men status quo when dipping back into the titles for Inferno, but regardless of how it played on its own merits (if it had any; I only read it that once, halfheartedly, when it came out) it probably should only exist if it was all planned from the start, which sounds like a recommendation but is still predicated on bad ideas. If Jean Grey never died as Phoenix, which was the original plan, no Inferno. If Jean Grey was left dead and never brought back under the explanation that the Phoenix entity had been swapped in for her, no Inferno either. If Maddie Pryor was someone else other than an impossible Jean Grey lookalike, probably no Inferno too but instead just more angst for Scott (although if he and this alt-Maddie, or Lee Forrester, or whomever still had a child, yeah, unwanted complications). I'd love to have seen the Phoenix entity return, awakened when the revived Jean met Rachel or something, and reabsorbed Madelyne as some kind of aspect of itself that had been manifested itself after lying dormant in Scott due to its/Jean's and his psychic rapport to provide a happy ending — but the X-Men titles were already lost to me (or vice-versa) by then anyway.

    @Dan: Iceman and Angel were written out more or less successfully; they made guest appearances and eventually did some other team stuff, but for the most part didn't do squat before X-Factor.

    First, I have to protest as one of the few extant Champions fans in the world, although that's almost purely due to reading the series at age 5. Second, I have to say that this is just what Marvel and DC both did back then. All of the X-Men were semi-mothballed during the Reprint Years, popping up slightly or wholly reinvented like Beast's relaunch in Amazing Adventures or the other four's plainclothed team-up with Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up. Hell, Dick Grayson was sent off to college and written out of the Batman titles as a main player in the '70s, with no younger Robin filling the vacuum, appearing in a back-up feature in Detective for a while here or co-starring in a short-lived Teen Titans revival there. When a creative team had a good idea for a dormant character or concept, or trademarks were in need of protection, there'd be a reboot or revival.

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  23. @Teebore: Now, if you wanted to argue that Marvel and DC should publish a range of titles, some featuring an "evergreen" version of the character for young and/or new readers, and a version of the character that is allowed to age/change/grow as a character, eventually reaching a point where the character is retired in favor of another or the growth is started over for a new generation, I would wholeheartedly endorse that approach.

    100% this.... End of discussion! 8^) I have sympathy for the whole "illusion of change" thing, albeit more in the way that it manifested as actual change, and I understand marketing considerations, but I liked my superhero continuity to actually progress even as a kid. I also think that The Batman Adventures is perhaps the finest iteration of the character ever, all told.

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  24. @Dobson: If I want to introduce someone to the X-Men, there's Wolverine and the X-Men, or X-Men: Evolution, or X-Men, the animated series, or X-Men, 1, 2, and First Class, or X-Men Legends, etc.

    While that's certainly true, and while I LOVE how much cross-media superhero stories there are these days, I still think it's important that there's an accessible, evergreen version of the iconic characters available to be read, as a comic book.

    If a kid comes to like Batman because of one of the various cartoons or the Lego videogame or something, I want that kid to be able to go into a comic book store and find a comic with a version of Batman reasonably analogous to his "licensed" iteration, featuring the classic Batman status quo. Then, once this kid is familiar with the medium and a little older, he can transition into the Batman title that features more progressive, changing, "anything can happen" stories with the character.

    I just think it's important that we have some kind of comic that matches the multimedia interpretations to ease kids into the medium after superheroes in other formats have piqued their interests.

    @Blam: For now here are some belated (which is becoming too much a pattern) thoughts

    No worries. I'm still catching up comments!

    I wonder if Smith carried over the horizontal panels and white space intentionally from Miller's art on Wolverine.

    I wonder too. I meant to comment on that in the post. I'm going guess he did, because the Silver Samurai/Wolverine fight in the next issue HAS to be an intentional homage to the miniseries, which makes it less likely to be a coincidence here.

    The contrasts between these issues and most issues of today's comic-book series, mainstream ones especially, are so glaring in terms of bang for the buck

    Well said. This stuff is just really dense, yet reads really easily. It truly is comics as they should be.

    I also think that The Batman Adventures is perhaps the finest iteration of the character ever, all told.

    Agreed. To me, it's pretty much the template for the kind of book I'd like to see, something that presents a classic version of a character for new readers that allows for the evolution of the character in other titles, with a level of craft that would appeal to all readers, even ones also reading about the character evolving/growing/changing elsewhere.

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  25. Something that has always driven me crazy: how does Yukio know Storm's nickname is 'Windrider' -- when she *just* met her?

    In fact, why does EVERY person that meets Storm call her 'Windrider'? Friend or foe? ARRGGH!

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